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How to Improve Your Bench Press

Written by the Boostcamp staff
Feb 22,2024|13 min| 6969
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Unleashing Your Strength: How to Improve Your Bench Press

Skyrocket chest gains with an improved bench press

When it comes to the big three compound movements, the favorite of many people is the barbell bench press. Sure, the barbell squat and the deadlift are fun movements as well, but to a lot of avid gym goers, bodybuilders, and powerlifters alike all love to hit some heavy weight on the bench press. It is a true test of strength, letting the weight hit your sternum and pushing it back up off of you for the first time in a straight line. The one problem is, it is not always the easiest lift to improve your strength on, especially for beginner lifters. So how do you do it? By incorporating other compound exercises like the squat, deadlift, and overhead press into your training routine, you can improve your overall strength and see better results in your bench press by adding chains to boost power and gain strength with a heavier weight at the top of the movement. Additionally, using proper leg drive and engaging your lower body can also help you lift more weight and improve your bench press technique. Remember to push with leg drive and tighten your glutes to generate more power and lift heavier weights. Nonetheless, we are taking a deep dive into how to improve your bench press.

Let’s get started.

What is the Bench Press? 

The barbell bench press is an exercise that has been used by bodybuilders, strength athletes, and regular gym goers for many years in the weight room. The barbell bench press is also one of the big lifts that athletes and lifters are to perform in a powerlifting meet, with the other two being the barbell squat and the deadlift. The bench press is an exercise that is often used in hypertrophy and strength training programs, as it is great to build the muscle mass in the chest and improve your strength output. However, in order to perform the bench press effectively and safely, it is important to have good technique, including using proper form, warming up thoroughly, and practicing with the empty barbell before adding the amount of weight. It is crucial to be precise with your technique to avoid injuries and resist the temptation to lift heavy weights for bragging rights. Remember, lighter weights with good technique, engaging your abs with a big breath, can still give you some great gains without risking injury.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the barbell bench.

Pros of the Barbell Bench Press

Cons of the Barbell Bench Press

  • Higher risk of injury compared to alternative chest exercises such as machines or dumbbell presses

  • Limited range of motion and a set bar path

Muscles Worked With the Barbell Bench Press

Now when it comes to the muscles that are worked during the barbell bench press, it is not only the pectoral muscles! The barbell bench press is a compound movement, meaning it recruits multiple muscles and joints to be completed, whereas an isolation exercise would only target one muscle group. So, what muscles are recruited during the barbell bench press? The chest muscle, specifically the sternal and clavicular heads, as well as the triceps and shoulder muscles, are the primary muscles worked during the barbell bench press. This exercise also engages the muscles in your long arms, as the length of your arms can affect the range of motion and the muscles targeted during the benching movement.

Because it is a pressing exercise, the shoulders are utilized during the movement, mainly the front deltoids. This is why sometimes you will see lifting programs grouped in chest and shoulder movements on the same day, this is common in a push day workout.

Aside from the shoulders, the triceps are also heavily used during the bench press, as it is a pressing movement. Many bodybuilding and hypertrophy programs incorporate a “push day” which will group chest, shoulders, and triceps together on the same day. They also could incorporate an upper day, which would typically use the bench press as part of it.

Ways to Improve Your Barbell Bench Press

Image courtesy of Instagram (attack_the_weakness)

Now that everything has been laid out, let’s take a look at the ways to improve your barbell bench press. 

Strengthen Secondary Muscles

As stated above, the bench press is a compound movement and in order to improve it, you should look at strengthening all of the muscles involved through accessory movements. For one, strengthening your shoulders, specifically the anterior deltoids (front shoulders) and shoulder joints, will help improve your barbell bench press. Movements such as front raises and presses will transfer over to improving your bench press, as they strengthen the front deltoids which are heavily recruited while bench pressing. Additionally, incorporating a specific bench press workout that targets secondary muscles such as the anterior deltoids, back strength, and lower arms can also greatly improve your bench press performance by engaging the muscles in your upper back and shoulder blades, allowing you to lift much weight with a slight arch in your lower back.

Aside from that, strengthening your triceps and forearms is great for improving your bench press. It can help to overload the triceps and forearms with movements that will simulate the bench press. One exercise that is great for really packing on strength and size in the triceps and forearms is the close grip bench press, which is just like the barbell bench press but the hand placement is closer together, so it almost entirely removes the pectoral activation. Another exercise to add strength and size in the triceps and forearms is board presses, a variation of the bench press where the bar is lowered to a board placed on the chest. This helps to target and strengthen the triceps and forearms even more with a narrower grip width. Additionally, exercises such as dips and close grip bench press can also be beneficial for tricep and forearm strength and should be incorporated into your training routine.

Isolating the triceps will also help to strengthen the elbow joints, which are strained during the bench press.

Improve your Diet and Supplement Routine

Many people underestimate the power and importance of getting proper nutrition and its effects on improving your strength gains. Sure, junk food and sweets are great on the taste buds, but in reality they do not do much for your gains. If you want to improve your bench press, focusing on getting in the proper nutrients to help your muscles grow and recover is key. Diet and supplementation are crucial for achieving strength gains, as they provide the necessary nutrients that a diet alone may not be able to provide.

Some supplements are also specifically designed to help improve strength and add muscle mass. Here is a list of supplements that can help improve your bench press: 

  • Creatine helps inflate the muscle and improve ATP production to get an extra rep or two in. For example, if you bench press 225lbs for 3 reps, once you start taking creatine you may be able to get it for 4 or 5 reps. 

  • Protein powder helps to maintain proper protein intake, which is the most important macronutrient for building muscle.

  • Pre-workout helps with muscle pumps and energy for the gym.

Sleep and Recovery

Some other things that are heavily neglected, but have a massive impact on your strength and muscle are the sleep and recovery protocols. For example, if you bench pressed on Monday, you do not want to do it again on Tuesday or even Wednesday, as the muscles need time to properly recover and repair, and in order for that to happen you need to be conscious of what you eat and how you sleep between sessions. Yes, you need to watch how you sleep.

Sleep helps generate testosterone and human growth hormone in the body, which are two of the most important hormones for building muscle mass. So be sure to get that much needed shut eye!

Follow a Program

One of the most surefire ways of improving your bench press is by following a program. A well written lifting program will help you incorporate things like progressive overload as well as deload weeks, track your progress, and overall hold you accountable for what you do in the gym. 

Finding a good workout program to help improve your bench press is the key. Keep in mind that good programs will help with your fitness journey, you would want to find a program that caters to your needs and guides you in the right direction, making sure that you are making the most gains. If you are looking to stay on track and continue with linear progression, then finding a good workout program is the key. Where do you look for a good workout program? Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs.

Boostcamp is home to over 50 FREE workout programs that consist of strength, hypertrophy, or functional fitness, or both, from the push pull legs program all the way to upper lower. However, with Boostcamp, you don’t have to just follow a pre-written program, you also can create your own program as well, and track your progress to make sure you are on the right track. That being said, when you are looking to incorporate some arm training to further your powerlifting progress, then check out Boostcamp.

 

Improving Your Bench Press Wrap Up

Overall, the bench press is a true testament to your strength, and a great way to pack on size. As one of the big three compound lifts, it is always nice to work on improving it, especially if you're looking to achieve a maximum weight bench press. There are plenty of ways to improve your bench press, do you agree with our methods?

Check out the Boostcamp App for some great programs. Also, be sure to follow Boostcamp on Instagram and subscribe on YouTube!

*header image courtesy of Wikipedia