Vitamins & Minerals

How to Increase Your Bench Press: 12 Science-Backed Techniques

The bench press involves many of the biggest upper-body muscles, including the pecs, shoulders, triceps, lats, and traps, which makes it one of the best measures of upper-body strength.

That’s why if you want to build a strong, powerful, muscular upper-body, you need to know how to increase your bench press max.

And if that tickles your fancy, this article is for you.

In it, you’ll learn how to increase your bench press using these 12 scientifically-proven methods.

Tip #1: Focus on progressive overload.

If you want to increase the amount you bench, you have to strive to add weight or reps every time you bench press. 

This is known as progressive overload, and it’s one of the best ways to maximize the strength- and muscle-building effects of weightlifting. 

The easiest way to do this is to use double progression—a method for increasing your weights only once you hit the top of your rep range for a certain number of sets (often one).

For instance, let’s say your workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of flat barbell bench press. If you get 6 reps on one set, you’d add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) press it for 6 reps, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps with your new (higher) weight on your next set, you’d reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you can stay within your target rep range (4-to-6) for all sets.

Follow this same pattern of trying to add reps or weight to every exercise in every workout. 

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Tip #2: Pump Yourself Up

Research shows that psyching yourself up before a heavy set can have a big impact on the amount of weight you can lift.

This doesn’t mean you have to stomp around the gym like a maniac performing satanic rites to summon the elemental, though.

Simply take 10-to-15 seconds before your set to focus on the exercise you’re about to perform and visualize yourself performing it successfully.

(Tip: try listening to motivational music during your workout and doing breathing exercises to help with this.) 

Tip #3: Use the Right Mix of Volume and Intensity

Learning to manage volume and intensity—the relationship between the amount of weight you lift in your bench press workouts, and the number of sets and reps you do each week—is key to understanding how to increase bench press strength.

Here’s how:

1. Do 10-to-20 sets of chest training per week.

If you’ve been training for less than a year, 10-to-12 sets is enough to maximize your progress. If you’ve been training longer than that, you’ll probably make better progress doing 12-to-20 weekly sets of chest training, though you’ll likely need to split those sets up over 2-to-3 workouts each week.

2. Use 60-to-95% of your one-rep max (between 2-to-15 reps) for most of your sets.

In terms of how many of your sets should be devoted to lighter or heavier training, most experts recommend that you get about ⅔ to ¾ of your total sets in the 6-to-12-rep range and the remaining sets in the 1-to-6 and 12-to-15-rep ranges.

3. End all sets 1-to-3 sets shy of muscle failure (1-to-3 RIR).

In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, you need to take most of your sets close (but not all the way) to muscle failure, which is the point at which you can’t complete a rep despite giving maximum effort.

To ensure you’re taking your sets close enough to failure, ask yourself this question at the end of each set, just before re-racking the weight: “If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good form?”

If the answer is more than two or three, you should increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging. If the answer is one or zero, then you should reduce your weight to make sure you aren’t flirting with failure too often.

Tip #4: Vary Your Rep Range

If you’ve been training for less than a year, you shouldn’t need to use any fancy rep schemes or periodization to gain strength week on week. 

However, research shows that if you’re slightly more advanced and benching more than once a week, varying your rep ranges from workout to workout is an effective way to boost strength gain.

Let’s take a look at how this might fit into my 5-day Bigger Leaner Stronger program if you want to bench press twice per week:

  • Monday: Push workout (including 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps of flat barbell bench press at 80-to-85% of one-rep max)
  • Tuesday: Pull and calves
  • Wednesday: Upper body and core
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Upper body and core (including 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps of flat barbell bench press at 70-to-75% of one-rep max)
  • Saturday: Rest 
  • Sunday: Rest

And here’s how it might look if you want to bench three times per week:

  • Monday: Push workout (including 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps of flat barbell bench press at 80-to-85% of one-rep max)
  • Tuesday: Pull and calves
  • Wednesday: Upper body and core (including 3 sets of 2-to-3 reps of flat barbell bench press at 90-to-95% of one-rep max)
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Upper body and core (including 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps of flat barbell bench press at 70-to-75% of one-rep max)
  • Saturday: Rest 
  • Sunday: Rest

Tip #5: Lift Explosively

Research shows that when it comes to gaining strength, lifting explosively is superior to slow-rep training.

For example, in one study conducted by scientists at Pablo de Olavide University, researchers split 24 participants into two groups:

  1. A fast rep tempo group that did each rep of bench press as fast as possible.
  2. A slow rep tempo group that did each rep of bench press at about half the speed of the fast rep tempo group.

After six weeks the results showed that the fast rep tempo group increased their bench press strength by about 18%, whereas the slow rep tempo group only increased their bench press by 10%.

Thus, the takeaway here is simple: lift weights as fast as possible while maintaining good form and control of the weight. 

This usually means lowering the weight in a steady, controlled way, and then raising the weight as fast as possible.

Tip #6: Prioritize the Bench Press

Studies show that you perform best on the exercises you do earliest in your workouts.

Thus, if you want to give yourself the best opportunity to improve your bench press numbers, start your chest, push, or upper-body workouts with the bench press.

(This is why the “push” workouts in my fitness books Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger always begin with the bench press or a bench press variation.)

Tip #7: Do the Right Accessory Exercises

An accessory exercise is any exercise that you do that directly improves your performance on another exercise.

For example, the Romanian deadlift is a good accessory exercise for the deadlift because it enables you to strengthen many of the same muscles, but is far less fatiguing, which means you can do it more often without wearing yourself to a frazzle.

The best accessory exercises for increasing your bench press are exercises that allow you to use heavy weights in a similar movement pattern to the bench press, such as the . . .

And while we’re on the subject, don’t use the Smith machine for any of your bench press accessory exercises.

Research has shown time and time again that if you want to get stronger at the bench press, stay off the Smith machine. (Read this article to learn why).

Tip #8: Strengthen Your Triceps

Although your pecs and deltoids (shoulders) do the lion’s share of the work in pressing the bar off your chest in the bench press, it’s primarily your triceps that “lock the weight out” at the top of each rep.

That’s why you need strong triceps if you want to complete reps with heavy weights.

The best exercises for building strong triceps are the . . .

  • Close-grip bench press
  • Weighted dip
  • Dumbbell overhead Triceps extension
  • EZ-bar skull crusher
  • Cable triceps pushdown
  • JM press

Tip #9: Set Up Correctly

An improper setup can bleed a surprising amount of force on the bench press, and this is why powerlifters are very deliberate with how they position themselves under the bar. The main points are . . .

  • Before you unrack the bar, raise your chest up and tuck your shoulder blades down and squeeze them together (a good cue for this is to think of pulling your shoulder blades into your back pockets), then arch your back, like this:


Incline-BPress-2-Blogpost-Size-2

Don’t lose this position when you lift the bar off the rack and maintain it throughout each rep.

  • Stabilize your lower body by placing your feet directly beneath your knees and forcing your knees out (what weightlifters refer to as “leg drive”), which will activate your quads and glutes.
  • Grip the bar as hard as you possibly can and brace your core. Several studies show that doing so boosts your strength and power production. 

Tip #10: Use the Right Cues

A weightlifting cue is a simple reminder, usually in the form of a phrase, that directs your attention to a particular aspect of your exercise technique.

Studies show that good weightlifting cues help you . . .

Some of the best cues for increasing your bench press are:

  • “Bring your chest to the bar.”

Instead of thinking about bringing the bar to your chest, think about bringing your chest up to meet the bar. Pushing your chest toward the bar ensures your shoulder blades stay “back and down” and in a safe position, your pecs do the lion’s share of the work, and your back stays engaged, which gives you a more stable base to press from.

  • “Screw your feet into the floor.”

As you set up for the bench press, imagine screwing your feet into the floor by turning your toes out to the side. This creates tension in your legs which increases the stability and rigidity of your entire body, ensuring you don’t waste energy during your sets trying to maintain your balance.

  • “Break the bar in half.”

Think about snapping the barbell in half with your hands. The goal here is to maintain a strong grip on the bar throughout the entire rep, which helps you press heavier weights and keeps your wrists in the proper position.

Tip #11: Get Enough Rest

Virtually every guide on how to increase bench press max tells you that the key to benching more weight is to bench more often.

And this is true . . . to a point.

Unfortunately, many people get carried away and wind up benching way more than they should, which eventually leads to plateaus, frustration, and overreaching.

Avoid this by allowing yourself enough time to recover between workouts. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least one day between bench press sessions (unless you’re following a full-body routine).

Tip #12: Take the Right Supplements

I saved this for last because it’s the least important.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills and powders are going to automagically increase your bench press. 

But here’s the good news:

If you know how to eat and train to build muscle, certain supplements can speed up the process. (And if you’d like to know exactly what supplements to take to reach your fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz.)

Here are the best supplements for increasing your bench numbers:

  • 0.8-to-1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. This provides your body with the “building blocks” it needs to build and repair muscle tissue and help you recover from your bench press workouts. If you want a clean, convenient, and delicious source of protein, try Whey+ or Casein+.
  • 3-to-5 grams of creatine per day. This will boost muscle and strength gain, improve anaerobic endurance, and reduce muscle damage and soreness from your bench press workouts. If you want a 100% natural source of creatine that also includes two other ingredients that will help boost muscle growth and improve recovery, try Recharge.
  • One serving of Pulse per day. Pulse is a 100% natural pre-workout drink that enhances energy, mood, and focus; increases strength and endurance; and reduces fatigue. You can also get Pulse with caffeine or without.

+ Scientific References

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