HEY! YOU! Are you sick of seeing zero progress with your bench press???
I bet you know deep down that there's some other trick to pressing BIG weights like those other guys, RIGHT?
Well today I'm here to tell you that there's one SIMPLE exercise you can practice that will add DOZENS of kilos to your bench!!!
I CALL IT:
The bench press.
Are you disappointed? Were you hoping I was about to tell you a secret exercise you've never heard of before, something concocted in some super secret Soviet lab during the Cold War?
Look, I just don't want you to fall into the same trap I did. As a newbie lifter, I unfortunately listened to the many 'strength gurus' out there claiming that to improve at an exercise, you need to not do the exercise. This is BASIC training science, and yet we have an industry full of coaches that don't understand the principle of specificity.
For those of you who aren't clear on what specificity is, the short answer is this: you get good at what you do. If you want to get better at running, then run. Want to get bigger biceps? Train your biceps. The same rules apply to the bench.
If you ask most people how to get bigger biceps, I think the most common answer would be to train them. Why don't we apply the same logic to other fitness goals?
Now sure, this approach is not the ONLY thing you should do, but it will get you remarkably far. This has been driven home to me by the incredible number of athletes I've encountered who are elite in their sport, but who would struggle to do basic fitness tasks like 10 push-ups or a full depth squat. Yet they are brilliant at their sport because they did the most important thing: they practiced the sport, a lot. Getting better in other elements of fitness will improve their performance to a degree and is great for injury prevention. However, adding 100kg to someone's squat won't take them from a bad athlete to an elite athlete, unless they're a powerlifter.
Now if you've read this far, I don't want you to come away without a few extra tips that will help you progress faster in the bench. Just be aware that they will never replace putting in consistent effort on the bench.
Sorry to tell you, but I've coached enough people now to say that the odds are extremely high that your technique is garbage and severely limiting the weight you can move. Now you might be thinking, "so what?". Come back to me when you have your first rotator cuff tear and then we'll see if you feel the same. Technique is about more than just lifting as efficiently as possible, it will decrease your odds of getting hurt, which is the biggest killer of gains.
Here are the basic things you need to be doing on the bench:
Pull your shoulder blades together and down (retract and depress). Keep them there throughout the whole set.
Keep your chest high by using a slight arch through your back.
Keep your ass on the bench and pull your feet in close to the bench so you can drive into the floor with them for stability.
Lower the bar to your sternum, keeping your elbows in close to your body (at about a 45 degree angle).
It's hard to learn this stuff in writing. Watch this video I put together showing these cues for more detail.
Or, just book a free intro session and I'll show you how to do all of this, FOR FREE.
2. Recovery | Sleep & Nutrition
Once someone has good technique, the next biggest mistake I see them making is not putting enough effort into recovery.
The bench press, (perhaps more than any other exercise) depends greatly on your bodyweight. If you are losing a kilo or two in between sessions, some of that is going to be muscle that you could be using to move the weight. Nutrition requires a whole article in itself, which you'll be glad to hear I've already written for you.
Sleep is important for health in general, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that bad sleep leads to bad training. I'll do an article on this eventually, but just get 7-9 hours consistently and you're doing pretty good. Going to bed before midnight is probably even better. If you're in the mood for a longer discussion, here's a great podcast Joe Rogan did with sleep know-it-all, Matthew Walker.
3. Don't train like an asshole
There are some people who bench often, yet don't see much progress either. This is because they don't understand the difference between hard training, and smart training.
Anyone can train hard. Going into the gym and taking every set of bench to failure is admirable, but also really, really dumb. I applaud your efforts, but they're going to waste.
I've been to 2 seminars recently. One was by Kirill Sarychev, the strongest raw bencher in history. The other was by Boris Sheiko, a guy who is often regarded as the best powerlifting coach in history, and who at one time actually coached Sarychev. It was interesting to note 2 strong similarities in what both of them said about programming: TRAIN LIGHT. The average intensity that Sheiko has his lifters use is about 70% of 1RM.
Kirill. He knows more than you about benching.
And yet if you go into any gym in the country you'll see people going to failure with 90% or more, for multiple sets.
Learn from success, people.
4. Prehab | Balance
Did you know that your upper body consists of more muscles than just the ones you can see with your shirt off? I'm not a physio, but I know that neglecting entire muscle groups can lead to some issues relating to injury, so listen up.
What is prehab? It just means avoiding rehab. In essence: do the things you're supposed to do now when you're healthy, before you have to do them later when you're hurt.
What are these things? Well, some kind of pulling for starters. Pull-ups and rows should be a staple of any general strength programme. If you want to get extra points, do some work on your shoulder flexibility and some extra shoulder stability exercises (bottoms up kettlebell press, band pull aparts, I-Y-W-Ts etc.).
You don't have to do a LOT of this stuff. Just make sure you do it and that it's kept somewhat in balance with the amount of heavy pushing you're doing.