How to Increase Your Bench Press: 16 Evidence-Based Tips

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How do I increase my bench press?”

At some point in time, most weightlifters ask this question.

Why?

First, because benching heavy weights is cool. 🙂

And second, because the bench press involves most upper-body muscles, making 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 boost your bench press using 16 science-backed methods.

 

1. Use Proper Form

The first step toward learning how to strengthen your bench press is understanding proper bench press form. Here’s everything you need to know:

  1. Lie on a flat bench and place your feet flat on the floor. 
  2. Pull your shoulder blades together and down, and without lifting your butt or shoulders off the bench, slightly arch your back. 
  3. Grab the bar with a pronated grip (palms facing your feet) slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and unrack the barbell.
  4. Lower the barbell to your chest, keeping your elbows tucked 6-to-10 inches from your sides.
  5. Press the bar back to the starting position.

Here’s how it should look:


Bench Press gif


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2. Focus on Progressive Overload

Progressive overload refers to the process of making your bench press workouts progressively more challenging. It’s paramount when learning how to improve your bench press because it maximizes the muscle- and strength-building effects of weightlifting.

The primary way to implement progressive overload is to lift heavier weights over time.

The easiest way to do this is using 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, if your bench press workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of the bench press and you get 6 reps for a set, add 10 pounds to your next set.

If you manage 3 or fewer reps with the new weight, reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you stay in the 4-to-6 rep range. 

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

3. Fix Your Bar Path

Research shows that most new weightlifters use an inefficient “bar path,” making the bench press more challenging than it needs to be.  

Specifically, newbies usually try to press the bar straight up and down over their chest. However, this creates a “moment arm” between the shoulder joint and bar, forcing the anterior deltoids (“front delts”) to work significantly harder to rebalance the bar over the shoulder as you press it.

To understand this better, imagine holding a broomstick horizontally with one hand. If your grip is in the middle of the broomstick, balancing it is easy. However, if you move your hand closer to one end, it becomes more challenging to keep the stick balanced because you lengthen the moment arm and create more torque. 

So, to press the most weight possible, follow this bar path:

  • Eccentric (Lowering): Begin with the bar directly over your shoulders. Lower it in a gentle arc to your lower chest.
  • Concentric (Lifting): Press the bar up and toward your throat. Once it’s over your shoulders, finish the rep by pressing it straight up.

Here’s a visual comparison between a beginner’s bar path and that of an elite-level presser. Aim to copy the elite-level presser’s path:


Bench Press Bar Path


4. Pump Yourself Up

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

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 and doing breathing exercises to help with this.) 

5. Use the Right Mix of Volume and Intensity

Managing volume and intensity is key to understanding how to get better at bench press.

Here’s how:

  • Train your chest muscles with 10-to-20 weekly sets: If you’ve been training for less than a year, doing 10-to-15 weekly sets is sufficient. If you’ve trained longer than a year, doing 15-to-20 weekly sets split over 2-to-3 workouts will yield better results. 
  • Use 85-to-90% of your one-rep max for most sets: Do ~75% of your bench press training in the 4-to-6 rep range (85-to-90% of your one-rep max). This allows you to “practice” lifting heavy weights but is less demanding than training closer to your actual one-rep max. Do the remaining ~25% of training with slightly heavier (1-to-4 rep range) and lighter (7-to-12 rep range) weights. 
  • End all sets 1-to-2 reps shy of failure: To maximize your results, take most sets of the bench press close to failure. Ask yourself at the end of each set, “If I had to, how many more reps could I have gotten with good form?” If the answer is more than two, increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging.

6. Vary Your Rep Range

Research shows that if you’re benching more than once a week, varying your rep ranges from workout to workout helps boost strength gain.

Here’s how this might look if you bench twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays:

  • Monday: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps
  • Thursday: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps

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

  • Monday: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps
  • Wednesday: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps
  • Friday: 3 sets of 2-to-3 reps

7. Lift Explosively

Studies show that lifting explosively is superior to lifting slowly when trying to gain strength.

That doesn’t mean you should lift explosively at the expense of good form; rather you should lift weights as fast as possible while using proper technique and controlling the weight.

To learn more about lifting tempo, check out this article:

Should You Lift Weights Fast or Slow? The Quick and Dirty Guide

8. Prioritize the Bench Press

You perform best on the exercises you do earliest in your workouts when you’re physically and mentally fresh.

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

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9. Do the Right Accessory Exercises to Increase Bench Press Strength

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

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

10. Strengthen Your Triceps

Although your pectoralis majors (“pecs”) and deltoids (shoulders) do most 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.

To discover the best exercises for strengthening your triceps, check out this article:

Grow Bigger Triceps with the Best Tricep Workouts & Exercises

11. Grip the Bar as Hard as Possible

For an easy strength boost, grip the barbell as hard as you can, clench your jaw muscles, and push your tongue into the roof of your mouth. Several studies show that doing so boosts your strength and power production. 

To learn more about this phenomenon, check out this article:

How to Use Remote Voluntary Contraction to Instantly Get Stronger

12. Use the Right Cues

Weightlifting cues are mental mantras that direct your attention to particular aspects of your exercise technique. They boost your performance in multiple ways, including helping you produce more force, perform more reps, and train for longer. 

The best cues for enhancing bench press performance are:

  • Touch your chest to the ceiling: Trying to touch the ceiling with your chest keeps your shoulders back and down and spine arched and ensures your pecs do most of the work. 
  • Screw your feet into the floor: Imagining screwing your feet into the floor creates tension in your legs which increases stability, rigidity, and balance.
  • Rip the bar apart: Thinking about ripping the barbell apart ensures your upper back remains engaged, providing a stable base to press off. 

13. 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).

14. Address Your Weaknesses

Identifying your bench press weaknesses and using exercises to strengthen those areas can help boost your bench. Here’s a simple guide:

  • If you struggle “off your chest,” increase your initial pushing strength with the pause bench press and dip.
  • If you have trouble through the “mid-range,” do the board press or bench pin press (with the pins set to a height about 4-to-6 inches above your chest). Incorporating equipment that provides “accommodating resistance” (resistance bands or chains) may also help since these teach you to accelerate through the middle portion of each rep.
  • If you have difficulty locking out, build strength in your triceps with the close-grip bench press, dip, JM press, overhead triceps extension, triceps pushdown, and skullcrusher

15. Use a Spotter

Having a spotter on the bench can increase the number of reps you can perform and make you feel more confident in your ability to complete each set successfully, which should aid performance over the long term.

For tips on how not to suck at spotting, check out this article:

How to Not Suck at Spotting in the Gym

16. Take the Right Supplements

These supplements will help you optimize your bench press performance:

  • Protein powder: Protein powder, such as whey or casein, provides your body with the nutrients needed to build muscle tissue and recover from workouts. 
  • Creatine: Creatine boosts muscle and strength gain, improves anaerobic endurance, and reduces muscle damage and soreness from your workouts. 
  • Pre-workout: A high-quality pre-workout enhances energy, mood, and focus, increases strength and endurance, and reduces fatigue.

(If you’d like even more specific advice about which supplements you should take to reach your health and fitness goals, take the Legion Supplement Finder Quiz, and in less than a minute, you’ll know exactly what supplements are right for you.)

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How to Increase Bench Press: FAQs

FAQ #1: Why am I so weak at bench press?

The most common reasons people are weak at the bench press are they use improper form and follow a poorly designed program that doesn’t prioritize progressive overload or include the right mix of volume, intensity, and frequency. To avoid these issues, follow the advice in this article. 

FAQ #2: What other exercises help improve bench press?

Exercises that train the muscles involved in the bench press can help improve your performance. These include the incline bench press, flat and incline dumbbell bench press, close-grip bench press, and dip. 

FAQ #3: How do I train for a strong bench press?

To train for a strong bench press, follow a program that emphasizes bench press one-rep max strength, such as Beyond Bigger Leaner Stronger, Wendler’s 5/3/1, or Greg Nuckols’ Beginner Program

FAQ #4: How often should I bench for strength?

How often you bench for strength depends on your overall training program and how well you’re recovering. A common approach is to bench press 2-to-3 times per week, allowing at least one day of rest between sessions.

FAQ #5: Should the bar touch your chest on the bench press for strength?

Yes, you should touch (not bounce) the bar on your chest while bench pressing for strength. This ensures you train your muscles through a full range of motion, which helps prevent muscle and strength imbalances and weak points in your press.

+ Scientific References



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