By Roger Lockridge
There are many reasons people get into fitness and one of the most popular is to get stronger. There is something about being able to move more weight that instills a confidence that can carry over into other aspects of your life because you overcame a physical adversity that you previously couldn’t.
One of the longest standing tests of strength is the flat barbell bench press. It’s widely regarded as the most popular upper body movement in the training game. So more often than not, this is the first exercise that new trainees want to see the numbers go up on.
As anyone with knowledge in powerlifting can tell you, it isn’t about doing bench, bench, and more bench. You need to do accessory work with exercises that can carry over to the bench press. If you add these into your program, your chances of adding plates to the bar will be much greater.
Incline Dumbbell Press
This classic movement can help you in a few different ways. First, the incline challenges the upper pecs and activates the front delts more which also play a role when you’re doing the bench press. Second, using dumbbells force you to stabilize the weight and stabilization is as much a factor as raw power is. Third, each side has to work on its own with dumbbells. If each side gets stronger, then you’ll likely see greater strength when both sides work together pressing a bar.
Close Grip Bench Press
Working with your hands closer together on the bar places more emphasis on the triceps. Think about how you perform the regular bench press. As the bar goes up, the triceps are recruited more and more and there are times that the midpoint to lockout is when lifters get stuck. Using the close grip and placing more load directly on the triceps can help you get stronger in this area so that you can break that sticking point and finish the lift.
Pushups with a Resistance Band
Pushups on their own are great for pumping blood to the muscles and increasing your endurance via performing more reps. Doing these with a band wrapped around you with the ends in your hands can make these more challenging. As you push yourself up, the tension on the band gets greater so you have to push harder into the floor to get yourself up. If you pause at the bottom of the rep and try to explode when pushing up, the improvement here will transfer to the bottom of the bench press rep. When the bar is on your chest you will be stronger when you start to press the bar up.
Don’t Do Flyes
The dumbbell flye is a bodybuilding movement but when it comes to strength gains, it won’t do much for you if your goal is a bigger bench. When your arms are stretched out it places your pec in a compromising position. Also, when you lift the weight up to the top, the weight is no longer a challenge. Third, the best ways to get stronger on a pressing movement is by incorporating other pressing movements which the flye isn’t. So save this one until you focus more on sculpting the physique and less on strength improvement.
Sample Bench Press Improvement Plan
Flat Bench Press – 8 sets of 2 with 50% of your one rep max.
Pushup with Bands – 4 sets of 8-10 reps.
Day 2 (3-4 Days after Day 1)
Flat Bench Press – 5 sets of 4 reps with 60-80% of your one rep max. (Add weight each set.)
Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 sets of 5.
Close Grip Bench Press – 3 sets of 8.