10 tips for ramping up your bench press safely
The pros don’t work out at the gym haphazardly, and neither should you. Whenever they increase the weight of their bench press, they proceed with caution. You should, too. You should never put yourself at risk when bench pressing or performing any bodybuilding exercise, for that matter. The short-term gains just aren’t worth it.
With that in mind, I will now share with you 10 tips on how to increase your bench press weight safely.
Do the Right Warm-Up
If you want to ramp up your bench press resistance, try including it in your warm-up routine. When you do this, you prepare the targeted muscle groups—particularly the pectorals, triceps, anterior deltoids, lats, glutes, rhomboids, and forearms—for the grind ahead. More importantly, you are lowering your risk of suffering from a serious injury.
Here’s how you can warm up using a progressive bench press routine. Make sure to rest for one minute after every warm-up set:
- Do eight reps with the bar.
- Do five reps with 50% of your actual bench press resistance.
- Do three reps with 70% of your actual bench press resistance.
- Do one rep with 90% of your actual bench press resistance.
- Proceed to your first set of bench presses.
Begin With the Bench Press
When you put the bench press at the top of your workout hierarchy, you can eventually crank out heavier bench press reps.
Research suggests the bench press requires more strength and power than other chest exercises such as the incline dumbbell pullover and cable fly. Long story short, when you prioritize an exercise that requires more effort, you will have the energy to perform other heavy lifts during your workout. Get the bench press over with and watch yourself conquer the rest of your workout grind.
Including the bench press in your warm-up routine and starting off your workouts with the bench press aren’t enough: you must also breathe properly if you want to increase your bench press weight safely.
Unfortunately, some people hold their breath whenever they do the bench press. On the other hand, others neglect to follow the proper breathing pattern. No wonder these people are struggling to lift heavier weights on the bench!
Remember, the correct breathing pattern stabilizes your lift. This, in turn, allows you to lift heavier weights. I will now share with you the proper breathing technique for the bench press:
- Inhale once you remove the barbell from the rack and as you’re bringing it down to your chest.
- Hold your breath for a second or two.
- Exhale once you begin lifting the barbell to return to the starting position.
- As soon as you reach the top of the movement, inhale as you’re bringing the barbell down to your chest for another repetition.
- Continue this breathing pattern until you’ve finished your set.
Once you practice this breathing technique consistently, you will produce more force and stability during the concentric (lifting) phase of the bench press. This will help you progress sooner than later.
Bench Press with the Proper Form
Breathing properly while bench pressing isn’t enough. Even if you master the correct breathing technique but apply incorrect form, your efforts will go for naught.
If you’re new to bench pressing or strength training in general, consider using a spotter or heavy rack. Either of these can help you master the proper bench pressing form, which involves a wide grip with your arms placed just outside your shoulders so you place more emphasis on the muscles in your chest. Also, make sure to push the bar straight up to reduce the distance of the movement, and to use your whole body when you’re lifting the bar.
When you do bench presses, try pulling your shoulder blades back to activate your chest muscles. Doing this helps your upper back set up a firm base on the bench and prevents a potential shoulder injury. Ensure your upper back is on the bench at all times for stability purposes.
Finally, make sure you plant your feet firmly on the ground when bench pressing. This allows you to lift more weight and prevent you from accidentally dropping the barbell on your face.
According to the Journal of Family and Community Medicine, anaerobic exercises such as the bench press can make your bones and joints stronger. It can also lower your chances of developing osteoporosis. But if you bench press with poor form, it will increase your likelihood of experiencing joint damage and critical injuries.
The key takeaway: your safety should always be your priority. Never compromise your form for the weight you lift or the number of reps you do because this mindset has disastrous consequences.
Increase the Frequency of Your Bench Press
Anaerobic exercises such as bench pressing is a skill: it entails a lot of practice. When you do bench presses, you have to learn the movement and practice until you get the correct form. Rinse and repeat.
Experts say hitting each muscle group twice a week will pay massive muscle-building dividends. On that note, I suggest you do the bench press twice weekly so you can improve this skill over time. This frequency will allow you to master the movement and form. Just keep doing this, and before you know it, you will eventually lift heavier weights on the bench press.
Do Progressive Overload
Progressive overload entails increasing the demands on your muscles so they will grow. If they get used to a certain stimulus, they won’t respond to the exercises you perform. Say, you’ve been doing the same workout routine for six months. By that time, your muscles have grown accustomed to your daily grind at the gym. If you don’t challenge them, you won’t get the results you want.
Contrary to popular belief, progressive overload isn’t just about increasing the resistance or weight you lift. You can also increase the number of reps and training frequency. Finally, you can opt to decrease your rest time between sets to up the ante a bit.
When you’re applying the principle of progressive overload, you need to take baby steps. What we mean by that is you need to try micro-loading.
Micro-loading means adding resistance to your bench press in micro or tiny increments gradually. Instead of adding 10 lbs to your lifts right away, try adding 2.5 to 5 lbs instead. Once you get the form and breathing techniques down pat after a week or two, try adding another 2.5 to 5 lbs. Use the same time frame to gauge your strength before adding 5 or 7 lbs to your lift. Finally, you can add 10 lbs once you have mastered your form and breathing techniques with these heavier lifts.
Micro-loading is all about making steady gains in your strength, power and endurance. When you add resistance gradually, you will become more efficient in your bench press.
Diversify Your Bench Press Exercises
They say variety is a spice of life. The same can be said of your workout. If you want to ramp up your lifts on the bench press, try diversifying your routine.
In case you didn’t know, the bench press isn’t just about the flat bench version. There is also the incline bench press, decline bench press, reverse-grip bench press, and guillotine press. Sticking to just one variety of the bench press (or any exercise) won’t shock your muscles, which is a no-no in bodybuilding. You have to leave your muscles guessing constantly. Doing so will help you make serious gains and ward off the dreaded fitness plateau (the state where you feel bored with your routine and you no longer see results).
Moreover, a diversified bench press routine makes your workout program more exciting and challenging. Doing flat bench presses week in and week out can become a dull routine even for seasoned bodybuilders. Try tweaking your program every 8 to 10 weeks to make it fun. Make sure you include a different version of the bench press using that time frame as your guideline.
It’s also best to use free weights such as barbells and dumbbells for your bench press because they force your muscles to work harder. The result: increased strength and muscle growth.
Perform Other Exercises
The bench press is not the be-all and end-all of your workout routine. If you want a chiseled, muscular frame like the Golden Era greats, you have to do other exercises as well.
It bears repeating: the bench press is a compound movement that involves other muscle groups such as your triceps and anterior deltoids. The former assists in shoulder adduction and is critical for lifting the bar overhead. The latter helps move your shoulders away from your torso. When you develop these muscles, you will also develop your strength for lifting heavier weights on your bench press.
For stronger triceps, try doing dips, tricep kickbacks, rope press downs, overhead seated dumbbell extensions, triangle push-ups, lying dumbbell French presses, and skull crushers.
To develop your deltoids, consider doing overhead barbell or dumbbell presses, lateral raises, reverse pec decks, Arnold presses, bent-over delt raises, and standing rope face pulls.
Get Feedback from the Right People
Finally, don’t just take it upon yourself to increase your bench press weight. Research suggests receiving verbal feedback helps increase power output in your lifts.
Try seeking the advice of a qualified fitness trainer. If you don’t have a gym membership, record a video of yourself doing bench presses and send it over to a seasoned fitness professional for valuable feedback. If you have a friend who has similar qualifications, have him check out your bench press form in your home gym.
Regardless of your choice, any honest feedback from an expert will go a long way in ramping up your bench press.
If you’re ready to take your bench press to the next level and beyond, try any of Ironmaster’s barbells and benches. The heavy-duty construction and innovative design of our equipment make them the safest in the industry. Get yours today!