Follow These 12 Steps!
Read these 12 steps if you have any questions read them again. If you still have questions pm me.
12 Steps to a Bigger Bench
1 - Train the Triceps
Years ago, if you had asked Larry Pacifico how to get a big bench, he'd
have told you to train the triceps. This same advice applies today. This
doesn't mean doing set after set of pushdowns, kickbacks, and other
so-called "shaping" exercises. Training your triceps for a big bench has
to involve heavy extensions and close-grip pressing movements such as
close-grip flat and incline bench presses, close-grip board presses, and
Various barbell and dumbbell extensions should also be staples of your
training program. Don't let anyone try to tell you the bench press is
about pec strength. These people don't know the correct way to bench and
are setting you up for a short pressing career with sub-par weights. I
just read an article in one of the major muscle magazines by one of
these authors on how to increase your bench press. The advice given was
to train your pecs with crossovers and flies and your bench will go up!
This, along with many other points, made me wonder how this article ever
got published or better yet, how much the author himself could bench.
I believe articles should go under a peer review board before they get
printed. I'd like many of my peers to review these authors in the gym or
better yet on the bench to see how much they really know. Bottom line:
Train the triceps!
2 - Keep your shoulder blades pulled together and tight.
This is a very important and often overlooked aspect of great bench
pressing. While pressing you have to create the most stable environment
possible. This can't be done if most of your shoulder blades are off the
bench. The bench is only so wide and we can't change this, but we can
change how we position ourselves on the bench.
When you pull your shoulder blades together you're creating a tighter,
more stable surface from which to press. This is because more of your
body is in contact with the bench. The tightness of your upper back also
contributes. These techniques also change the distance the bar will have
to travel. The key to pressing big weight is to press the shortest
[b]3 - Keep the pressure on your upper back and traps.
This is another misunderstood aspect of pressing. You want the pressure
around the supporting muscles. This is accomplished by driving your feet
into the floor, thereby driving your body into the bench. Try this: Lie
on the bench and line up so your eyes are four inches in front of the
bar (toward your feet). Now using your legs, drive yourself into the
bench to put pressure on the upper back and traps. Your eyes should now
be even with the bar. This is the same pressure that needs to be applied
while pushing the barbell.
4 - Push the bar in a straight line.
Try to push the bar toward your feet. The shortest distance between two
points is a straight line, right? Then why in the world would some
coaches advocate pressing in a "J" line toward the rack? If I were to
bench the way most trainers are advocating (with my elbows out, bringing
the bar down to the chest and pressing toward the rack) my barbell
travel distance would be 16 inches. Now, if I pull my shoulder blades
together, tuck my chin and elbows, and bring the bar to my upper
abdominals or lower chest, then my pressing distance is only 6.5 inches.
Now which would you prefer? If you want to push up a bar-bending load of
plates, you'd choose the shorter distance.
Here's another important aspect of pressing in this style. By keeping
your shoulder blades together and your chin and elbows tucked, you'll
have less shoulder rotation when compared to the J-line method of
pressing. This is easy to see by watching how low the elbows drop in the
bottom part of the press when the barbell is on the chest. With the
elbows out, most everyone's elbows are far lower than the bench. This
creates a tremendous amount of shoulder rotation and strain.
Now try the same thing with the elbows tucked and shoulder blades
together while bringing the barbell to your upper abdominals. For most
people, the elbows are usually no lower than the bench. Less shoulder
rotation equals less strain on the shoulder joint. This means pressing
bigger weights for many more years. I've always been amazed at trainers
that suggest only doing the top half of the bench press, i.e. stopping
when the upper arms are parallel to the floor. This is done to avoid the
excess shoulder rotation. All they have to do is teach their clients the
proper way to bench in the first place!
5 - Keep the elbows tucked and the bar directly over the wrists and
This is probably the most important aspect of great pressing technique.
The elbows must remain tucked to keep the bar in a straight line as
explained above. Keeping the elbows tucked will also allow lifters to
use their lats to drive the bar off the chest. Football players are
taught to drive their opponents with their elbows tucked, then explode
through. This is the same for bench pressing. Bench pressing is all
about generating force. You can generate far more force with your elbows
in a tucked position compared to an "elbows out" position.
The most important aspect of this is to keep the barbell in a direct
line with the elbow. If the barbell is behind the elbow toward the head,
then the arm position becomes similar to an extension, not a press.
6 - Bring the bar low on your chest or upper abdominals.
This is the only way you can maintain the "barbell to elbow" position as
described above. You may have heard the advice, "Bring it low" at almost
every powerlifting competition. This is the reason why. Once again, the
barbell must travel in a straight line.
7 - Fill your belly with air and hold it.
For maximum attempts and sets under three reps, you must try to hold
your air. Everyone must learn to breathe from their bellies and not
their chests. If you stand in front of the mirror and take a deep
breath, your shoulders shouldn't rise. If they do you're breathing the
air into your chest, not your belly. Greater stability can be achieved
in all the lifts when you learn how to pull air into the belly. Try to
expand and fill the belly with as much air as possible and hold it. If
you breathe out during a maximum attempt, the body structure will change
slightly, thus changing the groove in which the barbell is traveling.
8 - Train with compensatory acceleration.
Push the bar with maximal force. Whatever weight you're trying to push,
be it 40% or 100% of your max, you must learn to apply 100% of the force
to the barbell. If you can bench 500 pounds and are training with 300
pounds, you must then apply 500 pounds of force to the 300-pound
barbell. This is known as compensatory acceleration and it can help you
break through sticking points.
These sticking points are known as your "mini maxes," or the points at
which you miss the lift or the barbell begins to slip out of the groove.
Many times I'm asked what to do if the barbell gets stuck four to five
inches off the chest. Everybody wants to know what exercise will help
them strengthen this area or what body part is holding them back. Many
times it isn't what you do to strengthen the area where it sticks, but
what you can do to build more acceleration in the area before the mini
max. If you can get the bar moving with more force then there won't be a
sticking point. Instead, you'll blast right through it. Compensatory
acceleration will help you do this.
9 - Squeeze the barbell and try to pull the bar apart!
Regardless of the lift, you have to keep your body as tight as Monica
Brant's behind. You'll never lift big weights if you're in a relaxed
physical state while under the barbell. The best way to get the body
tight is by squeezing the bar. We've also found that if you try to pull
the bar apart or "break the bar," the triceps seem to become more
10 - Devote one day per week to dynamic-effort training.
According to Vladimir Zatsiorsinsky in his text Science and Practice of
Strength Training, there are three ways to increase muscle tension.
These three methods include the dynamic-effort method, the
maximal-effort method, and the repetition method. Most training programs
being practiced in the US today only utilize one or two of these
methods. It's important, however, to use all three.
The bench press should be trained using the dynamic-effort method. This
method is best defined as training with sub-maximal weights (45 to 60%)
at maximal velocities. The key to this method is bar speed. Percentage
training can be very deceiving. The reason for this is because lifters
at higher levels have better motor control and recruit more muscle than
a less experienced lifter.
For example, the maximal amount of muscle you could possibility recruit
is 100%. Now, the advanced lifter _ after years of teaching his nervous
system to be efficient _ may be able to recruit 70 to 80% of muscle
fibers, while the intermediate might be able to recruit only 50%. Thus,
the advanced lifter would need less percent weight than the
intermediate. This is one of the reasons why an advanced lifter
squatting 80% of his max for 10 reps would kill himself while a beginner
could do it all day long.
If you base the training on bar speed, then the percentages are no
longer an issue, only a guideline. So how do you know where to start? If
you're an intermediate lifter, I suggest you start at 50% of maximal and
see how fast you can make it move for three reps. If you can move 20
more pounds with the same speed then use the heavier weight.
Based on years of experience and Primlin's charts for optimal percent
training, we've found the best range to be eight sets of three reps.
Based on Primlin's research, the optimal range for 70% and less is 12 to
We've also found it very beneficial to train the bench using three
different grips, all of which are performed within the rings. This may
break down into two sets with the pinky fingers on the rings, three sets
with three fingers from the smooth area of the bar and three sets with
one finger from the smooth area.
11 - Devote one day per week to maximal-effort training.
For the second bench day of the week (72 hours after the dynamic day)
you should concentrate on the maximal-effort method. This is best
defined as lifting maximal weights (90% to 100%) for one to three reps.
This is one of the best methods to develop maximal strength. The key
here is to strain. The downfall is you can't train above 90% for longer
than three weeks without having adverse effects.
Try performing a max bench press every week for four or five weeks.
You'll see you may progress for the first two, maybe three weeks, then
your progress will halt and begin to work its way backward. We've
combated this by switching up the maximal-effort exercises. We rotate
maximal-effort movements such as the close-grip incline press, board
press, floor press, and close-grip flat press. These exercises are all
specific to bench pressing and all have a very high carryover value.
12 - Train the lats on the same plane as the bench.
I'm talking about the horizontal plane here. In other words, you must
perform rows, rows, and more rows. "If you want to bench big then you
need to train the lats." I've heard both George Hilbert and Kenny
Patterson say this for years when asked about increasing the bench
press. When you bench you're on a horizontal plane. So would it make
sense from a balance perspective to train the lats with pulldowns, which
are on a vertical plane? Nope. Stick to the barbell row if you want a
Now that my trip is over and I'm back in Columbus, I no longer feel like
an authority on bench pressing. My 585 pound bench press is considered
sort of "puny" by Westside standards, after all. By writing this
article, however, I've realized a few things I need to change about my
bench pressing. I bet you have too. Hopefully, I've helped you correct a
few problems that might've been keeping you from breaking your own
personal record. Remember, the smallest things often bring the biggest
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