The simplest way to increase your Bench Press is to Bench Press more. The more you Bench Press, the more Bench Press practice you get and the better your Bench Press form becomes. Proper form improves the effectiveness of the movement. It increases how much you Bench Press.
Assistance exercises and variations of the Bench Press may help you increase your Bench Press. But they’re never a replacement to Bench Press. You can’t become better at an exercise you don’t do. To increase your Bench Press, you must Bench Press. Heavy and often.
Bench Press More Often
Switch from Bench Pressing once a week to twice a week. Bench Press Monday, rest, then do it again on Friday. Use the same Bench Press style on both days, the one you want to improve. For most people that means flat Bench Pressing on both days. By increasing your Bench Press frequency you practice the movement more. Your form improves and becomes more effective. This increases your Bench Press strength.
Most people will tell you to switch exercise to increase your Bench Press. To do Pushups, Dumbbell Bench, Close Grip Bench Press, Dips and so on. But this rarely works. While those exercises will strengthen the muscles you use on the Bench Press, they don’t train the movement. It’s like trying to become better at violin by playing guitar. It doesn’t matter if they’re both string instruments. It’s not the same. You need specificity.
Stop thinking like a bodybuilder and start thinking like an athlete. Yes, you need to strengthen your muscles. But you also need to practice the skill of Bench Pressing. And you get more practice by Bench Pressing more often. More practice is better form and a bigger bench. Switch from once a week Bench Pressing to twice a week. Check the StrongLifts 5×5 program: it has you Bench Press every other workout
Improve Your Bench Press Form
Proper Bench Press form increases effectiveness. It moves the bar over the shortest distance from your mid-chest to your shoulders. The shorter the distance the bar has to move, the easier to lift the weight. Proper Bench Press form also improves the transfer of force from your chest and shoulder muscles into your forearms to the bar. And it improves stability while avoiding bad leverage. All of this increases your Bench Press.
Proper Bench Press form also prevents injuries. Bench Pressing with the wrong grip is ineffective and will cause elbow or wrist pain. Bench Pressing with your elbows out 90° will impinge your shoulders. Raising your butt off the bench is cheating and can hurt your lower back. Any injury can force you to take time off Bench Pressing. This slows your progress instead of accelerating it. Proper form is key to Bench Press injury-free.
No matter what level you’re at, there’s always room to improve your Bench Press form. Make sure you read my definitive guide on how to Bench Press with proper form. Here’s the short version with the most important technique points to increase your Bench Press.
- Grip. Hold the bar low in your hands, close to you wrists. Squeeze using the full grip
- Wrists. Bench with straight wrists. Grip the bar low so your wrists can’t bend and hurt
- Elbows. Tuck them 75° at the bottom, keep them directly under the bar from all angles
- Forearms. Vertical to the floor, straight line from bar to wrist to elbow from all angles
- Chest. Raise it to the ceiling, squeeze your shoulder-blades, arch your back to stay tight
- Shoulders. Keep them back on the bench, drive yourself into the bench when you press
- Feet. Flat on the floor, feet under knees, shoulder-width stance like when you Squat
- Bar path. Diagonal line from mid-chest to shoulders, not vertical over chest or shoulders
- Racking. Lock your elbows, move the bar over your shoulders first, get a lift off if you can
If you’d like a print version of these tips, download my Bench Press Tip Sheet. It’s a simple one page document that covers the most important tips to Bench Press with proper form. Print it, take it with you to the gym and review the tips between sets. This way you’re sure you’re Bench Pressing with proper form and get stronger without injuring your shoulders. To download my Bench Press tip sheet, click the link below…
Add Weight on The Bar
To Bench Press heavy, you must Bench Press heavy. You can’t build the strength to Bench Press 100kg/220lb if you Bench half that every time. Yet some people expect that. They Bench Press the same weight week after week, month after month, sometimes year after year. Then they wonder why their Bench Press never increases, or worse, decreases. It’s because you’re not giving your body any reason to get stronger.
The simplest way to get stronger is to add weight. This goes back to Ancient Greece. According to the legend, the wrestler Milo from Croton trained for the Olympics by carrying a new-born ox each day. As the ox grew bigger, it slowly exposed Milo to heavier weight. His body adapted by building strength and muscle. Milo won the Olympics six times. And while this may just be a legend, the point is to add weight.
Don’t Bench Press the same weight for months. Give your body a reason to get stronger. Always try to Bench Press a little more than last time. On StrongLifts 5×5, you add 2.5kg/5lb (or less) each time you Bench Press. You start light to focus on proper form and build momentum. When you get stuck you deload and work your way back up. The app tells you when to add weight and deload so you can focus on Bench Pressing.
Lower The Reps
Switch from Bench Pressing sets of eight or ten reps to sets of five. The weight will instantly be easier to bench because the set is over before you’re tired. Then add weight on the bar to make it challenging again. You’re now Bench Pressing heavier weights. As explained above, the key to Bench Press heavy is to Bench Press heavy. You can Bench Press heavier weights with sets of five. That’s why they increase your Bench Press.
Lower reps of five also works for building muscle. 3×8 is 24 reps total. 5×5 is 25 or one rep more. The total volume is about the same. But you can Bench heavier weights with 5×5. Heavier weight stimulates your muscles more into growing bigger. This and the total volume you do drive muscle building the most. Double your Bench Press and your upper-body will be bigger. More strength is more muscle. That’s how 5×5 builds muscle.
Lower reps also build endurance. If you double your Bench Press from 50kgx8 to 100kgx5, how many times do you think you can Bench Press 50kg? More than before for sure. What about Pushups? They’ll be easier too because each rep takes your stronger muscles less effort. It takes longer for your chest and shoulders to get tired. You get more reps. Increasing your Bench increases muscle endurance. And it carries over to Pushups.
Switch your Bench Press from 3×8 or 3×10 to 5×5. The weight will be easier. You won’t get a pump or soreness. Add 2.5kg/5lb every workout. Your Bench Press will slowly increase to the heaviest weights you’ve ever lifted. It will become challenging. And if you miss 3×8, you can always switch later. When you do, you’ll Bench Press heavier weights on 3×8 thanks to the strength you build with 5×5. More strength is more muscle.
Microload Your Bench Press
Microloading means adding less than 2.5kg/5lb per workout. Microloading works to increase your Bench Press by delaying plateaus. You must add weight to increase your Bench Press. But nobody can do it forever or we’d all Bench Press 500kg. Everyone plateaus eventually by missing reps. The best way to break plateaus is to not hit them in the first place. Smaller increments delay plateaus by slowing your progression.
Microloading is more useful on the Bench Press than on the Squat or Deadlift. The Bench Press works smaller muscles like your shoulders, chest and arms. Squats and Deadlifts work your bigger thighs and back muscles. Bigger muscles are stronger and can lift heavier weights. You can add 2.5kg/5lb each workout longer to your Squat and Deadlift. On the Bench Press the same increase leads to faster plateaus.
Here’s an example: let’s say you’re an intermediate lifter who Bench Presses 100kg, Squats 140kg and Deadlifts 180kg (220lb, 300lb, 400lb). Adding 2.5kg/5lb to that Deadlift is an increase of 1.25%. But adding it to your 100kg Bench Press is 2.5% increase. It’s twice as hard. It’s like increasing your Deadlift by 5kg/10lb to 185kg/410lb. You’re more likely to miss reps and plateau. Small increments are more effective for Bench Press.
The irony is the less weight you Bench Press, the harder adding 2.5kg/5lb each workout is. Adding 2.5kg/5lb to a 100kg/200lb Bench Press is a 2.5% increase. Bench Press half that, 50kg/110lb, and that same 2.5kg/5lb is a 5% increase. Most people expect microloading is more useful for stronger, experienced Bench Pressers. But it turns out to be the opposite. The less you Bench Press, the more you need microloading to get stronger.
To microload you need small plates. Most gyms don’t have plates lighter than 1.25kg/2.5lb. And in some gyms the lightest plates are 2.5kg/5lb. This forces you to add 5kg/10lb each workout. On a 50kg/110lb Bench Press, that’s a 10% increase. It’s too much. It will work on your Squat and Deadlift for a while because they use bigger muscles. But it won’t work on your Bench Press. You’ll miss reps fast and plateau.
Get smaller fractional plates that weigh 0.25kg to 1kg (lb version are usually 0.25-1lb). Put them in your gym bag so you can use them in your gym. Halve the weight increase on your Bench Press from 2.5kg/5lb per workout to 1.25kg/2.5lb or even 0.5kg/1lb. This means you add 0.25kg/0.5lb on each side of the bar. You’ll progress slower but also delay plateaus. Your Bench Press will increase longer which is more motivating.
Some people question the effectiveness of microloading. It’s true plates often vary in weight. The 20kg/45 plates can often be off by 1kg/2-3lb. This negates the microloading. But it also misses the point. The goal isn’t a one-time microloading. The goal is cumulative microloading. Add 1kg/2lb to your Bench Press each week and it will increase by 52kg/104lb a year. The random weight variation is irrelevant. The upward trend matters.
Don’t be shocked by the price per kg/lb of fractional plates. They’re indeed more expensive than regular plates. But that’s normal. It costs more to manufacture plates at a tighter weight tolerance. This is what you’re paying for. Make sure you get fractional plates with 5cm/2″ holes so they fit on your Olympic Barbell. Here are some fractional plates I recommend to increase your Bench Press…
- Ader Fractional plates
- Rogue Fractional Plates lb
- Rogue Fractional Plates kg
- Iron Woody Fractional Plates kg
There are tons of DIY solutions for cheapskates with time. You can put several collars on your barbell. You can loop small chains around it. You can put ankle weights on your bar. You can load it with heavy washers from a hardware store. I’ve heard some people fill small bags with sand and put that on the bar. Whatever works. Fractional plates are just easier to use, easier to take to the gym and they last forever.
Microload your Bench Press as soon as you struggle to get your reps. If you barely got 5×5, don’t add 2.5kg/5lb next time. You might miss reps and then have to repeat the weight or deload. Switch to increases of 0.5/1lb per workout. Your Bench Press will increase more slowly. But you’ll be less likely to miss reps and spend workouts repeating the weight or deloading. Your Bench Press ends up increasing faster, without frustration.
Women should microload the Bench Press from day one. Women are smaller than men. Their muscles are smaller. Smaller muscles can lift less weight. That’s why men’s Bench Press records are higher than women’s, and why sports are divided by gender. 2.5kg/5lb increases don’t work for women (or small/older guys). You’ll go from Benching 40kg 5×5 one workout to barely getting one rep with 42.5kg next time. Microload.
Note that the StrongLifts 5×5 app for iPhone and Android will tell you to microload your Bench Press when it detects you’re struggling to increase the weight. You can also manually microload anytime by changing the weight increases in the app settings. And the app will tell you how many sets, reps and weight to do each workout to increase your Bench Press. The StrongLifts 5×5 app is free to download on iPhone and Android.
Rest Longer Between Bench Press Sets
Rest five minutes between heavy Bench Press sets. You’ll get more reps and Bench Press more weight. Resting longer increases the amount of ATP available for your next set. ATP is your main energy source for lifting weights. Each Bench Press set uses ATP. 80% is back if you rest three minutes. 95% is back after five minutes. Rest five minutes between hard sets to increase ATP. You’ll Bench Press more reps and weight.
Shorter rest times will make you sweat more. But they won’t increase your Bench Press. They force you to Bench Press with depleted ATP stores which is harder. Resting longer than five minutes is unnecessary. You have a little more ATP available but you spend more time in the gym. It’s a trade-off with diminishing returns. I never rest longer than five minutes between Bench Press sets.
Keep your workouts short by only resting five minutes between hard Bench Press sets. You don’t have to rest that long between easier sets. If you’d like to know how long to rest between every Bench Press set, use the StrongLifts 5×5 app for iPhone and Android. The built-in timer will tell tell you how long to rest between every warmup and work sets. It will help you increase your Bench Press without spending your life in the gym.
Improve Your Bench Press Warmup
Warmup for your Bench Press by doing several lighter sets first. Do two sets of five with the bar then add weight on each set until you reach your work weight. Use the warmup sets to practice proper Bench Press form and warmup your muscles. You’ll make less mistakes on your heavy sets, and are less likely to injure yourself. Take your time to warmup properly and you’ll increase your Bench Press.
Don’t start your Bench Press with a big plate of 20kg/45lb on each side. The wrong way to warmup is 12x60kg, 8x80kg and then 5×5 100kg. That’s 1360kg lifted and 20 reps. The proper way to warmup is 5x20kg, 5x20kg, 5x40kg, 3x60kg, 2x80kg, 1x90kg and then 5×5 100kg. It’s only 830kg but 21 reps. You’re less tired because you warmed up by lifting 40% less weight. But you did one rep more to practice proper Bench Press form.
Always warmup with the empty bar when you Bench Press. Add 10-20kg/25-45lb per set until you reach your work set. Don’t do more than five reps per set. Decrease the reps as your warmup weight increases. If you’d like to know the optimal sets, reps and weight to warmup with for any Bench Press weight, use the warmup calculator in my StrongLifts 5×5 apps for iPhone/Android. It will help you increase your Bench Press.
Bench Multiple Reps with One Breath
Try to Bench Press multiple reps with a single breath. Setup on the bench with your chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed and back arched. Unrack the bar with locked elbows and move it over your shoulders. Take a big breath and hold it. This will keep your chest up, shoulders tight and back arched. Now lower the bar and Bench Press as many reps as you can without releasing your breath. You’ll be tighter and bench more reps.
Forget about this tip if you’re new at Bench Pressing. Beginners shouldn’t hold their breath for reps. They can’t anyway. But your chest must stay up to keep the movement effective. It makes the weight easier to Bench Press. Breathing between reps by emptying your lungs relaxes your chest. It makes the weight harder to Bench Press. Breathe between reps at the top of your Bench Press. But make it quick breaths to stay tight.
If you’re more experienced, try to Bench Press several reps with one breath. Take a deep breath at the top before you do your first rep. Don’t wait to lower the bar. Do it right after you took that breath. Then Bench Press as many reps as you can while holding you breath. On a hard set of five, I usually get at least three reps with one breath. This keeps my chest tight and saves energy for the harder last two reps.
You’re overdoing it if you feel like passing out. The point is to stay tight, not pass out and drop the bar on your face. If the pressure is too high to hold your breath, exhale. Breathe against you closed glottis on the way up. Or take a quick breath at the top. But avoid losing tightness by emptying your lungs. And make sure you don’t wait too long to lower the bar after you take your first deep breath.
Watch Out with Shiny Objects
Shiny objects are chains, bands and boards. You use them by Bench Pressing with chains or bands attached to the bar or boards on your chest. The idea is to emphasize the lockout (to “strengthen your triceps”…). Chains and bands make the weight heavier at the top. Boards decrease the range of motion which allow you to Bench heavier weight. These shiny objects look cool but aren’t that effective for raw Bench Pressers like us.
Geared Bench Pressers benefit most from benching with chains, bands and boards. They wear bench shirts that stretch when they lower the bar to their chest. This makes the bottom and hardest part of the Bench Press easier. The shirt helps pressing the weight from their chest. But it can’t help the top part of the movement. That’s why geared Bench Pressers emphasize the lockout with bands, chains and board work.
Raw Bench Pressers like us don’t wear bench shirts. We don’t get help at the bottom. We must Bench the weight ourselves. Pressing the bar off our chest is therefore always the hardest part. We rarely fail the lockout. When we do, it’s because we lack the force to move the bar through our sticky point. Strengthening the lockout is useless if we can’t get the bar off our chest first. That’s why we must train the full range of motion.
This doesn’t mean chains, bands and boards are useless. But most people use them wrong. They Bench Press with chains to look cool. They Bench Press with boards so they can brag they benched three plates. And they neglect to Bench Press with a full range of motion in the process. The shiny objects strengthen their lockout. But their regular Bench Press doesn’t increase because they’re not geared Bench Pressers.
Keep it simple and Bench straight weight. Don’t use chains, bands or boards until you can Bench Press 100kg/220lb at least. If you can’t Bench that, your triceps isn’t weak. Your lockout isn’t weak either. Your whole body and range of motion are weak. The simplest, most effective way to strengthen both is to Bench Press straight weight with a full range of motion. Don’t let shiny objects distract you from doing this.
Add Paused Bench Press as Assistance Work
The Paused Bench Press is the best assistance exercise for raw Bench Pressers like us. It’s like a Bench Press but with a pause of two-three seconds at the bottom. Lower the bar to your chest. Pause when the bar touches your chest. Stay tight while you count to three. Then press the bar away from your chest over your shoulders. Repeat. Adding the Paused Bench Press as assistance work will increase your Bench Press.
The Paused Bench Press strengthens the bottom of your Bench Press. As explained earlier: pressing the bar from your chest is the hardest part for raw Bench Pressers like us. The Paused Bench Press increases time under tension at the bottom. It develops force to push through the sticky point on your regular Bench Press. World Champion Mike Tuchscherer introduced me to this exercise several years ago.
The key is to start each rep at the top like your normal Bench Press. Don’t start with the bar on your chest like on the Overhead Press. Proper form on the Bench Press starts with the bar at the top. If you reverse the order by starting at the bottom, it will be harder to setup properly. You’ll have less carry-over to your regular Bench Press. Pause Bench Press like you normally Bench. Just add that two-three second pause at the bottom.
The Paused Bench Press doesn’t substitute your regular Bench Press. To increase your Bench Press, you must Bench Press. Don’t pause every rep you Bench Press. Don’t warmup by pausing or you’ll pre-exhaust you muscles for the Bench Press. Do your regular Bench Press with a touch and go at the bottom (no bouncing). Once done, do the Paused Bench Press separately as assistance work for your regular Bench Press.
On StrongLifts 5×5, you can do the Paused Bench Press at the end of workout A. Three sets of five with about 20% less than you Bench Press. Just make sure you milked out other options first. Microload, repeat the weight if you get stuck, deload after three fails, switch from 5×5 to 3×5 and so on. Only then should you add the Paused Bench. Note that the StrongLifts 5×5 app will advise you how to progress on your Bench Press.
Your Bench Press will increase slower than your Squat and Deadlift. You’ll miss reps sooner. And you’ll Bench Press less weight than you Squat or Deadlift. The Bench Press works smaller muscles. Smaller muscles can’t lift as heavy as big ones. That’s why raw Squat records are higher than for the Bench Press. That’s also why Squatting 140kg/300lb is easier than Benching the same weight. And that’s why patience is key.
Reset your expectations. It’s not realistic to expect 10kg/20lb PRs on your Bench Press. Adding that to a 100kg/220lb is a 10% improvement. It’s like the 180kg/400lb Bench Presser hitting a 18kg/40lb PR overnight. You rarely hear that. You usually hear they hit a small PR of only 2.5kg/5lb. That’s a 1.25% improvement. It’s like you adding 1kg/2.5lb to a 100kg/220lb Bench Press. It’s how you should expect your Bench Press to increase.
Make a big a deal about small PRs. It doesn’t sound impressive to hit 1kg/2lb PRs on your Bench Press. But it adds up. Increase your Bench Press by 1kg/2lb every week and you’ll Bench Press 52kg/104lb more in a year. That 60kg/135lb Bench Press turns into 112kg/249lb. This is more than what most guys in gyms Bench Press. All it takes is chipping away at it with small increments. Be patient and your Bench Press will increase.
Bench Press Tip Sheet
I’ve put together a Bench Press Tip Sheet covering the most important tips to Bench Press with proper form. Print this one page document and take it with you to the gym so you can review these tips between sets. It’s crucial you Bench Press with proper form so you Bench heavy weights without injuring your shoulders or dropping the bar on yourself. To download my Bench Press tip sheet, click the link below…