Workout Tips

The Key to a Bigger, Better Bench Press

Don't overlook this critical factor in your attempts to hoist more weight on the bench.

bench press with spotter

One of the most important factors in bench pressing big weight is your ability to stay tight throughout the lift. Glutes, lower back, upper back, shoulders, triceps, and chest all need to be solid and tight to master this go-to, chest-building exercise.

The Set-Up

All this tightness starts in your set-up, if you can perfect that you have more than half the battle complete. During the set-up you want to remember a few key points:

  • Push your feet hard into the ground underneath you, tightening your glutes and hamstrings. If your feet move at all when bench pressing you are not doing it correctly.
  • With your butt planted on the bench move your shoulders down towards your butt, creating an arch (and tightness) in your lower and upper back.
  • Retract your scapulae together and lock them in tight.
  • Retract your shoulders along with your scapulae. Some use the cue “spread the bar” to achieve this position.
  • Tighten the chest and triceps as the bar is lifted out of the bench press rack.

Two Exercises to Keep you Tight

1. Scapular Retractions

A great exercise to strengthen the muscles involved in keeping a tight upper back is scapular retractions. They teach the proper way to get tight, along with strengthening the muscles necessary to remain tight.

Scapular retractions can be performed with bands, or on the cable pulley machine. Start sitting on the floor with your arms fully extended and shoulders rounded forward grasping a band or v handle. Retract your scapula and shoulders back, you should look like you are trying to “puff out” your chest if it is done properly. Hold the retracted position for a second and then return to the starting position. Do 3-4 sets of 12 reps.

2. The Spoto Press

The Spoto press, named after world record holder in the bench press Eric Spoto, is a great exercise to help you increase your bench and break through those pesky plateaus. This chest-blasting move teaches you to remain “tight” throughout the lift.

To perform a Spoto press, set-up like you normally would for a bench press. Remember to get tight in your set-up. Now lift off the bar and lower it under control until the bar is 1-2” off your chest. Pause at this position for a second or two and then press the weight up. This ensures you will remain tight in your upper back and chest throughout the whole movement. Because of the increased time under tension, don’t expect to be able to lift your max weight. But keep them heavy and in the lower rep range (2-4 reps per set).

A video posted by Noah Bryant (@noahstrength) on

Staying tight is key to a big bench, if you are loose like a dead fish you are leaving weight on the rack that should be on the bar!

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