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There’s nothing quite like the feel of pushing big weight on the bench press. It’s probably the most often used measuring stick of greater strength in the gym. No one really ever asks you, “Hey, what do you donkey press?”
But getting to those plate-clanging, bar-bending weight loads is no easy task, which is why we’re offering you our three best tips for boosting your bench in a hurry.
Performing heavy negatives once or twice a month does wonders for building strength. Bodybuilders that don’t have a “negatives day” in their routine are really missing out on huge gains. As a quick refresher, negatives are reps that concentrate on the eccentric, or lowering phase of an exercise. Our muscles can handle 30-40 percent more weight on the negative portion of a rep, so taking advantage of that taps into plenty of underexploited fibers in your pecs and trains your body and mind to deal with heavier weight.
To perform negatives on the bench, add 30-40 percent more weight than you’d normally use for 10 reps (after a few warm-up sets, of course). So if you’re pressing 250 pounds for 10 reps, add an extra 75 pounds (30 percent) onto the bar. Unrack the weight and resist the negative all the way down for a full five seconds or more. Once the bar touches your chest, have your training partner help you bring the bar back up to the starting position and repeat this for 3-5 total agonizing reps. Use this method sparingly—1-3 sets, once or twice per month—to avoid overtraining or injury. Besides, after training like this, you’ll likely be too sore to want to do it again soon.
A missing piece of the puzzle when trying to increase your numbers on the bench is working your upper back. Without a strong upper back, it is difficult or impossible to stabilize heavy weight on either side of the repetition. Training your lats and rear delts with regularity and enthusiasm will take your bench higher, faster.
Stick to mass-building exercises like barbell rows, T-bar rows, pull-ups, dumbbell rows, and pulldowns in the 8-12 rep range on back day. And make sure not to neglect your rear delt raises on back or shoulder day. Don’t let your rear delts fool you—just because they’re a small muscle group doesn’t mean you can’t train them heavy. Aim for the same rep ranges (8-12) as your back—just be careful to maintain strict form on all exercises and avoid using any elasticity or momentum to complete reps.
You might be wondering what the heck your grip has to do with your bench press. The answer is, “more than you might think.” And that doesn’t just apply to this exercise—grip strength translates to more poundage on nearly every exercise. For the bench press, however, it pays its biggest dividends by providing greater wrist stabilization. With shaky wrists and flimsy forearms, you have less control of the bar, which is particularly troublesome if you’re into pressing big boy weight. Plus, keeping your wrists locked helps you maintain proper form. Training your grip then is a huge factor in maximizing your bench.
The prescription? Grab a hold of a 45-pound plate in each hand at the fingertips and perform as many finger curls (lifting the edge of the plate towards your palm) as you can. Rest for 30 seconds and keep going until your forearms need a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
Take these three tips and go start tossing some iron around—we guarantee the results will come swiftly.