Build a Bigger and Better Bench, Part 1: The Back
When it comes to improving your Bench Press, you probably see the same information over and over. You know all about Block Presses and the importance of strengthening your triceps. It's been said everywhere. But although these are not necessarily bad things, I'm going to show you what you need to do to build a truly superior Bench Press. (Learn how to improve your 225-Bench test.)
Building a bigger Bench is not easy. You need to do some old-fashioned hard work, and push your body, mind and soul to the limit. There's no easy way out. Some people think benching your body weight is good. You've got to be kidding me! I'd have some serious issues if I could only bench my body weight.
Some people say the Bench is overrated or dangerous. Those people can't bench well, I guarantee you that. The Bench is one of the big-boy staples, as is the Shoulder Press. Do you think that Terrell Suggs or Adrian Peterson don't bench? Think again. It is the main upper-body power and size builder. (Watch Ndamukong Suh perform the Bench.)
I agree with my good friend, strength guru Louie Simmons, that the Bench Press, when done correctly, is not a chest exercise. Put one hand on your pec and act like you're benching with the other hand. Your pec hardly moves, because the pecs are not the primary movers in the Bench Press. The upper back and lats are responsible for pushing things away and pulling them back toward the body.
This brings us to the fact that the upper back and lats, along with the triceps and front delts, are the muscles primarily involved in the Bench Press. The lats are the largest muscles in the upper body, which is why I like to say, "a big back equals a big Bench."
At this point, your perspective on the Bench should have changed completely. Now you have to learn how to optimize your technique to take advantage of your big back muscles. Using the body the way it was designed will yield much greater results with far less chance of injury.
Change Your Arm Angle
Many people make the mistake of positioning their elbows at the three o'clock and nine o'clock positions (assuming the head is at 12 o'clock). This puts them at a mechanical disadvantage, because they do not engage their lats or activate their medial deltoids, which are responsible for lifting the shoulders laterally.
Change your arm angle to the four o'clock and eight o'clock positions. This will activate your lats and engage the much larger anterior deltoids. Ever seen an offensive lineman punch? Notice how their arms are in this position, because they are maximizing their pushing strength and power.
Pull Your Shoulders Back
You must contract your shoulder blades together as if you were trying to hold a tennis ball between them. This serves a two-fold purpose. First, it allows you to get a "loaded shoulder" position, which is the strongest position to push forward. Second, it creates a stable base for your shoulders to push against, helping transfer energy into the bar.
This is not possible unless your elbows are in the proper position.
Strengthen Your Lats
To improve your Bench, you have to strengthen your lats. I am not talking about performing slow-moving bodybuilding-style exercises. You need to do fast and heavy back work.
You should work your back three days a week. Do one day of heavy weight for low reps, a second day with moderate weight for medium reps, and the third day with light weight for high reps.
Below you will find two of my favorite back exercises, which I use at Ultimate Advantage.
Stay tuned for the next segment, on shoulders. We're gonna amp it up.
Check out STACK's Bench Press page to learn more ways to build a bigger bench.