There aren't too many trainers
I know who don't want a bigger bench press. Let's be honest...it's
an ego lift but it's nice to see people's eyes bug out when
you tell them how much you can bench press (because you know
they always ask!).
But what do you do if you get
stuck at a certain weight with the bench press and you can't
seem to budge it upwards a single pound?
The key here is not to work
harder but instead work smarter.
In my experience with bench
press (and my biomechanics STINK for bench press - I've never
had a strong bench and have always had to work hard at it
to get anywhere. And even then, it fades fast when I don't
keep at it constantly!), it's often not the strength of the
muscles holding a person back but the strength of the connective
tissue in the shoulders and arms.
When you strengthen the connective
tissue, your numbers start going up almost on their own!
Strengthening connective tissues
requires two things...HEAVY weight and HIGH REPS (to get circulation
into the connective tissue for recovery). You need to do something
to pile th weight on much more so than you can do with full
So we first go to partial range
presses where you can use the MOST weight possible. In the
case of the bench, that's the lockout (only the top 2 inches).
We'll target the HEAVY weight
aspect first by loading as much weight on the bar as we can
get for 3 to 5 reps (no more).
So get yourself set up in the
power rack. DO NOT DO THIS EXERCISE
WITHOUT A RACK. I'm telling you this for your health
and safety. Don't even think about doing heavy partials without
a rack. Spotters just won't cut it. Personally, I do all my
regular bench pressing in a rack, too.
You'll be setting the bar on
the safety rails of the rack NOT unracking like you would
a normal bench press. Put a flat bench in the rack and lay
back on it. Look to see where the rails would be set if you
just want to hit the top 2 inches of the bench press.
Move the rails then set a bar
on them. Lie on the bench and test it out. With just the empty
bar, you should have about 3 inches or so of clearance (when
you load the bar with weight, not only will the bar bend but
you will sink into the bench AND your bodyparts are going
to get compacted a bit (in a good way!). This means it's important
that you have a little room to play in terms of safety rail
Now start loading some weight
onto the bar. Put as much on as you would normally do for
sets of 6 reps and do a few warm-up reps just to see what
it feels like. Then load on what would normally be your 1
rep max and do a few more warm-up reps. Even though it's your
full-range max, it'll still be easy in the top lockout range.
Here's what the movement looks
like... (if you're curious, that's 6 plates on either side,
which is 585 lb - this is a bit less than double what my full
range 1 RM was at the time. This is to give you an idea of
how much weight you can potentially work up to with this exercise.
I've gone as high as 7 plates on either side in the past when
I was focusing more specifically on bench). It's a great way
to scare the crap out of people at the gym, too, when you
start throwing that much weight on the bar! :) Not that I
would ever want to do that, of course...
When you're doing maximal heavy
reps like this, set the weight back down on the safety rails
in between each rep to regroup and reset yourself. Basically,
you're just locking out the bench press on each rep!
With this exercise, breathing
and locking your body in tight is very important. Before you
lift the bar off the rails, take a deep breath, inflating
your lungs as much as possible. Squeeze your shoulder blades
behind your back and tighten EVERYTHING. Now you can push.
As you push, you can either hold your breath briefly or exhale
sharply through pursed lips - do what feels best to you.
Move your mouse on and off the
picture below to see the movement. The video shows the true
mechanics of it better but this gives you an idea of how short
the range of motion is.
So this how the exercise is
One of the tricks I like to
use to get maximum push is to envision NOT that I'm pushing
the bar up but that I'm actually pushing myself DOWN through
the bench! Sounds crazy but I've found it really works to
give you some extra mental push.
Next comes the fun part...seeing
how much YOU can do! Add some more weight (I usually recommend
adding a 45 lb plate to either side at this point) and go
again. If you find you can get more than 5 reps with it, increase
the weight on the next set (rest 1 1/2 to 2 minutes in between
sets for recovery - you won't be breathing hard but your energy
stores get depleted fast with the heavy of a weight).
If you don't get much more than
5 reps, increase the weight by 25's on either side, not 45's.
When you hit a weight you can
only get for 3 to 5 reps, stay there. That's your first work
set. We'll do 3 work sets at that weight (so you'll do 2 more
sets), again resting 2 minutes or so between reps. When you
do partials next time, you'll have a better idea of what you
can do and get to your work weights sooner so you can feasibly
bump those up.
When you've done your 3 total
sets, peel off HALF the weight (or you can basically set it
to your current 1 rep max weight that you would do for full
We're going to address the HIGH
REP aspect of connective tissue training. To do this, we're
going to do high-rep partials. These still use a relatively
heavy weight but allow you to get a LOT of reps with that
heavy weight to force blood into the connective tissue.
We'll only be doing 2 sets at
this weight so make each one count.
This version is pretty much
the same as the heavy lockouts only you won't be setting the
bar down on the rails in between reps. You're going to do
very short, continuous reps at the lockout point, never touching
the bar down. You're going to do as many reps as you possibly
can (probably between 30 to 60 or so) and you're going to
do them fairly quickly, keeping tension in the chest and arms.
Wiht this exercise, you can
do very short breaths on each rep or (since the weight is
lighter), you can take slower breaths but do so regularly.
Take 2 minute rest in between
these 2 sets. Then you're done! That's your chest workout
for this session. DO NOT DO ANYTHING ELSE FOR CHEST TODAY.
You may be tempted to because it may not feel like you've
done that much work, but trust me, your body needs the recovery
now so move to the next bodypart.
Do this type of training once
a week (you can do full range movements for chest in a different
workout during the week) for 3 to 4 weeks and you should see
big improvements in your bench press numbers.
It's also VERY important to
note that you should take joint protective nutrients like
glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM and Vitamin C (4 to 5 GRAMS)
while you're doing this type of connective tissue training.
You need to give your body the raw materials to rebuild with.
If you don't, you'll probably
get joint pain and impair your recovery so don't argue. If
you're not going to take at least glucosamine and extra Vit
C, don't even use this type of training because it does break
down connective tissue more than regular training and you
need to help it rebuild.