How to increase your bench press
If you’re training for the bench press, make sure the means match the ends–which is to have a big bench. That’s how to increase your bench press, in a nutshell: match ends and means.
What do we mean by ‘means?’ For this post, ‘means’ are the ways that exercise is organized.
When training, you do some number of repetitions of some number of exercises. And you almost certainly do groups of repetitions, which are called sets.
The results of your training will be largely determined by the number of repetitions, sets, weight lifted, rest between sets, training days per week, and the number of continuous training weeks.
Controlling those variables is an essential way to increase your bench press. Let’s briefly explore two traditional ways that those variables are manipulated.
Increase your bench press with hypertrophy training
One of the most popular traditions is to select an exercise (like the bench press), do it for multiple sets of 8-12 repetitions, take relatively short rest periods between sets, and lift a weight that’s difficult to finish at the end of each set.
That’s the approach that bodybuilders have been following for generations. The technical name for the approach is hypertrophy because it often leads to muscle growth.
But is hypertrophy the way to increase your bench press?
Yes, perhaps, if you actually create muscle growth. For real muscle growth, you have to increase the cross-sectional area of the muscle involved in the bench press.
Since your muscles produce an average force per square centimeter of muscle cross-section area, if you increase the number of square centimeters, you may (but not necessarily) also increase the amount of force generated by the muscle.
In other words, if you train a muscle to be bigger, then the muscle will probably be stronger. And stronger muscles are likely to increase your bench press.
It’s not easy to train muscles to grow bigger. If you do hypertrophy training, but don’t correctly figure out the key variables, then you may not grow bigger muscles.
Increase your bench press with maximum strength training
Some people weight train with maximum or near-maximum weights lifted for a few repetitions, for a few sets, and with a lot of rest.
Technically, this tradition is called maximum strength training or central nervous system training.
This tradition in training is the one most directly linked to increasing your bench press. Perhaps that’s an understatement. So we’ll put it this way: correctly do this kind of training and you will probably set new personal records in the bench press. Maximum strength training does just that—it increases your maximum strength.
The problem is that this approach is so demanding that it should be reserved for advanced lifters. And even they should do it sparingly—1-2 times per week for not more than 4 continuous weeks.
Equipment matters! Make sure the bar is the weight that you think it is. A proper bar for the bench press should be not more than 86.5” long with a diameter around 1.1 inches. It should weigh 20 kilograms, which is just about 44 pounds (45 pounds with spring clips).
Bars with diameters larger than 1.1 inches will be harder to grip, and a weakened grip will impede your ability to apply maximum force. If the bar weighs more than 20 kilograms, but you assume that it weighs 45 pounds, then you’ll be lifting more weight than you think.
The bench’s dimensions are important: the top of the bench should be between 16.5 and 17.7 inches above the ground. The uprights holding the bar should be adjustable. There are many benches that are simply too high. And few gyms have adjustable uprights.
Good equipment is one of the most overlooked ways to increase your bench press. That’s why we provide our members with best-in-class equipment: TuffStuff Pro-XL Racks (because they have adjustable uprights), Big Iron Locking and Adjustable Dumbbell Benches, and York Elite Barbells. All of our equipment is built to International Powerlifting Federation specifications.