Bench Press Blunders By Mike Westerdal of CriticalBench.com As Published in REPS Magazine, January 2006
"Don't Let These 8 Mistakes Sabotage Your Bench"
Did you know the average weight training enthusiast can barely bench press their own bodyweight? That statistic doesn't even account for the people that don't work out. Give yourself a pat on the back if you've conquered the feat of benching your own bodyweight. Don't worry if you're not there yet, you're about to learn eight sure-fire methods that will help you earn bragging rights in and out of the gym.
So what's the big deal about the bench press anyway? You're not playing sports or trying to compete, why is this legendary exercise so vital to an attention grabbing physique? In fact for those of you who think the bench press is simply for the ego, you're wrong. It's true no other exercise is more frequently talked about. However it's not so strange when you think about it. The bench press is a core fundamental exercise for developing upper body strength. You're not only working your pectorals (chest), you are also working your anterior deltoids (front shoulders), triceps brachii, and latissimus dorsi (back). If you could pick just one exercise to acquire a full round chest with some functional power to go with it, you would be wise to go with the bench. You just can't develop the same upper body with any other exercise.
As a personal trainer I have seen hundreds of people strive for a 300-pound bench. The truth is most people make the same mistakes, but they can easily be changed to help you start an explosive growth spurt of your own.
Mistake #1: Less is more.
By far the biggest mistake people make is "wanting it" so bad that they overtrain. It's human nature, if we don't see the gains we're looking for the common sense solution is to work harder and harder. I can tell you from personal experience that last time I hit a plateau in my training I took a week off from the gym and came back stronger than the last time worked out. Be on the look out for warning signs of overtraining such as lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, poor nutrition, and of course lack of progress.
Mistake #2: Full body workouts.
Let's get you set up on a new split where you can give each muscle involved in the bench press the attention it needs. Remember, there's more to the bench press than just your chest. For maximum recovery you should only train each body part once per week with an optimal workout split. If you still think you need to bench two or three times a week, see mistake #1. You have time to workout 45-minutes a day, 4-days a week don't you?
Mistake #3: Self-doubt.
Hopefully you don't need a pep talk, but here it goes anyway. Excuse me as I impersonate motivational speaker Anthony Robbins for a moment. Your subconscious mind believes whatever you tell it, so do yourself a favor and program it with positive thoughts. I cringe every time someone asks me for a spot and they bash themselves before they even start the lift. Comments like, "I don't think I'll get very many reps," or "I can't do this much, but I'll try." If you're not confident, fake it, and tell yourself you're going to succeed. Trying is a part of failing. If you're afraid to fail, you're afraid to try.
Mistake #4: Bad form.
Let's work on some mechanics. After practicing a few of these techniques you should be able to boost your bench press by a minimum of 25 pounds.
Widen your grip a little bit. The wider your grip, the less distance the bar has to travel. Therefore it makes sense that you'd want to grip the bar as wide as possible. If you have been benching with a closer grip this will take some getting used to, but will make a big difference in a few weeks. To determine your grip, assume a natural push-up position and then bump it out approximately 3-inches.
Another way to decrease the distance the bar has to travel is to retract your shoulder blades. Try to squeeze your shoulder blades together during the entire movement. This will give you a more stable surface to bench from.
Keep your feet on the floor and drive with your heels. If you see someone kicking or flapping their legs in the air, as they turn blue trying to push the weight you'll know that they are off centered and it's costing them some serious poundage. Keep your heels on the floor to help you generate power.
Arch your back. Your butt, shoulder blades, and head should always be in contact with the bench, but it's okay to arch your lower back. If this isn't natural for you, you can place a foam roller under your lower pack for practice. Many people have asked what the point of this technique is. Again, it shortens the distance the bar needs to travels.
Is this cheating? Not at all, this is a regulation lift. If you want to completely isolate your chest head over to the pec deck machine to finish up. It's good that you're learning to use more than just your chest when you bench press. Don't be surprised if two days later you feel sore in your back, chest, shoulders, and triceps.
Mistake #5: Too many warm-up sets.
Don't get me wrong you certainly need to properly warm-up. However you should do so with some very light weighst, push-ups, and stretching. You don't want to exhaust your muscles before you get to your working sets. Most people pyramid up and then wonder whey they can't get the weight on their last set. By doing lighter warm-up sets you will save your energy for the heavier weights and a big finish.
Mistake #6: Neglecting your back.
Strong lats or "wings" are very important to the negative phase of the bench press. Your back is the center of support for the weight as you lower it to your chest. That's why blasting your back is so important and must not be skipped. Try some T-bar rows, or bent over barbell rows to strengthen your back. You'll notice that it's almost the exact opposite or antagonistic lift to the bench press.
Mistake #7: Lack of goals.
So you want to increase your bench press. That makes the two of us. The problem with this statement is it's much too vague. I want you to pull out your pen and paper. Write your goal down on four separate sheets of paper in bold letters. "ACHIEVE A ______ POUND BENCH PRESS BY ______." The simple task of writing your goal on paper brings you closer to completion. This act will make your goal more concrete, increasing the likelihood of achieving it. Now post these pieces of paper on your fridge, dashboard, computer screen, and dresser to constantly remind you of your goal.
Mistake #8: Lack of variety.
The human body is an amazing system. Whatever you throw at it, it can adjust and learn to handle. Keeping it off guard, mixing things up, and adding variety to your workouts will ensure your body responds positively. Always stay one step ahead by changing your workouts when you feel you're not making the gains you expect. If you're like me and want to look good while, while having some strength to back it up you've probably been training with reps between eight and twelve. Try lowering the reps on your bench press sets to the six to eight repetition range for a few weeks. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see how your body reacts if you haven't tried this before.
If you can avoid these common pitfalls and you're open-minded enough to try something new you'll soon be bench pressing more than you dreamed possible. Take it from me, the man who was stalemated at a 275-pound bench press for more than three years! Learn from others mistakes and watch your bench press sore. Your wife or girlfriend will be admiring your muscular upper body while your friend's are dying to learn your secrets.
Saturday: Watch the game
The Bench Blastoff Routine
Day 1: Chest/Biceps
Flat Bench Press 4 sets of 6-8 reps
Incline Dumbbell Press 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Cable Crossover 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Alternating Dumbbell Curls 4 sets of 8-10 reps
Seated Preacher Curls 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 2: Legs
Squat 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Press 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Leg Extensions 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Leg Curls 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Day 3: Off
Day 4: Shoulders/Traps
Font Military Press 3 6-8 reps
Upright Rows 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Lateral Riases 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Dumbbell Shrugs 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Day 5: Back/Triceps
Pullups 3 sets of 10-12 reps
Bent Over Barbell Rows 3 sets of 6-8 reps
Lat Pulldowns 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Close Grip Bench Press 3 6-8 reps
Tricep Extensions 3 sets of 8-10 reps
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Off
Points To Remember:
Ø Make sure you're not overtraining.
Ø Work your bench press only once per week.
Ø Ditch the self-destructing negative thoughts.
Ø Don't waste your energy with surplus warm-up sets.
Ø Train your back just as hard as your chest.
Ø Set a specific goal.
Ø Try performing less repetitions when benching.
Ø Drive with your heels, widen your grip, arch your back, and retract your shoulder blades!
About The Author:
Mike Westerdal is the President of Critical Bench, Inc. He earned his BS from Central CT State University and holds certification as a personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise. Westerdal also has experience coaching and playing professional football. His articles are published throughout the Web and in numerous weight lifting magazines including Monster Muscle. His best RAW bench press is currently 450 lbs. He is the author of the
Critical Bench Program.