The bench press is a common staple in any workout program whether you are lifting competitively or just doing general strength training. However, while the bench press seems like a fairly simple movement, it is actually a compound, fully body movement. Yes...I said fully body. The bench press is often mistaken as solely an upper body movement; however, your core and legs also play an important role in proper performance and power for the bench press.
We have put together a series of exercises that you can incorporate into your training program to help you improve upon the performance of your bench. Whether your goal is to have a heavier bench press or to just be able to perform the movement correctly so that you reduce risk of pain and injury, these exercises will have something for you. We will look at 4 different areas:
Bench Press Variations
Bench Press Accessory Work
Cool Down Exercises
I know that I may be getting some major eye rolls 🙄 that the first set of exercises is a warm-up. Unfortunately, too many people skip a proper warm-up before exercising, not only putting themselves at increased risk of injury, but also decreasing their performance. I promise that if you warm-up properly (and no just doing a few sets at a lighter weight does not count) that you will start to notice a difference in the amount of weight you are able lift.
A warm-up is important because it gets your cardiovascular system pumping, loosens and warms up your muscles and joints, and most importantly activates your nervous system. Our nervous systems controls every movement we make, so we want to make sure that it is online and ready for the task at hand. In the video below, you will find 3 warm-up exercises that will specifically target loosening and warming up muscles required for the bench press, as well as muscle and nervous system activation, which will help your body be prepared for your lifts.
Bench Press Variations
Mixing in different variations of the bench press can help improve your overall bench press performance by honing in on specific problems areas during the movement (ie - "sticking points") or changing up the movement just slightly to increase muscle activation and strength. Changing the stimulus (ie - the lift) even slightly forces the body to adapt to the new movement and stressors, which can help build strength.
In this video we will demonstrate the pin press and double pause, which help with the above mentioned "sticking points" or areas where the bar seems to get stuck/move slower. And football bar bench, which allows you to place your hands at different angles. This changes the stimulus just slightly to help increase muscle recruitment and build strength.
Bench Press Accessory Work
Accessory exercises are often performed in addition to your main lift(s), in this case the main lift would be the bench press. They are meant to compliment the main lift and work on additional areas that supplement the muscles or movements required for the main lift. This can be in the form of unilateral work, muscle endurance, isolation work, etc. As with performing a proper warm-up, accessory work can help improve performance and prevent pain and injury. See the video below for 3 accessory movements that you can incorporate on your bench days. They can be done at any point during the workout, but we typically recommend them as finishers/at the end of the workout.
Bench Press Cool Down
Ok, so here come the eye rolls again...LOL. I know, just like warming up, cool downs can seem silly, and I understand that most of us are busy and we don't have hours to spend in the gym. However, a proper cool down following a workout can actually help you make gains! When our muscles are warmed up well, that is the best time to work on gaining mobility. Unlocking mobility helps our muscles and joints move more freely, which always for improved movement patterns with our lifts. If we move more efficient during our lifts because we have improved mobility, then we are going to be able to move heavier loads. And as has been a theme throughout, taking time to cool down and work on mobility is also a great way to prevent pain and injury, so you can continue to train and stay active. So check out this bench press cool down routine.
What to Do Next?
Start incorporating some of these exercises into your workouts, specifically on bench days, but these are also applicable to a lot of other upper body movements, especially pressing movements. Being consistent with warming up, doing accessory work, and cooling down will go a long way to help your performance and stay healthy. But consistency is key, it isn't good enough to just do these here and there, you need to make it part of your routine to get the most benefit!
If you are interesting in learning more about how to specifically improve your bench press, Enhance Performance Therapy and Muscle for the Journey will be hosting a Bench Press Workshop on 2/19/22 from 10am-12pm. During the workshop we will cover:
The basics of proper bench press setup and execution
Common faults and limiting factors
Proper bench press warm-up
Hands on feedback for your bench technique
Practical take home tips
Spots are limited to just 10, so make sure that you sign-up and reserve your spot. Just click on the link below.