Strength week: 5 tips to increase your bench press

There are many reasons some people might want to improve their bench press. Athletes on sports teams are often graded or evaluated by coaches on their bench press, a strong bench press helps improve overall upper body strength and, lastly, it’s a good status symbol in the gym for some to be one of the “big benchers.”

Whatever your reason for wanting to up the amount of iron you throw around on the bench, here are five ways to improve those bench press numbers:

1. Pyramid – It’s recommended for beginning weightlifters to do sets of 10 or more repetitions, but as you gain strength and experience it’s important to change up your sets.
One of the best ways to increase your bench press is to do pyramid sets – start with higher reps and less weight and gradually reduce the reps and increase the reps.
Here’s a basic example of a pyramid routine for flat-bench presses with an Olympic barbell: 135 pounds X 10 reps (a warm-up set, do slow and controlled reps), 185 X 10, 215 X 8, 225 X6, 245 X 4, 275 X 2.
This is a good way to gradually be able to handle heavier weight. If you can handle a pyramid then move up the weight used for the next time.
2. Pushups – One of the most basic exercises there are, pushups are a great way to build the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles. You don’t want to grind at the shoulders by benching with a straight bar each time, so work in pushups.
3. Isolation – Work on the individual components of the bench: triceps, pectorals, shoulders.
One of the quickest ways to increase your bench is to strengthen your triceps. Do triceps pushdowns on a home gym, along with triceps kickbacks using light dumbbells.
Flyes will help the chest, while shoulder presses will help that component.
4. Use proper technique – Make sure everything in your bench press technique is sound. Drive off the bench with your shoulders planted and chest pushing out, but don’t arch back. Also, keep your feet firmly planted on the floor for a good base. Keep your glutes down against the bench as well. Don’t be squirming all around with your feet and body. Also very important – breathe out as you push up. If the weight is really tough go ahead and grunt!
5. Alternate routines – Finally, change up your bench sets regularly. This will avoid hitting plateaus and develop endurance as well as strength. Mix in days where you do higher reps with lighter weights – even hitting burnout sets. Follow it with days where you go real heavy, such as three sets of three.
Also, mix in incline and decline dumbbell chest work as well.
Remember to always stretch well, especially the shoulder muscles. Also, make sure to counter-balance bench pressing by working out shoulders (front and back) on opposite days.

At Home Fitness consultant Aaron Dorksen’s blog deals with a variety of fitness topics, ranging from workout tips, motivational ideas and feature stories on how exercise impacts people’s lives. E-mail him with comments, questions or ideas for future blogs at