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5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Bench Press Right Now

5 Simple Ways to Improve Your Bench Press Right Now

If you’ve been lifting weights for any length of time, you’ve been asked:

“How much ya bench?”

The bench is so popular that Mondays are affectionately known as National Bench Press day. Walk into any gym on a Monday at 5 p.m. and I can guarantee that all of the bench press stations are occupied. While squats, and deadlifts are having a renaissance of sorts, when it comes down to it, the bench press is probably still the most popular lift.

But the truth is, most people have awful technique. Not only are they probably setting themselves up for injury but they’re also leaving a lot of weight off the bar. With just a few quick fixes to your technique, anyone can be protected from injuries and add pounds to their lift immediately.

1. Pack your shoulders and keep them tight.

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arm-in-out

    Most people lay shoulders “flat” on the bench. What this means is that they allow there shoulders to be passive and spread out across the bench. This has several effects on your bench press:

    • You don’t have a stable base to transfer force through the bench and press off of.
    • You’re Humerus (upper arm bone) has a much better chance of sliding in the joint and creating damage to the shoulder joint.

    What you want to do is pinch your shoulder blades together as tightly as possible and then pull them down “into the back pockets.” Now keep them there throughout the whole lift. This ensures that you’re creating as “open” a shoulder joint as possible and you’re giving yourself a stable platform to drive the bar off of.

    2. Keep your feet in place and drive them into the ground.

    How often do you see someone moving their feet around as they perform their set?

    I see it often, in fact it’s very typical for beginners to have so little foot pressure that they end up kicking a foot out from under them.

    What should happen is that the feet are in place the entire time and you’re actively driving them through the ground.

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    foot position

      There is a lot of debate about if your whole foot should be on the ground or just your toes. I prefer placing my whole foot on the ground and driving through the heels, but many very strong bench pressers perform the lift on the balls of their feet. Either way, you should have tension through the legs the whole time. From lift-off until you re-rack the bar, really focus on pressing the feet through the floor, “squatting the weight up” as you drive the weight off the chest.

      3. Squeeze your butt HARD.

      One of the keys to lifting the most weight possible and increasing safety while lifting is tightness. You need to focus on creating tension through the whole body to brace against the force of the bar and transfer the most force possible through the bar. Without tightness, joints will move that shouldn’t and your chance for injury skyrockets.

      This is why it’s so important to activate the glutes and keep them turned on the whole time. Once you’ve learned how to “squat the weight up” and drive with the legs, if you don’t keep the glutes turned on, there is a good chance you’ll over extend (arch) the lumbar spine as the pelvis shifts anteriorly. This will drive the hips off the bench, increase the chance of the pelvis shifting and can be very stressful to the lumbar vertebrae, especially at the L4, L5. and S1 vertebrae. Squeezing the glutes hard the whole time (especially off the chest) will help lock the pelvis and therefore spine and whole body in place and ensure a better, safer transfer of force into the bar.

      4. Crush the bar.

      Remember, lifting heavy weights is, in large part about creating tightness through the whole body. What happens when you really, I mean really, try to crush something? Your whole body should tighten up. At the very least your arms and upper torso.

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      Crushing the bar will not only help tighten everything up, crushing the bar also sends a signal to the brain that more force is needed to perform this task and the body will respond by recruiting more of the Type 2 muscle fibers. Those are the biggest, strongest type of muscle fibers, the ones that need to be activated to lift big weights.

      Quick Tip: The bar should be in the heel of the hand, NOT the fingers.

      wrist position_edited

        Bar placement in the hand is very important. If the bar is in the fingers you’re going to bend your wrists. Place the bar towards the heel of the hand, keep the wrist straight, wrap the fingers around the bar and crush it.

        5. Press yourself away from the bar; not the bar away from you.

        What does that even mean?

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        You should think about pressing yourself, head, shoulders, and feet into the floor to create distance between you and the bar instead of pressing the bar form you. This will help you stay “tight” by keeping your upper back tight and legs engaged.

        When we think about pressing the bar away there is a tendency to get “soft” in the upper back and legs. Not only does this reduce the amount of force you can transfer into the bar, ie. the amount of weight you can lift, it also increases your chance for injury. As the upper back loses tension and the scapula “unpack” and flatten out the shoulder joint becomes increasingly unstable. If the lower body isn’t engaged you’re not only losing a lot of your power but the chance of the pelvis shifting, and the back injury that could come with it, increases greatly. Get and stay tight.

        Do these five things next time you head in to bench. At first most of them will feel a bit foreign, but after just a few sets you’ll be surprised at how much more “locked in” to the bench and bar you feel, and how much stronger you are.

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        Last Updated on January 21, 2020

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

        Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

        your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

          Why You Need a Vision

          Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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          How to Create Your Life Vision

          Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

          What Do You Want?

          The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

          It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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          Some tips to guide you:

          • Remember to ask why you want certain things
          • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
          • Give yourself permission to dream.
          • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
          • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

          Some questions to start your exploration:

          • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
          • What would you like to have more of in your life?
          • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
          • What are your secret passions and dreams?
          • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
          • What do you want your relationships to be like?
          • What qualities would you like to develop?
          • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
          • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
          • What would you most like to accomplish?
          • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

          It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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          What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

          Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

          A few prompts to get you started:

          • What will you have accomplished already?
          • How will you feel about yourself?
          • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
          • What does your ideal day look like?
          • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
          • What would you be doing?
          • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
          • How are you dressed?
          • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
          • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
          • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

          It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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          Plan Backwards

          It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

          • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
          • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
          • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
          • What important actions would you have had to take?
          • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
          • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
          • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
          • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
          • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

          Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

          It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

          Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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