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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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        Roy Pumphrey

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        Last Updated on September 20, 2018

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

        If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

        1. Breathe

        The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

        • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
        • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
        • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

        Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

        2. Loosen up

        After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

        Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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        3. Chew slowly

        Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

        Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

        Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

        4. Let go

        Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

        The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

        It’s not. Promise.

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        Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

        Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

        21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

        5. Enjoy the journey

        Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

        Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

        6. Look at the big picture

        The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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        Will this matter to me…

        • Next week?
        • Next month?
        • Next year?
        • In 10 years?

        Hint: No, it won’t.

        I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

        Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

        7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

        You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

        Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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        8. Practice patience every day

        Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

        • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
        • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
        • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

        Final thoughts

        Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

        Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

        Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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