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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

        Fitness Coaching

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        Last Updated on March 30, 2020

        Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

        Why You’re Feeling Tired All the Time (And What to Do About It)

        Feeling tired all the time?

        Have you ever caught yourself nodding off when you’re watching TV, listening to someone drone on during a meeting or even driving a car?

        I know I have, especially when I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive.

        Feeling tired all the time may be more widespread than you think. In fact, two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week.[1]

        If you’re tired of feeling tired, then I’ve got some great news for you. New research is helping us gain critical insights into the underlying causes of feeling tired all the time.

        In this article, we’ll discuss the latest reasons why you’re feeling tired all the time and practical steps you can take to finally get to the bottom of your fatigue and feel rested.

        What Happens When You’re Too Tired

        If you sleep just two hours less than the normal eight hours, you could be as impaired as someone who has consumed up to three beers.[2] And you’ve probably experienced the impact yourself.

        Here are some common examples of what happens when you’re feeling tired:[3]

        • You may have trouble focusing because memory and learning functions may be impaired within your brain.
        • You may experience mood swings and an inability to differentiate between what’s important and what’s not because your brain’s neurotransmitters are misfiring.
        • You may get dark circles under your eyes and/or your skin make look dull and lackluster in the short term and over time your skin may get wrinkles and show signs of aging because your body didn’t have time to remove toxins during sleep.
        • You may find it more difficult to exercise or to perform any type of athletic activity.
        • Your immune system may weaken causing you to pick up infections more easily.
        • You may overeat because not getting enough sleep activates the body’s endocannabinoids even when you’re not hungry.
        • Your metabolism slows down so what you eat is more likely to be stored as belly fat.

        Are you saying that feeling tired can make me overweight?

        Unfortunately, yes!

        Feeling tired all the time can cause you to put on the pounds especially around your waist. But it is a classic chicken and egg situation, too.

        Heavier people are more likely to feel fatigued during the day than lighter ones. And that’s even true for overweight people who don’t have sleep apnea (source: National Institutes of Health).

        Speaking of sleep apnea, you may be wondering if that or something else is causing you to feel tired all the time.

        Why Are you Feeling Tired All the Time?

        Leading experts are starting to recognize that there are three primary reasons people feel tired on a regular basis: sleep deprivation, fatigue and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).

        Here’s a quick overview of each root cause of feeling tired all of the time:

        1. Tiredness occurs from sleep deprivation when you don’t get high-quality sleep consistently. It typically can be solved by changing your routine and getting enough deep restorative sleep.
        2. Fatigue occurs from prolonged sleeplessness which could be triggered by numerous issues such as mental health issues, long-term illness, fibromyalgia, obesity, sleep apnea or stress. It typically can be improved by changing your lifestyle and using sleep aids or treatments, if recommended by your physician.
        3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a medical condition also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis that occurs from persistent exhaustion that doesn’t go away with sleep.

        The exact cause of CFS is not known, but it may be due to problems with the immune system, a bacterial infection, a hormone imbalance or emotional trauma.

        It typically involves working with a doctor to rule out other illnesses before diagnosing and treating CFS.[4]

        Always consult a physician to get a personal diagnosis about why you are feeling tired, especially if it is a severe condition.

        Feeling Tired vs Being Fatigued

        If lack of quality sleep doesn’t seem to be the root cause for you, then it’s time to explore fatigue as the reason you are frequently feeling tired.

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        Until recently, tiredness and fatigue were thought to be interchangeable. Leading experts now realize that tiredness and fatigue are different.

        Tiredness is primarily about lack of sleep.

        But fatigue is a perceived feeling of being tired that is much more likely to occur in people who have depression, anxiety or emotional stress and/or are overweight and physically inactive (source: Science Direct).

        Symptoms of fatigue include:

        • Difficulty concentrating
        • Low stamina
        • Difficulty sleeping
        • Anxiety
        • Low motivation

        These symptoms may sound similar to those of tiredness but they usually last longer and are more intense.

        Unfortunately, there is no definitive reason why fatigue occurs because it can be a symptom of an emotional or physical illness. But there are still a number of steps you can take to reduce difficult symptoms by making a few simple lifestyle changes.

        How Much Sleep Is Enough?

        The number one reason you may feel tired is because of sleep deprivation which means you are not getting enough high-quality sleep.

        Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re sleep deprived, the amount of sleep you need increases.

        So, quantity and quality do matter when it comes to sleep.

        The key to quality sleep is being able to get long, uninterrupted sleep cycles throughout the night. It typically takes 90 minutes for you to reach a state of deep REM sleep where your body’s healing crew goes to work.

        Ideally, you want to get at least 3 to 4 deep REM sleep cycles in per night. That’s why it’s so important to stay asleep for 7 or more hours.

        Research also shows that people who think they can get by on less sleep don’t perform as well as people who get at least seven hours of sleep a night[5] So, you should definitely plan on getting seven hours of deep restorative sleep every night.

        If you are not getting 7 hours of high-quality sleep regularly, then sleep deprivation is most likely reason you feel tired all the time.

        And that is good news because sleep deprivation is much simpler and easier to address than the other root causes.

        It’s also a good idea to rule out sleep deprivation as the reason why you are tired before moving on to the other possibilities such as fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which may require a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

        4 Simple Changes to Reduce Fatigue

        Personally, I’m a big believer in upgrading your lifestyle to uplift your life. I overcame chronic stress and exhaustion by making these four changes to my lifestyle:

        1. Eating healthy, home-cooked meals versus microwaving processed foods or eating out
        2. Exercising regularly
        3. Using stressbusters
        4. Creating a bedtime routine to sleep better

        So, I know it is possible to change your lifestyle even when you’re working crazy hours and have lots of family responsibilities.

        After I made the 4 simple changes in my lifestyle, I no longer felt exhausted all of the time.

        In addition, I lost two inches off my waist and looked and felt better than ever.

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        I was so excited that I wanted to help others replace stress and exhaustion with rest and well-being, too. That’s why I became a Certified Holistic Wellness Coach through the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute.

        Interestingly enough, I discovered that Dr. Sears recommends a somewhat similar L.E.A.N. lifestyle:

        • L is for Lifestyle and means living healthy including getting enough sleep.
        • E is for Exercise and means getting at least 20 minutes of exercise a day ideally for six days a week.
        • A is for Attitude and means thinking positive and reducing stress whenever possible.
        • N is for Nutrition and means emphasizing a right-fat diet, not a low-fat diet.

        The L.E.A.N. lifestyle is a scientifically-proven way to reduce fatigue, get to the optimal weight and to achieve overall wellness.[6]

        And yes, there does seem to be an important correlation between being lean and feeling rested.

        But overall based on my personal experience and Dr. Sear’s scientific proof, the key to not feeling tired all of the time does seem to be 4 simple changes to your lifestyle.

        L — Living Healthy

        Getting enough high-quality sleep every day is the surefire way to help you feel less fatigued, more rested and better overall.

        So, whether you’re sleep deprived or potentially suffering from fatigue or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you probably want to find a way to sleep better.

        In fact, if you aren’t getting enough sleep, your body isn’t getting the time it needs to repair itself; meaning that if you are suffering from an illness, it’s far more likely to linger.

        As unlikely as it sounds, though, fatigue can sometimes make it difficult to sleep. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at your bedtime routine before you go to bed and optimize it based on sleep best practices.

        Here are 3 quick and easy tips for creating a pro-sleep bedtime routine:

        1. Unplug

        Many of us try to unwind by watching TV or doing something on an iPhone or tablet. But tech can affect your melatonin production due to the blue light that they emit, fooling your body into thinking it’s still daytime.

        So turn off all tech one hour before bed and create a tech-free zone in your bedroom.

        2. Unwind

        Do something to relax.

        Use the time before bed to do something you find relaxing such as reading a book, listening to soothing music, meditating or taking an Epsom salt bath.

        3. Get Comfortable

        Ensure your bed is comfortable and your room is set up for sleep.

        Make sure you room is cool. 60-68 degrees is the ideal temperature for most people to sleep.

        Also, it’s ideal if your bedroom is dark and there is no noise.

        Finally, make sure everything is handled (e.g., laying out tomorrow’s clothes) before you get into your nice, comfy bed.

        If your mind is still active, write a to-do list to help you fall asleep faster.[7]

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        Above all, be gentle with yourself and count your blessings, some sheep or whatever helps.

        This article also offers practical tips to build a bedtime routine: How to Build a Good Bedtime Routine That Makes Your Morning Easier

        E — Exercise

        Many people know that exercise is good for them, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into their busy schedules.

        That’s what happened in my case.

        But when my chronic stress and exhaustion turned into systemic inflammation (which can lead to major diseases like Alzheimer’s), I realized it was time to change my lifestyle.

        As part of my lifestyle upgrade, I knew I needed to move more.

        My friends who exercise all gave me the same advice: find an exercise you like to do and find a specific time in your schedule when you can consistently do it.

        That made sense to me.

        So, I decided to swim.

        I used to love to swim when I was young, but I hadn’t done it for years. The best time for me to do it was immediately after work, since I could easily get an open swim lane at my local fitness club then.

        Also, swimming became a nice reason for me to leave work on time. And I got to enjoy a nice workout before eating dinner.

        Swimming is a good way to get your cardio or endurance training. But, walking, running and dancing are nice alternatives.

        So find an exercise you love and stick to it. Ideally, get a combination of endurance training, strength training and flexibility training in during your daily 20-minute workout.

        If you haven’t exercised in a while and have a lot of stress in your life, you may want to give yoga a try because you will increase your flexibility and lower your stress.

        A — Attitude

        Stress may be a major reason why you aren’t feeling well all of the time. At least that was the case with me.

        When I worked 70 hours per week as a High-Tech Executive, I felt chronically stressed and exhausted. But there was one thing that always worked to help me feel calmer and less fatigued.

        Do you want to know what that master stress-busting technique was?

        Breathing.

        But not just any old breathing. It was a special form of deep Yogic breathing called the “Long-Exhale Breathing” or “4-7-8 breathing” or “Pranayama” in Sanskrit).

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        Here’s how you do “Long-Exhale Breathing”:

        1. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and your hand on your tummy (so you know you are breathing deeply from your diaphragm and not shallowly from your chest)
        2. Breathe in deeply and slowly from your diaphragm with your mouth closed while you count to 4 (ideally until your stomach feels full of air)
        3. Hold your breath while you count to 7 mentally and enjoy the stillness
        4. Breathe out through your mouth with a “ha” sound while you count to 8 (or until your stomach has no more air in it)
        5. Pause after you finish your exhale while you notice the sense of wholeness and relaxation from completing one conscious, deep, long exhale breath
        6. Repeat 3 times ensuring your exhale is longer than your inhale so you relax your nervous system

        This type of “long-exhale breathing” is scientifically proven to reduce stress.

        When your exhale is twice as long as your inhale, it soothes your parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates the relaxation response.[8]

        Plus, this is a great technique for helping you get to sleep, too.

        N — Nutrition

        Diet is vital for beating fatigue – after all, food is your main source of energy.

        If your diet is poor, then it implies you’re not getting the nutrients you need to sustain healthy energy levels.

        Eating a diet for fatigue doesn’t need to be complicated, time-consuming though.

        For most people, it’s just a case of swapping a few unhealthy foods for a few healthier ones, like switching from low-fiber, processed foods to whole, high-fiber foods.

        Unless your current diet is solely made up of fast food and ready meals, adjusting to a fatigue-fighting diet shouldn’t be too much of a shock to the system.

        Here’re 9 simple diet swaps you can make today:

        1. Replace your morning coffee with Matcha green tea and drink only herbal tea within six hours of bedtime.
        2. Add a healthy fat or protein to your any carb you eat, especially if you eat before bed. Please note that carb-only snacks lead to blood-sugar crashes that can make you eat more and they can keep you from sleeping.
        3. Fill up with fiber especially green leafy vegetables. Strive to get at least 25g per day with at least 5 servings (a serving is the size of your fist) of green vegetables.
        4. Replace refined, processed, low-fiber pastas and grains with zucchini noodles and whole grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, oats, amaranth, millet, teff, brown rice and corn.
        5. Swap natural sweeteners for refined sugars and try to ensure you don’t get more than 25g of sugar a day if you are a woman and 30g of sugar a day if you are a man.
        6. Replace ice cream with low-sugar alternatives such as So Delicious Dairy-Free Vanilla Bean Coconut Ice Cream.
        7. Swap omega-6, partially-hydrogenated oils such as corn, palm, sunflower, safflower, cotton, canola and soybean oil for omega-3 oils such as flax, olive and nut oils.
        8. Replace high-sugar yoghurts with low-sugar, dairy-free yoghurts such as Kite Hill Plain Yoghurt with 1g sugar or Lifeway Farmer Cheese with 0g sugar.
        9. Swap your sugar-laden soda for sparkling water with a splash of low-sugar juice

        Also, ensure your diet is giving you enough of the daily essential vitamins and minerals. Most of us don’t get enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B-12, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. If you are low on any of the above vitamins and minerals, you may experience fatigue and low energy.

        That’s why it’s always worth having your doctor check your levels. If you find any of them are low, then try to eat foods rich in them.

        Alternatively, you might consider a high-quality multi-vitamin or specific supplement.

        The Bottom Line

        If you are tired of feeling tired, then there is tremendous hope.

        If you are tired because you are not getting enough high-quality sleep, then the best remedy is a bedtime routine based on sleep best practices.

        If you are tired because you have stress and fatigue, then the best remedy are four simple lifestyle changes including:

        • Enough High-Quality Sleep with Bedtime Routine
        • Regular Exercise You Love
        • Stress Reduction with Long-Exhale Breathing
        • Fatigue-Reducing Diet

        Overall, adopting a healthier lifestyle Is the ideal remedy for feeling more rested and energized.

        More Tips to Help You Rest Better

        Featured photo credit: Cris Saur via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] YouGov: Two-fifths of Americans are tired most of the week
        [2] National Safety Council: Is Your Company Confronting Workplace Fatigue?
        [3] The New York Times: Why Are We So Freaking Tired?
        [4] Mayo Clinic: Chronic fatigue syndrome
        [5] Mayo Clinic: Lack of sleep: Can it make you sick?
        [6] Ask Dr. Sears: The L.E.A.N. Lifestyle
        [7] American Psychological Association: Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
        [8] Yoga International: Learning to Exhale: 2-to-1 Breathing

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