As far as popular gym lifts go, you’d be hard-pressed (pardon the pun) to find a more popular exercise than the flat barbell bench press. Barbell bench presses are perfect examples of effective compound movements as they incorporate numerous muscle groups into the exercise at once. Though it primarily focuses on the chest, and in truth is arguably the most effective exercise for adding muscle mass to the chest, the barbell bench press will also work your triceps, your core, and a little of your deltoids as well. Whilst some people consider a strong bench press to be nothing more than an ego booster, in reality a strong bench press can provide numerous benefits and advantages. Truthfully it doesn’t matter whether you’re looking to improve your bench press to help increase your strength, to increase the muscle mass of your pectoral muscles, or even to simply look and feel better and more confident in the gym, if you’re not benching correctly, you simply will not make the progress you should be making. If you’ve been struggling for weeks, even months, to increase the amount of weight you’re able to bench press, but have been having very little luck, here are five simple reasons that could be responsible for why your bench press isn’t improving.
You’re wearing the wrong footwear
This may come as a surprise to many of you, but the type of footwear that you’re wearing on your feet can greatly help or hinder you during a bench press exercise. Many people are now wearing specially designed lifting shoes that have a raised heel when in fact a raised heel is the last thing you need when bench pressing. In other exercises they may help provide additional leverage but here the idea is to have your soles as flat on the ground as possible, just like when you’re barbell squatting. The reason for this is that you will require as much grip on the floor as possible, which will allow you to drive into the heels of your feet, initiating an effective leg drive as a result.
You’re not consistent with your training
If one of your primary goals is to increase the amount of weight that you’re able to bench press, you need to ensure that you’re bench pressing at least once per week. Some people will head into the gym, perform a few sets of bench presses and a couple of other exercises for their chest, then on the next chest session perform different chest exercises altogether and still expect to make progress with their next bench pressing session. Simply put, working your chest alone is not going to improve your bench press, consistently performing a bench press is going to improve your bench. Even missing one benching session can set you back a good week or two and the last thing you need when looking to progress is to regress by going backwards in the opposite direction. A football player plays and practices football so that they can improve, and if you wish to improve when it comes to your bench press, you need to ensure you’re actually performing the exercise in the first place.
You have a weak upper back
Another common mistake that people tend to make when it comes to bench pressing is thinking that a strong chest is all that is required in order to make any real progress. In reality, having a strong upper back is essential as the upper back is what forms the foundation for a solid bench press. Think about it like this: If you were to build a building, would you build it on a solid concrete foundation, or a weak and unstable foundation made up of sand and rubble? The stronger your upper back, the stronger your bench press will become. If you find yourself hitting a plateau when it comes to bench pressing, for the next few weeks, focus on working and strengthening your upper back with a variety of different exercises, both compound and isolation.
You’re going too heavy, too quickly
Improving and increasing your bench press is a long, drawn out, and laborious process which can take months upon months before you’re able to make any real progress. Often, people may find themselves becoming frustrated and impatient and will attempt to go up in weight too quickly. If you’re able to bench 225lbs for a 2 reps, adding an extra 45lb plate a side and attempting to bench 315 is simply not going to work. Even adding an extra 45lbs (22.5lbs a side) is not going to work. The idea is to gradually increase in weight, using small poundages such as 2.2lbs a side. You will need to work with a spotter, but if you gradually increase the weight by 2 – 4 lbs per session, within a couple of weeks you will be amazed by just how much stronger you’ve become. Forget about your ego and looking to brag about benching 3 plates a side, as the most practical and effective way of increasing your bench is to increase the weight very slightly each session.
You aren’t in the right frame of mind
Establishing a strong mind-muscle connection is vital for anybody looking to increase the amount of weight they’re able to lift. If you look at the weight on the barbell and the first thought in your head is “boy, that looks heavy”, or something similar, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Instead, you should tell yourself that you CAN and WILL lift the weight. As well as this, you must ensure that your mind doesn’t wander as the last thing you should be thinking about is what you’re going to watch on the TV when you get home, or what you’re going to eat when you finish training. Your mind should be focused on lifting the weight safely and effectively, and nothing more. Visualise yourself lifting the weight off the rack and pressing it up off your chest with ease and you’ll be amazed by the difference that it makes.