5 Tips To Boost Your Bench Press Max (Step-by-step)

Written by Tihomir Stefanov, M.S.(C), PT

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The bench press is a staple exercise in any weightlifting routine, and for a good reason. 

Not only does it target the chest, triceps, and shoulders, but also, let’s be real, it is the true measure of upper body strength. 

However, many lifters struggle to increase their bench press max. 

Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced lifter, there are always ways to improve. In this article, we will be discussing 5 tips to help you boost your bench press max. 

From proper form to rep ranges and rest times, these tips will give you the tools you need to take your lifting game to the next level. 

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Let’s get started!

You Can’t Escape The Bench

Now, before we dive into the tips, let’s first understand why the bench press is such an important exercise. 

The bench press is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at once, making it an efficient way to build overall strength and muscle mass. 

As we just said, it’s also an exercise that is often used to gauge overall upper-body strength. 

With that being said, it’s no surprise that many lifters want to increase their bench press max.

It’s quite simple – the bench press works the majority of the muscle groups that bring about an aesthetic appeal to your upper body.

Both visually and functionally, the bench press is a must-do exercise for any lifter, meaning that you simply can’t (and shouldn’t) escape the bench press.

The Anatomy Of Bench

The bench press is a compound exercise that works multiple muscle groups at once, including the chest, triceps, and shoulders. 

The chest, or pectoral muscles, are the primary muscle group targeted during the traditional bench press. 

The triceps, or the muscles on the back of the upper arm, and the shoulders, also called deltoids, also assist in the movement. 

The emphasis placed on each muscle group can be altered by changing the grip and working angle. 

For example, a narrow grip will place more emphasis on the triceps, while a wide grip will place more emphasis on the chest. 

Similarly, an incline press will place more emphasis on the upper chest and shoulders, while a decline press will place more emphasis on the lower chest. 

To increase your bench press max, it is important to consider strengthening all muscle groups involved in the movement. 

This includes not only the chest, triceps, and shoulders but also the muscles of the back, core, and even legs, as they all play a role in maintaining proper form and stability during the lift.

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Powerlifting VS Bodybuilding

Now, to understand the tips to boost your bench press max, which we’re about to present in a second, let’s briefly go through the two main methodologies we see applied in gyms around the globe.

Bodybuilding and powerlifting are two distinct approaches to weightlifting, each with its own set of goals and training methods. 

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Bodybuilders typically focus on accumulating more volume in their training, with higher rep ranges and a greater emphasis on muscle endurance. 

This approach is geared towards developing a symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing physique, with the ultimate goal of winning bodybuilding competitions. 

On the other hand, powerlifters focus on developing maximum strength, typically using fewer reps and heavier weights. 

The goal is to lift as much weight as possible in the big three lifts, the squat, bench press, and deadlift, with the ultimate goal of winning powerlifting competitions. 

The bodybuilding approach is more geared towards hypertrophy (muscle growth) and endurance, while the powerlifting approach is geared towards maximum strength. 

Both approaches have their own set of benefits and drawbacks, but ultimately the choice depends on the individual’s goals and preferences.

Boosting Your Max

So far, so good. Here’s what we went through up until this point:

  1. The bench press is an important exercise for the upper body
  2. It involves a variety of muscle groups, mainly the chest, shoulders, and triceps
  3. The core and lower body also help stabilize the movement
  4. Training like a powerlifter, for the most part, will allow you to create a better stimulus for increasing your bench press max.
  5. Training like a bodybuilder is better for overall muscle growth but likely suboptimal for maximum strength gains.

Now let’s dive straight into the actionable tips to boost your bench press max, shall we?

1. Rep Ranges

One of our first tips to boost your bench press max, regards rep ranges used during training.

Now, it is important to mention that if training volume (total amount of weight lifted) is equated, it wouldn’t matter if you’re doing low or high reps in the context of gaining muscle.

Nevertheless, with the goal of boosting your bench press max, one is best off emphasizing on the lower rep ranges (1-6 reps.)

This is because such heavy lifts bring about the nervous system adaptations required for you to be able to lift heavier weights.

Think of it this way – the more the weight you lift increases, the more muscle fibers the body recruits in order to lift the weight.

However, that recruitment is not linear, relative to the percentage of the weight increased.

In other words, lifting your max (100%) doesn’t mean you will only then recruit 100% of the muscle fibers.

Rather, 100% recruitment occurs at about 80-90% of your maximum capabilities (one rep max.)

After the 80-90% mark, the body ramps up the activity of the nervous system, increasing the frequency of brain-to-muscle signals.

2. Progressive Overload

Second, on our list of tips to boost your bench press max is… king progressive overload!

As you’ve probably learned from previous articles on our blog, this is a key principle in increasing your bench press max. 

Progressive overload refers to the gradual increase of stress placed on the muscles through the use of heavier weights or increased volume in order to stimulate muscle growth and strength adaptations. 

When you consistently push your muscles to work harder, they will grow stronger and better equipped to handle the increased demand. 

Without progressive overload, the muscles will plateau, and no further improvement will occur. 

To increase your bench press max, it is important to consistently challenge yourself by adding more weight or reps to your sets. 

This can be done by adding weight in small increments, known as micro loading, or by simply doing one extra set or repetition. 

The key is to make sure that you are continually challenging yourself and pushing your muscles to adapt.

3. Rest Times

Alright now, what’s one of the most crucial tips to boost your bench press max?

Hint: Recovery between sets

Rest times between sets are essential for training performance, especially when it comes to increasing your bench press max. 

During the rest time, your body is able to recover the nervous system and muscles briefly, allowing you to perform at your best for the next set. 

The amount of rest time needed will vary depending on the intensity and volume of the exercise, as well as individual differences. 

Longer rest times, especially on your heavier sets, are recommended as they allow the muscles to recover and prepare for the next set fully. 

This will help you to lift more weight and perform more reps, or at least, sustain performance and delay fatigue.

On the other hand, shorter rest times can be used for lighter sets and especially during warm-up, or for conditioning workouts where the goal is to keep your heart rate elevated. 

A general rule of thumb is to take 2-3 minutes rest for heavy sets, 1-2 minutes for moderate sets, and 30 seconds to 1 minute for lighter sets. 

By paying attention to your rest times and adjusting them accordingly, you’ll be able to improve your performance and, ultimately, increase your bench press max.

4. Utilizing Variations

In order to increase your bench press max, you can utilize bench variations such as the close grip, incline bench, and dumbbell bench press. 

These variations will help emphasize different muscle groups out of the bunch. 

For instance, the close grip bench press places more emphasis on the triceps, while the incline bench press places more emphasis on the upper chest and shoulders. 

The dumbbell bench press, on the other hand, allows for a greater range of motion and allows you to work each arm independently, which can help to correct any imbalances between the two sides of your body. 

Incorporating these variations into your workout routine can help to break through plateaus and allow you to continue to see improvement in your bench press max. 

Additionally, these variations can also help to prevent boredom and keep your workouts interesting and engaging. 

By incorporating bench variations, you will be able to work your chest, triceps, and shoulders in different ways, leading to an overall improvement in your bench press max.

5. Pause Reps

Paused reps are a great technique to use in order to improve your bench press max. 

A paused rep is when you pause the weight at the bottom of the rep for a few seconds, this creates a greater time under tension for your muscles and allows you to work on your sticking point, which is the point in the lift where the movement becomes most difficult. 

Paused reps can be especially beneficial for people who struggle to complete their reps fully. 

By pausing at the bottom of the rep, you allow the chest, triceps, and shoulders to work harder, as they have to hold the weight in a static position. 

This increased time under tension leads to greater muscle activation and potentially, a better stimulus for strength gains. 

Additionally, paused reps can help to build better muscle control and stability, which is important when it comes to lifting heavy weights. 

To incorporate paused reps into your workout, you can start by doing 1-2 paused reps on your last set, with a 1-3 second pause. 

As you get stronger, you can increase the number of paused reps and the length of the pause. 

By including paused reps in your training, you’ll be able to improve your bench press max and take your lifting to the next level.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, increasing your bench press max is not only about lifting more weight but also about training smarter. 

So what are the best tips to boost your bench press max?

Well, by utilizing techniques such as progressive overload, incorporating bench variations, focusing on rest times, and doing paused reps, you can target different muscle fibers and work the muscle groups in different ways, leading to greater muscle activation and overall strength. 

Additionally, by incorporating these techniques into your workout, you’ll be able to break through plateaus and continue to see improvement in your bench press max. 

Remember, consistency is key, so make sure to be consistent with your training and focus on making small, incremental increases in weight and reps over time. 

With dedication and hard work, you can boost your bench press max and take your lifting to the next level.

What’s your bench press max, and how did you get there? Comment below!

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