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Why You Can’t Bench Press More Weight

One of the best ways to become stronger is to stop spending all your energy focusing on your chest and start paying more attention to the other muscles involved.

Often it's the non-bench exercises that make the biggest difference in your strength gains.

So if you really want to see better results, start focussing on these area. They may seem unrelated, but they could be the key to your next big bench breakthrough.

Build Your Back

The bench press has two main components: lowering the weight to your chest (eccentric phase), and pressing the weight back to the starting position (concentric phase).

When you lower the weight, your chest is not the centre of support. The muscles in your back are really the base for this part of the movement. That’s why during the down stroke you want to squeeze your shoulder blades together and keep them locked and tight to create as much tension as possible. More important, it’s why you want to build a bigger, stronger back.

Your body responds best to balance. A bigger back provides more stability when you lower and press the weight. The more stability and support you have, the more you can bench.

While many back exercises will improve your overall strength, it’s important to train in the same plane as the bench press, meaning horizontal movements. More specifically, bent-over rows with dumbbells and barbells, and chest-supported rows offer the most bench-boosting bang for your back.

Stretch (Yes, Stretch)

This will come as the biggest surprise to some, but performing a few stretches can, in fact, boost your bench.

Forget all the arguments about whether static stretching is good or bad. This is more about fixing weak links in your pressing motion.

Your muscles need to be able to move through a full range of motion for optimal growth. If your muscles are inflexible and get locked up, it will limit your bench. The two areas that hold most people back are the back and hips.

If you want to increase your bench max, not only should you add thickness to your back, you also need to stretch your lats.

Tight lats can mean that your shoulders won’t work right. And if your shoulders aren’t working, your bench is at risk. Here are two movements that can help your back mobility.

Pec Stretch

  • Assume a split stance, Right leg in the front and left leg in the back, at the end of a wall or in a doorway.

  • Bring the left arm up to shoulder height and position the palm and inside of the arm on the wall surface or doorway. Your arm should look like a goal post.

  • Gently press the chest through the open space to feel the stretch.

  • Moving the arm higher or lower will allow you to stretch various sections of the chest.

  • Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

Lat Stretch

  • Loop a resistance band around a stable object above your head

  • Grab it with one hand, step back away from the band, and with a straight arm and neutral spine, pull your hips away and lower your chest toward the floor.

  • You should feel a stretch from your triceps through your armpit to your lats.

  • Hold for 30 seconds each arm.

Perhaps more surprising is how your hips can limit your upper body. Creating full-body tension is essential for a good bench press, and as you might guess, the term “full body” includes your hips and core.

You want your feet locked down and pressed forcefully into the ground to create more force and stability. If you’re one of those people who places his feet on top of the bench or up in the air, you’re blowing the lift.

If you feel discomfort or a lack of tension in your body when your feet are on the ground, the issue might be your hip mobility. Tight hip flexors prevent hyperextension, which is part of proper bench press technique. Use this hip flexor stretch to help fix the problem.

Hip Flexor Stretch

  • Kneel down on your left knee with your right foot on the floor and your right knee bent 90 degrees.

  • Bend your torso to your right.

  • Push your hips forward

  • Hold this position for 30 seconds.

  • Kneel on your right knee, switch and repeat.

Add to Your Arms

You need strong triceps to press more weight. The muscles in the back of your arms are doing most of the work in the latter phase of a bench press rep, when you’re trying to “lock it out.”

That’s why any good bench prep routine should include heavy extensions, dips and close-grip presses on an incline press.

Work on these elements and you’ll start seeing improvement from your triceps and, eventually, in your bench performance.


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