While the bench press isn't the only way to develop upper body strength in the weight room—and definitely shouldn't be the ONLY thing you do in the weight room—it is a valuable tool in your strength development arsenal. Looking to add some lbs to your bench 1RM? Try these 3 tips the next time you have the bench press in your program—you might surprise yourself!
1. "Bend the Bar"
This sneaky cue helps create external rotation at the arms to bring more stability to your shoulders. Before you unrack the bar, exert a bit force—around 20% effort—to try and bend the bar. Don't actually try and break the bar (you can't) but use just enough force to feel a difference in your arm and shoulder position. You'll feel your arms rotating outward slightly and should feel your shoulders lock into place. This creates a stable base for your shoulders to press against and engages your lats to help stabilize the movement. Stability = efficiency, which = greater expression of force = higher 1RMs.
2. Keep Wrists Neutral
After you "bend the bar" but before you unrack it for the lift, notice what your wrists are doing. Are they overextended (bending backward)? This extended wrist position is a pretty common fault, which can place a lot of stress on your wrists (and shoulders) during the movement and cause pain or injury over time. Instead, make your wrists as neutral (straight) as possible. By keeping wrists neutral, you'll take stress off the wrists and allow your upper arms to contribute more to the movement. This simple trick will not only save your wrists and shoulders from nagging pain, it will drastically improve the strength of your triceps. It also makes your bench position more stable which as you know = higher 1RMs.
3. Squeeze Your Big Toes
Seriously. Try it. After you position your feet on the floor, press your big toes down firmly into the ground. It's a super weird cue, but it will fire your glutes like WHOA. Don't neglect the importance of your glutes in the bench press—the glutes produce force upward through the body that works to stabilize your core. Lifting your feet off the floor or not having a good foot position can cause force to "bleed" out from the kinetic chain, which is a fancy way of saying you'll have inefficient lifting mechanics. Better foot placements means the lower body has a better anchor point from which it can produce more stability. This anchor allows the upper body to use as much force as possible and minimize "force bleeds" through broken kinetic links.
These 3 tricks are simply cues to get your body in the most stable position possible at the shoulders, wrists, and feet. More stability means more force production which (let's hear it!) = higher 1RMs. Work to improve your stability in the bench press, and watch those plates stack up.
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