When it comes to weights training, the bench press has gained unrivalled popularity amongst other upper body exercises. For many, the pectoral muscle group remains the most, or sadly for some, only focused-on muscle group. However, despite our obsession with the bench press, many of us quickly hit plateaus in strength and pectoral development and are never able to reach that next level. Below are 5 powerful tips to help bust through your plateau and unleash your full benching potential.
1. PRIORITISE YOUR ROTATOR CUFF MUSCLES
What muscles you say? The rotator cuff muscles constitute four intricate stabilising muscles in the shoulder girdle. These muscles play a pivotal role in optimal shoulder movement and strength, but are often neglected at the expense of prioritising the much larger, and more visible deltoid muscles.
In most cases, the resulting imbalance is created by weak external rotators and disproportionately stronger deltoids and pectorals. This can lead to constant clicking in the shoulders, acute pains, impingement syndromes and muscle weakness, especially while performing a major pressing movement like the Bench press.
External rotation exercises like Cuban presses, cable external rotation exercises and Powell raises can effectively help to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and increase your benching strength.
Performing these simple exercises at the end of your chest workout over the next four weeks will be sure to see you bump up the number of plates on that barbell.
2. INTRODUCE ANTAGONIST SETS
Introducing a back-focused exercise between each of your bench press sets, such as a bent-over row, lat pull down or a chin-up can actually help to increase your bench-pressing strength. Research has shown that the antagonist pairing of exercises as such is not only a more time effective way of training but also a great way to boost your results. By working the antagonist muscles, we encourage optimal fiber recruitment of the stabilisers utilised within the exercise, and prime the primary muscles to lift more.
Simply speaking, training the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and rear deltoids (the antagonist muscles) between sets of bench presses effectively increases the overall stability and strength of the pectorals and anterior deltoids (the primary/agonist muscles) for the proceeding set, thus allowing you to lift heavier in the bench press.
3. ROTATE BETWEEN DUMBBELL AND BARBELL BENCH PRESSES
It’s important to regularly rotate between using dumbbells and barbells for several reasons. For one, dumbbells are a great way of evening out imbalances between both sides of the body. They also allow for a greater range of motion on the pectorals and anterior deltoids, hence increasing the recruitment of muscle fibers involved in the pressing motion.
By focusing solely on barbell work for an extended period, you will quickly hit a plateau as the body adapts to the same repetitive motion. Changing it up with dumbbells creates a new and different neurological stimulus for the brain, forcing it to see the exercise as a different movement pattern, and effectively breaking the existing plateau.
This process of readapting forces the muscles involved to recruit different and an increased number of muscle fibers for the task. Regular rotations between barbell and dumbbell work can thus help you to continually increase your benching strength.
4. BUILD YOUR WEAKEST LINK
You are only as strong as your weakest link. It is common to see people perform ‘half-presses’ in the gym, where a heavy weight is moved through an easier and shortened top range of motion. Yet, they fail to press the same weight once it gets to the bottom position nearing the chest. This is a result of the lack of muscle recruitment at that given range.
Muscle activation techniques can increase intra-muscular contraction of muscle fibers within that position. Techniques such as holding a one or two second pause at the bottom position of the bench press or performing quarter reps with a lighter weight before pressing it up. In the long run, this translates to increased strength in the weakened range, and hence more overall strength in the bench press.
5. REST TO PRESS
The lack of adequate rest on a muscle group often leads to incomplete repair and the loss of strength. After a big session focusing on the pectorals and triceps, individuals often continue to train ‘other’ muscles like the deltoids in the following days.
What many of these people fail to realise is that these smaller muscle groups are also involved in the bench press, and must be given adequate recovery before they hit the bench again.
It is therefore important to plan your exercise splits carefully to prevent too much overlap of muscle groups. Adequate rest on the muscles used in the bench press will definitely see your bench improve by the next session. So from warming the bench to stacking the plates, be sure to follow these sure fire tips and watch your bench press strength increase like never before!