Ask. Mr. O: Improving Your Bench

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WEAK BENCH

How to get your bench press up to speed.

Q:  After two years of faithful lifting, I can squat 325 and deadlift 365, but I can't bench press 225. How can I improve my bench? .

A:  Judging from your 325 squat and 365 deadlift, you are exceptionally strong in those areas, so your problem with the bench press could be one of technique. If your deltoids are proportionately more developed than your pecs, you are pressing more with your shoulders than with your chest.

If you are keeping the entire length of your body pressed flat against the bench, and your repetitions are strict and isolated, you are using your deltoids more than your pecs and, consequently, depriving your chest of development in both strength and mass.

Also, you should be pushing hard with your feet and legs to brace yourself and slightly arch your back as you press. If not, you are again relying too much on your deltoids and not using enough chest power.

To correct your technique, you need to understand that your chest is one of those bodyparts that is best fatigued by movements that are assisted by other bodyparts. The only way you can contract your pecs is by means of your lats, your traps and rhomboids, your abs and your lower body.

Now try bench pressing again, but this time put your whole body into it. Plant your feet firmly, grip the bar hard and, as you lower it, tighten your body and squeeze your lats together, bringing your chest up to meet the bar. As you press, squeeze your pecs together by flaring your lats. If your bench-pressing problem is traceable to poor technique, this free-wheeling and aggressive approach should yield an immediate improvement. If it doesn't, the next troubleshooting step is to see if you are overtraining or undertraining. Here's a rule of thumb: More than three times a week is overtraining; once a week is undertraining. Further, more than 25 total sets per bodypart a workout is overtraining; less than 16 is undertraining.

Since you are already lifting very heavy, I recommend that you train each bodypart twice a week, prioritizing your chest as the first bodypart to be trained after a rest day. Your first exercise should be bench presses. Pyramid up through eight all-out working sets, maxing out at three repetitions for your eighth set.

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