The bench press gets a bad rep for being “the break between squats and deadlifts” during a meet, but it can sometimes be a secret weapon to help you reach your desired total. Bench is arguably the hardest lift to match gym PRs at a meet, but there are ways to help narrow the gap. With new lifters, you often see them doing things in the gym that don’t lead to success come meet day. Here are five habits to break to up your bench press game:
1. Lack of paused bench press
When training for a meet, this one hits those who are first-time competitors pretty hard. Although touch-and-go bench press is the standard for training, pauses are necessary in competition and are the standard for Powerlifting.
Integrate pauses in your volume training because they allow for more intensity and for bigger muscle development prior to competing. When you can, try to allow for longer pauses of roughly three to five seconds. This is because in competition, you will not get the press command until the bar is idle but we'll talk about that later.
2. Setting up too quickly
Unlike other lifts like the squat and deadlift, the margin for error in the bench press is quite large. This means taking the proper time to setup is key to determining your success.
A common habit for new lifters is rushing the bench attempt. You are given a full minute to setup and get your first command for the lift. Take the time to make sure you're tight and properly setup. To be confident in your bench, you should keep your shoulders back and your chest pumped out. Squeeze your glutes to maximize leg drive to help keep the feet flat, and squeeze the bar as tight as you can as the muscles in your palm can help keep the chest tight and activate when you are squeezing the life out of that bar. This introduces the next common issue…
3. Quick eccentrics (or allowing the bar to drop to your chest too fast)
You have trained your paused reps and perfected your setup, maximizing the potential for success at benching, and then you drop that bar to your chest faster than someone losing their grip on a deadlift.
Newton's third law: for every action force, there is an equal and opposite reaction force.
If you look at a lot of successful bench press athletes, they control the bar as it goes down, and so should you! This allows for perfect placement of the bar on the chest: Too high and the bench press is a grinder, too low and the bar path is deviating, losing that tightness you worked hard to keep. Think of your body as a spring coiling up as the bar moves down and exploding from the bottom once that tension is released. Slowing the eccentric allows for control, and in the bench press, controlling the bar is necessary to keep tightness and to keep the bar path from deviating.
4. Forgetting your bench accessory work
Board presses, weighted dips and overhead presses.
These are just a few examples of common accessories often forgotten when working on the perfect bench.
Board presses train your ability to lock out. Weighted dips to train to push off for the first few inches off the chest which is commonly the toughest part of the bench. Overhead press to have a better back development to have a stronger bench. These are just a few of the many accessory exercises you can do, but people often forget accessories for their bench which help isolate muscle groups for strength and build a foundation for bigger and better lifts!
5. Failing to ask questions and learn
I know we all have our own routine in regards to how we train, but the saying goes: "the more you know, the more you grow!"
That holds true to anything.
Put your pride and ego aside and literally ask those who are veterans what they do that has helped them succeed at the bench press. Some integrate bodybuilding exercises along with powerlifting exercises. Some hit intensities much higher than what your use to frequently, because they believe your body should always be accustomed to heavier weights at all times. I know at a meet, you can be envious at times that people are lifting heavier than you despite all that training, but think of a meet as a vessel of potential knowledge. Everything you learn from a meet can be a learning experience: whether it be from failing at a meet to watching others succeed.
About the author
Loc Nguyen is an IPF 74kg powerlifter from Toronto, Ontario, where he holds the provincial record for bench press. He most recently competed at the Canadian Powerlifting Union Nationals bench-only competition and came out first in Canada.