Nothing says "I'm a badass" more than having large traps. Large traps/neck muscles are…
The bench press must be the most sought after movement to increase, so this will be pretty useful. I spoke about the traps not too long ago here, as they are also popular. Bench press wins though.
On Youtube there is a lot of talk about how to increase your bench by altering your technique. “Try using more leg drive”, “maybe you should retract your scapula better”, or the infamous “tuck your elbows in”. Whilst all of this is important and is crucial in terms of reducing injury rate and maximising your leverages, it completely ignores the two key causes of long-term bench press improvements.
It’s the classic over focus on the micro-level stuff vs the major macro-level factors. You see, the bench press is the lift most heavily correlated with bodyweight. The more you eat, the more you weigh, the more you bench. Obviously there is only so far you want to go with this as you don’t want to gain loads of fat.
But, remember at the same time that if you’re in a lean-mass phase, you aren’t going to increase your bench press by staying at the same weight. Unless your technique is awful. Or, you were only doing sets of 12 then switched to triples and hence your nervous system became more efficient. It isn’t going to happen for very long, either way – you must gain weight.
Bench Press & Food
Again, outside of short-term increases in your bench press from efficiency, your long-term bench press increases are going to come from tissue gains. This is also another point for guys looking to lose fat (and therefore weight), you are always going to struggle to maintain any pressing movement during a cut. Bodyweight is such a huge factor in bench pressing success.
I’ve found this out recently, as I’ve had to up my calories from 2700 to 2900, and this (seemingly) small increase in energy intake resulted in a significant bench press increase. Prior to this it had stalled for several months on the go. It had nothing to do with changing my training, technique, or anything else.
Bench Press & Training
Now, most of your training over the long-term (until you’re very advanced) should be spent focusing on hypertrophy as this will lead to the greatest long-run strength potential. Muscle does not equal strength, however, it will increase your potential strength.
Having said this, you can increase your bench a lot by shifting temporarily from hypertrophy to strength. For example, sets of 10-12 to sets of 1-6. The progression during a strength block is normally in terms of % of your 1RM on the bar. Whereas, total number of sets performed tends to be the most common form of progression during a hypertrophy block.
Another point on training is that you can definitely perform some extra volume on assistance exercises that don’t fatigue the bench press prime movers (think rotator cuffs etc.) and work weak points. These will increase your bench, like triceps, and surprisingly enough, rows too. These can all indirectly support your bench growth, but remember that most of your progress will come from the bench itself, and food.
Always remember that all of this is useless if you aren’t in a calorie surplus. But once you’re in a surplus, you can focus on spending about 75% of your time training in hypertrophy blocks; focusing on increases in the weekly number of sets performed. Use plenty of assistance work and more “general” work. Then deload and repeat. The other 25% you can focus on strength work; less volume, but ramping the weight up week by week.
If you’re cutting, don’t worry about a little strength loss. I don’t care what anyone else says, it’s bloody inevitable.