Friday, October 28, 2011

How to Increase Your Bench Press

10 Things You Can Do RIGHT NOW To Increase Your Bench Press FAST

By Nick Nilsson
Improving the bench press is ALWAYS at the top of almost every lifter's list of goals. Make it a top priority and impress your friends when they come over.
Put these 10 tips into practice and power up your bench press fast!

The flat barbell bench press...the lift that everyone wants to know how much you can do when they find out you are lifting weights. So you want to get your numbers moving in the right direction again? These 10 quick tips will make a difference in your strength gains and boost your bench FAST.
Keep in mind, these tips are coming from someone who has almost NO genetic gifts as far as bench press is concerned (bad shoulders, long arms). It's among my weakest lifts and I have to struggle for every single pound I add onto it. Yet with those limitations, using the tips I'll share with you below, I've managed to work up to a maximum single at 350 lbs. So it CAN be done!
At the end of the article, I'll include a link where you can see pictures and video of some of these tips in action.

1. Work your Rotator Cuff muscles

Yes, this is completely unglamorous but it has the potential to add 20 - 30 pounds to your bench press in a matter of weeks. The reason? The Rotator Cuff muscles are the four small muscles that stabilize the humerus (your upper arm bone) in the shoulder socket.
Most people rarely, if EVER, work the Rotator Cuff but a couple of sets at the end of each workout can really make a HUGE difference in your bench press by helping to stabilize the shoulder joint.
The exercise that I use is one I call the "3 In 1 Rotator Cuff Raise." It's an exercise I invented to workout all 3 major planes of movement that the Rotator Cuff muscles operate  in one basic movement. It's very effective and very time efficient. Two sets of 8 reps of this at the end of each workout is all you need. I have a video and pics of this exercise at the link at the bottom of the article.

2. Get your grip-width right

Where you grip the bar can make or break your bench press before you even do a single rep. If you grip the bar in too close, you're putting more stress on the triceps, which limits your pushing power and increases the distance you have to press the bar. If you grip the bar too wide, you do decrease the distance the bar travels but you put excessive stress on the shoulder joints.
So what is the best place to grip the bar? This is best determined with no weight on the bar at all and with somebody watching your form. Lie down and take the bar off the rack and lower the bar to your chest. Have your spotter eyeball your forearms. At the bottom of the press, your forearms should be perfectly vertical. THAT will give you the greatest pressing power as you won't lose any power inside or outside.
It's the same concept as throwing a punch - if the bones of the arm aren't lined up properly when it connects, you lose a lot of power on impact. Ask any MMA fighter.

3. Learn how to breathe

When you're doing a heavy press, trunk stabilization is much more important than when you're doing lighter, higher-rep training. You need a strong, solid base to push off of to really move the most weight.
When doing a heavy lift for only a few reps, breathe in deeply on the way down, inflating your chest + lungs as much as possible (this has the dual effect of increasing the stability of your trunk AND decreasing the distance the bar must travel, which is a bonus!). But as you press the bar off your chest don't immediately blow out all your air in one big blow. That will destabilize the chest and weaken the base you're pushing from.
Think of it this would be like trying to do a dumbell press on the Swiss Ball as somebody is letting the air out of it FAST!
So as you start to press the weight, blow the air out of your lungs through pursed lips. Basically, pretend you're blowing up a really thick balloon. You want to keep your breathing muscles in your rib cage absolutely solid as they very slowly force the air out. This keeps your trunk solid and stabilized as you press, which is critical. The moment you lose that stability, you lose the lift.

4. Don't neglect back (Lats) training

Back training is important to your bench press in 3 major ways.
Remember what I said about stability in the previous point? Your back makes up a BIG portion of that base that stabilizes your body. The wider the base, the bigger the structure it can support (i.e. more weight). A comparatively weak back will reduce the amount of weight you can bench.
The second point is thickness. The thicker your back, the shorter the distance the bar has to travel and the more weight you'll be able to lift. Look at how thick the torsos of the best bench pressers in the world are - they have huge barrel chests, thick backs and relatively short arms - their range of motion is probably about HALF of what a "normal" person's range of motion is with the bench press. The thicker your back, the shorter the range of motion and the more weight you'll be able to press.
The third point is muscular balance. If you're constantly doing pushing movements, your body will overdevelop those pushing muscles, which will lead to unnatural shortening and potential weakness. You MUST work the back muscles to pull everything into proper alignment. Walking around with your shoulders hunched forward and your arms bouncing around in front of you doesn't look cool - I can promise you that.

5. Don't forget to press with your legs, too

Leg drive is VERY important to maximizing your bench press strength on maximum lifts. When you set your feet for benching, don't just place them anywhere and let nature take its course. Set your feet solidly on the ground and bend your knees a little past 90 degrees.
Here's why...when you're at the bottom of the bench press, driving with the legs can help you get that weight moving. You can demonstrate this to yourself by lying on the flat bench and setting your feet on the ground. Now think of how you'd need to set your feet if you wanted to use your feet/legs to slide yourself up the bench. THAT is what you do when you drive with your legs - you basically try and use your legs to slide yourself up the bench. But because the weight is holding you down, that force goes to helping push the weight up.
This leg drive is used at the bottom of the press to get the weight moving and makes a HUGE difference with getting big weights moving upward.

6. Get those shoulder blades squeezed together

This goes back to trunk stability. If you're not consciously and religiously squeezing your shoulder blades together when you set yourself up on the bench press, you're instantly putting yourself at a disadvantage.
To do this, lie down on the bench and grab the bar. Lift your body up off the bench then try and touch your shoulder blades together behind your back. Get them tucked in as tight as possible. When you set yourself back down, you'll find you're not only more stable on the bench but your shoulders are in a stronger pressing position AND your torso is actually a little thicker (which means shorter range of motion and less distance to push that bar)!

7. Do partial-range training to strengthen  connective tissue + nerve connections from brain to muscle.

e-book Author Nick Nilsson shows how to do partial reps, heavy weight bench press

One big thing that's often missing in the training routine of a person looking to maximize strength is a focus on connective tissue training. You can build huge, strong muscles but the movement is only as strong as the weakest link. If that weakest link is connective tissue, best case is it will limit the amount of weight you can lift. Worst case, you'll snap your tendons when your muscles move weights that your connective tissue can't handle!
So how do we strengthen connective tissue? That requires VERY heavy weight, the kind that can only be used with partial-range training like lockouts in the rack.
This will also increase the nerve force connections which will in turn increase strength. Commonly referred to as the mind to muscle link.
    For building up your connective tissue specifically for bench press, DEFINITELY work on rack lockouts and static holds with monster weight.
I've got more information specifically on lockout partial bench press here:
Personally, I really enjoy lockout training because you can use a TON of weight (up to two times or more of your one rep max!).

8. Use training bands

Bands are one of the most useful fitness training tools you can use with the bench press. There are two main ways to go...working AGAINST the bands to increase explosive power and working WITH band assistance to move more weight and more closely mimic the strength curve of the bench press (harder at the bottom, easier at the top).
When using the bands to work on explosive training, you attach them to something solid on the floor and then to the bar. You use a lighter weight on the barbell for these. Then, when you lift, you explode up as fast and as powerfully as you can against the bands. The bands stretch as you come up, slowing the bar so your muscles don't have to. This teaches your muscles to fire at a much faster rate.
The other method is to use the bands for assistance (called Reverse Band Bench Press). With this technique, you attach the bands to the top of the rack and to the bar below. As you lower the weight, the bands stretch, making the bottom of the press easier by removing some of the resistance. As you press up, the bands lose tension, making you press more of the weight yourself, which exactly mimics the mechanics of the bench press.
Both of these techniques are great additions to your bench press training routine. You can grab bands here:

9. Don't forget about decline bench press


One of the best things about the decline bench press is that you can use a bit more weight on it than you can on the regular flat bench due to the change in biomechanics and somewhat decreased range of motion. Working with heavier weight is good in two ways - mentally and physically. Mentally, it helps prepare your mind for working with heavier weight. Physically, it helps prepare your body for handling heavier weight on the flat bench.

10. Do your bench pressing in the power rack

Even if you have access to a regular bench press station at your gym, I HIGHLY recommend doing your bench pressing in the rack. Why? Two reasons.
The first is safety. You can easily set the rails to just slightly below the bottom-most position of your bench press. If you can't finish a rep, you just set the bar on the rails, roll the bar forward and slide your body out from under it. No harm done, no spotter necessary. You can't do that on a regular bench press station!
The second is the freedom to REALLY PUSH YOURSELF without fear of dropping the weight and not being able to get out from under the bar. When you're in a regular free bench press station, there is always that nagging fear that if you don't make a lift, you're going to have the bar come down on you.
When you do your pressing in the rack with safety rails set, that will NEVER happen and you can really free yourself to push things to the limits without having to worry about crushing yourself under the bar!
I have ALWAYS found it ironic that the station where people do one of the most dangerous exercises in the gym (and quite often lift more weight than they can safely handle on it!) is the one station that has almost NO safety measures built into it!
Think about it this way...when was the last time you saw some body get crushed under a barbell curl, yet how many times do you see people doing curls in the rack while doing bench presses on a free station!
So basically, set yourself free and do your pressing in the rack. You can push yourself harder and fight through those sticking points without worrying about getting stuck under the bar if you don't get it.

If you want to maximize your bench press, put these tips to work. You'll starting noticing a very big difference in how much weight you can lift almost immediately AND in the long-term!
For pictures and video of many of these tips in action, click on the following link:
Nick Nilsson has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology and has been innovating new training techniques for more than 18 years. Nick is the author of a number of bodybuilding books including "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days To Maximum Mass", "Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss," "The Best Exercises You've Never Heard Of," "Gluteus to the Maximus - Build a Bigger Butt NOW!" and "The Best Abdominal Exercises You've Never Heard Of", all designed to maximize the results you get for the hard work you put into your training.
Be sure to grab your FREE copy of Nick's 30-day "Dirty Little Secret Program for Building Muscle and Burning Fat FAST," available at Click Here Now!

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Small Chest? How to Feel Your Pecs Actually WORK When You Do Chest Training

By Nick Nilsson
If you have a hard time feeling the muscles in your chest working when you do chest
exercises, THIS is the information you need. I'll give you my best
techniques for maximum contraction of your pecs with
every set and rep you do.

One of the most comment training questions I get with regards to chest training is simply not being able to feel the pecs working at all when doing chest workouts!
And when you can't feel the pecs working, you know darn well that actual muscle development is simply NOT going to happen. The stress usually goes to your shoulders (front deltoids) instead.
So enough about the do you FIX it?
I've got a number of techniques for you to try out, some of which may work better than others for you.
But they should get you well on your way towards the chest development you're looking for.

1. Pre-Exhaust Training
When performing a movement like the bench press, the pecs are definitely involved but can be easily pushed into a secondary role by the front delts and the triceps.
So instead of doing a regular bench press movement, you will instead do 6 to 8 reps of dumbell flyes (an isolation movement for the chest) THEN immediately go right to the bench press.
The idea here is to "pre-exhaust" your pecs so that when you do the bench press, your pecs are the weakest link and the shoulders and triceps then push the chest harder than it would normally be pushed.
When you have to stop, it's going to be pec fatigue that ends the set while the shoulders and triceps are still relatively fresh.

2. Feel The Flye
Now, the pre-exhaust training is all well and good...but what if you can't feel your pecs even doing FLYES? Pre-exhaust won't be much help.
The first thing you need to do is get off the flat bench and onto a Swiss Ball. Get into position on the ball and wrap your entire back AROUND the ball. Don't just put your shoulders on the ball and keep your body straight, like many people are taught with the ball.
To get the most out of flyes, you need to open up your rib cage and get your shoulders back (which helps focus the tension on the pecs instead of the shoulders). The ball is PERFECT for this position. So lay back on the ball, wrap your back around it and consciously force your shoulders back and down. THEN do a dumbell flye.
Imagine on the way down like you're trying to push your chest up to the ceiling. And imagine on the way up that you're wrapping your arms around a big tree. This will take some visualization.
When doing flyes, don't hold the dumbells perfectly parallel to each other...hold them at about a 45 degree angle to your body (thumb end in closer to the head - pinky side outwards). This takes stress off the shoulders and helps keep muscle tension on the pecs.

3. Tilt the Dumbells
When doing dumbell presses (either on the ball or the bench), tilt the dumbells down and in...if the dumbells were pitchers or water, it would look like you're pouring them on yourself.
This tilt (and make sure and keep that tilt through the whole exercise) keeps muscle tension on the pecs. If you keep them horizontal or tilting outwards, the tension goes to the shoulders, not where you want it.

4. Concentration Flyes                                                
These are done standing, in a bent-over position, with light weight. They're a great exercise for developing that "feel" in the chest. They won't build a chest - just assist in getting that connection.
Grab the dumbell and bend over a bit. Now, keeping your arm slightly bent but stiff (no movement other than at the shoulder), bring the dumbell up and across your body as though trying to touch it to your opposite shoulder.
Because your arm is hanging down and the dumbell is coming across your body, it takes the front delt pretty much completely out of it, forcing the pec to do all the work. Hold at the top and SQUEEZE the pec muscle hard.
Remember to go light on this one - it's not about building but developing that mind-muscle connection. And be absolutely sure you're NOT bending your elbow - the movement must occur only at the shoulder.

5. The Rolled-Up Towel Trick
This is a technique I came up with to force the shoulders down and back (as I mentioned with the flyes above) and get the pecs involved in the bench press. This is done on the flat bench.
Roll up a towel and lay it lengthwise down the center line of the bench. Set it on the bench right between where your shoulder blades will be. Your head should be on a flat section and your butt should be on a flat section.
Lay down on the bench, feeling the towel run right down your spine. This elevation immediately forces your shoulders back and down (the proper position for benching and feeling it in your chest). It's not particularly comfortable but it's a great teaching tool to force your body into the proper position.

6. Stop Trying To Go So Heavy
Half the time, you're probably just trying to go too heavy on the chest exercise and you just lose the feel for the movement. Back off on the weight and feel the pecs working rather than focusing on blasting up the weight.
When you load the exercise heavy, your body immediately turns to its strongest movers. If your chest isn't part of that A team, it won't be called upon.

7. Don't Grip So Hard
One of the things I've noticed with chest exercises is that the harder you grip the bar/handles, the more the tension gets moved to the shoulders and triceps muscles.
Try easing up on your grip a little - not to the extent that you make the exercise dangerous, but back off on the death grip and see if you feel a difference, in your body.

8. "Shocking" High-Rep Training
This is best done on the very first set of your workout with NO warm-up. You're going to just be using a moderate weight, so don't worry about not doing a huge warm-up. If you have a decent amount of training experience, you'll be just fine.
We're going to literally "shock" your chest muscles into responding here. Load the bar with (or select dumbells) a weight you'd normally be able to get about 12 to 15 "strict" reps in your regular workout.
Now lay down and CRANK OUT as many reps as you can with that weight as fast as you possibly can. Don't worry if your form isn't perfect...just hammer the reps out.
And when I say crank, I mean CRANK...don't bounce the bar off your chest or anything but you must quite simply EXPLODE out of the bottom of every single rep...and don't even think about slowing down to get the negative.
The idea here is very rapidly call upon every available muscle fiber worked by that exercise to contribute an emergency situation, especially the power-oriented type 2 muscle fibers.
And this emergency idea is why you're not going to do a warm-up...we want it to be a TRUE emergency situation where you go from zero to shazammo!
ONE set of this is all you need. Because once you do that first set, not only will the entire area be fatigued, you won't be able to get nearly as many reps and it won't have the same emergency effect on your body.

9. Static Contraction Holds and Pushes
This can be done on almost ANY chest exercise...though it doesn't work too well on dumbell flyes or presses. It works best on cable cross-overs or pec deck, where the tension is greatest at the top, when the arms are close together. It's also pretty good on barbell bench.
A straight static hold means just hold that contracted position for as long as you possibly can. Then fight the negative all the way to the bottom of the movement.
This systematically exhausts all the muscle fibers of the chest AND gives you time to really get your mind into the muscle, shifting your arm and body position during the hold until you really feel it targeting the pecs. By taking this time, you get to feel what you don't normally get during a standard exercise.
And those pushes I mentioned?
As you're holding that static contraction, have a partner push down on the weight stack (if you're on a pec deck). Just a quick push is all you need. This sets off a stretch reflex in the pecs, activating even more muscle fibers. It's basically another emergency situation.
When using cable cross-overs, have your partner put their hands in between yours and push outwards really quick. If you're doing a static hold in the top position of the barbell bench, have them push down on the bar really quick while you maintain the hold.
A couple of these pushes is all you need.

10. Cable or Band Push-Ups
This technique combines two types of resistance - a body weight push-up and direct outwards-pulling resistance of cables or bands. When you put them together, it's CRAZY how much muscle tension you'll get on your pecs.
It's like combining a static hold with a dynamic exercise - two kinds of tension, both targeted on the pecs.
For the cable version, set two handles on the low pulleys and use a light weight. Kneel down holding both handles. Now set your fists on the floor in the push-up position. Straighten out your body and start doing push-ups.
The cables will be trying to pull your hands directly out to the sides. Your pecs have to fight this outwards-pulling tension. When you add in the push-ups, you'll feel these even more in the chest than you usually would, simply because your pecs are ALREADY working by holding the cables in place.
It's a two-for-one exercise that will light your pecs FAST.
You can easily accomplish the same thing with bands by hitching a couple of bands to solid objects out to the sides of you. The just hold the bands in your fists or loop around your wrists, make sure you get tension in them, then do the push-ups.

I have to say, if you've not really felt deep down inside your pecs before, these techniques should get you seriously moving in the right direction. I would recommend taking a few "chest" days and just trying all these techniques to see which ones work best for you.
For pictures and video of many of these tips in action, click on the following link: and get the visual:
The Best Chest Workout You Never Heard Of
Nick Nilsson has a degree in Physical Education and Psychology and has been innovating new training techniques for more than 18 years. Nick is the author of a number of bodybuilding books including "Muscle Explosion! 28 Days To Maximum Mass", "Metabolic Surge - Rapid Fat Loss," "The Best Exercises You've Never Heard Of," "Gluteus to the Maximus - Build a Bigger Butt NOW!" and "The Best Abdominal Exercises You've Never Heard Of", all designed to maximize the results you get for the hard work you put into your training.
Be sure to grab your FREE copy of Nick's 30-day "Dirty Little Secret Program for Building Muscle and Burning Fat FAST," available CLICK HERE NOW !
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