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Most of us have, at some point, reached a plateau on our fitness journey. Are you frustrated with your bench press numbers and looking to break through? We have the top 5 exercises and tips to finally improve your bench press numbers.
What Muscles Are Used in the Bench Press?
The three main muscle groups used in the bench press exercise are the chest, triceps, and shoulders. The position of the weightlifter will affect which muscle groups are used the most, although the bench press tends to be an exercise dedicated to the chest.
A greater decline position for your bench press will place a greater emphasis on working out the lower chest. A greater incline, on the other hand, places more emphasis on the anterior deltoids and upper chest.
The primary muscle in the chest is called the pectoralis major. Within the anterior chest wall, it is the superior and largest muscle.
This muscle is made up of two heads. The first is the clavicular head, which provides flexion. The second is the sternocostal head, which provides extension.
During the bench press, the lower arm reaches the bottom of the movement and stretches the pectoralis major. It must then contract when it pulls the arm up from its lowest position. This same muscle is involved in the internal rotation and adduction of the arm, which brings it closer to the body.
The other major muscle within the chest is the pectoralis minor. It sits under the pectoralis major and works to stabilize the scapula.
In the triceps, you can find the triceps brachii medial. Your pecs – also known as your chest – contract at the end of the bench press exercise to put the barbell up. At the middle point of this movement, the triceps’ medial head helps you finish the exercise by extending your elbow.
Within this group of muscles, you also have the triceps brachii long. This is a big, thick muscle on your posterior upper arm. It attaches to the scapula, which is one of the reasons it’s so important to retract your scapula during the bench press. You can do this by simply pushing your shoulder blades backward to improve your posture and strength during your bench press.
During your bench press, you’ll also activate the anterior deltoid and coracobrachialis. These muscles are in charge of flexion as you push the barbell in a vertical plan to finish the bench press movement overhead.
While the anconeus muscle isn’t a primary muscle, it deserves mention since it stabilizes your elbow during these movements.
Top 3 Exercises to Increase Your Bench Press Numbers
Here are the top 5 exercises you can start doing today to help you increase your bench press numbers.
Close Grip Bench Press
To measure a close grip on your bench press, you should be a thumb’s length away from the smooth part of the bar at most. For this exercise, you want to make sure you’re using the least amount of shoulder rotation possible, instead increasing your triceps extension.
The bar shouldn’t touch your body but should remain in the area between your mid-chest and your nipples. Most people will do 5 to 8 reps with the number of sets depending on their strength and ability.
The floor press incline is a bench press variation where the lifter usually lies on the floor. Your arms will have no choice but to rest on the ground at the bottom of the exercise reducing the range of motion, making the lift a lot harder.
For your floor press, try to aim for a close or medium grip. This exercise takes your legs out of the movement by putting more emphasis on your pressing muscles. It also tends to motivate the lifter to push through, unlike other exercises where hitting a wall seems to happen more often.
Aim for 3-5 reps with sets for this exercise.
Close Grip Incline Press
To perform a close grip incline press, lie down on an incline bench and grab the bar above your shoulders. Make sure your core and legs are engaged to provide stability, and then lower and raise the bar, much as you would during a bench press.
The close grip incline removes more pressure from your lats – officially your latissimus dorsi – whilst keeping your legs involved. Make sure your hips don’t rise so much that you’re in a flat position.
There should be about a 20-30% discrepancy between your close grip incline press and your bench press. If they are closer, focus on keeping your lats tight while you bench press.
What Muscles Should I Focus On To Improve Bench Press
You’ll need to work on your lats if you want to increase your bench press strength, and there are many ways to do so. You could try:
- Chest supported rows
- Barbell row
- Seal row
Be sure you aren’t only using your trapezoids and are fulling engaging your lats by pulling your shoulders backward.
Be sure to properly train your shoulders through high amounts of reps with low weight. Shoulders are complex joints that shouldn’t be overworked with excessive weights – especially not if your focus is the bench press.
You could try a tri-set such as the following. These will isolate and work each muscle group that form the delts.
- Front raises
- Side raises
- Rear raises
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Does the 5×5 Routine Increase the Bench Press?
When done correctly, a 5×5 routine can increase your bench press numbers and overall strength.
A 5×5 workout routine is comprised of 5 sets of 5 repetitions. This should be done at 80% of your maximum possible lift weight and counts as a compound exercise because of the time commitment you need to complete 5 sets.
During a 5×5 routine, you allow for maximum recovery in between sets and reduce your lactate buildup. If you’re trying to improve your bench press numbers, you will optimally incorporate a 5×5 workout with a progressive overload. This can be done by increasing weights or training other parts of the movement with different bench press tools.
Is The Bench Press A Compound Exercise?
A compound exercise is defined as an exercise that works out different muscle groups at the same time. Some of these may be one movement, while other compound exercises combine two exercises into one.
As per the first definition, the bench press is a compound exercise. It requires the use of several major muscle groups, including the shoulders, pecs, and triceps. These muscle groups work together synergistically, inducing flexion and extension during the workout.
When you bench press, you must lay horizontally on a bench and lower a barbell until it touches the lower part of your sternum. Then, you’ll use your pecs, shoulder, and triceps to press the bar vertically until your arms are fully outstretched.