Without a doubt, the bench press is the most popular exercise among men, no matter what your specific goals are.
As a result of this I have seen a variety of programs dedicated to increasing the bench press. Some these are good, but most lack proper instruction of some of the fundamentals of the bench press.
In fact, I rarely see some these topics discussed anywhere outside of power lifting circles. As such, the tips below qualify as bench press secrets since most recreational lifters have never heard of them before.
1. The Proper Set-up
When you observe people performing the bench press as often as I have you get the opportunity to see a wide variety of techniques used. Elbows out, elbow in, touching high on the chest, etc. All of these techniques have their place, but I find that very few lifters put any thought into what they do before the actual lift. This is known as "setting up" for the lift. This starts by putting the fit firmly on the floor and maintaining pressure on them throughout the lift. Your legs should also be engaged in the lift by squeezing your glutes and quads throughout the set. For the upper body, first and foremost is to set your shoulder blades. The shoulder blades should be squeezed together and pulled down. This position should be maintained throughout the lift. There are many other minor details, but they are difficult to explain without some visual assistance. I highly recommend the Exercise Encyclopedia DVD included in Athletic Muscle Building for this purpose.
2. Deltoid and triceps strength
Contrary to popular belief the bench press, especially when performed with maximal weights, is not a particularly good exercise for the pecs (to find out how to modify the bench to be a good pec exercise check out this chest muscle building article). Instead the triceps and delts will do most of the work. Because of this, much of your focus needs to be on building the strength and size of these muscle groups. This means a focus on movements like dips and overhead presses. Strength in these movements will easily transfer over to the bench press.
3. Upper back strength
As discussed above in the set-up, it is important to set your shoulder blades correctly at the start of the lift. This creates a good base for you to press from. But if you've got no upper back muscle then this can be very difficult. To create a better base you need to build your back with chins, pull-ups, deadlifts, rows, and shrugs. These exercises will build the base you need for a big bench press.
It doesn't matter what type of program you are doing to increase your bench press, if you ignore these fundamentals you will never build a big bench. Throw out the flyes and cable crossovers for awhile. Those exercises may be good to increase the size of your pecs, but as you now know that has very little to do with the size of your bench press.
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