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How to Bench Press for Maximum Muscle Growth

5 tips to get it right and reap the benefits of the barbell bench press.

The bench press is considered by a vast majority the best exercise for chest development. But only if you know how to perform it correctly. Learn how to bench press for maximum muscle growth and get all the benefits from this amazing barbell exercise.

Keep scrolling to see Mike Israetel giving 5 tips to keep in mind when bench pressing to do it with perfect form and get the most out of the barbell bench press.

Dr Mike Israetel, PhD in Sport Physiology and co-founder of Renaissance Periodization, is a well-respected professor in the bodybuilding community.

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barbell bench press

How to Bench Press for Maximum Muscle Growth

The process of lying horizontally and lifting the barbell demands more than meets the eye. So, how can you ensure proper execution of the bench press to optimize muscle growth? Let’s get to Israetel’s tips for maximum muscle growth.

The first tip Mike shares is to arch the back slightly, retracting the scapulae to engage the sternal pecs and create a powerful position for the chest. He emphasizes the importance of maintaining an arch for optimal muscle growth induction. Demonstrating the technique, he highlights the benefits of pre-stretching the chest.

Moving on to tip number two, Mike advises taking a pause at the chest during the bench press, focusing on slow eccentric control. He explains how this helps maximize tension on the stretched pecs, promoting significant muscle growth.

The third tip delves into hand position, encouraging individuals to find a grip that feels comfortable for their wrists, elbows, and shoulders, while also providing a deep stretch in the pecs. Mike suggests experimenting with different grip widths to discover the most effective pressing point for individual builds.

Discussing elbow flare, Mike dismisses rigid rules based on biomechanics and advocates for a more intuitive approach. He advises lifters to prioritize comfort and muscle engagement over fixed techniques, allowing the body to naturally position the elbows for optimal results.

In the final tip, Mike emphasises the importance of controlling the eccentric phase of the bench press for hypertrophy. He encourages a slow descent, focusing on reaching the chest up and allowing the fibres to be pulled apart. Mike concludes with a reminder to reach close to failure without sacrificing control.

In short, these are the tips from Mike Israetel to learn how to bench press for maximum muscle growth:

  1. Retract scapulae – arch the back (not that much) and retract your scapulae to put your chest in a stretched position
  2. Pause at the chest – slow eccentric control and take a little pause when your pecs are stretched to take the most out of this exercise
  3. Hand position – this is relative, but you want wrists, elbows and shoulders to be comfortable while having your pecs fully stretched. See how wide you want it, play around to find the best. Start with just outside-of-shoulder width and see how wide or narrow you want.
  4. Elbow flare – as wide as possible to stretch your pecs, as long as your shoulders are comfortable and not taking over the exercise
  5. Controlled eccentric – slow eccentric does not necessarily mean 5 or 10 seconds lowering the bar, but it means you are not simply dumping the bar on your chest. While lowering, think of reaching your chest up.

You can watch the video below to see Israetel explaining each tip and demonstrating in the gym.

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Training your chest can have a number of benefits for your overall fitness and physical health. Here are some reasons why you might want to train your chest:

  1. Strengthening your chest muscles: Chest exercises like bench press, push-ups, and dumbbell flyes can help you build stronger chest muscles. This can improve your overall upper body strength and make it easier to perform daily activities that require pushing or pulling.
  2. Aesthetics: A well-developed chest can enhance the appearance of your upper body, giving you a more balanced and proportional physique.
  3. Improved posture: A strong chest can also help improve your posture by pulling your shoulders back and helping you maintain a more upright position.
  4. Increased metabolism: Chest exercises can also help boost your metabolism, which can help you burn more calories throughout the day.
  5. Improved athletic performance: A strong chest can improve your performance in a variety of sports and activities that require upper body strength, such as basketball, football, and rock climbing.

Overall, training your chest can have numerous benefits for your physical health, appearance, and athletic performance. It’s important to incorporate a variety of exercises into your chest workout routine to ensure that you’re targeting all the muscles in your chest, as well as other muscles in your upper body.

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How Often Should You Train the Chest?

The frequency at which you should train your chest depends on several factors such as your fitness goals, overall fitness level, and your training program.

In general, it is recommended that you train your chest muscles at least once per week to see improvements in strength and muscle growth. However, some individuals may benefit from training their chest more frequently, such as 2-3 times per week, especially if they are more experienced lifters and are looking to target specific areas of the chest.

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t train your chest muscles on consecutive days as this can lead to overtraining and increase the risk of injury. Additionally, it’s important to allow your muscles to rest and recover between workouts, so that they have time to repair and grow.

Source: Calibra / Pixabay

Overall, the frequency at which you should train your chest will depend on your individual goals and fitness level, so it’s best to consult with a certified fitness professional who can help you design a personalized workout plan that meets your needs.

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How Heavy Should you Lift When Training for Muscle Growth?

When training for muscle growth (hypertrophy), the weight you lift, often referred to as the training load or intensity, is an important factor to consider. Here are some guidelines to help determine how heavy you should lift:

Use a weight that challenges you: To promote muscle growth, it’s important to use a weight that challenges your muscles. This means selecting a weight that allows you to complete the desired number of repetitions within the hypertrophy rep range (generally 8 to 12 reps) with proper form, while also feeling challenging towards the end of each set.

Choose a weight that elicits fatigue: The weight you select should cause fatigue in the target muscles by the end of each set. You should feel a sense of muscular burn or fatigue during the final few reps, indicating that the weight is appropriately challenging.

Progressive overload: To continue building muscle, it’s crucial to gradually increase the demands on your muscles over time. This can be achieved through progressive overload, which involves gradually increasing the weight you lift as your muscles adapt and grow stronger. Aim to progressively increase the weight as you become more comfortable with a certain weight range to continue stimulating muscle growth.

Form and technique: While it’s important to challenge yourself with heavier weights, it’s equally important to prioritize proper form and technique. Lifting weights that are too heavy and compromise your form can increase the risk of injury and reduce the effectiveness of the exercise. Focus on maintaining good form throughout each repetition, even when using challenging weights.

Source: Scott Webb

Individual capabilities: The appropriate weight will vary depending on your individual capabilities, strength level, and experience. What may be heavy for one person might be light for another. It’s important to listen to your body and select weights that are appropriate for your current fitness level.

Variation in training: Incorporating a variety of rep ranges and training modalities can be beneficial for overall muscle development. While the hypertrophy rep range (8-12 reps) is commonly associated with muscle growth, including both higher rep ranges (12-15+) and lower rep ranges (6-8) in your training can provide different stimuli and promote well-rounded muscle development.

Remember, finding the right weight is a process of trial and error. Start with a weight that challenges you within the recommended rep range, and adjust as needed based on your individual capabilities and progression. Consulting with a fitness professional or personal trainer can also provide guidance and help you determine the appropriate weight selection for your specific goals and needs.

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There are several effective chest exercises that individuals can perform safely in the gym. When performing any exercise, it’s important to use proper form, start with an appropriate weight, and gradually increase intensity to avoid injury. Here are some common chest exercises that are generally safe when executed correctly:

  1. Barbell Bench Press:
    • Lie on a flat bench with your feet flat on the ground.
    • Grip the barbell slightly wider than shoulder-width, lower it to your chest, and push it back up.
    • Keep your back and glutes in contact with the bench and maintain a controlled motion.
  2. Dumbbell Bench Press:
    • Similar to the barbell bench press, but using dumbbells.
    • Hold a dumbbell in each hand and press them up while lying on a bench.
    • Dumbbells allow for a more natural range of motion and can help prevent muscle imbalances.
  3. Incline Bench Press:
    • Similar to the flat bench press, but performed on an inclined bench (30-45 degree angle).
    • Focuses on the upper portion of the chest and anterior deltoids.
  4. Dumbbell Flyes:
    • Lie on a flat bench holding a dumbbell in each hand.
    • Start with your arms extended and slightly bent at the elbows, then lower the dumbbells in a wide arc while keeping a slight bend in your elbows.
    • Focus on feeling a stretch in your chest before returning to the starting position.
  5. Cable Chest Press:
    • Using a cable machine with adjustable handles, stand facing away from the machine and grasp the handles at chest height.
    • Step forward, extend your arms, and then bring them back in front of your body while keeping tension on the cables.
  6. Push-Ups:
    • Start in a plank position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width.
    • Lower your body towards the ground by bending your elbows, then push back up.
    • Modify the difficulty by adjusting hand placement or doing knee push-ups.
  7. Machine Chest Press:
    • Sit down on a chest press machine and adjust the seat and handles to your comfort.
    • Push the handles away from your chest while keeping your back against the pad.
  8. Machine Flyes:
    • Similar to dumbbell flyes, but performed on a machine.
    • Sit down and adjust the machine’s arms, then bring them together in a hugging motion.

Remember these safety tips:

  • Warm up before starting your chest workout to prepare your muscles and joints.
  • Use proper form to prevent injury. If you’re unsure, ask a fitness professional for guidance.
  • Start with a weight that allows you to complete your desired number of repetitions with good form.
  • Gradually increase weight and intensity over time to avoid overexertion.
  • Listen to your body and avoid pushing yourself too hard, especially if you’re new to exercising.

If you’re new to weightlifting, consider working with a personal trainer to learn proper technique and develop a safe and effective workout routine tailored to your goals and fitness level.

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