Building a Bigger Bench Press

Bench pressing is a lot of fun, there is something about the simplicity of getting underneath a crap load of weight and feeling it start to move upward. It is to me still the most primal and enjoyably lift in the gym.

I am not a bench press monster by any means. But I have been lifting long enough and with enough different lifters that I have learned some tips and tricks along the way. Here are some tips I have for building your bench press.

Don’t just press!

SquatOk this is a funny one to start, but I remember getting ready for a provincial bench press championship, and as much as I was pressing, I was also deadlifting and squatting.  Building strong legs improves your testosterone, building a strong back helps stabilize your bench. All muscles also have their opposing muscle, and when one is stronger and or shorter than the other, it can cause muscle imbalance and injury such as “swimmers shoulder”

Train some days light and explosive.

Many of our training days where not focused on hitting max numbers. Don’t get me wrong we did that too, but often our training consisted of a moderate weight, broken down into sets of 3 reps, done with as much speed and explosiveness as possible.  DSCF1389I would often use about 225lbs for this, of which I could reach about 30reps on a good day, however it was more about building those nerves that innervate the muscle  cell. It is the reason people who start training increase strength in the first few months without increasing muscle mass… they are connecting new nerves.

Get good spotters.

Ok obvious right? but if you really want to push limits having good spotters is very important. If you are going to do shirt work or training with boards I think having 3 spotters is critical. Having someone know the right time to help and the right time to let you push though the lift is so vital.

Having good training partners can make all the difference
Having good training partners can make all the difference

Vary your grip

Finding if you are more suited to a wide grip or a narrow grip is important. A wide grip emphasizes the shoulders more, a narrow grip the triceps. A wide grip also reduces the range of motion required to complete the lift.  However a wide grip definitely puts more stress on the wrists, and I feel should not be done heavy without adequate wrist wraps.  I was for a long time a narrow bench presser. It was not until I started forcing myself into a wider grip that I gained easily another 15-20lbs on my bench. However initially  working with a wide grip  caused my bench press to go down 30lbs or more for a little while. It takes some getting used to. In training utilizing a variety of grips is essential.  Also be mindful if you are entering a powerlifting competition what their rules are in regards to max grip width.

Focus on your compound movements.

Incline Log lift
1924100_33307675669_7873_n Incline Log lift

When training for strength i see too many beginners doing set after set on small isolation exercises like bicep curls, or side lateral moments.  I used to be one of them many years back. These exercise are not without value, and are important to keep muscle balance, but for improving overall strength your focus should be on large compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups such as rows, presses and squats. Try to think about using movements that complement goals like a big bench press.  We used to love doing incline log presses for our triceps. It engaged  our  chest and shoulders as well and helped develop our pressing power. Just keep in mind not to over train this way. By this I mean doing 15 sets of narrow grip bench press a few days after your primary bench workout would not be ideal. Instead treat your arm or shoulder day as a complement to your harder more rigorous bench, deadlift or squat day.

Throw some variety into your training.

I have heard people say in training, to not look for ways around your purpose. Don’t focus on pushups, or cable crossovers for a bigger bench press, If you want a bigger bench press, then bench press, if you want a bigger deadlift then deadlift. I very much agree with this. If you are getting ready for a bench press competition for example, you had better be bench pressing like it was making you millions. That said, throwing some variety into you routine is also important for a number of reasons. First, outside of competitive training, doing the same exercises over and over month after month gets brutally boring. this can be overcome with pure willpower for a few years, but the same routine will eventually drive you away from an activity, no matter how much you enjoy it.  The second reason is to shock your system into more growth. The whole biological reason your muscles are gaining strength is because your body perceives you doing a task beyond the capability of your body (hence micro tears in muscles stimulating adaptation by growth) and so your body tries to adapt to that movement. DumbellsThrowing in some machine work, or dumbbell work every so often will keep your body guessing and growing to adapt. Sometimes after switching your routine enough you will feel sore the next day akin to having started training after a long break. Finally bench pressing generally requires spotters, if you can’t for any reason have someone around to properly spot you, a using dumbbells or loading up a machine is a much safer option. Don’t bench press alone! I have heard of too many injuries in my time.

Using chains, boards and bands

My chain clips

Powerlifters have been using these forever. Clipping chains to the end of the bar in order to incrementally increase the weight on the bar as the lift is executed. Bands attached to the bar do a similar job with increasing resistance. And using boards to stop the bar and certain points in the eccentric part of the lift (downward motion) helps sticking points. All these can be used to increase your bench, as well as other lifts. Utilizing chains on deadlifts work’s great. A few words of caution. Utilize spotters to hold the boards on your chest. Never try to attach them to you, it can end badly. Also use a very secure clip to add the chains to the bar. Speaking as someone who had a chain break away during a squat, it is more than a little dangerous. there are many website that sell proper chain clips that are designed just for that purpose.

boardSome training with boards

Some training with boards

Chains used on my bench press
Chains used on my bench press


Build Your Own Gym

There is something really nice about getting out of bed, walking 20 feet out the door, putting on some music and picking up your own personal iron. Don’t get me wrong I love going to the local gym, the variety, and energy is hard to match. But for many people, there own personal gym is the way to go. I had always wanted my own gym equipment, so I started collecting. while it can be expensive, sometimes it is easier that you think. Here are a few examples.
Inexpensive Gym accessories and ideas
A few things you might want to add to your gym that will not break your wallet

clamp chain_col bench
Chains are a fundamental training tool for most Powerlifters as well as many other strength athletes. The idea is that as the chains are raised off the floor, the lifts become harder as each link is raised into the air. Here I have several chains cut into 4ft lengths. I bought them at a local hardware store for about $1.20 a foot. I used specialized collars made specifically to attach chains I bought online for around $20. I have used chains to add for my bench press, deadlifts, squats and even used them as makeshift dumbbells for side lateral raises or tricep extensions to add variety.

Something else that is relatively inexpensive are workout bands. By doubling them up, you can receive a nice light workout on something such as a side delt exercise. Running around $20-$30 they are a relatively inexpensive addition to you gym, and will provide you with an alternative to dumbbells on a light day if you don’t have cables and are great for warmups.
Finally I like to use hardware clamps for the ends of my barbells. These ran me less than $3 each, which is less than collars for most Olympic barbells, and these seem to secure the plates much better.
Building or acquiring a strongman gym
Strongman equipment has gained popularity in recent years as people become more interested in functional strength as opposed to simply larger biceps. The great thing about strongman gear is that it uses odd, and sometimes everyday items for strength. Some of these items are easily attainable
Strongman Log

Metal Stronman Log
One of my Steel strongman logs

The Strongman log is the staple for pressing in strongman, but many trainers are finding with its inverted grip and width, it is easier on the wrists and shoulders, and when used correctly can be safer to use than a standard barbell.
If you can get someone to build you one, make sure they are good welders, but the principle is the same with any log. They are
• Handles are commonly 24” apart
• Holes are typically 8”x8”
• The logs are normally 3′-6′ long
• Width is normally 9-14” with 12 being standard

But building a metal log can be a bit pricey especially if you have no knowledge of welding, and to buy one can be even more pricey (some on the net go for 4-$600) However for those of you like me, who are not a welder, a log can also be carved out of wood. (Just a note that wood may take time to dry and that a log that seems too heavy will lighten as times goes on)

My wood Strongman log I carved which fits standard plates.


Most strongmen have a tire or several of different sizes. Even gyms are beginning to utilize them at this time, although they use lighter variants then strongman typically use. Tires are relatively easy to obtain, although you will need a pickup truck to transport it. The best place to find a tire is any tire yard or heavy equipment facility. When large tires are worn, companies have to pay money to recycle them. So often they will give them to you very cheap or for free. We would normally see how many times we could flip a tire in 60 seconds.

850lb Tire we flipped up and down the back roads.

Farmers Walk

Farmers implements can be made of welded tanks, metal pipe, railroad ties, you name it. They are not that expensive to buy for basic plate loaded ones, so check around. For beginners though, grab yourself a few water jugs for office water coolers. Fill them with sand or pebbles, and do your walks with them. Try about 50ft and back to start. They are fairly cheap. If you want to build your own from wood, pipe handles, or whatever, just make sure they are solid, do not take chances when building strongman equipment

Strongman Axle

cc axle_big

Because an axel is thick, it utilizes a lot of grip work to do those movements. Axles are great for building strong hands and forearms, but do not over use as they can cause hand injuries. Axles are normal 1.5 to 2 inches thick, but can be thicker or thinner depending on what you want. Some places sell axles with Olympic ends for plates. The cheapest way to get an axel is just to use pipe that fits Olympic plates, then attach collars. The problem with hollow pipe is that for advanced lifters who utilize very heavy weights you may bend or break the pipe. Use your own judgement.

Bench Boards

Simple board setup I made from 2x8s

Exactly as it appears, Powerlifters use boards placed on the chest during bench press to help train lockouts or sticking points. It can be anywhere from one board to 5. Easy to make, insure you have 2 spotters, one for the bar and one to hold the board secure. Make sure the boards are securely nailed or screwed together.
Items such as Kegs, Stones, Sandbags, can all be used for carries, Loading or pressing exercises. River stones are free and the simplest item for those who do not have access to a stone mold.

Eat more salt?

Writing about nutrition is a somewhat intimidating endeavor.  What is considered healthy seems to change so much it can be hard to keep up with what is current. I have always been a proponent of working with your trainer and your doctor together in coming up with any kind of modified meal plan.

Having been over a decade since I was in a nutrition class the study after study that has come fourth since constantly alters what we think about nutrition. I remember as a teenager giving my father a hard time about putting salt on his breakfast. His response was that in a few years they will say that salt is good for you. Well not too long ago I remember reading a new study suggesting that while adding salt to you diet is still not recommended. For an the average healthy adult our recommended intake may need to be rethought, and consuming more salt then the current recommended limits may be just fine for the average healthy individual not suffering from anything like hypertension.

Lewis Blacks great stand up illustrated this point quite well when he stated to his audience about the lack of knowledge of the so called experts… “is milk good or bad” to which the audience did not respond “I rest my case” he replied. Are Eggs good or bad? there is a question I have been wondering myself. Certainly they are nutritional powerhouses, full of vitamins as well as a very complete protein source in the yoke. But people still wonder about the potential cholesterol, and so do you limit eggs to the less complete but still protein rich egg white? If not how often can you eat eggs?


I have watched over the years as studies have recommended eggs can be eaten no more that once a week, then once a day, then multiple times per day, back to once or twice a week. And now I am reading articles questioning what we know of cholesterol intake and its effects. It can all be fairly overwhelming.

I don’t really have an answer for these questions, can you safely eats eggs every day if you are healthy? Probably, should you cover those eggs in salt before consuming them?  No.  I just try to take any studies with a grain of… um well you know. They are helpful in furthering our understanding of health and nutrition, just don’t be surprised if in a few years a new study says something a little different.

How much Protein do you need?

Eating for strength

Protein is something a lot of strength athletes worry about. I definitely used to be one of them. Back in my early training days I would put away anywhere from 250g to 350g of protein per day. I subscribed to an old bodybuilding idea from the 70s that if you ingest more protein than your body needed, it would always have the supply it wanted when it wanted.  In theory it was not a bad idea, all be it not a particularly healthy one. My views on protein have significantly changed the they years since then. I am a firm believer your body does not need a massive supply of protein, nor is it particularly healthy to do so.

in one of my posts I talked about how study’s constantly change, and what to take into consideration when understanding these studies in regards to there scope and variables.  That said I am going to just talk about my personal experience.

In regards to protein consumption I first began to scale back in my supplement intake.  I knew that your body could ingest only so much protein in one sitting.  but as I began to reduce and finally stop my protein supplement something interesting happened. My strength was unaffected.   Now I understand the need for protein and the importance of a a wide variety of  amino acids (complete proteins) but it definitely started my questioning of what does your body really need.

I have since seem many athletes train without worrying about there protein consumption. They seem to feel a well balanced diet gives them a high enough level of protein and I am becoming more and more a believer in this. Having a healthy balance of fish, poultry, moderate dairy and occasional red meat seems to be all my body requires to make the same gains I did back when I backed away multiple  shakes with 40g of protein in them.

To be fair I have also known strength athletes who still consume a surprising amount of food, including protein, but these tend to be extreme athletes and not your ordinary gym iron pusher. The strength training they do is beyond intense and really extraordinary.

I know as my health has been higher on my radar as the years have past. It is worth reflecting if your high protein consumption is really worth the health implications it could potentially cause.  Maybe try training for some time with a more moderate intake and see for yourself.



About Me

My first experience with weight training was when I was about 8 years old. My father had his old Weider weight set setup in the stove  room. I would go in every so often and try to lift all the weights I could. I enjoyed it so much by the time I hit 12 I got my first gym pass and from then on I have lifted for over 20 years.

I loved the idea of getting stronger, changing your physical abilities. It grew into not just an interest in strength but fitness and health in general. By the time I left high school I figured I wanted to do something with my passion and turn it into  career.

When I gained the opportunity to enter a Kinesiology program in my early 20s I jumped on it. I really fell in love with helping and training people to reach goals.

Since then my career has changed, but not my passion. I entered and won a 2009 bench press championship in the BC powerlifting federation, being a goal of mine. I won the all round best bench press trophy that year.

2009 Bench press championships

2009 Bench press championships

I also entered a amateur strongman competition. While I was much less successful as a competitor I enjoyed the training style so much I still incorporate a lot of strongman equipment and training into my workouts.

Me attempting the log lift event at an amateur Strongman Competition,
Me attempting the log lift event at an amateur Strongman Competition,

Having explored the competitive side of strength sports only furthered my passion for the strength and power sports. It was very telling having watched athletes activity cheer and be genuinely excited for their competitors success, even it it surpassed their own.   This was very telling to me about the quality of the individuals involved in the strength community.

Some stone training

Some stone training


On a squat day
On a squat day

While I mostly enjoy training now for my own health and well being, my passion for strength training remains just as enthusiastic today.

Why food companies really get on my nerves.

Nutrition can be a pain to understand, on the one hand, the simple idea of eating a well balanced meal consisting of a wide variety of healthy nutritious options seems basic enough.  But developing a menu plan that is both cost effective and healthy can all of a sudden seems daunting.  certainly the food industry does not always do us any favors in regards to its marketing of what is healthy. Let me give you a few examples.

Back when I was in my 2nd year of studying Kinisology, which must have been around 10 years ago by now. What I remember distinctly about that time was the low carb craze going on. I can remember reading through one of my books while the TV was on in the background. A KFC ad ran which caught my eye; it showed a woman trying to encourage her reluctant boyfriend or husband to eat healthy. The surprise healthy food she has brought home for the couple? Yup, an entire bucket of deep fried chicken, you know, it was low carb.

Before that there was of course the anti fat craze, fat was what made you fat right? so cutting it out of your diet must be good, or so many people seemed to think. Of course nutrition experts as most people today understand fat is more complicated than that. Fats can be good, depending on the type of fat, and even fats such as saturated fat in moderation is important. Tans fat is another story, one where manufactures would hide that fat inside the total fat of a product. The only way to understand the trans fat content some years back was to subtract the total fat from the labeled fat. If a product had 2g of polyunsaturated fat, 2 g of monounsaturated fat and 1 g of saturated fat, but had 10g of total fat, the product would have contained 5g of trans fat. Companies at the time did not have to label trans fat, and so could get away with this. Trans fat by the way has all the negative aspects of saturated fat without any benefits what so ever. Soon companies where marketing there new “reduced trans fat” products, the very fat  they put into the product int he first place. Another example of the low fat craze being manipulated was in watching products become “low fat” while adding massive amounts of sugar in the process. This was to make the product still taste good, however in a product like peanut butter, which contains healthy fat and is a good product in moderation, it became a much less healthy alternative than it was, having lost its healthy fats to be replaced with sugar.

Needless to say there are more than a few misconceptions about nutrition out there. Fad diets, weigh loss pills, strength boosting supplements. I have to admit, as someone who has both a passion for weight training I was very much into the whole massive protein and vitamin craze years ago.  Now I find myself much more balanced in my approach. Marketing health and nutrition is a tricky thing, especially when the science of healthy eating is constantly changing.  I think there is a limit to what people should tolerate as a grey area in health when they are being sold 12 pieces of deep fried chicken as healthy. But that’s just me.