Building your Bench Press
Chances are at least once in your lifetime you have been asked, how much you BENCH? If you’re like me then you've always had to work hard to bring up your bench, you will always find one of the power lifts easier to do, if the bench is a weak point then choosing the correct assistance exercises could transform your bench in to a very powerful lift. You should choose exercises that are the most similar to the bench but provide different stress to the muscle groups involved. Changing your grip on the bar, elbow position, range of movement from different height's to boards can all help to improve your pressing power. How you grip the bar dictates what muscle groups are worked for specific goals. I use a wide grip for my competition bench press; this places more emphasis on the chest and less on the triceps. A 16 inch grip, slightly wider than shoulder width places emphasis on the pecs, delts and triceps equally. At the start of training cycle, I start with a 16 inch grip and slowly work my grip out 1 inch on each side every 2 weeks, as my poundage increases. If you take the grip out without becoming accustomed to benching wider, you could tear your pec or get injured. By slowly taking your bench out wider this will allow your muscles and tendons to adapt to a wider grip and develop the required flexibility and strength. If you’re changing your bench grip don't be afraid to cut back on the poundage you use, try this until you become accustom to a wider grip. In time you will surpass the weight you use with your narrower grip, by adding more involvement of the larger muscles like the chest, you then will be able to use more available muscle power to bench rather than relying on the smaller triceps muscles to carry the load. On the other hand, a narrower grip emphasizes your triceps while reducing the involvement of the pecs. I have a training partner who tore his pectoral muscle very bad in contest, he can only bench with a very narrow bench. A lot of lifters go too narrow on the bar, this can place unnecessary stress on the wrists and any grip narrower than shoulder width does not emphasize the triceps any better, plus it can lead to shoulder injury. You have less control over the bar with a narrow grip, this can be dangerous and you could lose control of the bar. A shoulder width grip is the way forward; it provides maximum triceps stimulus, more comfort and less chance of injury.
All in the angles
Varying elbow position is the next thing you can do to improve your bench, positioning your elbows out at right angles from the body shifts more work to the pecs. Positioning your elbows close to the body shifts the work away from the pecs and towards the delts and triceps. We can also change the path of the bar, the best path to follow is always a straight line when benching. Bar path is defined as to where the bar hits on the chest. During a normal bench press, the bar would hit the chest near the nipple area, which is the position of best power and leverage. Varying where the bar hits the chest enables different parts of the pectorals to be stressed. The incline bench press is relied on to work the upper pecs, but similar results can be achieved by lowering the bar higher on the chest, towards the shoulders, during a regular bench press. As with increasing grip width, don't go too high on the chest or heavy too quickly. Work in to the weight gradually. Again, there may be some initial soreness due to the different stimulus on the pecs. Going to the neck is dangerous, avoid it. The reverse effect is gained when hitting the bar lower on the chest, more towards the waist. This variation targets the lower pecs, like decline bench does. Neither of these variations requires any special benches and can be performed on a regular bench.
The last variation revolves around range of movement or in other words, limiting the range of movement to less than a full bench press. Pressing from chest to one-half to two-thirds of the way down to lockout switches the work to the triceps.
Several of these variations can be combined to tailor a bench workout that can fit whatever your goals are. For example if you’re trying to increase ‘pec power’ you would need to work wide grip benches with elbows out. For a final pump set, you could do partials from the bottom using the same grip and elbow position. For added variety, some sets could be done high or low on the chest. Triceps can be targeted by using close(shoulders) width benches, regular benches with elbows in and benching from one half way up to lockout. As with any assistance exercise, do not go overboard and perform too many extra sets. You can also use blocks of wood from different angles of your bench. Get a spotter to hold the block on your chest after you set up, experiment with different heights and find out where your weak points are, you can then work to improve them. Good luck with your benching and remember to try and switch your angles, grip and bar placement to build that bench press.