How To Overload The Bench Press
In this article I will discuss how to overload the bench press in order to break plateaus and get yourself out of a rut if your bench has stagnated for a while. I will explore different techniques that can be utilised to continue to make progress. Very often a completely new and fresh stimulus is required to help you keep making gains.
Overloading Using Bands
A great technique that I learnt from my friend is to use bands to overload the bench press and allow you to get a feel for handling heavier weights than you would normally. Essentially the concept is very similar to a slingshot or bench shirt. However using bands is an effective way to overload. I use my purple bands and double them up, then I put my arms into them so that the bands are in contact just above my elbow. Then it’s just a case of benching. The bands will take some of the weight off, in practice the purple bands that I have will take off around 15kg from the straight weight.
But by overloading in this way your body will get used to the feel of heavier weights. For instance at the moment I can do 110kg for 4 reps on the close grip bench but I can do 125kg while using the purple bands for the same number of reps. By being able to handle heavier weights, when you perform straight weight sets with no bands that are lighter the weight will feel relatively light. You are getting your tendons and ligaments primed for heavier weights. It is a strategy my friend has used for a while to improve his bench. In his case he can do 140kg while using the purple bands for sets of 8. A picture of my friend demonstrating how to use the bands is below.
This is another great way of overloading the bench press and breaking past plateaus. You can use more weight on rack lockouts that you can on the standard bench, therefore this exercise will help to get your tendons and ligaments acclimated to heavier loads. In addition it will strengthen the lockout portion of your bench press and strengthen the triceps in the end range. Set the pins in the power rack to the final portion of the bench press, then just press from there. Bring the bar to a dead stop on the pins before performing each rep. This will provide the maximum benefit and carryover well to the standard bench.
Board pressing is a great way to make your bench press stronger by working the entire range of motion using different boards. Benching to a three board for instance is very good for strengthening the top range and you can overload the weights in this fashion. Benching to a one board would work the range of motion from just above the chest. Scot Mendelson, who is a world class bench presser is a big advocate of boards for overloading the bench and getting stronger on the movement. He prefers board presses to chains as he feels chains beat his elbows up too much.
I also agree that chains are better served for exercises like squats and deadlifts. For exercises like the bench press, bands and boards are better supplemental tools to use for getting stronger and getting you used to heavier weights.
Unracking Heavy Weights
A method that is great for getting a feel for really heavy weights is to just unrack very heavy weights and hold for time. It is a similar concept to unracking a heavy load on squats. Let’s say your one rep max on the bench press is 140kg, you can practice occasionally taking weights like 160kg or 170kg out of the rack with the help of a handoff. Just hold the weight in the lockout position for around 10 second and then rack it. This will really help to strengthen the connective tissue, tendons and ligaments and get your body used to what heavier weights feel like.
The Benefits Of Overloading
The main benefits of overloading the bench press is to prepare your body for heavier weights in a safer manner. There is also a mental sticking point that comes when you are increasing weights on the bench press. By following overload principles that I have mentioned in this article you will remove that mental barrier which is stopping you from pressing heavier weights.
In the case of using bands in the manner that I have discussed, they are great for working around some injuries on the bench. For instance, if your shoulders are not feeling 100% using the bands will feel better on your shoulders and improve the mechanics of the movement as well.
To conclude, in this article I have talked extensively about how to overload the bench press. Many people get stuck in their training with bench press plateaus. Things can get stale in your training and you need to do something different to give your muscles a different challenge and stimulus to force new adaptations. Overload training is just the ticket, I was introduced to these principles by following well known bench pressers and other people that I train with at the gym.
If you are going to implement this type of overload training into your routine I would recommend easing your way in. You will be handling heavier loads and you don’t want to risk overtraining. So just start with one or two of the above exercises – it could be the bench using bands and the rack lockouts. Slowly progress the weights that you use over time and work in straight weight as well to guage how well things are going.
If you have any questions about anything I have written in this article please leave me a comment below. Do you currently use any of these training methods in your routine? Let me know below. As always, stay safe and enjoy your training!