The Barbell Bench Press is a staple of any serious weight-trainer’s work-out routine and belongs to the most popular exercises in the gym. It is a highly valued classic chest builder, but it can also be regarded as yet another full-body compound-movement, as its correct performance heavily involves triceps and front deltoids as synergists, and additionally engages the upper and lower back, hips and legs as stabilizers. While the emphasis is on the pectorals, the triceps and anterior deltoids are directly assisting in the execution of this invaluable compound-movement. So it is no surprise that strengthening these two assisting muscle groups will without doubt help to increase the total weight, which you can lift. Useful exercises to build up strength in the triceps and front deltoids include incline and flat dumbbell press, dumbbell- and cable flyes, dips, triceps extensions, etc.

Unfortunately, what is often overlooked, is the major importance of the stabilizing upper back musculature in achieving a strong Bench Press performance.   

In order to generate a solid foundation for your Bench Press, it is vital to pull your shoulders blades back and slightly downward, locking them into this position and keeping them and the rear deltoids firmly “screwed” into the bench. This will create tension across your torso, raise your chest, and keep your body tight and stable, providing the essential solid and stable base for an impressive Bench Press. It will additionally help to properly perform the lift as the upper back muscles also support and control the proper bar path during your Bench Press; when performed correctly, the barbell does not move in a vertical line up, but it moves diagonally from your mid-chest back over your shoulders.

The specific upper back muscles, which are responsible to achieve the retraction and depression of your shoulder blades are the rhomboids, the middle and lower trapezius, along with some contribution from the latissimus dorsi. Obviously, when all these upper back muscles are strong, they will be able to generate more tension and thus can contribute more to maintaining the necessary total body tightness, which is one of the most vital requirements for achieving maximum lifts on the bench. Keeping your glutes and hamstrings tightly contracted, your hips firmly planted on the bench, and your feet placed right beneath your knees and firmly pressed into the ground will contribute to maintaining the appropriate arch in your lower back, keep your core properly braced during the entire lift and help to generate “leg drive”. 

Fact is that any imbalance between your chest and your back will impede your progress in the Bench Press, and such an imbalance is unfortunately very common. 

Therefore, if you should want to increase your Barbell Bench Press, it may be a good idea to include more heavy rows in your exercise program. Bent-Over Barbell Rows are most beneficial in this regard, as this movement takes place in the same plane as the Bench Press; due to the fact that the movement pattern of the Bent-Over Barbell Row is directly opposite to that of the Bench Press, its benefits translate most directly to improving the Bench Press. Further rowing movements, which can be useful to strengthen your mid-back muscles, are T-Bar Rows, Seated Cable Rows, Inverted Rows, and One-Arm Dumbbell Rows. Lat-Pull-Downs and Scapular Rolls are exercises in the Frontal Plane, which are suitable to train the “scapula depression” aspect required for a good Bench Press. All the mentioned upper back exercises, along with the so-called “Facepull”, are not only a sure bet to improve your Bench Press performance, but will also guarantee that your shoulders will stay safe and injury free in the long run. 

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