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Boost your bench press

The bench press may be the most basic of gym exercises, yet, few guys achieve the results they really want. Those who manage to lift heavy, accumulate mass, but often lack the definition on the chest that makes this Vanity Muscle #3 (after abs and biceps) truly one to admire.

     Print Edition: October 5, 2008

Jamal Shaikh
Jamal Shaikh
Way back in 2001, I used to work out at a suburban Mumbai gym with a media planner-turned-model, who was also an aspiring actor. He went by the name of John Abraham, and despite having an impressive build even then, his physique wasn’t half as impressive as it is in trailers of his latest movie Dostana. I distinctly remember John telling me how he was most insecure about his chest: “No matter how heavy I bench, my pectoral muscles resist any form of definition.”

The bench press may be the most basic of gym exercises, yet, few guys achieve the results they really want. Those who manage to lift heavy, accumulate mass, but often lack the definition on the chest that makes this Vanity Muscle #3 (after abs and biceps) truly one to admire.

Here are two tips that can help you bench heavier and achieve quicker results. I call these my two “Towel Tricks” with a tag line that reads: “If you think you’ve reached your upper limit and can’t bench press any more, don’t throw in the towel! Use it instead!”

Towel trick one: Beginners
Roll a small gym towel into a tight cylinder and place it lengthwise on a flat bench so that it will line up with your upper back. When you lie down, ensure the towel is in between your shoulder blades. This activates your pecs more and makes for a more stable position from which to press.

Towel trick two: Intermediate
A. Roll your towel into a loose cylinder and place it length-wise on your chest.

B. Start by using a weight that’s slightly more than you usually lift. For instance, if you do a close grip flat bench press with 65 kg, add a 5 kg plate on either side.

C. Unrack the bar, then lower it slowly until it touches the top of the towel.

D. Press up and repeat.

E. Complete three sets of four or five reps, and then three more sets of six reps, resting for two or three minutes between sets.

F. A week or two later, tighten the towel, or use a smaller roll, so that you are able to lower your bar even more. Continue until the bar comes all the way down to your chest.

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Congratulations! You’ve just increased your bench strength!

Bonus tip: After you’re done with the heavy weights, don’t forget your definition building Pec Deck and the Cross Cable Rows. Use light weights and max out the reps. These will add shape to size, without which there’s really no way. Your physique will get anywhere close to that of John Abraham.

Jamal Shaikh

(Jamal Shaikh is Editor, Men’sHealth)

Caveat: The physical exercises described in Treadmill are not recommendations. Readers should exercise caution and consult a physician before attempting to follow any of these.

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