For many of us, the bench press was the first exercise that we did when we started lifting weights. The bench press has become the king of upper body exercises. Monday is National Bench day.. Because we all want to start the week off with something we enjoy doing!
This article will go over ways to break through your bench press plateau.
Believe it or not, the bench press is a very technical movement. There is much more to the bench press than just lower the barbell to your chest and push it up..
If you have ever been to a powerlifting competition, you will notice the setups are very elaborate. They can take upwards of 30-60 seconds to generate tension and get in the right position before unracking the barbell.
The two biggest technique flaws that we tend to see is the lack of shoulder blade retraction and depression (pinning your shoulder blades back and down into the bench) as well as lack of leg drive. These two corrections can easily add 5-10lbs on your bench!!!
Here is a video that Coach Dane and I filmed a video on Tips and Cues we use for the bench press.
If you are trying to improve your bench press you need to be training that movement pattern at least 2x a week. Research supports that the upper body pressing patterns can be trained more frequently for strength development.
That does not mean you have to do your normal barbell bench press 2x a week. You can still get similar benefits by doing DB bench, incline press, close grip, or speed work on that second session. But if you want to train the normal grip bench press 2x a week, go for it!
When I coach my powerlifting athletes, as they get closer to the competition we are benching at least 2x a week with a competition style grip. When the are further out, we are doing more variation work to improve their muscular development and to add in some different training stimuli based on their weak points.
This is the meat and potatoes of training programs. What are the sets and reps you are using to progress your lifts?
Based on your level of experience you will need different progressions. We will go VERY basic and break the categories into "Novice" and "Experienced". In reality, there are SO many more categories, but we will keep this simple.
If you are new to training for strength (6-12 months or less) or you have returned to strength training after taking a break, you are a novice. "Strength training" is not the same as bodybuilding or doing chest/tri workouts, etc. Strength training is training for the goal of maximal strength development in that movement pattern!
Most of the readers here are novice strength athletes. To give you a perspective, I have been lifting weights for 12-13 years but I have never given a FULL 6-12 months of training cycles to actively trying to improve my bench max. I would categorize myself as a novice strength athlete when it comes to the bench press.
Being a novice is AWESOME! This is the time you can make the most amount of gains. You can make progress weekly, instead of having to wait until the end of a 12-16 week cycle to see a small improvement. to maximize this potential, you need to follow a novice progression, NOT an experienced progression. A novice progression is SIMPLE. You just keep the same number of sets and reps and just add weight.
Start week 1 at a moderate weight and just build 5lbs each week. Don't start at a max effort on week 1, give yourself some room to grow each week. If your max effort set of 5 is 145, start week 1 at 135.
When you can't complete the same number of reps, you take a small deload the next week and then start over. A deload for a novice athlete is a drop in intensity by 10-15%.
Week 1 - 3 sets of 5 at 135
Week 2 - 3 sets of 5 at 140
Week 3 - 3 sets of 5 at 145
Week 4 - 2 sets of 5 at 5, then missed rep 5 on set 3 at 150
Week 5 - 3 sets of 5 at 140-145
Week 6 - 3 sets of 5 at 150
Week 7 - 3 sets of 5 at 155
Once you have maximized your potential using the novice progression, your strength progress will be much slower. It requires much more intelligent programming with manipulation of sets and reps over the mesocycle (4-6 weeks).
Typically we program strength programs that last 12-16 weeks. The first month of this programming is in the higher rep range (6+ reps). The second month is in the strength rep range (4-6 reps). And the last month to two months is the reps get lower and lower as the weight crawls up (<5 reps).
Experienced athletes require additional sets to create an "over-reaching" effect and larger deloads to allow the body to recover and lift heavier weights.
In a mesocycle (4-6 weeks), you would typically see the sets increase over the 2-4 weeks and then they would be cut back down on the deload week before the next mesocycle began with another rep range.
I want to stress this again, your progress will be SLOWER when using a program written for those who are experienced. Use the novice program until it doesn't work for you anymore before starting an intermediate program!
We have included an excel file as a download with 5 of our favorite progressions for experienced lifters. Check it out!
You want your total number of sets for horizontal pressing to be 10-20 sets over the week. The newer you are to lifting, you will stay on the lower end of sets. The more experienced you are, the closer to 20 sets you will be.
Horizontal pressing variations include ANY bench press or chest work.
Note that push-ups are included. If you are doing 20 sets and then doing push-ups on top of that, you may be doing too much.
Break these 10-20 sets over 2-3 workouts!
Triceps are also another huge muscle group that you want to improve for the bench press. These muscles can typically take more volume and isolation work than the chest can.
Train these muscles in the higher rep range (8-15 reps) to promote increased muscle growth.
Our favorite tricep exercises are the following:
This concludes our bench press article! If you have any questions on how to maximize your current routine, reach out to us on IG @policepostsfitness or email at [email protected].
- Dr. Matthew Shiver (@shive_on on IG)
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