I’m going to start off my inaugural Muscle and Fitness Online training article with an answer - of sorts - to the one question everyone will always ask you when you’re a guy who goes to the gym:
How much do you bench?
The advice I’m about to offer will help you answer this question in a way you can be prouder of each month as you make progress. The idea here is to continue making small gains over a large period of time, because that’s how getting bigger and stronger works - you peck away at personal records a pound at a time until the calendar works its magic and you’ve put in enough work to start putting up big weights.
If I told you that I could get you five pounds per month on your max bench press, you’d tell me to take a hike, right? Look at how this really works, though. If you bench, say, 255 right now, and I gave you a piece of paper and asked you to sign off on a 315 pound bench for a month from now, would you take it?
You’re darned right you would, because I highly doubt you’ve gone from 195 to your current 255 over the past year. This won’t happen overnight, because that’s not how things work in the weight room. You have to plot out your training in an intelligent manner, take a look at what’s working and what’s not, and understand the big picture.
A Word on Technique
I’ll address proper bench press form in later articles, I promise. Form and technique are crucial for developing a big bench, but before I actually tell you the keys to learning these things, I want to outline some training concepts so you can understand how a long-term schedule works.
There’s more than one way to plot out rep and set schemes in order to get stronger, but the best thing about lifting weights is that you don’t have to simply stick with one of these and hope for the best. You can examine your weak points, figure out what kind of work you need, and go from there. You don’t have to always lift heavy, or always lift to failure. It’s best to mix and match different programming techniques in order to get the results you want.
With that said, you need four things, programming-wise, for a big bench press:
1) The ability to strain
You need to feel what it’s like to be under a heavy load and to have to strain and grind it to a lockout position at the top. The way to do this is to lift heavy weights - at a high percentage of your max - for singles, doubles and triples.
2) The ability to explode the weight quickly off your chest
You need speed. You need some kind of impetus off your chest so your triceps have some momentum going into the lockout (top) position. This can be developed through a variety of means, including accommodating resistances (bands and chains) and plyometric pushups. You’ll do this by doing pushups with your hands inside of two platforms. Explode off the floor and get your hands onto the boxes in one motion. Start off with low boxes and work your way up in height.
Simply put, you need to get bigger, because speed and technique will only take you so far. You’ll need to do a certain amount of high-repetition work in order to develop the muscular cross-section that has to be recruited in order to lift heavy loads.
4) The proper accessory work
Heading into the gym, making a beeline for the dumbbell rack, and doing curls in the mirror until you can’t lift your arms anymore won’t give you a big bench press. You need to work the muscles that support your chest during the lift - your triceps, your lats, your delts and your traps. Your triceps lock out the bar at the top, and the other muscles mentioned provide the base from which you press. The bigger and stronger they are, the more you’ll be able to bench.
Putting it all Together
Work your bench program in four week increments - three weeks of solid work, and one deload week during which you won’t be lifting heavy weights. In powerlifting parlance, a deload week is a week of rest and recovery where you cut your workload and allow your muscles, joints and central nervous system to recover.
You’ll be performing two bench workouts per week in a combination of methods - either lifting heavy max weights, doing some sort of speed work or performing high rep sets to build muscle. For your deload week, you’ll be taking it easy and doing two days of high rep or speed work with lighter weights. Here’s your first four weeks: