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Judging a man by his bench press is the worst cliché in fitness. Unfortunately, it’s not going away. No matter how many creative, new, and so-called “functional” exercises come out, nothing seems to supplant the bench as the lift guys want to be the best at. In six weeks, we can help you hit higher benchmarks (forgive the pun) and put up more weight than you’ve ever been able to before, so that the next time someone asks you how much you bench, you won’t have to lie—unless you want to spare their feelings.
Complete Days I and II on back-to-back days, rest a day,then do III and IV in the same fashion.
Exercises marked “A” and “B” are supersets: Complete one set for A, then immediately do a set for B before resting.
See the table below for instructions on how to progress your bench press each week depending on your goal—225 pounds or 315 pounds. If your max lies somewhere in between, below, or beyond these numbers, follow the table but use approximate percentages of your goal max to guide you. For the sets of 1, start at around 90% of the max you want to hit and gradually increase it by 1–3% weekly in accordance with the table. For the back-off sets of 5, 4, and 3 reps, start with 80% of your goal max and progress similarly. You’ll have to estimate the best loads based on how you’re feeling, but try to follow the model here as closely as you can.
For most guys, the bench press stalls somewhere between 225 and 315 pounds. Doing the typical pyramid sets of 12, 10, 8, and 6 reps, as many do, isn’t going to unstick it. That rep scheme may be for building mass, but to add plates you need to practice lifting heavy for 1 rep only—this is how you prepare your body for the stress of a max lift. And while your goal may be to just get your bench press going again, our program works the whole body. The more muscle you work, the bigger you’ll get overall; and a bigger, stronger body—from head to toe—will lead to a more beastly bench press.
Steve Pulcinella is a former professional strongman and the owner of Iron Sport Gym in Glenolden, PA.
SEE ALSO: Avoid the 10 Worst Bench Press Mistakes
If your goal is 225 lbs:
Week 1: 5×1 with 200 lbs; 3×5 with 180 lbs
Week 2: 6×1 with 205 lbs; 3×5 with 190 lbs
Week 3: 7×1 with 210 lbs; 3×4 with 195 lbs
Week 4: 8×1 with 215 lbs; 3×3 with 200 lbs
Week 5: 3×2 with 215 lbs
Week 6: Work up to 225×1
If your goal is 315 lbs:
Week 1: 5×1 with 285 lbs; 3×5 with 255 lbs
Week 2: 6×1 with 290 lbs; 3×5 with 260 lbs
Week 3: 7×1 with 295 lbs; 3×4 with 270 lbs
Week 4: 8×1 with 300 lbs; 3×3 with 285 lbs
Week 5: 3×2 with 305 lbs
Week 6: Work up to 315×1
NOTE: 5×1, for example, means five sets of 1 rep. Perform all the sets of single reps and then do the back-off sets of 3–5 reps. All weights are in pounds. Rest as needed after each set.
SEE ALSO: Bench Press Variations for More Mass
A Six-Point Plan for Form That Breaks Records
To lift the heaviest possible weights, you need to perform the bench press in a way that gives you the best mechanical advantage. Master the setup described in these steps and you’ll add a second or third plate to the bar in six weeks or less.
NOTE: Keep your grip, core, glutes, and legs tight; do not allow your feet to move; and when you bring the bar to your chest, don’t let the arch in your back collapse.
Photography by James Michfelder & Therese Sommerseth