Barbell bench press 16

Among lifters, nothing is more coveted than a big bench press. In high school, the bench press serves as a staple of strength and a foundation for bragging rights. Collegiate and professional athletes utilize the bench press to develop upper body strength and mass. Powerlifters place a great emphasis on the lift as it helps them achieve a higher three-lift total. Behind bars, prison gangs have used the bench press as an initiation tool.

Big Bench Benefits

A big bench press can help you add more muscle to your frame, attract the attention of scouts and coaches and help catapult you into the upper echelon of the powerlifting ranks.

Currently, I train a number of world record holders in the bench press. I was also the youngest person to bench press 600 pounds. I am going to share with you some methods that have raised the bar literally and figuratively when it comes to bench press performance. Your seminar starts now.

Bench 9 19 B

Seminar 1: Compensatory Acceleration Training

Many lifters make the mistake of training just for a pump, as they want to feel the muscles associated with the movement doing the work. But if pure strength on the bench is their end goal, they should focus on moving the barbell off the chest to lockout as fast as possible while maintaining great technique.

Lifting a submaximal weight with maximal force will confer many of the strength training benefits of lifting maximal weights. By the same token, lifting a maximal weight with the intent to move it as quickly as will also deliver gains in explosive strength.

Moving the bar as fast as possible increases the activity of the central nervous system (CNS), quickly recruiting high threshold motor units, which are also called upon during rapid movements such as sprinting and jumping. The take home point is that a key variable in the equation of strength gains is the intent of your CNS to move the weight as quickly as possible.

Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT) is based on the tenet of movement intention and speed. You accelerate through the entire range of motion, as opposed to coasting through from A to B. Your aim is to explode off the chest from where you have the least mechanical advantage and continue to accelerate through the movement, even as leverages improve leading up to the lockout.

Bench 9 19A

Cost of the Status Quo

Not many everyday gym rats give thought to this type of training on the bench. You’ve learned to get through each set, working toward failure along the way. But that will catch up to you and can ultimately limit how much weight you can move. How, you ask?

Let’s say your next bench press workout entails performing five sets of four reps. If you’re like most lifters, you come out of the bottom forcefully but as leverage improves, you flip on cruise control and coast to the finish.

Let’s examine how training in this flawed manner inhibits gains in strength and muscle mass.

Set 1 – No reps were heavy enough to stimulate any sort of overload that led to strength or power gains. Zero out of five reps provided adaptive overload, which is a zero percent efficiency rating.

Set 2 – The bottom half of the last rep required enough intensity to induce some overload. Half out of five reps produced an adaptive overload, that’s a 10 percent efficiency rating for true strength gains.

Set 3 – The same as Set 2.

Set 4 – The bottom half of the last two presses produced adaptive overload. Two halves equal one whole. This set has an efficiency rating of 20 percent, or one out of five reps.

Set 5 – The bottom half of all five reps produced adaptive overload. Five halves equal two and a half, still only a 50 percent efficiency rating.

Your bench press session consisted of 20 total repetitions and only nine halves – or 4.5 reps – produced true overload or, in other words, actually helped you get stronger. 

While you may still gain some strength and a bit of size, you’re still leaving a lot on the table in terms of development.

Imagine if each of the 20 reps were pressed with maximal force? You’d end up a heck of a lot stronger over time. Remember, you must produce a high degree of muscular force to overcome the weight of the barbell which referring back to the basic formula (Force = Mass x Acceleration) which you may vaguely remember from your high school physics class.

Press Point: Lower your weight loads a bit and aim to move submaximal loads as quickly and powerfully as possible. Try using 60% of your 1RM for eight sets of three reps each.

Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at