Part I of this series (“How to Bench Press 315”) covered the basics of bench press technique and how to handle accessory work when building for mass. This installment will focus on programming for intermediate lifters. This isn’t just a collection of workout routines for upper body development, but a comprehensive system that will grow weak points which will, in turn, increase your bench press fast. Using more weight in the bench press will, again, spur new growth in your upper body. The idea is get big to get strong, and get strong to get big.
The Bench Press Broken Down – The main movers of the bench press are the deltoids, pectorals, and triceps. These are not, however, the only players worth noting. To increase your bench press fast, you must train optimally, and that means targeting every muscle that plays a role in the movement. This causes synergy: improving individual muscle groups, which improves bench press performance, which improves workout efficacy, which improves individual muscle groups. Take any piece out of this chain and you are wasting your time. The other key players are supportive structures: traps, rhomboids, lats, biceps, and even abdominals and lower back muscle groups. These muscles create stability, which is the key to moving more weight efficiently. Studies show that weakness or fatigue in any of these supportive structures causes a decrease in performance. This is clear proof that to bench big, all musculature of the upper body must be firing on all cylinders.
The meat of your routine should be actual bench pressing. Time under the bar will lead to skill refinement: muscle fibers will be conditioned to fire simultaneously and in the proper order and this is the heart of optimal performance. When straining under maximum loads in the future, all thought must be geared towards effort and intensity; there is no room for thinking about technique cues. All of this must happen automatically.
Workouts begin with a warm-up: 10-15 minutes of stretching, getting blood to the supportive structures, and practicing the movement about to be done. I like to perform various arm circles and shoulder stretches in between light benching with an empty bar and light biceps/triceps work to warm my elbows up.
Here is the ‘meat and potatoes’. Add weight to the bar in 20-30lb increments, performing 5-8 reps and keeping technique and tempo perfect. The goal is to get to your working weight completely warmed up, but not fatigued. 5 sets of 5 is one of the most time-tested routines for improving strength and size simultaneously. Use the same weight on each set and go for broke on the last one. Starting the cycle, choose a weight that is around 70% of your 1 RM. A 300lb bench presser would start around 210lbs. The sets would look like this: 210×5,5,5,5,12. Do this twice a week and add 5-10lbs every time. At a rate of 5lb increases and bench pressing twice per week, this lifter will bench press 300lbs for 5 sets of 5 in 9 weeks. Err on keeping the jumps small and keep track of your rep records on the last set. Your goal will be to break your record from the last session with 5 more pounds on the bar.
After you have completed your main sets, perform one exercise for 2-5 sets for each accessory muscle group, focusing on building for mass. 2-3 sets can be done if the intensity on each set is extremely high(i.e. training to and past failure using drop-sets, rest-pause, forced reps, etc.). 5 sets are best when performing sets that fall just short of failure. You are going to choose one exercise for shoulders, traps, back, biceps, and triceps. Chest isolation(dumbbell, incline, flyes, etc.) is only necessary when benching is limited to once per week. Since this is a twice per week program, try to avoid excessive strain on the connective tissue of the chest and shoulders.
Example Bench Press Day:
Bench Press – 210lbs x 5,5,5,5,12 reps
Triceps Press down – 70lbs x 5 sets x 10 reps
Bent Row(10 second drop set) – 135lbs x 10,6,5 reps 135lbs x 9,5,4 reps
Standing Curl – 85 x 5 sets x 12 reps
Shrugs – 185lbs x 3 sets x 30 reps
Front Raises(strict to failure, then swinging) – 30lbs x 20,18 reps
The high volume work(sets of 5) is very effective at building for mass, but the high intensity work(drop sets, forced reps, etc.) is just as effective and much faster. Experiment, mix and match: one combination isn’t better than another. The most important factor for increasing your bench press fast is consistency. 9 weeks is an extremely short period of time for our hypothetical lifter to perform his 1 rep max for 5 sets of 5, but he won’t get there unless he is on point for every workout in between. Stay focused, follow the basics, and you will realize your goals in no time!
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