Articles

17 March 2017

Building your best bench press


What you need to know:

  • This program is for those who have already built a solid foundation​
  • Mastering a lift requires practice
  • A high frequency of training will make you stronger
  • Use the right variation to fix your sticking point and set new a personal record (PR)

 

This is the program I used to coach a 72kg female from a 97.5kg bench to 105kg in 12 weeks. Making her the first women in the Irish Powerlifting Federation to ever bench press 100kg, also gaining her bench press records in 3 different powerlifting federations in the process.

 

Check out 3 ways to instantly improve your bench press

 

Principles 

Identify weakness and kill it

Being a great at programming is about identifying needs rather than just  doing what you’re good at! This often means working on things you don’t like (because you’ll be rubbish at them).

Practice the skill

The key to increasing strength is lifting heavy enough that you have to bench properly and with intensity but keeping it sub maximal to allow great form and good recovery wit less chance of injury.

Frequency

Studies have shown with the same weekly volume better strength increases have been gleaned though more frequent work rather than once or twice a week at high intensity.

Look after yourself

Spend time on mobility, keeping your joints moving well, tightness can kill your bench and lead to injury.

 

The program

This program is for intermediate to advanced lifters, you will already have good range of movement through the shoulders and thoracic spine, also good shoulder stability. 

 

The RAW method

R - Ramping 

Use ramping sets to build up to heavy reps ensuring movement is smooth and form spot on.

A - activation/skill training

Work performed at 80% for moderate volume. Heavy enough to effect neuromuscular recruitment patterns but light enough to ensure good form while getting enough repetitions in ingrain the movement.

W - work load

Putting the majority of the volume done on a variation that works your weakest point of the lift. Then manipulate the work load and intensity to peak bringing up your weak point to create a new PR.

 

Choosing your weak point lift

First identify your sticking point on your bench press.  This is best done when testing a 1RM or 3RM, see where you fail the lift with good form.

  • off the chest - chances are your lats and chest are weak:

Keep it simple use a wide grip paused bench (just 2 finger widths wider than your usual grip), hold tension just touching the chest, all the weight should be supported by your arms then press.

  • elbows in line with rib cage - you lose any drive from your lats at this point, if it’s going not further it’s because your pec’s are weak.

A floor press, while not the only variation for this weak point, is again simple to execute. Lay on the floor, bring the bar down until your elbows rest on the floor. It is important that it’s not "touch and go", no bounce allowed, and your chest will have to engage to execute the press.

  • Lock out (anything higher) - your triceps need more attention

Use a narrow grip bench press but don’t change it too much, just bring your grip in 2 finger widths which is enough to emphasise your triceps to help you overcome the high sticking point.

There are more lifts than these to work the weak points, however, I’ve chosen 3 of the most simple to execute exercises with great potential to improve your bench press.

 

Week 1-3

Monday

Bench - Use ramping sets to warm up

50% 5reps

60% 4reps

70% 3reps

80% 2reps

90% 1 rep 3 sets 

 

Wednesday 

Bench - activation/skill work

80% 3 reps 5 sets

 

Friday

Weak point bench variation - work load

Approximate 55% max - 6 reps-5 sets

(increase 5% each week) 

 

Week 4 

De-load and 1rep max test

Monday

Bench

50% 3 reps x 6 sets

 

Wednesday

Bench

50% 3 reps x 6 sets

 

Friday

Ramp to 1 RM

 

Week 5-7

Monday

Bench - Use ramping sets to warm up based on new 1RM set week 4

50% 5reps

60% 4reps

70% 3reps

80% 2reps

90% 1 rep 3 sets

 

Wednesday 

Bench - activation/skill work

80% 3 reps 5 sets 

(based on new 1RM set week 4)

 

Friday

Weak point bench variation - work load

Approximate 70% max 5 reps  4 sets

(increase 5% each week)

 

Week 8 

De-load and 1rep max test (same as week 4)

 

Week 9-11

Monday

Bench - Use ramping sets to warm up based on new 1RM set week 8

50% 5reps

60% 4reps

70% 3reps

80% 2reps

90% 1 rep 3 sets

 

Wednesday

Bench - activation/skill work

80% 3 reps 5 sets

(based on 1RM set week 8)

 

Friday

Weak point bench variation - work load

Approximate 80% max 3reps  5 sets

(increase 5% each week)

 

Week 12 

De-load and final 1rep max test. 

 

Other accessory work

You’ll need to be pulling something regularly too, try 3 times a week. Off the floor or from the ceiling, your choice.  For less experienced lifters it would be advisable to include assistance exercises.

 

Final notes

The bench press is still the gold standard for upper body strength used by powerlifters, bodybuilders and athletes.  It’s here to stay and with good reason; it uses the majority of the upper body, includes leg drive and is stable enough to allow you to shift heavy loads.  If you’re not doing it already, you probably should be.

 

Coach Dom Kinsey

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