Bench Article I Wrote
Most people start training to get a bigger bench.. Itís the number one exercise to describe how strong someone is to the common person. Just turn on any football game and the announcers will be telling you about how player X benches this amount or player Y benched so many reps at the combine. With all its popularity, it has spawned numerous programs that promise ď50 POUNDS IN TEN WEEKSĒ or some other result that is probably not going to happen. The truth is that unless you are part of a small genetic group that is born to bench press then it is a frustrating and slow moving exercise to progress on.
We have seen the guys that can press 500 and 600 pounds without a bench press shirt but the reality is that the majority of us arenít may never get there. Everybody knows guys that bench 400 in high school or who never train and can throw up large amounts on the bench. This article is not for those people. Itís for the lifter that has trained consistently to increase their bench press and still arenít where they want to be. Have you been training for ten years and still cant bench 315 much less 405? I can help you. Why? I am one of you and the perfect example of the frustrated bencher.
I loved benching at an early age and actually entered my first bench press competition at the age of 12. I consistently trained all through my teen years and ended up benching 285 touch and go style as a High School Senior. I had the highest squat on my football team but guys that barely trained had broke through the 300 barrier and passed me by. I couldnít understand it. The years after my training was more sporadic but I was able to finally bench 315 when I was 33. You read that right, 18 to 33 I put 30 pounds on my bench press! I had enough and decided to get serious and set my modest goals on benching 4 plates. 3 plates was a big deal where I was training at the time but I wanted more. I really didnít believe I would get there but it couldnít hurt to try. I started contacting and talking to the best benchers in power lifting at that time (If they couldnít help, who could?). I listened and experimented with numerous programs and special exercises. I stayed around 315 for two years before I finally figured some things out for myself. I finally made a breakthrough that has helped me and other lifters that I have helped, blow pass there previous maxes. What I will pass on to you helped me go from a sloppy T&G 315 to a paused 400 at a full meet in just two years. If it helped the guy that only put 30 pounds on his bench in ten years it can help anybody. No one has to worry about me breaking any world records but I can help the people like me that werenít benching 300 pounds out of the womb.
THREE PARTS OF THE BENCH PRESS
The bench press is comprised of three parts for this discussion. You have the chest drive, mid point (where you transition from chest to triceps drive), and the triceps drive or lockout. An optimal program is going to address all three aspects but the emphasis should be placed on the order I listed them in for raw benching. A raw bencher has to first be strong in the bottom, above all else. Itís not a matter of being fast enough or some other guru catchphrase. You donít have the benefit of a shirt so you have to start the weight yourself. Next will be the midpoint where may stall. Solid work in that area will transfer immediately to the lifters bench press. Last, we worry about the lockout. Most lifters are going to miss a raw bench about 6 to 8 inches off their chest, not right at lockout. That being said it does happen so it doesnít hurt to address this area if you have the time. Overall, the best program is going to give you ample work in each area with room to recover for the next workout.
This will be an easy choice because the best exercise for the bottom of your bench is the paused bench press. There are a few other choices such as cambered bar benches or deep stretch dumbbell presses but they are not as practical or as effective. The pause bench meets our needs because it builds superior power off the chest, and it serves as practice for the lift we are actually trying to improve. It is true in all sports, that if you want to get good at something considerable time needs to be spent doing it. Want to get good at free throws? You better spend a lot of time practicing them. Special exercises have their place but the bulk of your training and concentration needs to be focused on the actual movement we want to improve. Seems like common sense but unfortunately common sense is not a common virtue in some programs. Enough on that, pause bench is our choice here.
The transition from chest to triceps drive is the place where most of us fail on our presses. The press should be one smooth motion and not broken into two segments. You can build up enough lower power to blast through this with lower weights but it will show when the weight gets heavy.
This is the place where we channel our inner Westside and break out those special exercises. My recommended exercises for middle power are the two board press, three board press, and the floor press. The use of bands or chains with these exercises can all be utilized to improve their effectiveness but they are also great with straight weight.
A few tip when performing these movements:
1.Utilize a slightly closer grip with all of them to emphasize more triceps. Make sure that the grip is no more than one fist length from your competition grip. If you go too close, you are training a slightly different movement pattern that may not transfer as well.
2.When performing the board press donít pause and sink the bar into the boards before you press. What can happen is you start heaving with your upper body and take stress of the muscle groups we want to train. Just lower the bar and slightly tap the board and press.
3.Do not do touch and go floor presses. Lower the bar until the elbows touch and go, slight pause, and then explode.
Remember why we are doing these exercises to get better at bench presses not the special exercises. So do them strictly and really work that middle transition. If this is a weakness of yours, donít be surprised if your numbers jump immediately from including them.
The last part of the press we need to pay attention to is the last 4 to 5 inches of the lockout. If you are doing your pause and middle work, then you will already be hitting this area but it does help to put some work into this limited range of motion. The three exercises that I recommend for the lockout are pin presses, reverse band presses, and 4 boards.
1.For the reverse band presses I would recommend no more than an average band. This exercise will not only help your lockout but also continue to teach you to push in one smooth motion and power through your sticking point.
2.Pin presses need to be set for a limited range of motion and extra attention needs to be taken to your shoulders and elbows. Large amounts of weight over your max can be handled in this exercise, so make sure you are in a good pressing position and cut this exercise out if its starting to hurt your joints.
After trying multiple programs and talking to a number of 600+ benchers there were two things that stuck out to me. The first is the emphasis on the large amount of pressing volume. Many people have stalled with some of the most popular programs found today because they really only do one hard work set. That may work for the dead lift but the bench is something else. The second was simplicity. Instead of pouring effort into 14 different exercises, find a few that work and get really good at them. It can be summed up with one simple phrase ďDo less better!Ē
Simplicity, volume, and progression need to be programmed into your program but you need to keep an eye on how your joints and muscles feel. The bench press responds to a large amount of work but it has to be something you can recover from. Your body and lack of progress will tell you how many days off you need. It may be hard at first, most of us are addicted to training, but you can make great gains benching once a week. Donít be afraid to give it a shot.
ONE DAY A WEEK
If you decide to train once a week then you need to pick one exercise from each of the groups mentioned earlier in the article. For example: pause bench, 2 board bench, and reverse band presses. Those exercises are to be performed in that order with the majority of the work with the first one.
1.Bottom: As far as sets and reps, the best rep range I have found is 3 to 6 reps. No less than 3 working sets with the same weight. For whatever rep range you choose, pick a weight that is a tough weight for that range and try to complete all reps and sets. If you do it, go up five ponds next time. If not, improve at least one rep next time. This keeps progression in your training and gives you a clear goal for each session.
2. Middle: You are going to be tired here so limit the sets to 3. Your first set can actually be a little less than you were pause benching with to get used to the new exercise. The next two need to be with the same weight for 3-5 reps. Get both sets go up five pounds.
3. Top: Exact same sets and reps as middle.
When you are through with all of that you will be wore out. Rest a week and come back next week and do it again with more weight. This is exactly how I trained when I went from a paused 375 to my first gym 405 in two months. Totally work all aspects of the lift, rest, and repeat. Simple.
TWO DAY A WEEK
The two day a week is a good option if you donít have the time for the longer one day a week routine. Its also good for the person that feels they are lacking in top end power. The workouts are shorter and allow you to pour more effort into the middle and top exercises. Keep an eye on your recovery as mentioned before. You will be able to use more weight in two of the exercises versus the one day option so it can take a toll.
1.With two days to train, we are going to split the sessions into an upper (middle, top) and lower session.
2.Lower will just consist of the pause bench and utilize the same sets and reps suggested for the one day.
3.Upper will be your middle and your top exercise. Treat your middle as you do your pause bench on lower day as far as sets and reps. An example would be floor press for 5 sets of 5 with static weight and the usual progression plan. Your lockout exercise will be treated differently. Start at a triple and keep adding ten pounds until you miss a rep.
ASSISTANCE FOR BOTH
So what do you do after you are through pressing? For aesthetic reasons and shoulder health a large amount of your work should be focused on your rear deltoid. Rear laterals, pull a parts, and machine laterals are all options to fully work and develop the rear deltoid. Keep the reps high and donít be afraid to do up to ten sets on this area. Your shoulders will feel better and you will end up fully developing your shoulders.
1.Pause Bench 4x3
2.3 Board Press 1x5 2x3
3.Pin Press 1x5 2x3
4.Rear Laterals supersets with pull a parts 4x12
1.Floor Press 4x3
2.Reverse Band Press Triples until you miss
3.Rear Laterals 5x15
1.Pause Bench 4x3
2.Side Laterals 3x12
3.Pull a parts 3x15
That pretty much sums up how to organize your bench training and all that is left to do is put in hard work and time. This is not intended to be a gimmick because gimmicks work for some but the basics work for all. Progress takes time and consistency but if you utilize the concepts from this article, I promise you will be moving in the right direction.
Thanks for posting this Mike. Do you care if we move it to the articles section so it's easier for members to locate?
Absolutely not. Sorry I missed it.
Great read. You still competing?
very solid article Mike, makes loads of sense!
Thanks guys. I am still competing. I have a meet in two weeks. I took a year off (not really on purpose) and dropped a weight class. It will be good to be back on the platform!
Good luck Mike.
Great article Mike, thanks for posting. This has given me a few insights.
Good article! Thanks for posting!
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