How to Build your Best Bench Press

Do you want to level up your bench press?

In any given gym on any given day, you’ll see a whole variety of people screwing up their bench press progress.

From failing to address weak spots that are holding them back, to ineffective programming and little (or no!) accessory work, here’s how to level up your bench press progress and get the progres you deserve.

What you need to know:

Build Best Bench Press

This is the program I used to coach a 72kg female from a 97.5kg bench to 105kg in 12 weeks.

In the process, making her the first women in the Irish Powerlifting Federation to ever bench press 100kg, and also gaining her bench records in 3 different powerlifting federations in the process.

Principles

The program

This program is for intermediate to advanced lifters.

You will already have good range of movement in your shoulders and thoracic spine and also good shoulder stability.

Over 12 weeks of training you’ll deload and test your 1 rep max 3 times to adjust the program as you go, while the overall demand continues to increase.

The RAW method

R – Ramping

Use ramping sets to build up to heavy reps ensuring movement is smooth and form is 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 to ingrain the movement.

W – Work load

Putting the majority of the volume done on a variation that works the 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 1 or 3 rep max (you’ll also use this to set the weights for the program).

See where you fail the lift with good form, or at what point it slows down.

Assistance lift: 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.

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

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

 

There are more lifts available than these to work your weak points but I’ve chosen 3 simple to execute exercises with great potential to improve your bench press.

Here’s a sample 12 week programme:

Week 1-3

Monday
Bench – Use a ramping sets to warm up
50% 5reps
60% 4reps
70% 3reps
80% 2reps
90% 1 rep for 3 sets

Wednesday
Bench – activation/skill work
80% 3 reps for 5 sets

Friday
Assistance lift  – work load
Approximately 55% max – 6 reps for 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 a 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
Week point bench variation – work load
Approximately 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 a 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
Week point bench variation – work load
Approximately 80% max 3reps  5 sets
(increase 5% each week)

Week 12

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

Other accessory work

In order to maximise your progress, you’ll need to be doing pulling exercises regularly too.

Developing your upper back gives you stability for heavy benching and provides greater drive off the chest. 

My personal favourite is the Pendlay row performed with the same grip width you use for your bench press.

You should also be spending time on mobility, keeping your joints moving well.  Tightness can kill your bench progress and lead to injury.

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.

To your lean, healthy, optimised future,

Coach Dom Kinsey

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