The Ultimate Bench Press Workout Guide
If you’ve been in the gym for a little over a month, chances are you’ve already been asked about how much you can bench. The bench press is a basic strength exercise and is considered one of the definitive indicators of your expertise in the gym.
However, an appropriate technique and, above all, how to increase weight on the bar, seem to be somewhat disconcerting for typical gym rats.
Many men can lift around 100 kg simply by practicing the same exercise regularly, and those who manage to lift about 140 kg are considered phenomenal in most commercial gyms. This does not have to be the case if you follow some basic principles.
In the world of powerlifting and the NFL men are seen raising 2-3 times their body weight or even more. What do they do differently from average people? Obviously there’s the question of genetics, but there is something more than that.
These types of athletes know all too well how to use good technique, which is what most gym users fail. In addition, they are clear on which methodology they should use, unlike the great majority of users who usually lift the same weight for the same number of repetitions week in and week out.
Keep reading to learn how to take every bench press workout to the next level.
Keys To A Better Bench
The width of the grip is something that will depend on your personal preference, but for our purposes we should use a narrower one than we are used to.
The traditional width of the bodybuilder grip where the arms are bent up to almost 90º will stimulate the pectorals more, but it will not be optimal to gain strength or a sustainable longevity for your shoulders.
A too narrow grip can also decrease your overall strength by leaving the pectorals out of the equation, however, the closed-grip bench press is a fantastic accessory exercise to improve your bench.
The most correct way would be for the arms to be placed at a 45-degree angle to the body at the end of the movement and for the wrists to be placed directly under the elbows at the end of the repetition.
The scapular position is one aspect of the bench press that is commonly ignored and one of the most challenging to maintain during the execution of the exercise. The objective is to retract and sink the scapulae towards the bench.
Imagine that you are doing a rowing movement with the shoulder blades back, fixing them on the bench and keeping them there throughout the exercise.
Make sure not to extend the scapulae or shrug the shoulders during movement, since many people tend to do so when the bar is raised. Also, do not let the shoulders be rounded, keep the chest up and the shoulder blades always attached to the rib cage.
During the bench press the chest is, obviously, the main muscle that works, but at the same time it is also an exercise that can involve the whole body.
The feet must be completely stuck on the ground. During each repetition, you must push down with your heels and create tension throughout the body, which brings me to the next point.
As already mentioned, the body must be tense throughout the repetition. In fact, many powerlifters believe that the beginning is more uncomfortable than the lift itself.
Once the shoulders are well placed, the feet are solidly placed on the floor and the buttocks are stuck on the bench, you are ready for your first repetition.
After removing the bar, take a breath once, keep the air in the abdomen, grab the bar firmly and push your feet against the ground to create tension. Remember to also tighten your butt and maintain a strong spinal arch.
The most common mistake in a bench press workout is to directly lower the bar to the chest which forces the shoulders to a position that does not suit us. In the lower part of the movement, the bar should be located just below the nipples.
While lifting it, the bar should draw a slight arch and end directly on the nipples at the end of the movement.
Imagine that you are paddling when you find yourself with the bar underneath, this will help you maintain the bow and lower the bar properly. Take a short pause when the bar reaches the chest (this makes the movement more difficult, but it will improve your bench press strength in the long term).
On the other hand, when you raise the bar, think about doing push with the legs and push the body towards the bench and against the bar.
Your training system will depend on your individual goals. For example, if you are interested in improving your maximum strength, then you have to lift very heavy, if you are looking to increase your range of repetitions, you need to work at high repetitions with lighter loads.
Improve Your 1RM
There are different ways to improve your strength, but going to the gym and lifting as much as you can each week is definitely not one of them.
If you go to the limit every week, you will build some strength, especially if you are a rookie, but after a while you will stagnate. That’s where different schemes of sets and repetitions come into play. Here are some:
Here you will use the same weight in the same range of repetitions and with a prescribed number of sets. In this case, the most effective is to do 3 to 5 sets of 1 to 5 repetitions.
The goal is to lift heavy enough to approach failure, but reserving one or two repetitions. The most common is to do 3-5 sets x 5 repetitions, but this can be very tiring if you do it several times a week.
This is the most used method in hypertrophy , but used at low repetitions can also be very effective to increase strength. It is appropriate to use it when looking for a new record.
You will increase the weight of ascending sets but you will not fatigue yourself so much in comparison with the normal series, where you will always raise the same weight. The range of sets and repetitions would be similar to that of the normal series.
Repetitions With Pause
The only difference with respect to the normal repetitions is to keep the weight in the lower part for 1 to 3 seconds (preferably 3). This pause forces you to lift the weight without the help of muscle elasticity and reflex stretch.
On the other hand, this makes the movement harder, and although you are handling less weight compared to the touch and go sets, it will help you to build more strength as well as to refine your technique for any future bench press workout.
One of the most common methods of training to increase strength is to perform speed work. It is ironic since this form of training does not follow the specificity rule.
Powerlifting is by nature very slow, since the production of maximum force occurs when the mass is very high and the acceleration is very low. However, here you will use lighter loads and raise the bar as fast as you can, keeping away from failure.
An example of this type of routine would be to take 60% of your 1RM and perform 8 sets of 3 repetitions as explosively as you can with 1 minute rest between sets.
This type of work refers to various techniques such as additional resistance (bands, chains, sling shot benching and weight releasers ) as well as partial movements, which involve only the initial and final part of the movement such as board presses, floor presses and rack presses.
Many of these techniques require additional equipment and are beyond the scope of this article, except the floor press, which can be used to shorten the range of motion and also allows you to handle more weight than a normal bench press.
In addition, it also builds a good blocking force. To do it, you only need the bar, since it is done lying on the floor.
Improve Your Personal Records
There are different weightlifting events where you also compete to determine who gets a certain weight (for example, your body weight) as many times as possible. In addition, it also makes it easier to increase your push-up record, which may be required in different physical tests.
Clusters are single, double or triple sets made several times with a rest period of 10-20 seconds or so. The difference between these and normal sets are that the breaks are shorter, allowing you to keep lifting heavy but increasing your ability to work.
An example would be to lift 90 kg x 2 repetitions x 4 rounds with 10 seconds of rest between sets. If you want to make 4 series of clusters in a workout, be sure to rest 2 or 3 minutes between each one. This is a fairly advanced technique of this bench press workout.
It is performed with a single weight, starting with a certain number of repetitions (for example, 8), and performing the following with the same number of repetitions but subtracting one from the previous one.
An example would be to lift 110 kg for 8 repetitions in the first series, 7 in the second, 6 in the third until reaching a single repetition. The objective is to achieve it by resting as little as possible between sets, which is an excellent way to build work capacity and resistance.
These consist of lowering the weight in each set. The number of repetitions does not have to be constant, but to make each set close to failure (and not to total failure). The goal is to rest as little as possible between sets.
The good thing about descending sets is that it allows you to continue increasing weight even after reaching failure. A good idea is to load the bar with small discs of 5 and 10 kg so that the descent in each set is more appropriate.
Descending Mechanical Sets
In these types of sets do not lower the weight, but you change the position of your body to have a mechanical advantage. In the case of the bench press, the ideal would be to have dumbbells and a reclining bench.
It would start with the bench tilted to 60-70 degrees, then we would go down to 45 degrees, then to 15-30 degrees, and finally we would make a final set with the bench completely flat.
The objective is to complete a set and stay one or two repetitions near failure in the first and trying to match or exceed the number of repetitions in the remaining sets. You must rest long enough to readjust the bench and return to the starting position of the exercise.
Pyramid sets consist of several sets of ascending weight while decreasing the number of repetitions in each, with a back off set at the end. After having fatigued your muscles, return to lower the weight and do repetitions until failure.
This last set will be the one that really increases your maximum number of repetitions. Rest 2-3 minutes between sets.
After having done a bench press session, do 1 to 3 sets of push-ups to failure to complement the routine for that day.
Other Factors To Consider
While the bench press is considered primarily as a pectoral exercise, strengthening some of the secondary muscles involved in exercise is crucial to improving your performance in every bench press workout you do.
The training of these muscles is known as accessory work, and each can be different depending on the strengths and weaknesses of each lifter. The muscles that should be worked in this case are the triceps, the frontal deltoids and the musculature of the upper back.
On the other hand, the range of motion where the acceleration of the bar slows or even stops is known as a sticking point. Working this range of motion can also be beneficial.
Also, training for strength in the starting position and blocking can also help improve your bench press.
The amount of accessory work needed will depend on your level and experience, but for most lifters, 2 or 3 exercises with a range of 8-12 repetitions should be sufficient. A common mistake of beginners is to perform too much complementary work.
Remember that the objective is to stimulate, not annihilate. The following describes which accessory exercises may be the most appropriate.
Strengthening The Triceps
Both in the middle and in the final part of the bench press is where most lifters flinch. Strong triceps will help solve this part of the movement known as blocking. Some ideas to strengthen the triceps would be a French press with an EZ bar or dumbbells and pulls with rope or rubber bands.
Strengthening The Frontal Deltoid
The frontal deltoid is responsible for shoulder flexion, and strengthening it will help you complete a good bench press. The best exercises to work on are front elevations and a closed dumbbell press (which is also an excellent exercise for triceps)
Here are some examples of programs that can help reinforce your bench press depending on your level.
For less experienced lifters, the best option is to focus most of the work on being fit while building a strong base that will support you in your future bench press workout plans.
- Normal sets: 5 × 5 with 85 kg
- Ascending sets: 60 × 5, 80 × 5, 85 × 5, 90 × 5
- Repetitions with stop: 3 × 3 with 85 kg, with stop at the bottom of each repetition.
- Pyramid sets: 85 × 8, 90 × 5, 100 × 2, 85 × 7
- Push-ups: 100 × 3, 100 × 3, 105 × 1 and a series of 18 push-ups.
These techniques would also work for novice or intermediate lifters, but many of them require the lifter to perform in a state of fatigue, therefore it is better to build a solid foundation first.
- Clusters: 125 × 2, rest 10 seconds, and repeat 3 times more (that would be a cluster)
- Descending ladder: 100 × 6/5/4/3/2/1
- Mechanical descending sets: 35 kg/m with bank at 60º, 35 kg/m with bank at 45º, 35 kg/m with bench at 30º, 35 kg/m with flat bank.
- Descending sets: 2 or 3
- Warm up cycles: 100 × 8, 5 × 85, 70 × 3 and 60 × 3
- Specialization work: bands, chains, board press, floor press.
As you can see, many of the techniques for advanced lifters are focused on increasing the number of repetitions, however this does not mean that these methods cannot be used to increase the 1RM, since both skills are mutually beneficial.
Another consideration to keep in mind is that the methods outlined for novice athletes can also be used by more experienced lifters to gain strength.
However, even if a beginner wants to increase their number of repetitions, it will still be a better option for them to work exclusively on strength, while the more experienced lifter will need to employ more specific techniques.
In conclusion, the most important thing is to build a good foundation of strength that subsequently supports both muscular resistance and hypertrophy and this is all achieved by following this bench press workout routine.