How To Increase Your Bench Press: A Plan Based On Science

increase your bench press

Discover how to increase your bench press by up to 25 pounds in 6 weeks using this workout based on a recent study.

A question that always tends to come up in a discussion between two gym bros is:

“How much do you bench?”

For good reason as well.

Working the pecs, delts, arms, and to some extent the back, the bench press is the ultimate determinant of upper body strength.

The heavier you bench, the thicker the muscles of your upper body will be.

If you are a beginner, the amount you bench will increase in the first few weeks of just showing up.

However:

You are bound to encounter a plateau.

Everyone’s been there.

A recent study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, revealed the most efficient method to increase your bench press.

Research subjects included college-aged powerlifters with over 2 years of gym experience.

A Science Based Approach

The study, titled “Modified Daily Undulating Periodization Model Produces Greater Performance Than A Traditional Configuration In Powerlifters”, sounds complicated in name but the results are nothing short of groundbreaking.

A fundamental finding in a lot of recent literature has been the superiority of daily undulating periodization compared to linear undulating periodization.

In linear periodization, the focus of training is on only one particular goal. For example, a plan might focus on hypertrophy for a couple of months, then focus on strength for a couple of months, and then focus on power for a couple of months.

Daily periodization, on the other hand, focuses on all three of strength, power, and hypertrophy on a daily or weekly basis.

Dr. Michael Zourdas is a leading researcher on the topic of undulating periodization. Him and his team over at Florida Atlantic University compared the effects of different undulating periodization programs on high level power lifters over a 6-week period.

They found that the group that trained for hypertrophy, power, and strength had a higher bench at the end of 6 weeks than a group that trained in any other order e.g. hypertrophy, strength, and then power.

Your 6-week plan is programmed around this finding.

The Ultimate Increase Bench Press Program

Increase Your Bench Press

Your 6-week plan will involve training chest 3 times a week based on the study above, i.e. day 1 will focus on hypertrophy, day 2 on power, and day 3 on strength.

Feel free to change the order of training other body parts, but make sure that you train chest as suggested.

A sample split may look like this:

  • Monday: Chest hypertrophy, triceps
  • Tuesday: Back, rear delts, abs
  • Wednesday: Chest for power, biceps
  • Thursday: Legs
  • Friday: Chest for strength, middle delts, abs

The specifics of your chest workouts will be provided below, but here is an overview of what they will look like:

For your chest hypertrophy workout:

  • 5 sets of 8 reps on bench.
  • Relatively moderate weight.
  • 2 minute rest in between sets.

For your chest power workout:

  • 5 sets of 1 rep on bench.
  • Relatively heavy weight.
  • 3 minute rest in between sets.

For your chest strength workout:

  • 3 sets to failure on bench.
  • Anywhere from 3-6 reps of a very heavy weight.
  • If you are completely worn out, you can rest for up to 5 minutes between sets.

Point To Consider: Make sure to keep track of the weights you are benching for each workout. The key will be in progressively increasing the weight after each week.

To complete each of your 3 chest workouts include flyes, weighted dips, or push ups for 3 sets of 10. Use a weight that allows you to approach muscle failure but not reach it.

Your program includes working a separate muscle group with your chest. Follow the guidelines below:

  • Triceps – 3 exercises for 3 sets of 10-12
    • Example exercises: Lying tricep extensions, tricep pushdown, overhead tricep extensions
  • Rear delts – 2 exercises for 3 sets of 10-12
    • Example exercises: Face pulls, bent over lateral raises
  • Biceps – 3 exercises for 3 sets of 10-12
    • Example exercises: Barbell curl, hammer curl, preacher curl
  • Legs – Here are 5 sample leg workouts to choose from.
  • Middle delts – 2 exercises for 3 sets of 10-12
    • Example exercises: Upright rows, lateral raises

Follow the recommended number of sets and reps. Feel free to alternate between exercises.

Notice how shoulders are not given a separate day to train. This is because you are benching three times a week. The bench press puts a tremendous amount of strain on the anterior delts. Therefore, adding a shoulder pressing movement is not required. Rather, it is more effective to target the two delt heads with single joint movements.

Point To Consider: Do not train to muscle failure. The primary focus of this plan is on adding gains to your bench. Don’t strain too far from the above recommendations, as they are derived from research done in the lab.

The Breakdown On How Much Weight To Use And How To Progress With Intensity

Day 1 Workout: Hypertrophy

Week 1: 5 sets of 8, 75% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 2: 5 sets of 8, 75% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 3: 4 sets of 8, Adjust weight by 0-10 pounds based on performance; refer to “Determining Your Weight” below, Rest 2 min.

Week 4: 4 sets of 8. Adjust weight by 0-10 pounds based on performance; refer to “Determining Your Weight” below, Rest 2 min.

Week 5: 3 sets of 8. Adjust weight by 0-10 pounds based on performance; refer to “Determining Your Weight” below, Rest 2 min.

Week 6: 3 sets of 8. Adjust weight by 0-10 pounds based on performance; refer to “Determining Your Weight” below, Rest 2 min.

Day 3 Workout: Power

Week 1: 5 sets of 1, 80% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 2: 5 sets of 1, 80% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 3: 4 sets of 1, 85% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 4: 4 sets of 1, 85% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 5: 3 sets of 1, 90% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Week 6: 3 sets of 1, 90% 1RM, Rest 2 min.

Day 5 Workout: Strength 

Week 1: 3 sets to failure, 85% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Week 2: 3 sets to failure, 87.5% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Week 3: 3 sets to failure, 90% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Week 4: 3 sets to failure, 90% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Week 5: 3 sets to failure, 92.5% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Week 6: 3 sets to failure, 95% 1RM, Rest 3-5 min.

Bench Workout To Increase Max – Figuring Out Your Weights

Each workout across the 6 weeks of this program uses a weight that is determined by some percentage of the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one rep.

If you do not know your current 1 rep max, use one of the following methods to find out:

A Formula Based Approach

Step 1 – Choose a rep range anywhere between 3-8 reps.

Step 2 – Warm up to a point of working to the heaviest possible weight for the chosen number of reps. Take up to 2 minutes of rest between each set.

Step 3 – Take out your smartphone and enter the weight and number of reps you performed into this calculator. For example, if you banged out 5 reps of 225, your 1 rep max according to the calculator would be 253.

Your True 1RM

Step 1 – Warm up: Get the blood flowing with a five minute brisk walk on the treadmill or stationary bike.

Step 2 – Estimate a weight for your 1RM. You don’t need to be exact, a ballpark estimate will do.

Step 3 – Perform 8 reps for 40% of your predicted 1RM. Rest 2 minutes.

Step 4 – Perform 5 reps for 60% of your predicted 1RM. Rest 2 minutes.

Step 5 – Perform 3 reps for 70% of your predicted 1RM. Rest 3 minutes.

Step 6 – Perform 1 rep for 80% of your predicted 1RM. Rest 3 minutes.

Step 7 – Perform 1 rep for 90% of your predicted 1RM. Rest 5 minutes.

Step 8 – Perform 1 rep of your predicted 1RM.

Step 9 – If you feel like you can lift more, add 5 more pounds for the next set. Continue until you feel like you have reached your true 1RM.

If you aren’t used to this type of warm up leading to your 1RM, you might think that it will tire you out before you get to the heaviest weight. In response to this, remember that it is not the number of sets that cause fatigue but the number of reps.

The first four sets should be ridiculously easy. The set with 90% of your 1RM will be heavy, however you are only doing 1 rep. Most of us can do 3-4 reps with 90% of our 1RM.

The key is to feel like you are lifting something really heavy in order to get your motor units ready for your true 1 rep max. You also have 5 minutes of rest, providing ample time for recovery.

Increasing Your Weight

For the hypertrophy workouts, perform your final set to failure:

  • If you complete 8 reps, stick with the same weight next week.
  • If you complete 9 or 10 reps, increase the weight by 5 pounds the next week.
  • If you complete over  10 reps, increase the weight by 10 pounds the next week.

For an estimate of how many reps you should be able to perform for a prescribed percentage of your 1RM refer to the table below:

REPS %RM
1 100
2 95
3 93
4 90
5 87
6 85
7 83
8 80
9 77
10 75

How To Increase Bench Press Fast

You are now in possession of a step-by-step game plan for boosting your bench press to levels you never thought possible.

While you go through this plan, it is important to keep in mind some critical factors that will determine your level of success.

The following are a list of additional tips to make sure that you continuously bust through plateaus and see progress week in and week out.

Tip#1 Set Yourself Up Properly For Maximum Effectiveness

increase my bench press

A proper bench press set up will ensure that you move the bar over the shortest distance. A shorter range of motion means that the weight will be easier to lift.

A proper set up will also allow for a more efficient transfer of force from your pecs and shoulders to the bar through the forearms.

Setting up improperly can take away a tremendous amount of force generated on the bench press. Not only that, but improper form can also leave you susceptible to injury.

This is the reason why powerlifters are very deliberate with their position under the bar.

Here are 4 main cues to consider when it comes to a proper bench press set up:

  1. Lie on a flat bench with your eyes directly under the bar.
  2. Dig your shoulder blades into the bench, lift your chest, and tighten your upper back. This should cause an arch in your lower back. The arch should be big enough to fit a hand in between it and the bench. Maintain this position throughout the lift.
  3. Place your feet directly below your knees and force your knees out. This will tighten your quads and allow a significant amount of leg drive.
  4. Maintain a grip as hard as you possibly can.

Refer to the attached video tutorial for a clearer image of what the proper set up looks like:

Tip#2 Psyche Yourself Out

ways to increase bench

For any feat you are trying to accomplish there is an outer game and an inner game.

All of the information above revolves around the fundamentals of increasing your bench press, the outer game.

The inner game of increasing your bench revolves around your psychology. How strong your belief is that you can lift the weight and to what extent you can psyche yourself out mentally before attempting a new 1RM.

If you have some experience in the gym, you understand the importance of being mentally prepared for a heavy lift.

You may have seen powerlifters who seem to go through strange rituals before attempting a lift.

Turns out that this approach is actually backed by science.

Researchers at AUT university studied elite rugby players and found that when they pumped themselves up before attempting a bench press, their force production increased by 8%.

The same researchers also found that distractions led to a significantly lower force production – a 12% difference between the lifters who pumped themselves up and the ones who were distracted.

The takeaway here is to pump yourself up before each lift and really focus on completing each rep – no talking, no being talked to, and no mind wandering.

I find that the right music really puts me in the zone to attempt a heavy bench.

When getting ready to lift the weight, I also like to take a few seconds to visualize myself completing the set successfully to my goal number of reps.

Does visualization really work? Research has in fact shown that visualization of a successful lift can actually increase your strength.

Tip#3 Lift Explosively

increase bench press fast

There is a misinformed belief that lifting the bar slowly leads to a more effective stimulation of the muscle and better strength gains over time.

This research study revealed that, when benching, lowering the bar quickly and, without pause, then pushing it upward as fast as possible resulted in greater increases in power than a slow descent followed by a pause and explosive ascent.

This does not mean that you should be bouncing the bar off your chest at the bottom of the rep. Not only will this hinder your progress, but it will actually lead to physical pain as the weight gets heavier.

Don’t simply drop the bar towards your chest either – visualize pulling the bar towards your chest.

Tip#4 Vary Your Grip Width

Using a wide grip on the bench press, several inches wider than shoulder width, puts a bulk of the emphasis on the pectorals.

A narrower grip on the bench press, at or narrower than shoulder width, brings the smaller muscles such as the arms and shoulders more into play.

By playing around with your grip width you can focus on strengthening the different muscle groups and bust through different sticking points.

Tip#5 Keep Your Shoulders Tucked

I have met a fair amount of people who complain that the bench press damages their shoulders.

This is only true when you are performing it with incorrect technique.

The biggest mistake people make with the bench press is flaring out their elbows.

Research has revealed that keeping your arms at a 45 degree angle relative to your torso, and using a medium grip, is the best way to protect your shoulders.

Tip#6 Lay off the Smith Machine

increase bench press strength

It has been proven that if you want to increase your bench press that you should stay away from the smith machine.

The reason is because the smith machine activates fewer muscle fibers than a free weight bench press.

Using the smith machine will result in an imbalanced growth of the chest.

If your gym doesn’t have a bench press and only a smith machine there is only one thing you should do:

CHANGE GYMS! (or use dumbbells)

Tip#7 Pull the Bar Apart

As you bring the bar down, pull your shoulder blades together and try to actually bend the bar. Visualize yourself pulling the bar apart. Maintain this same position as you push the bar up.

Doing this will not only increase your shoulder stability but will also account for a fair portion of upwards force.

This is also the reason why you can’t lift as much weight on the dumbbell press as the bench press. There is more stabilization required with the dumbbells and you can’t generate the lateral force because it would result in the dumbbells being turned away from each other.

This 6 week plan is the most effective method on how to increase your bench press. Stick with it and be rewarded the fruits of your labor.

Have you been successful at significantly increasing your bench press max? Let me know what method you used in the comments below!

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