When it comes to bench pressing big numbers, most of what you will accomplish is based off of you do in the gym. In this article, I will discuss bench press training so that you can set up a solid training program for yourself.
Additionally, as time goes on, I will be adding different bench press training programs to this section that you can follow in order to build an even better bench. Currently, you will find one free program and as a recommendation for the best program ever created (the Critical Bench Program):
5×5 Bench Press Program
Critical Bench Program 2.0
Bench Press Training Program Variables
The frequency of your bench press training is very important. Most people either bench press too little or too much. Very few people bench press with optimal frequency. For reasons I will list below, I recommend benching two times per week.
Training the bench once a week is simply not enough to build a impressive bench. That only offers your bench 52 sessions a year to improve! It also puts enough space between bench sessions that neural adaptations to benching are limited.
What this means is that by only benching one time per week, you deny your body the opportunity to become “comfortable” benching and your muscles do not become as efficient at performing the movement.
Bench press training more than twice a week is also a recipe for disaster. First of all, if you are benching with any sort of intensity, this will lead to burnout and excess fatigue. There are a few people who can get away with training bench more frequently: those with good genetics and those that cannot bench press more than 200 pounds.
Additionally, benching places a lot of stress on the shoulder, so bench press training more than twice a week can cause some serious shoulder pain. If you are like me, even benching more than once a week can cause some shoulder issues. I will flat bench once a week and then do an incline or board press on the benching day to take some load off of the shoulder as it is. Bench press training more than twice per week would be a disaster.
Your bench press training program will vary based off of what your goals are. In addition to benching more weight, if your primary goal is overall total body strength, then I recommend training 4x per week using an upper body and lower body split.
This would involve training the entire upper body twice per week, benching each day and performing a few assistance exercises for each upper body muscle group. You would train legs twice per day as well and could add in other weak points such as extra biceps work at the end of leg day.
If your goal is to build muscle while building your bench press, a more traditional body part split works well. I would still try to bench twice per week. You could either hit chest twice per week or bench on chest day and do an incline bench to start out shoulder day. Both will work just fine as long as you are consistent and are eating enough food to build muscle.
The term assistance work has been around for awhile but was really popularized by Westside Barbell. This is used to describe the other exercises you might perform during a workout after benching. In particular, assistance work is used to describe exercises that will directly enhance your bench press. Picking the right assistance work is crucial to successful bench press training.
As a basic rule, if you always fail on the bench press at the bottom of the lift, you need to do more chest and shoulder work for bench press training assistance. If you fail right in the middle, you should bench press more for assistance work. If you fail towards the top, some triceps work such as close-grip pressing would be an appropriate addition to your bench press training.
I cover this in more detail in the bench press exercises section.
Be sure to try to do some form of benching twice per week, structure your split intelligently, and pick good assistance work. These three principles make up a solid bench press training program.
By following these bench press training guidelines, you will be sure to add some significant poundages to your bench press.