As a competitive powerlifter, my bench has always been my Achilles’ heel. It has been the slowest to build for me, and a source of frustration for a long time. Little did I know that being sidelined by a knee injury would end up being the impetus I needed to achieve a bigger bench press.
My Bigger Bench Press Program
While training heavy squats last year, I worked up to 190lbs (10lb short of a double bodyweight squat for me). But every time I squatted, I felt my right knee do a sort of arcing movement inward toward my body. As much as I tried to prevent it, my right patella finally decided to give in and start tracking in ways it shouldn’t be tracking.
I’ve learned a lot about how my quad muscles fire (or don’t) since then, but healing is slow, and I have had to lay off squats (and competing) for months at a time. While this has been frustrating, I certainly wasn’t going to stop training entirely, so instead I dedicated all four of my training days per week to my bench press.
DAY 1: Pyramid-Type Bench Press
- A weight you can press for, but not much more than, 10 reps
- A weight you can press fairly easily for, but not much more than, 8 reps
- A weight you can press fairly easily for, but not much more than, 6 reps
- A weight you can press fairly easily for, but not much more than, 5 reps
- A weight you can press fairly easily for, but not much more than, 4 reps
- A weight you can press fairly easily for, but not much more than, 2 reps
That’s more or less what it looks like, but you can play with the rep schemes. Once you’ve worked up the pyramid, go backward through it and try to eke out at least one more rep at each weight.
DAY 2: Speed Day
Work perfect, easy reps (anywhere from 60-75% of your max), emphasizing a longer pause at the bottom of the rep and an explosive movement off the bottom, for 3-5 reps per set. I will usually do anywhere from 5 to 10 sets of these.
DAY 3: Heavy Day
Perfect reps around 80-90% of max, 2-3 reps, 3-5 sets.
DAY 4: One-Way Pyramid
For this day, I usually do a one-way pyramid (not heading back down).
Bench Press Accessory Work
Every time I train bench, I do accessory exercises for triceps. I do one exercise per training day, 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
- Close-grip bench
- Triceps push-ups with isometric holds
- Overhead triceps extensions
For lats, I do one exercise per training day, 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
- Isometrics with the SmartFlex
- Weighted pull-ups
- Rows of all kinds
I train abdominals a few times per week.
- Wheel rollouts from toes
- Heavy side bends
- Heavy weighted sit-ups
- Dragon flags
- Hanging leg raises
And I do shoulder work a few times per week.
- Kettlebell overhead presses of all kinds
- Kettlebell windmills
- Kettlebell iron crosses
Recently, I’ve also been able to add back in heavy deadlifts, and some light squats when my knee allows. Other assistance exercises I like to add a few times a week (usually one per workout day) are:
- Heavy partials. I have safety chains on my rack, and I just hike the chains up to a desired point above the bottom of my bench (much like a block press). I have no training partners, so this works well for me.
- Heavy negatives. I’ll load the bar 20+lb above my max and lower the bar as slowly as possible back toward my chest. I won’t do more than three total reps of these, and I rest for a minute or two in between each rep.
- Chain reps. I use loading chains to add progressive weight towards the top of my press.
How to Get Your Bigger Bench Press
Every two or three weeks, I test out my max bench press. After about two months of this program, my max went from a very ugly 115lb (if I was lucky) to a very strong-looking 124lb. Today (at the writing of this article), I pressed 115lb for a double and managed a 125lb max. Not bad for a 104lb chick.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from a lot of trial and error, it’s that there isn’t one program that works for everyone. I experimented with a lot of people’s methods before I put this plan together. I discovered my body does well with the approach I’ve outlined here. If yours doesn’t, don’t despair. There is likely another plan that will work much better for you.
And if there’s one other thing I’ve learned from accidentally chopping off two fingertips last year (during which time I hit big PRs in all three of my lifts) and having my squat setback this year, it’s this: Life is always going to throw you curveballs. Don’t let that stop you from reaching your goals.
LEARN THE POWERLIFTS, AND LEARN TO TEACH THEM.