Many people seem to enjoy over-complicating the bench. Searching for the super sexy secret exercise that will increase your competition bench. While hunting for the silver bullet of bench exercises is fun, what’s more fun is actually benching more. And getting jacked. That is the fun part. Then everyone you will ever meet will have to ask you how much you bench and you won’t have to lie. And every time you visit Mexico you will be challenged to arm wrestling matches because you’re jacked and awarded big sombreros because having a big bench makes you important.
And while all of this is clearly WHY we bench, it leaves us with the question of HOW to bench more. A lot more. And unless your goal is just to claim a more massive bench—which I respect—you will need to use and train heavily the appropriate exercises and incorporate them in an effective program.
APPROACH to PROGRAMMING
My approach to benching is based on coupling technical mastery with brute strength and size. And what’s convenient is that the best way to do this is to bench. A lot. So now let us discuss technique, how to get strong and how to get jacked.
Attaining technical mastery of the bench is what allows you to bench the most with your current strength level. This is obvious, but what’s equally important and not necessarily obvious is that using sound technique minimizes the stress that the joints must tolerate during the training. And the more you keep your joints protected, the more volume you can tolerate and recover from and the more often you can train. If you are beat up you will have to take light days or deload weeks. That’s fine if you have to in order to get back on track, but not as good as being able to stay healthy and progress every week.
Training for strength is determined by how heavy you train. Training for size tends to revolve around the overall work or volume performed. And training for technique requires that you repeatedly execute the correct technique. So this program tackles not only strength, size and technique, but also allows for continual progression.
Paused Benches are always first in my training. In a meet benches must be paused. The more often you bench with a pause, the better you get at it. Having to stay tight and pausing makes it that much tougher to get the weight moving. But if you practice this way you will conquer it. I’ve really grown to like paused benches. I’ve gotten my chest to do much more of the work than before and they’ve taught me how to generate considerable leg drive.
Every training session the weight on these goes up and the reps go down—good old linear periodization. This allows you to make predictable improvements and not overtrain by going up and down in intensities. Each week or twice each week the bench session prepares you for the next session. All the while you are improving your technique.
Speed Bench is basically just the standard, non-paused bench, performed explosively. It is not a light weight by any means, however. Light benching, to me, seems like a waste of time for building a big raw bench. These are done explosively and for low reps but continue to get heavier every workout. These build up volume as well, which allows you to build both strength and size. Even though they are not paused they develop explosiveness which helps you after the pause in a competition bench. And the high workload heavily taxes the chest shoulders and triceps. To do these properly all the reps should be completed as quickly as possible without getting sloppy. Lower quickly, reverse forcefully off the chest and do not wait or pause at the top between reps. Use one weight only per workout and do these with your competition grip.
PAUSED WIDE GRIP BENCH
The paused wide grips were my favorite for building the technique of lowering a weight onto your chest and then using your entire strength to drive it up to lockout. For these I’d recommend using a grip two finger widths out from your standard grip. So if you bench with your pinkies on the rings in contest, put your middle finger on the rings here. I generally do these for 5-6 reps per set. These serve two purposes. They build the strength and confidence to efficiently lower a weight and rest it on your chest. This is huge, as it allows your triceps to relax slightly before the press instead of getting fatigued by holding all the weight while it’s barely grazing your t-shirt. This loads the weight into your arch, in turn loading your legs. So the first benefit is technique, as it teaches you to use tightness and leg drive to pause and move the weight off your chest—not your triceps. The second benefit is the strength it builds in the bottom of the press. Because your grip is wide, you are forced to use the chest and delts much more throughout the lift and the triceps less. This is great for anyone—maximum drive off the chest means maximum poundage.
The Slingshot, then, is the answer for lockout strength. The key to locking out a big weight is triceps strength and back tightness. Strong triceps press through to the lockout, but if your back loses tightness you can lose momentum. When the weight stalls the triceps will be overmatched. They might strain and press through anyway, but without perfect technique it won’t be your true max and you’ll be leaving weight on the platform.
The slingshot allows you to overload by feeling some heavy, supramaximal weights. It challenges you to lockout bigger weights while keeping the motion smooth and natural in feel. This adds extra volume to your triceps training and really awakens the CNS. The slingshot gives you the leverage to press 50-100 pounds over your max and more. Staying tight under that much loading really strengthens the whole body for benching so you will be ready when you have a heavy raw max in your hands. I usually perform these for a few weeks right before the meet to overload before I take a rest week. These would be done after paused benches and before speed bench for sets of 1-5 reps.
INCLINE PRESSING and OVERHEAD PRESSING
Incline bench or dumbbell press and military presses or seated dumbbell presses are all fantastic exercises for building size and strength. The incline presses work well for higher reps after all the other benching is done. That could be anywhere from 8-15 reps. Overhead pressing should be done on its own, separate day—yes developing the strength of the shoulders and upper pecs is that important. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Volume is the key here. 3-5 work sets will suffice.
So for effective implementation it’s also important to consider a longer timeline. Heavy paused presses, slingshot presses and heavy touch reps are all effective before a meet, when your only goal is peaking for a max. All the high rep incline and overhead pressing are great for building size and a training base, but do little for immediately improving a max. In the last few weeks before a meet they tend to create more fatigue than value. They should be dropped 3-4 weeks out and the main, heavy lifts should be done more frequently. A good approach for a 12 week training cycle would be 8 weeks of one bench day, one overhead pressing day followed by 3 weeks of two heavy bench days and finally a rest week.
The first 8 weeks workouts:
- Paused bench 2-3 top sets 3-6 reps heavier each week
- Speed Bench 4-6 sets 3-4 reps heavier each week
- Paused wide grip bench 2-4 sets 5-6 reps
- Incline pressing
Last 3 weeks:
- Paused bench 2-3 top sets 1-3 reps heavier each week
- Slingshot Bench 3-4 sets 1-5 reps
1. Speed Bench 3-4 sets 2-3 reps heavier each week