Like it or not, the bench press is probably the most popularized lift in the gym. And it’s often the first and only lift that people want to know your numbers on.
There’s a good reason for this. It’s of one the best upper body exercises for strength and size. And should, therefore, definitely be a staple in your routine.
But, at the same time, it’s also the one lift that people tend to quickly plateau on. And struggle with the most in terms of strength improvements. Which is detrimental given the strong positive relationship we see between bench press strength and size.
You’ve probably heard time and time again of different ways that you can increase your bench press. But the truth is that only a handful of these methods have actually been proven to work. And are worth your time and effort.
In this article, I’ll share with you what those methods are. And more importantly, how to properly use them to increase your bench press strength as quickly as possible.
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The first and most crucial tip to increasing your bench press is simply to bench more frequently. Because benching is a skill. And as with any skill, generally, the more you practice it the faster it’ll improve.
Illustrating this is an in-depth analysis by Greg Nuckols. He looked at the effect of frequency on bench press strength gains across 11 different studies. What he found is that there appears to be a very strong, almost linear relationship between weekly strength gains in the bench press and the number of times you bench per week.
When going from 1 to 4 bench sessions per week, each additional day of benching increased the rate of strength gains by an average of 28%. This is even when bench press volume is matched!
Meaning that if you want to increase your bench press, you should split your bench press sets up into multiple benching days. As opposed to doing all your benching sets on one day. This significant increase in your bench press is likely due to the superior skill acquisition and motor learning that you experience by benching more frequently.
However, although the previous studies matched volume, another benefit of benching more often is that it does allow you to fit in more benching volume per session as well. Since you have more days to allocate this volume to.
Which is beneficial since research indicates that more weekly bench press volume is also associated with faster strength gains. And would therefore likely provide an additive effect on top of the benefits of just benching more frequently.
And in fact, a 2017 meta-analysis from the Journal of Sports Medicine shows strong support of this. When going from less than 5 sets of bench per week up to roughly 5-9 sets of bench per week, strength gains became about 16% faster even in well-trained lifters. And when increased even further to 10 or more weekly sets of bench, strength gains were now about 20% faster. Thereby supporting the idea that a graded dose-response relationship exists between weekly bench volume and strength gains.
And all in all, suggests that the best way to speed up the strength gains you'll experience is to:
So, how can you best do this?
Well, first of all, you can start benching more often by splitting up your weekly bench sets into multiple sessions. So rather than performing 6 sets of bench press on chest day once a week, split this up into 2 or 3 days per week. You can do so by using the following upper/lower or full body splits, for example.
Then, in addition to adding in extra bench days, you can also gradually increase your benching volume from where it’s at right now. So let’s say you’re currently doing 6 sets of bench press per week spread across 2 upper body workouts per week. What you can do to speed up your strength gains is to add another 1-2 more sets of bench press every week. Eventually, add an extra bench day to fit in the added sets.
What about how many sets to aim for? Based on the previous bench volume research I went through it seems that 5-9 sets of bench per week already provides a significant boost in strength gains. And going up to 10-15 weekly bench sets provides a further slight boost.
Therefore, what I’d recommend is to build up to roughly 5-9 sets per week. And increase it further to 10-15 weekly sets gradually. That is if your body is still recovering well and you’d like to really focus on maximizing your bench press strength.
That said though, you do need to ensure that you’re not overtraining your joints. You'll need to manage the volume and intensity of these bench sessions and your other workouts appropriately, which is where the next tip comes in handy.
The next thing you can do to increase your bench press faster is to mix up your rep range. You can do so by varying your bench volume and intensity as opposed to just using the same rep range and intensity week after week indefinitely.
This is beneficial because:
Which all leads to faster strength improvements.
And the best way to vary your rep range for strength improvements seems to be with something called daily undulating periodization (DUP). Which simply involves changing your rep range and intensities every single bench workout but in an organized fashion.
And illustrating the effectiveness of this method is a paper from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research, which compared the effects of:
...In well-trained lifters.
After 12 weeks, despite both groups putting in the exact same amount of work towards their bench press, the DUP group experienced exactly double the strength gains when compared to the other group.
And other papers have shown similar results like this as well. With DUP on average across these studies leading to roughly 26% faster bench press gains than when it’s not implemented.
Suggesting that if you want to increase your bench press as quickly as possible, it would likely be wise to incorporate a different rep range during each of your bench sessions.
But, with that being said, it’s important that you do so correctly.
So, for example, let’s say you’ve bumped up your benching to 3x/week using a full-body workout split.
What you’ll want to do is first pick 3 different bench press set and rep schemes for each day:
Next, you’ll want to now throw these into your bench days with the hypertrophy day (H) first, the power day (P) in the middle, and the strength day (S) last. Since research has shown that this specific “HPS” order leads to significantly greater strength gains when compared to other orders. This is because the power day in the middle allows for sufficient recovery between your more straining hypertrophy and strength days.
And if on the other hand you only bench 2x/week, you’d want to still apply the same concept of switching from hypertrophy to power to strength in that order every time you reach your next bench workout.
Now the last thing that you can do is add in the right accessory exercises into your workouts. This will help indirectly boost your bench press strength. And the best way to go about doing this is by choosing exercises that help strengthen the specific weak points of your bench press.
A great accessory lift you can perform to strengthen this weak point is the paused bench press. This is where you incorporate a 2-3 second pause at the bottom position of each rep before exploding back up. What this does is it gets rid of any momentum in the movement. And takes the stretch-shortening cycle out of the equation. Which means that pure strength and leg drive will now be solely responsible for moving the weight off your chest.
The limiting factor here is likely your lockout strength from your triceps. And a great accessory lift to strengthen this weak point is the floor press. This exercise can be done with a barbell but dumbbells are generally much easier to setup. And for these, you simply press the weight up as you would normally - but on the floor instead. Which helps you prioritize strengthening that mid-range to lockout position that’s limiting your bench press strength.
Some other great options include the close grip bench press and triceps extension movements. Such as dumbbell extensions or skull crushers, for example.
By consciously being aware of where your weak point seems to be in the bench press and then making the necessary additions and adjustments into your routine to accommodate these weak points, you’ll be able to significantly speed up the strength gains you experience.
Knowing the specific accessory exercises that'll help with a particularly weak point of your lift (any of them!) is pretty complicated. Thankfully, though, the team here at BWS has the necessary expertise to do just that. Our 3-on-1 coaching program takes the guesswork out of training, nutrition, and even mobility work - so you can focus on what matters: making gains. If you're interested:
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Now to effectively apply all of this information into your routine, here’s what you’ll want to do:
First, increase your benching frequency anywhere between 2-4 times per week depending on your schedule. Instead of benching just 1x/week. As this can boost your strength gains by an additional 28% per extra bench day.
Next, gradually increase your volume from less than 5 sets of bench per week to roughly 10-15 sets of bench per week. As this can boost your strength gains by an additional 20%.
Then, you’ll want to mix up your rep ranges during each of your bench days by using the HPS protocol I previously went through. This has the potential to double the strength gains you experience.
And lastly, throw in the right accessory movements into your workouts based on where your weak points are in your bench press. When done properly, this would likely provide another substantial boost (~10-20%) in your rate of strength gains.
And when all of these steps are correctly applied, theoretically instead of gaining let’s say 10lbs on your bench press after a few months, you’d be able to potentially increase this by more than double that (+21.7lbs). That's given all of the little boosts each of these steps provide.
Proper bench form still needs to be your priority especially as you start benching more often. But hopefully, you can see that by applying these steps into your weekly routine, the cumulative benefits that you experience from them will enable you to truly develop your bench press strength in the fastest, most effective way possible.
And for a step-by-step program that builds these protocols and exercises into your weekly plan for you and shows how to properly progress them over time such that you can break through plateaus and pack on size and strength in the most effective way possible, just like countless other members have successfully done with their Built With Science programs, then simply:
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