For years my bench press was a terrible lift for me. Just a pure symbol of weakness. This weakness always dumbfounded me because I felt I had a pretty good looking set of pecs on me and that the look should equal strength. Not until about two years ago did I finally realize my bench press was weak for a number of reasons. What follows are the reasons my bench was wizzy weak and what I did to strengthen it.
1. I wasn’t going heavy enough.
Due to the fact that my gym refuses to incorporate power racks and I didn’t have a training partner, I never even thought about going heavier than I comfortably could. It really took the addition of a great training partner to give me the confidence to go heavier than usual. Now, I feel a lot safer moving up in weight as the workouts progress. We’d still like to have a power rack, though!!
2. My approach was all wrong.
When I was a newbie, I just assumed a muscular chest made a strong bench press. How could a workout consisting of 6 isolated chest exercises for 5 sets on each exercise to complete failure not build a big bench? Well, for starters, that’s WAY too much volume for one body part (IMO). All I was really doing was over training. Had I been on some of the ol’ juice, I might have seen great results from this type of training. All I really gained was a ton of soreness and absolutely no strength gains. Heck, my chest size didn’t even grow much from this approach!
To fix the issue, after years of getting nowhere in the strength department, I studied the many videos of the elite and took pieces of information that I found useful. One chap mentioned benching EVERYDAY! After everything else failed, it was this approach that finally brought forth the gains in strength and size. With the below program, which includes only the prime movements, I took my rep PR of 225 lbs. from 5 reps to 12 in just 4 weeks! Not to mention, my chest is fuller than it’s ever been.
Monday – work up to a heavy double @ 9 RPE on the flat BB bench press
Tuesday – perform 4 sets of 10 – 12 reps on the incline BB bench press
Wednesday – perform 5 sets of 5 reps on the overhead BB press
Thursday – work up to a heavy single @ 9 RPE on flat BB
Friday – perform 5 reps of 5 sets on the flat BB bench press
These prime movements are how I begin my workouts on each of the mentioned days. My accessory movements change, with every workout, but these prime movements stay the same.
3. I needed to find the technique that worked for ME.
Everything matters, when it concerns the bench. This is something I did not understand in the beginning. While watching numerous videos on proper bench press technique, I slowly molded my technique to match my strength and body type. It felt like I was breaking in a pair of shoes or boots, honestly. The entire process took over a year of steady focus on every aspect of my technique. However, once dialed in, the gains came like a flood!
4. I needed to strengthen the correct accessory muscles.
My common belief, before my enlightenment, was that having a muscular chest meant you had the strength to back it up. Well, in my case, that wasn’t a correct assumption. What I needed to do was train all of the muscles involved in the bench press movement: chest, shoulders, lats, legs, etc. Not only did I need to train them, but I needed to do so in a manner that didn’t take away from my recovery time and lead to over training.
After my daily prime movements, I ALWAYS hit the supporting muscles. I normally pick from the following movements and attack a couple of them in a super-set fashion (time saver) for roughly 4 sets of 10 – 15 reps:
I never go too heavy on these exercises, but do use moderate weight. Also, I sometimes throw in a random exercise not listed for variety. I really like the pump I get from these exercises and my inner bodybuilder absolutely loves hitting the muscles involved on a daily basis. Yes, you heard it right, I hit these muscles everyday.
Note: Heavy squats have helped increase my bench press by increasing the strength of my leg drive.
By shifting my entire approach and focusing on all of my individual weaknesses, no longer is the bench press a lift that I am not proud of. Everyone has that one lift that seems to lag behind the others, but that doesn’t mean that particular lift can’t be impressive in it’s own right. One must find what works for them and doing so takes self-education. No one is going to hand over the keys to success in anything, so you have to stay hungry for the knowledge that will eventually lead to success.