There's only one way to improve your bench press. Stop wasting time doing everything under the sun, and learn to focus on only what matters.
This lesson can be applied to literally any lift, and works almost the exact same in every case.
The bench press is every bro’s favorite lift. At least ten times a week, I see questions about how to improve your bench press.
Once, I met a guy at a convention. He looked to be in decent shape, but he was a bit on the skinny end. He wanted to know, “How do I improve my bench press?”
He insisted that he’d tried everything. He’d tried bench pressing, overhead pressing, incline, decline, pause, chest presses, pushups, etc. But he insisted that no matter what he did, his bench press wouldn’t ever go up much.
At the same time, it was very clear to me from the way he talked about it that he wasn’t doing all that he could. He admitted that he only benched once a week, on Mondays - a typical bodybuilding bro-split. He also admitted that he didn’t really progress his workouts, had only been training for about a couple years, and that he didn’t really train specifically for strength. In short, no part of his training program was designed to be good at increasing his bench.
Here’s a very hard lesson that everyone has trouble swallowing: if you want to improve your bench press, there’s only one way to improve your bench press - by bench pressing more and more.
Periodization largely exists for one reason: because it helps us to slowly and logically increase training volume over time, leading to greater results. Thanks to specificity, the best way to increase your bench press is to bench press more. That means more sets, more reps, more frequency, more total weight moved.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should only bench press. When it comes to gaining strength, there are two major ways to improve: either by building muscle (bigger muscles have greater force production capability) or by training with heavy weights and high specificity, which allows you to more efficiently use the muscle you already have.
This means that you can see your bench press improve from doing other exercises, like pushups, if it means that it leads to building some muscle. I've written a post on this topic before, about the leg press and the squat. However, since people build muscle slowly, particularly as their training experience increases, this means that you’ll typically see much better results from training the bench press alone - in as close to competition standards as possible.
While the bulk of your training for your bench press (50-75% of your total volume) should be made up of bench pressing, it’s important to get some variety in for the sake of covering up your weak points. (Here's a couple posts I've written on the topic of how much variety you need.) Depending on where you tend to fail in the lift, partial range of motion lifts may help. Pause reps are helpful if you tend to fail at the chest. For specific help with the major powerlifts:
The main goal should always be to increase volume over time, not get frustrated with your progress, and keep at it over a long period of time (5-10 years). Progress will happen, provided that you’re consistent. Surprise - this is basically the same approach that applies to every lift. You’ve got to practice, consistently, the same activity, over a long period of time. I could have written this same post multiple times just changed the title for "squat" or "deadlift" or literally any other lift, and it wouldn't have required much effort to rewrite this post to make sense. Who would have thought?
One final note - interestingly, there’s some evidence that the bench press may react better to increasing levels of testosterone than other lifts.
The upper body has more androgen receptors than the lower body, meaning that you tend to see a greater increase in muscle and strength as your testosterone levels rise (such as, for example, taking steroids). In some cases, guys may really be cursed with testosterone issues that make it much harder for them to build upper body strength relative to lower body strength. Likewise, women, who have lower testosterone levels, will take longer to see results in upper body lifts and will fare better on the lower body lifts.
So to sum up: you get good at any lift by training that lift, regularly, with a bit of variation here and there to keep it fresh, over a long period of time. Everything else is just wasted energy.
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