In the first episode of the ongoing saga that is centered around the bench press I looked at the history and evolution of the horizontal barbell press. In the second episode I talked about the sticking point and strategies to better increase your bench press in relation to that often-confounding portion of the lift. In the third episode I discussed form and muscle activation and looked at strategies you can use to target the areas that you wish to improve. On today’s show I’d like to look at the methods that the bench press is trained and see if there are any improvements can be made to maximize both our strength and our gains.
Many bodybuilders, myself included, train the bench press once per week during chest day and use plenty of volume on the bench press as well as the other movements which include incline bench, dips and flies. Powerlifters, on the other hand, train the bench press twice per week with one session devoted to maximum loads and a second session that focuses on power. Like all things that have to do with the very inexact ‘science’ of bodybuilding and powerlifting, both camps can benefit from experimentation. Through trying different strategies and techniques one can often at the very least learn something or adapt a technique to use and improve his/her current routine.
Like any other body part, the muscles used during the bench press can be trained twice per week by most. What I personally do, as I’ve never found the double split to work well for me, is to train chest on Monday (for example) and triceps on Thursday. By doing this you can train the bench press twice per week by performing the traditional wide grip press to focus on the pectorals on Monday and the close grip variation to train the triceps on Thursday. It is impossible to train the chest without training the triceps when any type of pressing is involved and vice versa. This also holds true for dips, which is another great twice per week exercise that can focus on both muscle groups effectively thereby train both muscles twice per week, as well as performing a great ancillary lift to the bench press.
On another note I split all of my training like this. I’ll train quads on Sunday and hamstrings on Wednesday. You can’t squat or deadlift without involving both sets of muscles. By adding in low foot positioned leg presses to target quads and high foot positioned leg presses to target hamstrings (as well as other exercises such as lunges and step ups), I’m working both sets of muscles thoroughly twice per week even though the focus is on only one muscle group at a time. I could elaborate a lot more on this training style that was necessitated by time constraints, but I have gone way off topic. My diluted point I was trying to make is there is always more than one way to accomplish a goal. It’s up to you through trail and error to find out what begets you the most gains and most efficiently.
When it comes to hypertrophy and rep ranges, I feel this is an area that cannot be explored enough. Any set to failure from 25 reps to 6 will effectively tear down muscle tissue and stimulate protein synthesis. Too often most bodybuilders find a rep range that is comfortable and work within that range. The more that you force your muscles to adapt outside of their comfort zone the greater that adaptation will be.
When it comes to strength and the bench press the formula is much more simple. Anything over five reps is redundant and ultimately you need to focus on becoming comfortable performing single reps. What is always important but imperative when working in the low rep ranges is adherence to correct form. It’s also a good idea to use different variations when training this way to prevent an overuse injury as well as halting your gains through habituation. This is going to sound obvious but I still see many fall into the rut of using the same weight week in and week out – slow and steady incremental strength gains are a must otherwise you aren’t strength training, merely maintaining strength.
I mentioned a few methods above and in past articles in this series to add variation to your routine and they all are valid and worth consideration. Having said that, if you’re the type of person who comes in week in and week out and performs the bench with great technique and steadily makes progress then you likely have this all figured out. The important thing to be honest with is your level of progress. Are you really progressing or are you just built for the bench and it came easy to you? When was the last time you added weight and then kept that weight on and added more?
Only you know the answers to these questions and the one thing we all as bodybuilders must deal with is being our own coach. Any good coach will have his or her athlete make progress through a well thought out and laid out plan. If your coach doesn’t have you following a plan then it’s time to get a new coach. That isn’t possible though, so really it’s time for you to step up your efforts outside of the gym and formulate a plan using what you’ve learned so far.
There of course will be more to learn on the next episode of The Bench Press – The Greatest Lift Ever. Until then,