1 – Push It Over Your Face

Pressing movements respond very well to higher volumes and frequency. So let's go over the basic form here first.

To create a solid base for bench press, pull your shoulders down and back. Think about pressing your shoulders into the pad and trying to put the tips of your scapula into your back pocket. The feet should be flat on the floor and glutes tight.

The grip will vary greatly depending on how tall you are, but a general rule is somewhere between hands touching the knurling and pinky fingers on the rings. Now you're ready to lift the bar out.

After lifting it out, let it settle into the spot that feels the most comfortable. As you start to lower the bar, tuck your elbows in toward your sides. This will be the ideal position for the load to distribute equally across your pecs, shoulders, and triceps, allowing you to use the most muscle to bench-press the most weight.

Don't bench press with your elbows out. This puts too much stress on the shoulders and will almost definitely lead to problems down the road. The bar should come down and touch on the nipple line or even slightly below.

As you press the bar up, don't think about pressing it straight up; think about pressing the bar up and back over your face, back to the starting position. This position is much more advantageous for the lockout. If you're starting to grind the weight in the middle of the bench press, tell yourself "over my face, over my face" and it'll undoubtedly start moving again. For more advanced lifters, adding bands or chains to the bench press is also a great variation that helps train the lockout.

2 – Pin Press

Lifters have used pin presses for many years to help improve their bench press, but try something different this time – don't start the bar on the pins. Lift the bar out of the j-hooks just like a normal bench press, lower it to the pins for a quick pause, and then press back up. Also, try using two different heights when performing the pin press.

Low End Pin Press

Mid Range Pin Press

Lift off the chest to improve low-end strength, and then set the pins up mid-range to improve the lockout. Don't use both variations in the same workout, but they could definitely be used in the same training week.

3 – Floor Press

The floor press takes any leg drive out of the movement and requires you to use only your pressing muscles. Using a closer grip also greatly increases triceps recruitment, and strong triceps are vital for a big bench. Chains are also an incredibly useful variation that can improve your lockout.

4 – Paused Bench Press

Use a full 3-second pause on the chest. It'll make you feel like a weakling, but it'll lead to great improvements in the bottom portion of the bench press. The pause will also take away any stretch reflex.

For lack of a better term, the pause requires you to "muscle" the weight up as opposed to relying on the stretch reflex to get you to about half-way up. The paused bench press also greatly helps build technique and control of the bar.

5 – Overhead Barbell Press

Having strong shoulders plays a huge role in your bench press performance, and there are two versions of the overhead barbell press that are really effective. The best one is the standing strict overhead press, using a grip that's just outside shoulder width.

Another great variation is the seated strict press with no back support.

Seated Press

This variation requires you to keep a more vertical torso and it places much more emphasis on the triceps. To add even more variations, add chains to the movement to put even more emphasis on the triceps.

Reps, Sets, and Autoregulation

The bench press responds very well to a variety of rep ranges, anywhere from 1-10. If hypertrophy is your goal, lean more towards the top end. If strength is your goal, lean more towards the low end.

Use autoregulation to determine the weight used and the number of sets performed in a workout. Autoregulation allows you to train to the level of performance you're capable of on that particular day. If you're having a good day, you'll be able to use more weight and do more sets. If you're having a bad day, your body will tell you that you need lighter weight and fewer sets. This allows you to get the stimulus you need for that day – not too little and not too much – which allows for greater progress over time.

How do you autoregulate your workout? First, work up to a heavy set. Then perform drop sets at a given percentage of the top set until you've achieved the desired fatigue level. Try leaving around one rep in the tank on the top work set and continue to perform the drop sets until there's only one rep in the tank.

Example: Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of the top set and perform sets of 5. Here's what that looks like for a lifter who can bench press 300 pounds:

  • Bar x 20
  • 95 x 10
  • 135 x 5
  • 185 x 3
  • 205 x 5 (more than 1 rep in the tank)
  • 225 x 5 (still more than 1 rep in the tank)
  • 245 x 5 (roughly 1 rep in the tank)
  • 225 x 5 (drop to roughly 92% of top set, leaving more than 1 rep in the tank)
  • 225 x 5 (still more than 1 rep in the tank)
  • 225 x 5 (roughly 1 rep in the tank, workout ends)

6 Weeks to a New Personal Record

In this program you'll be pressing 4 days per week and using autoregulation-style sets. You'll use a bench press variation 3 days per week and an overhead press variation 1 day per week. You'll also be using different variations to focus on the low end and top end of the bench press to help boost your bench faster.

You may be sore the first couple of weeks, but soreness shouldn't stop you from training. You'll adapt.

Remember, leave about 1 rep in the tank for your heaviest set and then start doing drop sets. You should have a couple of sets left in the tank after each drop set, but when you get to a set where you only have about one rep left in the tank stop the workout.

Week 1

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 5 until you have roughly 1 rep left in the tank.
  • Tuesday:  Standing or Seated Strict Overhead Press – Build to a heavy set of 7, drop to 90-92% of top set, and perform sets of 7 until you have about one rep left in the tank.
  • Thursday:  3-Second Pause Bench – Build to a heavy set of 3, drop to 94-96% of top set, and perform sets of 3 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Saturday:  Mid-Range Pin Press – Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of top set, and perform sets of 5 until you have one rep left in the tank.

Week 2

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 3, drop to 94-96% of top set, and perform sets of 3 until you have roughly one rep left in the tank.
  • Tuesday:  Standing or Seated Strict Overhead Press – Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of top set, and perform sets of 5 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Thursday:  Pin Press Off Chest – Build to a heavy set of 4, drop to 92-94% of top set, and perform sets of 4 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Saturday:  Close-Grip Floor Press – Build to a heavy set of 7, drop to 90-92% of top set, and perform sets of 7 until you have roughly one rep left in the tank. This is a great time to add chains if you have them.

Floor Press With Chain

Week 3

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 7, drop to 90-92% of top set, and perform sets of 7 until you have about one rep left in the tank.
  • Tuesday:  Standing or Seated Strict Overhead Press – Build to a heavy set of 3, drop to 94-96% and perform sets of 3 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Thursday:  3-Second Pause Bench – Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 5 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Saturday:  Mid-Range Pin Press – Build to a heavy set of 4, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 4 until you have one rep left in the tank.

Week 4

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 4, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 4 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Tuesday:  Standing or Seated Strict Press – Build to a heavy set of 6, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 6 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Thursday:  Pin Press Off Chest – Build to a heavy set of 2, drop to 94-96% of top set and perform sets of 2 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Saturday:  Close-Grip Floor Press – Build to a heavy set of 5, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 5 until you have one rep left in the tank. Use chains if you can.

Week 5

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 2, drop to 94-96% of top set and perform sets of 2 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Tuesday:  Standing or Seated Strict Press – Build to a heavy set of 4, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 4 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Thursday:  3-Second Paused Bench Press – Build to a heavy set of 4, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 4 until you have one rep left in the tank.
  • Saturday:  Mid-Range Pin Press – Build to a heavy set of 6, drop to 92-94% of top set and perform sets of 6 until you have one rep left in the tank.

Week 6

  • Monday:  Bench Press – Build to a single at last week's heavy double poundage.
  • Tuesday:  Off. No pressing today.
  • Thursday:  Bench Press – Build to a single at 90% of Monday's top set.
  • Saturday:  Bench Press – Build to a new PR single.

Can't Train 4 Days a Week?

If you feel you just absolutely can't press four days per week, combine the Monday and Tuesday workouts, and then combine the Thursday and Saturday workouts. Then, on the first workout of the week, always perform the bench press first followed by your overhead variation.

On the second workout of the week, perform the movement that will improve your biggest weakness first. If your weakness is off your chest, perform the low-end exercise first. If your weakness is the lockout, perform the top-end exercise first.

You'll still gain strength pressing two days a week with the same volume, but not as much as when pressing four days per week.

Related:  Bodybuilding vs. Powerlifting Bench Press

Related:  The Best Damn Bench Press Article, Period