When people know you are a fitness trainer or write lots of fitness articles you general will get asked plenty of questions. Out of all the questions asked most of the time there are three main questions people want answered: how can I get bigger, what is the best way to lose weight, and how do I increase my bench.
Well today let’s tackle that bench press question. Now this question usually isn’t asked by beginners. Typically this is a question from people who have been working out for years but aren’t seeing the progress they want anymore. It is funny because even though the bench press is commonly considered one of the ‘Big Three’ core lifts with Deadlifts and Squats nobody ever asks how to increase either of those lifts.
Let’s follow that train of thought.
Squats and Deadlifts
Why do people never ask about increasing the Squat or Deadlift? One reason is not enough people do them. The first question I ask someone who wants bench help is to describe their entire workout for the whole body (not just chest). If those two critical lifts aren’t included then that is always step number one.
The squat and deadlift build whole body muscle size and strength like nothing else. You will get bigger and stronger by using these two lifts regularly and of course that will help your bench press.
But even people who already do these lifts never seem to complain about them. That is because usually people, when working hard at grueling sets of either of these exercises, tend to see regular gains even if they are small. The biggest reason for this is because they hardly overtrain themselves on these lifts.
Deadlifts and squats are very hard and wear you out. You never see people doing ‘forced reps’ on deadlifts, negatives, or even tons of sets. Simply put, you can’t. A person realizes how exhausted their body is and calls it a day. If they don’t then you can usually find them passing out and on the ground. Then before the next session rolls around if you are still tired typically you take an extra day off of rest. But that never seems to happen with chest workouts.
Chest Workouts and Overtraining
The second thing I ask someone is how many sets they do for a chest workout along with intensity techniques used such as drop sets, negatives, forced reps, and the like. More often than not the total volume of work being done is tremendous for such a relatively small number. Far too many people are willing to do a ridiculous amount of work on the chest; way more than on back and legs, the biggest muscle groups in the body.
Think about it. You have people doing bench presses with extra reps and then you see them do incline presses and possibly decline presses or dumbbell presses. That is a lot of work when you consider assisted reps and flyes tossed in. The pecs are relatively small muscles no matter how much we might want them to be huge and doing such a large amount of work is what is probably stunting your growth.
Look at the really big guys in the gym. Do you see them churn out 25 sets for chest with tons of forced reps and training partners assisting on sets every time? No, they go in and perform a balanced routine with maybe 12 to 16 total sets and probably only 1/3rd of those being intense all-out effort sets with the others being warm-ups. They bench but usually balance a routine out with an equal number of flyes. Then they move on.
How to Increase Your Bench
So if you really want to increase you bench there are two things to do. First, make sure you are squatting and deadlifting. Second, ease up on your chest training. A very reasonable chest workout might look like this:
- Bench Press – 4 sets of 6 to 8 reps
- Incline Dumbbell Flyes – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Dumbbell Pullovers – 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps
- Dips – 2 sets of 6 to 10 reps
Push yourself to maximum exhaustion on the last set and use the others for warm-ups. Use a minimal amount of intensity techniques such as only one on your primary lift (bench press). Negatives are one of the best things to do and drop sets are another. Then get out of the gym, rest, and grow stronger!