I would like to start by saying that I don’t value the bench press for any sort of athletic competition, its carry over is little to none for me.
However, if you are trying to build mass, or look really cool, a strong barbell bench press is one of the absolute best ways to make this happen.
My experience and knowledge about bench pressing comes from the fact that at 6’ 10” and having about a 7’ wingspan I was able to bench press a maximum of 365lbs earlier in my lifting career.
For some this might not be too impressive, but while also playing college basketball at the time and clearly focusing on speed and basketball skill I thought this was a pretty impressive accomplishment!
Two things which I learned during my crusade through bench press prominence is that there is not one single program which will get you to your goals but it is a combination of different methods, and also that building your bench press can also be a crucial part of any fat burning program since the movement itself works so many muscles!
Best Bench Press Programs
My bench press was built through a combination of numerous different methods, so I will outline those for you.
The exact program I used is a little bit incoherent since I generally go more off of “feel” than an actual program.
Anyone who I talk to about training knows that my method for building a body is far more reliant on understanding yourself, and understanding the effect that training should have; rather than just giving a person a certain amount of sets, reps, and exercises to do.
Anybody can sell you a workout program, not everyone can teach you how to learn about yourself.
I strongly believe that all physical goals are possible and personally subscribe to the theory of “Endless Human Potential.” If I can bench press 365lbs with my unusually poor physics for pressing, I know a whole lot more people could be pressing over 500lbs easily!
5×5 Bench Press Program
When I began lifting around 15 years old I started with the basic 3 sets of 10. After this, I discovered the “pyramid” technique of lifting; 10-8-6-4-6-8-10. Both of these didn’t do much for me, and rightfully so. Those were extremely beginner programs and training styles. You can make progress as a novice with these type of methods, but after this you need something substantial.
The first real programmed which I followed was the 5×5 approach. Still basic, but it works. I actually made really strong progress lifting this way since it was so easy to follow and stay on track. Any program which you are consistent with will work to a certain extent, and the 5×5 training method proves this.
3×5 and 5×3 Bench Press Programs
After using the 5×5 method for a while and managing to bench press nearly 300lbs I began to feel that the programming was getting a bit stale to me. I wasn’t gaining any size or shape, and my numbers were slowing down. This is when I decided to play around with my methods a bit. One thing which seemed to help me quite a bit was something close to a traditional 5-3-1 program, but with a little twist.
I would start with a weight I could move for 5 sets of 3 reps. Then, move this to 3 sets of 5 reps. Followed by again going for 5 sets of 5 reps. I’ve used this for back squatting as well and had just the same results. If you have used 5×5 for a while and want a change, I suggest you try this out!
You can really attack weight heavily on this because generally if you have been training correctly your body will learn to adapt as you want it, and you can push yourself more and more.
This programming style is great for people with a high level of motivation, as you can pick and choose the weight which you want to push forward at your own pace well!
10×3 Bench Press Protocol
This is probably my favorite training style and it is the reason I was able to push my bench press over 350lbs, and also where I discovered that bench pressing can really boost your metabolism and fat burning ability.
Start with a weight that you can easily get for 6-7 reps, because you want to give yourself room for growth over a period of about a month.
It’s simple, 10 sets of 3 reps. Keep rest times to around a minute and a half. Don’t rush the rest, but also don’t rest too long.
The beautiful part of this training style is that your body actually adapts and the weights become easier to move towards the later sets.
I really don’t understand this and I don’t think there is an actual scientific reasoning, but I have proven it to myself both on perceived exertion as well as heart rate monitors. It literally becomes easier as you go on.
30 reps also are a lot of pressing for a heavy weight! Many traditional strength programs have you only performing 10 or less maximal working sets, here you perform 30! Making this program viable not only for building strength, but also for building muscle.
I suggest just adding 5 total pounds to the bar each workout, and working up slowly.
The cumulative effect of moving a heavier weight for that many reps will ultimately boost your 1 rep max far more than you could ever believe!
8×8 – The Honest Workout
Known as the “Iron Guru”, Vincent Anselmo Gironda was a popular professional bodybuilder and also the owner of “Vince’s Gym.”
He strongly believed that the process of bodybuilding involves 85% nutrition, and 15% intelligent programming.
Most of his trainees won a majority of the important contests during the 1960s, with the most prominent one being Larry Scott who won the first IFBB Mr. Olympia in 1965.
Based on the training style of Vince Gironda, there are several lessons that everyone interested in strength training will learn; as he was able to develop a system that still is yet to be topped by any method today!
Taking Care of Your Body to Improve Your Bench Press and Overall Strength
Easily the feature of Vince Gironda that I respect the most is that he advocated and believed that ultimate performance does not come through simple supplementing or programming, but is a culmination of the way that you treat your body.
According to Gironda’s methods, one of the most crucial elements of building your body overall is within the avoidance of several mental and physical energy leak. Some of these “leaks” he suggested that people should avoid includes:
- Skipping meals
- Injesting refined sugar
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol in any excess quantity
Furthermore; he referred to mental leaks as certain emotional traits that tend to disrupt tranquility like ego, anxiety, and hate.
Balancing out these physical leaks with emotional calmness is something I have personally advocated, and was even more convinced after doing my own research on Gironda years ago.
Increased Training Intensity
Gironda actually referred to training density as training intensity, and he is of the view that a bodybuilder should strive to increase the amount of work done in a given amount of time. Gironda believes that you can actually decrease your rest intervals while constantly maintaining a constant increase in your training density.
This is reflected in the training style of Gironda’s pupils who took rest within a time in a range of 10 to 15 seconds between sets.
Crossfit is a prime example of this theory.
I do not like Crossfit.
I need to make that clear.
However, they do get some things correct. Combining more practical training methods with the theory of increasing training density and intensity is what I would consider the perfect theory on exercise.
The Honest Workout
One of the best strategies of Gironda was that he leveraged periods of high volume training in order to achieve quicker muscle growth, placing emphasis on lagging body parts and reduction of body fat.
The 8×8 system was always one of his favorite workouts, as it emphasizes exercising with several sets and reps; creating a shorter but much more effective workout overall.
With most of his workouts lasting for an hour or less, Gironda trained that way to give the muscle groups time to recover from hard training sessions.
The 8×8 strategy has worked incredibly well when attempting to increase my overall bench press, as it focuses both on power and strength, as well as reducing body fat. This method involves doing 8 sets of 8 reps with about 30 seconds of rest to start with. I promise you, it works!
Start with a weight that you feel will be even too light for you.
Work your way up by increments of 5-10lbs total per workout.
When you find a way that you are proud of accomplishing, try shortening the rest time! By training in this fashion, you will increase your power on the bench press, burn fat, increase 1rm strength, and improve your overall work capacity!
Becoming a Body Sculptor
To develop a perfect physique, you need to be specific in the way that you are training; not building random muscles throughout your body. It takes a perfect physique in multiple ways to accomplish any goals you set for yourself.
No, I do not mean a perfect physique in that you need shredded abs and incredible shape, but you need to be perfectly aligned with yourself!
This was Gironda’s perspective to bodybuilding. It carries over very well to athletics as well. By training with a focus and with a planned way of accomplishing a given goal, there is no doubt that you can achieve whatever you want!
Increase Frequency of Meals
Gironda actually recommended eating 6 small meals daily which would help to stimulate metabolism, and he allowed less carbohydrates and increased fats in his diets which is against the common practice of the aerobic training industry.
I basically believe in both of these things, but with a bit of a twist. I certainly believe that you should be eating more- healthy, dietary fats than carbohydrates. I have written about this many times.
Healthy fats should power your body through the day, and carbohydrates should be there to steadily manage your energy levels along with your proteins. Too many carbohydrates can substantially hurt your physique, while too few can do just the same.
I don’t necessarily believe in needing 6 small meals, but I believe in the importance of consistently fueling your body with the correct nutrition throughout the day. High quality, whole foods throughout your day beats any other eating method, I’ll just leave it at that.
There are several other concepts that Gironda promoted, some of them include:
- He believed in working the abs daily
- He was an advocate of a good breakfast
- Gironda believed in the need to frequently change your workout
- He promoted the use of supplements
- He was always willing to experiment new ideas
- He believed in the power of concentration while training
I believe in literally every one of these for various reasons, but the one I want to touch on is the need to frequently change your workouts. I change my workouts literally every time I train. I rarely do the same workout twice. It can be a minor change, but you should always be switching around how you do things. If not, your body will adapt far sooner that it should.
If you are a novice, however, stick to one system until you learn your body enough and learn what makes you work. This is an advanced tactic, but it is single handedly the reason I was able to build my bench press up to 365lbs, with a 7-foot wingspan.
The last type of workout I will shortly comment on is the German Volume Training or 10×10 method. I have written about this before so I won’t go in to too much detail, but it is another amazing high volume training workout. I did not use this too much while building my bench press, but it can absolutely shock your muscles if you ever feel like you are plateauing or slowing down in your progress
How to Increase Your Bench Press – Additional Tips
Outside of the sets and reps in my favorite bench press programs, there are other ways you can improve your bench press. In fact, there are tons of assistance exercises which can dramatically increase your bench press as well.
Check out these additional tips for improving your bench press!
Do More Face Pulls
Early on in my training I made this mistake, so I won’t let you! Strengthen your rear delts, and it does not take too much more than a consistent approach to doing face pulls. They are truly a miracle exercise for people who bench press a lot.
One of my biggest limiting factors early in my lifting career was imbalances in my body, generally caused by a poor understanding of the body. As I got older, I became wiser. Start every upper body day off with face pulls as a warm-up and you will feel the difference quickly, I promise!
Face pulls will improve the health of your shoulders, as well as their ability to move weight!
A healthy diet of face pulls, and the dumbbell floor press is an excellent way to keep your shoulders health year round!
Take this from someone who has beaten shoulders from years of basketball but can still can easily bench over 315lbs with almost no bench press training any more, face pulls will save your shoulders!
Check out this video of me performing kneeling face pulls:
Stretching is Vital to Improving Your Barbell Bench Press
I never understood the importance of this until I got in to probably my sophomore year of college, but stretching will absolutely increase your overall ability to push heavy weights.
Concluding Thoughts – Picking the Best Bench Press Program for Yourself
I am here to tell you today that if you want to bench press 3 plats, 4 plates, 5 plates, whatever it is, YOU CAN!
Personally, I believe in higher volume training than most people. Not just high volume and light weights. But high volume of heavy weights. I used to have days where I would bench press twice per day at different times, and still make strength gains. Strength does not come from rest days; it just does not!
Neither does muscle mass; it just does not!
My body is not made for bench pressing, but I was able to bench press 365lbs due to the fact that I was motivated to improve my bench press, and that I understood the value of different forms of training.
Along with this, I am also here to tell you that building your bench press can be very effective for burning fat off of your body!
10×10, 8×8, and 10×3 are all amazing strategies for burning fat, whether it is by using the bench press or basically along with any other movement. Use these tips and go build your best body, today!
Learn More: The Best Dumbbell Chest Exercises