The bench press is one of three powerlifting exercises, the other two being the squat and the deadlift. You can use bench presses to increase your overall upper body strength and power, and to develop your chest, shoulder and triceps. Certain factors merit your attention when deciding among top bench press routines.
How Often to Train
Frequency refers to how often you train a muscle group or an exercise, and there are several schools of thought on frequency. Charles Poliquin, strength coach and head of the Poliquin Performance Center in Chicago, believes that while optimal frequency depends on genetics, that most people should train once every five days. Trainer Chad Waterbury, former director of strength and conditioning at the Rickson Gracie International Jiu Jitsu Center in West Los Angeles, advises that strength and muscle increase best when you train at least three times per week. At the other end of the spectrum, former winner of the Mr. Universe bodybuilding competition Mike Mentzer recommends a very low frequency, allowing up to 14 days of rest between sessions. Find your optimal frequency for bench pressing by experimenting with different methods.
Ways to Progress
To get bigger and stronger, increase the amount of weight you are lifting over time. Strength coach Dave Tate, who has bench pressed 610 pounds in competition, notes that one of the most simple and effective methods for this is to follow a linear periodization program. In your first session, start with a light weight and perform a high number of sets and repetitions. For example, perform five sets of 10 reps at 60 percent of your one-rep maximum. Each week, increase the weight in the smallest increment you can, but lower the reps and sets slightly. By week four, you should be performing around two to three sets of two to three reps. In week five, move back to five sets of 10, but with a heavier weight than you started with in week one.
Technique and Overtraining
Poor technique in bench press can lead to injuries and may even make you weaker. To keep your technique up to standard, add in one day every week where you bench press light weights but focus on having perfect form. Do not do an excessive amount of bench pressing, which can lead to overtraining, which works against you with injury and a drop in performance levels. If your progress stalls, add in a deload session, where you perform five sets of five reps with just 40 percent of your one-rep maximum.
Your chest, shoulders and triceps are all heavily involved in bench pressing, and a weakness or imbalance in one of these muscle groups may cause your bench press to suffer. Add in one day every week of assistance work, focusing on these areas. Perform free-weight compound exercises such as dips, close grip presses, military presses and pushups. Spend no longer than 45 minutes doing these and do not take any of the exercises to the point of failure, as this may cause you to be fatigued for your next bench press session.