The following hacks are some things I have used over the years on myself and many of the athletes I worked with to give our benches a quick boost. If you choose to use any of them, put in one or two of them and see how they work. Don’t take every single one and throw it in your routine at once. If you do this, you won’t have any idea which one worked for you. Pick one or two, run them for 8-10 weeks, and then reassess.
Make sure you know how to bench.
No, make sure you REALLY know how to bench. Go seek out a group of elite lifters and spend a couple of sessions with them or work with someone online who is a high-level bencher. I guarantee you’ll learn a couple of things that can give you bench a nice bump. Many times fixing a couple of technical issues can make a big difference and help keep you healthy.
Do speed bench with bands once a week.
If you don’t already do this, you will typically see a nice jump in your bench after a cycle or two of speed benching with bands. It’s important to keep a ‘heavy’ or max effort bench day in the rotation in addition to the bands. The exact percentages aren’t as important as moving the weight fast. In general, around 40-50 percent of your bench is a good starting point. The bands and band setup you should use are covered in this article HERE: How to Set Up Bands Correctly for the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift.
There are a few various set and rep combinations that will work with this. For an intermediate lifter, I typically like 5x5 or 8x3. Keep your rest periods short; no more than 60 seconds. This will allow you to recruit more fibers than if you were to take longer rest periods. This is the same principle behind many contrast methods that have become popular over the last few years.
After your speed sets, use the same set up to do some close-grip board work for sets of 3-5.
These don’t have to be balls to the wall. Leave a couple of reps in the tank and pick a weight you can do 3-5 x 3-5. Over the years, when my bench was at its best, this was a staple in our training.
Bench 30 percent for 4 sets of 15, before every training session.
I got this off of a YouTube video Louie Simmons did around ’07. This was a tremendous help getting my raw bench to the best it’s ever felt. My upper body also felt really big and strong during this time, and I attribute a lot of that to this hack. All you have to do is warm up your shoulders, put 30 percent of your best bench on the bar, and do 4 sets of 15 close grip bench before each lifting session (total of four times/week). Make sure you follow the percentage protocol. I had training partners who didn’t and it didn’t work as well for them. There’s a fine line with doing too much on this one. You’re just looking for a quick pump on this.
Do dumbbell bench with 10 percent of your max before training days.
For a quick math example, if you’re a 400-pound bencher you’ll use 40-pound dumbbells. Do 4 quick sets of 20 with your 10 percent. This was based on hack number 4 but gave us more options to avoid traffic jams when we had 30 athletes in the room at once. These are both good for athlete buy-in; they’ll get a SWEET pump before each workout!
Train the ever-loving hell out of your triceps.
Instead of the traditional three sets on one triceps movement, try doing 6-10 sets on your main triceps movement once a week. You can also do some timed work. One trick that gave our group a boost was 6-,8-, 10-minute supersets. So you would pick a weight you could do about 20 reps with on two movements and go back and forth on those for a total of 6/8/10 minutes. Your only rest was walking from exercise to exercise. The weekly volume is escalating, so week 1 = 6 minutes, week 2 = 8 minutes, and week 3 = 10 weeks. The timed option should only be done once per week.
Train your bench using heavy sets of 3 or 5.
Anyone who’s been training for a long period of time can attest to the massive jump in strength they got the first time they started doing sets of 3s and 5s on bench after training 8s and 10s. This one seems simple, but it works. Don’t worry about percents, simply work up to a weight that’s difficult for 3-5 reps and do 3-5 sets. At the intermediate stage, you can run this for 4-6 weeks and either try to increase the weight used or get a couple of extra reps on the last set of each workout. Your working sets should leave a rep or two in the tank, and on the last set go for broke but stay in the right rep range. If you get more than 6 on your last set, bump the weight up next week.
There you go, 7 hacks to help your bench progress. Again, don’t throw all of these in the mix at once. Experiment and see what works for you, then plug it in when you most need it. You can’t play your ace card all year round or you’ll see what the law of diminishing returns is all about.