Out of all the three lifts of powerlifting, it is universally known that the bench press is the most tedious lift to build. It is very rare to achieve massive jumps for this lift. Improvements in this lift can usually be a result of moving up in weight class, increasing frequency & volume, dramatic improvement in mobility or PEDS. I aim to break down these factors and explain the reasoning and benefits these can have on building the bench press. Frequency Frequency can give you a sudden jump in the bench and any lift for that matter.
The smaller the lifter the more frequency they can usually handle. Typically a 50-60kg female or 60-80kg male are going to recover and handle higher frequency a lot better than a heavier lifter, unless the heavier lifter is piss weak (using very light weights).
Regardless of Wilks or bodyweight to power ratio, using heavier weight will require more recovery. For example a 100kg lifter with a double body weight bench (200kg) working with 80% (160kg) is going to need more recover than say a 66kg male who’s 80% would be 105kg and 1RM 132kg. This is also something you should factor in when selecting a peak cycle for your lifter.
The heavier lifter will probably need less volume and frequency further out from competition compared to a smaller lifter who could handle it a lot closer to comp.
Females usually have much lower Bench Press ratios compared to the other two lifts and male counterparts which also allows them to handle more frequency in general This is down to physiological differences and more reliance on the shoulders and triceps In regards to programming bench, I would personally recommend 2-3 days a week pressing for heavier male lifter and 3-4 days for smaller males and females. The frequency would be reduced closer to competition.
Variation Adding variation lifts is essential for focusing on specific weaknesses and increasing pressing power. However if not done correctly it can also have undesired results.
Below are some variations I include in my programming to focus on common weaknesses of the bench press.
Main Press Lift Variation
It is important to note the main press lift should only be a slight variation from the competition lift. Going too far away from the lift can be detrimental to a lifters skill element and natural strength curve of the lift. Variations could be: change of grip width, bench incline, bench decline, floor press, pin press and board press. All these main variations are very close to the raw bench press and if you choose the correct one to suit your sticking point you will make progress.
Problems are encountered when people start adding chains, bands and speciality bars to the main lift variation. 99% of lifters don’t need that much variation and the 1% that do are elite level lifters who probably know what they’re doing. Small changes like above will build relevant strength to the competition bench.
Too many variations will make you could at variation lifts but not as efficient as the comp lift. Adding a chain or band to a straight bar isn’t a bad idea and I would favour chains over bands for raw bench pressers.
These lifts consist of exercises such as DB Presses, overhead pressing, speciality bars and isolation exercises. These should be focuses around higher reps and building muscle.
Increments Generally with the Bench I don’t like jump higher than 2.5kg. Smaller lifters should focus more on small jumps between 0.5-1.5 per week.
This may not seem that much but over 12-16 weeks it’s a decent increase and will add up over the course of a year. Bigger lifters can go a little heavier but keeping the increments on tight side prevents them burning out too early in a cycle and allows them to train with extra frequency.
If you think your lifter needs more weight and bigger jumps before a comp then you can always drop the volume and frequency. Dropping volume and frequency will prevent them from fatiguing ensuring they are ready to peak for competition. Noteworthy, if you increase the weight increments too early, it is a lot harder to recover a peak cycle.
This one might be obvious but I see so many lifters benching different in training to competition.
Benching with touch and go reps is ok but is it optimal? Will it give you a better bench than training it with pauses? No! By including a pause, even for every first rep of every set, at least then there is a good amount of competition practice. Set up and competition conditions should be simulated as much as possible through a training cycle.
You wouldn’t half squat and not lockout deadlifts so what makes pauses on the chest and lazy set ups so different.