Bench Press Workouts
When someone comes to me complaining about their lagging bench press numbers, I always start by asking the same question: "Do you even bench?" Their knee-jerk answer is yes, but a closer look at their program tells me "barely." The training programs people show me generally resemble a random grab bag of every press or triceps extension type movement imaginable, with very little actual bench pressing.
So let's be clear. If you want a better bench, testing yourself with an all-out effort once a week isn't going to get you there. You need more volume in your life, in addition to a cherry-picked selection of assistance exercises that address your specific weaknesses.
Forget your other priorities for the next six weeks, and I'll fast-track you to a better bench press. First, let's address five of the most common problems I see, then I'll get you set up on a monster bench program.
Cure: Train like a powerlifter for a while
If you want to bench big, you should bench like a powerlifter. What if your goal is to build a better chest? Same thing.
I feel you shaking your head and imagining some big-bellied guy with a beard, so stick with me. It turns out that muscle growth may be more dependent on total volume (total work done) than what particular rep range you do it in. In a recent study, Brad Schoenfeld's lab concluded that equal-volume bodybuilding-style and powerlifting-style training protocols actually promoted similar increases in muscular size. But here's the catch: The powerlifting-style was superior for increasing maximal strength.1
Even if you're a bodybuilder who wants a better bench, then bench to perform the movement more efficiently—i.e., move more weight with good form—not to target and isolate the pecs. There are better exercises for isolation, such as dips, which train your pecs, anterior delts, and triceps through a greater range of motion.
Cure: Don't even touch it.
Maybe you didn't even know this was a problem, but it is. Fact is, I've never known a strong bencher—or anyone with a well-developed chest—who dedicated time regularly to the decline bench.
The decline bench uses a shorter range of motion and puts less stress on your pecs and shoulders, so if your goal is to make your bench stronger, you're wasting your time here.
If your goal is to make your bench stronger, you're wasting your time here.
I can hear you now: "But my chest day has been the same for years!" Go read Problem 1 again. Be honest with your own weaknesses, and work on them. Don't further weaken them by ignoring them and doing things you're good at. Eliminate useless accessories and embrace the useful ones.