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The Bench Press is often thought of as the king of upper body lifts, but, in my experience, the vast majority of gymgoers completely botch the bench.
As a result, the bench press is responsible for the majority of pec tears and shoulder problems. I even heard that a guy snapped his funny bone when stalling on a 1RM when his spotter got distracted and failed to come to his help in time.
Benching heavy is cool AF — but most never get there for a variety of reasons, mostly boiling down to exercise selection and improper form.
And today we will go over my preferred exercise selection to get a massive bench press.
Before attempting to bench heavy you need to do so with correct and efficient form.
If your form is crap, if you suffer from shoulder impingement/injuries, if you’re lifting with your ego, make sure that you go back to the drawing board before attempting big lifts.
A 4-wheel-a-side bench press is seen as a massive landmark for many lifters, natty and enhanced.
However, it can be a rocky road getting there.
Let’s jump right in.
Most decent gyms should be equipped with some form of chest-supported row.
Developed lats and biceps assist enormously for bar stability throughout the movement, resulting in a strong and controlled press.
And this exercise does both.
In my humble opinion, the chest supported row is the best upper back movement for a variety of reasons ranging from strength curve, easiness to progressive overload, back development and carryover to other main lifts.
But, in this case, the chest-supported row, set at a height mimicking the negative portion of your bench press, can add tremendous strength to your bar control — assuming that you’re rowing the bar down to your sternum — and power off the chest.
This exercise can be performed in a variety of rep ranges to suit your mood.
As I’ve explained in the past, to get really freakin’ strong as a natural lifter, you have to employ a wide variety of rep ranges placing emphasis on progressive overload. This is because after a few years a natural lifter’s ability to pack on size will become significantly curtailed by genetic limits.
You’re simply not going to enjoy a supraphysiological ability to recover like an enhanced lifter, and training exclusively heavy every week will wear you down and can actually stifle your progress.
You can also mix it up by doing slow negatives with a 3-second eccentric and explosive concentric to further tear down muscle fibers. You can also attempt to pull the weight explosively at beyond 80% of your 1RM from a dead stop to build power.
Ideal Rep Range: 4×8-12
The JM Press
Taken from: https://herculeanstrength.com/the-best-bench-press-and-triceps-builder-youre-not-doing/
Seasoned lifters will be familiar with the JM Press, but I’ve never actually ever seen the JM Press be used in a commercial gym.
It is a hybrid of a close-grip bench press and a skullcrusher, but exceptionally powerful for developing strength and gaining size while being criminally underused.
The weighted dip is one of the best mass and strength builders for the upper body.
Predominantly, your lower pecs, anterior deltoids, tricep (long head); and, if you retract your shoulder blades, your rear deltoids, rhomboids, and lats will all get a workout — utilizing all the muscles you’ll need for the bench.
I used the throw the weighted dip in as a finisher after my main movement and first accessory to tire myself out.
Sometimes, I’d work in drop sets to fatigue the muscle. For example, start off with a weight, do the exercise to failure, then crank out as many bodyweight reps as possible.
Ideal Rep Range: 3×6-8
Incline Bench Press for speed work
Again, there will be times when you simply cannot train heavy. Some lifters throw in speed work and add bands/chains to shift the strength curve of the movement to be exaggerated in their sticking point.
In my experience, the incline bench press offers the best platform to do your speed work because the range of motion is longer, and thus, the sticking point is longer.
This helps carry over to the flat bench in helping improve velocity throughout the middle of the lift.
Your upper pecs, front deltoids, and triceps will receive ample stimulation. In the past, I have actually improved my bench press by prioritizing my incline bench press.
As somebody who has been training for nearly two decades (admittedly on/off for the first half as I was a minor), the number one mistake — and this isn’t going to shock you — is undertraining.
While you are sometimes treated to form so atrocious you feel like you have to intervene, the greatest gym sin witnessed regularly has to be undertraining.
Obviously, the number one reason why most people fail to grow is poor nutrition and rest, but that’s another ramble for another time.
But it’s common knowledge that curling in the squat rack, doing Smith Machine quarter squats, and 5lb tricep kickbacks are anabolic AF.
Dudes who come to the gym year in, year out, under the age of 35 and make no progress — well, it’s no surprise since they’re doing the same “routine” (how I hate the usage of that word since it implies stagnation) for several years.
And by “routine” I mean the exact same workouts, weights, rep schemes, rest times, order, you name it.
Maybe their diet is on point, but they train like sissies.
This is why they’re not getting anywhere.
If you’re a genuine ectomorph/hardgainer, you have my sympathy, but dudes who respond well to training, want to grow, and continue the same repetitive programs with no progressive overload, do not.
I remember once seeing some guy at an empty gym come in and do 3 sets of strict curls before leaving. He wasn’t a big guy, either. I couldn’t fathom the logic behind spending $50 a month on gym membership fees to undertrain so criminally.
I understand some people’s objectives are to be toned, and, that’s fine, but, if you’re trying to get jacked, you need to put in the effort.
Progressive overload is such a simple concept to follow; simply add more weight/reps every time you workout.
However, some undertrainers might make their training programs so sophisticated in the name of “shocking the body,” it becomes impossible to determine whether you’re actually progressive overloading.
And this is very much avoidable.
GOAT bodybuilders such as Ronnie Coleman and Dorian Yates would stick to the same exercises that yielded optimum results for the entirety of their careers — and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. GOAT powerlifter Ed Coan offered similar adviced when asked at what point somebody should change their accessory movements — the answer was whenever what you were doing wasn’t working anymore.
Overall, the majority of people who undertrain do so for a couple of reasons: 1) lack of confidence 2) lack of knowledge.
I had a friend who could comfortably squat 2 plates for 10 reps, but had never attempted 3 because he was scared, lacked confidence.
I offered to train with him and spot him.
Within a month, he was repping 3 plates — unsurprisingly!
A lot of lifters scare themselves into believing they can’t do it, out of fear of injury, or whatever other phony reason they can hammer into their head.
Most modern gyms offer safety pins and mechanisms to protect you if you botch a lift.
And the other reason comes with a lack of knowledge — you don’t have to pick 4 exercises for 3×10-12 ad infinitum!
People get themselves mired in suboptimal rep schemes.
Any rep range above 4-5 that brings you close to failure is good for building muscle.
While an 8-12 rep range and 30-40 seconds of time under tension and a 2-3 minute rest period may be prescribed, it isn’t the be all and end all of muscular development.
Take for example one of my bench press days for when I did powerlifting:
Bench Press 5×2
Incline Bench Press 4×6-8
Dips 3×20-30 (not a typo)
Face Pulls 3×15-20
Lateral Raise 3×12-15
Hammer Curls 3×8-10
Tricep Press Down 2xAMRAP
And contrast it with one of my current Chest Days:
Reverse-grip Bench Press 3×8-12
Floor DB Press 3×10-15
Floor Flyes 3×10-15
Weighted Dips 2xAMRAP
Although the rep ranges are higher, since I am using lighter weight loads, both sufficient volume and training to failure are staples in my training.
And both types of training were effective in reaching my goals.
And while overtraining is quite common, the number one reason why you’re not growing in the gym is because you’re not training hard enough.