Progressing on the Bench Press

Some of you know that I’ve been focusing on increasing my bench press for the past three months. No, I don’t have to have “manly pecs” but just higher numbers without looking like someone on steroids. And yes, that’s very much possible.

Intelligent programming coupled with a wholesome and well-rounded diet does the trick. The challenge is that as a lift the barbell bench press is the second hardest to make progress in. (The hardest being the barbell military press.) And of course, aesthetics do come into play when it comes to gaining size. The bigger you are, the bigger your bench will be. Provided you train for it. Otherwise, you’re just a dumb-ass hoping for a big bench.

Back to my point — I don’t believe in jumping from one program to another but for the bench press, I’ve kept things quite simple. The cycles are much shorter (last for 2 weeks before I go for a 1 rep max PR, which is different from an all-out max attempt). My preferred cycle is the Power to the People 2.0 by Jack Reape. It absolutely works if strength is a priority for you.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Start with 70% of your 1 RM
  2. Bench 4-5 times a week; 3 sets of 5, 3 and 2 reps with the same weight
  3. Add 5lbs (minimum) every work out until you think you cannot make the 5 reps in the next workout
  4. Switch to 3 and 2 reps (yes, 2 working sets) and continue adding 5lbs until you think you cannot make the 3 reps in the next work
  5. Finally, do just 2 reps with the same weight. Continue adding 5lbs until you feel you cannot make the 2 reps in the next workout.
  6. Test your 1 RM. Simply go beyond your previous max. Suppose your previous PR was 200lbs for 1 rep. Aim for 205lbs. If you think you’ve got more, add another 5lbs. That’s an easy 10lb PR.

I usually switch to the Russian Ladder training after hitting a PR. It goes like this:

  1. Start with your 5RM (185lb, is a good starting point)
  2. Do 1 rep, take 30-90 sec rest (go by feel here), do 2 reps, now wait for 5 minutes and then do 3 reps. Do this two more times. That’s it!
  3. If you are able to make all the triples across the sets. Increase 5lb (minimum) in the next workout.
  4. The training frequency reduces from 4-5 times to 3 times a week. Experienced lifters may opt for 2 workouts.
  5. After 12 workouts (4 weeks) take a couple of days off (ideally just from the bench, not your training) and test your 1 RM.

This is part of Pavel Tsatsouline’s Easy Strength program. The cycle above is a power cycle combined with an Easy Strength cycle that has worked wonders for me. I’m nowhere close to benching 500 lbs (that’ll be another 2 years I guess) but my bench has gotten a lot stronger.

Just remember this: forget about “losing” your abs. Keep the main goal (bench press), the main goal.

And while we’re at it, I found this great program by Pavel that was published some 15-16 ago.


by Pavel Tsatsouline (2002)

Try the following program by Jason Brice of Johnson City, Tenn. Jason combined one of the powerlifting cycles from my book Power to the People! with ladders, a technique popular in the Russian military for improving pull-ups.

On June 30, 2001, Brice started out with one set of five reps with 225 lbs, or 67% of his 335-lb max bench (naturally you will have to plug in your own numbers). Jason did only one set of five reps per workout adding 5 lbs each time. What will surprise you is that he benched five days per week, Monday through Friday. The reasoning behind such an unorthodox schedule is outside the scope of this short article, but trust me, it works!

You cannot keep adding 5 lbs per workout forever, even if you started the cycle with a light weight – eventually you will reach your five-rep max. When Jason reached his, he switched from powerlifting style cycling to ladders. A ladder means doing one rep, resting briefly, doing two reps, etc., then starting all over when you cannot top the reps of the previous set. Brice did sets of 1-2-3-1-2 . . . with his five-rep max until his form started to get sloppy. He did this every other day for two weeks.

Then Jason backed off 10 lbs from his five-rep max established two weeks earlier and resumed a linear cycle: one set of five Monday through Friday, adding 5 lbs a day. When he had a tough time completing his five, Jason took two days off and tested his one-rep max, something he did every two months. Here is what he accomplished:

Bench Press, 1 rep max –
June 30th: 335
August 30th: 385
October 31: 420

Bench Press, 5 rep max –
June 30th: 285
August 30th: 325
October 31: 360

After benching he did one-arm snatch pulls with dumbbells and heavy ab work.

Source: The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban

The program above is slightly different from mine but I sense (thanks to the “ladders” component in it) it’s quite effective for someone who’s struggling with benches. If that’s you, give it a try. It does work.

And by the way, I got this from The Tight Tan Slacks of Dezso Ban. It’s hosted on BlogSpot and although I don’t know who this person is, he’s been at it since 2008. And at it still! That’s commitment and a solid reason to keep showing up.

Who knows who’ll find you? It could be 10 minutes from right now or just might be 10 years!

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