Get Your Best Bench Press Ever

No matter if you’re training for physique enhancement or performance, strength is the most useful quality to have. If you’re a fan of Golden Age Bodybuilding like me, you know that legends of the field like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Franco Columbu, Sergio Oliva and Bill Pearl were every bit as strong as they looked. Modern era bodybuilding stars who following in these footsteps include 8 x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman and Johnny Jackson, who both started out as powerlifters.

Of course, a lot of examples to the contrary abound, on either side of the fence. Lots of bodybuilders are nowhere near as strong as they look. As a matter of fact, I witnessed a multiple Mr. Olympia winner who could not bench press 315 lb more than 6 times. On the other hand, powerlifting great Mike McDonald broke several world records in the bench press, but did not possess the upper body development you’d expect from someone like him.

The takeaway from this is that strength will benefit anyone, but training for strength is not necessarily the best way to train for hypertrophy and vice-versa. This is called the principle of specificity in sports training circles. And this very reason is why I’m a staunch advocate that bodybuilders should train for strength at least a few cycles out of every training year. In bodybuilding, the goal is to hypertrophy every muscle cell to get the maximum volume. Strength is the best way to recruit the fast-twitch type IIb muscle fibers that usually resist other methods of hypertrophy.
The added bonus is that when you go back to your regular programming, you can now handle heavier weights than before, thus making those exercises even more efficient after a strength phase.

The following 3-month program will be centered around a 5-day cycle designed to increase your bench press. It will also keep in mind the very important but often overlooked principle of structural balance. This will ensure that you not only pack muscles on your upper back and shoulders as well as on your chest, but also that you maintain a balance of strength between the pushing and pulling muscles, so as to diminish the risk of injury. This method is one of the reasons for my success with athletes.

This is why the first workout will seem strange for a bench press specialization program: it does not contain any horizontal pressing exercises. This is because I’m a big believer in fixing structural imbalances first by making sure the musculature has as little strength discrepancies as possible.

This concept is also advocated by my good friend, powerlifting champion Ed Coan, who told me one of the best things he did to increase his bench press was to work on his vertical pressing strength.

Workouts 1-6

A1 Seated DB Press, 4 sets x 6–8 reps, rest 90 seconds
A2 Subscapularis Pull-up, 4 x 6–8, rest 90 seconds
B1 Flat Bench Unrolling Flye, 3 x 8–10, rest 75 seconds
B2 Elbow-Out One-arm DB Row, 3 x 8–10, rest 75 seconds
C1 Elbow-on-knee DB External Rotation, 3 x 10–12, rest 60 seconds
C2 Prone Trap-3 Raise, 3 x 10–12, rest 60 seconds

Keep in mind that the order of the exercises is crucial and that each workout builds on the success of the previous one, so you need to perform them in the prescribed order.

One exercise that few people use and fewer people do correctly is the subscapularis pull-up, which requires that you perform a regular wide-grip pull-up, but you push yourself away from the bar on the way down.

The second phase introduces the use of chains, a concept known as accommodating resistance. This concept is a great one if the goal is to develop explosiveness and the ability to power through a sticking point at the start of a pressing exercise. Explosiveness is also a common point of many great bench pressers.

This program also makes use of another great chin-up variation: the sternum chin-up. It was one of legendary bodybuilding coach Vince Gironda’s favorite and it builds on the subscapularis pull-up of the last phase. It requires that one pulls up to the bar while simultaneously holding the trunk back, with the goal of touching the solar plexus to the bar instead of the top of the sternum. The overall appearance makes it a crossover between a chin-up and a row. Keep your head back and aim to touch the lower portion of the sternum to the bar. Your upper body should be close to parallel to the floor when this happens. Go back down in the same way in a controlled fashion.

Workouts 7-12

A1 45-Degree Incline Bench Press with Chains, 7,7,5,5,3,3, rest 120 seconds
A2 Sternum Chin-up, 6 x 5–7, rest 120 seconds
B Seated Rope Rowing to Neck, 4 x 6–8, rest 90 seconds
C1 Low-pulley One-arm External Rotation, 3 x 8–10, rest 75 seconds
C2 DB Powell Raise, 3 x 8–10, rest 75 seconds

The third and final phase is somewhat lower in total volume, to allow strength gains to happen when intensity is higher. On the 1st, 3rd and 5th workouts, you will make use of elastic bands to put more tension on the bench press. Why only 1 workout out of 2? Because bands are hard on the central nervous system and will force you to focus on accelerating the bar, plus they are harder on the joints so using them too frequently can lead to tendonitis. After the previous phases, I found that 1 workout out of two is plenty to make gains and train hard without injuring yourself

Workouts 13-18

A1 Flat Bench Press with Bands*, 6 x 2–4, rest 120 seconds
A2 Parallel-grip Chin up, 6 x 2–4, rest 120 seconds
B1 V-Bar Dip, 6 x 2-4, rest 120 seconds
B2 One-arm DB Row, 6 x 2–4, rest 120 seconds

Remember, I use programs like this on a 5 day cycle, something like this:

Day 1: Bench Press program

Day 2: Legs

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Arms

Day 5: Off

This is integral to the system laid out here, as you will do each workout 6 times during a month. Keep in mind that frequency does matter in strength training as well as in hypertrophy training.

Stay strong,


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