Forced Gains? Get a Bigger Bench Through Muscular Failure

To avoid injury and overtraining on the Bench Press, find the perfect blend of scientific method and high-octane intensity.

Forced Gains

Young athletes commonly perform Bench Presses to failure and beyond, by forcing reps with the help of a spotter. But, to avoid injury and overtraining while you're getting as strong as possible in the off-season, you need the perfect blend of scientific method and high-octane intensity.

If you're an athlete with moderate weight training experience and a focus on a sport like football or basketball, it's not wise to annihilate your chest every chance you get. This practical alternative plan will lead to bigger gains and smaller pains.

Necessary Definitions

Movement Failure vs. Muscular Failure: Let's define training to failure as the inability of the lifter to perform another concentric portion of the exercise with acceptable form on his or her own. An example would be the "up" phase of the bar press. This is not total failure within the muscle.

RELATED: Missed Reps: When Failure Training Goes Wrong

Forced Reps: These occur when the lifter reaches significant muscular failure and continues to attempt more repetitions with the help of a spotter.

The Science

An Australian study found significantly higher strength and mean power gains over six weeks by forcing repetitions as opposed to not forcing reps. They used 4 sets of 6 repetitions.

But, according to another study, one set to failure was sufficient to get gains. Extra sets of forced reps did not offer more benefit to strength or power development.

RELATED: 7 Reasons Why Your Bench Press Is Weak

Another study showed that when repetition failure was reached, neither additional forced repetitions nor additional set volume further improved the magnitude of strength gains. This finding questions the effectiveness of adding additional volume by using forced repetitions within a set in young athletes with moderate strength training experience.

Studies have shown that increasing intensity through training to failure causes neural adaptations in a greater number of motor units recruited and used at one time. When applied sparingly, this can have implications for improved strength and power.

Push Fast to Get Stronger

During the lift, maximal voluntary contraction (MVC) is the fastest and most ballistic way you can recruit your chest, shoulders and triceps muscles to push the weight off your chest. MVC training has been shown to increase strength by 10.2 percent over going through the motions and using less zip on the bar when pushing it. Studies show that even if the bar moves slowly under significant weight, quick impulses on the bar have a positive effect on strength.

But there is a trick to this. Do not let your need for speed derail your technique, or you will crash and burn.

RELATED: The Push-Up Primer: Fix Your Weak Core Muscles

The Plan

This plan is best after you've completed four weeks of hypertrophy (muscle size) training in the 8-10 repetition range.

(For Novice/Intermediate Lifters)

Frequency: Every 72 hours for 6 weeks.

For strength, power and growth, moderately trained individuals optimize gains at 2-3 days per week, with 72 hours as a possible sweet spot for max gains in less experienced lifters. If you want to gain, don't over-train.

Load: Approximately 85 percent of your one-rep max.

Example: If you bench 200 pounds with proper form for 1 repetition, then you would start around 170 pounds for 5-6 reps.

Progressing The Weight: 2.5 pounds per side.

Studies show significant strength gains from increasing the weight by 2.2 to 2.5 pounds when all reps can be completed. Avoid adding too much weight per side once you master a weight. When you complete 8 total reps on the final set to failure, up the next session weight by 2.5 pounds.

Sets/Reps: 4x5-6

This has been identified as possibly the safest repetition range to develop max strength while avoiding injury in moderately trained individuals.

Rest: 180 seconds.

Studies show that lifters who took three minutes of rest when lifting heavy reported a 7 percent increase in squat performance after five weeks of training. That would be a 21-pound increase on a 300-pound squat.

Tempo: 0301 or 0302 to be safe.

It appears that strength and hypertrophy are optimized at moderate (1-3 seconds each for concentric and eccentric) and fast (1 second each) speeds. On heavier loads (e.g., 85% 1 RM) a 2-3-second cadence is advised to avoid injury. While training with lighter loads (e.g., <50% 1RM), you can do 1-second cadences.


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