Looking to increase your Bench Press max? You’ve come to the right place.
These three techniques will increase your Bench Press max by training the eccentric and isometric portion of the lift, and by stimulating more work with cluster sets. Use them as one phase of a three- to four-month program.
When analyzing the science of muscular contractions in the lift, focus on three segments: eccentric, isometric pause and concentric.
By focusing on one portion of the lift for a few weeks at a time, you can greatly increase your numbers in the weight room. The technique may be advanced, but it can improve your understanding of the Bench Press. One trick that can’t be learned easily is the ability to “grind” through a heavy press.
Eccentric Training Considerations
When you begin eccentric training, you will be very sore. Begin the lift by slowly lowering the weight to your chest within a five- to seven-second timeframe, then press the weight back up. Repeat in this manner for three sets of three repetitions for one week, four sets of two repetitions the second week, and five sets of one repetition the third week. Aim to increase the weight each week.
Isometric or Pause Training
Used by powerlifters, this type of training involves the use of pauses to attack a specific weakness in a particular lift. For example, if you are weak off the chest in the Bench Press, take a pause. If you break in the middle, pause there. No matter where your deficiency occurs, be consistent for at least three to four weeks with a reasonably heavy lift (70 to 85 percent of your max).
Isometric Training Considerations
During week one, perform three sets of three repetitions; week two, do four sets of two repetitions and five sets of one repetition, all with an isometric pause for two to five seconds in the bottom position of the Bench Press.
Conventional wisdom says you should gradually work up to a weight that is reasonably close to your max. If your max is 250 pounds, lift 235, then either do some additional sets at a lower weight, or stop at 94 percent. Although this method definitely promotes small increases over a long period, you may want to get huge in a hurry. If you want to increase the amount of work you can get done in a certain timeframe, look no further than cluster sets.
Cluster sets provide a no-nonsense approach to increasing your Bench Press max. By increasing the volume performed in a month, you can increase the perceived work performed by your body without reaching maximal weight. The reasons for this include an increased cellular recovery from pushing weight with a slight rest between repetitions, and, subsequently, an increase in muscular power and force output with varying percentages.
Without manipulating the type of contraction method for the Bench Press, the cluster set offers an easy way to increase the amount of work performed.
Cluster Training Considerations
It may be easier to understand this concept by looking at a month-long plan.
- Week 1: 2 sets x (4×2 reps) [with 20-second rest] @ 75% = 16 reps
- Week 2: 3 sets x (3×2 reps) [with 15-second rest] @ 80% = 18 reps
- Week 3: 4 sets x (3×1 reps) [with 10-second rest] @ 85% = 12 reps
- Week 4: 2 sets x (4×1 reps) [with 10-second rest] @ 87.5% = 8 reps
This is a modification of traditional cluster set variations, primarily for those unfamiliar with the intensity of what cluster sets require mentally and physically. In weeks one and two, you perform a higher amount of total volume. This stresses your body to adapt to heavier weights, even with a sub-maximal percentage, due to the low rest time between cluster sets. As you progress to weeks three and four, the weight increases and the rest time between sets decreases.
Haff GG, et al (2008) “Cluster training: a novel method for introducing training program variation.” Strength and Conditioning Journal 30(1):67-76.
NSCA. Hot Topics Cluster Sets Part I. National Strength and Conditioning Association, n.d. Web. <http://www.nsca-lift.org/Education/Articles/Hot-Topics-Cluster-Sets-Part-I/>.