Bench PressAside from in the world of powerlifting and bodybuilding the standard bench press lacks functionality in that it is rarely trained by strongmen, weightlifters and track and field athletes. Having said this, the bench press more than any other exercise remains the obsession for many none professional gym goers. For this reason I will discuss ways to improve your strength on bench press which would not normally form any part of the content for standard personal trainer courses, this knowledge is of a more advanced nature and is born out of years of collective strength training.


In doing this I will adopt two approaches the first relating to short term changes to aid improvement the second relating to a much longer term perspective. The first of these simply refers to technique in terms of execution of the exercise. A powerlifter will employ a very different technique for bench press than that of a body builder and as it is the powerlifter who in most cases is the stronger we will look at the differences in these techniques.

Grip is a big factor whereby in order to aid strength your grip must be a full wrap around the bar grip as opposed to those grips which simply involve balancing the bar in the palms whereby the fingers are not wrapped around the bar. The latter option takes the forearms very much out of the equation here whereby strength will be significantly affected as the forearm muscles act as both a stabiliser and an assistor for the lift. The grip should be as tight as possible whereby if you practice this method you will find the weight goes up a little easier.

Secondly many bodybuilders during bench press have their elbows out too wide whereby too much emphasis is put on the shoulders. If more emphasise is put on the shoulders then this detracts from the larger muscles of the chest thereby reducing strength. Elbows should be slightly brought in towards the body so that they are no longer directly in line with the shoulders. Executing this technique for the first time will seem awkward but after a little practice you will realise your usual weight is a little easier.

Finally on technique, the plane of movement here is important in terms of how much can be lifted. A bodybuilder will normally opt for a line of movement which is basically a straight line up and down from start to finish. A powerlifter will also use the horizontal plane to aid in the lift whereby whilst pushing the bar upwards they will also push it backwards so the bar is in effect being pushed up and backwards towards the direction of the head. This will allow you to lift more weight quite simply because you are engaging more muscle groups.

While such information is useful to those wishing to improve their own and others performance it is not taken as being essential information on the curriculum of most if not all personal training qualifications. This is part of the reason it is essential that personal trainers and those wishing to become personal trainers need to undertake their own serious training to achieve a specific goal be it strength or endurance based. Only then will such specialist information become readily available.


Other specialist knowledge not normally divulged to the average personal trainer relates to the second approach of which we will look at the bench press from a training method point of view. To elaborate, there are many systems both short term and long term which can be used to improve strength in a scientific even mathematical sense. The one we will look at today has many different names but is perhaps most commonly known as the West Side method so called by the Russians as it was the preferred training regime of Olympic weightlifters from the U.S.A during the cold war period. There are many different variations of this method but as you will see it follows a basic pattern.

The pattern in question you may know as a pyramid method whereby on each successive set the weight is increased but the number of repetitions decreases. In this form the method is very short term in that it only refers to the immediate training session. The West Side method takes this idea and applies it to a longer time frame whereby the science behind it is all about progression.

The best way to explain this is to give you an example of a West Side training plan which in this case will obviously concentrate on the bench press. The following plan assumes that you train the bench press once a week but the frequency does not matter, however may days each week you train the bench press you simply have to adapt this method to your current or intended frequency. This plan is for a more advanced lifter but it can be adapted for a lesser experienced individual by reducing the number of sets employed. Each week refers to one session, the sets cannot be broken up onto different days.



3 SETS OF 3 REPS @ 70% OF 1 RM

2 SETS OF 1 REP   @ 75% OF 1 RM


5 SETS OF 5 REPS @ 67.5% OF 1 RM

3 SETS OF 3 REPS @ 72.5% OF 1 RM

2 SETS OF 1 REP   @ 77.5% OF 1 RM


5 SETS OF 5 REPS @ 70% OF 1 RM

3 SETS OF 3 REPS @ 75% OF 1 RM

2 SETS OF 1 REP   @ 80% OF 1 RM


This pattern of increasing the weight each week carries on whereby on week 11 you should be doing 100% 1 RM for 2 sets of 1. Beyond this week you just keep on going with the system by increasing the weight accordingly until you reach a plateau or sticking point. It is then you go back to the start of the programme at week 1 however your 1 RM will be heavier than it was last time and therefore your starting point will be heavier than last time.

The science behind this method dictates that the body requires a less intense approach in order to overcome a sticking point or plateau. This method employs this but gradually the programme will become more intense than you have probably ever experienced before thereby helping you achieve increases in both size and strength. Such advanced methods as these are rarely the subject of any personal training qualification which highlights the need to supplement attendance on any personal trainer course with the interaction and communication with those who have trained for a specific purpose for a number of years as well as ensuring you yourself engage in regular intense training.

This blog was written by a seasoned powerlifting expert and coach. If you enjoyed this blog please leave a comment and share with your networks.

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