Strength training is an art -- a process of finding the balance between pushing your limits and recovering to rebuild. The best training programs walk the line between being challenging and too intense.
Workout routines that improve your max bench press rely on improving your muscle size and strength, specifically of the chest, shoulder and triceps muscles, which are the main muscles of the bench press.
What is a Max Bench Press?
Your max bench press is the maximum amount of weight that you can lift for one repetition. You can find your maximum bench press by starting at a weight you know you can lift, doing one repetition, and then adding weight and performing repetitions until you can't lift the weight anymore. The highest weight that you successfully can lift is your max bench press. If you're going to find your max, make sure that you have a partner spot you to keep you safe!
How to Become Stronger
There are basically two ways to get stronger: Improving your nervous system and improving your muscles. Your muscles have nerves connected to them, and these nerves stimulate the muscles to contract. One way that you get stronger is by increasing the frequency that these nerves send signals into the muscle, according to a 2006 research review article in Sports Medicine. For example, a muscle that receives a signal to contract 10 times in 5 seconds will be stronger than a muscle that receives a signal to contract five times in 5 seconds.
Muscle hypertrophy is the proper term for muscle growth, another way to enhance strength. The actual tissue that the muscle is made of, the protein, can get bigger and thicker. Your muscles can also get bigger by storing more of the fuel that makes them go, like glycogen and creatine. When your muscles grow you become stronger because the muscle itself becomes more powerful.
Finding the Best Workout Routine
The best bench press program will make your nervous system more efficient and grow your muscles to make them stronger. Lower repetition training, around the one to five rep range, is better for training your nervous system. But, in order to grow your muscles, you'll need to do more sets and reps, so incorporating higher reps into your training, like six to 12, will help you build up your muscles, according to a research review by Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, that looked at 205 studies related to muscle growth to try to determine the best methods to build muscle.
Linear vs. Daily Periodization
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared two different training programs to see which increased the bench press more. The two programs compared were: a linear periodization routine and a daily undulating periodization routine. Both groups trained three times per week and did three sets of the bench press each time, but the amount of repetitions per workout differed.
The group that performed linear workouts did sets of eight reps in weeks one to four, sets of six in weeks four to eight, and sets of four in weeks nine to twelve. The daily undulating periodization group did sets of eight reps on the first workout of the week, sets of six reps on the second workout of the week and sets of four reps in the third workout of the week. Each week they repeated the pattern of eight, six and four reps.
The Better Program
The study shows that switching the number of reps you do every workout, as opposed to using the same amount of reps for a few weeks, results in better strength gains. The researchers found that the daily undulating periodization approach works well for increasing your bench press max.
To do the daily undulating periodization routine, you'll bench press three days per week. Each day you do three sets. On the first day, all three sets are for eight reps, on the second day the three sets are for six reps, and on the third day all of the sets are for four reps. These are supposed to be maximum effort sets, so pick a weight with which you will struggle. You should be able to get every rep of every set with good form, but it should be a hard to do.
This program incorporates the higher-repetition training that will grow muscle (eight and six repetition sets) and the lower repetition range that will promote increases in strength by training the nervous system (sets of four reps). Altogether, it is a simple and effective program for increasing the bench press.