Everybody wants a big bench and many of the athletes I work and consult with are judged and tested on their bench press strength. Thus, I'm always looking at unique ways to rapidly get the bench up.
Here is a routine utilizing principles of high frequency training and concentrated loading and unloading that has been the SINGLE most effective routine I've found for increasing the bench press for intermediate level lifters. This may not be the best set-up for an advanced powerlifter going from a 500 pound bench to a 600 pound shirted bench, but in my experience it is the quickest way to get you up to that 300 or 400 pound raw bench.
I have had trainees put 80 pounds on their bench with this routine in only 6 months while gaining less than 5 pounds of total bodyweight. The minimum increase using 6 week blocks with 10 different lifters from a variety of ages and strength levels has been 30 pounds.
Greasing The Groove
This set-up is very similar to some of Pavel Tsatsoulines training which utilizes the "Grease The Groove" principle of training a lift fairly frequently with low volume for pure relative strength increases. This routine is NOT really designed to get you bigger because the volume is so low per session. It can work for hypertrophy when used in conjunction with other methods, as I will describe, but the bench part of the set-up is more for PURE neural oriented strength. Here is the set-up:
Mon: 4 sets of 3 at 85%
Tues: 3 sets of 2 at 90%
Wed: 1 x 1 at 100% (max out) followed by 3-4 x 1 at 95%
Fri: 4-5 sets of 1 at 80% (should be very light)
That's it! Let percentages be your guide but don't take them as gospel. Use a weight that allows you to get all the reps without going to complete failure.
This set-up works through 2 mechanisms.
1. Frequency: By hitting bench 4 days per week you're honing the technique and strengthening the mind to muscle connection.
2. Loading/Unloading: You hit bench 3 days in a row followed by 4 days away from it. (The Friday workout is light and done just for technique). For those unfamiliar with it, concentrated loading uses the principle of loading and unloading. If you load yourself often enough and intensely enough to create a chronic 5% decrement in performance when fresh, you should rebound back with a 5% increase in fresh performance when you cut down on volume and allow yourself to recover. Most concentrated loading schemes take place over weeks or months. You train for several weeks at higher volumes where you create a lot of fatigue and follow this up by training for several weeks at lower volumes where you let that fatigue dissipate and find your performance shoots through the roof. For more on that topic read my Planned Overtraining article. This routine loads and unloads over the course of a training week.
You may find that by Wednesday of each week you'll be feeling pretty beat up. But then you basically have 4 days off. This provokes an increase in work capacity and quick rebound in performance. The end result is each week you should find yourself a good 5 pounds stronger than the previous week. When your progress stalls out for more than a week move onto more of a traditional set-up for a while and then come back to it.
How About Other Lifts?
Does this work for other lifts like squat and deadlift? I assume it would but I really don't know because I haven't tried it. However, you're more than welcome to be a guinea pig.
Implementing This Into a Regular Routine
Is there any way you can implement this into more of a regular routine set-up? Actually, the main reason I haven't written about it sooner is because this is purely a relative strength routine and just about all the athletes and bodybuilders I work with are interested in gaining size and I wasn't sure how it would work out. All factors being equal, for strength development, frequency is more important than it is for hypertrophy development. The problem is, if you train for size and absolute strength you create quite a bit of microtrauma per workout and need more recovery time in between sessions to see your weights go up. However, I've since experimented with this set-up in conjunction with more "normal" bodybuilding and power oriented routines with some of my trainees to see if it would work for people trying to gain size as well and I found it does.
To implement this into your regular setup all you have to do is make sure your routine contains no pressing, shoulder, or tricep movements from Thursday through Sunday other than the light bench on Friday.
Here is one way to set it up:
Mon- Mondays bench followed by Back and Biceps
Wed: Wednesdays bench followed by normal Chest, Shoulders, and Tricep workout
Fri: Fridays bench followed by Legs
Sat and Sun: Off
You can set it up however you want and do whatever other lifts you want as long as you don't do any shoulder, tricep, or chest work from thursday thru sunday.
Give it a shot and feel free to fill me in on your results!