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Big Time Bench: Want To Turn Every Head In Your Gym? Give Us 12 Weeks

The bench press is more than a pec-builder. It’s great for improving the strength and muscularity of your entire upper body. Learn how to master this key move.

If you're one of those guys who thinks of the bench press merely as an exercise to be incorporated into your chest routine, it's time to think again. Done right, the bench press can be a whole-body movement that develops overall strength and muscularity in a way that few other exercises can. It also happens to be the one move you can perform in a gym that, when performed with respectable weight, is sure to turn heads. The trick to achieving all the benefits this iconic exercise has to offer, however, is to train specifically to improve your bench — a task that might not be as intuitive as you'd assume.

Every major muscle group in your body plays a role in proper bench-pressing, especially when you start adding serious weight to the bar. And the fact is you can move major poundage whether you're naturally barrel-chested or shallow, long-limbed or short, so long as you make the effort to develop all the supporting muscles that are recruited during a big bench. Once you create this synergistic framework, though, you'll be able to handle much heavier loads than ever before, which in turn will allow you to develop your chest muscles faster.

We'll explain the role each of these supporting muscle groups plays and provide the optimal strategy for bringing them all together to turn you into one big, bad benching machine.

Your Start

To develop that initial shove off your chest, you'll need to train your legs and train them hard. It may sound a little counterintuitive, but the lower body serves as the foundation for bench-pressing power. At the bottom of a properly executed press, your body is like a coiled spring, with all that potential energy stored in your legs. Fail to train your lower body to uncoil explosively and you're sacrificing significant poundage.

To being building this base you'll want to dedicate one training day entirely to developing your lower body. You'll squat, deadlift, and get your entire posterior chain ready to both drive and support heavy bench pressing. These lifts will strengthen your legs, of course, but they'll also recruit your core and lower and upper back.

Your Platform

Though you may be supporting the bar with your arms and chest while benching, it's your back that will be supporting the rest of your body as you brace yourself on the bench. Once you get the bar moving with your leg drive, it'll be your lats that give you the push that accelerates the bar toward the midpoint of your bench stroke.

The exercises in this program work your back from all angles, providing the kind of volume
and intensity that will give you overall
mass and width, as well as improving
your bench. In addition to performing
deadlifts — which, by the way, are a
vastly underrated upper-back
movement — to work your lower body,
you'll be doing a pair of exercises that
engage the lats in the same plan as
the bench press: T-bar rows and chest-supported rows. You'll finish off your back with a healthy dose of another great upper-body builder, pull-ups.

Your Stability

Once you have the bar moving upward toward lockout,
you'll need to keep it in its "groove." You'll develop a feel
for your own tempo, where everything feels like it's in the
right place throughout the full range of the movement. Once you've found it, stay there; it will help you maintain optimal leverage and prevent injury.

Shoulder strength is key here, not just for powering up big weight but also to protect those muscles that accomplish the press; and when they're strong, every heavy rep will feel like it's in this magic zone.

Conversely, if your shoulders aren't strong enough to keep heavy weights stable when you're benching, they are left vulnerable to myriad injuries.

In this program, you'll perform just one move to strengthen your shoulders, but it's the most effective and efficient one ever invented: the standing barbell military press. We know it's a fitness cliché, but when it comes to overall shoulder size and strength, this move will give you more bang for your buck than any other shoulder exercise.

Maintain proper form — which includes finishing with the bar above and slightly behind your head — and you'll watch your bench numbers skyrocket within a few weeks.

The Finish

At about the halfway point in your bench-press stroke, your triceps start getting involved in a major way. They're the muscles that push the bar through to lockout position at the top, so triceps strength — especially in the long head — is an absolute necessity for big benching.

When you work the long head of your triceps, you'll feel the strain closer to your elbows. In this program you'll be attacking this crucial region with plenty of close-grip bench presses and barbell extensions, a.k.a. skull crushers. Feel free to aesthetically balance out this muscle group by adding some overhead triceps extensions, but it's your long head that will provide you with the power to lock out big weights.

The Big-A$$ Bench Plan

Your first step involves finding your 1-rep max (1RM). If you train by yourself and don't feel safe doing this, you can use the following formula to calculate your estimated 1RM:

The Workout

Day 1: Heavy Bench


Day 2: Lower Body


Day 3: Bench Assistance


Photos by Marius Bugge
Illustration by Oliver Burston


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turnerp2

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turnerp2

For some reason it never feels like your chest can get big enough but I am going to incorporate some of these things into my bench press focus. It is definitely important to focus on building the muscle that assitance in bench pressing instead of always focusing on the chest. The chest will come, build the muscles needed to build a stronger chest. Good post!

Apr 5, 2012 6:21pm | report
 
ducey

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ducey

haha did you notice how badly photoshopped the Barbell Extensio picture is? His head is cropped onto another body.. His hair shines through the weights and his hands are to one side of his face let alone he has tattoos now haha

Apr 18, 2012 1:04pm | report
HockeyPro90

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HockeyPro90

@ducey haha i just noticed that

Apr 21, 2012 7:42am | report
transformingnow

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transformingnow

Very Informative. Learned some cool new strategies to attacking my pecs and making them grow.

Apr 5, 2012 6:36pm | report
 
subhrakanti

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subhrakanti

Somehow i feel that chest and triceps are my strong point in exercise. Yes this article will help me doing better, thanks to the person circulating it....

Apr 5, 2012 10:40pm | report
 
imtheman14

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imtheman14

So are we supposed to use the one day on and one day off routine and workout only three times per week?

Apr 5, 2012 10:46pm | report
 
Doughboy818

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Doughboy818

I'll give it a shot. Thanks for the article.

Apr 5, 2012 10:54pm | report
 
sigirisetti

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sigirisetti

Really useful! Unlocked secrets for building powerful chest!

Apr 6, 2012 2:11am | report
 
DClaville

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DClaville

thanks, all good info

Apr 6, 2012 3:25am | report
 
Robby924

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Robby924

<<< If you can't tell already... I need a chest! I'm curious as to how the weekly training routine is formulated though. 3 days a week doesn't seem like a solid standard. 3 days, even if you go hard, doesn't seem like it's enough. And ONE abdominal routine doesn't seem like it's enough to give you a solid core workout. I'm gonna give this a try, but I can't workout just 3 days a week. Any insights on how to incorporate other exercise routines in with this one on a weekly basis?

Apr 6, 2012 9:30am | report
 
tucker1927

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tucker1927

Since a lot of the lifts they have here involve core stability and strength I think that they are using those for core exercises and not focusing on core isolation movements as much to achieve that. So basically there are 3 or more core exercises each day if this is how you look at it. As for your question, you can easily turn this into a four day workout. Do chest one day, legs another, back one and arms on another and throw in the shoulder exercises into one of those 4 days or some combination like that. Hope this helps. Sorry if it sounds dumb. This is just my take on it.

Apr 6, 2012 4:10pm | report
emccall3

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emccall3

If you're that worried about it, train it 2 on, 1 off, 1 on, 1 off. That way you're cutting it down to a 5 day microcycle and you'll be working out 5 days of the week. That being said, just do the actual lifting routine as is and don't try to add anything. If you're worried about not getting enough core work in, then you've obviously never squated or deadlfited heavy because those exercises work your core extensively.

Apr 8, 2012 3:34pm | report
static33k

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static33k

emccall3 is right. On your off days you could be doing pyramid push ups, or plyometrics. This not only works your chest it works your abs and glutes when done properly. My DS in the Army always said there is no such thing as too many pushups.

Apr 22, 2012 9:22pm | report
static33k

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static33k

Also my chest is massive; It is my greatest feature but that came with chin ups, push ups; and I like to use dumbells for benching.

Apr 22, 2012 9:27pm | report
Robby924

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Robby924

<<< If you can't tell already... I need a chest! I'm curious as to how the weekly training routine is formulated though. 3 days a week doesn't seem like a solid standard. 3 days, even if you go hard, doesn't seem like it's enough. And ONE abdominal routine doesn't seem like it's enough to give you a solid core workout. I'm gonna give this a try, but I can't workout just 3 days a week. Any insights on how to incorporate other exercise routines in with this one on a weekly basis?

Apr 6, 2012 9:32am | report
 
alphalupus

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alphalupus

Add distance, or speed running to it and that will be six days if you want something to do... Or do you mean you aren't hitting your muscle groups enough? Just do full body, and you will be growing atleast twice as fast as you would normally be on a split. Also, I recommend the bench press first, military second, and tricep isolation last you need your shoulders as stabilizers for bench pressing, and your triceps for military pressing as for the skull crushers they will be the lightest weight, and easiest aside from the discomfort if you aren't used to training those muscles all together you can slowly add in the shoulder exercise, then the tricep (set at a time or whatever you feel is best) as for how to train them, I recommend 5X5 for military presses and skullcrushers, (and add 5 pounds at a time whenever properly completed) it will give both strength, and size.

Apr 17, 2012 8:18pm | report
alphalupus

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alphalupus

Sorry typo, I meant distance running, or sprinting :/ sorry. Oh by the way, if you want proof of what I am saying I am adding 30 pounds a week to my squat and normally 10-15 pounds a week to my bench, check my training log out if you want (if necessary I will post a video of my lifting).

Apr 17, 2012 8:21pm | report
cjohnson32

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cjohnson32

If you're worried about the core, hit it with the plank at the end of the workout. There are a number of ways you can do the plank to increase the intensity, just get creative with it. But as mentioned above, a lot of the lifts in this workout already incorporate the core, especially the back squat and deadlift, so don't worry too much about it.

Apr 17, 2012 9:03pm | report
Patron904

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Patron904

I think they just made me switch my routine.

Apr 7, 2012 2:41am | report
 
GaPower229

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GaPower229

Great article, Love it!!! I needed this information!!

Apr 7, 2012 4:17am | report
 
kareemmurci

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kareemmurci


I have a problem with my chest, it never gets bigger despite I use to exercise it more than the other muscles.
I will try what's written up and will get back with the results

Apr 7, 2012 8:28am | report
 
Hunter73

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Hunter73

I am a amatuer trainer and so my friends love to get me to write them up a few workout plans. I will defianitely incorperate this plan into it.

Apr 8, 2012 8:35am | report
 
bristalboy

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bristalboy

Solid strategies. Good post.

Apr 8, 2012 9:29am | report
 
tnfitguy

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tnfitguy

this training routine is definitely worth doing. it's old school, explosive, heavy moves that force your body to do the work and not a machine. it's especially beneficial to see this kind of training for those of us who gave up on the fitness center and train at home. i have everything this program calls for in a home gym that's always open. eating clean, cardio and sleep are absolutely essential for results you can see and measure.

Apr 8, 2012 9:35am | report
 
Roman_God

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Roman_God

Been saying this for years.. though I must say I do not agree with that 11wk strength program.. that's some pathetic progress for anyone who's serious about improving their lift.

Lookin to hit a 2.5x body weight bench before I turn 24 this year.

Apr 8, 2012 9:57pm | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 68 Comments

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