"In order to press a lot you must press a lot." -Boris Sheiko
This famous quote by Russian Powerlifting coach Boris Sheiko speaks volumes of the sentiment of practicing strength as a skill in order to increase your result. In our case we will deal with the power lifting event of the bench press and examine how to organize our training with the goal for a PR in mind. The beauty of this program is that even if you are a non-competitive lifter the methods can easily adapt to increasing your bench press in the gym. In order to increase any lift the first thing anyone should do is adjust your mindset. This means that you must view the bench press as a competitive athletic event and not merely a form of exercise aimed at developing a big chest. In this athletic event we must practice both specific and supportive skills that will aid us in completing a successful lift. Without getting to technical there are some universal skills that are an integral part of lifting maximal weights. First, there is practicing the skill of lifting maximal weights (90% intensity and above). Next comes lifting the barbell with maximal force and intentional acceleration. And lastly we must develop the necessary muscle mass to exert these efforts. With this in mind there will be three main methods that we will rotate over the course of two weeks in order invoke full recovery and keep overuse injuries at bay. On day one we will concern ourselves with the lifting of maximal (90-100%) and supramaximal (loads in excess off 100%) weights using a progressive/regressive amplitude (benching on boards of varying heights) and wave loading (alternation of heavy and lighter loads) scheme. On day two we will focus on pressing sub maximal loads very powerfully and with maximal "speed." On day three we will concern ourselves with increasing our specific muscle mass for the primary, synergistic, and antagonist muscle groups through lifting sub maximal loads for prolonged periods of tension.
Day 1: Heavy bench day
1) warmup to 80% of your max for a single.
2) use two sets of 2x6 inch wooden boards (one stacked 2 boards high and the other 4 boards high for the first 3 workouts and a 1 board and 3 board for the next 3 workouts) and alternate from your highest board to your lower one every other set.
3) Example: Your first work set off the four board will be 90% for a single rep. Your second set will be 80% (same as you last warmup) for 3 reps.
4) Continue this sequence (with sufficient rest 3-5min between sets) for 3 sets at each board increasing the load by 2.5%-5% each set. Consequently the weekly increase shall be the same for the work sets from week to week (based on feel). So in essence the four board sets will be your supramaximal (overload) sets that will "set-up" your CNS to handle the sets of three off the lower board.
Week 1 Example:
Set 1: 4 board 90%x1
Set 2: 2 board 80%x3
Set 3: 4 board 95%x1
Set 4: 2 board 85%x3
Set 5: 4 board 100%x1
Set 6: 2 board 90%x3
Day 2: Speed/ Force Development day
1) Use a load that will allow you to complete 3 fast reps. That will usually be between 60%-70% if using only barbell weight. You may also use accommodating resistance tools such as looped rubber bands, bungee cords, or alloy chains but be sure to lower the barbell weight by 5-10%.
2) Employ a cluster scheme where you perform a group of sets with an extremely brief rest interval. Example- the total protocol calls for 9 sets of 3 reps with 50%-60% load. You can perform the first 3 sets at 50% with 20 sec RI between each of the three sets. If the weight was relatively easy then you may bump the working weight up a bit. This will help with developing work capacity and allow you to manage your training loads to get the most bang for your buck.
Week 1 Example: using varying grips in the bench press
Cluster 1: 3x3 at 50%
Cluster 2: 3x3 at 53%
Cluster 3: 3x3 at 55%
Day 3: Muscle development day
1) Use a variation of the bench press that utilizes disadvantageous leverage. Options include close grip bench, ultra wide grip press, incline press, seated overhead press, and push press.
2) Perform classic sets of 4-6 reps pausing the barbell in the weakest (most likely the bottom position) point for a 3 count.
3) Always leave one or two reps left in the hole and do as many sets until you feel like the 5 or 6 reps is all you can do.
Week 1 Example:
Incline press: 70%x6, 75%x6, 77.5%x6
Not much complication here in terms of methods and drill selection. Keep additional press work to dumbbells or kettle bells for high rep ranges. Make sure to balance out the pressing muscles with an ample amount of pulling exercises for the upper back and shoulders. Options here include chest supported rows with dumbbells, wide grip upright rows, muscle cleans, side and rear lateral raises. Arm work may include elbow extensions.
Check out Muscle Gaining Secrets by Jason Ferruggia for more info.