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Discover 9 Proven Routines to Finally Achieve a 225 Bench Press (And More!)

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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Looking for the perfect bench press routine for you? 

Today I’ll guide you through designing a personalized program, tailored to your goals and body needs. Discover how to avoid common mistakes, implement effective accessory exercises, and optimize rest for maximum gains.

Bench Press Routine
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Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter, I can almost guarantee you’ll find tips and strategies to elevate your game (and the bar ;).

Bench Press Fundamentals

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Anatomy of the Bench Press

The bench press is a fundamental exercise that targets multiple muscle groups, primarily your chest, triceps, and shoulders.

It involves the pectoralis major and minor, anterior deltoid, and the triceps brachii.

Other muscles, like the latissimus dorsi and the serratus anterior, also play a role in stabilizing your back and shoulders during the lift.

Bench Press Technique

Let’s quickly review the bench press technique before we design your perfect routine. Follow these steps:

  1. Position your body: Lie down on the bench, with your eyes directly below the barbell. Keep your feet flat on the ground for stability and engage your glutes and core.
  2. Grip the bar: Place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with palms facing outward. The width can vary based on personal preference, but ensure that your forearms remain vertically aligned when lowering the bar.
  3. Unrack the bar: Lift the bar off the rack and position it directly above your chest, with your arms fully extended.
  4. Lower the bar: Slowly lower the bar towards your chest, while maintaining control. Keep your elbows slightly tucked in to avoid shoulder strain.
  5. Press the bar: Push the bar back up to the starting position, using your chest, triceps, and shoulders. Ensure your hips, glutes, and back remain in contact with the bench throughout the movement.

Designing Your Bench Press Program

Setting Bench Press Goals

Before designing your bench press program, it’s crucial to set specific goals. These can be based on increasing strength, muscle mass, or improving technique. Determine your target weight or performance level and set a time frame to achieve those goals.

Program Variables

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Your bench press program should consider important variables such as volume, intensity, and frequency. Balancing these factors is key to effective progression. Here’s a brief overview of each variable:

  • Volume: Refers to the total amount of work you perform, calculated by multiplying the number of sets, repetitions, and weight lifted for each exercise.
  • Intensity: Reflects the weight or resistance you use during the bench press, typically expressed as a percentage of your one rep maximum (1RM).
  • Frequency: Denotes how often you perform the bench press each week. A common recommendation is 2-3 times per week, but this may vary based on your goals, recovery, and other factors.

Consider using a table or list to plan and track your progress. For example:

WeekVolumeIntensityFrequency
13×575% 1RM3
23×677% 1RM3

Progression and Periodization

While designing your bench press program, it’s essential to implement a progression plan to continuously challenge and adapt your muscles. Periodization involves strategically varying the program variables over time to optimize performance and prevent plateaus.

There are several periodization models to choose from, such as linear, undulating, or block periodization.

  • Linear periodization involves gradually increasing the intensity while decreasing volume over time.
  • Undulating periodization alternates between high and low intensities throughout the program.
  • Finally, block periodization focuses on specific performance goals in separate training periods, with each block emphasizing a different aspect, like strength, hypertrophy, or endurance.

An Overview of Common Bench Press Routines

1- The Classic 5×5 Workout

First up, the 5×5 workout, a favorite for its simplicity and effectiveness. This routine involves performing five sets of five repetitions of the bench press. The key here is consistency and progressive overload, incrementally increasing the weight as you grow stronger. 

2- The Pyramid Set Approach

This method includes varying the repetitions and weights in a pyramid-like structure – increasing the weight and decreasing reps with each set, then reversing the pattern. For instance, you might start with a set of ten reps at a lighter weight, then move to eight reps at a heavier weight, and so on. This routine tests your endurance and strength, pushing you to your limits with each ascending and descending set.

Example:

  • Set 1:12–15 reps with 50– 65% of 1RM.
  • Set 2: 8–10 reps with 60–75% of 1RM.
  • Set 3: 6–8 reps with 70–85% of 1RM.
  • Set 4: 4–6 reps with 75–90% of 1RM.
  • Set 5: 4–6 reps with 75–90% of 1RM.
  • Set 6: 6–8 reps with 70–85% of 1RM.
  • Set 7: 8–10 reps with 60–75% of 1RM.
  • Set 8: 12–15 reps with 50–65% of 1RM.

3- The Drop Set Drill

The drop set drill takes intensity to another level. After reaching muscle failure at a particular weight, you immediately reduce the weight and continue lifting. It’s a grind, but it’s incredibly effective for muscle endurance and hypertrophy.

Example:

  • Set 1: Perform 8-10 reps, 0sec rest
  • Set 2: Drop weight by 10-30% and repeat for max reps, 0sec rest
  • Set 3: Drop weight by 10-30% and repeat for max reps, 2min rest

4- Block Periodization

Block Periodization is a training method that divides the training program into distinct blocks or phases, each with a specific focus. This approach is highly systematic, with each phase building upon the previous one. For bench pressing, a block periodization program might start with a hypertrophy phase (higher reps, moderate weight), progress to a strength phase (moderate reps, heavier weight), and culminate in a power phase (lower reps, maximal weight). This method is effective for overcoming plateaus and continually progressing in strength and skill.

Example:

WeekBlock TypeBench Press Sets & RepsIntensity/WeightNotes
1-3Hypertrophy3-4 sets of 8-12 repsModerateFocus on muscle endurance and growth.
4-6Strength5 sets of 5 repsHeavyIncrease weight to build raw strength.
7-9Power6 sets of 3 repsVery HeavyMaximize weight for explosive power.
10Deload3 sets of 5 repsLightReduce intensity for recovery.

Hypertrophy Block (Weeks 1-3):

  • Sets and Reps: Typically 3-4 sets of 8-12 reps.
  • Intensity: Moderate weights that are challenging but manageable for higher reps.
  • Goal: To increase muscle size and endurance.

Strength Block (Weeks 4-6):

  • Sets and Reps: Increase to 5 sets of 5 reps.
  • Intensity: Heavier weights, focusing on building raw strength.
  • Goal: To increase the overall strength capacity of the muscles.

Power Block (Weeks 7-9):

  • Sets and Reps: Shift to 6 sets of 3 reps.
  • Intensity: Very heavy weights, focusing on explosive lifting.
  • Goal: To develop power and speed in the bench press movement.

Deload Week (Week 10):

  • Sets and Reps: Reduce volume to 3 sets of 5 reps.
  • Intensity: Lighter weights for recovery.
  • Goal: To allow the body to recover and prepare for the next cycle.

5- 5/3/1 Method

Designed by Jim Wendler, the 5/3/1 program is a popular strength-building routine that focuses on slow, steady progress. It’s based on four primary lifts, including the bench press, and employs a four-week cycle. Each week tackles a different rep and weight scheme: the first week involves 3 sets of 5 reps, the second 3 sets of 3 reps, the third a set of 5, a set of 3, and a set of 1 rep, and the fourth week is a deload phase. 

Example:

WeekFocusBench Press Sets & RepsPercentage of 1RM*Notes
1Volume5 reps @ 65%, 5 reps @ 75%, 5+ reps @ 85%Incrementally increasingAim for more than 5 reps in the final set.
2Progression3 reps @ 70%, 3 reps @ 80%, 3+ reps @ 90%Incrementally increasingAim for more than 3 reps in the final set.
3Intensity5 reps @ 75%, 3 reps @ 85%, 1+ reps @ 95%Peak intensityAim for more than 1 rep in the final set.
4Deload/Recovery5 reps @ 40%, 5 reps @ 50%, 5 reps @ 60%Substantially lowerFocus on recovery and form.

*1RM stands for One-Rep Max, the maximum weight you can lift for one repetition.

Key Points:

  • Progressive Overload: The percentages are based on your current one-rep max (1RM) and should be recalculated each cycle.
  • ‘+’ in Sets/Reps: This indicates that the last set is performed as an ‘as many reps as possible’ (AMRAP) set, where you aim to do more reps than the prescribed number while maintaining good form.
  • Deload Week: The fourth week is a lighter week, intended for recovery and preparing the body for the next cycle. It’s crucial for long-term progress and injury prevention.
  • Incremental Progression: After completing a 4-week cycle, slightly increase your 1RM estimation for the bench press and recalculate the weights for the next cycle.

6- Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP)

Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) is a method that involves varying the intensity and volume of your workouts throughout the week. Instead of following a traditional linear progression, you’ll be changing the reps and sets scheme for each training session to avoid plateaus and stimulate different muscle adaptations.

A typical DUP program for bench press might look like this:

  • Monday: 4 sets of 4 reps at 85% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 3 sets of 8 reps at 75% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets of 2 reps at 90% of 1RM

By incorporating DUP, you can focus on different aspects of your bench press performance, such as strength, hypertrophy, and power. Programs like the Texas Method and Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 use variations of DUP to help lifters improve their bench press numbers.

7- Wave Loading and Cluster Sets

Another advanced programming strategy is wave loading with cluster sets. Wave loading involves using increasing and decreasing intensities throughout your sets, while cluster sets involve breaking your sets into smaller groups of repetitions with brief rest periods in between. This allows you to handle heavier loads and improve your performance in terms of both strength and power.

Here’s an example of how wave loading and cluster sets might look in a bench press program:

  • Set 1: 3 reps at 75% of 1RM, rest 20 seconds
  • Set 2: 3 reps at 80% of 1RM, rest 20 seconds
  • Set 3: 3 reps at 85% of 1RM, rest 3 minutes
  • Set 4: 3 reps at 75% of 1RM, rest 20 seconds
  • Set 5: 3 reps at 80% of 1RM, rest 20 seconds
  • Set 6: 3 reps at 85% of 1RM

By incorporating wave loading and cluster sets into your bench press programming, you can effectively manage fatigue, lift heavier loads, and optimize your performance across multiple rep ranges.

8- Westside Barbell Method

The Westside Barbell Method, crafted by powerlifting guru Louie Simmons, deserves a special mention. It’s not a singular routine but a comprehensive system involving maximal effort days and dynamic effort days. This method focuses on lifting heavy weights (near one-rep max) for a few reps on maximal days and lighter weights at high speed on dynamic days.

9- Starting Strength

Starting Strength is a highly regarded strength training program designed by Mark Rippetoe. It’s focused on beginner lifters and emphasizes compound movements to build a solid foundation of strength. In the context of the bench press, Starting Strength advocates a low-volume, high-intensity approach. Lifters typically perform three sets of five reps, prioritizing gradual weight increments to steadily increase strength. 

Tracking Progress and Adjustments

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Measuring Strength Gains

Tracking your progress is crucial to ensure consistent progress and to make adjustments to your bench routine. One way to measure your strength gains is to keep a workout journal where you can note down your performed sets, reps, and weight for each session. This helps you monitor your progress and easily identify improvements in your strength over time.

When tracking your workouts, pay attention to your personal bests. These are the heaviest loads you have lifted for a specific number of repetitions. Consistently aiming to improve your personal bests is a great way to ensure progress on your bench routine.

Remember to also focus on the quality of your form and technique, as this can play a significant role in your overall strength gains. Proper form ensures that you are targeting the intended muscles and reducing the risk of injury.

When to Increase Load

As you start to see consistent progress in your bench routine, it’s time to consider increasing the load. A good rule of thumb is to increase the weight when you can perform all your planned sets and reps with good form. This indicates that your muscles have adapted to the current load, and it is time to challenge them with a heavier weight.

For example, if your bench routine includes 3 sets of 8 repetitions at 225 pounds and you can complete all repetitions with good form, you can consider increasing the load by 5-10 pounds for your next workout.

It’s important to increase the load gradually, allowing your muscles to adapt to the new stimulus. Avoid making drastic jumps in weight, which can increase the risk of injury and hinder your progress.

Bench Press Alternatives

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In your pursuit of a more versatile bench routine, it’s crucial to consider different exercise alternatives to the traditional bench press. These variations can help target different muscle groups, reduce the risk of injuries, and add an element of variety to keep your workouts engaging. Here are some bench press alternatives that you can incorporate into your training

  1. Incline Bench Press: By adjusting the bench to an incline, this variation focuses more on your upper pectoral muscles and shoulders. To perform the incline bench press, simply set the bench to an angle of 30-45 degrees and follow the same motion as the standard bench press. It’s essential to maintain proper form to avoid shoulder strain. The Bench Press Exercise
  2. Close-Grip Bench Press: Emphasizing your triceps, the close-grip bench press is a great alternative for strengthening your arms. For this variation, hold the barbell with a narrow grip, no more than shoulder-width apart. Keep your elbows tucked close to your body as you lower the bar and push it up. Be sure to avoid flaring your elbows outward to prevent additional strain on your wrists and shoulders.
  3. Dumbbell Bench Press: Incorporating the use of dumbbells allows for a greater range of motion and helps improve your muscle balance. To perform the dumbbell bench press, hold a dumbbell in each hand and start with your arms extended upward, palms facing each other. Slowly lower the dumbbells to your chest, keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle, then press them back up.
  4. Floor Press: The floor press can be executed with either a barbell or dumbbells and primarily targets your triceps and chest muscles. To perform this alternative, lie flat on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Press the weight up toward the ceiling and pause at the top, then slowly lower it back down. This exercise minimizes the involvement of your legs and lower back, allowing for a more focused upper body workout.
  5. Weighted Dip: Weighted dips work your chest, triceps, and shoulders, giving you an excellent compound exercise. To perform weighted dips, find parallel bars and secure a weight to a dip belt, then wrap it around your waist. With your hands on the bars, lower your body by bending your elbows until they reach a 90-degree angle. Push back up to the starting position and repeat.

Breaking Through Plateaus

Adjusting Training Intensity

To break through plateaus in your bench press routine, it’s crucial to adjust your training intensity. Training intensity refers to the amount of effort and workload you put into your workouts. By periodically changing the intensity, you can stimulate new muscle growth and improve strength. Here are some ways to alter your training intensity:

  • Increase weight: Gradually increase the weight you’re lifting during your bench press sessions while maintaining proper form. This progressive overload will challenge your muscles and drive progress.
  • Alter rep and set schemes: Manipulate the number of sets and repetitions in your bench press program. For example, switch from a 5×5 (five sets of five reps) to a 4×8 (four sets of eight reps) scheme to introduce new stimulus to your muscles.
  • Incorporate variations: Introduce different bench press variations such as incline or decline bench presses, dumbbell presses, or close-grip bench presses. These variations help target different muscle groups and aid in beating plateaus.

Strategic Deloading

Another effective strategy to break through plateaus is incorporating strategic deloading in your bench press programs. Deloading is a planned reduction in training volume, which allows your muscles and central nervous system to recover fully. Recovery is essential for achieving strength and performance improvements. Here are some suggestions for implementing deloading in your program:

  • Planned deload weeks: Include a deload week every 4-6 weeks in your bench press program. During this week, reduce the training volume by 40-50% of your typical workload and focus on proper technique and recovery.
  • Autoregulation: Listen to your body and apply deload periods when you feel fatigued or if your performance starts to decline. Autoregulating your deloading can prevent overtraining and injuries while ensuring you continue making progress.

In summary, adjusting your training intensity and incorporating strategic deloading in your bench press program will help you break through plateaus. By doing so, you’ll be able to overcome stagnation, achieve continued progress, and reach your bench press goals.

Optimizing Rest and Recovery

Active Recovery Techniques

Incorporating active recovery into your bench press program is essential for optimizing muscle gains and overall performance. Active recovery involves low-intensity exercises that help promote blood flow, reduce soreness, and maintain mobility while allowing your muscles to repair and grow.

Here are some active recovery techniques to include in your routine:

  • Low-Intensity Cardio: Light aerobic activities like walking, cycling, or swimming can help increase blood circulation and speed up muscle recovery. Aim for 20-30 minutes of low-intensity cardio on your rest days.
  • Dynamic Stretching: Incorporating dynamic stretching before and after your bench press sessions boosts flexibility, mobility, and blood flow to your muscles. Examples of dynamic stretches include arm swings, leg swings, and trunk rotations.
  • Foam Rolling: This form of self-myofascial release helps alleviate muscle tightness and soreness. Using a foam roller after your bench press workout can reduce inflammation and promote faster recovery.

It is crucial to also consider the length of rest intervals between sets during your bench press workouts. A study on rest interval length found the optimal rest period varies depending on the intensity and volume of your training. Heavier loads may require longer rest periods, while lighter loads typically need shorter intervals.

To effectively optimize rest and recovery in your bench press program, consider these points:

  1. Listen to your body: Pay attention to signs of fatigue and overtraining, such as persistent soreness, decreased performance, or poor sleep quality. Adjust your training intensity and volume accordingly to allow for adequate recovery.
  2. Plan for proper recovery: Incorporate recovery-related activities, such as active recovery techniques, into your training schedule. This can help prevent injuries and promote long-term progress in your bench press performance.
  3. Stay consistent: Consistency in your training program, including proper rest and recovery, will ultimately lead to improved strength, muscle gains, and overall performance in the bench press. Ensure that you are giving your muscles enough time to repair and grow by staying committed to a well-balanced routine.

Parting Thoughts

Choose and experiment with the routines, then when you find one that suits you, stick at it for a few months. I guarantee you’ll see results.

As of December 2023, my 1RM Bench Press is at 255lbs, and still going strong!

About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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