Training

The Best Programs To Help Novices Increase Their Bench Press

February 13th 2020

When I was first starting to lift weights, I sometimes wondered how much can a beginner increase their bench press each week.

Is it sustainable to do 10lbs?

What about 5lbs?

And for how long?

When discussing lifting goals, one of the goals I most often hear is the desire to increase one’s bench press.

After all, the age-old question, “how much can you bench” has even made its way into our everyday vocabulary.

We usually relate how much one can bench press to their overall strength and fitness level.

If you have a low bench press, you might be seen as weak or as someone who doesn’t lift.

In order to solve this issue, there are bench press specific programs you can follow where the main goal is to increase your bench press.

But keep in mind that for beginners, I recommend that they focus on developing their generalized strength of their entire body.

This is because even if you have a strong bench press, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are stronger or have a healthier body because of all the other muscles that need to be worked.

You must be performing many different types of exercises in order to develop a full physique.

However, if you are dead set on finding one program in order to increase your bench press, here are some of my favorites that I recommend for you:

  • Starting Strength - I ran this program twice when I first started to lift weights; my review about the program can be found here. Here, I detailed how much I increase my bench press as a beginner.

I also included my weight progressions so you know exactly what numbers I was hitting at the time.

How much can a beginner increase their bench press by typically?

All novices have the ability to increase their bench press 15lbs every two weeks. This is because most general beginner programs have lifters alternate bench press and overhead press days, causing you to bench press twice one week and once the next. This trend usually lasts about 6 months if you are bulking up as well.

What makes a bench press program great?

What makes a bench press program great is how well the program works for its targeted audience.

Each program has a different goal, and the goal of the bench press program should be to help you increase your bench press more than any other program.

In order to do this, the program must have a balance of three different factors:

  • Volume
  • Frequency
  • Intensity

We will discuss in more detail what each of these factors entail, but just know that these are the three important factors for beginners to look for in their program to ensure they are getting an adequate training stimulus for improving their bench press.

Intensity

The intensity of a program is defined by how close to your 1 Rep max the program has you training in.

For optimal growth, most programs should have you training at least 70% of your 1 RM.

This provides a sufficient stimulus for growth and for recovery.

If you are using a program with an intensity that is too high, you might not be able to recover well between workouts.

This results in less strength and gains because you are being overtrained, and you don’t have enough energy for the next workout.

On the contrary, if you are on a program with an intensity that is too low, you won’t grow as much because there is not enough of a stimulus to make you work.

With that being said, make sure you are using the appropriate amount of weight for your exercises.

Don’t afraid to increase the weight a bit more than you can handle and to try your best to lift with proper form.

You might be surprised that you may be underestimating yourself.

Volume

The amount of volume a program has is defined by how many sets or exercises are prescribed for the muscle group per week.

So, in the example of the bench press, how many workouts target the chest.

Some programs will have you perform the bench one day for 5 sets, the overhead press another day for 5 sets, and the incline bench press the last day for another 5 sets.

The volume is calculated as 15 weekly sets for your chest or bench press.

But if you look at another program that has you perform bench for 3 sets, incline dumbbell bench for 3 sets, paused bench press for 3 sets, incline dumbbell flies for 3 sets, and overhead press for 3 sets, this program also has 15 weekly sets for your chest or bench press.

There are a lot more exercises, but the total amount of volume is the same.

How much volume is adequate for you depends on your body, but you don’t want to reach a volume that is too high that you cannot recover from, and you don’t want a volume that is too low that you cannot grow.

According to Mike Israetel of Renaissance Periodization, most people should have between 12 to 20 weekly sets on average for optimal chest development.

Frequency

The amount of frequency a program requires is defined as the number of days the program runs in a week.

Some programs can run from 2 days up to 6 days per week.

The amount of frequency a program has is important because frequency ties into volume and intensity.

The more days you go to the gym, the more intensity and volume you can put the muscle under.

However, it is unfeasible for most people to go to the gym 6 times a week.

In order to find the right amount of frequency for you, you should decide how many a days a week you wish to dedicate to the gym.

If you choose a program with 6 day a week frequency but are usually in the gym for 4 or 5 days a week, you will be better off choosing a program with less frequency.

This is because if you are not following your program’s training dates and are skipping workouts, you will have less than optimal results and you might not be able to follow the training intensity correctly.

So, determine how many days in the week you wish to go to the gym, and find a program that suits you.

Don’t just choose a program with the highest frequency but that you’ll never do because you don’t have the time.

Importance of Accounting for Intensity, Volume, and Frequency

What makes a bench press program suitable for beginners is how it takes these 3 factors into account, and how these 3 factors are fit for you.

A great program should be able to manage intensity adequately so that the lifter is not overly or underly fatigued week by week.

In addition, volume and frequency depend on the beginner lifter’s body.

Those who are younger, more fit, or stronger might be able to withstand much more volume and frequency.

While those who are older and not as conditioned may suffer from high-volume, high-frequency workouts.

Is it good to increase your bench press as quickly as possible?

Now that we’ve gone over the main considerations on what you should keep in mind when choosing a bench press program, is it a good idea to try and increase your bench press as fast as possible?

Of course, it sounds great, the idea of being able to bench 225 lbs in your first month of lifting.

However, one important factor that you must keep in mind is the quality of the lift.

If you are struggling with poor form to lift 185 lb and wish to achieve 225 lb as fast as possible, you might be increasing your chance of injury.

The bench press, like all other exercises, requires time to increase.

Your body needs time to develop more muscle cells and motor neuron connections so that you could lift more weight.

There is no way to rush this process.

Most beginner bench press programs involve the lifter to lift a lightweight and slowly increase the weight week by week.

And then, once the lifter reaches a weight that they cannot increase or hit the predetermined around of reps/sets, then they reset and start back up.

With this approach, the lifter takes a long time to increase the weight they lift, but they will eventually be stronger and stronger because they are lifting over a long period of time.

However, if you try and rush hitting a goal weight, it may lead you to make bad decisions that will result in strength in the short term, but not for the long term.

Some examples of this is by cheating and doing less than the prescribed amount of reps (let’s say you were supposed to do 5 reps at x weight, but can only manage 3), and instead of resetting you keep increasing the weight/decreasing the amount of reps.

Ego lifters may experience this when they want to hit a certain milestone.

For instance,  decreasing 5 reps to 3 reps just so they could hit a 225 lbs bench press.

However, looking back, doing 225 lbs for 3 did not make them any stronger or gain any more muscle.

In fact, it may have resulted in slower gains in the long run because there were not enough weekly reps for their body to adapt.

So, is it good to increase your bench press over a short amount of time? 

Yes. 

If that is your goal, but make sure that the quality of your reps remains in high-quality and that you are not cheating in order to reach higher weights.

Wrapping it up

Beginners have the ability to increase their bench press each session.

This is normal and no novice should feel guilty about taking advantage of this short window.

However, once things start to get harder and plateaus are created, beginners will need to learn and test more strategies in order to progress.

Typically, it is common for lifters to gain 50-100lbs on their bench press during this time.

Because I gained about 50lbs on my bench press from running starting strength.

However, I was not bulking to an addictive level but there have been lifters that increase over 100lbs on their bench press.

So, start training and look forward to a lot of progress.

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