Like many people who partake in bodybuilding, I adore the bench press. It’s the upper bodies’ most raw, brute-strength lift. While the upper body is certainly the sum of many parts and some upper body parts aren’t really involved in the lift, it’s still the ultimate test of overall upper body strength. Who wouldn’t want to excel at it?
Not only does it feel great to build power into your upper body by benching very heavy weights for low reps (strength training tactics), but, the bench press is an extremely useful exercise for developing overall upper body mass.
The bench press uses the pectorals, anterior deltoids and triceps primarily, but as stabilizer muscles incorporates the lats, biceps, lower back, forearms to grip the bar tightly, the abs to stabilize your midsection, and the neck. With such an array of muscles at work to some degree or other, and the universal law of progressive resistance, you can bet that each of those muscles will grow bigger and bigger as you progress with your poundage.
When people ask me to recommend a bench pressing program to them, they often look quite disappointed at what I recommend. Yes, the bench press is a phenomenal exercise for overall upper body size and strength, you’ve got to realise that not only are the muscles involved going to be stressed a lot and need time to recover, but your central nervous system will also be shocked in a major way and need to recuperate. So, if they were looking for a program which has them benching 3-4-5, even 6-7 times a week they are going to be disappointed.
I don’t believe in any circumstance – whether strength training or training for mass – bench pressing any more than twice a week is conducive. It’s simply too much stress on the muscles and overall central nervous system. 72 hours rest should also be had between each session, and plenty of calories and protein consumed in the meantime.
I’ve talked to many people about their benching routines, and it always seems to be those who are natural lifters advocate one or two day a week benching. For size, reps of 8 – 12, and sets of no more than 5 seem to be common, usually done on a Monday, and that’s it. Others find they can make greater progress by benching on the Friday once they’ve fully recovered – but normally, will go lighter. Remember: just because you’ve had 72 hours full rest, doesn’t mean your muscles or central nervous system is up to the task of lifting more, or equal to what you did earlier in the week.
What about low reps, can they build mass in the bench press?
Of course. Absolutely nothing in bodybuilding is black and white. There is no absolutely defined line. Doing low reps 3 – 5 will build muscle mass – they just tend not to build muscle mass as well as higher reps. And, of course higher reps 8 – 12 will build some degree of explosive strength – just not as well as lower reps with heavier weight.