The Ultimate 16 Week Bench Press Workout Program

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I’ve never been a gifted bench presser. In fact, a failed bench press set nearly drove me to quit lifting after just one workout.

Pull up a chair and let me tell you a story.

It was 1986 and I was a skinny-fat college freshman with access to my first real gym. Eager to pack on some upper body size I made my way over to the bench press station. Shocker, eh?

After a few warmup sets using only the bar, I decided to try my first working set with 95 pounds. After all, those tiny 25 pound plates looked harmless and manageable.

I visualized an easy 10 rep set, followed up by a Herculean effort using the big boys: 45 pound plates. Well guess what? I never made it to the 45 pound plates. In fact, I barely made if off the bench press station alive that day.

My first 2 reps with 95 pounds were easy. Rep 3 was a grinder, and rep 4 was a complete failure.

So there I lay, stapled to the bench and flailing for my life. Now here’s the good news AND the bad news. The good news? The gym was empty, so I escaped severe embarrassment. The bad news? The gym was empty, and with the bar stapled to my chest I was going to die.

Well I didn’t actually die, but I decided that I never wanted to return to the gym again. At least that’s how I felt until the next day.

My bench press failure actually set my future into motion; an unexpected future at that. I returned to the gym the following morning, eager to make progress. I knew that if I could improve my bench press by one rep at a time that sooner or later it would no longer suck.

I was right.

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Fast forward 10 years later. I hit a 430 pound bench press at a body weight of 275.

I’ve learned a lot about improving the bench press over the years. While there are many ways to build a beefier bench, I think the following program is a rock solid choice. It’s perfect for the lifter stuck between a 185 to 275 pound bench press.

Unlike most bench press plans, my program has 2 blocks: a hypertrophy (muscle building) stage and a peaking stage. Here’s how it shakes out:

  • Stage A – 8 week hypertrophy block. You will focus building mass during this time, while also pushing for progression of weight.
  • Stage B – 8 week peaking block. There will be a transitioning from volume to lower rep sets and heavier weight.

You will also have a testing week following this program.

Eating for a Big Bench Press

Before we get started, let’s talk food. Eat more. No exceptions. When it comes to increasing your bench press, food is PR fuel.

One of the best ways to build up your bench press max is to eat more. If you are going to follow this program while eating some paltry combination of chicken breasts, broccoli stalks and egg whites…good luck. Your results will be non-existent.

Remember why you came to this article. Your bench press either sucks, or it is stalled.

If you are under the age of 35 I want you to set the following daily minimums:

  • 3,500 calories
  • 200 grams of protein

If you are over the age of 35, aim for the following minimums:

  • 3,000 calories
  • 180 grams of protein

If you haven’t gained 5 pounds over the course of this 16 week cycle, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t complain if your gains are sub-par.

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Related: Finding the Perfect Post-Workout Carb to Protein Ratio

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16 Weeks to a Huge Bench Press Program

Stage A is a priming stage. While you will be pushing for progression, it will not be with super-heavy weight and low rep sets.

The focus during this 8 week block is on training volume and building muscle. Strap on the feed bag (eat more) and get in your rest. You will be building muscle mass and putting in some hard work.

During Stage B you will drop the set volume some and increase intensity, or weight relative to your one rep max. This will allow you to maintain muscle mass, improve recovery, reduce existing fatigue and provide an environment for bench press strength gains to shine.

Stage A – Weeks 1 to 8

Here is a sample Stage A training schedule:

  • Day 1 – Upper Body A
  • Day 2 – Lower Body A
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Upper Body B
  • Day 5 – Lower Body B
  • Day 6 – Off
  • Day 7 – Off
Upper Body a
Stage A
Exercise Sets Reps
Bench Press  5  10
Dumbbell Rows  4  10
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press  3  10
Close Grip Bench Press and Push Ups Superset  3  10
Standing Dumbbell Curls  3  10
Upper Body B
Stage A
Exercise Sets Reps
Alternating Single Arm Dumbbell Bench Press  5  10
Pull Ups or Inverted Rows  4  AMAP
Seated Behind the Neck Press  3  10
Lying Triceps Extensions and Diamond Push Ups Superset  3  10
EZ Bar Curl 21s  3  10
Lower Body a
Stage A
Exercise Sets Reps
Squats  4  8
Low Rack Pull and Power Shrug Combo  3  8
Dumbbell Stiff Leg Deadlift  3  10
Seated Calf Raise  3  12
Ab Wheel Roll Outs  3  10-15
Lower Body B
Stage A
Exercise Sets Reps
Deadlifts  3  6
Leg Press  4  12
Leg Curls  3  12
Standing Calf Machine  3  12
Plank  3  60-120 seconds

Stage A Notes

  • Use the same weight for each set of a given exercise. When you hit the target number of reps for each set, add 5 pounds to the bar.
  • Use straps on dumbbell rows, dumbbell stiff leg deadlifts and power shrugs. Don’t let your grip strength hinder your back strength development.
  • The starting point for rack pulls should be right below the knee.
  • If inverted rows or pull ups are too easy, add a weighted vest, weighted back pack or weighted belt.

Dumbbell Bench Press

Stage B – Weeks 9 to 16

Here is a sample Stage B training schedule:

  • Day 1 – Heavy Bench
  • Day 2 – Lower Body A
  • Day 3 – Off
  • Day 4 – Bench Assistance
  • Day 5 – Lower Body B
  • Day 6 – Off
  • Day 7 – Off

Note: Perform the lower body workouts from Stage A.

Heavy Bench
Stage B
Exercise Sets Reps
Heavy Bench Protocol (See below)  5  1, 2, 3, 4, MAX
Bench Press 10% Drop Set  2  AMAP
Dumbbell Rows  2  10
Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press  2  10
Cable Triceps Extensions  2  12
Standing Dumbbell Curls  2  10
Bench Assistance
Stage B
Exercise Sets Reps
Close Grip Bench Press  3  10
Dumbbell Bench Press  3  10
Pull Ups or Inverted Rows  3  AMAP
Seated Behind the Neck Press  2  10
Lying Triceps Extensions  2  12
EZ Bar Curls  2  12

Stage B Notes

Here is how to perform your heavy bench day protocol:

  • Start with a weight that is 80% of your old one rep max. This would be your max at the start of Stage A.
  • Perform 5 sets with this weight, using the following rep scheme: 1, 2, 3, 4, MAX.
  • On the 5th set perform as many reps as possible.

If you go above 5 reps on your MAX set, add the following weight on your next heavy day:

  • 5 reps = Add no weight
  • 6 reps = Add 5 pounds
  • 7 reps = Add 10 pounds
  • 8+ reps = Add 15 pounds

If you are unable to reach 5 reps on your last set, drop the weight by 10 pounds the following week.

Don’t get frustrated if you run into a few stall weeks. Keep pushing. Just because you aren’t adding weight each week doesn’t mean you aren’t building strength. Let the true test of the program be your new one rep max that you will achieve during week 17.

More notes:

  • For your 10% drop sets, drop your heavy weight by 10% and perform 2 sets for as many reps as possible.

Testing For a New Bench Press Max – Week 17

After week 16 take an addition 2 days off. You will have had 3 days away from benching at the end of week 16. Rest another 2 complete days.

After 5 complete days away from pressing movements, it is now time to test for a new bench press one rep max. I recommend the following warmup and testing protocol.

  • Bar x 10 reps
  • 95 pounds x 5 reps
  • 135 pounds x 3 reps
  • 160 x 1 rep
  • 185 x 1 rep

Keep ramping up in 20-25 pound increments until you are close to your old one rep max. At this point attempt a new personal record. If this was a grinder, shut it down for the day. On the other hand, if this new max felt rather manageable, take another one or two attempts.

You have nothing to lose. Go for it.

If you run this program, please let me know your before and after results in the comments section below.

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Name: Steve Shaw

Bio: I don’t believe in magic training systems or rep ranges. My philosophy is simple: remain consistent, use the best possible exercises, focus upon progression and enter the gym looking to maximize each set. When you maximize each set, you maximize progress. Easy, obvious, insanely effective.