man lifting heavy in the bench press

The best bench press program for strength

The bench press is arguably one of the most popular exercises. Virtually everyone who works out in the fitness center knows what bench press is. The bench press is at the same time the yardstick for strength among ordinary center-goers.

What is the program about?

High reps are not the way forward in this program. If you are used to doing sets of 8-10 reps, you may well prepare for a significant change. For when you train for strength, you will typically focus on sets of 1-5 reps.

This is necessary due to the way the neuromuscular system is structured. The nervous system and muscles consist of small functional units called motor units. A motor unit consists of a group of muscle fibers and the neural elements that control the individual fibers.

The different motor units do not consist of the same types of muscle fibers. There are high-threshold motor units and low-threshold motor units. Large quantities of type II fibers (those fibers with the greatest growth potential and the greatest power development potential) are found in high-threshold motor units.

These motor units are activated only at much higher loads, or at sub-maximum loads which are explosively lifted. These are the ones we are interested in getting to grips with. This is a very superficial explanation, but I do not want to burden the reader with an in-depth explanation of the structure and functioning of neuromuscular systems.

The above should give a picture of why it is important to use low reps.

Lift explosively

Another thing to be aware of is the export speed. Most people lie on benches at a speed that would make a snail appear fast. This is not how you become strong. If you want to be strong, then you have to learn to lift explosively. This provides by far the best neuromuscular activation, and thus also the best strength yield.

The speed of the movement will, of course, be very different, depending on whether we are training with extremely heavy weights or whether we are training with sub-maximum weights.

But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that we push through with full force.

However, it should be pointed out that explosive export has nothing to do with bad shape.

Do not knock the bar against the chest, throw the bar, lift it crooked or what do I know. The bar is lowered relatively quickly but under 100% control. When the bar reaches the chest, you turn the movement WITHOUT knocking it against the chest. Then it is explosively and powerfully pressed for lockout.

If you can’t help but knock it against your chest, then I would recommend exercising with protection on the chest, as strength lifters do it in competition. This also helps to build a good bottom strength, which many beginners lack.

There are heavy lifting and explosive days

In the program, we also distinguish between heavy lifting days when we drive with relatively heavy weights and explosive days when we drive with relatively light weights. It should not be understood that on a heavy day we lift slowly.

We always try to knock through well, but because of the weight, the movement will not look so explosive. On an explosive day, we train with relatively light weights but at maximum speed. On this day, the weight will move significantly faster than on a heavy day due to the size of the weight.

Benefits of lifting explosively

There are several benefits to the explosive day.

First, the size of the weight allows us to work on our technique.

Second, sub-maximal explosive training builds a good rate of force development (RFD). RFD describes our ability to develop power quickly. This ability has a direct transfer to the heavy day and the 2 methods complement each other quite well. In addition, the explosive day acts as an active refund as it does not burden the restitution resources in the same way as the heavy day does.

Last but not least, you must be aware that you will be exercising a completely different type of program than you are used to.

Those who are used to split programs are subject to great upheaval. Because in this program you get to train 3 times a week and you workbench press every time.

Good rest is as important as training

Firstly, this is because rest days are important if you want to be strong. It doesn’t matter that you work out 7 days a week if you want to be stronger.

This may be possible for elite weightlifters and strength lifters, but they have had 15-20 years to build up to this level, and we do not have time for that. In addition, most people also have other important things in their lives that waste resources.

People who go to work 8 hours every day do not have an abundance of restorative resources to do with. That is why we emphasize quality rather than quantity.

Why training 3 times per week?

This is because strength is largely a neural quality. Most people see the logic of getting better at hitting the basket in basketball, the more you practice. This is exactly the same case. The more frequently we practice bench press, the more pronounced the strength yield becomes.

Compared to the basketball example, however, here is a natural limit to how often we can practice. It doesn’t take much effort to throw a basketball, but it does take a lot of effort to work out bench press. However, it does not cost nearly as much as people would like to.

Those who claim that they can only workbench press heavy once a week do something totally wrong. Typically, they train for failure too often, and abuse forced reps.

The individual phases and progression cycles

The program consists of 4 stages.

The first phase can be avoided if you are used to benching with a relatively large volume of min. 2 times a week. If you are only used to benching heavy once a week and do not exercise at a very high volume, then I would recommend that you include phase 1.

The same applies if you feel that your shape curve is at the bottom, then Phase 1 will act as active recovery and you will be much better prepared for Phase 2.

Phase 1: workload/frequency utilization

The purpose of Phase 1 is to hit the bench 3 times a week with a relatively large workload. If you are only used to benching every 5-7 days, it is a VERY good idea to include phase 1. But as mentioned, it is not strictly necessary as it does not help build great strength.

The purpose is only to turn the body to work much more frequently than it is used to. Therefore, we will also exercise with relatively light weights. The volume will increase gradually so that we do not have to turn to both increased frequency and volume at once.

If you are not used to explosive export, then phase 1 is also an excellent time to start experimenting with it. However, phase 1 is not definitely intended for explosive training, but when phase 2 starts, it must be controlled. And this is especially true in phase 3.

If you already have a lot of accumulated fatigue in the body from your previous program, before you start the program, you can expect the program’s efficiency to drop drastically. Then follow Phase 1, or take a week off from training before booting.

In addition, it is important to know what is your 1-rep max test (1RM) to base your training weights on. It is of no use that you think you can take so and so much. You must have tested your max within the last 4 weeks, and then use it as a basis for the intensity of the program.

woman performing the bench press

Phase 1 looks like this

Week 1

  • Monday: 2 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 3 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Friday: 4 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM

Week 2

  • Monday: 3 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 4 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 5 reps with 70% of 1RM

The rest time between the sets in phase 1 should be relatively short. If you want optimal power development in each set, then you should spend at least 3-5 minutes between sets when training for strength.

At this break interval, optimal recovery of the nerve pathways is achieved and an optimal regeneration of the ATP reserves. But in Phase 1, we are only interested in 3 things, namely workload/frequency application, upgrading of one’s work capacity and improvement of the technique in the exercise itself (including the ability to lift explosively).

Phase 2: foundation training

In Phase 2, our task is to build a solid strength and mass foundation that we can draw on in Phase 3. We, therefore, primarily make sets of 3-5 reps and keep the set volume relatively high. Our intensity increases throughout the period and we are therefore gradually turning our bodies to heavier and heavier weights.

Although we build a good amount of strength in phase 2, phase 3 is the big strength booster. But we would not get nearly as much out of it if we had not first built a solid foundation. And this is what we would like to achieve with phase 2.

The rest time between the sets in this phase must now be kept for the 3-5 minutes I talked about in the instructions for phase 1. This is very important, as we thus get the maximum benefit from each set. We must also now pay attention to lifting as explosively as the weight allows. However, always in controlled and good shape.

Week 1

  • Monday: 5 sets x 3 reps with 72.5% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 4 reps with 72.5% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 5 reps with 72.5% of 1RM

Week 2

  • Monday: 5 sets x 3 reps with 75% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 4 reps with 75% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 5 reps with 75% of 1RM

Week 3

  • Monday: 5 sets x 3 reps with 77.5% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 4 reps with 77.5% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 5 reps with 77.5% of 1RM

Week 4

  • Monday: 5 sets x 3 reps with 80% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 4 reps with 80% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets of x 5 reps with 80% of 1RM

At the end of the foundation phase, we reach an intensity of 80% of 1RM. This means that we must now start with the very heavyweights.

Phase 3: peaking of absolute strength

In phase 3, as we said, we must get started on heavy training. Heavy exercise taps the body for resources, and when weights get really heavy, it can help slow us down a bit. We, therefore, switch between heavy days and dynamic days with light weights.

By dynamic days is meant days where we train with relatively light weights, but where we try to lift as explosively as possible. This helps to maintain our speed, which is important in max lifting, and at the same time, it acts as active recovery, in that we do not lift max weights every time.

On the heavy days, we do 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps, while on a dynamic day we do 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% throughout the phase. Phase 3 looks like this.

Week 1

  • Monday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 85% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Friday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 87.5% of 1RM

Week 2

  • Monday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 90% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM

Week 3

  • Monday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 92.5% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Friday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 95% of 1RM

Week 4

  • Monday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 97.5% of 1RM
  • Friday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM

Week 5

  • Monday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 100% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 5 sets x 2 reps with 70% off 1RM
  • Friday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 102.5% off 1RM

Week 6

  • Monday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 70% off 1RM
  • Wednesday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 105% of 1RM
  • Friday: 2 sets x 2 reps with 70% of 1RM

If at the end of phase 3 you are so unlucky that you cannot complete a set, for example by week 6, if Wednesday can only take 2 reps in the first set, and then only one in the next set, then it is important to stay away from forced reps.

It’s okay to push yourself to failure when you’re at the end of a heavy cycle, but there’s no need to drain yourself with forced reps. You should not waste your energy on something you cannot take yourself anyway.

Phase 4: Deload/Super Compensation

After phase 3, we should be well-rested and it is now essential that the body is allowed to recover before we test our max again. Not only to allow the possibly accumulated fatigue to disappear, but also to allow the body to super compensate.

When you give the body some rest, you get a greater strength boost. Therefore, we now easily train in 4 workouts and take a workout free before we max in the sixth. Phase 4 thus looks.

Week 1

  • Monday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 85% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 80% of 1RM
  • Friday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 75% of 1RM

Week 2

  • Monday: 3 sets x 3 reps with 70% of 1RM
  • Wednesday: off
  • Friday: new max (about 110% of 1RM)

The last Friday when we test new max, you should be able to take 110% of its old max. For example, if your old max was 150 kg, then it gives an increase of 15 kg in 15 weeks, which is quite good progress.

If you start, and if your max is lower, you will be able to increase your max even more. For example, a maximum of 80 kg, then you can easily increase its maximum to about 90-95 kg in the above program, which gives a percentage increase of up to 20%.

A 20% performance increase is extremely high in 15 weeks. So, while someone may think that 15 weeks is a long time, it also, in turn, gives a marked increase. How much progress is made depends on many factors, such as nuisance, nutrition, rest, sleep, mental approach to exercise, will, and so on. But I can promise that everyone who tries the program will achieve a greater or lesser increase in their bench press.

Of course, the above describes only what we need to run of sets/reps and weights each week in the various stages. We will now discuss the program structure itself.

a man in the barbell press bench

The program itself

As I said, the program is somewhat different from a regular bodybuilding program.

We get to train 3 times a week, and we bench as I say every time. The purpose of the remaining part of the training is to do exercises that help the bench press. These are called auxiliary exercises. In addition, in each workout we will do 1 exercise for each muscle group, so we still have the opportunity to increase the total body mass and strength.

Overall, it will look like a good old-fashioned full-body program.

The auxiliary exercises will cover the muscle groups relevant to the bench press. And here we are talking about the shoulder muscles, which play an active role, the triceps muscles, which also play an active role, and last but not least, the back muscles, which play a stabilizing role and which contribute to a good press foundation. The remaining muscle groups, namely biceps, and legs, will be trained but have no major impact on the bench press as such.

The program throughout all four stages thus looks like this

Monday / Wednesday / Friday

  • Bench press: follow the cycle of the phase you are working with
  • 1 breast-help exercise
  • 1 shoulder-help exercise
  • 1 Triceps help exercise
  • 2 Back auxiliary exercises
  • 1 legs exercise
  • 1 Biceps exercise

It will not be the same exercises you do from phase to phase. But we will get to that in a little while. The reason for doing 2 auxiliary exercises for the back is that the back is a very important press foundation, and also, that there has to be a balance between the volume that exposes the front and back of the body.

We will now look at auxiliary exercises for each phase

Auxiliary exercises for Phase 1

In Phase 1, the purpose of the auxiliary exercises is not to increase neither mass nor strength significantly. Again, your primary purpose is to increase your workload tolerance, and slowly turn to greater workload and frequency. Therefore, we will perform 2 sets of x 15 reps in each exercise.

The exercises are as follows.

Monday / Wednesday / Friday

  • Bench Press: Follow the cycle to Phase 1
  • Dumbell Bench Press on Flat Bench (with a break at the bottom) 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Military presses 2 sets x 15 reps
  • French press 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Barbell rows 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Pulldowns 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Squat 2 sets x 15 reps
  • Barbell curls 2 sets x 15 reps

The weights In the exercises of 2 sets x 15 reps should be heavy enough that it is hard to make 2 sets x 15 reps, but not so heavy as one approaches failure.

Auxiliary exercises for phase 2

In phase 2, your purpose is to build a foundation you can draw on in phase 3. The best rep range for foundation training in auxiliary exercises is in my opinion 6-8 reps. It gives a good distribution of mass and strength.

You will, therefore, do 3-4 sets x 6-8 reps in the individual exercises. In the bench press, of course, you follow the cycle that suits the phase. In this phase, you do different exercises on different days. This way, we can “patch” as many weaknesses as possible.


  • Bench Press: Follow Cycle for Phase 2
  • Dumbell Bench Press on Flat Bench (with bottom break) 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Dumbell side laterals 3 sets x 8 reps
  • French Press 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Barbell rows 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Pulldowns 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Squat 4 sets x 6 reps
  • Barbell curls 3 sets x 8 reps


  • Bench Press: Follow Cycle for Phase 2
  • Dumbell flyes 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Military presses 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Triceps pushdowns 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Dumbell rows 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Pulldowns 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Deadlift 4 sets x 6 reps
  • Dumbell curls 3 sets x 8 reps


  • Bench Press: Follow Cycle for Phase 2
  • Dumbell Bench Press on Inclined Bench (m. Bottom Break) 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Dumbell rear laterals 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Overhead triceps extensions with dumbbell 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Cable rows 3 sets x 6 reps
  • Pulldowns 3 sets x 8 reps
  • Barbell curls 3 sets x 6 reps

The weights in the auxiliary exercises should again be heavy, but not so heavy that you hit failure. There should always be 1-2 reps in reserve in each set. You do NOT want to overcharge your refund. You want to become stronger in the bench press and therefore there must be a reserve all the time.

Auxiliary exercises for phase 3

In Phase 3, the purpose is to peak your absolute strength in the bench press. But in the auxiliary exercises, your purpose is still the same. Namely, to increase the strength and mass of the relevant muscle groups.

I would, therefore, recommend that you follow exactly the same program as in phase 2. You can, however, vary the exercises, for example. exercising shoulder presses with dumbbells instead of military presses, or dumbbell rows instead of barbell rows. However, there is a difference from phase 2 that we are now approaching the real heavyweights.

Therefore, as you approach the end of the phase, we should slow down your breast relief exercises as slowly. This is because the heavyweights lose a lot of resources from the chest muscles, and you are not interested in having to lean heavily on tired chest muscles.

I would, therefore, recommend removing the breast relief exercise after week 3, so in week 4-6 you only concentrate on the bench press. The remaining exercises will be where they are.

Auxiliary exercises for phase 4

In Phase 4, we are solely interested in giving the body some rest so that we can get the most out of our max test. Therefore, we will only do a minimal number of auxiliary exercises. The program for the last 4 workouts will look like this.

The last 4 training sessions

  • Bench press: Follow the cycle for phase 4
  • Squat 2 sets x 6 reps
  • Barbell rows 2 sets x 6 reps

We would like to be 100% super-compensated and recovered on the max day, and this is not possible if we have tapped ourselves with a myriad of auxiliary exercises. Even the worst exercise addict should be able to endure this, as there are only 4 workouts in question. The reward will surely be a higher max.

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