powerlifting

How Often Should I Bench Press?

How often should I Bench Press to see Results?

Unlike the deadlift and the squat, the bench press isn’t  too stressful on your CNS, muscles and joints. If you increase your benching frequency you’ll definitely feel the strain on your elbows and shoulders (specifically your rotator cuffs).

But this is easy compared to the mental and CNS fatigue you’ll experience when you increase your deadlift frequency (or squat frequency).

It’s a fine (ish) balance between doing too little and too much and you’ll need to manipulate your overall frequency and volume to find the sweet spot.

But a lot of it depends on whether you’re bulking (caloric surplus) or cutting (caloric deficit).

alora-griffiths-781450-unsplash.jpg
Man setting up to Bench Press

So typically you can train bench (and close variations of it) at twice the frequency of the more taxing core lifts. If you’re a beginner and deadlift and squat once a week, then you can afford to bench twice a week.

If you squat and deadlift twice a week, then benching 3-4 times is about right if you’re training for powerlifting specifically.

Now Read: What Muscles does the Bench Press work?

How often should I Bench Press heavy?

With any periodised training program you should build up to a peak every 6 – 12 weeks. As a beginner you can afford to peak more frequently as a) the weight isn’t as heavy and b) you don’t need to accumulate as much volume as someone who is more experienced.

But benching heavy doesn’t necessarily mean maxing out. If you utilise a form of daily undulating periodisation, then you can bench heavy every week. This could be one day where you work up to a top set triple around 90% 1RM and 3 backoff triples.

Alternatively you could structure your training into weekly blocks of strength, hypertrophy and power.

Then you could conceivably bench heavy 2-3 times in a one week strength block, because the next week will be focused on speed or higher rep sets for accumulating volume.

So you can bench heavy frequently and consistently. And you should. It’s important to get accustomed to being trapped under the bar and there’s no other way to train absolute strength unless you bench heavy.

But maxing out is different…

How often should I max Bench Press?

In my opinion you can max out in the bench press every 6 weeks + and continue to see substantial progress. As a beginner even more often.

But if we’re talking about testing your 1RM then that isn’t something you should do without care and attention. Periodisation and peaking cycles are designed with 1RM in mind. It’s the same across any sport.

If you’re an Olympian, your coach will always have an eye on the next Olympics, with the ultimate goal of peaking at the right time. You’ll have individual meets along the way, but every 4 years you need to be in perfect condition.

Working with micro, meso and macro cycles enables proper planning. Micro cycles could be a day or a week, meso cycles could be a block of several weeks or months and macro cycles could be anywhere from 12 weeks +.

Micro, meso and macro cycle approach of an Olympic athlete's raining
A more accurate representation of an Olympic athlete’s approach to training

So by planning your training out, you know when you need to peak and you know when to increase your volume (accumulation phase) outside of competition and when to reduce it whilst upping the intensity (peaking phase).

If you’re a sprinter you can run the 100m in 10 seconds flat, that doesn’t mean that every day you run the 100m in 10 seconds. That’s not how you progress. You have to break it down into smaller sections and work on your weak points, so that when you come to peak you’re in better shape than ever before. The same applies to bench pressing.

If you have a competition in 12 weeks, you’re going to want to (almost) max out after 10 weeks. Then you can deload and be in peak physical condition for the meet. But in order to get to that point you need to start with higher volume and work up to a max lift.

For deadlifts and squats I don’t think you should test your 1RM more than 3 times a year. It’s so mentally draining and grinding lifts take their toll on your body. Benching works in much the same way but I think you can test it more frequently if you’re really desperate to.

I personally wouldn’t recommend it as you need to accumulate volume before you can actually get stronger. Testing too frequently can make long-term progress even slower.

How often should I Bench Press over the age of 30?

This is dependent on so many variables:

  • How much training have you done beforehand?
  • What sort of training was it?
  • Have you had any previous shoulder or chest injuries?
  • What are your goals?

Obviously if your goals are powerlifting specific, then you’re going to have to bench press consistently. But the optimal frequency is still up to you. If you find that higher volume workouts are better for strength or hypertrophy goals, then have a lower frequency. Two a week is probably sufficient. If you find higher frequency, but lower volume works better, then bench press 3-4 times a week.

But as you hit 30, recovery tends to get harder. Niggles feel like they go on for ever and joint / muscle soreness means going to the gym can be hard. But frankly I don’t think there’s any advice for the over 30’s that’s widely applicable other than be mindful of your overall volume and make sure your antagonistic muscle groups are equally as strong to avoid injury.

You can find out more about that here: Training your antagonistic muscle groups for benching

How often should I Increase the weight?

As a beginner you should increase the weight every week as a form of linear progression. You can continue to do this for anywhere up to 6 months if you’re taking it seriously ish.

As you become more experienced and accumulate more volume, you can’t just keep increasing the weight. You need to manipulate the weight, set and rep schemes in order to keep progressing and force positive adaptations through stress.

Like we previously discussed, you either need to use a program that incorporates daily undulating periodisation, where you can focus on strength on one day, hypertrophy the next etc. Or use weekly training blocks where one is centred around hypertrophy, speed etc.

So increasing the weight on the bench is simple as a beginner. Just keep adding weight and slowly dropping the reps until you can’t. Then reset, do it again from a heavier weight starting point. When you’ve plateaued, undulating periodisation and training blocks will allow you to train different muscle fibres whilst steadily increasing overall volume.

But if you’re desperate for an answer I would increase the weight every 3 weeks as a minimum. If you’re running an off-season program however, the weight is less important. Focus on volume accumulation without going over around 75% of your 1RM to build as strong a base as possible.

How often should I train Chest?

From a protein synthesis standpoint, you need to train a muscle group at least twice a week. Taking into account how quickly you recover and to promote positive muscular adaptations, training a body part every 2 – 4 days is ideal.

Protein synthesis doesn’t just take into account the availability of protein in your diet and the impact that has on your ability to build muscle. As a more experienced athlete there is less of an increase in muscle protein synthesis and muscle damage following resistance exercises.”

So as a more experienced lifter you’ll recover quicker. This is why you can typically increase your frequency as you get more experienced. The goal isn’t to have a 10/10 workout every session because that’s not possible.

You’ll see better long-term results if you don’t push yourself to the limit each session and can increase overall volume each week. Unless you’re an assisted lifter, you can’t recover from 20+ sets every session to work a body part 3 times a week. So be sensible, as there’s a lot of ground to cover.

CRepresentation of chest Muscles and exercises you can use to train them
Chest Muscles and exercises you can use to train them

Chest is vastly different to training legs or back. Legs especially are such a large muscle group that for most of us require greater overall volume to drive positive change. A taxing leg workout will almost certainly involve squats and could take into account quad and hamstring accessory work.

To me this type of workout is far more taxing, but I still train legs to some extent on 2-4 days a week to some extent. Typically that involves 2 quad dominant workouts and 1 – 2 hamstring dominant ones, as you can see below:

Excel off-season training program for powerlifting
First 2 Days of my Off-Season Training Program for Powerbuilding

I tend to have one leg specific workout a week, which is day 4. From there I will typically squat on 2 other days per week without any additional leg hypertrophy. Because deadlifts are such a leg dominant exercise I find too much hypertrophy impacts on your heavier days.

Excel powerbuilding training program days 3+4
Last 2 Days of my Off-Season Training Program for Powerbuilding

But chest and upper body in particular tends to be much easier to recover from and as you can see from the above, I like to bench press 3 times a week, with 2 of those sessions including significant chest hypertrophy exercises.

But it’s also critical to train antagonistic muscle groups, especially for bench press. So for every set of bench and chest accessory work I do, I make sure there’s an equal amount of volume for back and shoulders. Rotator cuff injuries are so common when benching and without an equally strong back you can’t create tightness required for a true 1RM.

So you can’t just think about ‘how many times can I train chest in a week’ because the answer is you could do it everyday or once a week and still see results. It depends on previous volume you’ve accrued through training, how much you have bench pressed before, injuries etc.

Can you Bench more than twice a week?

Absolutely. For optimal results you should train 2 – 4 times a week. As a beginner get in there and have some fun and work out your week points. As you progress think about how accessory exercises like pause reps and sets can help and manipulate the number of working sets in each session based on how often

But upping your training frequency is the trickiest variable to manage. Remember:

Frequency + Volume + Intensity = Muscular Growth

But by upping your frequency you need to reduce volume on your other working days. So it takes time, patience or a smart coach / training program to do it properly.

How many sets of Bench Press should you do?

Impossible to answer unfortunately, but if you stick to 4 – 6 sets per session of actual bench pressing for powerlifting or powerbuilding then you won’t be far wrong. If you bench 3 times a week then 4-5 sets per session is probably enough. If you decide to bench twice a week then 6+ sets per session should be proficient.

You’d then need to add in chest hypertrophy and volume wise I try to get around 1.5 times my overall bench volume for hypertrophy at the beginning of a program. Halfway through it I like to have about equal hypertrophy volume to working sets. Then towards the end of it the hypertrophy volume is up to half the volume from bench press working sets.

Can I Bench Everyday?

Yes, but why would you? Nobody needs to bench every day to see progress and you’ll vastly overdevelop your front delts and chest compared to your shoulders and back muscles.

So to do it safely (in the long-term) you’d need to add in equal back and shoulder volume to bring up potential weak points. So if you kept the overall volume incredibly low, then you could, but why add in unnecessary days in the gym? Unless you’re on steroids you won’t be able to recover and if you work 40+ hour weeks then the last thing you probably want is additional days in the gym.

You should be focused, with a proper program that has no more than 4-5 exercises per muscle group to work from. Don’t overcomplicate it because it’s not that complicated. The exercises you see everyone doing for chest – incline bench, flat bench, dumbbell bench, flies, dips etc. are tried and tested. You don’t need to revolutionise it as you’re standing on the corners of giants!

So should you Bench Press more often?

Almost certainly. People worry about overtraining but the chances of you being in it are slim and benching isn’t too stressful.

Manipulating training frequency is really tough, but you need to workout your MRV (Maximum Recoverable Volume) so you know how often you need to bench press to increase it.

Some elite level lifters only bench press twice a week. Some do 5. As a beginner you’re well suited to bench pressing twice a week. One of those could be a variation (like incline benching) and one can be traditional benching because you should be working with lots of GPP (General Physical Preparation), so benching is less important.

If you’re looking to take powerlifting more seriously or benching is vital for your sport, then you’re going to need to increase overall volume and intensity over time. Benching more frequently is one of only two ways to do it (other than increasing volume), so you need to get accustomed to benching more often as frankly there aren’t many alternatives.

Just remember to drop the volume per session slightly when you do!

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