If your chest training is currently limited to pushups and the odd set on the pec deck, it's time to step things up a notch. Unlike the average gym rat, you probably don't spend time with your girlfriends discussing how much you bench, but the bench press is a great exercise for building lean muscle, sculpting your upper body and stripping fat in your chest, shoulders and triceps. No bench press workout is necessarily more effective than any other, but you do need to take a look at several factors when planning your bench routine.
Women shouldn't train any differently to men, according to New Jersey-based strength coach Joe DeFranco. However, if you were to follow what the men in your gym do, you'd probably bench press every day and follow it up with a few biceps curls, randomly check your abs in the mirror and converse to your pals in grunts, which isn't the best approach. While you do need to train the bench press slightly more frequently to get results, you don't need to hit it every day. Train it once early in the week and once a few days later.
The first session of the week is your heavy workout, and the second is for technique and speed work. Heavy doesn't have to mean 500 pounds however -- the weight should just be heavy for you. For these sessions, follow the block periodization system. In the first four weeks, perform high-volume, low-intensity work -- five sets of eight to 12 repetitions works well. In weeks five to eight, step it up a gear. Increase the weight and do four sets of six to eight repetitions. In weeks nine and 10, aim to hit new personal bests. Take a week or two off, then start with phase one again, but use slightly heavier weights. In the speed sessions, keep the weight to around 50 to 60 percent of your maximum, and do an easy five sets of three reps, just working on maintaining perfect technique.
Don't fret -- it's not just boring bench presses in this program; there's room for other exercises too. Add three bench press accessory exercises into each workout. These are moves that work your upper body and help boost your bench. Dumbbell presses, pushups, dips, shoulder presses, chin-ups and dumbbell rows are all good choices. Perform three to four sets of eight to 12 reps on each.
Don't be too ambitious with the weight when you start, as being pinned under a loaded bar while shouting "Help" isn't the greatest look or the best way to make friends at the gym. You should aim to gradually increase the weight you're lifting. Aim to work up to a body-weight bench press, advises Sally Moss, strength coach at Ultimate Performance in London. Adam Farrah, trainer and owner of PracticalPaleolithic.com, adds that depending on your weight, you should be able to attain a 165- to 210-pound bench press with solid training.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.