Ester Burgess column: Increasing the 'bench'

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 8, 2006

By Ester Burgess

For The Salisbury Post

Q. How can I increase my bench press the natural way?

A. I loved that your question included “the natural way.” In the weightlifting world and sports world, the question, “How much do you bench?” comes up a lot. I love watching a good bench-press contest. It takes lots of dedication and lots of training hours to be able to lift the weights power lifters are using. Understand that it takes years to get where they are.

I have written about this before, but as my readership has increased and new people have moved into this area — or just to refresh your workout — I am going to give you a 10-week program to increase your max — the maximum weight that you can lift/press at one time.

Make sure that you are spending quality time on your warm-ups. When you are working out, make sure you are performing the bench-press the proper way. I know that you can lift a lot more when you let the bar bounce off your chest. However, that is not a clean press.

Keep your buttocks on the bench at all times, and both feet on the same spot on the floor. When you are lifting weights like this, make sure that you have a spotter. That’s someone who can be of assistance when needed, and/or can give you a lift-off.

To get stronger, you need to focus on your whole body. To be able to get stronger, you need to know what your max is. The workout I am including gives you percentages of your max. I don’t recommend these workouts for people who have just started working out, or who have not worked out in a while. Your chance of injury increases a lot (with heavy weight period), and it can be hard on your tendons.

For you, I recommend two weeks, 2 sets of 8-10 reps. Then, for two weeks, increase sets to 3 sets. Then, go to two weeks 4 sets of 8-10 reps, and finally, two weeks 4 sets of 6-8 reps. You use a weight that you can do for that number of repetitions. After those eight weeks, you can set your max on all the exercises and include “heavy” days.

When I used to work out hard, I liked one “strong” day for each muscle group and one “pretty” day. On “pretty” days, you work on technique and form, and perform about 3 to 4 sets at 6-10 reps.

Strong days

First four weeks.

n 4 sets of 5 reps at 75-80 percent of max.

n 1 set of 2 reps at 85 percent

Week five and six.

n 3 sets of 3 reps at 85-90 percent

Week seven and eight.

n 2 sets of 2 reps at 90-96 percent

Week nine and 10.

n 3 sets of 2 reps at 85-88 percent

n 1 set with 1 rep at 97 percent

Take about 3 days off (have cardio days) and after a great warm-up, try an increased max. Start back at the beginning of this workout with your new max.

Suggested program and exercises

Monday (heavy). Bench press, incline bench press, dips, triceps push-down, skull crushers

Tuesday (heavy). Lat pull to the chest, cable row, preacher curls, straight bar curls, concentration curls.

Wednesday (heavy). Squats, leg press, leg extension,leg curl, calf raises.

Thursday. Same as Monday, this time “pretty.” Include two different abdominal exercises 4 sets of 25 reps.

Friday. Same as Tuesday, “pretty.”

Saturday Same as Wednesday, “pretty.” Include two obliques exercises, 4 sets of 20 reps (each side).

Contact Ester Hoeben Burgess at 704-636-0111 or