Four Weeks to a Bench PR: Week Four
It is now week four of the four-week bench press PR program, and it is time to establish a new bench press PR single. Over the past three weeks, we have worked at different levels of volume and intensity while challenging our press strength and technique using exercise variation. Now it is time to see if the work we have put in will pay off as expected.
Ideally, we will go into this training day feeling recovered and ready to go. Last week, we focused on heavy incline pin presses for a top-set triple. The intention was to change the angle of the press and give the pecs and shoulders a break, reducing the overall range of motion by controlling pin height via the pin press. So, as taxing as our last max effort upper training day may have been, we should be well-prepared to accomplish today’s goal.
We can do a few things before this training day to ensure the workout goes as expected. First, we want to ensure we have consumed adequate calories and remained properly hydrated for at least 48 hours before the workout. Additionally, we want 8-10 hours of sleep each night before our max effort training day. Simple advice, sure, but following it will significantly impact your performance.
Now, onto the workout.
The main exercise today is the competition-style bench press. As mentioned above, today’s goal is to set a new bench press personal record. Knowing this, we must approach the main exercise in a way that maximizes our chances of success. What this means is we want to make sure we are making the best choices possible during our warm-up and workup reps.
The goal is to feel “warmed up” while expending as little energy as possible. Don’t get caught up in the idea you need to perform some specific pre-workout movement ritual to prepare for your heavy training days. Often, these warm-ups surpass what would be considered a point of adequate preparedness and begin to sap energy that could otherwise be used towards our actual training goal - a new bench press PR.
This goes for our warm-up prior to beginning the main exercise of the day and our warm-up attempts on the actual bench press itself. We want to ensure we are taking enough reps before our max attempt to be adequately warmed up, but we do not want to waste energy performing too many warm-up sets or reps needlessly.
It is important to take as few warm-up sets as possible while still reaching the point of feeling 100% prepared for your max effort attempt. Here is an example of what would be considered an ideal workup in weight for an athlete with a current 500lb bench press going for a new PR lift:
Set 1 - 135lbs x 10
Set 2 - 225lbs x 5
Set 3 - 275lbs x 3
Set 4 - 325lbs x 3
Set 5 - 375lbs x 1
Set 6 - 405lbs x 1
Set 7 - 455lbs x 1
Set 8 - 485lbs x 1
Set 9 - 515lbs x 1 (New PR)
The scheme here is simple. We spend the first few light sets getting the blood flowing, and then we quickly break down into single rep sets to ensure we maximize our energy conservation leading up to the PR attempt. As you can see, we start with 50lb increases in bar weight between sets 2 and 7, then 30lb increases in the final two sets.
The goal is to check off weights as we work towards our goal. Once we get to 485lbs, we will use that rep to decide what we will attempt during our PR set. If everything goes as expected and the 485lb attempt moves well, we will jump to 515lbs to rack up a 15lb PR. If the attempt at 485lbs looked rough, we would go with 505lbs on our final attempt to at least establish a new PR weight.
After a max effort attempt, you will likely feel fatigued. However, it is still necessary to get some accessory exercises in to adequately train the upper body muscle groups involved in the bench press. We will lower the overall volume and intensity of our accessory exercises to give ourselves a bit of a break and a leg up on recovery leading into the next training day.
This means we will hit some basic upper body accessory exercises using weights that make the training meaningful but won’t leave us unable to raise our arms above shoulder level the next day or two. Here is what our accessory exercise plan would look like after establishing a new max-effort PR:
Exercise 1 - DB Bench Press - 3 x 10-12
Exercise 2 - Williams Extensions - 4 x 12-15
Exercise 3 - Lat Pulldowns - 3 x 12-15
Exercise 4 - Tricep Cable Pressdowns - 3 x 12
Exercise 5 - DB Bicep Curls - 4 x 12
Exercise 6 - Standing Lateral Raises - 2 x 15
As you can see, these exercise selections are simple and to the point. The idea would be to select working weights for each exercise that allow you to keep 2-3 RIR each set.
One to the Next One
No matter how much success you have with your strength training, the weights only get heavier, and the work only gets more difficult. This is a good thing, considering challenge and struggle are necessary on the path to mastery in any endeavor. Now that you have established a new bench press PR, it is time to begin planning where you will go from here.
There are a couple of options. On the one hand, you could follow another four-week training cycle similar to this last one, using varying levels of volume and intensity over three training weeks to set yourself up for a PR lift. On the other hand, you could return to weekly max effort single attempts. There is no correct answer; it all depends on your current state of recovery and performance.
If you feel recharged and ready to go after the last four weeks, we recommend jumping back to the traditional way of performing max effort; attempting a max effort single each rep on a different variation. However, if you still feel fatigued, you can follow a plan similar to the last four weeks. It depends on how you feel when the next max-effort upper training day rolls back around.
Now that a new PR is set, we are on to the next one.
Read The Whole Series
Four Weeks to a Bench PR: Week Four (You are Here)
Where To Learn More
Check out our Bench Press Manual, and get additional workouts, learn the most effective training methods, bench press technique, and more.