Four Weeks to a Bench PR: Week Three
It is now week three of the four-week bench press PR program, and it is time to change up the angle of the press. We have focused on pressing from the flat position for the past two weeks. This week, we will focus on pressing from the incline position. This will allow us to place emphasis on the pecs and shoulder muscles, as well as the triceps.
Heavy incline pressing is a great way to build upper body strength and muscle mass. The incline press is a classic bench press variation and has tremendous carryover to the traditional bench and overhead press. The increase in shoulder and tricep strength caused by the incline press will quickly transfer to any other style of pressing a barbell.
The end goal for week three is to get some heavy presses so we can feel some weight in our hands and begin preparing for the max effort PR attempt next week. We want to push the intensity up a bit, but we don't want to overdo it. After all, the goal of this program is to PR on the fourth week of our max effort exercise rotation.
As we near the fourth week of training, we want to continue focusing on developing absolute strength by training at intensity levels exceeding 90%. However, we want to give ourselves whatever advantages we can to ensure we roll into the PR week with as much energy as possible. For this reason, we will perform a heavy incline pin press for a top set of three reps.
To set this exercise up, you will need a moveable incline bench and a squat rack. Pressing in the squat rack will allow us to set the pins at the right height to maximize upper chest, shoulder, and tricep involvement while restricting the movement of the barbell to reduce strain and train at advantageous joint angles.
An easy way to find the right height for your pins is to perform a Spoto-style incline press with an unloaded barbell and set the pins at that height to start. If you begin to feel excessive strain in the shoulder once the barbell is loaded, you can raise the pin height 1-2 positions. As we mentioned above, we want to set this exercise up so that we are at an advantage and can conserve our energy for the next training week while still getting some meaningful training accomplished.
The execution of this exercise is simple. First, you will unrack the barbell and begin a controlled descent as you lower the barbell to the pins. The idea is to control the barbell, not to crash the barbell into the pins. You want to control the barbell so that the barbell does not bounce when contacting the pins.
Do not lose tension in the arms and torso as the barbell makes contact with the pins. We want to let the weight become idle on the pins for a two-count before beginning the concentric phase of the press. Remain in control of the barbell, applying a firm grip and keeping the muscles of the upper torso and arms engaged throughout the entire movement. You want to do this for all three repetitions.
Here is how a 500lb incline bencher would perform this exercise:
Set 1 - 135lbs x 10
Set 2 - 225lbs x 5
Set 3 - 275lbs x 5
Set 4 - 325lbs x 5
Set 5 - 365lbs x 3
Set 6 - 405lbs x 1
Set 7 - 425lbs x 1
Set 8 - 455lbs x 3
You may be thinking, "a 500lb incline bencher could probably press more than 455lbs for a set of 3," and you may be correct. However, this week's goal is to get a heavy triple in while leaving a set or two in the tank. Next week, we go after a PR lift, so we do not want to spend excessive amounts of energy during this training week.
The amount of success you have workout to workout will depend significantly on your ability to program your workouts in a way that allows each training day to set the next training day up for success. This means proper exercise selection and appropriate regulation of intensity and volume.
By cutting ourselves a bit short this week, we will carry more energy into the next training week and feel better for our max effort PR attempt.
Our strategy for accessory exercises will remain the same this week as it has for the last two; increase upper body strength and muscle mass with a particular focus on the triceps. However, this week, we will drop the overall accessory exercise volume slightly to give ourselves an advantage in the recovery department. Once again, setting ourselves up to reach our goal; a new bench press PR.
This doesn't mean kicking your feet up and taking it easy. We still want to attack our accessory work with the same effort we usually would. Even though the volume is lowered, we still need to perform the accessory exercises to standard. As always, we will perform each exercise with the heaviest weight possible while performing all prescribed sets and reps with proper form.
Here are the accessory exercises for week three:
Exercise 1 - Pendlay Rows - 5 x 5
Exercise 2 - Rolling DB Tricep Extensions - 4 x 12-15
Exercise 3 - DB Bicep Curls - 4 x 12-15
Exercise 4 - Williams Extensions - 3 x 15
Exercise 5 - Standing Lateral Raises - 3 x 12-15
As you can see, we have reduced the volume a bit while still emphasizing the triceps. This accessory exercise plan aims to get in, get it done, and go home and begin recovering for the next training week. We want to address the muscles that need to be addressed, but we want to leave a good amount of energy in the tank.
Play to Win
From the beginning of our four-week training plan, the goal has been to press a new PR weight during the fourth training week. As that training day nears, we want to ensure we are training at appropriate intensity levels with ideal volume levels so that each training week sets the next one up for success.
If you look at the past three weeks of training, you will see the slight changes that are made to allow each week to build on the previous week to reach our short-term training goal. We are programming with strategy and intent, whether regulating the level of intensity the athlete experiences during the main exercises or controlling the accessory exercise volume to conserve energy for the next training week.
Successful training depends on appropriately regulating intensity, volume, and frequency. Additionally, we must make sound choices with our exercise selection for both main and accessory exercises to deliver the training adaptations we seek. Just like any other sport, you must have a game plan. Ultimately, that game plan decides whether you are playing to win or lose.
Read The Whole Series
Four Weeks to a Bench PR: Week Three (You are Here)
Where To Learn More
Want more? Check out our Bench Press Manual here for more sample workouts, effective training methods, technique, and more.