Test your one repetition maximum at the start and end of the 12-week cycle.
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To excel in powerlifting, all three of your competition lifts -- the squat, bench press and deadlift -- need to be up to standard. You may find your bench press lags behind the other two, particularly if you have long arms, which makes benching more challenging, or if you've been focusing more on squats and deadlifts. You can remedy this by completing a specialized 12-week bench press workout.
The Introductory Phase
Start with an introductory, or accumulation, phase, which is a lower-intensity, higher-volume period of training. The idea of this training block is to build your work capacity and muscle mass, rather than just lifting heavy weights, notes powerlifter and coach Chad Smith in "The Juggernaut Method." Test your bench press single-rep maximum in week one to get an idea of your current strength levels. Once you know your single rep max, you can begin the bulk of the program. Train your bench press once a week. In weeks two and three, perform five sets of 10 repetitions, and perform four sets of 12 repetitions in weeks four and five, using the same weights for all sessions. The weight you use should be around 60 to 70 percent of your one-rep max.
Increasing the Intensity
The intensification phase comes next and is where the harder work begins. Increase the rest time between sets, advises Louie Simmons, powerlifter and owner of Westside Barbell in Columbus, Ohio. This means you'll be lifting heavier weights -- up to between 70 and 80 percent of your maximum. In week six, perform five sets of six reps, and then perform five sets of seven in week seven, using the same weight both times. Increase your weights and perform four sets of five in week eight and use this weight for five sets of five in week nine.
Peaking and Testing
The last three weeks of your bench press workout are intense. In the first week, record-holding powerlifter Chris Duffin recommends working up to a maximum lift. This should be a personal best attempt and be a little heavier than your maximum lift in week one. Don't aim for a huge personal best -- a 5 to 10-pound increase is ample. In the next week, work up to around 95 percent of this and hit it for one rep. In the next week, hit a slightly easier single rep again -- this should be around the same as you'd open with in a powerlifting meet, or 85 to 90 percent of your maximum. Take a week off before testing your one rep max again to gauge the results of your bench press cycle.
Planning Your Accessory Work
Accessory work refers to any exercises designed to help your core lift. In this case that's the bench press, so these should be exercises that work your chest, shoulders, triceps and upper-back. In the accumulation and intensification phase, perform one accessory session each week, where you pick one exercise for each muscle group and perform four sets of eight to 15 reps on it. Examples would be incline dumbbell presses, overhead presses, dips and barbell rows, or weighted pushups, lateral raises, close grip presses and chin-ups. In the peaking and testing weeks, use lighter weights and just perform two sets of 10 to 12 on your accessory lifts so you reserve energy for the bench press.
Factoring in Squats and Deadlifts
While your bench press may be a weak point, you still need to squat and deadlift to build a respectable powerlifting total. It is unrealistic, however, to expect to increase your squat and deadlift numbers while putting so much emphasis on bench presses, so just aim to maintain your squat and deadlift strength during this 12 weeks. Perform one squat session and one deadlift session each week, completing four to six sets of four to eight reps on each exercise, along with two accessory lower-body lifts each workout, such as lunges, stiff-legged deadlifts, front squats and good mornings.