When you’re trying to focus on the programming for your bench, it is highly likely that you have googled a bunch of different articles and Youtube videos. You’ve watched what your favorite lifters have done/are doing, you’ve read T-Nation, Elitefts, and BarBend articles. All of that is fantastic as is what you should be doing. But, you’re still not satisfied because you haven’t found the golden formula to add 100lbs to your bench by the next meet. The reason you haven’t found this is because it doesn’t exist. Training the bench press can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. There is nothing wrong with a simple linear progression, periodization, or conjugate method. In all honesty, your training needs to line up with you and what keeps you coming back for more.
Personally, I have always been inspired by the likes of JM Blakely in keeping my training simple so I can easily see what is progressing my lift, where it needs improvement, and when it is time to make a change. While I have tried his 3 heavy singles followed by sets of 6x6 twice a week, it didn’t work for me. It worked for a time, but once I got into heavier weights, those 6 sets of 6 could take upwards of 150 minutes to complete from warm up to the final 39th rep being racked. Add in after a time that I woke up with a frozen shoulder and I put that behind me.
So, I took my experience and made that style of programming my own. I still like to do 3 heavy singles but I then add in my own linear progression. Instead of increasing weight each time I complete 6x6, I reversed it and stuck with the same weight but increased reps. So, if I got each rep (without grinding each set) my progression would look like this:
Progression 1: 3x1 heavy singles, 5x2 working sets
Progression 2: 3x1 heavy singles, 5x3 working sets
Progression 3: 3x1 heavy singles, 5x4 working sets
Progression 4: 3x1 heavy singles, 5x5 working sets
Once I hit all 28 reps cleanly, I would add weight and go back to 5x2. It still emphasizes heavy training but accumulates volume as you become more familiar with the weight.
Accessories tended to be higher volume and tricep and back focused. After all, the not so subtle secret of a big bench are monster triceps and a back as thick and wide as you can build it.
On days where I do competition bench I would go and do a tricep dominant exercise for 3-4x8-12 and follow it up with a vertical or horizontal pull. The last thing I add in are bodyweight circuits. I have found there is something about being able to move your body in space that translates well into competitive powerlifting. These circuits involved things like pull ups, chin ups, commando pull ups, bodyweight rows, handstand push ups, diamond push ups, dips, bench dips, push ups, and wall walks. I would find which worked my current weaknesses and circuit them 3x through to failure.
For my second day of the week that involved pressing I often chose an accessory that worked on weaker areas of my bench and usually stuck with a 4x6 scheme for the primary movement and then repeated my accessories as stated before. My primary movements tended to be single arm overhead dumbbell presses. This is a movement I loved for shoulder stability as well as tricep pressing power. Floor presses were another great one for sticking points. Lastly, the JM press for pure tricep power.
So to break it down it would look something like:
Comp Bench 3x1 - 5x2
Tricep Cable Extension 3-4x8-12
Croc Row 3-4x8-12
Weighted Pull Up 3-4x8-12
Circuit 3x to Failure
Handstand Push Up
Command Push Up
Diamond Push Up
Military Press 4x6
JM Press 4x6
Barbell Row 4x6
Lat Pull Down 3-4 x 8-12
Circuit 3x to Failure
Diamond Handstand Push Up
Archer Pull Ups
Planche Push Ups
Bodyweight Lat Push Downs
Wide Push Ups