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12-Week Bench Press Progression Program

In my experience, most people have a more difficult time figuring out how to properly progress exercises than with any other aspect of fitness. I've also found that most people seem to have a love-hate relationship with the bench press: you love doing it and talking about your max, but your progress just isn't where you want it to be. That being said, here's a 12-week bench press progression program that you can use to take your pressing to new heights.


What You Need To Know: Every fourth week is blank - what's the deal? It's called a deload. It gives your body a mini active rest between workout cycles. Take 2 or 3 exercises from each workout, drop down to 2 sets of 8-12 reps, and go easy. As for the reps listed (3x8, 3x8, 3x8), each set X rep pair represents one week. Weeks 4, 8, and 12 are left out, as explained above.

Weeks 1-4


A1) Flat Bench 3x8, 3x8, 4x8

This is the upper body ego exercise...but not today. First, learn to arch and to always keep your butt planted on the bench. Before you unravel, tuck your shoulder blades. Take a deep breath, tuck your elbows, and lower to your chest. Explode up, letting the "spring" (your elbows) uncoil.

B1) Seated Shoulder Press 3x8, 3x8, 4x8

You can use either dumbbells, kettle bells, or a barbell. Set up on an L-shaped seat with a supportive back. Choose a middle of the road grip - not too wide, not too narrow. Start the movement with your elbows at 90 degrees and press upward, locking out your elbows. The part about 90 degrees is important - any lower puts your shoulders into a compromised position.

B2) Seated Low Cable Row 3x12, 3x12, 3x12

For this, you'll need a cable machine. You can either sit on the floor or on a bench (depending on the machine). Use any attachment that lets you use a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Remember - straight back, tucked shoulder blades, no jerking.

C1) DB Floor Press 3x10, 3x10, 3x10

Consider this an alternative to close grip bench press. The only difference between this and the bench press you're used to is the surface. Depending on the weight of the dumbbells, you may need some help moving them into position. Perform these just like any other pressing movement. You'll notice that the floor limits your range of motion - this puts heavy emphasis on the top of the movement, increasing triceps (lockout) strength.

C2) Close Grip Pushup 3x, 4x, 5x

You're probably familiar with these. These are usually called diamond push-ups, but feel free to use either a diamond or a simple close grip. If nothing else, remember to keep your elbows tucked. Explode off the floor, like a spring uncoiling. Use this cue with all other pressing movements as well.

Weeks 5-8


A1) Incline Pause Press 3x5, 3x5, 4x5

It's exactly as it sounds - an incline bench press with a pause. It will help build shoulder strength and power off the chest. As for pause length, shoot for 2 or 3 seconds. It just needs to be long enough to allow the weight to come to a complete stop on your chest.

B1) Barbell Push Press 3x8, 3x8, 4x6

Start with a quick bend of your knees - this is where your power comes from. It should feel just like a reflex. Drive your arms straight up and lock your elbows at the top. As you lower the bar, give your knees another quick bend to help with the jolt.

B2) One Arm DB Row 3x10, 3x10, 3x10

Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand, bend down, and place the other hand on a bench. Use the bench for support and to keep your back from rounding. Using the usual rowing cues - straight back, shoulder blades tucked - strictly pull the weight to your chest.

C1) Barbell Pause Floor Press 3x8, 3x8, 3x8

You shouldn't need many directions for this, as it's the same movement you performed during weeks 1-4. This time, you'll be using a barbell. You will need a partner to help you "unrack" the weight. Focus on the same cues and try not to let your elbows flare out. Remember, just like a coiled spring.

C2) TRX Triceps Press 3x12, 3x12, 3x12

Adjust the TRX to mid-length and face away from the anchor point. Start with hands out in front of your face, palms facing out, and slowly bring your hands toward your face. Make sure your elbows point straight ahead throughout the movement.

Weeks 9-12


A1) Flat Bench 5x3, 3x1, 5x1

The reps are much less forgiving this time - your technique needs to be flawless. Take a deep breath as you unrack, pull your elbows in and slowly pull the bar to your chest. As soon as the bar makes contact, explode upward, uncoiling the spring.

B1) One Arm DB Push Press 3x6, 3x6, 4x6

This is the next step up from the barbell push press. This one arm variation introduces an additional element of balance and coordination. If you're using a heavy dumbbell, you may notice that dropping back to the starting position is rough - use your other hand to help stabilize the weight as needed.

B2) Bent BB Row 3x8, 3x8, 4x8

Use an overhand grip for these, as the video shows. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down throughout the movement. As with the Dead lift, be careful of any lower back rounding.

C1) Board Press 3x3, 3x3, 5x3

First, you don't actually need real wood boards to make this work, but you will need a partner. If you don't have access to boards, consider using light weight plates or books - they work just as well. The goal is similar to that of the floor press: train the lockout. As for what board height to use, that depends on your sticking point. Set the boards to your sticking point, or where you most often fail on tough reps.

C2) One Arm TRX Triceps Press 3x8, 3x8, 3x8

Use the same setup and cues as the two arm variation. It's the same movement, but more difficult. Start with a slightly easier angle until you're comfortable with using only one arm.

**The information on this site is for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Before starting any new exercise program we recommend consulting your doctor first.**