How to Increase Your One Rep Max 1RM Bench Press

% of 1rm maximal strength muscular power power programming Jul 12, 2023

Edited by: Danielle Abel

You don't need complicated programming to increase your 1RM Bench Press. It might be simpler than you might think. 

Before we dive into what you might need to do to increase your strength, let's first get off the table some mistakes that could be limiting your progress. 

Mistake #1 Ineffective Bar Path

When you're doing the Bench Press, does your form look like coming down and back up without any down and forward or up and backward movement? If so, you might be working more of your anterior deltoid and not your pecs. 

An effective bar path includes bringing the bar forward in addition to down during the eccentric phase of the movement and then bringing the bar backward and upward during the concentric portion of the movement. 

Mistake #2 Testing Too Frequently 

If you're always comparing your 1RM from last week to this week or formally testing your 1RM every month, this might be part of why you're stuck in a plateau. Whereas those who take 3-4 months and follow a structured program to improve their strength and technique in the Bench Press will make much greater progress in the long run.

The reason for this is that to improve your 1RM; you likely need to spend time doing submaximal work to improve the efficiency of your technique, meaning how well you execute the movement. Improved execution and form will have carryover effects on 1RM strength because your body will be more prepared to produce maximal force. 

Strategy #1 - Increase your 1RM over 3-4 Months

Spend 1-2 months lifting in the 6-10 rep range (hypertrophy & technique program), the first month could be 4x10, and then use a linear periodization model the second month to get down to 3x6.

Over about 8 weeks you're slowly decreasing the volume and increasing the intensity. By spending time improving technique with less load, you will have greater neuromuscular adaptations that carry over into strength when your reps get down closer to 6. Programming this might look like:

  • 4 sets of 10
  • 4 sets of 8
  • 4 sets of 6
  • Deload week (cut volume & or intensity by 50-75%)
  • 3 sets of 8
  • 3 sets of 6
  • 3 sets of 6 (with greater intensity/load)

Next, move to a strength-based program in the 4-6 rep range. An example of how you might program this would be:

  • 4 sets of 5
  • 4 sets of 4
  • 4 sets of 3
  • 4 sets of 3 (with greater intensity/load)

If you're using % of 1RM, you might start at 83% and end near 90% of your 1RM. 

Last, you'll move into a peaking block with the lowest volume and the highest intensity. Again if you're using % of 1RM, you might start at 85% and work up to a new 100% 1RM. By doing a program with such high intensity, but low volume, you're being more specific to the neuromuscular adaptations required for executing a 1RM. This program might look like

  • Week 1: 2 days of 4x3 at 85% of 1RM
  • Week 2: 3 days of 3x3 at 87% of 1RM
  • Week 3: Wave loading with 3, 2, & 1 at a submaximal attempt around 87-95%
  • Week 4: 1RM attempt (recommend taking 2-3 days off of training before attempting 1RM)

Keep in mind, this is just one example of what a program might look like to increase your 1RM over 3-4 months. You might notice that we're not doing any plus sets (where a 1RM or estimated 1RM is attempted) until we get to that 1RM attempt. In general, the program should also be low volume since the main goal is increasing intensity (or load/amount of weight lifted).

If you want to learn more about how to program for clients to help them increase strength or their 1RM then you might want to check out our Program Design 101 course. The course teaches you exactly how to organize strength programming, along with hypertrophy, power, & endurance, and even includes done-for-you programming templates by phase. Click the link here to check it out.

Other Questions You May Have

You might be wondering how frequently you should train per week, knowing we recommended 4 sets of 10, etc. If so, we would recommend at least 2x per week or possibly even 3 days per week. If you are training 3 times per week, you might change one of the days to be more of an accessory day by programming a pause bench press, a board press, or a feet-up bench. 

Strategy #2 - Increase your 1RM over 1 Month

What if you don't have 3-4 months to train, or possibly you're a beginner, and you'd like to squeeze this into 1 month? Here are 2 different examples of how you could do this. 

  • 5, 3,1 Program

A 5, 3,1 program is great for general strength improvements, but it's not that great for a powerlifter preparing for a meet. You could even repeat a 5, 3, 1 program for a few months and possibly even see 5, 10, or 15lb jumps month after month after month. 

  • You could program a 5, 3, 1 program by programming 1 day per week with reps in the 5 range, a second day per week in the 3 range, and a third day per week in the 1 rep range

Keep in mind, this programming approach will eventually lead to a plateau, at which time you'll probably need to work on building a bigger strength base or maximizing lifting capacity by increasing tolerance to volume & load over weeks and months. 


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