The Science Behind Building a Strong Bench

Issue three of Monthly Applications in Strength Sport (MASS) features an analysis of EMG activation in the pecs, triceps, anterior deltoid, and lats during benching up to 1RM. It is an interesting study (Krol and Golas, 2017) interpreted by Greg Nuckols. I won’t rehash the study since you can read about it in MASS, but I will list Greg’s takeaways and build of of that. First, there does not seem to be a tradeoff in muscle activation versus volume in the pecs (notice that this does NOT hold true of the other muscles). How does this affect your training? Higher volume with lower % 1RM should work just fine for pec development. On the other hand, this will have to be supplemented by heavy assistance work for anterior deltoids and triceps. The other conclusion is related to horizontal displacement, which normal meatheads refer to as bar path. It seems that under heavy loads, the bar path changes. Since your goal is a stronger bench press, not just stronger pecs, it makes sense to practice the bench at a heavy enough weight that the bar path changes.

So let’s put this all together. The Nephilim Barbell Program is all about strength, so what do you need to do to increase your bench press strength? You need to practice bar path, which means training near 1RM. You need bench volume at lower % of 1RM for pec hypertrophy. And you need heavy assistance work for your triceps and anterior deltoids. Does this sound familiar? It should. It is essentially a template for conjugate training. Try incorporating these three elements into your bench routine, and watch your bench strength soar.

Sample Bench Strength Routine:

  • Flat Bench – 3×1 @ 90% 1RM (once per week)
  • Flat Bench – 6×3 @ 70% 1RM with bands (once per week)
  • DB rest-pause press – 4×6-10 (once per week)
  • Narrow grip bench press – 4×6-10 (once per week)