In order to increase your maximum bench press, should you bench close to your max or just do less weight for gradually more reps?

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Increasing your Bench Press will mean that you are able to Bench more weights and/or Bench More Reps or both.

We discuss some basics here, to facilitate understanding about how this works.

Bench More Weights (Intensity)

You will need to get Stronger.

Assuming you are a relative Newbie, the BEST and EASIEST way to do this, is through Linear Progression.

This means thatfFor every session at the Gym, you need to Increase Weight Gradually and Consistently. For the Bench Press and for the (Overhead) Press, these Increases are Little (like 1 or 2 kilograms every workout) AND, after a VERY SHORT TIME, you will need to lower the increases to even less (0.5 kgs, 0.25 kgs etc).

The way this works is through General Adaption Syndrome that your body goes through.

First, understand that our bodies don’t do, or adapt to, anything it does NOT need to. Like in the Summer we wear T-Shirts, during Spring/Fall, a Sweater and/or a think Jacket, but during Winter we wear Thermals, Shirt, Sweater, Thick Jacket, maybe a Cap and Gloves too. We obviously will not wear winter type clothing during summer because we don’t need to.

Our bodies work the same way.

As an extreme example, if I am sitting on the Sofa all day long, doing nothing else, but, eat Chips and Sip Coke, then, there is no reason for my body (read, muscles, bones…) to be strong. So, it loses Muscle Mass and Bone Density.

You can also think about what happens to Astronauts in Space…after having lived under Zero Gravity for a significant amount of time, upon returning to earth, they are not even able to stand up by themselves. Takes a while for them to get back to “Normal” standards.

So, we need to give our bodies a REASON to get Strong.

Therefore, if I say do a 20 kgs (Empty Men’s Bar) Bench, on day one….guess what happens? That evening/night/next-day, our body identifies this stress (Benching 20 kgs) and Adapts to that…by…becoming stronger. If the next time I Bench again, if I Bench 20 kgs, then, what happens? Well, NOTHING…because, my body has already adapted to lifting 20 kgs… If I lift (or attempt lift) say 80 kgs what happens? Well, very likely I will get injured, as my body (Muscles, Bones, Joints) are NOT strong enough to lift 80 kgs. It is too much Stress…too Soon.

So, say I lift 22 kgs for instance, this is NOT too much weight compared to the last time I lifted (20 kgs). However, it IS more weight that the last time and our bodies therefore, go through the same Stress-Adaptation Cycle and will Adapt to this Newer/Higher Stress, by…getting Stronger. And so, the story goes on…for a long time.

This is called Linear (Straight Line) Progression…and we can keep adding these 2 kgs for quite a while.

During the LP stage, you can keep the Sets and Repetitions (Reps) constant. 3 Sets of 5 Reps Across (Same weights across all Sets and Reps) is the way to go.

Some of the things to note here is that:

1) Do NOT lift on Sucessive Days. REST and RECOVERY is VERY IMPORTANT for our bodies…this is really when “ADAPTATION” happens.

2) Need to get enough sleep. Atleast 8-9-10 hours every day. YES…do NOT get Sleep Deprived.

3) Need to Provide Appropriate FUEL (Food…the right Quantity and Quality). So, eat a LOT of Proteins. FATS (Except Trans Fat) is good too. Carbohydrates (in moderation) are required too.

Obviously, after a while the 2 kgs increase will become lesser (1 kgs) and lesser, until Linear Progression itself, is NO LONGER possible. You have then “Graduated” from the Beginner Stage and have entered the Intermediate Stage. Programming becomes a bit more complicated (increases are on a weekly basis…not on a daily basis).

Bench More Reps (Volume)

Volume increases happen with Increased Sets/Reps. The Weights Benched increases too, but as discussed above, does not happen every workout, as it did in the Linear Progression Stage. Rather during the Intermediate Stage, increases in weight happens on a weekly basis, for the most part.

So, you will need to adjust the Weights (Intensity) as well as the Volume (Number of Sets & Reps) to be able to get the body to adapt (get stronger).

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In either case, you need to disrupt Homeostasis (which is your body’s set-point, so to speak). Only by doing so, will you trigger the Stress-Adaption-Cycle.

After completing the Intermediate Stage, the person enters Advanced Stage, where increases in Strength become even rarer and more difficult… Monthly increases are more common.

Few people (especially, if they are NOT Specialized Strength Athletes, such as Power-Lifters) go past the Intermediate Stage.

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By following the above processes, you will become Strong. Bones become more dense. You will also gain Muscle Hypertrophy, although, this is NOT the ultimate goal. This kind of Hypertrophy is known as Myofibrillar Hypertrophy.

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You could also follow a Bodybuilder type workout regimen, where you are Benching (and doing other Exercises) at lower weights and at higher reps to begin with. In such cases Strength increases somewhat. Hypertrophy (increase in Muscle Size) happens, although it is quite different from Myofibrillar Hypertrophy. Hypertrophy resulting from Bodybuilder type workouts (Body Part Splits, Lower Weights, Higher Reps), result in Sarcoplasmic Hypertrophy.

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Also, although Strength Training does increase Endurance too (to a good extent), Increases in Volume, result in More Increased Endurance.