Partial reps are a double-edged sword. On one hand they are one of the most effective tools you can use to build a massive bench press. They are great for strengthening the triceps and increasing your confidence with heavy weights.
On the other hand partial reps have some significant drawbacks. They can be very difficult to recover from and they don’t always carry over to the full range of motion bench press.
Partial reps are a fantastic training tool but you have to be smart about how you use them!
- Part 1: The Benefits Of Partial Reps
- Part 2: The Drawbacks Of Partial Reps
- Part 3: The Board Press
- Part 4: The Pin Press
- Part 5: Rack Lockouts
- Part 6: The Dead Bench
- Part 7: The Carpet Press
- Part 8: The Floor Press
- Part 9: Isometronics
- Part 10: A 12 Week Bench Press Peaking Cycle!
Partial reps are defined as any exercise performed through a limited range of motion. Partial reps are frequently used by powerlifters to increase their strength in the squat, bench press and deadlift.
Of course if there is one lift where partial reps truly shine it is the bench press.
Bench press partial reps have several key advantages:
- They strengthen your lockout strength
- They overload your triceps
- They increase your confidence with heavy weights
- They strengthen your connective tissues
- They desensitize the golgi tendon organ
There are many different exercises that you can use to train the bench press through a partial range of motion. Some of the best exercises for performing partial reps include board presses, pin presses and floor presses.
Of course partials can be used to overload either the bottom half or the top half of the bench press. For example here is Ronnie Coleman using partials in the bottom half of the bench press to overload his chest:
For the purposes of this article I will only be talking about how to use partials to overload the top half of the bench press. If you want to learn more about Ronnie Coleman’s unique take on bench press partial reps then I recommend you check out the following article:
In this comprehensive guide I am going to teach you everything you need to know about how to use partial reps to build a huge bench press.
You are going to learn the advantages and disadvantages of partial reps, the best bench press partial rep exercises, and how to design complete bench press workouts using these exercises. I will even cover a full 12-week bench press peaking cycle featuring partial reps at the end of this article!
Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this cutting edge information.
Please note that all of the routines in this article are written with all of the loading parameters clearly defined. If you have any trouble reading these workouts then please consult this article.
Now let’s get down to business…
Part 1: The Benefits Of Partial Reps
There are many advantages to using partial reps in your training. This is especially true when it comes to training a big, compound exercise such as the bench press. Here are just a few of these advantages:
- Lockout strength
- Triceps strength
- Confidence with heavy weights
- Connective Tissue strength
- Golgi Tendon Organ desensitization
- They’re Different!
Let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages…
Advantage #1: Lockout Strength
One of the most obvious advantages of partial reps training is that they improve your lockout strength. Yes, there are other training methods such as using bands or chains that also target your lockout strength.
However, if you commonly miss the weight at lockout then partial reps are one of the fastest ways to correct this weakness.
Advantage #2: Triceps Strength
Almost all powerlifters agree that the triceps are the single most important muscle group for a big bench press. This is true regardless of whether you compete “raw” or with supportive powerlifting equipment such as a bench press shirt. Partial reps are an awesome tool for strengthening the triceps for two primary reasons:
- The triceps are strongly activated during the lockout of a bench press
- Partial reps allow you to use heavier than normal weights
The triceps are primarily composed of fast-twitch muscle fibers. This is especially true for the lateral head. The lateral head of the triceps is often called the “lazy head” because it is hard to recruit unless you use extremely heavy weights!
Partials are great for fatiguing the lateral head because you can perform multiple repetitions with very heavy weights, something that is hard to do with full range of motion movements.
Advantage #3: Confidence With Heavy Weights
Lifting weights in the 1-3 rep range is very psychologically demanding. This is especially true on the bench press. If you screw up at all during the lift you may find yourself with a 300-600 pound barbell resting on your chest!
Partial reps can be very helpful for increasing your confidence with heavy weights. They let you feel heavier weights in your hands so that when you go to perform your heavier full range of motion sets the weights feel lighter and less intimidating.
Many world-class powerlifters have used partials for this very reason. When James Strickland was training to bench press 700+ pounds he used partials with as much as 850 pounds to increase his confidence with heavy weights! For example:
Just a few weeks later James Strickland narrowly missed a 702 pound competition bench press. Talk about impressive!
Advantage #4: Connective Tissue Strength
Heavy bench presses are notoriously demanding on your connective tissue. If you want to be able to train the bench press for a long time then you must increase your connective tissue strength. There are many ways to do this.
Partials allow you to handle supra-maximal loads which are great for increasing the density of your tendons, ligaments and bones. Increased connective tissue strength is great for preventing injuries but it is also great for increasing your strength potential.
The stronger your connective tissues are the more powerful your stretch reflex becomes coming out of the bottom position of a bench press.
Advantage #5: Golgi Tendon Organ Desensitization
Perhaps the most underrated benefit of performing partial repetitions in the bench press is that they desensitize the golgi tendon organ.
The golgi tendon is located in all of your muscles throughout your body. It’s primary job is to sense tension within your muscles during muscular contractions.
If the golgi tendon believes that a muscular contraction is putting you at risk for injury then it will actually inhibit the neurological drive to your muscles. This is a fancy way of saying that your brain will shut down your force output in your chest, shoulders and triceps in order to prevent injury.
This can be thought of as a good thing. After all, you would much rather miss a lift than suffer a major injury! The problem is that the golgi tendon organ tends to be a little over-active. It often shuts down neurological output to your muscles even when there is no risk for injury!
One of the best ways to get stronger is to use training methods that inhibit or desensitize the golgi tendon organ. And one of the best ways to do this is with partial reps.
You can click right here to listen to strength coach Christian Thibadeau talk more about the benefits of partial reps for down-regulating the golgi tendon organ.
Advantage #6: They’re Different!
Variety is one of the keys to long-term strength training success. If you perform the same workouts with the same exercises over and over then eventually your progress will come to a screeching halt.
At the end of the day partial reps are a novel training stimulus! The motor unit recruitment pathways are very different for partials and full range of motion movements. This can be a good thing as novel training methods are extremely effective at forcing training related adaptations.
Of course some trainees need more variation in their training than others. This is largely a reflection of your neurotransmitter profile.
If you are more of a dopamine-dominant or acetyl-choline dominant lifter then you are going to need more variation in your training for optimal progress. On the other hand if you have a balanced neurotransmitter profile then you may be able to grind out the same-old routine for a long time and get awesome results.
Regardless of your psychological profile partial reps are a great way to force training adaptations with a novel training stimulus.
Part 2: The Drawbacks Of Partial Reps
The truth is partial reps aren’t all rainbows and sunshine. There are some serious drawbacks to partials that you need to be aware of:
- Questionable Carryover
- Difficult To Recover From
- Taxing On The Shoulder Joint
- May Need A Spotter For Safety
Let’s take a closer look at these drawbacks to bench press partial reps.
Drawback #1: Questionable Carryover
This is probably one of the most obvious disadvantages of partial reps. If you perform nothing but partial reps in your training then you may find that your strength on the full range of motion bench press actually goes down.
If you are going to use partials as a regular part of your training then you MUST pair them with full range of motion movements. There are many ways to do this:
- Perform partials after your full range of motion work
- Perform full range of motion work after your partials
- Perform partials and full range of motion work on separate training days
The important thing is that you use partials to supplement your full range of motion bench presses rather than replace them entirely.
Drawback #2: Difficult To Recover From
Bench press partials can be very difficult to recover from. Often times you will be able to rep out a weight on exercises such as board presses or pin presses that are greater than 100% of your 1-rep max on the bench press.
These supra-maximal reps are great for training your nervous system to maximally recruit the high-threshold motor units.
However, they can also be very difficult to recover from. Unless you are using the Westside Barbell training program you probably wouldn’t want to max out every single week.
For the same reasons you probably don’t want to be using supra-maximal partial reps every week in your training. Your central nervous system needs a break once in a while!
Drawback #3: Taxing On The Shoulder Joint
Bench press partial reps are not for everyone.
In my experience the people who get the most out of this training method are the individuals who have an easy time recruiting their triceps. Their triceps kick in immediately during the movement and get thoroughly smoked.
On the other hand there are some individuals who have a *very* difficult time recruiting their triceps. Even if they are doing a 5-board press their chest and shoulders want to take over the movement.
For these trainees bench press partials are a poor choice because the shoulder joint will be heavily taxed. In the long run this can actually decrease their overall shoulder health and increase their risk for injury.
These trainees may be better off focusing on triceps isolation exercises until they can more effectively recruit the triceps during partial range of motion compound exercises.
To recap, if you have an easy time recruiting your triceps during compound exercises then partial range of motion lifts can be an awesome tool. Conversely if you have a harder time activating your triceps than Marc Lobliner then you may get less than nothing out of board presses, rack lockouts etc.
Drawback #4: May Need A Spotter For Safety
Some partial range of motion exercises are very difficult to perform without 1-2 well trained spotters. One of the best examples of this is the 4-board press. The 4-board press is probably one of the better exercises that you can use to overload your triceps and improve your triceps strength.
Unfortunately it is very difficult to perform on your own. You may actually need 1 spotter to hold the boards on your chest and another spotter to lift the weight off to you. You can click right here to see why a spotter is so important for the 4-board press.
This does not mean that the board press is a bad exercise. If you have 1-2 training spotters it can be a great movement to work into your training. However, attempting this exercise on your own is probably not the best idea.
Of course exercises such as floor presses and pin presses are more easily performed without a spotter. If you are training on your own then these may be better choices for you.
Part 3: The Board Press
The board press is a staple in many powerlifting gyms such as the Westside Barbell powerlifting club. The idea is simple: you perform a partial range of motion bench press with 1-4 wooden boards on your chest.
Many fitness companies such as Elitefts and Rogue Fitness sell bench pressing boards with built-in handles that you can use.
This is a nice touch but if you are on a budget you can actually build your own bench press boards by cutting up a section of 2 x 4 wood. This is exactly what I did in 2008 when I started training in my first hardcore powerlifting gym and it worked like a charm.
Most trainees choose to use a 2-board, 3-board or 4-board in their training although anything from a 1-board to a 5-board can be used. The more wooden boards you use the shorter the range of motion of the lift and the more you can overload the lockout portion of the bench press.
As I mentioned earlier the Westside Barbell powerlifting team is largely responsible for popularizing the use of boards to train the bench press. I would like to share with you a couple of sample Westside Barbell bench press workouts featuring board presses.
Here is a sample max effort workout where the 2-board press is performed as the main exercise of the day. Check it out:
Max Effort Bench Press Workout
- A1: 2-board bench press (competition grip), 2-3 x 1**, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 30 degree incline DB press, 2 x 20-25****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Flat rolling DB extension, 4 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Bilateral standing overhead rope cable extension, 4 x 12-15, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Wide pronated grip lat pulldown, 4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Machine chest supported row (pronated grip), 4 x 8-12, 2/0/X/1, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 2-3 sets at or above 90% of your 1-rep max for the day. For example you may attempt 1 set at 90%, 1 set near 100% and perhaps one more single if your second attempt was successful.
****Perform both sets all the way to concentric muscular failure. You must fail on the last rep!
Many powerlifters find that using a low board press for their max effort exercise is a great way to give their shoulders a break from full range of motion lifting. Of course on other weeks they would perform more full range of motion exercises such as chain presses, reverse band presses etc.
Here is a sample dynamic effort bench press workout that you could try. In this case the board press is performed as a supplementary exercise in the 4-6 rep range immediately after the dynamic effort bench press sets. Check it out:
Dynamic Effort Bench Press Workout
- A1: Dynamic effort bench press against bands**, 9 x 3****, X/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- B1: 4-board press, 2-3 x 4-6, 1/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Dead stop skull crushers, 3 x 6-8, 1/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Decline DB extension, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- E1: Barbell bent over row, 4 x 8-10, 1/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Seated cable rope face pull, 4 x 10-12, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Use 50% of your 1-rep max in bar weight, not including the band tension. Perform all reps as explosively as possible. See the video below for more details.
****Perform 3 sets with a close grip, 3 sets with a medium-width grip and 3 sets with a wide grip. Close / medium / wide are all relative terms depending on your body structure and your competition bench press grip.
You can click here to see a great video on the dynamic effort bench press.
As you can see the board press is one of the more versatile bench press variations that you can perform. You can easily vary the number of boards that you use. However, you can also vary the rep ranges that you use for your board presses.
As a general rule of thumb I recommend you perform your board presses in the 1-8 rep range. Anything more than 8 reps starts to defeat the purpose of the exercise.
Part 4: The Pin Press
The pin press is another fantastic exercise that allows you to perform partial reps on the bench press. The idea is simple: you are going to press the bar from a dead stop position resting on a pair of safety pins. For example:
The pin press is just as versatile as the board press. You can easily vary the starting position of the exercise so that it is only 1-2 inches away from your chest or 1-2 inches away from lockout. These extreme versions of the exercise will be covered in parts 5 and 6 of this article.
The pin press represents a fantastic option for overloading your nervous system and your triceps with heavier than normal weights. Unlike the board press it can be performed on your own without the help of a spotter.
Here is a sample arm workout featuring the pin press that you may want to try. This workout represents a good compromise between strength and size gains.
Check it out:
Arm Workout Featuring The Pin Press
- A1: Pin press (shoulder-width grip, 4 inches off chest), 4 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Unilateral preacher DB curl (supinated grip), 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 4 x 6-8, 3/1/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Seated zottman curls, 4 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
Of course there are some disadvantages to the pin press. Some trainees find that this exercise can be very hard on their shoulders. This is particularly true if they have a history of shoulder injuries or they have a difficult time recruiting their triceps relative to their chest and shoulders.
If this describes you then you may want to stay away from pin presses in favor of other exercises such as board presses etc.
Part 5: Rack Lockouts
Rack lockouts are a specific type of pin press. They involve performing a pin press where the bar is set 1-2 inches below lockout. For example:
This exercise is primarily used by powerlifters to acclimate their body to the feeling of extremely heavy weights. They do strengthen the triceps but the range of motion is simply too short to use them as a core triceps strengthening exercise.
In my experience there are two very effective ways to use rack lockouts in your workouts. The first method involves performing rack lockouts as a supplementary exercise after your heavy bench press sets. The supra-maximal loads increase your confidence with ultra-heavy weights and help to down-regulate your central nervous system.
Here is a sample routine you may want to try. Check it out:
Rack Lockouts Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- A2: Narrow supinated grip chin up, 6 x 6/4/2**, 4/0/X/0, 100 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press rack lockout (2 inches, competition grip), 3 x 8, 1/1/X/1, 60 seconds rest
- B2: T-bar row, 3 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: 45 degree incline DB curl (supinated grip), 3 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Flat ez-bar extension (to nose), 3 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed as a 6/4/2 wave. Perform 6 reps on your 1st set, 4 reps on your 2nd set, 2 reps on your 3rd set, 6 reps on your 4th set, 4 reps on your 5th set, and 2 reps on your 6th set. All sets are performed with near-maximal loads for the given rep target.
There is another way to use rack lockouts. This method was popularized by the legendary bodybuilder Chuck Sypes and is often called the Chuck Sypes method.
In his prime Chuck could bench press 570 pounds. He often alternated rack lockouts with regular bench presses as a form of contrast training. The rack lockouts potentiated his nervous system so that when he went back to his full range of motion sets they felt lighter than usual.
Here is a Chuck Sypes inspired bench press workout you may want to try. Check it out:
Chuck Sypes Bench Press Workout
- A1: Rack lockout (2 inches, competition grip), 3 x 1, X/0/X/10, 180 seconds rest
- A2: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 30 degree incline DB fly, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: Flat DB extension, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 8-10, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
You can click here to see James Strickland give another perfect demonstration of the 2 inch rack lockout.
As you can see there are a variety of ways that you can program rack lockouts into your own programming.
Rack lockouts are a valuable tool but just like any other training method you have to be careful not to overdo them. There is nothing more embarrassing than a man with a 500 pound rack lockout and a 250 pound bench press!
Part 6: The Dead Bench
The dead bench is a very specific type of pin press that was popularized by Josh Bryant. This Josh is a world-class powerlifting coach who has trained some of the strongest bench pressers in the world. He is even the coach of the world’s strongest bench presser Julius Maddox!
Unlike a regular pin press the dead bench is performed with the bar 1-4 inches above your chest. For example:
The main advantage of the dead bench is it eliminates the stretch reflex so your muscles are forced to do all the work.
Of course the stretch reflex is just a fancy term for the energy building up in your connective tissue during the lowering phase of a lift.
The problem with over-relying on the stretch reflex is that you may develop a sticking point 1-4 inches off your chest. This is the exact point where the stretch reflex taps out and your muscles fully take over.
Josh typically uses the dead bench as a supplementary exercise. He actually has his trainees perform 3-10 single repetitions with submaximal weights and 30-60 second rest periods.
It’s important to only perform the dead bench for single repetitions because otherwise the stretch reflex will kick in for your second rep and beyond.
Here is a sample Josh Bryant style bench press workout featuring the dead bench. This is actually the exact workout that he had Jonathon Irizarry use in the first week of his 2020 bench press peaking cycle. Check it out:
Josh Bryant Dead Bench Routine
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 1 x 3**, 1/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Speed bench press (competition grip), 8 x 3***, 1/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: 30 degree prone DB chest supported row, 8 x 6, 1/0/1/1, 90 seconds rest
- C1: Dead bench press (competition grip, 2 inches off chest), 10 x 1****, 1/0/X/0, 30 seconds rest
- D1: V-bar dips (forward leaning torso), 2 x 8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: DB floor flys, 3 x 8-12, 2/1/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Dead stop DB tricep extensions, 3 x 8-12, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
**Performed with 87% of your estimated 1-rep max.
***Performed with 70% of your estimated 1-rep max.
****Performed with 60% of your estimated 1-rep max.
Here is a video of Josh Bryant coaching Jonathon Irizarry through this exact workout:
This is a fantastic way to organize a bench press workout. The dead bench and the rest of the accessory exercises all have a synergistic effect on increasing the main lift.
I recommend you perform this workout with slightly increasing training percentages for 3 consecutive weeks. On the 4th week you are probably going to need a “deload” workout to recharge your body and your mind.
If you want to learn more about Josh Bryant’s unique take on powerlifting program design then I highly recommend the following two articles:
Everything you could ever want to know about how Josh Bryant organizes his bench press and powerlifting programs can be found in those 2 articles.
Part 7: The Floor Press
The floor press is a very interesting exercise. You essentially just perform a bench press on the ground where your elbows make contact with the ground in the bottom position.
For most trainees the bar will be 1-3 inches off the chest when your elbows touch the ground. For example:
The floor press is a very effective way to train the mid-range position of the bench press. It is another favourite of Louie Simmons and the Westside Barbell powerlifting club although many other strength athletes also use it in their own programming.
Here is a floor press workout that you may want to try. It utilizes the 1/6 contrast method. You are going to perform 6 sets of floor presses alternating between sets of singles and sets of 6 res. This is a powerful way to stimulate strength and functional hypertrophy gains in the triceps and all of the pressing muscles.
Check it out:
Floor Press Contrast Set Workout
- A1: Floor press (competition grip), 6 x 1/6**, 2/1/X/0, 180 seconds rest
- B1: Standing behind the neck press (shoulder-width grip), 4 x 6-8, 4/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: 30 degree incline DB extension, 4 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
**Performed as a 1/6 contrast method. Perform 1 rep on your 1st set, 6 reps on your 2nd set, 1 rep on your 3rd set, 6 reps on your 4th set, 1 rep on your 5th set, and 6 reps on your 6th set.
The floor press is a great exercise that tends to carry over really well to the bench press. Many Westside Barbell trainees actually use the floor press as their bench press “indicator” exercise.
In other words if their floor press went up by 50 pounds then they were very confident that their bench press would also be up by about 50 pounds.
Part 8: Functional Isometrics
Functional isometrics, also known as isometronics, are a powerful training technique. They blend together two different training methods:
- Partial rep pin presses
- Overcoming isometric contractions
I recommend you watch this isometronics video if you are unfamiliar with this training method:
Overcoming isometric contractions involve pressing as hard as you can against an immovable object. In the case of the bench press it means pressing a loaded barbell as hard as you can into a pair of safety pins.
These isometric contractions have many advantages. Chief among them is the fact that they recruit more motor units than either concentric or eccentric muscular contractions.
In fact the scientific literature has shown that all-out overcoming isometric contractions recruit up to 15% more motor units than either concentric or eccentric muscular contractions!
To perform this method you will need a power rack and two separate safety pins. You are then going to divide the bench press into three separate ranges of motion:
- The bottom third
- The middle third
- The top third
You are going to perform 3 functional isometric sets in each of these ranges of motion for 9 total sets. Each functional isometric set consists of 4-6 partial range of motion reps and one final overcoming isometric contraction against the top pins lasting 6-8 seconds.
Your goal is to literally break the pins in half! After your 9th partial range of motion set you will perform 1 full range of motion set. This final set is critical for teaching your body to fire the newly activated motor units through a full range of motion.
Here is a sample function isometrics workout that you may want to try. Check it out:
Functional Isometrics Bench Press Workout
- A1: Bench press bottom position functional isometrics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press middle position functional isometrics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- B2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top position functional isometrics (medium grip), 3 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 3 x 3****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (medium grip), 1 x 6, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- D2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 1 x 3****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform 6 partial range of motion reps in between 2 pairs of safety pins. On the 6th rep press as hard as you can against the top pins for 6 total seconds. Then lower the weight back down to the starting position and attempt a 7th rep. If you easily complete the 7th rep then increase the weight on the next set.
You can click right here to see another video demonstration of the isometronics method.
Functional isometrics is definitely one of the most extreme applications of partial reps on the bench press. Unlike some of the other exercises we have covered so far this training method is great for overloading the entire range of motion of the bench press. It works regardless of whether you have a weakness in the bottom, middle or top of the movement.
If you are willing to step out of your comfort zone then I highly recommend you give this routine a shot. Functional isometrics are easily one of the fastest ways to break through a bench press plateau.
Part 9: A 12 Week Bench Press Peaking Cycle!
Throughout this guide I have provided you with several bench press workouts featuring partial repetitions. Now I am going to go one step further by providing you with a complete 12-week bench press peaking cycle!
For this peaking cycle I recommend you use a 4 days per week upper body / lower body split. For example:
- Monday: Upper Body
- Wednesday: Lower Body
- Friday: Upper Body
- Saturday: Lower Body
You are going to cycle through 4 different workouts. Each workout will be performed twice per week for 3 consecutive weeks. After the third week you will progress to the next routine. For example:
- Weeks 1-3: Routine #1
- Weeks 4-6: Routine #2
- Weeks 7-9: Routine #3
- Weeks 10-12: Routine #4
The 1st and 3rd routines are accumulation phases designed to increase your muscular hypertrophy. You will not be performing any partial reps during these workouts.
The 2nd and 4th routines are intensification phases designed to boost your maximal strength. These workouts include different types of partial reps to build your overall bench pressing strength. Check it out:
- A1: Seated DB overhead press, 3 x 8-10**, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A2: 60 degree incline DB press, 3 x AMRAP****, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- A3: 30 degree incline DB press, 3 x AMRAP****, 3/0/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B1: Wide neutral grip pulldowns, 3 x 8-10**, 2/1/X/0, 10 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable row (v-handle), 3 x 8-10**, 2/0/X/1, 10 seconds rest
- C1: Dead stop skull crusher, 2 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C2: 60 degree incline zottman curl, 2 x 10-12, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- D1: Standing cable external rotations (arm adducted), 2 x 10-12, 2/0/2/0, 60 seconds rest
**Perform all 3 sets just shy of failure
****Use the same weight that you used for exercise A1 and perform as many reps as you can. Aim to stop just shy of muscular failure.
This workout features two very effective hypertrophy methods: mechanical advantage drop sets and supersets. These techniques are fantastic for accumulating a lot of volume and building muscular hypertrophy.
This workout will help to prepare you for the more neurological based workout to come in the rest of the peaking cycle.
- A1: Bench press bottom position isometronics (medium grip), 2 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 2 x 4****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Bench press middle position isometronics (medium grip), 2 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- B2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 2 x 4****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- C1: Bench press top position isometronics (medium grip), 2 x 6**, 1/1/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- C2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 2 x 4****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- D1: Bench press (medium grip), 1 x 6, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- D2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 1 x 4****, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- E1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- E2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- F1: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A1: Bench press (medium grip), 5 x 5, 2/0/X/1, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Narrow neutral grip pull ups, 5 x 5, 2/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: Decline ez-bar extension (to forehead), 3 x 6-8, 2/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Barbell dead stop row, 3 x 6-8, 2/1/X/0, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Seated DB external rotations, 3 x 6-8, 3/0/X/0, 120 seconds rest
Weeks 4-6 of your 12 week bench press peaking cycle feature functional isometrics. You should be familiar with this method by now.
One of the drawbacks of functional isometrics is they can be very taxing on the central nervous system. For this reason I recommend you only perform them every other workout. Specifically I recommend you perform the “2A” routine early in the week and the “2B” workout later in the week.
For example you may perform the 2A workout on a Monday and the 2B workout on a Tuesday. Performing functional isometrics only every other workout is a great strategy to build strength without burning out your central nervous system.
This is perhaps the hardest 3-week stretch of the entire peaking cycle. If you can make it through this routine then you will have set yourself up for a huge PR down the road.
- A1: 45 degree incline barbell press (shoulder-width grip), 6 x 7/5/3**, 5/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- A2: Medium supinated grip chin ups, 6 x 7/5/3**, 5/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B1: 15 degree incline DB press, 3 x 7-9, 3/0/1/0, 60 seconds rest
- B2: Seal row, 3 x 7-9, 2/1/X/1, 60 seconds rest
- C1: Unilateral DB french press, 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
- C2: Standing cable external rotation (arm abducted), 3 x 7-9, 2/0/1/0, 30 seconds rest
**Performed as a 7/5/3 wave loading scheme. Perform 7 reps on your 1st set, 5 reps on your 2nd set, 3 reps on your 3rd set, 7 reps on your 4th set, 5 reps on your 5th set, and 3 reps on your 6th set.
This routine utilizes the 7/5/3 wave loading scheme. This is an excellent way to structure a workout when you are after a blend of size and strength gains. This workout should be less fatiguing than the previous functional isometrics workout.
- A1: Bench press (competition grip), 3 x 5**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- A2: Medium pronated grip pull ups, 3 x 5**, 2/1/X/0, 120 seconds rest
- B1: 4-board press against bands, 3 x 6, 1/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- B2: Seated cable rope face pull, 3 x 6-8, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C1: V-bar dips (upright torso), 3 x 6, 2/0/X/0, 90 seconds rest
- C2: Band pull-apart, 3 x 6, 2/0/1/0, 90 seconds rest
**Performed as a Poliquin-style cluster sets workout. You are going to rest 20 seconds in between each of the 5 repetitions.
**In other words you perform your 1st rest, rest 20 seconds, perform your 2nd rep, rest 20 seconds, perform your 3rd rep, rest 20 seconds, perform your 4th rep, rest 20 seconds, perform your 5th rep, rest 2 minutes and proceed to the antagonistic exercise.
This is the workout that will peak your strength on the bench press. The weapon of choice for this workout is none other than cluster sets.
Many strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin and Christian Thibadeau regard cluster sets as the single best training method for building maximal strength. I think you will be surprised at how quickly your strength climbs with this routine.
Partial reps can be a powerful tool to boost your strength in the bench press. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
Of course there are some drawbacks to partial reps that you need to be aware of. They can be very difficult to recover from and they don’t always transfer over to your full range of motion lifts as well as you would like.
If you use partials to complement your bench press training rather than replace it the I think you will find they are one of the best training tools you can use.
“There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.”
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of luck in your strength training journey!
Chad Wesley Smith is one of the brightest minds in the fitness industry today. Chad has competed at the absolute highest levels in three different sports: shot put, powerlifting and strongman....
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