Building a bigger, strong chest not only can boost your bench press, but it can leave you with some serious upper body size and residual strength for pressing movements. Strength, power, and everyday athletes are always asking, “What’s the BEST chest program for size and strength?”, so we figured we will offer up some advice…
In this article we will discuss:
- How to Choose the Right Program for You?
- Basics of Linear vs Non-Linear/Undulating Periodization
- Common Programming Templates to Build a Bigger, Stronger Chest
How to Choose the Right Program for You
Choosing the right program can be tricky, as it depends on your training age, lifting abilities (which often go with training age), injuries, goals, and willingness to sacrifice other lifts in place of placing more time and energy towards another lift.
To help you make a better decision as to which type of periodization (linear vs non-linear), we will briefly recap a previous article we did here on BarBend called, The Three Most Common Types of Training Periodization.
Furthermore, we will go over a few programs that have been used widely in strength sports to not only add size and strength to the chest, but also boost bench pressing abilities.
Chest Program Disclaimer
It is important to note that the below programs may in fact incorporate both types of periodization. The below programs were not created by us here at BarBend, however they do utilize a lot of the science and discussions that we cover across our site.
While we have only discussed a few of the more popular programs, by no means does this suggest that a creative, science-driven coach/athlete (like yourself 🙂 cannot create their own program (based on the literature we so diligently offer to our readers). Personally, I often find that creating your own program, based on the teachings of others, science, and your own intuition; is rewarding and can be far more motivating to stay on during times where things get tough.
Linear vs Non-Linear/Undulating Programs
Below we will discuss two of the most common types of periodization. If you are looking for more information on each, please refer to the above article for a more in-depth analysis of the differences between linear vs non-linear/undulating periodization, examples of each, and how to incorporate them into a training program.
Linear Periodization (with Sample Bench Press Program)
Linear periodization is one of the more commonly known styles of programming, one that has been seen throughout most fitness programs, beginner level trainees, etc. In this type of program, one variable (sets, reps, or loading) is increased on a weekly basis to bring about positive adaptation to the body. This is often referred to as “progressive overload”, simply meaning that a training stress (set, rep, or weight) is progressed in a linear fashion (see example below).
Pure linear programming however has its limitations, as more intermediate and advanced athletes cannot simply increase loads 1-2% every week for long amounts of time. Adding a set or a repetition every week can be another option, however this too will ultimately leave a lifter stranded in longer training phases.
Linear periodization does however lend itself to simplicity, is easily monitored, and can be effective for most athletes (more advanced athletes may run into issues earlier than less trained).
An example of linear periodization for the bench press would be something like this:
- Week 1: 4 sets of 8 reps at 225lbs
- Week 2: 4 sets of 8 reps at 230lbs
- Week 3: 4 sets of 8 reps at 235lbs
- Week 4: DELOAD
Going into the second month of the program, a lifter could choose to keep loads the same yet change repetitions, or even keep those the same just add another work set. Simply modifications can be made in terms of sets, reps, and weights used, however exercise selection is often limited. Here is an example of how the next four weeks could look:
- Week 5: 4 sets of 10 reps at 225lbs
- Week 6: 4 sets of 10 reps at 230lbs
- Week 7: 4 sets of 10 reps at 235lbs
- Week 8: DELOAD
As you can see, the variable that changed in the second block was increasing the total repetitions per set to 10 rather than 8, with no change to the loads. The next 4-week block could then have the lifter switch to adding another set of 10 at the same loads (5 total sets), or increasing repetitions to 12s, or simply repeating 4 sets of 10 reps, but starting at 230-235 lbs for the first week of the new program.
Non-Linear/Undulating Periodization (with Sample Bench Press Program)
Non-linear/undulated periodization differs from linear periodization in that it may alter sets, reps, and training intensities within a weekly program. This is done to expose the body to different stressors on a continual basis to bring about change.
This style of programming, while looking to be more advanced, can often be used with beginners, intermediates, and advanced athletes, however a firm training basis is needed (proper technique, exposure to heavy, moderate, and lighter loads), and often ability to handle higher training volumes.
The flexibility of this style of program can allow coaches and athletes to add variety to their program within each and every week, which can also help to keep programs interesting and not mundane.
Below is an example week of a bench press program using non-linear/undulating periodization:
- Day 1: 4 sets of 8 reps at 70%
- Day 2: 4 sets of 6 reps at 75%
- Day 3: 4 sets of 4 reps at 80%
In the above week structure, the total set volume is kept constant, however both repetition ranges and training intensities (% of repetition max) are varied, both in the same week. This exposes a lifter to various training stressors at once. In the successive weeks, a lifter could simply try to add a few more kilos/pounds to the bar to simply progress the load in a linear fashion.
It is important to note that most programs, nearly all of them, are not one type of periodization vs the other. In fact, many of them may be rooted in non-linear/undulating periodization, yet also incorporate linear periodization in one variable of the program. In the above example, the lifter would simply add a few more kilos/pounds to the bar every week, which would by definition be linear periodization in a non-linear/undulating set and rep scheme.
The takeaway is that a coach/athlete should allow themselves to be flexible to the idea that both linear and non-linear/undulating periodization are beneficial to all athletes throughout various stages of training, and can often be used together.
Common Programming Templates
Below are six (6) common training programs geared to help you build a bigger, stronger chest (and bench press). If you have not read the above sections, I urge you to go back and read it to fully grasp the basis of each program below.
German Volume Training (GVT)
GVT training is a very simple protocol. The protocol is to perform 10 sets of 10 repetitions, with the first week using roughly 60% of your one rep maximum (in this case for the bench press). As you move from week to week, simply add a 1-2%, or a few kilos/pounds, to the barbell and perform 10 sets of 10 reps.
This program is very linear based, meaning that the loading is progressed in a linear fashion over a span of weeks, even months. As one would suspect, this program has it limitations in that it is not ideal for maximal strength and power development, but it does take advantage of adding progressive overload and training volume week after week (which has been shown to be a key factor for muscle hypertrophy).
The Cube Method was developed by Brandon Lilly, a powerlifter who specifically made this program to boost the squat, bench press, and deadlift performance. This program is non-linear/undulating on a weekly basis, with one bench press workout per week. Each week, the “goal” is varied, and so are the sets, reps, and intensities (strength work, explosive work, and repetition work). As the program goes on, the sets, reps, and intensities of the same “goal” days are progressed in a non-linear fashion.
The Texas Method is the brainchild of Mark Rippetoe and Glenn Pendlay, and is nonlinear/undilated in nature. It incorporates three days per week for a main strength lift (squat, bench, deadlift). Max effort days are used to set the training intensity of the other days (strength and recovery/explosive work). Similar to the above example used in the nonlinear section, the training goal every day varies (strength/hypertrophy, explosive/recovery, and max effort) which can help expose a lifter to various training stressors within the same program and increase multiple fitness markers at once. Read more about the Texas Method.
5/3/1 was developed by Jim Wendler, and was designed to be used with the squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press. The programming is fairly straight forwards, and is primarily non-linear/undulating in nature. Lifts are trained one time per week. The first week is 3 sets of 5 repetitions, with ascending intensities, ending with the last set being a 5+ set (max effort repetitions). The second week is 3 sets of 3 repetitions done in similar format as the 5s, with the last set being a 3+ set. The third week is three sets, with the rep scheme of 5 reps for the first set, 3 reps for the second set, and 1+ reps for the last set (the intensities also increase every week based on the repetition scheme). Monthly progression are made in a linear fashion. Read more about the 5/3/1 Method.
The Conjugated System was created by Westside Barbell’s Louie Simmons, and is focused on weekly (sometimes every few weeks) max effort attempts, with progressions being made every week by switching out exercise variations (rather than increasing sets, reps, or loads using the same exercise as previous max effort attempts). The other training day per week is devoted towards speed/explosive work on a given exercise (often the competition lifts, such as the squat, bench press, and deadlift), in which bands, chains, and no accommodating resistance is cycled/used. This system does however incorporate a wide array of accessory movements, which can be progressed in both linear and nonlinear/undulating fashion.
Maybe You Should Create YOUR Own Program!
At the end of the day, “a poorly written program done well beats a beautifully written program done poorly.” That said, some lifters/coaches will find it best to attack their own programming themselves (with the help of resources like BarBend, of course). If you are on the fence about which program to choose or try, maybe you should sit down, come up with a logical program based on the principles above, and give it a try. Ask your fellow coaches what they think, and become a more educated lifter.
Featured Image: @evotrevor on Instagram
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