Hello! My girlfriend has been weight training since she was 17 (she’s 37 now)… followed different programs and training routines (most recently 5/3/1) yet she can’t seem to increase her bench. I’m hoping to hear from someone who had the same struggle and found something that worked for her. Thanks so much for taking the time.
20 years is a long ass time to see no progress. Does she go every once in awhile or does she follow a program as it it? How long was she using 5/3/1?
She has seen changes but never really did flat bench until recently. She followed 5/3/1 for 3 months.
Well if she’s been lifting weights for 20 years, she is obviously doing something wrong if her bench hasn’t increased. Tell her to run 5/3/1 as it is written for a few cycles. Whats her goal? What’s her rm? Usually someone who lifts for 20 years isn’t a beginner but depending on her lifting numbers, she might be one.
Hard to answer without knowing a bit more.
- what is she benching now?
- what is her body weight?
- how is she currently training - in more detail
- what is her technique like
Without knowing more, you can usually increase load on the bar for bench by improving technique, adding volume and (IMO) getting a bigger and stronger upper and middle back. Al
Who cares about bench pressing for a woman anyway, just add more butt exercises. She should just do 1 exercise for pecs and that’s it. 4x8 flat DB bench or something would be ok.
I got my wife onto Ring Presses. They are really tough for her at first. She started on her knees just holding them. But in a couple of weeks she was able to press with her feet. It improved her bench because it has incredible ROM and teaches total body tightness, which isn’t very intuitive for the bench. Just buy a couple of gymnastics rings, throw them over a pull up bar, and hang them real low to the ground.
Not a bad idea, but you’d want to combine it with a lot of benching. Nothing beats benching to bench more until you’re pretty damn strong.
@MarkKO Thank you for your reply. Here is some more info:
Hard to answer without knowing a bit more.
what is she benching now?
Her max bench is 85
what is her body weight?
how is she currently training - in more detail
She lifts 4 days a week and does cardio on the off days (mostly HIIT work)
what is her technique like
She is incredibly focused, great form, pushes herself extremely hard. She doesn’t utilize rest periods between sets though. Tends to perform ab exercises in between because of time constraints.
Without knowing more, you can usually increase load on the bar for bench by improving technique, adding volume and (IMO) getting a bigger and stronger upper and middle back
She has a ridiculously muscular frame (especially her back)
What are your thoughts on training chest twice a week? One day lighter weight / higher reps (12-15)
One day heavier weight / lower reps (5 - 8)
She just recently started working on flat bench. She’s not doing anything ‘wrong’. She is used to dumbbell / cable work. This change takes a bit of time. Thank you for taking the time to reply.
This sounds great! I think she would like to add these in as well. Thanks!
There’s one potential issue. No matter how technically good you are, if you’re tired your execution will be sub-standard. Then, if you continuously train that way you end up ingraining your tired technique. Rest between sets. If she’s going to do stuff between sets, pull aparts would be good.
Is her back strong? How able is she to keep bending the bar while lowering and pressing? How well can she stabilise her shoulders (pull her scapulae back and down and push her chest up) and drive them into the bench as she presses? Those two cues IMO make or break a heavy bench press.
I think three days a week would be better. Leave all reps at 5 or less (better for technique practice) and leave the high reps for assistance.
week 1 5x3 at 85%, week 2 5x2 at 90%, week 3 5x1 at 95%. Week four 5x5 at 75%. Week five start again with 5 lbs more. Push the last set each week for extra reps if she wants.
Practice days (two per week)
3x5 at 70%, add 5 lbs on week five. These are her money sets more than the heavy ones, because they let her get tons of practice and build confidence.
Every day do some kind of rowing for higher reps (10-20 per set), some heavy, some less heavy. Aim for 50 pull aparts every training day.
For pressing assistance, only do things that are NOT bench variations (close grip, etc). The logic there is to ensure when she gets on a bench, there is only one lift she is thinking of, and that is bench press. Dumbbell presses, dips, incline presses are great. These should also be for higher reps.
That’s basically what I did to take my max bench from 253 lbs to 286 lbs in six or so months (I know, still way low, but a decent improvement in that time frame).
Lastly, if her arms are long a wider grip can help. So can a bigger arch.
Juggernaut (Chad Smith, not the Blaha chap) interviewed some good female benchers. That should provide some good pointersh… if you can’t be arsed: basically they said more volume (more than you think)
I don’t know if you’ve read the articles about how training for women is much different than men, due to neuromuscular differences, resistance to fatigue, etc, but it sounds like she should definitely try some 5x3 sets near her max. It’s been suggested that this training scheme for women is highly effective over a long period of time for strength.
Women recover better than men thanks to more circulating growth hormone and estrogen (surprisingly), and she could likely add in another benching day with more intensity - I typically go for negatives.
Slow negatives and ring push ups for more overall strength and stability in the pec and shoulder would probably be a huge help. Also adjusting her grip on the bar occasionally to change up the angle of attack. The lower rest time isn’t necessarily a terrible thing - women have that ability with an increased resistance to fatigue compared to men.
Also don’t forget that women can work in higher rep ranges closer to their one rep max than men can, hso finding a true 1-RM for a woman is much different, since our neuromuscular connection is not nearly as good - so what may seem like her 1-RM may be slightly lower than what her 5RM would suggest.
Overall - I would suggest 5x3 on one day, and then 5x5 or so for slow negatives for another day during that week, followed by ring push-ups to develop stability in the other regions of the pec and shoulder.
Try one of these…