Throughout various times of my competitive powerlifting history, I benched anywhere from 1 to 4 times per week. The idea that ‘more is better’ is not necessarily true, and everyone will have an optimal bench press frequency based on their level of experience and goals.
So how many times per week should you bench press? Most powerlifters will train bench press 2-3 times per week. By doing this, you can gain sufficient practice with the bench press technique, as well as plan different training adaptations (strength, hypertrophy, power) on separate workouts. When benching multiple times per week, lifters will want to ensure they have no current injuries and can still prioritize other aspects of their training in order to be ‘well-rounded’.
If you’re thinking about bench pressing more, I’ll provide you with a framework to decide whether it’s right for you. Let’s dive into further detail and understand whether or not you should be benching more.
Why You SHOULD NOT Bench More Often
In order to know whether you should be benching more often, I should first explain some reasons why you may want to consider otherwise.
You may only be benching one time per week right now, and as I said: “more is not better”. So you’ll want to assess your own individual training context before making a decision to increase the frequency or not.
Here are four reasons to stick to your current training frequency:
You’re still making progress and achieving your goals
If you’ve been consistently making strength progress in your bench press, then “don’t fix what ain’t broke”.
If you’re making progress it means that your body has a sufficient stress-adaptation response. Each time you train, your body undergoes stress, and your ability to recover from that stress will yield (hopefully) positive adaptation.
You want to achieve the minimum stress dose possible to yield the greatest adaptation.
Think of it as a high jump contest. The bar height is the level of stress you need to reach to adapt positively. If you clear the bar, you’ll get stronger. But it doesn’t really matter if you clear the bar by an inch or a mile, the adaptation to the stimulus will still be achieved.
While this is a simplified example of a complex human system, the idea is that if you’re adapting positively by only bench pressing once per week, then there’s no need to increase the training frequency, and therefore, stress.
You don’t have time
Most people will be restricted by how many days per week they can train. As such, you’ll be limited by the ‘economy of training’, which refers to how much time you can dedicate to the gym each week.
For example, if you can only spend 45-minutes in the gym 3 days per week, then you’ll want to make sure every minute you have in the gym is maximized fully around your goals. You won’t have as much time as someone who spends 2-hours in the gym 5 days per week to do superfluous exercises.
So if your goal is to do a well-rounded program, which includes multiple exercises and qualities of training, then you might have to forego benching more frequently in order to accomplish your overarching strength goals.
You have injuries
If you currently have injuries that impact your bench press negatively, then you’ll want to consider keeping your frequency the same or even reducing it.
When you have an injury the goal should be to get back to normal functioning as soon as possible.
This is not to say that you can’t bench press altogether (it depends on the injury). But, it does mean that you’ll want to think critically about putting more stress on your muscles, joints, and tendons. You should only increase bench frequency when you’re free from any pain or injury.
You’re within 6-8 weeks of a competition
If you’re a competitive powerlifter, you’ll want to consider the time of year before increasing your bench frequency.
As you get closer to competing, your training volume should be slowly reducing. If not reducing, then it should be static.
As you increase the number of bench press workouts per week, you’ll be adding more volume to your overall training program, not less. Therefore, it’s generally not advised to increase training frequency 6-8 weeks before a competition.
Why You SHOULD Bench More Often
So if you don’t fall into any of the categories above, then you might be a good candidate to bench press more frequently.
If you bench press one or two times per week, you could consider increasing your bench workouts to two or three times per week.
Here are five reasons to increase your training frequency:
It’s an opportunity to work on technique improvements
You should think of bench press as a sport skill.
When viewed in this way, you’ll recognize that every sport skill needs to have a certain amount of practice time in order to improve.
For example, let’s say you’re a basketball player and your goal is to improve your technique with free-throw shooting. In order to improve your technique and success at making shots, you obviously need to practice. If you practice multiple times per week, you’ll likely develop technical competence at a much quicker rate than if you were only practicing once.
The same rationale applies to bench press. Motor learning happens with sufficient practice at the sport skill.
Your progress has stalled
Don’t confuse ‘rate of progress’ with ‘your progress has stalled’.
Your rate of progress is how quickly you’re making strength improvements. For example, you’re gaining 20lbs of strength each month. When you’re newer to strength training (less than 3 years), your rate of progress will be quicker. As you get closer to your biological limit your rate of progress will slow. You can’t expect to continue progressing at the same rate forever and forever. At some point, it will slow, which is totally normal.
This is different from stalling, which would be characterized by having no strength increase over a medium timeframe (2-4 months). If your strength has stalled, and you’ve seen no recent improvements, then this is a problem that needs to be solved in your training.
Your progress might be stalled for several reasons, but one reason is that your bench press frequency has remained static for far too long. This would be the case if you’ve run the same training program over and over again. In this case, you might consider a bench press program that has an increased training frequency.
Check out my article on breaking through bench press plateaus.
You require more training volume
Another reason why your bench press strength has stalled is that you aren’t getting enough training volume.
If your training volume has remained static over the course of a long period of time (4-6 months), and your bench press strength has stalled, then those two factors might be correlated.
Remember above when I mentioned the ‘stress-adaptation’ response? The body will stop adapting to the same level of stress over time. Therefore, you’ll need more training volume (stress) to continue positively adapting.
Rather than increasing your volume on a single workout, you could consider increasing your bench press frequency to 2-3 days/week and accumulating more volume on these additional workouts.
Check out my article on Can You Squat and Deadlift In The Same Workout?
You want to do a ‘bench focused’ phase of training
Some people might want to singularly focus on their bench press training more than any other strength goal.
If you decide that you want to drive bench press progress quicker than other lifts, then increasing your training frequency will allow you to increases both your technical competence and training volume.
Keep in mind, the number of times per week that you bench press can go up or down over the course of the year. It doesn’t need to be a static number. As such, you could decide to increase your bench press frequency to 3 times/week for 8-weeks, and then bring it back down to 1-2 times/week when you want to focus on a more well-rounded training program.
You want to experiment with different periodization strategies
Periodization is the systematic process of manipulating your training variables over the course of a long period of time.
Some periodization strategies are premised on the idea that you’re training your lifts multiple times per week.
Daily Undulating Periodization (DUP) is a method where you focus on different qualities of training within the same week. Under a DUP system, you would bench press multiple times per week — some days having higher reps, lower reps, higher intensities, or lower intensities.
For example, your training could be split in the following ways:
- Day 1: Focused on hypertrophy
- Day 2: Focused on strength
- Day 3: Focused on power
You can see how DUP periodization simply wouldn’t work if you are only bench pressing once/week. So if you wanted to experiment with a different periodization method, such as DUP, you would likely need to plan higher training frequencies.
You’re not competing soon
If you’re a competitive powerliter, and you don’t have a competition around the corner, then this would be a good time of year to increase your bench frequency.
During this period, it would be acceptable to have an increase in your training volume, and increasing your frequency is the easiest way to accomplish this.
One of the more fun aspects of training is being able to experiment with new methods. So as long as you’re not compromising your competition goals, then try bench pressing more and gauge its effectiveness on your strength.
Most powerlifters bench press between 2-3 times per week. There’s no ‘perfect’ frequency that is going to work for everyone, but using the framework above will help you decide whether it’s the right time or not. Remember, just because you increase your bench press frequency for a period of time doesn’t mean it needs to stay at those levels year-round. Bring it up or down based on your current goals and gauge its effectiveness. One way that I increase my athletes’ bench press frequency is to give them one day of boarded bench press, which reduces the range of motion temporarily while they get used to the high number of bench days.
What to read next: How Powerlifters Train Their Shoulders.