If you’re still doing straight sets for 5×5, don’t be surprised when your bench press stops going up. That’s not to knock five-sets, they’re great and safe for newbies. They’ll get you benching more than your bodyweight. They probably won’t get you to 1.5 times your bodyweight and they definitely won’t get you to 2 times.
The fact is, if you want a better bench press, you need a better programme. That means you need to re-think some of your assumptions.
I want to be clear about one thing, this article is for intermediate to advanced trainees. If you’re a man who can’t bench at least 1.2 times his bodyweight, or a woman who can’t bench at least .75 times her bodyweight, you’re not ready for the programme I’m about to lay out, although items 2 and 3 on the list might still be helpful to you.
If you’ve already made serious progress on your bench press, only to find that the appetite for gains has grown with the eating, read on.
Cluster sets are a specialised training technique in which sets are divided into several (usually three) mini-sets, with short intra-set rest periods between them. In this programme, you’ll be using two different types of cluster sets for two different purposes: Building strength and practising your technique.
Strength Cluster Sets
- For strength clusters sets, you’ll use a weight that’s roughly your 3-rep max, or around 90% of your one-rep max.
- Perform two reps, then re-rack the barbell.
- Rest 20 seconds, then grab the barbell and do two more reps.
- Re-rack and rest another 20 seconds, then perform one final rep.
- That’s one strength cluster set.
- You’ll do five reps total at a weight you could normally only lift for three reps.
The advantage of strength cluster sets is clear: you can lift heavy weights for greater volume than traditional strength training methods allow.
By lifting heavy, you’re recruiting your high-threshold motor units on every rep, rather than just the later reps in each set. By doing five reps per set, you’re able to get enough volume while keeping your workouts short.