Increase Your Bench Press Max With Heavy Singles

Mike Westerdal
Written By: Mike Westerdal
August 13th, 2010
Updated: December 17th, 2020
Categories: Articles Training
44.6K Reads
Strong man doing barbell bench press in the gym
Looking for a way to boost your bench press max? Mike Westerdal explains the benefits of training with heavy bench press singles.

There has always been a debate on whether or not performing a single rep during your workout is a good idea. Many people think that if you want to know how much you can lift for one rep you can simply look it up in a chart and avoid any chance of injury. Others feel that there simply is no reason to max out.

I've heard people say that you should worry about perfect form and measure your success based on the way you look, not how much weight you are pushing. Granted, if you are a bodybuilder you may not need to do singles but for the rest of us inserting singles in a program can be helpful for various reasons. In fact I swear by them.

Let's face it - everyone that lifts weights can't help but talk about it. Just the fact that you're bigger than most people you socialize with or meet will often spark a conversation on the topic. Whether your buddy lifts or knows nothing about it you are likely to be asked the question, "How much can you bench press?" Are you going to reply, I can do 315 lbs for 6 repetitions? It just doesn't paint the same picture as saying I put up 365 lbs.

Maybe you could care less what people think and the bragging rights don't matter to you. However if you are a powerlifter or an Olympic lifter you will be tested with a one-rep max. Most high school and college football programs test their players with a one-rep max as well. If you don't practice the one rep lift how will you be prepared?

If somebody asks you what you bench press, you could always give them a projected max based on what the chart says right? Not necessarily. One of the most important reasons for doing singles is to break past barriers. Using our previous example, if you do 315 lbs for 6 reps you should be able to get a one-rep max of 365 lbs. This is not always the case. People set up limits in their minds that are tough to overcome. I swear I have seen people do 295 lbs for three reps but they just can't get 300 lbs. This has nothing to do with strength. This has to do with mental barriers and confidence issues.

I personally would not tell someone my one rep max based on reps. If I know that I have never benched that weight than I just can't take credit for it based on a chart. Performing a single lift in the bench is a great way to build confidence. Nothing feels better than actually beating your personal best. If you keep doing singles you will break past sticking points and barriers that you have set for yourself. If you have a goal of benching 300 or 400 lbs the numbers can be very difficult to prepare for when you don't practice singles. Working your way up with singles will give you the confidence you need to reach your goals.

Many bodybuilders concentrate on their form and don't care about how much their max is. Lifting singles can actually help your form. When you are performing a one-rep max you have to have perfect form or you will not complete the lift successfully. When you are using lighter weight and doing many reps there is a lot of room for cheating and bad form. You can still complete the lift with sub par form by using other muscles to help. But, when you are maxing out you have only one chance to press the weight and to do so you need absolutely perfect form. You have to be mentally prepared and your groove has to be precise. There is no room for being sloppy.

Before you start working out with singles it's a good idea to practice strict form with higher reps first. Developing perfect technique is the key to a heavy single. If you are lifting 275 with careless technique for five reps you won't be able to do a single of any significance. Build a base and let your body adjust to the heavier workloads. For 2 weeks lift with reps of five. After you have finished this stage you can progress and do sets of 3 reps. Now your form should be down and you have should have adjusted to lifting heavier weights. You can now insert singles to your routine that will help you in your quest for a big bench press.

Exploit your weak areas with a single. Like I mentioned before there is more room for error when doing sets with higher reps. You may not be able to determine what aspect of the bench needs work. When you max out you will tend to see where you fell short. This is great for evaluating what area needs improvement. Maybe you couldn't lock out and you know that you need to work harder on your triceps. Lifting is all trial and error and the single is an effective way to measure your progress and assess what needs to be changed to break the stalemate.

Singles will help you develop a different kind of strength compared to lifting higher reps. When you lift heavy weights you bring your attachments into the lift. Tendons and ligaments are often the key to unlocking your potential. If you are constantly lifting with higher reps you don't activate your attachments. Functional strength lies in not in the muscles but in your tendons and ligaments. You've heard the expression that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Lifting heavier weight will strengthen your weakest link, which may not be getting the attention it so desperately deserves.

To follow are some tips for a successful single. Proper warm up is essential to prevent a tear. At the same time there is a balance between warming up and tiring yourself out. I recommend the following before doing a single.

  • Warm up set of 10 reps with a very light weight.
  • Set of 5-6 reps.
  • Set of 2-3 with a heavier weight.
  • Set for 1 rep with a weight closer to your max.
  • Perform your single.

Some experts think that when performing a single you need a shorter rest period between sets because the progression of sets in warm up is shorter than in your normal workout. Powerlifters will assume that because they are dealing with heavier weights they need a longer rest period between sets.

I recommend waiting until you have completely returned to your normal breathing pace. Once this has happened get yourself mentally prepared and than it's time for another set. Don't wait so long that you get tight. Let somebody else do a set, get a drink of water and visualize your next lift. Performing a back off set at the end of your single lift will help you preserve the workload. It will also give you the pump that you are looking for.

Follow this advice and you can incorporate singles into your program. Doing them once a month is a good starting point but as you become more experienced it is okay to do them more often. Everyone is different so try for yourself and let singles help you build confidence, strengthen your attachments, exploit your weak point, develop perfect form, and break past your personal barriers.

Posted on: Mon, 07/15/2013 - 15:42

wow.... that's some insight.... last week i put up 320 8x. today 360 2x.... i knew these things.... could've done more

Posted on: Thu, 12/06/2012 - 20:25

I agree with this workout but have a question. Will it hurt to work up with 235 for 10 reps
and pyramid on up to a one rep max of 310? I'm 64 and do this once or twice a week.
Been lifting for over 20 years.

Posted on: Sun, 01/27/2013 - 00:09

Youre my hero. Keep it up, inspirational!

Posted on: Thu, 11/18/2021 - 21:41

I just turned 75 in October I’m 5’9” 178b retired 35 year service Marine Colonel (Viet Nam 1966-68. 69-73. Other than my basic training I’ve never been to a gym in my entire life. Joined Bennie’s Best Gym and Tae Kwon Do Club in May here in western Idaho. I started at 150lbs 5 reps max was 185lbs 1 rep. Today November 18, 2021 I bench 265 lbs 5 reps with a 1 rep max 292. I’ve always been somewhat strong for my size. I watch my weigh and eat less than 2200 calories a day. Mostly protein and try to get 175 protein daily. Mostly chicken with 2 10oz rib eyes every Sunday after church. Occasional potato but mostly veggies and fruit. Always fruit every day. My goal is to hit 325 by Mid February.Any suggestions are welcome. Thank you. Col. Iszadore Triennial Buljacksen Ret. USMC

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Posted on: Mon, 11/22/2021 - 18:44

First of all and most importantly, thank you for your service. Second, you may want to up your protein to 200 a day and add a couple of supplements like creatine and glutamine for recovery. A 30 pound improvement in three months is a lofty goal, but it's doable as long as you make the most out of every session and meal. Also, keep the water intake high and make quality sleep a priority. Keep us posted on how you improve. Would love to read that you hit that 325!