If your goal is to build new muscle size, called hypertrophy training, the ideal rep range is 8–12 reps. The same rep range holds true for the bench press.
Optimal Rep Range For Hypertrophy When Benching Is 8-12 Reps
Now the truth is more complicated than that. You can reliably build new muscle with reps as low as 5 and reps as high as 30.
So you will also want to balance out your rep ranges to continue to cause adaptations in your body.
Optimal Sets For Hypertrophy When Benching
As for sets, you want to use the minimum amount of sets needed to see results. For example, if one set of bench press was enough to see results, it’d be logical to only do one set. Realistically, one set will not be enough. So then you could try 2 sets, then 3 sets, etc.
Every person is unique and will require different a different range of sets to get results. We’re all different:
- Some of us are younger, some are older
- Training history
- Newbies might be able to get away with less sets, where more advanced lifters will need more sets and more frequency (more workouts during the week.)
- Some of us might be able to handle more weekly sets because we get more sleep, better gut health, less responsibilities (no kids), more sunshine, etc.
You can also use techniques like overreaching to break through plateau’s. This is where you do a lot of bench sets in one week, that you normally couldn’t handle. For example, you could start off with just 3 sets of benching, do 4 sets the next week, 5 sets the next week, and then overreach with 6 sets, then do a deload the next week to give your body space to recover.
Also, the intensity of your lifts and the period of rest will change how many sets you can do. Some workouts prescribe more sets, with a lighter weight to bench with, and less rest. Other workouts will prescribe less sets, a heavier weight, and more rest between sets.
The heavier you lift, the less sets you’ll be able to handle.
The lighter you lift, the more sets you’ll be able to handle.
Example: Reverse Pyramid Bench Press
I am a big fan of reverse-pyramid training for developing strength, so with the bench press, it could look something like this:
Example of Bench Press Reps & Sets
- Warm-Up: 40% of your first weight
- Set 1: 8 reps of bench press with the heaviest weight you can do eight proper reps with.
- Set 2: Take off 10% of the weight. Now you might be able to do 10 reps of bench press.
- Set 3: Take another 10% of weight off. Now you might be able to do 12 reps of bench press.
Let’s say you can bench 185 pounds for eight reps with perfect, textbook form. You would warm up with 75 pounds and get warm—maybe do 12-15 reps. Then do Set 1 with 185 pounds, Set 2 would be with 165 pounds, and Set 3 would be with 145 pounds.
This would give you a good blend of reps across the hypertrophy spectrum, allowing for good adaptations across the board.
If that wasn’t enough, you could add on a fourth set and take another 10% of the weight off.
Now you could switch to some assistance exercises for your chest that will support your benching, like a weighted push-up or some incline dumbbell presses, and do the same thing with the reverse pyramid scheme.