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I've been working out for a little over a year now. I'm not in great shape, but I do believe I have a better-than-average diet.

My question is how I can get my bench press and pull ups to increase. Right now I'm maxing at ~190-200lbs. I'm not happy with it at all, almost all of my other weights have gone up, I can squat 375lbs max, and haven't dead lifted in a few weeks because I don't like all the pressure on my knees from squatting and dead lifting heavy as well as running, but last time I maxed it was 385lbs.

I can only do ~5 wide grip pullups without a 20-40 pound boost from a machine, this is with full stretch, not going halfway down and back up.

I weigh ~195 and I'm 5'11". I'm not happy with the amount of muscle in my chest and back and I've been pretty much stuck with these two workouts for months, I just don't have time to do a whole lot of research on the topic.

Last semester I was in school and I was running anywhere from 12-20 miles/week and I stopped doing that because I didn't want to lose muscle. I'm pretty busy now so I do about 1-2 days of sprints a week for about 10 minutes total.

If I'm missing any additional information please let me know.

Chest:

  1. I do 3-4 sets of bench to start 135x12, 155-165x10-12, 185x3-4, 135x10-12
  2. 3 sets of medium crossover flys (30x12, 35x12, 40x10-12), 3 sets of low crossover flys (25x12, 30x12, 35x10-12) and 3 sets of high crossover flys (25x12, 30x12, 35x10-12)
  3. Incline dumbbell press (45x12, 50x8-12, 55x6-10)
  4. JUST BEGAN doing bench for burnouts. I'll put on 25-45 on each side and do as many as I can. Usually this is 135x4-6, 115x4-6, 95x10-15.

Back:

  1. Pull-ups on a pull-up counterweight machine. 40 counter x 12 wide-grip, 30 counter x 10-12 wide-grip, and 20 counter x as many as I can 6-10 then switch to a pegged grip and finish
  2. Lat pull-downs 115x12, 135x12, 155x6-10
  3. Standing Bent-Over Rows with Bench Bar. 115x12, 125x12, 135x6-10
  4. Standing Lat Pulldowns. 50x12, 55x12, 60x12
  5. Back Extensions. Body-weight x 30, Body-weight x 25-30, Body-weight x 15-25

Sometimes I add an additional workout or two to these, but that varies week-by-week if I do at all. It widely depends on time availability, but this is generally what I hit each week.

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    Your current routine and your progress on it would qualify as relevant information. – Dave Liepmann Mar 22 '16 at 16:04
  • Why not try utilizing what you learned by getting your squat to a respectable weight? Aside from being a smaller muscle group, training the bench press isn't much different than any other. You may also want to emphasize the bench for a while an work on increasing weekly volume in hypertrophy and strength rep ranges. – Alex L Mar 22 '16 at 20:41
  • My legs are much stronger. It wasn't as big of a challenge. Could you elaborate on hypertrophy and strength rep ranges? – DukeLuke Mar 22 '16 at 20:49
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    Strength rep ranges are usually 1-3 reps per set, hypertrophy rep ranges are usually 8-12, 15+ reps tends towards muscular endurance. 4-8 reps is a more of a mix between strength and hypertrophy, 12-15 is a mix between hypertrophy and endurance. In reality, it's a continuum. Also, strength is contextual. If you increase your 10 rep max, then you're stronger at 10 reps, but that may not transfer to your 1 rep max as well. Likewise if you increase your 1 RM, it may not extend to your 10 RM due to a relative lack of endurance. – Alex L Mar 24 '16 at 18:05
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You're spending too much time benching light and doing heavily-counterweighted "pull-ups".

Instead of doing 36 light bench press reps and 3 or 4 heavy reps, do 15 to 25 heavy reps. Three to five sets of 5 at 175 sounds about right. Every week add a pound or three or five. Doing that a few times a week, plus eating and sleeping well, should have you benching around 200 for a set of 5, giving you a higher max.

Similarly, skip the two dozen "pull-ups" that are basically just floating bouncing on a see-saw. Do five sets of 3 unassisted pull-ups, then a half-dozen sets of negatives, then a half-dozen sets of static holds at the top. After a week or two of that you should be able to switch to three sets of 5 unassisted pull-ups, then four sets, then five sets. Then you should be ready to pick a target number of total reps--say, 40 or 50 or 75--and do as many sets as necessary (using negatives if you have to) to get there.

If you're only lifting once per week, then the progression will be half as fast or even slower. One lifting workout per week is not a lot for most people.

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  • Only lifting once a week, what do you mean by that? I workout 5 times a week, with a different part each day. I also do a few sets of Abs on 2-3 of these days. Is that what you meant? Or did you mean doing chest and back more than once a week. – DukeLuke Mar 22 '16 at 18:58
  • Also, do the rest of my workouts seem fine? – DukeLuke Mar 22 '16 at 18:58
  • Chin ups and lat pulldowns are also good options for OP to work towards unassisted pull ups. – Alex L Mar 22 '16 at 20:38
  • @lucasdavis500 I couldn't tell how many times per week you were lifting. Some of your wording implied 1/week. But yes, benching and doing pull-ups more than once a week would help both. I don't know how the rest of your workouts look because you haven't told me, but if you mean the flyes and incline bench and rows and so on—I don't do all that jazz. When I want to get strong in a lift I do the lift hard and heavy and then I move on to something else. – Dave Liepmann Mar 22 '16 at 20:51
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Looking at your sets and reps it seems like you're trying to add muscle, so here's my two cents:

Keep it at 4 sets of 8-12 reps, in your case I would recommend going with a higher weight in the beginning, say 155-165lbs (after a light warmup set of 90ish lbs). If you're challenging yourself properly you will only add 5-10 lbs at a time and your reps will decrease by around 1-2. Your last set you will be struggling to reach 8. Keep in mind, this is with a good spotter.

Your spotter will let you struggle with the weight, only lightly assisting, just enough to keep the bar moving. They will need to let you know if you can keep going. If you do have a spotter, you can also try negatives. This will bring your bench up fast, but you will lose some endurance.

Your periods of rest between are really important too. Keep it between 30-45 seconds, in some cases give an extra 10 seconds if you must, to properly finish your next set. If you have long rest periods you will be able to do more, but on your off days your muscles will be noticeably softer. Also, I wouldn't do chest twice a week.

The incline dumbbell press is looking good. Your reps are two high on the fly's though. Keep it to 4 sets of 8-12.

If you find that you can bring the bar to your chest, but struggle to get it past the halfway point, this is where your triceps are supposed to kick in. You'll want to throw in 3 exercises after you do chest to give those a boost. You can do dips, single arm overhead extensions, flat bench skull crushers, cable tricep extensions with the rope or bar since both hit it differently.

Ultimately if this doesn't help then you may want to consider a change to your routine, 3 sets of 5 lifting heavy with 3 to 5 minutes rest.

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