The Key for Lean Muscle Development

Dave_FLEXDB_logoOnce upon a time, I remember feeling humiliated after finishing my driver’s license test.  Sure, I passed the test, but after parking the car, my driving instructor said,

“Nice job kid.  You passed the test, but when you drive another car, you might want to sit on a phone book or something so that you can see over the dash better.”

Like a turtle withdrawing its head back into its shell, I replied, “OK sir.  I will.”

At age 16, I was only 5’ 3” and a mere 93 pounds.  Nonetheless, I loved to compete against the bigger kids in sports and I played just about everything I could.  Due to my goal-oriented nature, I worked hard to keep up with the big boys.

By age 18, I had grown 5″ and gained over 30 pounds, but my hopes of becoming a professional athlete were shattered when I broke my ankle playing football (not that I had a real chance anyways).

The doctor said I needed to wear a mechanical leg cast for about six weeks before I could start physical therapy.  And that’s what I did.

But, I refused to be limited by my injury and needed to find something constructive to get back into sports while hobbling around.  So, I decided to learn how to lift weights – especially the bench press.  I chose the bench press because it was said to be the “true test” of an athlete’s strength and I could do it with a broken ankle.  I figured if I bench pressed every day while in a cast, I’d gain some ground on the bigger guys, right?

Well, after overtraining the first few weeks, I realized I needed a plan. Lucky for me, one of the captains of the football team happened to work with me on house painting projects.   This guy weighed over 200 pounds and could bench press well over 225 pounds!

I probed him with a million questions about strength training and one day at work he gave me a hand out with a bench press chart to consider.  He said, “Dave, if you follow this bench press chart for a few years, you’ll be stronger than me someday.”

I took his words to heart and followed that “magic” chart like clockwork.  Over the next six years of my life, I stuck to that workout plan at least once to twice a week, plus worked out three to four other days a week on other core and strength training exercises.

During that time period of training and eating healthy, my bench press maximum increased from 165 pounds at age 18 to 330 pounds at age 24.   Since I exceeded my goal of 315 pounds, I felt like a success, especially since I weighed 178 pounds when I did it, all naturally.


Once I exceeded my goal of 315 pounds, however, I put the “magic” bench press chart away and modified my workout routines around to incorporate more integrated training approaches. Integrated training approaches helped me overcome most of the accumulated nagging injuries I acquired from pushing myself too hard.

The “magic” bench press chart, as I called it in college, had been buried for over ten years until my new 15 year old neighbor, Dallon Asnes, came over to ask me how to increase his bench press strength.

In only a few minutes of spending time with Dallon, it was evident that Dallon was smart, goal-oriented, and eager to start training.

The aspiring Dallon Asnes!

So, I dusted off the old chart and we decided to create a blog together. Dallon dealt with the numbers and I worked on the words.  We felt that in the process, he could familiarize himself with setting his bench press goals and I could post it on our site for others who might be looking to increase their bench press strength too.

Before you take a look at the modern replication of the magic bench press chart, I’d wanted to provide you with some perspective from my training experience.

First, consider the fact that my average strength gain per month was 2.3 pounds over the six years of training and gains came relatively more quickly during the beginning.

For example, it took me less than six months to initially increase from a 1-RM of 165 pounds (meaning a one-rep maximum press of 165 pounds) to a 1-RM of 200 pounds. That’s roughly a 35 pound increase in six months.

But, it took me two and a half years to progress from a 1-RM of 300 to 330 (30 pound gain in 30 months). In addition, my diet was very disciplined and I followed a Lean Body Diet plan, which is provided in Y.E.S.- Your Eating Solution.


While everybody is different and everyone’s progress will be different, here are the basic guidelines of “The Magic Bench Press Chart” I followed:

1RM 100%..100  110 120  130 140  150  160  170 180  190 200

10r ~68%….70    75    80    90    95  100  110  115 120  130 135

10r ~70%….70    75    85    90  100  105  110  120 125  135 140

8reps ~75%.75    80   90   100  105 115  120  130  135 145 155

6reps ~85%.85    90  100  110  120 130  135  145  155 160 170

4reps ~90%.90  100  110  115  125 135  145  155  160 170 180

After you complete the appropriate warm-up exercises for your core and rotator cuff (essential for maximal gains), you can begin to use this chart as a frame of reference with the 1-RM number you wish to achieve.  (Please be sure you have a spotter or training partner to help you).

Let’s say you have an approximate 1-RM of 120 pounds (meaning the most weight you can press one time and no more is 120 pounds). On the top of the chart, using a 1-RM of 120 as an example, you would complete five sets on the flat bench as shown in the column directly below 120 as follows:


Set 1 is 80 lbs x 10 reps; then rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes

Set 2 is 85lbs x 10 reps, rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes

Set 3 is 90 lbs x 8 reps, rest 1 to 2 minutes

Set 4 is 100 lbs x 6 reps, rest 2-3 minutes

Set 5 is 110 lbs x 4 reps

After you complete these five sets on the flat bench, you can progress to do four sets on the incline bench press in a similar manner.  Since your body will be plenty warm by the time you get to the incline bench exercises, it makes sense to skip Set 1 (warm-up set) and begin with Set 2.

Also, with a 120 1-RM, you can start with a lower 1-RM program on the incline.  I suggest this because it’s usually easier to lift heavier weights on the flat bench than on the incline press (unless you’ve been training on the incline first for quite some time).   So, if you’ve just completed the 120 1-RM on flat, you can start with an incline 1-RM of 100 on Set 2 as follows:


Set 2 is 70lbs x 10 reps, rest 30 seconds to 2 minutes

Set 3 is 75 lbs x 8 reps, rest 1 to 2 minutes

Set 4 is 85 lbs x 6 reps, rest 2-3 minutes

Set 5 is 90 lbs x 4 reps

Once you are able to achieve the five flat bench sets and four incline bench sets in sequence, your body will be able to perform the 1-RM goal on the flat bench like “magic.”

Then, over time, you can gradually increase your training goal to the higher 1-RM level goal and use the “magic” bench press chart until you reach your goal (within reason).

1RM 100%..210  220  230   240  250   260   270   280  290  300

10r ~68%….145 150  160   165   170   175   185   190  200  205

10r ~70%….150 155  160   170   175   180   190   195  205  215

8reps ~75%.160 165  175  180   190   195   205   210  220  225

6reps ~85%.180 190  200  205   215   220   230   240  250  255

4reps ~90%.190 200  210  220   225   235   245   250  260  270

1RM 100%..310  320  330   340  350   360   370   380  390  400

10r ~68%….210 220  225   230   240   245   250   260  265  275

10r ~70%….220 225  230   240   245   250   260   265  275  285

8reps ~75%.235 240  250   255   265   270   280  285  295  300

6reps ~85%.265 270  280  290   300   305   315   325  330  340

4reps ~90%.280 290  300  305   315   325   335   340  350  360


Wishing you all the best with the “magic bench press chart” and hope this story of persistence inspires you to achieve your goals!  If you’d like more, click on my book below.



About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is the true health guy. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT & Wellness Writers, a subscription wellness newsletter service that incorporates live & virtual wellness workshops for companies across New England. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 20 years of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 25 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his wife) founded Wellness Writers and deliver evidence-based Wellness E-newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various businesses throughout the US. Dave currently serves as a personal trainer in Tolland as well as a wellness coach and writer for several businesses, gyms and wellness facilities throughout the US.

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