The Bench Press

The kings of exercises in bodybuilding are squats and bench presses. Everyone wants to have a good set pecs and or strong looking shoulders. To obtain those goals you simply need a good bench press.

How would you like to add 30-50 pounds to your bench press this year, perhaps more? Well, it can be done, especially if you’ve haven’t peaked in your physique yet. If you’re a gym junkie, expect maybe six months to add 30 pounds, but if you’re a rookie, just starting out, well, you could add 30 pounds in 4-6 weeks.

Let’s start adding some upper body muscle!

Improving your bench press will rely on basically 4 points:

1. Proper Technique
To increase weight loads to optimal levels you need to have perfect form. With perfect form the same amount of effort can be used to push even more weight. And, technique is where many people fail to measure up and quite frankly, often get injuries because of it, i.e., poor form or as we professionals call it, technique. Technique is everything. As a martial artist, I make my students take a punch from a hanging bar. By tightening up the core, abs and pretty much everything else in sync, you’d be surprised at how significant a punch you can take. Similarly, as you lay on the bench, tighten up your whole body then, lift/unrack the weight and keep it straight up. Lower the bar to your nipples. This will keep the arms (upper arm) at about a 45 degree angle. If you have shoulder issues, lower the weight only until you upper arms reach parallel to the floor. Either position is the shortest path for the least effort. Once the bar touches the chest, ensuring beforehand that your feet are flat on the floor, press your feet into the floor and explosively press the bar back to starting position.

2. Keep Track of Progress
Many people go to the gym each day and wander around from this piece of equipment to that. They do have a basic plan in their head as to what they want to do and accomplish. However, you’ll find this much easier by having a printed program that you can keep track of all weight, reps, and sets accomplished (like the ones you can print out in the ‘my workout’ section, which are customized for you). It is not enough to guess at what you need or should do. You must plan your progress each day. If you were my client, you’d be on a periodized program, but most trainers do not use these. What then, do you need to do for your bench press? You need to determine your one rep max or 1 RM as it’s generally referred to. A long used method is to get a spotter and keep adding weight until you can only lift the last weight one time; that is your 1 RM. However, by the time you’ve done several of these you have expended energy that had you not expended it, you could have lifted more on the last lift. Thus, there is a more scientific approach; surprise, surprise. First, I want you to guess at what weight you could lift at least 6 times. Ensure you are warmed up adequately before doing so. Slide your plates on the bar and lift the weight. How many reps did you do? If you did somewhere between 4 to 10 that is what you need. If you lifted more than 10 reps, the weight is too light. Now, apply this formula: Weight/[1.03 – (0.03 x #reps you did)]. Let’s do an example: John lifted 225 pounds for 7 reps and could do no more. Thus, 225/[1.03 – (0.03 * 7)] = 274 pounds. Therefore, John’s 1 RM is 274 pound, but due to bar and plate weights, lets set it to 275 pounds, i.e, the bar and 2 x 45 lb plates on each end.

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After you have determined you 1 RM, I want you to do the three following workouts in order. Let’s say your start day is Monday, the next chest workout day will be Thursday; in other words you’ll have a 2-day break between chest workouts. This may seem to go against the norm for you, but it’s scientifically proven to work. Do each workout over a few weeks if that is what it takes to achieve all the sets and reps of the workout. Once you can achieve those goals, push the weight up by at least 5, but not more, than 10%. Then, start again. Do not keep doing this for longer than say 45 days; by then your body will become accustomed to it and you’ll plateau.

Bench Workout #1
80% 1 RM for 5 sets of 3 repetitions each.
Rest for about 3 minutes between sets. While I normally prescribe short rests, it is necessary to rest longer due to weight load and, this workout with recruit as many of your muscles motor neurons as possible, which will activate them so you’ll gain more strength. Also, this rest period will help you sustain higher levels of testosterone, than by doing a shorter 1-minute rest.

Bench Workout #2
65% 1 RM for 6 sets of 8 repetitions each.

Bench Workout #3
50% 1 RM for 10 sets of 10 repetitions each.
There are two ways to build muscle, by massive weight loads and by release of endorphins during the exercise. Thus, this level (50%) will help release endorphins due to many repetitions at a higher than normal level of exercise, i.e., this is referred to as high volume, low to mid intensity training. Trust me, it’ll tire you out so, eat your Wheaties as it were.

3. Increase Push Power
All of this new intensity will require more calories than you normally consume thus, keep track of them. You’ll likely need 200-300 extra calories per day on these days so, feel free to have an extra protein shake, peanut butter, etc. If you lose muscle you will lose strength thus, you need the extra calories. Also, consider adding extra squats to your routines to increase leg power since, believe it or not, your bench press is interdependent with your squatting power. But, that’s another story.

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4. Get Proper Sleep/Rest
Have you ever gone to the gym and your iPod or smart phone died right in the middle of your favorite tune? Why did they stop? They stopped because they ran out of energy. Your body will do the same without the proper amount of rest, i.e., sleep, and recovery. If you truly want to see gains in the gym, whether it be bench press or another exercise, you need to get prescribed amounts of sleep for your age, activity, etc. Please read, “Getting Enough Sleep” and “Sleep Aid – Natural or Manufactured.”

Later, we’ll discuss periodized programs and other training methods to help you improve and achieve your goals.

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