Do You Even Bench?

Bench Press

Bench press is one of the ultimate strength building exercises

For years, the Bench Press was the most popular exercise in the gym.

Trying to find an available Bench Press was like trying to find a Treadmill in the 80’s.

The Bench Press represented 2 things for most trainers: a bigger chest and bragging rights.

But over the last decade with the advent of new training methods, techniques and equipment, the Bench Press has fallen out of favour.

Personal Trainers advocate against using the Bench Press as the main exercise in your upper body development program.

They claim it does not build a complete chest and only results in shoulder injuries.

If you are only getting painful shoulders and not productive results from the Bench Press, it could only be because of 2 factors: poor technique or an extra-large ego.

You see these factors in full display every time in the gym.

Among the worst offenses are:

  • Loading too much weight on the bar then lowering it only a quarter or half way;
  • Putting their feet on top of the bench for “isolation”;
  • Elbows flaring out;
  • Head coming up and off the bench;
  • Buttocks rising up and off the bench;
  • Feet moving all over the floor;
  • Slamming the bar on the chest.

For sure you’ve seen that guy who combines the Bench Press with leg raises.

Ouch.

It’s not a case of the Bench Press being unproductive. It’s a case of an exercise being abused.

Benefits Of The Bench Press

  • The Bench Press is the best upper body exercise for the following reasons:
  • It allows you to safely use the most weight for your upper body;
  • It recruits several muscle groups in your upper body: chest, shoulders, back and the arms;
  • With advanced technique, even your legs get a great workout with the Bench Press;
  • The Bench Press will build strength, muscle and improve your level of agility, mobility and flexibility;
  • Contrary to popular opinion, the Bench Press provides a full range of motion that leads to complete chest development.

The most respected Strength and Conditioning coaches in professional sports will always have the Bench Press in the exercise rotation so why shouldn’t you?

How To Bench Press Productively

Bench Press technique can best be described by breaking down the exercise into its 3 stages.

I. The Set Up

  • Shrug, lie down then pin your shoulders on the bench;
  • Keep your head on the bench with your eyes in line with the bar;
  • Take a wider than shoulder width grip;
  • Wrap your thumbs around the bar;
  • Plant your feet on the floor.

Once you pin your shoulders on the bench, 3 things will happen: your lats will expand, your chest will go higher and your lower back will be in a semi-arch position.

Pinning your shoulders on the bench will remove pressure from your rotator cuff.

When you’ve set up this position on the bench, the only body parts that should move are your arms.

Your feet, shoulders, neck and buttocks must remain firmly secured on the bench.

II. The Descent

Grip the bar as hard as you can;

  • Un-rack the bar by imagining a pullover;
  • Bring the bar above your lower chest area;
  • Keep your body tight, take a deep breath;
  • Use your lats to control the descent;
  • Keep your elbows moving toward your lats;
  • Allow the bar to touch an area on your chest just above the sternum.

The lats are actively involved in the Bench Press particularly the descent. By pulling your elbows in toward your lats, you keep pressure off the shoulders.

The bar pathway is similar to a Barbell Row where you pull the weight toward your navel with elbows traveling toward your lats.

III. Gentlemen, We Have Lift Off!

  • Once the bar touches your chest, exhale and forcefully press it straight up;
  • When locking out, do not lift your shoulders off the bench;
  • Re-rack the weight or perform the next rep

Forget what the so-called gurus will tell you about pressing the bar toward the rack or following an “S” pattern. It’s simple physics.

The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line. Just press the barbell straight up and be done with it.

Creating An Effective Bench Press Program For Strength

The first thing you need to do is to establish a baseline number and this is usually the heaviest Bench Press you can do for 1 rep.

Bench Press

Correct form during bench press is essential to get the most of our this powerful exercise

If you do not have an idea of your best effort in the Bench Press, there are 2 ways to estimate your 1-rep maximum:

1. Find the weight you can perform 1-2 reps more than indicated. For example, if you can bench press 60 kilos for 7-8 reps, use 60 kilos for your working weight in the 6 sets x 6 reps range.

2. The National Strength Coaches Association or NSCA formula:

Best weight for 3 reps x 3 reps = Y;
Y x 0.033 = Z
Z + Best weight for 3 reps = Estimated Best 1-rep max

For example, if the best you can rep for 3 is 80 kilos then:

80 kilos x 3 = 240;
240 x 0.033 = 7.92
7.92 + 80 kilos = 87.92

Your estimated 1-rep maximum in the Bench Press is 88 kilos.

Studies on the Bench Press have shown the ideal volume of work that produces the best strength gains average between 30 to 36 reps in total.

You can break the volume down into sets of 6, 7, 8 and 10 whereby the number of sets increase as the number of reps decrease.

Here is a sample program using this type of Pyramiding progression:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Percentage of 1-Rep Max: 70% 75% 80% 85%
Working Sets: 6 sets x 6 reps 7 sets x 5 reps 8 set x 4 reps 10 sets x 3 reps

A person who has a Bench Press best of 90 kilos will have a workout that looks like this:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4
Weight: 60 kilos 65 kilos 70 kilos 75 kilos
Working Sets: 6 sets x 6 reps 7 sets x 5 reps 8 set x 4 reps 10 sets x 3 reps

A few notes on the program:

• Do not tire yourself with the warm ups. Use a 10-5-3-2 rep progression to get ready for your working sets.  A good warm up would be 20 kilos x 10, 30 kilos x 5, 40 kilos x 3 and 50 kilos x 2.

• Rest 2-3 minutes between working sets.

As for assistance work, if you’re focusing on strength do not tire yourself out by doing too much after Bench Pressing. Your objective is to recover before your next workout.

You can consider these exercises as part of your assistance training after Bench Press:

1. Floor Press – 4 sets x 6 reps
2. Incline Dumbbell Press – 2 sets x 10 reps
3. Dips – 2 sets x 10 reps

Remember that as you get stronger, your muscles will get bigger. Focus on building strength and maintaining perfect form.

You will need to buy new clothes after 1-2 months to fit your bigger physique but the expense will be worth it.