This is a guest post by my friend Joe Hashey. Joe specializes in Athlete Training and is also the author of Bull Strength (a great manual BTW)
Long ago man discovered the best chest exercises for mass. Ever since that historic day, in gyms around the world, people have asked the single most annoying question in weight lifting, “How much ya’ bench?” However, strength endurance is often over looked.
Bench pressing for repetitions is an extremely valuable exercise that is often used as an athletic measurement (although its carry over to sports, ie the NFL, is controversial). There is a formula to success when going for repetitions.
How To Bench More
I recently had one of my star clients – one that does not miss sessions – graduate middle school and get ready for high school football (just graduated 8th grade). His high school team was going to participate in a “Lineman Challenge,” which is a strongman contest for lots of local schools.
Long story short, this 14-year-old utilized all the techniques that I am about to tell you to out bench EVERYONE in his high school with 185 for reps. He totaled 15, which is excellent for his age, and slightly sad that no one of the varsity players could match his numbers.
Right now we have four guys that bench press 225 for 20 or more, and they all adhere to these simple tips IN ADDITION to proper bench technique including planting shoulders, activating the legs, and everything else that goes with a normal bench press.
Bench Press Tips
1. Stretch Your Lats
I hope everyone knows by now that they should not statically stretch a muscle like the chest before bench pressing. It elongates and temporarily weakens the muscle group. However, stretching the opposing muscle group makes more sense.
The lats are one of the primary antagonist muscles to the bench press. When the weight is presses the lats have to stretch to complete the movement. In other words, your lats are going to resist the bench press to a small degree. If you statically stretch and loosen these muscles before you bench, the movement will go smoother.
However, now that your muscles are stretched back there, planting the shoulders is a priority.
2. Activate By Overloading
Here is the technique that added 2 reps to my bench, and 3 to my training partners. Let’s say you are bench repping 225 for your max. Perform your general warm-up and then your specific warm as usual. Instead of doing something like 135 x 3, 185 x 3, 225 x max you should overload first.
Here’s what I mean. If your max is 350 perform the warm up like this: 135 x 3, 185 x 3, 285 x 2, 225 x max.
Overloading before 225 adds reps!
Why go heavier first? Simple. Have you ever done something heavier then picked up a lower weight and it felt “much lighter” than normal? That is because you have activated more muscle fibers by going heavy first.
Without getting too science-y, your body is efficient. It will not activate muscles unless it has to. You need to trick your body into thinking it has to lift something heavier, then BAM, hit those repetitions.
I would recommend a 2 minute rest period between the heavier set and the drop down. If you take too long your body will cool down, too short and you will be fatigued from the heavier lift. Experiment to see what works for you.
3. Tortoise vs the Hare
Break it into “Mini-Sets.” Everyone remembers the tale about the slow and steady turtle, and the speedy but tired quickly rabbit. This actually does have a real life application! (I hate when lazy people tell me “slow and steady wins the race. They aren’t winning a damn thing!)
This will add another rep or two instantly. Instead of going all out until you are blue in the face, take a second to gather yourself during your set, breathe, and get after it again.
Here’s how I pace my sets. I will perform the first 13 reps quickly. Pause for a second, reset my air and perform 5 more reps in a bunch. I repeat again with 3 repetitions. At that point, I start performing 1 rep and resets until I hit the wall.
Implement those tips and the next time you get under the bar for repetitions, I bet you’ll get a few more! Now, there is one more tip I will close with, but it isn’t as scientific as the ones above. Here it is: get squished once. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen clients or other people race back to the rack before they even complete their “last rep.” If they paused for a second and collected themselves, I bet they could have put up the weight one more time.
On that note, always have a spotter. It sucks to be pinned by 225 in the basement, alone…not that it ever has happened to me….
You can read more from Joe at Synergy Athletics….
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oh my gosh… There is so much more involved than any of us think~ I had no idea about any of this. I just lay down on the bench and start pressing UP. NOT anymore!…Thanks VIC as always~
I like having guest bloggers at GymJunkies on topics that are not my forte. I learned a lot from the article as well.
Vic, question about benches in general. I had back surgery (L5-S1 Disc rupture) about 10 years ago. Lifting has been a huge help in keeping further back issues at bay, esp. deads/squats. However, when benching, I have a very hard time laying flat on the bench with my knees at 90 deg. and feet flat on the floor. I can bench on the smith because I can put my feet up on the bench w/knees bent and go heavy because I don’t have to worry about stability. But I’d really like to add the core benefits of benching w/out the smith. Any suggestions? I can do inclines, but wonder about the effectiveness vs. flat bench.
As always, great posts – keep em coming and keep workin’ hard! Thanks. Sue
If you can do inclines, set the bench at the lowest possible angle that works for you. Start with light weight and increase slowly while paying attention to how your back feels. I’m not the biggest fan of the incline bench press, but in your situation it might be the way to go. Yes we need to train hard, but we also have to train safe. Good luck!
What about using the back and the legs– I thought that was important (not that I care much for the bench)?
I’m with you in that I don’t personally use the bench press very often. That being said, I believe the leg drive and back involvement you mentioned become particularly important when moving maximum loads (power lifting).
I’ve been doing all of this for years without even realizing it. The one I love the most is the overloading. It feels so good to get that last set in and feel like ti was extremely light.
Thanks for the comment, Israel! Always good to see you at GymJunkies. 🙂
For anyone who wants to read the experience of a guy “in the trenches” on his weight loss journey, be sure to check out Israel at http://www.fatmanunleashed.com .
been stuck on the dang bench for a while… thanks for the tips! Hope this works!
Good stuff, especially #2! I use a similar principle on the track. I noticed that my first event of a meet would be sub-par, while my other events were crisp. So about 20 minutes before my first event, I do several flying sprints of 50-80m at full intensity. It’s kinda like a “system check” and gets the body really primed to go. The 20 minute break gives my ATP-CP stores time to refill.
Thanks, Scott! I love it when we can see patterns that are effective across different training modes. I like the “systems check” thing!
I’m going to try this, is overloading the same as the reverse pyramid principle? Also does this have the same effect on squats and deadlifts?
Vic, thanks for posting up the article – sorry I wasn’t here to answer some of the questions, I didn’t know it had gone up.
Let me take a minute to respond to everyone, since you all took time to read my article, I appreciate it.
Lisa – More too it than I ever thought as well, always learning! Thanks for the comment.
Sue – Ever try to elevate your feet on some plates to eleviate some pressure? You could stack up two or 3 25s on each side (I’d use a bumper plate so they dont tip if you have one) and try that. As the pain eases, you can remove one at a time to progress back to the floor. Hope that helps, back injuries are tough!
Israel – When the weight “feels light” I always feel like I can bench forever! Sadly, it always comes to a lactic burning end, but after a few extra reps!
Rambodoc – You are right about the back and legs. I tried to keep the article to concepts that most people haven’t heard of. Retracting the shoulders and planting the back is key. Also, “Pushing the floor away” and squeezing the glutes helps.
Mike – Sorry to hear that you are stuck! It happens to everyone though. Good luck with your improvements! I was on about a 2 year plaeteu until I started to learn more about the movement, its been skyrocketing since.
Summers – Great question about squat and deadlift. I’ve been told it does, so I tried it out with mixed results personally (doesn’t mean it doesn’t work). I had more success with squat, but I felt noticably more fatigued when I tried it with DL. Perhaps I’ve used too high of a percentage.
Scott – I didnt know that worked with track, always good to learn something new! Thanks for that Scott.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Keep up the quality site Vic.
Great tips! I’m no expert on the bench press, but I can see how these tips would help. They’re widely applicable, too, like Scott mentions.
For me, a mountain bike racer, I’m usually faced with a tough hill climb to start a race, but then I have to keep going for many more miles (“for reps” you could say.) So I include some efforts in my warmup that are harder than I go on the first hill. With my muscles primed, I can go hard on the first climb and continue on at a good pace.
If I want to do a 3 day split hows this sound day 1 bencb press, military press, and either push downs or narrow grip bench. day 2 seated rows and bicep curls. day 3 squats and leg curls
That is one possible split. Another option is to not split at all. Work the whole body with different movements each session.