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….