THIS WEEK ON BARBELL SHRUGGED we talk about one of the most infamous lifts in strength and fitness – the barbell bench press.
If you’re into Powerlifting then you already take your benchin’ very seriously. After all, this is a contested lift in that sport, right alongside the back squat and the deadlift. Likewise, you won’t find many Strongman, or even competitive Bodybuilders, that aren’t capable of pressing some big weights. The reason for that is elementary.
To succeed at any strength sport you must develop a strong chest, shoulders and arms. The most fundamental way to do that is with the bench and its variants.
AJ putting up a HUGE 805 pound bench press in competition.
But what about Weightlifters and Crossfitters?
The infamy of the bench press is rooted in a lack of balance. Like we said, if you’re a Powerlifter or Strongman then it’s a no-brainer. You need to be pressing heavy, and quite often.
But of course, that isn’t true for all athletes.
If you’re not competing in the press, then you should devote far less training time and resources to that movement. In Weightlifting and Crossfit, there’s just too much other stuff to also practice. As an example, if you’re pressing heavy twice a week for 2 hours then you’re probably not working movements like the Jerk as often as you should. Also, because of mobility and technique considerations in these sports, you might not necessarily want to isolate and maximize upper body muscle mass. This is perfectly reasonable. But that said, there are a few other very obvious points to consider.
First, while not critical to function and performance, the barbell bench press is actually a FULL BODY LIFT, not an isolation exercise. In some respects, it’s quite similar to the push press. To do it correctly, and to produce maximal force through the arms, you have to utilize your legs and back in the movement as well. Once you get the hang of that, you’ll see why benching well can have a positive carryover to your other lifts.
The second point is about balance. Sure, to excel in Weightlifting and Crossfit you certainly don’t need a huge bench. But the opposite is true too – If you suck at this lift, then you very likely have an under-developed chest, along with weak shoulders and triceps. That’s something that will cripple your long-term fitness goals.
Just look around. Your favorite athletes bench more often than you think. And they’re also pretty damn good at it.
Fit athletes bench press, don’t kid yourself.
Set-up the right way
It’s true, the bench press is a full-body movement. But that said, it can be very challenging to get a feel for the correct form. This is where the expertise and experience of competitive Powerlifters comes in handy.
Earlier you saw AJ Roberts put up a huge bench press in competition. Now, in the video below, he’s going to break down and demonstrate every technical point of the movement, including the critical element of leg-drive.
Watch, take note, and make sure to practice the next time you go into the gym to press. Your performance will increase pretty much instantly, which is very nice. But more important than that, you’ll also be able to avoid many of the common injuries and maladies associated with poor pressing technique.
Learn to bench the right way.
Also, learn to load while you’re at it!
There’s one more point to be made, and that has to do with how heavy you load the bench press.
Like with any movement, the key to making progress is to practice the lift often, but not too often. Also, you have to carefully control the amount of load you use…the “dose.”
An incredibly easy and effective way to do this is to utilize the table below. If you take a look at the columns you will see some rep/set recommendations based upon a percentage of your best lift. The percentages are pretty easy to figure out. You have ranges that cover light “speed” training (55-70% 1RM), moderate strength work (70-85% or so), and of course, very heavy work (90% or more of your best lift).
Depending on the objective of your training session, you can utilize the recommended ranges to establish a safe loading zone for your barbell work. For example, if you load 80% of your best press onto the barbell, a great starting point for programming would be to “prescribe” 3 sets of 5 repetitions. That would give you an optimal total rep count of 15.
You could also do 4 sets of 5 reps, as long as you realize that this now gives you a total repetition count of 20, which is your upper threshold of work. Press more than that and you might start noticing some recovery issues, or impaired performance on your other upper body lifts.
A.S. Prilepin’s loading chart – A simple guide.
Go ahead, give the bench another try. It will do your chest, shoulders and arms some serious good. And best of all, when appropriately programmed this movement will certainly make a positive contribution to your overall strength and fitness goals. Just see for yourself.