Power Your Press: Drills for a Better Bench Rep Test

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Every year, NFL hopefuls must perform five basic drills at the Combine—including the Bench Test. The Bench is not just about strength. According to Danny Arnold, owner of Plex (Stafford, Texas), what it measures is "endurance and power, if you move the weight fast."

To improve at the Bench Rep Test, you need to focus on endurance. Arnold says, "To get better at it, condition your chest like you would your legs for a run." You need to train your energy system to power the bar off your chest repeatedly. This is accomplished by overloading the muscles involved in the exercise.

Case in point: before moving over to the Bench Press, Detroit Lions DT Ndamukong Suh performs the Incline Bench. This exhausts his shoulders and triceps so that their contributions to the Bench are limited. Immediately following the Bench, he further fatigues his muscles with the Band Press. Although the bands offer relatively little resistance, they tax his body's energy system. When Suh eliminates the Incline and the Band Press, he can apply extra strength and endurance to the Bench Press, allowing him to power through more than 30 reps with 225 pounds. (Watch an exclusive video interview with Ndamukong Suh about his journey to the NFL).

As an alternative, Arnold recommends using a drop set followed by Push-Ups to completely fatigue your muscles. The reduced weight of each set allows you to continue performing the exercise with proper form while continuously engaging your muscles, which is critical for making strength and endurance gains.

  • Perform max reps with 185 lbs.; rest 30 seconds
  • Perform max reps with 135 lbs.; rest 30 seconds
  • Perform max reps with 85 lbs.; perform Push-Ups until failure

For a bigger Bench, focus on the front delts and triceps. Strong arms and shoulders contribute to pushing against the bar, while also helping to prevent injury when lifting heavy weight.

Although the pecs are the primary muscles used in the Bench Press, a deficiency anywhere in the kinetic chain (muscular path through the body) can reduce strength and power.

Use these drills to condition and strengthen your chest and shoulders

Push-Up With a Bar

Who used it?
Greenbay Packers DB Charles Woodson and Chicago Bears DE Julius Peppers while training with Plex owner Danny Arnold

  • Place a bar on ground in front of you
  • Grip bar and assume Push-Up position with back flat, abs tight, feet close together and hands slightly wider than shoulder width
  • Slowly descend, keeping elbows to sides and head slightly up, until chest is two inches above ground
  • Forcefully push up to start position
  • Repeat for specified reps

Sets/Reps: 3x max in 60 seconds with 60 seconds rest
Benefits: Enhanced stability, because you must keep the bar in perfect position by tightening your core and stabilizing your shoulders. This helps ensure that your shoulders can support the weight of the Bench Press test, even when fatigued at the end of the test.

Isometric Holds

Who used it?
Oakland Raiders DB Michael Huff while training with Luke Richesson, former Athletes' Performance performance specialist

  • Assume Push-Up position; hold for specified time
  • After brief rest, assume Push-Up position and lower halfway; hold position for specified time
  • After brief rest, assume Push-Up position and lower until chest is just above floor; hold position for specified time

Sets/Reps: 1x30-60 seconds each position
Benefits: Improves shoulder stability, strength and endurance through range of motion, helping you produce sustained strength throughout the entire Bench Press movement, even at point of failure.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock