You love the Bench Press. I love the Bench Press. Everyone loves the Bench Press.
Few things are more satisfying than lifting hundreds of pounds over your chest and setting a new personal record. It's even better when that PR happens to coincide with adding another 45-pound plate to the bar and joining the two-, three- or (gasp!) four-plate club.
However, if you have any experience with the Bench Press, you know all too well that progress can grind to a halt. Or sometimes you work hard on your bench but your chest remains small and feeble. And both of these problems can be mind-numbingly frustrating.
To help alleviate those problems, we've compiled Bench Press challenges and unique variations that will help you add strength to your bench and size to your chest.
Bodyweight Bench Press
Joe DeFranco, renown strength coach, recently challenged his followers to time how long it takes to perform 100 reps on the Bench Press using a weight equivalent to their body weight.
This isn't like Push-Ups where you might be able to knock out 100 reps in a row. It will take time and multiple breaks and there's some strategy involved. You could try to knock out as many reps as possible toward the beginning or spread it out so you don't fatigue too quickly.
DeFranco's time was 16 minutes, 10 seconds.
225 Bench Test
Channel your inner NFL prospect and try the 225-pound Bench Press test. This challenge is simple. Perform as many reps as possible with 225 pounds.
The record at the NFL Scouting Combine is a whopping 51 reps. Football players train specifically for this test and have many years under their belts lifting heavy weights in a collegiate strength training program, so don't be too upset if you come nowhere near the record.
In fact, you may not even be able to bench press 225 pounds. That's OK. Back off the weight to a load you think you can lift for 15 to 20 reps, and perform as many reps as possible.
To perform PREP reps, use a weight that's up to 120 percent of your max. So if your max is 250, you can use up to 300 pounds. This may seem incredibly heavy, but your muscles are capable of handling more weight on the lowering (eccentric) phase of the rep.
Lower the weight over 3-5 seconds until the bar reaches the rack's safety pins set a few inches above your chest. Now slide out from under the bar and take about 30 percent of the weight off the bar—usually removing a 45-pound plate from each side is sufficient.
Now slide back under the bar, press the weight up and rack it. Reset to your starting weight and repeat for up to 4 reps. You can do this for 3-5 sets.
Having trouble building a bigger chest with the Bench Press? Add the Squeeze Press to your workouts.
"Many people have a hard time activating their pecs on the Bench Press, thus limiting their ability to build muscle and strength through this region simultaneously," explains Dr. John Rusin, strength coach, physical therapist and owner of John Rusin Fitness Systems.
The Squeeze Press is essentially Neutral-Grip Dumbbell Press (palms facing each other), but instead you squeeze the dumbbells together as hard as you can. This forces your pecs to engage and creates an incredible chest pump.
"The golden rule is this: In order to elicit a response from a muscle, you must feel it," Rusin says. "That's exactly why I love the Dumbbell Squeeze Press for activating the pecs while training the shoulders and chest in a very safe and effective position."
Rusin recommends performing sets of 8-15 reps. Use a weight that's challenging but allows you to focus on the squeeze throughout the rep—especially at the bottom and top positions.
Bench Press 21s
21s are an old-school bodybuilding method typically used for building bigger arms. But according to Nick Tumminello, strength coach and owner of Performance U, 21s are an easy and effective way to build muscle with many other exercises, including the Bench Press.
Here's how to perform 21s:
Do 7 reps lowering the barbell only halfway.
Do 7 reps from the bottom position pressing the weight halfway up.
Finish with 7 complete reps for a total of 21 reps.
21s create a great pump and place your muscles under tension for a high number of reps—two keys to building muscle. The first seven reps will be relatively easy, but your muscles will be screaming for mercy by the end of the set. Perform a total of 1 to 3 sets.
Failure to Failure
Rick Scarpulla, strength coach and owner of Ultimate Advantage Training tests his athletes' strength and mental toughness with this brutal full-body challenge. Here's how it works:
Perform as many reps as possible on the Bench Press with a weight you can lift for about 10 reps.
Perform as many Pull-Ups as possible.
Repeat 3-5 times taking no rest.
This is a great way to cram as many reps in as possible to add some strength, muscular endurance and work capacity at the same time.
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