Posts Tagged ‘Bench Press’

Hey man, how much do you bench?

If I was paid a pound every time I was asked this question, I’d be pretty rich by now.  For whatever reason, how much you can lift on the traditional barbell bench press seems to be the exercise that people use to measure how strong anyone that lifts weights is. It goes without saying that the bench press is an excellent compound exercise to build a strong and thick chest as well as develop the triceps and shoulders. However, to use it as the sole bench mark for how strong you are is a bit misleading. There is no point in being able to bench press 150kg for 20 reps but not be able to squat or deadlift even half that much. To be truly strong, you need to develop a good strength foundation in all the big lifts.  A strong bench press is only one part of the equation.

Yeah I agree, but I still want to bench press heavy weight!

Most guys, including me, want to be able to bench press heavy weights. I’ve always lagged behind in pressing movements such as the bench press and shoulder press despite making good gains in deadlifts and squats. So I set myself the goal of improving both my bench press and shoulder press. I’m not looking to be able to bench press 140kg for 10 reps over night, but have opted to make small increments over the next year in the hope that these small increments will accumulate into some impressive pressing this time next year. As well as making small increments to the weight, I’ve started to include some assistance exercises into my routine to help strengthen the supporting muscles such as the triceps and lats. By adding in some assistance work I’ve definitely noticed an improvement to my pressing exercises over the last four weeks, especially the standing overhead barbell press.

Blast your bench press with these assistance movements

1)      Advance range of motion push ups

2)      Pull ups

3)      Plyometric Push ups

4)      Recline Rows

5)      Dips

6)      Bodyweight tricep extension

7)      Partner handwalking

Some of the exercises above are a bit difficult to describe and are best illustrated with a video. The link below is actually the video where I first came across the body weight tricep extensions. These are tough but really great for building tricep strength which, in turn, has helped me improved my bench press and shoulder press.

In addition to the video above, it’s also worth checking out the Diesel Strength and Conditioning website as there is comprehensive guide on bench press technique as well tips on how to improve overall strength.

http://www.dieselsc.com/how-to-bench-press/

As always, make sure you warm up properly before attempting any of these exercises and don’t attempt them if you carrying any injuries!

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Having strong and healthy shoulders is crucial when it comes to physical activity. The shoulders are used in some way for most muscle building exercises. Bench press, military press, pull ups and even squats involve the shoulder muscles to varying degrees. The shoulder is the most mobile joint on the body, meaning that it has the greatest range of motion. For this reason it is also quite unstable and has a high risk of getting injured. Go to any gym and you’ll come across people who have injured their shoulder in some way at some point. In some really bad cases a shoulder injury can mean that you can’t even put on a shirt without pain let alone lift weights. If you want to continue to develop muscle and strength then it’s really important that you look after your shoulders.

Tips on keeping shoulders healthy

Here are some simple tips to help keep your shoulders healthy. These may seem obvious but it’s amazing how many times you see people go straight into lifting weights without any warming up.

Note: Only follow these tips are if your shoulders are currently healthy and pain free. If you already have a shoulder injury, you should get it seen by a doctor and look into rehabilitation exercises

1)      Warm up the body thoroughly – We all know that warming up before exercise is important but I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure your shoulders are nice and warm before lifting weights. So make sure you get your body temperature up by doing whatever works best for you. I prefer rowing as it also warms up the shoulder area better than the something like cycling

2)      Warm up the shoulders – Once you’re warmed up it’s time to get the blood flowing around the shoulders. Stand with your arms held out to the side and make small circles in a clockwise motion, gradually increasing the size of the circles. Do this for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Repeat again but this time move in an anti clockwise motion. Repeat this for as long as it takes for the shoulders to feel warm.

Now pick up set of light dumbbells and perform a set of side lateral raises, front raises and bent over reverse flies. This will warm up the anterior, medial and posterior heads of the shoulder, in other words the front, sides and rear.

3)      Start light – Start with a light weight that you can easily do 10 reps on for the first set. Gradually build up to your working sets. Going heavy on the first set risks injury. I find that I feel stronger on the heavier weights if I’ve done a couple of lighter sets to ramp up to my working sets.

4)      Don’t perform heavy, and low behind the neck presses – Pressing heavy weight behind the neck puts a lot of stress on the rotator cuff. It’s even worse if you lower the weight below your ears. Personally, I try to avoid heavy behind the neck presses altogether.

5)      Perform pull ups or rows in between pressing sets – I find that if I perform a set of pull ups in between my shoulder pressing sets, I feel stronger and more stable when I press. This isn’t a superset but just alternating sets between pull ups and shoulder presses. Remember, it’s important to perform as many pulling movements as you do pressing to keep the shoulders healthy and physique balanced.

6)      Include rotator cuff exercises – Rotator cuff exercises are often neglected but are crucial to maintaining healthy shoulders. There are a range of exercises that you can do. The link below describes in details the importance of the rotator cuff and exercises to strengthen it.

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/criticalbench24.htm

7)      Perform band pulls – One of the causes of shoulder problems is bad posture caused by sitting down all day. In order to help avoid this you should perform band pull aparts on your off days. I normally do about 100 of these in 5 sets of 20. I also perform them from varying angles. This well help strength  the posterior part of your shoulders and maintain a good posture. You’ll need a resistance band which is pretty cheap. The video below is one I found on YouTube and demonstrates various band pull movements.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKBsia-o9N4

Muscle and Strength program for beginners

Starting out on the path to building muscle and strength can be quite daunting for beginners.  I was there myself once. There is so much information out there it’s hard to decide what program is best for you. A common mistake a lot of beginners make is trying to follow the workout programs of professional bodybuilders found in a lot of magazines. The problem with this approach is that the workouts of professional bodybuilders aren’t suitable for beginners for a number of reasons. One of these reasons is that pro bodybuilders use a whole host of performance enhancing products that allow them to train and recover in a way a natural athlete simply couldn’t match.  In any case, even the pro bodybuilders themselves wouldn’t have started with these routines when they were beginners.  

Anyway, let me get to the point. Gaining muscle and strength for a beginner is pretty simple. You need a program comprising of the basic compound exercises, eat enough good food (proteins, carbohydrates and good fats) and get enough rest.

The Program

One of the most effective muscle building training programs for beginners and even more advanced trainees is a program that uses the 5×5 approach.  This approach is a tried and tested one that has been used by strength coaches with great success.  There are many variations of the 5×5 approach and the one below is a slightly adapted version of the routine used by renowned strength coach Bill Starr to help American Football players build muscle and strength. I can personally vouch for this approach as it’s helped me really increase my strength and put on quality lean muscle. I still run with this program from time to time to help increase strength.

So, the program consists of two full body workouts. Workout A and Workout B. It should be performed 3 times a week with a day of rest in between each workout and 2 days rest every 5 days.

Workout A

Barbell Squats = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Barbell Bench Press = 5 Sets, 5 reps for each set

Bent over Barbell Row = 5 Sets, 5 reps for each set

Optional assistance work

Pull ups = 3 Sets, 10 reps each

Dips = 3 Sets, 10 reps each

Workout B

Barbell Squats = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Standing barbell shoulder press = 5 sets, 5 reps for each set

Barbell Dead lift = 3 sets, 5 reps each. Ramp up the weight for each set with the aim of using the first 2 sets to warm up and the last set is going to be the heavy set.

Optional assistance work

Hanging leg / knee raises = 5 sets, 10 to 20 reps each

Example Schedule

If you train Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the program would be run as follows:

Monday – Workout A

Tuesday – Rest

Wednesday – Workout B

Thursday – Rest

Friday – Workout A

Saturday – Rest

Sunday – Rest

Monday – Workout B

So, you get the picture. You train 3 days a week alternating workout A and B.  One week you will perform Workout A twice, and Workout B once and the next week it will be Workout B twice and Workout A once.

What weights should you use?

The whole aim of this program is to progressively allow you to get stronger and put on muscle. When you first start out you should use a weight for each exercise that you can easily do 5 reps on with perfect form. By this I mean that you should be able to do at least another 5 to 10 reps on the weight if you wanted.  For some people this may even mean starting with only the bar. Don’t be ashamed of this as the whole point is to gradually build your strength.

Each week, add a total 2.5kg to weight for bench press, shoulder press and barbell row. Add a total 5kg each week to the squats and deadlift.  The aim is to gradually increase the weight each week. You must complete all the sets and all the reps. If you fail on a set then don’t increase the weight next week. Only increase the weight if you can perform all the prescribed sets and reps.

To begin with, this program will feel easy. But in a few weeks, as the weights get heavy, you’ll really be feeling it by the end of the workout. Over time you will get stronger and as a result put on muscle.

Where are the bicep curls for big arms?

This is a full body workout. You’ll be using all the major muscles and you won’t need to do isolation movements like bicep curls. Your arms will grow big and strong as a result of the heavy pressing and pulling.

How long to use this routine?

I would recommend that you run with this routine for as long as you are making gains i.e. getting stronger. When you get to the point where you can’t increase weight each week, change it to increasing the weight every 2 weeks and eventually every month. Basically, stick with it for as long as you are getting stronger. After that you can start looking at other types of routines such and 3 and 4 day splits.

Key things to remember

1)      Make sure you use perfect form. Get instruction on how to perform the lifts properly if you need to. 

2)      Start light and gradually increase the weights. If you start too heavy you won’t make progress for very long.

3)      Make sure you are eating good quality food and getting enough rest.

Opposing muscle Supersets to supercharge muscle gains

One of my favourite muscle and strength building tactics is to use supersets in my training.  Super sets are a great way to boost your muscle gains, build endurance and also get more done in the gym in less time!  On some days, if I’m pressed for time due to other commitments I will base my entire workout around supersets using opposing muscle groups

What is a superset?

A superset is one where you perform two exercises one after the other without resting in between. It is effectively combining two sets into one.  Generally people tend use supersets towards the end of their routine and combine exercises targeting a particular muscle group. For example, many people will perform a superset for triceps using close grip bench press immediately followed with an isolation movement such as cable tricep extensions.

Opposing Muscle supersets

Now, same muscle group supersets are great, but if you really want to turn up the intensity of your workouts and build some serious overall muscle, try incorporating supersets using only compound movements that utilise opposing muscle groups.

Not only will opposing muscle supersets allow you to get more done in less time, they can improve the circulation meaning that muscles can work more efficiently with more oxygen. You’ll also get an awesome pump and even find you can lift more and do more reps on the second exercise. Many a bench press personal bests have been set even when it has been performed immediately after a set of rows! I personally find that I often feel stronger on the second exercise than if I had started with it.

My favourite superset at the moment is weighted Pull ups + weighted dips. This is an awesome superset that hits the back and biceps and the chest and triceps. Sometimes I do the pull ups first and other times I’ll start with the dips. But whichever order I start with, it really leaves the muscles pumped. Seriously, try super setting with opposing muscle groups. You will really feel it working!

Another favourite superset of mine is barbell row followed immediately by bench press or vice versa.  Here are just a few examples of great opposing muscle supersets.  Remember, as with all exercises, only use a weight that you can do perfect form with to avoid injuries and get the most out the workout.

Opposing muscle superset examples

1)      Bench Press + Bent over barbell rows

2)      Bench press + Pull ups

3)      Barbell rows + Dips

4)      Pull ups + Dips

5)      Standing barbell shoulder press + pull ups

6)      Bicep curls + tricep extension

The possibilities are limitless so why not include supersets into your workout and see yourself pile on the lean muscle, get stronger and burn fat.