Rightly or wrongly, when you say you train with weights, most people will ask what you bench press. They generally don’t ask what you squat or what you deadlift, although I’d say both those exercises are just as good a measure of strength as the bench press. In fact, I’d argue that the deadlift is the best measure of strength there is.
Still, this article is about the bench press.
People sometimes ask me what weight represents a “good” bench press. The trouble is, “good” is relative. Do we mean what’s good for an untrained person, or people who train, or bodybuilders, or powerlifters, or naturals, or juicers, or men, or women, or people in certain age brackets?
Either way, there’s a lot of baloney written about this subject. I’m going to add to that baloney with my own estimates, which are rough and ready figures related to absolute strength rather than bodyweight-indexed figures related to relative strength. I’ll leave it up to you to adjust the figures up or down a bit if you’re heavier or lighter.
My estimates are going to be based on the following criteria:
I’ve often wondered if protein supplements are worth the bother. If you weight train for a while you’ll soon start hearing the mantra of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and most bodybuilders and strength athletes I’ve spoken to seem to take this as accepted science.
Anyway, I recent came across an interesting article about this. It presents two opposing points of view, both of which seem to be derived from many of the same studies. So, interesting it may be but I’m none the wiser.
But if you can’t be bothered to read that, here’s the summary from the ‘No’ camp:
Athletes, coaches, and supplement manufacturers understandably strive to gain competitive advantage by adopting nutritional strategies in anticipation of future empirical support. However, the scientific data currently available indicate that protein is not an effective addition to CHO-based sports supplements when ingested during exercise, whereas the potential advantages of added protein during recovery can be most comprehensively achieved via whole foods as part of a balanced diet.
What I tend to do is record my best weight for each of one to 12 reps and then I record the calculated one-rep maximum for each exercise. The aim in each workout (or each week or each fortnight) is to break at least one of these personal records.
On one workout I might lift more for seven reps than I have before, on another workout I might lift more for 10 reps.
I find that doing this helps motivate me. It makes sure I’m implementing the “progressive” bit of progressive resistance training. Otherwise I find I just drift through workouts.
A high quality bench that can host a number of useful attachments. I can’t imagine you’d find a better multi-purpose bench than this one in the same price range.
I bought the Ironmaster Super Bench when I bought my Ironmaster IM2000. I got it as part of a package deal that included the leg accessory (for leg curls and leg extensions), the preacher curl accessory, the crunch accessory and the dip accessory.
This thing comes almost fully assembled and all you have to do is attach the feet to it and you’re good to go. If you bought any accessories, they’ll need some minor assembly too. I assembled the bench and the various accessories listed above less than an hour on my own.
Dimensions & Weight
The footprint of this bench – by which I mean the actual space it takes up where it makes contact with the floor – is 41 inches by 18.75 inches (~ 104.1cm x 47.5 m) and in the flat position the pad extends the length a further three inches over the footprint. The top of the pad is 20.5 inches (52cm) above the floor. The pad itself measures 44 inches by 10 inches (~ 111.75cm x 25.4cm) and it’s 3 inches (7.62 cm) thick.
The bench press is an important exercise. It’s one of the three powerlifts and is a good compound movemement for the chest (primarily), shoulders and triceps.
It is probably a bit overrated by weight trainers in general. Beginners and intermediates often seem to place a lot of emphasis on the bench press rather than the squat or deadlift, both of which I think are better compound movements. I suspect even the standing shoulder press (military press) is a better compound movement than the bench press because it targets the lower back and core a bit more.
Nevertheless it’s an important exercise and this article looks at bench press technique. This particular article relates to using the bench press to improve over all strength rather than what you might call a pure powerlifting bench press or pure bodybuilding bench press. This is a general, all-purpose, strength-building bench press.
This article provides a fairly simple overview of how muscle is built at the biological level. There are some technical terms in it as it’s hard to explain without them but I’ve tried to keep it as simple and brief as possible.
The ATP-PC System
The energy system that powers your workouts is called the ATP-PC system.
A small amount of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) is stored in your muscle cells. This powers the first few reps you perform and is depleted after two or three seconds.
When the ATP in your muscle cells has depleted, PC (phosphocreatine) is then broken down to restock your ATP levels. This provdes energy for a further eight to 12 seconds or so.
When this second batch of ATP has been used up, your muscles turn to their reserves of glycogen to make additional ATP (and lactic acid as a byproduct). This ATP is supplied at a slower rate and lasts for a further 60-90 seconds.
Beyond this you’re getting into the aerobic cycle, which involves a whole bunch of chemical reactions to keep supplying ATP to the muscles at an even slower rate.
It takes two to three minutes to restore the ATP systems, so the takeaway from this bit is that two to three minutes’ rest between working sets is what you need in order to be at your best for the next set.
Micro-weight plates are essential if you want to maintain progressive resistance training beyond beginner level and these BodyRip 0.5kg plates are inexpensive and accurate to within 6% (which you’d hardly notice), making them a good value purchase.
I favour Body Power Rubber Encased Tri-Grip Olympic Plates and all my other plates are this brand. Unfortunately they don’t do any plates smaller than 1.25kg. I wanted some smaller plates, so after a bit of searching I ended up with BodyRip 0.5kg Micro-Weight Plates.
So why do you need micro-weight plates anyway?
Well, the key to gaining strength is to use progressive resistance. That simply means that once you achieve the required number of reps with a particular weight you need to increase the weight you’re using.
To begin with, you might find you can fairly easily increase the weight by 2.5kg, which would be the minimum possible increase on a barbell if your smallest weight plates are 1.25kg (as they are with most weight sets). But as you get stronger there is a point where adding 2.5kg each time becomes increasingly difficult.
You’d notice it first on things like the bench press, shoulder press and isolation exercises like curls or triceps extensions. You might be able to continue increasing by 2.5kg on the bigger compounds – essentially squats and deadlifts – but you’ll probably stall at a 2.5k increase on other exercises.
When you do stall, 0.5kg micro-weight plates can help you continue progressing because you can now increase the weight by 1kg or 2kg instead of 2.5kg.
Proper rest is an important part of any weight training regime. It’s the third element that needs to be in place – along with exercise and diet – if you want to make the best progress. This article looks at some of the issues relating to rest, breaks and layoffs in weight training.
We all need different amounts of sleep to be at our peak. Some folk get by quite happily on six hours’ sleep a night whilst others need a good eight or nine hours to feel properly recuperated. How much you need to sleep at night is a very individual thing. The key point is that you get enough sleep so that you’re not too tired to work out effectively.
Remember that workouts break down the muscles and it’s during the rest periods between workouts that they’re built up again. A good night’s sleep helps with this process.
That said, as a general rule of thumb, less than five hours is probably too little sleep and more than nine hours is probably excessive. Personally, I need about seven hours’ sleep to be at my peak but I’m generally okay anywhere beween six and eight.
If you’re just starting out at weight training, there’s a good chance you may never have been in a commercial gym before. If that’s the case, here are some items of gym etiquette that’ll help you avoid upsetting the regulars.
Put The Plates and Bars Away
When you’ve finished any particular exercise, put the weight plates back on the plate holder (or wherever the gym stores them) and put barbells and dumbbells back where you found them. Don’t leave such things lying around on the floor. It’s dangerous and it’ll really annoy the regulars.
Take a Towel
Rather like Ford Prefect’s suggestion to Arthur Dent in ‘A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, a towel is essential. People sweat in gyms – that’s part of the whole point. But make sure you take a towel to wipe down benches and machines when you’re finished with them. If you’re particularly sweaty, lay your towel down on the bench and lie on that to perform the exercise.
Having the correct diet is 50% of successful weight training. You will benefit simply from training alone, of course, but if you want to make the best progress – either as a bodybuilder, power lifter or dedicated weight trainer – you need to get your diet in order.
This article looks at a simple way to calculate your macro (protein, carbohydrate and fat) requirements so that you make the best progress you can. Be aware that this is just a starting point and as you progress and gain more experience you may need to tweak it a bit.
Calculate Your TEE
First of all, head over to my BMR Calculator, enter your stats and make a note of the last number (Total Energy Expenditure or TEE) it specifies. Or, for a more accurate way to calculate your TEE, check out my post here.
If you eat to your TEE your weight should remain stable. If that’s your goal, take this as your base figure.
If you’re trying to gain weight, add 200-500 calories to your TEE.
If you’re trying to lose weight, subtract 200-500 calories from your TEE.
The ranges of 200-500 calories added or subtracted, above, will determine how quickly you want to gain or lose weight but be aware that these things are generally better done slowly, so 300 might be a good starting figure.
Either way, you should end up with a target TEE to take to the next section.