Archive for the tag - bench press

How Much Should You Be Able to Bench Press?

Bench-Press“How much can you lift, bro?”

We’ve all heard that question. And we’ve all rolled our eyes when it’s asked. Regardless (and for better or worse), the bench press has become the gold standard in comparing levels of physical fitness.

Go to the gym. Enlist the help of a spotter. Add a comfortable amount of resistance to the bench press. Perform one repetition. With a rest in between, keep adding additional resistance until you reach your limit. When you can’t lift anymore, that’s your one rep max. And when someone asks you how much you can lift, you’ll have your answer.

But how much should you be able to lift?

Screen Shot 2014-04-02 at 11.56.40 AMAccording to data, an untrained 165-pound man can bench press 119 pounds. See chart (at right) for additional data points.

You’ll quickly discover that most untrained or novice exercisers aren’t able to bench press their own bodyweight. Though it’s not necessarily the best measure of physical strength, the ability to press one’s own bodyweight is a common goal for exercisers. Though it doesn’t have a direct implication, it’s a bragging right to which many men and women aspire.

So how much weight should you be able to bench press? There’s no short answer. It depends on your weight, fitness level, goals and a variety of other factors. Though the chart will provide some very guidelines, know that each person is different. And that all of us are at different points on our fitness journey.

The bottom line: If you’re not satisfied with your current level of strength, set a goal and work towards it.

How to Get a Bigger Chest: 10 Tips.

People don't recognize me with my shirt on.

Because my pecs have become something of a Davey Wavey trademark, it’s no surprise that I get a number of emails about chest workouts. More specifically, most guys write asking for tips to increase their chest size. It’s a common goal and the game plan necessary to make it happen is fairly straightforward.

Here are 10 tips for getting a bigger chest.

  1. Bench press. Tried and true, there is no better exercise for building up your chest than the bench press. You can do bench press exercises with either dumbbells or a barbell – and each have their own advantage. With dumbbells, you’re able to work through a great range of motion. But with a barbell, you’re able to press heavier amounts of weight. Since heavier loads will result in bigger gains, I recommend using the barbell – though it’s fine to use either or both.
  2. Low reps, heavy weight. Doing a lower number of repetitions at a heavy weight is best suited for increases in size. I usually target 8 repetitions. On the last repetition, your muscles should feel fatigued. If you can do more than 12 repetitions without feeling fatigued, then the weight is definitely too light.
  3. Do at least four sets. It’s true that you get a ton of benefits from performing only one set, but if you’re looking for maximized results, the additional sets are important. I do four sets on the bench press, then four sets each on the incline and decline bench press.
  4. Only train your chest once or twice per week. Since I train different muscle groups each day, I usually only work my chest once per week. Sometimes twice. I don’t train my chest often, but when I do, it’s a quality workout and that’s what matters.
  5. Increase the amount of resistance or number of repetitions. If you did 6 repetitions at 180 pounds last week, try for 7 repetitions at the same weight this week. Or if you did 8 repetitions of 150 pounds last week, go for 7 or 8 repetitions at 160 pounds this week. You need to overload your muscles to increase their size.
  6. Keep a log. Because the exact number of repetitions and amount of resistance can be difficult to remember, bring a notebook and log your progress. When you go in for your next workout, you’ll know exactly where you were last week – and exactly where you want to be this week.
  7. Try drop sets. Once a month, really mix things up by doing a drop set or two. To perform a drop set, select an amount of resistance that will result in muscle failure after 8 – 12 reps. While you’ve reached relative failure, you haven’t reached absolute failure; quickly decrease the amount of weight by about 15% and continue. After 8 or so reps, you’ll hit failure again. Reduce the resistance by another 15% and continue. Keep going. It’s a great way to build size.
  8. Don’t overtrain. More isn’t better and your muscles need time to rebuild and recover. Don’t train your chest more than twice a week.
  9. Eat right. Ensure that you’re eating enough calories and getting the required amount of protein to support muscle growth.
  10. Keep good form. While the occasional cheat is acceptable, the majority of your bench presses should demonstrate proper technique. Most people cheat by not lowering the bar fully to their chest before pressing it back up. Ensure that you’re getting a full range of motion.

Building a bigger chest isn’t rocket science – but it does take a little know-how and some real effort and dedication. And if you have any other chest-building tips, share them in the comments below.

Is the Smith Machine Good?

Dear Davey,

I am new to working out and recently joined Planet Fitness, but the free weights are very limited. A majority of the exercises that I want to perform use barbells and the closest thing they have is a Smith Machine. How do you feel about the Smith Machine?

From,
Jason

Hey Jason,

Congratulations on joining a gym and prioritizing fitness. The first step is always the hardest – and so you’re well on your way to achieving your fitness goals!

As it turns out, the Smith Machine was invented by fitness guru Jack LaLanne – and then later improved by fitness executive Rudy Smith in the 1950s. Basically, the Smith Machine is an apparatus with a barbell that runs vertically along two guided rods. By twisting your wrists, you can rack the barbell on any of the many joints that run along the frame.

Because the barbell runs along rods for guidance, the idea is that it’s a safer alternative to typical squats which are often performed in a power cage. Because the Smith Machine helps stabilize the barbell, lifters can generally use heavier weights – and no spotter is required.

It sounds good on paper, but the reality is quite different.

Proper Form and Bar Movement

Whether you are using the Smith Machine for squats, bench pressing or shoulder lifts, one must consider that – in real life – barbells rarely follow a straight vertical path. Our bodies are all different and we all have varying flexibility, imbalances and bodily dimensions. As we squat, for example, there is constant shifting and balancing as we perform the exercise.

Because the Smith Machine takes a one-size-fits-all approach, there is additional strain placed on joints, tendons and ligaments to accommodate the straight vertical path. Over time, this can create discomfort or even injury.

Stabilizer Muscles

A friend of mine switched from the bench press to the Smith Machine. On the bench press, he could lift 200 pounds. Within a month or two, he was up to 240 pounds on the Smith Machine’s chest press. This seemed like great progress – until he went back to the bench press. He could only lift 180 pounds, meaning he had actually lost real-world strength.

The Smith Machine gives a false sense of progress because it does all the stabilizing work for you. The bench press, for example, doesn’t just involve your chest muscles. Smaller stabilizer muscles must also work to help balance the bar – and this is a good thing. For real world strength, those stabilizer muscles are absolutely necessary. When using a Smith Machine, you cut them out of the picture.

Conclusion

I’d keep my distance from the Smith Machine and stick with free weights whenever possible. Though your gym may not have barbells, there are many effective dumbbell exercises that you can use to train your muscles effectively. Down the road, if you find that the lack of equipment is limiting your results, it may be time to find a new gym.

Love,
Davey

Wide Grip Vs. Narrow Grip Bench Press.

Mr. McMuscles demonstrates the narrow bench press grip.

The bench press is one of the most common strength training exercises around; it’s tried, true and extremely effective. Though the bench press primarily works the pectoral muscles in your chest, by changing the width of your grip, you can change the focus of the muscles being worked.

Standard Grip

Though many Olympic barbells come with etched guides for your hands, a standard grip is different from person to person. Generally, a standard grip results in a perfect 90 degree elbow angle in the starting position of the exercise. In addition to your pectoral muscles, the standard grip will also result in some activation of the deltoids and triceps.

Narrow Grip

To use a narrow grip, exercisers must start with their hands shoulder-width apart (as depicted in the accompanying photo). This is several inches closer together than in the standard grip. With this grip, and by keeping your elbows in towards your hips as you lower the bar, you shift the focus of the exercise more into the triceps.

Wide Grip

To use a wide grip, extend your hands a few inches beyond the standard grip. While widening your grip will reduce the range of motion in each repetition, the focus of the exercise will primarily be on the outer portions of your pectorals. Since this exercise puts considerable stress on shoulder joints, it’s not for everyone. In addition, it’s generally recommended that exercisers only lower the bar 3 – 4 inches from the chest – and not all the way down.

By changing your grip, you can change the focus of the muscles being exercised. But for most of us, a standard grip is safest and sufficient. Still, it’s always good to occasionally mix things up and to keep your workout fresh.

5 Biggest Bench Press Mistakes.

There’s no doubt that the bench press is one of the most effective strength training exercises available. To make the most of your time on the bench, avoid these 5 common mistakes and pitfalls:

  1. Bad shoulder and/or back posture. When performing reps on a bench press, good form is paramount. Ensure that your shoulder blades are squeezed in and retracted. While your butt and shoulders will make contact with the bench, you should maintain a natural curve in your lower back.
  2. Improper grip. Gripping the bar properly can make a world of difference and prevent wrist injury. Grasp the bar in the lower part of your palm and ensure that your wrist is over your elbow and in straight alignment with your forearm.
  3. Negative self-talk. If you say, “I’m not going to be able to lift this,” then you probably won’t; you’ve defeated yourself before you even started. Replace doubt and negative self-talk with positive affirmations. You may still fall short – but you’re more likely to get that extra repetition in. “I think I can” will get you further than “I think I can’t.”
  4. Lifting feet off of ground. As I’ve mentioned before, elevating your feet while bench pressing is dangerous. If you’re looking to add extra challenge or variety to your workout, try drop sets, incline or decline benches, negative sets or adjusting your rest time.
  5. Lack of goals. A lot of people perform exercises like the bench press without considering the larger picture. Everything you do in the gym should be connected to a goal. Are you training for size? Strength? Endurance? Maintenance? Depending on your goal or goals, you’ll need to use the bench press differently. Spend time articulating your goals and figuring out how the bench press can help you get there.

Do you have any other bench press mistakes that you’ve noticed while at the gym? Share them in the comments below!

Bench Press with Legs Up: What’s the Deal?

Dear Davey,

I’ve seen a lot of guys at the gym bending their knees or raising their legs in some way while they bench press. What’s that about? What are the benefits?

From,
Mitch

Hey Mitch,

Like anyone who has spent some time in a free weight room, you’ve seen individuals perform the bench press (or similar chest exercises) with their feet up on the bench or in the air. It’s fairly common.

However, I’d advise against it.

I’ve talked to a number of people that perform the bench press with their legs elevated and they usually do it because they believe they’re challenging their muscles more and/or they have lower back pain and it makes the exercise more comfortable. Unfortunately, lifting your legs makes the exercise unsafe. Consider the lack of balance and risk of injury when pressing heavier weights. And when it comes to challenging your muscles, there are better ways to train for gains.

To bench press properly, you should create a wide base by spreading your feet apart. Your knees should be above your feet and most of your weight should be driving into your heels. While the bench press is a chest exercise, much of the weight is supported by your legs – and by pushing through your legs and into your heels, you can help drive the weight up. Doing this will enable you to move more weight (vs. a legs elevated position), so I’d make the argument that the traditional bench press position is both safer and more effective.

If you are looking for alternatives and variety, consider drop sets, incline or decline benches, negative sets, grip variations or adjusting your rest time.

Love,
Davey

How To Get Davey Wavey’s Chest.

It shouldn't be about creating Davey's chest so much as it should be about building the best version of your own!

A lot of people send me emails asking about my chest and the exercises that I use to build and maintain it. While I’m happy to share my chest routine, I don’t think it should be about trying to emulate my chest. I think it should be about creating a stronger, healthier chest for yourself. It’s about building your best chest – not mine.

Having said that, most people are surprised to find out that my chest workout is only 35 minutes long – and that I perform it only once or twice a week. I’m a huge fan of effective and efficient workouts. None of us – unless you’re training for the Olympics – need to be spending hours and hours at the gym. And in many cases, longer workouts can actually be detrimental.

At any rate, my typical chest workout consists of four basic exercises:

  • 4 sets of 8 reps on the flat bench press @ 185 lbs
  • 4 sets of 8 reps on the incline bench press @ 145 lbs
  • 4 sets of 8 reps on the decline bench press @ 165 lbs
  • 4 sets of 8 reps of 45 lb dumbbell pec flies

I use free weights since I have access to a gym, but many people – especially beginners – will see great results even if they start with body weight exercises like push-ups. In other words, you’ll need to modify my routine to make it your own.

Beyond doing effective exercises with good form, it’s important to remember a few things when aiming to build a bigger chest:

  1. Fatigue on last rep. Whatever weight you currently use, you should be fatigued after the last repetition. If you aim for 8 reps like myself, and if you want bigger muscles, then you should be unable to perform a 9th rep. If you can do a 9th rep, then you need to add more weight.
  2. Progression. In order to build bigger chest muscles, progressing to heavier levels of resistance is absolutely necessary. As your muscles build, you’ll have to increase the amount of resistance to maintain muscle failure on the last rep. You muscles only grow if they are forced to do so – and so progression is a requirement.
  3. Fuel your body with proper nutrition. Ensure that you are getting both protein and carbs after your workout – and that you are meeting your daily requirement of protein. Moreover, proper nutrition will support a lean body mass to help increase muscular definition. Do your best to eat like a caveman.
  4. Time. Allow yourself some time; Rome wasn’t built in a day. And it takes serious time and dedication to transform your body. But a year from now, you’ll be glad that you started today.

There’s really no magic to it. A stronger and healthier chest is just a matter of effective exercises combined with a little fitness know-how.

The Most Effective Bicep and Chest Exercises.

Dear Davey,

I want to get my chest/pecs to pop out more. Any suggestions on what exercises that may help with that? I work both my chest and biceps vigorously to get them bigger, but nothing seems to work. Can you help me out?

From,
Keith

Dear Keith,

This is actually a really common question – and it’s one that I get a lot.

Interestingly, the two most effective exercises for biceps and chest are barbell bicep curls and the bench press, respectively. While both of these exercises are definitely old school, they are tried, tested, true – and effective.

A barbell bicep curl, pictured to the right, is pretty straightforward. Simply load a barbell with weight plates. Stand in an upright position with an underhand grip. Contract your biceps to pull the barbell up toward your shoulders. Pause, lower and then repeat.

The bench press is also pretty simple – though it’s always a good idea to work with a spotter. Load the bench’s barbell with weight plates. Lie on the bench and hold the bar just beyond shoulder width apart. Lift the barbell off of the rack, and lower until it touches your chest lightly. Then, press the barbell away from the chest until arms are extended. Pause, then repeat.

Since you’re going for size, it’s important to use the right amount of weight. Use enough resistance so that you’re only able to do between 6 and 10 repetitions of each exercise before your muscles are fully fatigued. If you can do more than 10 repetitions, the weight it too light. Moreover, keep pushing yourself to heavier and heavier levels of resistance; your muscles won’t grow unless they are forced to do so.

If you don’t have access to a gym or equipment, push-ups are a great bench press alternative. To make push-ups more challenging, try some of my push-up variations. Or strap on a backpack loaded with extra weight. This will help force your muscles to grow.

The best at-home bicep exercise is a chin-up. You could buy a chin-up bar at a local exercise supply store. Most can be installed quickly in a doorway in your home. Or, you can take your workout outside – and perform chin-ups on playground equipment. To make it harder, you can even make use of ankle weights.

Hope that helps!

Love,
Davey

What’s the Difference Between the Incline, Decline and Flat Bench Press?

Most gym goers can ditch the incline and decline bench presses - and just stick with the flat bench press - for a complete chest workout.

If you’ve ever thrown a few free weights around at the gym, you’ve probably at least seen the tried and true bench press and its friends, the incline and decline press. The three machines are very closely related – so, what’s the difference?

When you perform a bench press, you are activating a full range of muscles. Obviously, your chest muscles are being engaged primarily. And the common belief is that the incline bench press focus on your upper pecs, the decline focuses on lower pecs and that the flat bench does a bit of each. As it turns out, this isn’t really true.

15 years ago, a study using a fancy electromyograph (EMG) set out to determine just which muscles the various bench presses actually engaged – and to what degree.

When it comes to lower pecs, the study determined that the flat bench is better than either the incline or decline bench.

When it comes to upper pecs, the study found that the incline bench is just slightly more effective than the flat or decline bench. The study also tested grips, and found that a narrower grip (just beyond shoulder width) combined with an incline bench press is the best for those upper pecs.

As I mentioned, the bench press does more than just train your chest muscles – it also works your triceps, deltoids and lat muscles. The best tricep combination was a flat bench and narrow grip. The best deltoid combination was an incline bench with a wide grip. And the best lat combination was a wide grip on the decline bench – though the degree to which the lats are engaged is fairly minimal. The bench press, after all, is a chest exercise. There are plenty of other, more powerful ways to engaged these other muscle groups.

So, as it turns out, there really aren’t any huge pectoral advantages to the incline or decline machines. The bottom line: The flat bench press is the ideal chest-training machine for most gym goers.

Davey Wavey Spills the Beans: Chest Workout Secrets. [Video]

Okay – so it’s one of the most common questions that I get: “Davey Wavey, what do you do for your chest workout?” I decided it would be easiest to answer that question once and for all through a post on my Davey Wavey Fitness YouTube channel: