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ow much do you bench?" Most people who lift weights have been asked this question more than any other fitness related question. The bench press seems to be the standard by which people who workout compare each other. It's not the be-all end-all of fitness; one should never neglect any body part, but lets face it - we all want to have an impressive number on the bench press. Above all else having a good bench press requires having a strong chest.
In our last column we gave an overview of our five day workout plan. In today's column we'll zoom in on the chest work out. The chest is divided into to major muscle groups, the upper and lower chest. Because of this, we recommend doing more sets for the chest than we would for most body parts.
In case you missed our last column and don't feel like clicking the "previous" button on the bottom of the page, here is a recap (and expansion) of day one of the five day workout:
Each exercise starts with a warm up set. A warm up set consists of a weight you can do by yourself ten times fairly easily. Nothing is going to put the brakes on your training like an injury. It's probably a good idea to do two warm up sets on the first exercise just to be on the safe side.
The second set will be a medium set. A medium set consists of a weight you can do six to ten times by yourself. If you can do the weight more than ten times by yourself, then you need to go heavier. Make sure that if you don't reach ten, you do forced reps which we'll talk about a little later in the column.
The third set is the heavy set. A heavy set consists of a weight that you can do approximately five times. Do forced reps until muscle failure.
The importance of having a good spotter cannot be stressed strongly enough. Ideally, your spotter will be someone who works out with you regularly and gets a feel for where you get stuck and when to make you go for another rep. Once you have a spotter you trust, you'll be able to push yourself to muscle failure knowing your spotter is there as a reliable safety measure.
When working out on any of these exercises, except cable crossovers, the spotter guides the weight into the starting position and keeps a firm grip on the weight until the lifter makes it clear that he is ready to begin the set. It's a good idea to have pre-arranged signals to avoid any miscommunications. An example would be to get a lift-off on "three" and to let go of the weight once the lifter says, "I'm set". The last thing you want is to have the weight dropped on you before you're ready for it.
Special spotting considerations are given when using dumbbells, such as in the dumbbell fly exercise, or if you substitute dumbbell press for the bench press. When spotting this exercise, make sure you have a firm grip on the lifters forearms. I've seen many people spot these exercises by pushing underneath the elbow. If the lifters arms were to buckle when spotting in this manner, there's a good chance he would catch a dumbbell in the face.
As with any exercise, form is key. Control the weight through the entire movement. A good rule of thumb is to bring the weight down (the negative portion of the movement) twice as slowly as you push the weight up and never bounce the weight off your chest. Once you've reached the point where you can't do anymore on your own, let the spotter handle the extra weight; don't try to compensate by using bad form. When the spotter is doing a portion of the weight for you, you are in the force rep stage of the set. By doing force reps, you're forcing your body to adapt to heavier work loads. If you never reach muscle failure, you're operating within your body's existing capabilities. I firmly believe in going to muscle failure to promote growth and improvement.
Keep the intensity high when you're in the gym. By going to muscle failure and keeping time between sets to a minimum, you'll get the most out of your workouts. As a rule, I never stay in the gym more than 45 minutes to an hour. If I haven't reached the end of the sets, I'll try harder to get them all next week. I find this approach helps me keep my intensity high, knowing I only have a limited time frame in which to do the workout.
Using this workout and the guidelines discussed in this column, you should be well on your way to a bigger, stronger chest. Given time and consistency, you'll be able to answer the question, "How much do you bench?" with swelling pride.