“So how much do you bench?”
If you’re a guy who’s into fitness, this is the entry-level question for the bro club; a dude handshake, if you will. But if you’re a woman, you’ve probably never been asked that: mostly because not very many women do the barbell bench press.
However, the dynamic seems to be shifting as more and more women fall in love with how classic strength training moves make them look and feel: powerful, toned, and badass.
Still, the bench press might not be high on your list of priorities: many female clients come to me wanting to shed belly fat, get a juicier looking butt, or even shape up their arms. Yet not a single one has approached me asking for “a firm chest”. But here’s the thing – getting a stronger chest and shoulders via exercises like the bench press will help you accomplish a few different things that I think you’ll appreciate.
Benefits like these:
- You will be able to more easily lift heavy objects. That’s pretty useful for life.
- It will help you build a more balanced, strong, lean-looking physique.
- By incorporating chest exercises into your overall training, you’ll ensure that you have a balanced routine that prevents injury.
- You’ll burn a ton of calories – the bench press is more of a full body lift than you’d think. Your back, abs, and legs also activate – and that gives you a lot of “bang for your buck” if fat loss is a goal.
- Better posture. You’ll look great just standin’ around and your body will feel good too.
- You’ll feel powerful. The bench press is way more fun than pushups. It just is. Because science.
Here is what getting a strong chest via the bench press will NOT do:
- Take away your boobs (losing some boobage usually comes from weight loss, not strength training.) You may notice a bit more cleavage though as you develop muscles.
- Make you look masculine. Nope, not happening. Women just don’t produce the amount of testosterone that men do, and that minimizes the “bulking” effect. It takes a ridiculous amount of effort to become a very muscle-bound looking woman. So if that’s not your jam, you can rest easy.
So you want to bench now, right?
Well, the bench press is easy… and not easy. Yeah, you read that right. It’s easy in that to actually do the movement as you typically seen it done in the gym, it’s pretty straightforward. Let’s tackle the basics first:
- Get a bar set up on the bench press rack. Once you’re strong enough to handle plates, you will add those too.
- Lay down on the bench with your eyes lining up under the bar. Put your feet on the ground, or if you’re a shorty, slide some plates beneath your feet.
- Grasp the bar at a comfortable width – this takes some time and experimentation to find a good grip width. If you go too narrow, you’ll turn the move into a triceps exercise. If you go too wide, you might wreck your shoulders and actually make the lift harder than it needs to be.
- Unrack the bar. Control it as you aim it down to just below your bra line, letting it barely tap your chest. Then push the bar back up. Your elbows shouldn’t be tucked in, nor should they flare way out as you push back up.
Oh, one more thing – keep your butt on the bench the entire time please. Thank you very much.
And you just did one rep. Not so hard, right? It just takes a little practice.
The Not-So-Easy Part
Performing an optimal bench press for the sport of powerlifting takes the movement to a new level. If you never plan to compete you don’t have to get too wound up about mastering the finer points of the bench press. Yet, you might want to consider borrowing some of their “secrets” for your own workouts. Here’s why:
A powerlifting-focused bench press technique takes time and patience to improve. There’s no way around that. But even if you don’t plan to become a powerlifter, I find that many of the strategies that powerlifters use in their bench press will help give you a safer, more stable base to work from. You’ll be able to leverage some more weight this way and you’ll also engage more muscles while you work by borrowing some of those powerlifting tricks.
With powerlifting techniques, you’ll work on skills like driving with your legs, engaging your back muscles, keeping your chest as high as possible, and you will even learn to breathe more effectively.
That’s a lot going on, I know.
If you read my email newsletter about the squat this week, you’ll remember that Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler have a free video e-course happening right now. The series is a helpful resource for getting you better at performing the big lifts of powerlifting. Today, they have a bench video to share with you. There’s no way that I can go into all the finer points of making your bench press rock in one post, but they do it for you in their video, “6 Ways to Healthier Shoulders And a Stronger Bench Press”. You can learn more by getting it here.
FYI – again, you definitely DON’T have to be a powerlifter to get something out of these videos.
Jennifer also shares tips for keeping your shoulders healthy while bench pressing – something I can’t emphasize heavily enough. I wrecked my own shoulder by benching without good advice years ago. I wish I’d had this instruction back then. Thankfully, you can learn and develop good habits right off the bat.
Also you’ll get chances to win prizes- some seriously good stuff to be won just from signing up for the free course. Yay for prizes!
If you watch it, leave a comment and let me know your favorite take away from their lesson. I love talking about bench pressing. (As if you couldn’t tell!)
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