Tag Archives: bench press

Want to get stronger? Try these 3 brutally effective variations on lifting classics.

longleverplankThe interesting thing about strength training is that when it’s all said and done, there really aren’t that many movements you need to learn to reach your goals, whether that’s getting stronger, leaner, gaining more muscle, or all of the above. If you can check off the following boxes, you’re in good shape to get cracking with some good work at the gym:

-Squatting movements (like a goblet squat)
-Hinging movements (deadlifts, exercises that emphasize movement from your hips)
-Pushing movements (pushups, bench pressing, overhead pressing, etc.)
-Pulling movements (chin-ups and rows come to mind).
-Core stabilization and rotational power development (planks, chops, crunches, twists, etc.)
-Power movements – to build explosiveness and improve overall strength (think oly lifts, jump squats, plyometrics)

If we focused on improving just one move from each category, we could make quite a bit of progress for quite some time. But that’d get pretty boring, wouldn’t it? Not to mention that variations on exercises require our bodies to move, build strength and stability, and function better in slightly different ways. That’s where we spice things up with twists on the basics that we’ve come to know and love.

Sometimes we progress a movement because one becomes too easy. I’m going to show you one today. We often also use a variation of a staple to work our muscles differently, to get past a “sticking point” or even to work around an injury. Or sometimes just because it’s fun to change stuff up. Fun is important too, yeah? Read on for ideas:

Progress Your Plank
Once you can hold a plank pretty easily, you’re ready to move up in the world-o-planks. Congrats, it’s time to make them hard again. There are many ways to do this, but I’ve been messing around with long lever planks and even 1 legged long lever planks. They’re tough!

Here’s a demo:

How to do it:
Start by getting into the plank position and walking your feet back so that your elbows are in front of your shoulders instead of in a traditional plank, where you have them stacked under them. Brace those abs like you’re going to get sucker punched and hold there. Try starting with 3 sets of 10-20 seconds and tell me how much you love them.

A Squat You’ll Love-Hate
I think that every beginner would do well to begin with a simple body weight box squat to groove that sitting down and back movement that’s critical for the squat. From there, the sky’s the limit: goblet squats are a good next step, but another overlooked squat that works well not only for beginners but squat pros is the underrated Zercher Squat.

A Zercher squat may feel easier on the lower back than a barbell back squat; it also lets you get low (to the window, to the wall). It requires you to stay pretty upright, a good reminder for those who are new to squatting.

I put them to use for a client who is rehabbing her shoulder and can’t comfortably get into a back squat position. Zerchers feel great to her. Sometimes an injury allows us to discover a brand new way to get strong. Cue the silver lining, eh? 

silverlining

And for those of us who have been squatting for a long while, it’s a great variation to play with to get some extra fun and glute gains on leg day. Oh, and they’re harder to load up than they look. Good grief.

Demo here:

How to do it:
You’re going to cradle that bar in the crook of your elbows. I really like a squat sponge for these, because they’re way more comfortable with the pad. If you don’t have one, try crossing your arms a bit around the bar to feel more secure. Some people deadlift them up from the floor but it seems a heck of a lot easier to me to just start with the bar in a rack at an appropriate height. Get under it a bit, lift it into your arms and walk it out a few steps.

Make Your Barbell Bench Press More Badass
It’s a smart idea to spend training cycles using slight variations of the “big players”: you know, the squat, deadlift, and bench press for starters. The bench press is a staple of the gym (and favorite bro lift of all time). Using variations like pausing at the chest, 1.5 reps, and using dumbbells instead of a barbell will make your bench press stronger over time.

I’m working on the eccentric bench press again this month after a short hiatus from barbell bench press. Holy hell it felt hard this week. Eccentrics will do a lot of muscle damage, which is actually a good thing. They’ll make you muy strong and force you to learn to control the bar better.

Check it:

How to do an eccentric bench press:

I sort of forgot I was doing an eccentric on the first rep. Heh. Progress, not perfection, right?

You’re going to try to lower the bar very, very slowly – take a full 4 seconds. You’ll notice that it’s toughest down near the bottom of the movement. That’s where you’re going to need to control it even more. Lower the weight on these: they’re brutal.

So you want to try these out in a workout?

Of course. So let’s do one today. On Instagram I shared a bonus: a lower body conditioning circuit you can use to give the Zercher squat and long lever plank a whirl. Check that out for butt feels and sweat-inducing fun. You can also put them into a classic full-body strength workout, like the one below.

1. Zercher Squat 4 x 6

2a. Eccentric barbell (or dumbbell) bench press 3 x 6
2b.Band pull aparts 3 x 12

3a. Barbell RDL with 4 second eccentric 3 x 8 (yup, another eccentric variation!)
3b. Chest supported row with a pause at the top 3 x 8

4a. Incline dumbbell bench press 3 x 10
4b. Long lever plank 3 x :15 seconds

Now go flex, and remember to never stop experimenting with movement, both within the gym and outside it. 

Want to get in on more tutorials to make you a lean machine? I share my insider info for fitness and nutrition with my newsletter every week. Join for free and I’ll send my e-book, Fat Loss on a Budget, right into your inbox. 

 

 

99% Of Women Skip This Exercise – Are You Missing Out On Its Big Benefits?

the bench press

“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:

Barbell Bench Press – The Easy Part
BENCH PRESS HOW TO

  1. Get a bar set up on the bench press rack. Once you’re strong enough to handle plates, you will add those too.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Bench_FB_Preview_1

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!

Giveaway_652

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!)

Happy Lifting!

Amy

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