I have a simple question for you: How much can you bench, girl?
Seriously, it’s an important question, because many women stray from the bench press and avoid chest exercises in general for irrational reasons. But you know what? Women have muscles in the chest, too, and those muscles need to be trained! We have to work the pecs to avoid unnecessary muscular imbalances. Not to mention, working the chest is fun!
The bench press isn’t just for those who compete in powerlifting. If you’re doing Jim’s programs, you know the bench press is in almost all of them! The bench press is a key compound exercise for the upper body. You’re using your chest, shoulders, triceps and even your lats.
If you’re relatively new to weight training, start with dumbbell bench press and work your way up to the weight of the bar. You want to make sure you get your body used to the form and movement pattern of the exercise before progressing to heavier weight on a barbell. That being said, once you’ve been benching with the bar, you should still do dumbbell presses and other chest exercises like reverse-grip bench, close-grip bench, incline bench, etc. Remember, variety is key!
Performing the bench press in powerlifting is a bit different than doing it in a general fitness or hypertrophy program. The setup and execution of the move requires a bit of practice and strategy. In powerlifting, you usually set up with an arch in your back so that you’re kind of doing a back bend onto the bench. This allows for a shorter range of motion, which allows you to lift more weight. Let me tell you, arching isn’t easy! When I was training for my first meet, it hurt to arch and my setup was different every time. It takes a while to get used to it and find what works. I’m still working to figure it out!
You also have to figure out placement of the hands and feet. I have super long arms, so I personally like a wider grip on the bar because it shortens my levers a bit. There are also different rules for foot placement depending on the federation you compete in. My last two meets I competed in UPA, which allows you to have just your toes on the ground. This makes it easier for leg drive during the pressing movement of the lift. Leg drive is basically driving your toes into the ground, thus creating a bit of momentum to lift the weight and generating that power off your chest. Think about trying to move the ground as you’re pressing into it; that always helps me. I’m switching to the USAPL federation for my next meet, where you have to have your feet flat on the ground during the bench press, so this will be a new challenge for me.
Also, in a powerlifting meet you’re required to pause on your chest as you bring the bar down. You unrack, bring the bar to your chest, wait for the command to press, and then explode that weight up! You have to push that weight up with pure strength. There is no momentum to get the weight up as you see in touch-and-go reps.
The bench press is by far the hardest lift for me and most other women, too, because our upper bodies tend to be weaker than men’s. However, there are some super strong women out there who can bench insane amounts of weight. Some of these women are on the JYM Girls Facebook page!
I train bench press for hypertrophy as well, not just strength. I always do one of Jim’s programs when I’m not training for a competition while still training my main lifts. I find it very beneficial for me because I’m building muscle that will make me stronger in the long run. I mean, you can’t not see results from one of Jim’s programs!
Below is a sample workout focused around the bench press that I came up with and have done when training for a competition. Give it a try if you want to try a powerlifting-style workout or if you’re just looking to change things up a bit. And yes, even if you’re trying to lose fat, you can still do this type of workout!
Bench Press with pause – one light warm-up set of 20 reps (no pause here), then 7-8 sets of 3, 3, 3, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1 (last single optional), increasing weight on each set.
Barbell Bent-Over Row – 12-20 reps per set with the same number of sets as you did for bench press.
Barbell Overhead (Shoulder) Press – 4 sets of 12,10,8,6 reps, increasing weight on each set.
Superset Pairing #1:
Cable Crossover – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
Overhead Triceps Extension (low pulley) – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
Superset Pairing #2:
Dumbbell Lateral Raises – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
Rear Delt Flye – 3 sets of 12-20 reps
I like to do as much pulling as I do pressing. I always match the number of bench-press sets I do with sets of some type of rowing exercise. My upper back is a weak point for me, so I do this to strengthen it as well as to avoid any imbalances.
So, ladies let’s show them boys how much us girls can bench! 😉