The age-old weak bench press discussion

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    The age-old weak bench press discussion


    What is up everybody!

    This is literally my first post on AM ever and, unfortunately, it's going to be an annoying one.

    A few stats about myself:
    Age-22
    Weight-190
    Height-6'1"
    Lifting experience: 3 years (1.5 years "serious" lifting)

    So, simply put, my bench press sucks, and it's driving me up a ****ing wall. I've been making progress in nearly every other facet of training besides the bench press, even including other chest exercises. It's always been a problem for me, and I've been trying to figure out every way to improve it. I've modified my form time and time again. I'm squeezing my upper back, slight back arch, elbows tucked, legs firmly on the floor with heels to the ground, squeezing the **** out of the bar, then slowly bringing the bar to my lower chest and exploding up. i'm beginning to think it's just psychological. My max was 225 when i weighed 170 a year ago. I gained about 20 pounds since and now it's 230. What. The. ****? As you all know, the bench press is the holy grail of all lifts; meaning nobody cares about how big you look, just what you can bench. I just feel incomplete as a weightlifter to have such a ****ty bench press. What do you guys think?

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    Some have it and some don't. I'm one of those dont's. Try doing heavy negatives with a spotter with about 10% percent over your max. Helps me to get acclimated physically and mentally to the heavier weight. Make sure you're doing some weighted dips too, those are a wonderful for strengthening the whole upper torso with focus on chest and tris.
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    Quote Originally Posted by thegodfather View Post
    Some have it and some don't. I'm one of those dont's. Try doing heavy negatives with a spotter with about 10% percent over your max. Helps me to get acclimated physically and mentally to the heavier weight. Make sure you're doing some weighted dips too, those are a wonderful for strengthening the whole upper torso with focus on chest and tris.
    Yeah, honestly I've never done weighted dips before for my chest. That's also another strange thing for me, my triceps are probably my strongest body part aside from my legs, but i digress.
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    I'm weak in the bench as well; fwiw, last year I made use of push-ups, either on the floor or with handles, and even incorporated bands with Lifeline USA's "Power Push-Up". I also did dips, which progressed to weighted dips (+25lb) and they may have been synergistic.

    After a few months of that, I finally did 165lb on bench before I stopped and lost focus on exercise in general. Now, I'm working back up from 110lb at the same body weight of 144lb & I can barely perform dips at body weight. However, I've got faith that I'll fix this and go even higher by summertime.
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    You just have to work at it man. I'm 20 and weigh 190 and last time I did a 1rep max I was at 360. How long are your arms? When u bench do you do slow and controlled reps or just muscle it up ASAP?
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigRigg View Post
    You just have to work at it man. I'm 20 and weigh 190 and last time I did a 1rep max I was at 360. How long are your arms? When u bench do you do slow and controlled reps or just muscle it up ASAP?
    Lol I envy you man. I'm a pretty lanky dude; I think my wingspan is like 6'4" or something..but yeah I try to use slow and controlled reps and it gets a little shaky on the heavy reps, like when I go up to 215 and try to get 5 or so. I'm starting to think I should just reset and go down weight so I have perfect form and reps with lower weight. But it's such a shot to the nuts to go down weight on bench when it's already sub-par..
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    Work on lat/upper back strength.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Frank Reynolds View Post
    Work on lat/upper back strength.
    yup working on your upper back strength and lats will help!! whats your diet like are you eating to gain size or are you just maintaining? Gaining weight will help increase all areas or strength! what does your shoulder press look like? work on gain strength in your shoulders! Bi's can have a small play also, But thats only if you fully neglect them and im sure thats not the problem . Finding someone that doesnt throw a curl in there program these days is hard to come by lmao
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    Are you doing other compound movements as well? I noticed once I started going hard and heavy on squats and deadlifts my bench increased exponentially.
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    how often do you bench press?
    have your other lifts gone up in this time period?

    how much has your squat increased? DL? press?
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    Quote Originally Posted by dday39 View Post
    how often do you bench press?
    Good question. I'd like to know that, too. Taking some time off from it may even help and I certainly wouldn't be doing it more than once a week.

    I agree that building upper back and delt strength will obviously help and if you've got long arms, it's just gonna blow, man. I had a friend who was probably 5'6" and he started lifting well after a friend and myself, but eclipsed us after a few months because he had almost no ROM lol.

    Negatives, as mentioned, will help and also working with some resistance bands will, too. You may also want to consider weight acclimation to warm up. I'm assuming you lead whatever day you're benching with bench press being the first workout. A lot of people will do workout sets with lighter weight (e.g. 135x12). If I'm lifting heavy, I'll start off by doing 1-2 reps of weights leading up to that. If I'm going for 295 on bench, I'll do 135x4, 205x2, 255x1 and then hit my 295 for reps. Don't fatigue your muscles with a bunch of light-weight reps when doing what I just mentioned will allow you to work up to the weight you need without wasting as much energy.

    Also working with whatever amount of weight you can push off the rack / hold up and just holding it at the top position will aid in some gains over time.
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    Quote Originally Posted by dday39
    how often do you bench press?
    have your other lifts gone up in this time period?

    how much has your squat increased? DL? press?
    I would extend your first question: what does your (op) routine look like as a whole? Are you constantly training to failure? What does your volume look like? Do you have any sort of periodization in your training?

    And not to be picky, op, but weightlifting is a sport that involves the clean and jerk and snatch--no relation to bench (many of my weightlifting friends don't bench at all, but that's another discussion). You may call semantics, but weightlifters and powerlifters can be quite defensive about misrepresenting their sports. I digress.

    Also, how's your squat and bent over row?
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    Good question. I'd like to know that, too. Taking some time off from it may even help and I certainly wouldn't be doing it more than once a week.

    I agree that building upper back and delt strength will obviously help and if you've got long arms, it's just gonna blow, man. I had a friend who was probably 5'6" and he started lifting well after a friend and myself, but eclipsed us after a few months because he had almost no ROM lol.

    Negatives, as mentioned, will help and also working with some resistance bands will, too. You may also want to consider weight acclimation to warm up. I'm assuming you lead whatever day you're benching with bench press being the first workout. A lot of people will do workout sets with lighter weight (e.g. 135x12). If I'm lifting heavy, I'll start off by doing 1-2 reps of weights leading up to that. If I'm going for 295 on bench, I'll do 135x4, 205x2, 255x1 and then hit my 295 for reps. Don't fatigue your muscles with a bunch of light-weight reps when doing what I just mentioned will allow you to work up to the weight you need without wasting as much energy.

    Also working with whatever amount of weight you can push off the rack / hold up and just holding it at the top position will aid in some gains over time.
    I
    This confuses me, though. Isn't volume more important than just trying to hit a few reps with my target weight? But I do agree that negatives are probably something I should implement into my workout more often
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattsams89 View Post
    I would extend your first question: what does your (op) routine look like as a whole? Are you constantly training to failure? What does your volume look like? Do you have any sort of periodization in your training?

    And not to be picky, op, but weightlifting is a sport that involves the clean and jerk and snatch--no relation to bench (many of my weightlifting friends don't bench at all, but that's another discussion). You may call semantics, but weightlifters and powerlifters can be quite defensive about misrepresenting their sports. I digress.

    Also, how's your squat and bent over row?
    LOL I should watch my lingo, I don't want to offend any sasquatch olympic lifters.

    As far as periodization goes, I'm currently on a bulking phase so I'm going with heavier weights and lower reps, like 5 sets of 80-90% of my 1rm for 3-5. My squats and deadlifts have been increasing steadily, but I will admit that I only began DLs 3 months ago or so. I don't always train to failure but lately i've been trying to increase my weight so badly i usually fail on the 4th or 5th rep of my last set
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    Quote Originally Posted by sureman138 View Post
    I
    This confuses me, though. Isn't volume more important than just trying to hit a few reps with my target weight? But I do agree that negatives are probably something I should implement into my workout more often
    Are you looking to increase strength in the direct relationship of lifting more weight? or are you just aiming to have more endurance? Before you answer, everyone wants both; think about which is more important of a goal.

    But as to my explanation of weight-acclimation for warming up (taken from Jeff Willett and AST's Max-OT training), why would you want to waste all of your energy on the "warm-up weight"?

    I didn't list out the full workout, so perhaps that was part of the issue.

    During my heavy week on chest day, I'd do something like:

    Incline Barbell Bench Press: 3x4-6
    Regular Barbell Bench Press: 3x4-6
    Weighted Dips: 2x4-6

    So if I'm aiming for 275lbs for reps on incline, I'm going to ease into it, but there's no reason to do 10 pound jumps. But you don't want to go right out the gate into taking that heavy weight; you want your muscles to have eased into it. That's done with minimal reps beforehand, but with ample increasing of weight.

    What I'm trying to illustrate is if your workout program calls for 4x12 or 3x6 or 5x5, you don't want to waste your strength on anything outside of that. Your main results are going to come from that program (there's a reason you're following it), so it's counter-productive to spend 3 sets of 10 or 12 at lower weight if you know you ultimately want to hit that heavier weight.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    Are you looking to increase strength in the direct relationship of lifting more weight? or are you just aiming to have more endurance? Before you answer, everyone wants both; think about which is more important of a goal.

    But as to my explanation of weight-acclimation for warming up (taken from Jeff Willett and AST's Max-OT training), why would you want to waste all of your energy on the "warm-up weight"?


    I didn't list out the full workout, so perhaps that was part of the issue.

    During my heavy week on chest day, I'd do something like:

    Incline Barbell Bench Press: 3x4-6
    Regular Barbell Bench Press: 3x4-6
    Weighted Dips: 2x4-6

    So if I'm aiming for 275lbs for reps on incline, I'm going to ease into it, but there's no reason to do 10 pound jumps. But you don't want to go right out the gate into taking that heavy weight; you want your muscles to have eased into it. That's done with minimal reps beforehand, but with ample increasing of weight.

    What I'm trying to illustrate is if your workout program calls for 4x12 or 3x6 or 5x5, you don't want to waste your strength on anything outside of that. Your main results are going to come from that program (there's a reason you're following it), so it's counter-productive to spend 3 sets of 10 or 12 at lower weight if you know you ultimately want to hit that heavier weight.
    Dumb question: are you saying that the 1-2 rep ramp-up weights you're doing are just warm-ups and the 3 sets are all of your target weight or am I misinterpreting?
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    Quote Originally Posted by sureman138 View Post
    Dumb question: are you saying that the 1-2 rep ramp-up weights you're doing are just warm-ups and the 3 sets are all of your target weight or am I misinterpreting?
    Not a dumb question at all; and your interpretation is correct.

    To be fair, I'll sometimes hit about 8 reps with a really light weight.

    An example would be on my delt workout; the first thing I do on high intensity (non Max-OT week) is seated DB shoulder presses. My active weight might be 65's x 12 for 4 sets with 60 seconds rest in between. I don't just hit 65's right out of the gate. I might start like this:

    30's x 8
    45's x 4
    55's x 1

    Then start my actual planned lifting.

    That's not an exact template to use, but the point is that first set isn't enough to affect my strength or endurance and the other 2, being so few reps, also won't. What it allows me to do, though, is be ready to hit my target weight for reps while having my muscles be ready for it.

    I only do that for my first lift of the session. So for my side DB lateral raises that I'd do next, I just jump right into the target weight. I (personally) don't have a need to do weight acclimation outside of prior to my first lift.

    The main takeaway is just getting your body primed/ready to accept the weight you're going to use without wasting any energy/strength on lower weight sets that you don't really want, anyway.
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    Much of the other advice here looks solid. I won't rehash. However...

    One of the limiting bench factors I've seen in otherwise strong individuals is rotator cuff strength. You might benefit from Googling some rotator cuff exercises and making them a part of your regimen.
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    Not one mention of technique so far. Technique is everything and most people have awful bench technique.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rodja View Post
    Not one mention of technique so far. Technique is everything and most people have awful bench technique.
    His description in the OP is the only reason I didn't mention it. It sounds like it's fine; but form could always be brought up first as the most important factor.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    His description in the OP is the only reason I didn't mention it. It sounds like it's fine; but form could always be brought up first as the most important factor.
    For strength, you do not lower the bar slowly as it limits the amount of stretch reflex. Obviously, it supposed to be controlled, but it should not take more than .5s to lower the bar to the lower chest/upper belly area. TUT is great for hypertrophy, but is not to be used on a max effort lift.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rodja View Post
    For strength, you do not lower the bar slowly as it limits the amount of stretch reflex. Obviously, it supposed to be controlled, but it should not take more than .5s to lower the bar to the lower chest/upper belly area. TUT is great for hypertrophy, but is not to be used on a max effort lift.
    Good point.

    I guess outside of actually seeing him bench, we have no real idea. Again, when I read that, I didn't assume he was doing a rest pause or anything like that--I just took at as he wasn't bouncing it off of his chest lol.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    Not a dumb question at all; and your interpretation is correct.

    To be fair, I'll sometimes hit about 8 reps with a really light weight.

    An example would be on my delt workout; the first thing I do on high intensity (non Max-OT week) is seated DB shoulder presses. My active weight might be 65's x 12 for 4 sets with 60 seconds rest in between. I don't just hit 65's right out of the gate. I might start like this:

    30's x 8
    45's x 4
    55's x 1

    Then start my actual planned lifting.

    That's not an exact template to use, but the point is that first set isn't enough to affect my strength or endurance and the other 2, being so few reps, also won't. What it allows me to do, though, is be ready to hit my target weight for reps while having my muscles be ready for it.

    I only do that for my first lift of the session. So for my side DB lateral raises that I'd do next, I just jump right into the target weight. I (personally) don't have a need to do weight acclimation outside of prior to my first lift.

    The main takeaway is just getting your body primed/ready to accept the weight you're going to use without wasting any energy/strength on lower weight sets that you don't really want, anyway.
    I do disagree with this to some extent. While sets upon sets of warm-up weights are counterproductive, you shouldn't disregard the benefits of warm-ups similar to the actual working sets either. Volume is an important factor in training, whether for sport performance or general training. High(er) volume training provides a base (strength endurance) to build your subsequent training (strength-power, absolute strength, etc.). I know when I complete a block of 3x10 or 4x10 (with two warm-ups and a cool-down following primary lifts such as squats), I feel like I can rep 5s all day during my 3x5s or whatever else I might be doing. Yes, the weight is heavier, but my previous training has given me the ability to tolerate the higher load while still accommodating warm-up sets, etc. Thing is, though, once you get away from higher volume for too long, your tolerance for volume declines. Thus, you can maintain some semblance of volume through warm-up and cool-down sets so once you get into really low volume training (3s,2s,etc.), you won't be fatigued just walking from your car to the squat rack. Yes, it's difficult to deal with in the beginning, but if you manage your recovery correctly, you'll see gains in the long run due to your increased work capacity/tolerance.

    I'm not suggesting 5 or 6 sets of warm-ups. Typically, following a general warm-up, 2 sets at 65 and 85% of your work weight for the day will suffice (except on lifts such as dead lifts or if you're able to squat a fair amount) for most lifts. This doesn't occur on every lift either. I generally perform two warm-up sets for my first and second primary lifts for the day. After that, I may perform one with the same reps on a particularly heavy secondary lift.

    Also, rest periods will have an effect on this. I train for strength/power, so my rests are typically ~3 minutes long (working sets only; a little more leeway in warm-ups). In your example, your rest periods are much shorter. In such a case, yeah, you don't want to engage in loads of volume that close together. I would wager, however, that if you increased your rest periods by even another 30s, you would see a change in your tolerance for higher warm-up volumes. If it's a time management thing, I understand, but from an aesthetics point of view, you can still see similar benefits from slightly longer rest periods (via higher force production each set, which will allow you to increase weight lifted per set as well as total volume for the day).

    Just my two cents.
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    Quote Originally Posted by sureman138 View Post
    As far as periodization goes, I'm currently on a bulking phase so I'm going with heavier weights and lower reps, like 5 sets of 80-90% of my 1rm for 3-5. My squats and deadlifts have been increasing steadily, but I will admit that I only began DLs 3 months ago or so. I don't always train to failure but lately i've been trying to increase my weight so badly i usually fail on the 4th or 5th rep of my last set
    That only brings more questions. Haha. If you're typically training 5x5, how long have you been training that way? How often do you train? What does your training schedule look like (exercises, sets/reps, etc.)? What's your loading scheme as you go from week to week (just increase weight each week, 3:1 approach, etc.) and day to day?

    Finally, how often are you hitting that failure point? Every training session? Every few weeks? Research has suggested you can still make gains without training to failure. In fact, constantly failing really beats you up, both from a muscular and neurological point of view. I won't say never fail and/or test yourself, but don't kill it every session. Emphasize recovery outside of training and you should see improvements.
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    I understand my take on a lack of warmup sets isn't that popular. But what I'd propose is: if you're counting on them so much, why not just not refer to them as "warm-up" sets and include them in the scheme (6x12 or 7x12 instead of 4x12)?

    I lifted with warmup sets when I was in college and lifting on my own after baseball. Anymore, I've noticed just as much or more progress in allowing myself to hit higher weight at the volume I've specified for the workout (whether it's 3x15, 4x12, 3x5, or something else).
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    They are included in the scheme. They aren't listed in the work sets, but they are accounted for in the recording process. I currently have an Excel sheet set up for up to 8 sets (5x10s), so all volume performed in a week is recorded. I feel (whether it's true or not I don't know; I just know my brain thinks this way) 7x12 could be misconstrued if someone isn't given explicit instructions as to what it means. Maybe I don't have enough faith in the people I'm giving the programs to, but I've generally found Murphy's law to be pretty accurate on improperly explained strength training. Thus, two asterisks next to an exercise and a notation that explains those asterisks stand for two warm-up sets at 65&85% of work set weight has provided the best results with the individuals I work with. Now when you're writing your own stuff, as long as you know what it means, meh. Write it how you want.

    Anywho, like I said before, there are times when it isn't a hard rule (super short rest times, very heavy weights, very explosive movements such as snatch, max-effort sessions, etc.), but it works well a majority of the time and with a majority of people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    I understand my take on a lack of warmup sets isn't that popular. But what I'd propose is: if you're counting on them so much, why not just not refer to them as "warm-up" sets and include them in the scheme (6x12 or 7x12 instead of 4x12)?

    I lifted with warmup sets when I was in college and lifting on my own after baseball. Anymore, I've noticed just as much or more progress in allowing myself to hit higher weight at the volume I've specified for the workout (whether it's 3x15, 4x12, 3x5, or something else).
    Actually I took your advice today when I trained chest, and I actually noticed an improvement by becoming acclimated with higher weights before my work sets. Generally, my warm-ups were crap. I was always a believer in simply getting the muscle stretched to and used to the ROM rather than the higher weights.

    Sams- I've been following a routine for about a month called "power, muscle, burn". I'm not sure if you're familiar but it had a good amount of positive feedback from the reviews I read. I've been seeing some steady progression as far as strength and size goes, as well. I generally do hit failure on my first "power" sets, which include squats, deads, and bench
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    Quote Originally Posted by sureman138 View Post
    Actually I took your advice today when I trained chest, and I actually noticed an improvement by becoming acclimated with higher weights before my work sets. Generally, my warm-ups were crap. I was always a believer in simply getting the muscle stretched to and used to the ROM rather than the higher weights.

    Sams- I've been following a routine for about a month called "power, muscle, burn". I'm not sure if you're familiar but it had a good amount of positive feedback from the reviews I read. I've been seeing some steady progression as far as strength and size goes, as well. I generally do hit failure on my first "power" sets, which include squats, deads, and bench
    See, now, that is an important point to make. Warm-up sets are important for getting your neuromuscular system ready for the lift, so a final warm-up set at 85-90% of your working weight will help you have an understanding of the weight instead of just throwing it on the bar and saying, "Oh, God, this is heavy!" There's some other physiological stuff going on as well, but the big thing is the prepping of the nervous system/muscles.

    I'm not a huge fan of programs such as that (read a quick summary of it on **********************), but given your relative lack of training, you'll likely respond well to it for a while. My beef is that it tries to emphasize too many factors at once, and if you're further along in training, you need more concise training goals for a given block of training. Don't get me wrong, the other elements are still there, just in diminished capacity. Think of it like a stove--you might have one eye set at 8 to cook chicken, another at 3 to heat the green beans, and another on simmer to keep the gravy warm (yay for Southern examples). The gravy wasn't always on simmer, though, and the chicken won't always be at 8--shifting emphasis depending on what your main focus for the block (dinner) is allows you to emphasize certain aspects of training and build concurrent blocks that take advantage of previous training periods.

    I do encourage you to have a down week in there every 4-6 (maybe 8 depending on how you're feeling) weeks, as the way the program is written, it seems to encourage ever-increasing step-wise progressions on weights. It sounds great on paper, but you can't do it forever--a lot of physiological factors get in the way. Anyway, as the weights/your training progress, you'll get closer to a down week every fourth week. It will do wonders for your recovery and will ultimately aid you in your training.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mattsams89 View Post
    They are included in the scheme. They aren't listed in the work sets, but they are accounted for in the recording process. I currently have an Excel sheet set up for up to 8 sets (5x10s), so all volume performed in a week is recorded. I feel (whether it's true or not I don't know; I just know my brain thinks this way) 7x12 could be misconstrued if someone isn't given explicit instructions as to what it means. Maybe I don't have enough faith in the people I'm giving the programs to, but I've generally found Murphy's law to be pretty accurate on improperly explained strength training. Thus, two asterisks next to an exercise and a notation that explains those asterisks stand for two warm-up sets at 65&85% of work set weight has provided the best results with the individuals I work with. Now when you're writing your own stuff, as long as you know what it means, meh. Write it how you want.

    Anywho, like I said before, there are times when it isn't a hard rule (super short rest times, very heavy weights, very explosive movements such as snatch, max-effort sessions, etc.), but it works well a majority of the time and with a majority of people.
    I get you. That makes sense, as well. I just feel that most people don't have the grasp on it that you do. They might do a warmup set at say 75% and all 12 reps, that will ultimately lead to them not being able to lift as heavy during the 3rd set of their scheduled 4x12 scheme.

    I just place higher importance on the working sets if the warm-up actually hinders them.

    All about finding a balance, I suppose.
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    Quote Originally Posted by MidwestBeast View Post
    All about finding a balance, I suppose.
    That's what it's all about. And it's something that comes with training. The higher one's training level, the better their tolerance for work (generally). I suppose I'm a little spoiled working with people who often have 10 years or more of training. Regardless, I tend to view it as I'd rather put the work in on the front end so I can reap the benefits later and not have to worry about work capacity.

    You do have to strike a balance, though. I know in my experience with team-sport athletes, you have to give and take on training. In example, the women's soccer team I worked with would have levels for each session of the day/week. Green sessions were light, yellow moderate, and red were very demanding (games, super hard weight sessions, etc.). You might have a yellow weight and field day with plyos/speed work being green. Red days were typically proceeded by yellow and green days. You get the idea. Always finding the right balance...
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rodja View Post
    Not one mention of technique so far. Technique is everything and most people have awful bench technique.
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    The advice here is everywhere!
    Learn to bench such in the video posted.
    Dont do negatives do board presses instead.
    Back, tris, upper back, and delt strength is most important NOT chest strength.
    Actually train for strength, not "im bulking and I train bbing and am going heavier", not gonna go anywhere fast there.
    Try 5/3/1 for example with actuall programing.
    Your very skinny at 6'1 so I think you need to gain more weight.
  

  
 

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