Chest Exercises

Bench Press Seminar 1: CAT-Like Strength

Boost poundages quickly by focusing on moving submaximal loads with maximal force.

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Cost of the Status Quo

Not many everyday gym rats give thought to this type of training on the bench. You’ve learned to get through each set, working toward failure along the way. But that will catch up to you and can ultimately limit how much weight you can move. How, you ask?

Let’s say your next bench press workout entails performing five sets of four reps. If you’re like most lifters, you come out of the bottom forcefully but as leverage improves, you flip on cruise control and coast to the finish.

Let’s examine how training in this flawed manner inhibits gains in strength and muscle mass.


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Set 1 - No reps were heavy enough to stimulate any sort of overload that led to strength or power gains. Zero out of five reps provided adaptive overload, which is a zero percent efficiency rating.

Set 2 - The bottom half of the last rep required enough intensity to induce some overload. Half out of five reps produced an adaptive overload, that’s a 10 percent efficiency rating for true strength gains.

Set 3 - The same as Set 2.

Set 4 - The bottom half of the last two presses produced adaptive overload. Two halves equal one whole. This set has an efficiency rating of 20 percent, or one out of five reps.

Set 5 - The bottom half of all five reps produced adaptive overload. Five halves equal two and a half, still only a 50 percent efficiency rating.

Your bench press session consisted of 20 total repetitions and only nine halves – or 4.5 reps – produced true overload or, in other words, actually helped you get stronger. 

While you may still gain some strength and a bit of size, you’re still leaving a lot on the table in terms of development.

Imagine if each of the 20 reps were pressed with maximal force? You’d end up a heck of a lot stronger over time. Remember, you must produce a high degree of muscular force to overcome the weight of the barbell which referring back to the basic formula (Force = Mass x Acceleration) which you may vaguely remember from your high school physics class.

Press Point: Lower your weight loads a bit and aim to move submaximal loads as quickly and powerfully as possible. Try using 60% of your 1RM for eight sets of three reps each.

Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Adam benShea) of the Amazon No. 1 seller Jailhouse Strong. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or visit his website at www.joshstrength.com.

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