When it comes to your workout, there are far more important questions than "how much can you bench?". These not-frequently-asked questions, combined with the right answers, will help you bust through longtime lifting plateaus and slash your risk of injury. Here are 4 questions you need to ask yourself right now and consider how the answers will help you get bigger, leaner and stronger.
Q1. DO YOU SQUAT LOW ENOUGH?
Most guys know that they need to squat until their thighs are parallel to the ground. But most guys don’t do it. A proper parallel squat lowers your body until the tops of your thighs, not the bottoms, are at least parallel to the floor. This small detail typically amounts to at least a 5cm difference. And when it comes to building muscle, centimetres matter. That’s because the greater your range of motion, the more muscle fibres you’ll activate, and the bigger you’ll grow.
Don’t rely on a mirror to keep you honest; it leaves room for interpretation. Instead, tightly control your depth by squatting with a 30cm box or a large medicine ball beneath you. (A typical bench doesn’t work, since it stands 45cm high.) If you’re not touching the box on every repetition, you’re not squatting deep enough.
How to do it: Stand with your heels just in front of a 30cm box or other object. It can even be a cardboard box, since you won’t be placing your weight on it. Initiate the movement by pushing your hips back. Bend your hips and knees to lower your body until your butt lightly touches the top of the box (don’t sit on it), then press back up to the starting position.
Q2. CAN YOU ROW YOUR BODY WEIGHT 10 TIMES?
The inverted row, or body-weight row is a great way to grow maximum muscle. Besides being a great pure muscle builder, the inverted row is valuable because it strengthens your rear shoulders and upper back. These oft-neglected muscles directly oppose the muscles used in the bench press – a benefit that can help prevent a slumped posture. Think of it this way: If you bench-press far more than you row, the stronger muscles on the front of your upper body will overpower the weaker ones on the back, pulling your shoulders forward.
If you can’t do 10 perfect repetitions of the inverted row, chances are you have a serious imbalance. The fix? Do two sets of the inverted row for every one set of bench presses (or other chest exercise) that you perform. Use this approach until you eliminate your weak spot.
How to do it: At a Smith machine, grab the bar with an overhand grip and place your heels on the floor, with your legs straight. Pull your chest to the bar, pause, and lower yourself until your arms are straight. To count as a rep, your chest must touch the bar.
Q3. HOW MUCH CAN YOU CHIN?
Unlike in the bench press, most guys gauge chin-up performance by how many reps they can complete, not the amount of weight they can lift. But Australian researchers have determined that you should be able to do a chin-up with as much weight as you can bench-press. And it isn’t just about muscle; it’s also about injury prevention: Shoulder injuries rise significantly once a guy can bench-press 15 per cent more than he can chin.
To figure out how you measure up, do as many chin-ups as you can with your body weight, then compare that with the number of reps you can bench-press using the same weight. Let’s say you weigh 75kg and can complete five chin-ups. Your strength balance is ideal if you can do, at most, five reps of the bench press with 75kg. If you can pump out 10 reps with that weight, however, you’re substantially stronger in the bench, and a candidate for shoulder trouble.
How to do it: Grab a chin-up bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder-width apart. Hang with your arms straight. Pull your body up until your chin clears the bar, then slowly lower back down.
Q4. HAVE YOU ABANDONED THE PUSH-UP?
Besides working your pecs and triceps, the push-up engages your core, your lats, and just about every other muscle in your upper body. All this makes it one of the most useful and efficient movements in any guy’s exercise arsenal.
Think you’re too strong for the push-up? Try this challenge: Assume a push-up position, but place your feet on a bench. Then have a partner place a 25-pound weight plate on your back, at the level of your shoulder blades. Now try to do 20 push-ups with perfect form. Until you can pass this test, there’s no reason to bother with the bench press.
How to do it: Keep your body rigid, in a straight line from your ankles to your head, and lower it as a single unit until your nose touches the floor. Then press back up until your arms are completely straight. Want an even greater challenge? I have my athletes perform the exercise with their hands on a BOSU ball (dome down), which adds an element of instability, forcing the core and shoulder muscles to work even harder.