When it comes to the bench press, there is definitely a difference between bench press bodybuilding vs powerlifting. The proper form and technique all depends on what your ultimate goals are for your workout.
If your goal is to build muscle mass, you will want to focus on range of motion and concentrating on targeting activation of the specific muscle group. This does not require lifting as heavy as you can, because lifting weights that are too heavy can disrupt the correct technique for muscle activation. However, when lifting for power, it’s all about the numbers. Powerlifters use different tricks to maximize the number of reps they can put up, such as arching their backs, gripping wide, and utilizing every muscle in their body to put up the weight.
So depending on whether you want to be a bodybuilder or powerlifter, follow the 9 bench press tips below to maximize your specific goals.
- To build a bigger chest, vary your reps. Five to 15 reps is great for building muscle, while 1-5 reps is generally best for strength.
- For building strength, go wide to minimize the distance the bar travels. For growth, a shoulder-width, medium grip is best.
- For maximal strength you want your whole body to contribute to the lift.
- For lifting maximal weights, longer rest periods (3 to 10 minutes) are better, while shorter (1 to 3 minutes) works better for building muscle.
- Paused reps are part of the sport of powerlifting, but using both paused and non-paused reps can help bodybuilders grow muscle.
The Goal Dictates Everything
What’s your goal when it comes to bench pressing?
Do you want to be a powerlifter or do you want to be a bodybuilder? Your goal will dictate your reps, sets, tempo, load, and much more.
Here are nine ways to tailor your training to match your goals.
1. Is Your Goal Strength or Muscle?
If your goal is to build muscle, standard bench pressing can be a great choice for some, but not for others. There are always exceptions to the rule, but for most people the Olympic bar isn’t a great choice for building big, thick, dense pecs.
Certain pieces of equipment like Hammer Strength machines and lots of dumbbell work and weighted dips will give you better results for building muscle.
This is especially true for long-levered lifters who will have trouble building muscle with a barbell bench press. However, shorter-armed guys will fare better in this regard.
When it comes to building strength and getting a strong bench press, though, the Olympic bar will be the backbone of your strength training workouts.
Take-Home Message: To build more muscle in your chest, use a variety of bar training, dumbbell, machine, and dip work. To build bench press strength, bar training will be the backbone of your workouts.
4-1-X-1 is a great tempo to spur growth:
4 – Take 4 seconds to lower the bar
1 – Take 1 second to pause at the bottom
X – Lift the bar as explosively as possible
1 – Pause and squeeze the muscle for 1 second before starting the next rep
Using the above tempo, the average set of 10 reps will last about 60 seconds.
Take-Home Message: Rep tempo will play a much bigger role in bodybuilding and hypertrophy training in general. When building muscle is the goal, a controlled negative is a very important factor in building muscle.
5. Grip Width
For muscle growth, a medium grip is generally best. Going too wide can put extra stress on the shoulder joint and going too close makes the bench more triceps dominant. The key is to find the perfect position that feels good for you and that actually works your chest.
For powerlifting, the general rule of thumb is to get your hands as wide as possible to minimize the distance the bar has to travel. It’s very simple, the less distance the bar has to travel, the better. If you can use a wide grip with a big arch, then you have very little distance to go.
6. The Set Up
When it comes to hypertrophy, you don’t need to devote as much focus to using your whole body to press. The goal should be to maximize hitting the muscle.
Powerlifting is all about lifting as much weight as possible and that involves getting everything you can into your bench press.
For maximal strength you want your legs, glutes, upper back, traps, hips, neck, and essentially everything contributing to your lift. That’s why the set up and proper body positioning is so important.
7. Body Position & Arch
One of the things that most newbies don’t understand about a powerlifting bench press is the arch.
The arch is designed to minimize the distance the bar has to travel. If the bar has only to touch the body and then go back to an arms-locked position, you want to minimize distance.
When it comes to bench pressing for building muscle, the arch is pretty much a big waste of time and defeats the purpose. When building a bigger chest, you want to stretch the chest as much as possible, and a longer range of motion will work in your favor. That’s why many bodybuilders prefer dumbbells.
8. Rest Between Sets
Generally speaking, a good rest time for size gains is 1-3 minutes between sets to allow sufficient time to recover and still maintain strength while lifting.
When it comes to powerlifting and lifting maximal weights, longer rest periods are better to maintain strength. Resting 3-5 minutes is a minimum between heavy sets, while waiting up to 10 minutes for some of the heaviest lifts is fairly common.
9. To Pause Or Not To Pause
Paused reps allow a controlled stretch of the muscle. The more you can stretch and squeeze a muscle, the better it’ll grow. So adding in some type of paused bench press can be very beneficial for pec size.
However, be careful with how much weight you use with “touch & go” reps because it’s a great way to tear a pec. Always use a weight that’s challenging and comfortable and leave your ego at the door.
Take-Home Message: Paused reps are part of the sport of powerlifting, but using both paused and non-paused reps can help bodybuilders grow muscle.
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