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What’s your bench?

Updated: Feb 18

For as long as I can remember, “What’s your bench?” has been the first question people ask me about my workout. Most people who do not exercise with free weights have a curiosity about the bench press. The bench press movement is a staple of resistance weight training and it is often used as a baseline of “how strong you are'' in certain competitions. But the bench press, or any single exercise for that matter, can’t measure overall strength. The chest press plays a significant role in measuring upper body strength, but it fails to accurately measure what your whole body can do. Barbell Bench Press isn’t an exercise you want to start heavy with in the beginning stages of your weight training.

The “pecs,” or the pectoral region, is the anterior region of the upper chest where there are four thoracoappendicular muscles (also known as the pectoral muscles):

1. pectoralis major.

2. pectoralis minor.

3. subclavius.

4. serratus anterior.

In addition to your back and shoulder muscles, your pectoral region helps to stabilize the shoulder joint. Your pecs also help you breathe easier. Along with improving posture, strengthening and lengthening chest muscles helps to support deeper breaths. Because chest tissue is attached to your ribs, (which expand with every breath), pectorals are more than just eye candy - they can be downright lifesavers.

Working your chest muscles effectively means performing a variety of exercises in different planes of motion. Your chest supports your shoulder, which is a ball joint, so strengthening the pectoral region in multiplanar movements supports the full range of your shoulder joints.

“So what’s your bench?”

Your bench is just a number that can help you keep track of what you are doing in your current phase of training. The numbers that are most important are the repetitions and sets you perform based on your goals. More sets with higher repetitions (lighter weight) means endurance; lower repetitions (heavier weight) means growth and strength. The two ideas are similar in function but dissimilar in the way you train the muscle for the desired effect.

There are so many wonderful ways to exercise your chest muscles fully; you will rarely get bored if you do them all. I like to perform at least four exercises for my chest. Depending on how I feel, I may choose to use dumbbells instead of a bar, or I may use a chest press machine and eliminate the free weight bench altogether. My workout changes as my goals are met and re-calibrated.

To me, the bench press is more than a blunt measuring tool of my upper body strength. My bench press movement is a foundational movement that can be adjusted for better effect of support and strength gains.

John “Wyld Stile” Larson

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