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ACING THE COMBINE BENCH PRESS TEST

Before we start, let me get something off of my chest (pun intended): the 225lbs for reps bench press test is one of the dumbest physical tests being performed by elite athletes.

It might be adequate for high school athletes and maybe it would have been okay for pro football players in the 60s but not today.

This test is supposed to be the measure of upper body strength. And to a point I guess it is. After all someone who can bench press 405lbs is likely to get a lot more reps than someone who can only bench 315. But it is my experience that when dealing with very strong and powerful athletes (400+ bench press) the test isn’t always a good basis of comparison.

I know a guy with a 385lbs bench press who got 32 reps and guys in the low 400s who “only” got 26-28. Personally when I hit my strongest bench press (445lbs) I could only get 22 reps with 225 (no kidding) because I pretty much never trained using more than 3 reps.

You become good at what you practice (keep this in mind, it’s the foundation of this article!).

With strong athletes the 225lbs for reps test doesn’t measure strength, it measures the capacity to pace yourself, expend less energy with each stroke and sustain a medium force production for 40-60 seconds (does any of this seems relevant to football performance? It shouldn’t).

Anyway, my opinion doesn’t matter and that test is here to stay. So might as well help those who need to perform it!

Here’s a very simple plan to drastically increase your number at that test. Keep in mind that it is designed for strong athletes. It won’t work if you can’t get at least 20 reps with 225lbs.

It’s based on three elements:

  1. You need to be strong to perform well on that test. While being strong is not a guarantee that you will hit a lot of reps, you can’t hit a lot of reps if you aren’t strong. If you only bench 285lbs don’t expect to be able to do more than 10 reps, and that is with adrenalin on your side. 225 is 80% of 285.

    Most people can get 6-7 reps with their 80%. To have the chance to get a respectable number of reps you need to bench press at least 365 with solid form, ideally more.
  1. You need to be skilled at performing the test. This means that you need to master the proper pace to avoid burning yourself out if you go too fast (producing too much force on each rep) or running out of energy by going too slow and being under tension for too long. You need to be efficient.

    You also need to stimulate physiological adaptations that will help you delay fatigue and lactate accumulation. All of this requires frequent practice of the test.

    Performing the test also needs to be automatic: a lot of players get too amped up when they get tested, which increases their heart rate and can also lead to quicker lactic acid accumulation. As a result, they hit 4-5 reps less than they did in training. The more often you practice the test, the less likely you are to “choke”.
  1. You need to improve your capacity to maintain a high level of force (sufficient to lift 225lbs) for as long as possible.

It is with these principles in mind that I designed this plan which is based on three methods:

Method 1 – Max Effort

Once a week you should focus on getting stronger on the bench press pattern. A good approach is the max effort method using a rotation of several lifts resembling the bench press. Normally I’m someone who likes to stick with the lifts themselves (in this case the actual bench press), but as you will see, you will be bench pressing every day so for your max effort workout it will be more effective to use different variations of the press.

Weeks 1 & 2: floor press
Weeks 3 & 4: 3 board press
Weeks 5 & 6: close-grip bench press

This is done once a week, on your first workout of the week. You gradually ramp up using sets of 1 and 2 reps and when you feel ready you have 3 heavy attempts, just like in a powerlifting contest. The first attempt is heavy but something you know you can hit for 2 reps, maybe even 3. The second attempt is something you are pretty sure of hitting but that will be a challenge and the third attempt is fifty-fifty, ideally a PR.

Don’t do more than 3 heavy attempts of you will burn yourself out.

Method 2 – Motor skill / Test efficiency

This is the most important part of the program. After you have done your max effort lift (normally on Monday) the second exercise will be the 225lbs reps test. So once you’ve done your 3 heavy attempts, lower the barbell to 225 and do 1 or 2 sets of 5 reps just to get in the groove then do one max reps test.

Record that number, you will do something else right after but we will get back to this with the next method. For now, remember that the max reps you can do unbroken on Monday is the important number.

It is important because it will be used as the baseline to decide how many reps you will do every day. Every day (well, every workout, but it is more effective if you do it every day, even if that means going to the gym just to do the bench press) you will do the 225lbs test but stopping 5 reps short of your max. Remember this only works well if you are strong enough to get at least 20 reps.

If you can get at least 20 reps the bench press with 225 is no more stressful than doing push-ups or pull-ups and those have been done daily with great success.

So let’s say that on Monday you got 28 reps on the bench press, on every other day except Sunday (you take Sunday off, or do lower body work to be better rested for the heavy workout on Monday) you will do one set of 23 reps with 225 (after warming up).

If the next Monday you get 30 reps it means that you will do 25 Tuesday – Saturday.

Why stop 5 reps short and not max out? Because testing your max every day is too strenuous and you will crash sooner than later. The goal is to practice the 225lbs test as often as possible while being as fresh as possible. In fact, if you are capable of practicing it twice a day (doing 5 reps less than your max) it’s even better!

Method 3 – Strength-endurance

The final thing you need to do is train your body to produce force for a certain period of time. In other words, to be able to produce force long enough to get your target number of reps.

The first thing you need is to know what number of reps you are shooting for. If you’ve done the test a lot in the past you know what is realistic for you. If you can get 20 it is not realistic to expect 40 reps within 6 weeks! I’d say that planning for a 10 reps increase is a pretty good place to start. In reality you might get anywhere between 8 and 14 more depending on how well your body is reacting. But it’s a good place to start to plan the workouts.

Okay, so let’s say that your best at the moment of starting the routine is 28. You would use 38 as a target.

What you do is on Monday, during your 225lbs reps test you perform the set as a rest-pause until you hit 38.

Let me walk you through it.

Your Monday workout could look like this:

A.   Floor press (max effort lift)

135 x 6
185 x 4
225 x 3
275 x 2
315 x 1
335 x 1
355 x 1
365 x 1
375 x 1

B.   225lbs max reps test + rest-pause reps

225 x 5 (warm-up)
225 x 5 (warm-up)

225 test… you get 29 reps (remember the number) … put the bar back and rest 15-20 seconds…. Unrack it and get as many reps as you can … put the bar back and rest again… unrack it and do more reps…. You do this until you reach 38. Once you reach 38 (or your target number) you hold the bar at arms length for as long as you can.

Your target number of reps (38 in this case) will not change for the whole duration of the program.  Your goal is to get there in as little time/sets as possible.

A week of training could thus look like this:

Monday – Intense bench press / Upper body

Max effort bench movement
225lbs test and rest/pause
Triceps exercise
Lats exercise
Upper back exercise
Deltoid exercise

Tuesday – Lower body speed & volume

Bench press 225lbs test (minus 5 reps)
Explosive lower body movement
Squat pattern for volume
Posterior chain pattern for volume
Hamstring exercise

Wednesday – Core, agility & Beach work

Bench press 225lbs test (minus 5 reps)
Ladder, footing, speed work
Farmer’s walk, Tire flipping , sledgehammer striking, etc.
Biceps (not triceps)

Thursday – Upper body speed & volume

Bench press 225lbs test (minus 5 reps)
Explosive upper body drills (med ball throws, plyo push-ups, etc.)
Upper back, triceps, pecs, delts bodybuilding style

Friday – Agility, mobility, active recovery

Bench press 225lbs test (minus 5 reps)
Do easy stuff like rotator cuff, mobility work some light agility drills

Saturday – Lower body heavy

Bench press 225lbs test (minus 5 reps)
Heavy squat variation
Hinge pattern in the 4-6 reps range
Unilateral leg exercise (lunge or split squat variation)
Hamstring exercise (reverse hyper, glute ham raise, leg curl)

Sunday – OFF

Peaking

This program can be done for 6-8 weeks. But the week prior to the test you should do something different to peak at the right time.

  1. Keep practicing the 225lbs test, but with 235lbs, so Monday you test your max reps with 235, not 225 and during the week you do 5 reps less and also use 235lbs
  1. Assuming that the test is on Saturday, stop hard training after Wednesday’s session. Take Thursday completely off. Friday just go in to do some light mobility work and 3 sets of 6-8 reps with 235 on the bench press, just to avoid the nervous system being sluggish on Saturday.
  1. On Friday make sure to hydrate properly and that you are getting plenty of electrolytes (I suggest supplementing with gastrolyte). And that your carb intake is fairly high. But don’t consume too much sodium. Excessive sodium will lead to a bigger, quicker pump which will hurt your performance.

Nutritional tips

While training optimally will go a long way in improving your results, you can get even better results by optimizing your nutrition and supplementation. Here are some tips you can use.

  1. Load up on beta alanine and creatine from the beginning of the program. Both need a few weeks to reach the optimal level. I recommend 3g of beta-alanine 3x per day and 5g of creatine 3x per day.

    Beta-alanine helps blunt lactic acid production (the more lactic acid your produce, the sooner you’ll hit the wall) and creatine gives you a bit more energy before having to switch to using glycogen for fuel. If you delay the use of glycogen you also delay the accumulation of lactic acid since it’s the by-product of burning glucose for fuel.
  1. Ingest sodium bicarbonate 12-25g twice per day (including once about 20 min pre-workout). It has also been shown to blunt lactic acid. Over the course of the program gradually increase the dose depending on your tolerance level.

    On the day of the test if you built up a good tolerance you can use a good dose about 20 min prior to the test to help with your performance. But only go with dose you’ve used before and know you handle well.
  1. Ingest green veggies with every meal. Green veggies reduce acidity and by extension could reduce the accumulation of lactic acid.
  1. Use glutamine at 20g, three times a day. It can also reduce acidity on top of many other helpful things
  1. The 2 weeks prior to the test reduce red meat intake in favor of more chicken or fish (increase carbs intake to compensate for the lower caloric content). Red meat contains a lot of omega 6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory. Inflamed muscles get “pumped” and tight more easily which will decrease your performance.
  1. Supplement with fish oil to reduce inflammation; this is important first to improve performance but also to help deal with the frequent bench pressing.

— CT

 

Christian Thibaudeau

Written by Christian Thibaudeau

Christian Thibaudeau has been involved in the business of training for over the last 16 years. During this period, he worked with athletes from 28 different sports. He has been “Head Strength Coach” for the Central Institute for Human Performance (of…