- "Bench Press Strength Testing - Determining Your Max"
- "Sports Preparation: Conditioning, Plyometrics, & Speed-agility"


It's a Monday afternoon in your gym and chances are it is "chest" day for everyone. Chest workouts are almost always done at the beginning of the week and undoubtedly begin with the bench press. The barbell bench press is the most commonly used exercise to develop upper-body "pushing" strength because it is a combination of shoulder extension, elbow extension and horizontal adduction of the arm. The exercise recruits the pectorals, deltoids, and triceps and is excellent for bodybuilders and athletes involved in strength and power sports.

If you are interested in determining your maximal bench press strength, the beginning of a new training cycle is an excellent time to do so. Performance should be tested again at the end of each training phase to gauge the effectiveness of the program and tested at the start of the season and throughout so that detraining can be avoided.


This is one of the only instances in which resistance training has a greater risk of injury than most other activities. It is essential for the lifter to use the following preparation and build-up to avoid injury.

Let's go over the basic "barbell bench press":

* lie on the bench with the feet flat on the floor and the legs bent at 90 degrees

* place your head directly under the racked bar

* take an overhand grip ~4-6 inches wider than the shoulders 

* unrack the bar and slowly lower to mid-chest level keeping the elbows directly out to sides throughout the movement

* stop the bar above mid-chest and push the weight back up to 96% full arm extension (do not "lock-out" the elbows) with the back kept completely pressed against bench   

* To estimate what your 1 RM will be.

: 1 RM = the maximal amount of weight you can lift for 1 repetition

* Begin the warm-up by choosing a weight that represents 50% of the estimated 1 RM.

: Complete 2 sets of 6 repetitions followed by 2-minute recovery periods. 

: Perform light stretching for the pectoral muscles, the anterior deltoid, the

        posterior deltoid, and the triceps.

* The third warm-up set should be at 85% of the estimated 1 RM.

: Complete only 1 repetition followed by 2-minute recovery period.

* Attempt the estimated 1 RM.

: It is important to be conservative in your 1 RM estimation as it is less acurate

  when moving down in weight in comparison to increasing the weight in each


: For each successful attempt at the 1 RM, provide a 2-minute recovery and

  increase the weight by 2.5 to 5%. 

: If the initial 1 RM weight could not be pressed, allow a 2-minute recovery and

  reduce the weight by the appropriate increment. 

: Allow only one additional attempt at a failed lift and no more.

Heavy bench press training requires safety precautions. When pressing heavy, always use a spotter and remember to breathe out when you push the weight up. Use a full range of motion (bar touching chest) if your sport or daily function require pressing strength throughout the entire possible range of motion provided the range of motion is pain-free.

In addition to strengthening the larger muscles contributing to performance, a small amount of supplementary training should be dedicated to the supporting muscles found in the rotator cuff complex. Dr. Ken Kinakin suggests increasing your grip strength to help increase performance in maximal bench press efforts. 



The winter months are the appropriate time to develop general strength and endurance capacities necessary for team sport participation. However, the "pre-season" training phase should be characterized by sport-specific strength training exercises, speed & power development drills, and game-specific metabolic conditioning.

One important consideration for all programs and phases is an initiation OR break-in period. Regardless of an individual's off-season dedication to training, the addition of a new exercise OR increase in intensity level brings an increased risk of muscle soreness. There may also be a higher incidence of injury in new programs should the trainee start at too great of training volume OR intensity OR frequency.

A good program outline is important, BUT/ often the break-in period is ignored. It certainly would be a shame to develop an acute OR chronic injury through sport-preparation training when the one of the reasons to do these drills is injury prevention! Let's outline a program with proper guidelines to introduce our muscles to the new movements.


A proper warm-up is essential. Never perform a workout of high-intensity explosive activity without preparing your muscles and connective tissues for the stresses of plyometrics OR sprints. However, keep in mind the warm-up concept is a little more advanced than just running in circles for 5 minutes to "work up a sweat".

A warm-up must be SPECIFIC. Use the same movements in the warm-up as you will in training, BUT/ just perform each at a much slower speed and most importantly, maintain the full "range of motion" of the movement. This warm-up is referred to as dynamic flexibility.


In workouts with a lot of lateral movements I put a great emphasis on lateral movements in the warm-up to ready the groin area (adductor muscles). As well, all speed drills are going to place great stress on the hip flexors, therefore I like to have clients perform the high knee drill OR skipping exercises to increase blood flow and muscle elasticity in this area.


The continuous movement of a warm-up should be close to 10-minutes because anything less is insufficient preparation for explosive training. Speed and plyometric drills are performed at maximal intensity and therefore "general" preparation is inadequate and in fact is bordering on negligence. By the end of the warm-up period all the muscles that will be called upon in the training drills should now have been prepared for an increase in intensity of contraction. 

The last component prior to performance is some pre-exercise flexibility for injury prevention. The muscles are warm and compliant to stretch at this time. The pre-exercise stretching component does not need to last more than 2- to 3-minutes. Stretching at this time is used only to further prepare the muscles and connective tissue for violent contractions but not to increase flexibility. Flexibility improvement is best addressed at the end of a workout. 

The stretching component should address areas of high-injury risk, such as the groin, Achilles tendon, hip flexors, and hamstrings. Perform moderate intensity stretches for 5-15 seconds for each muscle group. That is an effective "dynamic flexibility" warm-up to provide an excellent preparation for speed and power practice.


Start the speed session with resisted running drills such as hill-sprints (after warm-up). The warm-up philosophy is maintained because the first sprint is performed at only 75% intensity. The length of the sprint should be 5 to 10 seconds and proper running form should be adhered to for the entire sprint. Perform a set of 3 sprints with 1-minute of rest between sprints. Later in the pre-season you can use up to 10 resisted sprints. Make sure to be fully recovered before the next sprint. A drill must be stopped as soon as proper technique is lost.


In the orientation sessions only 2 drills and 2 repetitions of each will be performed. The length of each drill should be no more than 10 seconds and recovery should be complete (greater than 1 minute) before the next repetition. See ISSUE #21 for some suggested agility drills.


In the initial training sessions only 1-2 exercises will be performed. Choose 2 drills (again check out ISSUE #21) and aim for 8-10 repetitions. Plyometrics are likely to cause muscle soreness the day after due to the eccentric component and force absorption of the landing phase. For this reason, limit the number of repetitions performed.



For baseball the sprints will be very short (5-10 seconds) with long rest intervals (60 seconds). For soccer and rugby the sprints will be longer (30-60 seconds) and the rest intervals will be RELATIVELY shorter (90-120 seconds). Start with 2-3 sprints in the first workout and progress to a maximum of 8 as conditioning improves.

These workouts are fun and sport-specific. But they will definitely cause soreness after the first few workouts, so go easy on the volume in the initial sessions, especially with any plyometrics.

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