Weight and Resistance Training - Bench Press / Pull Up Inspiration

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Mrs Snark
08-21-2009, 08:43 AM
I'm new to weight lifting (started July 15) and honestly didn't think I'd enjoy it nearly as much as I am. But I'm really starting to like it as a supplement to running and biking. It is totally different but still really enjoyable. :carrot:

While I started lifting mostly to try and maintain my LBM (since I'm still in a calorie deficit trying to get off these last few pounds), I actually find myself most motivated by the challenge of benching and trying to do chin ups/pull ups.

So now what I *really* want is to be able to bench 135 for 5 and do 5 unassisted chin ups or pull ups.

For my last workout, I benched 65 for 3 sets at 15, 12, 10 reps. For pull ups I am using the assist machine with 76lbs of assist for 3 sets of 12, 10, 7. I don't rest very much between sets.

What is the right approach to reach my goals for these 2 exercises? Should I try to do less sets with the maximum weight I can manage for like 3 or 5 reps? Or do I keep on doing 3 sets as I am, but with lower reps and more weight? Or is there some other approach that would be better for these specific goals? I don't have a clue.

Does anybody bench 135? Is that a totally unreasonable goal for me? I don't see any women at my gym benching, so I have nothing to compare it to. I have seen only one woman at my gym do a set of unassisted chin ups, and I was so impressed I wanted to stand up and cheer for her.

Any advice from you lifting mavens?

08-21-2009, 09:21 AM
Tyler - When I first started, I got to 145 on the bench press using a smith machine (I was working out alone).

Personally, I think pushups are the way to go over bench presses. There are so many variations that you can do to challenge yourself and making it more difficult.

08-21-2009, 11:37 AM
Tyler, I actually participated in a benchpress competition this past April and trained with the man who holds the Florida state record of benching 505 lbs. at age 51. I figure he knows what he's doing, even if I'm no expert. My competition weight was 110, though in practice I'd been able to eke out 1 rep at 115/120 consistently. He trained us by warming up with sets of lighter weights (e.g. first we'd kind of stretch our arms, then do 2 sets of 12 reps of 45#, 10x65#, 8x85#, 8x85#, and by the time we got to 110 we'd only be doing 1-3 reps). You need someone to spot you when you're lifting your max weights. After we'd do this, he would made us go do a bunch of tricep exercises, as the tricep is the weakest muscle group involved in the action. We'd do one heavy chest day and one lighter chest day a week.

He'd use "boards" that were pieces of 2x4" with handles on them. Someone would hold the board on your chest, so instead of lifting the bar all the way down to your chest, you'd lift it down to the board, 2" above your chest. One week we'd use a "3-board" (3 2x4's, so the bar would hit 6" above our chest), the next week a 2-board (2 2x4's or 4" above our chest), the next week 1-board... It was explained to me that this helped b/c it helps you focus on the toughest part of the benchpress lift, towards the end when you're pushing up and your triceps have to do the pushing and lock the bar up. All of our "boards" were homemade so I don't know if anyone besides my gym manager uses the technique.

There are these "benchpress shirts" in existence that were originally designed to protect the shoulders, but now some of the male weightlifters I met swear that they help them lift more. I guess they protect the shoulders too. At $100 for one I didn't invest in it for my limited benchpress career, but if you get serious about it I suppose you might want to research it. I borrowed someone's shirt at times... I think the point here is that if anything hurts, stop immediately. Lifting so heavy definitely increases chance of injury to your shoulders and other muscles.

Of course it's really important that if you're training your chest so much, you're giving equal attention to other parts of your body so that your muscles are balanced and you don't end up with an overdeveloped top and underdeveloped bottom, etc. In my brief foray into the weightlifting world I saw a lot of guys with huge puffy chests and skinny little legs. The direct balance to the chest would be training your back, of course. If you're working on your pull-ups I'm sure that will help with your back strength, though I can't offer advice for those. I still need the pull-up assist machine, sigh.

I hope my limited forays into the powerlifting world might be of some help to your benchpress quest. Good luck!

Mrs Snark
08-21-2009, 12:16 PM
Thanks Nellie and Megan, great information!

Nellie -- I hear you on the pushups, but they just don't capture my imagination the way bench press does. It is nice to have some "big dream/goal" to ponder and provide motivation to keep on keeping on, you know?

Megan - Oooooo how exciting you did a bench press competition! Congratulations, that's awesome! Thanks so much for sharing all the details and methods! That was very helpful. Did you have fun at the competition?

I know I'll have to take my time and work up slowly, I'm not in any particular hurry to get there. Just trying to find the right path to eventually capture these goals!

08-22-2009, 09:21 PM
Doing <1x bodyweight for bench is definitely an achievable goal for you or anyone else. Do some warm-ups with just the bar or with some minimal weight. Then, do 3 worksets of 5 reps each (with a weight that will be hard). Do this workout 1 or 2 times a week and every time, add a little more weight.

I dont' think you need a bench press shirt, but one investment I would make are fractional plates (plates in various sizes below 2.5lbs). With 2.5lbs typically available at the gym, you are forced to do 5lbs increases which is not really feasible every workout. I would increase even as little as 1 lbs per workout. Do this every workout. Only way you're going to get up to 135lbs is increasing how much you lift. If you fail to do 3x5, then repeat same weight next workout. If you fail 3 times, cut back 10% of the weight for the next workout and then start to go up again.

As for form, keep your feet on the floor, hips and shoulders on the bench, and keep your shoulder blades down/back. Tighten your core and body and create a solid foundation. The bar should touch your chest each rep.

Pull-ups are a little different because it's hard to control how much weight you are lifting (since it's determined by your body). I would actually avoid using assisted pullup machines. Use rubber bands on a real pullup bar for assistance (if you do a search on the internet, you will see how to do this). Also do negatives (where you jump up to the bar and slowly bring yourself down). If you can even do 1 rep, do multiple sets of 1 rep. Only way you really get good at doing a pullup is to do one. I don't know why but when I tried using the assistance machines I could not get my pull-up numbers to go up. Once I started using bands and negatives, I finally was able to start doing unassisted pull-ups. I'm up to 10 pull-ups and 12 chin-ups. Trying to get up to 15.

08-23-2009, 12:07 PM
3X5 sets or 5X5 for starters are the way I trained for heavy benches. The one thing that the previous posters didn't mention is REST between sets. If you are training for sheer strength and lifting near max weight, you need 3 to 5 minutes of rest between each set to totally renew the energy in your muscles. It's boring. Really boring. But you need to do it. Bring a stop watch and read a magazine.

And as Megan mentioned, don't forget to train your back. My foray into powerlifting and the "100 push ups a a time" challenge resulted in an impinged nerve in my armpit, a numb arm and fingers, and lots of PT bills :o

But it is fun to hoist your body weight or more on a bench press bar.

Do you have a spotter?


Mrs Snark
08-23-2009, 12:15 PM
Ooo great, more practical information. Thanks!

KD, I'll try the negative pull ups and look into the rubber band method (I've never seen that) and see how that goes. The negative method sounds interesting.

Mel, I don't have a spotter at the moment, but I can move my bench days in order to have one. But between the massive rest between sets and the possibility of injury, it doesn't sound as fun as I imagined! ;)

08-23-2009, 02:18 PM
Tyler, if you switch your bench days to Monday, you're almost guaranteed a spotter...I swear, it's like National Bench Press Day at most gyms, lol.

Here's a video that explains the use of assistance bands for pull-ups. This will get you to a real pull-up faster than the machine, just IMO (having used both).

Good luck with your goals in the weight room!

08-23-2009, 06:44 PM
Thanks for that video, Cheryl. I remember watching it awhile back, but I'd forgotten about it. Unfortunately my gym does not have these bands, and when I looked into purchasing them, the shiping to Alaska was as much as the bands themselves! Hmmm, maybe I should get some and have them shipped to my sister's for when I'm there. They wouldn't add much to my luggage.... I'll investigate that.

I have been making progress on the assisted machine, lowering the number of pounds of assistance, but it's interesting that you did better with the bands. I would like to try them. I know that our upcoming rotation has a fair number of pull-ups and chin-ups.....

Hmmm, just looked at their website. These are not the bands I looked at before, and given the price - $162CA - for the set, I don't think I'll be purchasing any either.....

Mrs Snark
08-24-2009, 07:33 AM
Jams, Thanks for the video, the bands look interesting, I wonder why they are better than the assist machine in practical use?

08-24-2009, 09:14 AM
The resistance bands lend greater assistance at the bottom of the pullup (the sticking point for most people) and lesser assistance as you continue through the movement whereas the assistance machines tend to provide the same amount of assistance throughout. So, while you may be getting the same amount of assistance at the toughest part of the movement, you are actually getting less overall assistance from the bands.

Also, the bands also still force you to engage your stabilizing muscles, especially your core stabilizers whereas the stability is pretty much provided by the machinel so when you max out on the machine, you still need to learn how to properly engage your stablizing muscles to progress further in the exercise.

Mrs Snark
08-24-2009, 11:26 AM
Ah ha, good explanation. They really seem like the way to go.

08-27-2009, 10:57 AM
Megan - Oooooo how exciting you did a bench press competition! Congratulations, that's awesome! Thanks so much for sharing all the details and methods! That was very helpful. Did you have fun at the competition?

I don't know if I'd call it a barrel of laughs, but it was a good experience and I plan to do it again next year, as it's an annual competition that's held in my town. I've always been more of a "do my own thing" type of person. I started lifting weights b/c of all the health benefits and I figured it would make me look nice, but I'm nowhere near the stereotypical weightlifter "type". The trainer and another big weightlifter dude cornered me at the gym one day and coerced me to train with them for the competition. I was late for something and they wouldn't stop bugging me about it, so finally I just said okay to get them out of my hair. Getting up on a stage to lift in front of the crowd was rather intimidating. I didn't want to look silly or weak - it's okay at the gym when no one's paying attention, but not on stage. And there were only 2 other women in the competition. Other than that it was about 30 muscle-bound, overly-chest-developed dudes. They played heavy metal music and were really, super serious about their weightlifting shirts and powdering up their entire legs before a deadlift and all either had shaved heads or mullets... I got a glimpse into an interesting world. (They were all really nice too). Despite all that, it was a really good experience to push my body in different directions and I definitely learned some new things about how my body and muscles will work.

08-27-2009, 02:15 PM
Megan, when I did my one and only bench comp, every time, they called my name, they tacked my WEIGHT on as if it were my last name :yikes: It felt mortifying, even tho I was very small at the time. Did they do that to you?

08-27-2009, 03:11 PM
No, thank goodness! I was nervous but ok with the rest of the competition, but terrified of the weigh-in. I still have hang-ups about "how much" I weigh. It was a small competition and I got there first thing for the weigh-in, which was done privately, and then I went home to eat breakfast and drink my coffee. They divided everyone in the competition by gender, age, then weight, but besides me there was a 17-year-old girl and a 62-year old woman, so I was only competing against myself. When they announced the awards they had a name for each corresponding age and weight class (e.g. Junior women's or something like that). I believe I asked the trainer about that during our first training session.

Call me chicken, but if they announced my weight with my name to the crowd I wouldn't do it, period.

Mrs Snark
08-28-2009, 11:46 AM
Eeek, I would not like my weight attached to my name, either! I'd freak.

Shannon in ATL
08-28-2009, 12:30 PM
I wouldn't be cool with my weight attached to my name either... I guess that is why women's pants don't paste the size on the tag like men's sizes! :)

Cheryl - thanks for the band link! I'm going to get some of those eventually...

09-17-2009, 09:13 PM
Dropping out of lurker mode for a moment :)

Competing is awsome fun, I have been competitive for 3 years now and became Australian Female Bench Press champion in my weight division a couple of months ago. If anybody is considering it jump in and have a go, we don't bite and it is a realy friendly sport. Bench shirts (deadlift and squats suits also) are totally worth it but hard to adjust to for a novice lifter (if it doesn't bruise it is not tight enough).

Training should have a heavy focus on triceps and back especially rowing type exercises and exercises using the same basic movement as the bench press.

09-17-2009, 09:27 PM
:bravo::woohoo: That's fantastic! I tried a bench shirt ONCE and thought I was going to have to be cut out of it.