Powerlifting Chest Workout
Powerlifters compete in three events -- the bench press, squat and deadlift. The goal is to lift as much weight as possible for one repetition for each exercise. The only upper-body-dominant exercise is the flat bench press, one of the most well-known chest exercises for muscle growth and strength gains in lifters of all ages and experience levels.
Powerlifters have some of the best no-nonsense strength training methods for working the pecs because it's such a critical muscle in the range of motion in a bench press.
For those who compete in bodybuilding, their chest day may look a little bit different because bodybuilding focuses solely on the build and physique of the competitor, not necessarily their pure strength. That being said, it’s common to see some overlap in chest workouts between the two groups.
As one of the main three exercises in powerlifting and the only strictly upper body exercise, the bench press should take priority over other muscle groups in your upper-body workout.
The main goal with training your bench press is to get stronger by lifting more weight, since the goal of a powerlifter is to lift as much weight as possible for one rep.
Your powerlifting bench press workout routine should revolve around lifting near your maximum with smaller rep ranges to increase strength. Aiming for a low number of repetitions allows you to use more weight. To put it simply, you can use more weight in a set of five repetitions than you can in a set of 10 repetitions.
How to Barbell Bench Press
Before you do any heavy bench pressing, it is important to properly warm up your deltoids, lats and triceps with simple things like stretching or a few light exercises for each just to get the blood flowing.
Once you are all warmed up and ready to begin your working sets and attempt to reach your one-rep max, this is how you should proceed:
- Lie down on a bench with a barbell securely resting in a rack about an arm's length above. Plant your feet flat on the ground
- Grab the barbell with your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart
- Pinch your shoulder blades together and stick your chest out
- Lift the barbell out of its place and hold it above your chest with your arms straight
- Slowly, with control, lower the barbell to your chest. Tap it lightly against your chest
- Press the bar back up in a straight line until your elbows are straight
Perform between one and six repetitions per set, and between three and six sets per workout, when your goal is to build strength.
After the bench press, move on to what powerlifters call "accessory" exercises. The main exercise is the bench press and the accessory exercises will help you train muscles that play a critical role in the bench press, mainly the chest, shoulders and triceps.
You can use higher reps on these exercises because they are designed to help you build muscle through hypertrophy, whereas the bench press was used more to strengthen them.
Dumbbell flyes target your chest muscles without tiring many other muscles. However, Max Gordon, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, warns that you should only perform these if your shoulders are healthy and you can feel a contraction in your chest muscles- especially beginners. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.
- Grab two dumbbells and lie down on the bench with the weights in your hands
- Press the dumbbells up towards the ceiling until your arms are straight. The knuckles of your hands face out to the side so that the dumbbells line up parallel with your body
- With your elbows only slightly bent, slowly lower your arms out to the side. Keep going until the dumbbells are as low as your shoulders. Don't let the dumbbells go lower than the bench.
- Without bending your elbows, press the weights up and bring them together at the top to complete one repetition
This sliding push-up variation mimics the dumbbell fly and targets the chest by forcing you to bring your arms together. Perform three sets of six repetitions on each side.
- Get into a push-up position with a slider under your left hand. The slider can be a ValSlide or a towel if you're on a smooth surface like hardwood
- Slowly descend into a push-up. Slide your left hand out to the side with your elbow bent
- Once you reach the bottom of the push-up, slowly slide your left hand in and press straight up with your right hand until you are back at the top of the push-up position
Other types of bench presses
While the standard flat bench press is the only form of bench press utilized by powerlifters, there are many other popular forms of bench pressing, and each of them works a different part of the chest.
- Incline bench press: The incline bench press is one of the best exercises for the upper chest
- Decline bench press: The decline bench press is one of the best exercises for the lower chest
- Close grip bench press: The close grip bench press is one of the best exercises for your triceps
- Dumbbell bench press: Dumbbell bench presses can be done from either a flat, incline or decline position, and allows for a larger range of motion than a typical barbell would
Other accessory exercises
Some of the other popular accessory exercises among personal trainers and weightlifting experts include:
- Chest press machines
- Triceps extensions
- Lateral delt raises
- Tricep overhead press
Henry is a Philadelphia-based personal trainer and writer. He has trained a wide range of clients, from professional athletes to working professionals. Feel free to contact Henry with any questions regarding an article that he's written.