For many, "chest day" can mean different things.
For the bodybuilder, a chest day can be several exercises like bench press, incline bench, decline, chest fly, and other cable and dumbbell exercises focusing on the pectoral muscles.
For the powerlifter trying to bench-press as much as possible for one repetition in one meet, a "chest day" likely is called bench-press day. There are a few groups who do a combination of training when using their chest muscles for performance in push-ups, body-weight bench press or the 225-pound bench press for maximum repetitions.
Regardless of who you are on the spectrum above, you probably enjoy working on the bench. As a teen, the bench was the lift that I enjoyed most. You would hear many people say through the halls of school, "How much can you bench?"
Here is a list of workout types for bench presses for a variety of goal progressions, with the ultimate progression being the 225-pound bench press for maximum repetitions. There are a few military special-ops groups that use the same NFL Combine test of 225 pounds for max repetitions for their potential selection programs.
Build a foundation of chest days (2-3 days a week every other day). Many lifting programs will start out with three sets of 10-12 repetitions as a solid foundation for chest development, as well as other muscle groups/lifts in body building especially. Some in the body-building world only will do a body part (muscle group) per week when lifting to add muscle mass.
As you progress, you can start increasing the weight on either the above reps/set scheme or try to build a more solid strength foundation by using five sets of five reps (5x5). Typically, 70% to 80% of your one-repetition max weight is used for this strength-building workout program.
Using drop sets or reverse pyramids, such as 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 or 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 can be very helpful, not only with warming up for heavier lifts but also helping increase your overall strength fairly quickly.
When the goal is to increase your maximum repetitions of a particular weight (body weight or 225 pounds), it is good to mix in muscle stamina/endurance exercises like push-ups, dips, and lightweight lifts into your bench-press sets as well. Once you can do 5-10 repetitions of your body weight or 225 pounds successfully, start to play around with both max rep sets and adding push-ups into the workout, like this:
Pick your weight and do the maximum amount of repetitions you can. Immediately follow it with a max-rep set of push-ups or a lighter weight on the bench press. This is to exhaust the chest, triceps and shoulders fully and help turn this power lift into an endurance lift. It is very similar to the way you build pull-ups from one repetition to 20 repetitions.
Do 25-50 repetitions of your body weight or 225 pounds in as few sets as possible. See how many bench-press repetitions you can get in 4-5 sets as well as push-ups immediately following. Soon you will be pushing your body weight or 225 pounds for the max repetition test in the high teens and 20 range, which is very respectable for those lifts.
Enjoy the chest day. But don't skip leg day.
Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to email@example.com.
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