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NFL Combine Secret # 1: Boost Your Bench Press

Scott Wachter

One of the most debated elements of the NFL Combine is the 225-pound bench press test. Is benching 225 as many times as possible an accurate measure of strength, endurance or both?

“At the Combine, they correlate the strength from the endurance,” says Andy Barnett, who trains players prior to the Combine at Athletes’ Performance in Gulf Breeze, Florida. “So if you do more reps, your one-rep max [the most weight you can lift once] is stronger. It takes less time than trying to find someone’s one-rep max.”

OK, but will training for such a test benefit you?

Absolutely, says Athletes' Performance founder Mark Verstegen, who suggests using the bench press as a tool to measure strength gains over a six-week period, not unlike how players prepare for the NFL Combine at Athletes’ Performance.

Here are a few tips to pump out more repetitions with more weight.

1. Bench-Press Your Bodyweight

For many weight-room warriors, 225 pounds is a goal—or a starting point for a workout. That’s because 225 equates to “two plates,” that is, two 45-pound plates on each side of a 45-pound bar. That’s a significant amount of weight, especially if you tip the scales at much less. Verstegen suggests using your bodyweight as your initial goal if 225 is too ambitious.

How to take your training to the next level: “If you can bench your bodyweight for 10 reps and do it controlled without it bouncing off your chest, that will translate well for most sports,” Barnett says. Sure, benching 375 pounds might look impressive, but if it’s more weight than you can handle with proper technique, then you risk injuring your shoulder, or worse. And knocking yourself out of the weight room because of an injury impresses no one.

Use these five coaching keys for better technique on the bench: 

  1. Keep your feet flat on the floor with your hips, shoulders, and the back of your head on the bench at all times.
  2. Pull your shoulder blades back into the bench and don’t allow your elbows to flare out.
  3. Place your hands a comfortable distance apart on the bar.
  4. Breathe in as you lower the bar to your chest at a controlled tempo.
  5. Drive the bar forcefully back to the starting position as you exhale.

2. Challenge Yourself to Go Heavier

If your bodyweight and bench-press goal is 185 pounds, it’s not going to do much good to work exclusively at 135 pounds, even if your reps are going up. “If you’re doing a lot of 135, but you can still only do 185 once, you’ve created endurance but haven’t become stronger,” Verstegen says.

How to take your training to the next level: “You have to increase the ceiling – your maximal strength, so that 185 feels lighter,” Verstegen says. If you’re doing a circuit that includes two sets of bench press, make it a point to have weight that challenges you for eight repetitions. If you’re doing three sets consecutively, superset them with a lower body exercise and go for 10 reps in the first set, 8 in the second, and 6 in the third, adjusting the weight so it challenges your muscles but still allows you to complete your sets with solid technique.

3. Switch It Up

Barnett encourages athletes to change things up when it comes to the bench press. For starters, think in terms of benching in three-week cycles, and taking a week off.

How to take your training to the next level: For the first month, do three sets of 10 repetitions. The following month, use heavier weight and do three sets of five reps. Progress to four sets of three the next month and three sets of eight after that. “Changing up your sets, reps, and load often will challenge your muscles to grow bigger and stronger,” Barnett says.

Want more NFL Combine training secrets? The second installment of our 5-part series shows how to look leaner in 6 weeks.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Sports Performance, Strength, Health, Upper Body Push, Chest, Football