Training to Bench 225
I can say one thing with confidence about training an athlete to bench 225 for reps.
Throw your coaching techniques out the window.
What does that mean? Lets take a look.
1- Train for Endurance
For most athletes training for a combine-type test, the 225 bench press test is an endurance test not a strength test. It is common knowledge that the relationship between strength and endurance changes as the number of reps increases. I have seen athletes that can bench press 400 lbs do 225 for 20 reps and I have seen athletes who can bench press 350 pounds do the same number of reps. The key point, if you want to get better at reps, do reps.
2- Train for Strength
In point two, I can immediately contradict myself. The other reality is that up to a certain point you need to develop max strength. In the short run more strength actually can lead to more endurance. Sound confusing, not really. The reality is if your maximum bench press is 245 you will be lucky to bench 225 for 2. A 400-pound bencher has a far greater chance of doing 30 reps at 225 than a 300 bencher. What I’m saying is you need to work both ends of the spectrum. To get better at the 225-rep test you must train for both endurance and strength. Your max bench press number determines what you should be capable of. The high rep practice converts strength to useable endurance. Usually on our first pressing day we will work on max strength and finish with one endurance set, on the second pressing day we will work solely on endurance.
This relates to both points one and two. The eastern Europeans have a saying. “If you want to be a great violinist, practice the violin”. You won’t get better at the 225 test by just lifting heavy. For the six to eight weeks prior to the combine we would perform a set of 225 for max reps at the end of our first pressing day. The goal would be to try to get 1 more rep each week.
4- Work on Technique
Technique matters, but not the technique you’re used to. This is what I meant about throwing out everything you normally do.
- I always tell my athletes to control the weight at all times, except when benching 225. When benching 225, I tell my athletes to go as fast as possible.
- I always tell my athletes to lock out every rep, except when benching 225. When benching 225 for reps you want to appear to lock out the elbows after each rep without actually doing so. I call this a “soft lockout”. I instruct the athlete to switch from concentric to eccentric as fast as possible. In the process of switching I instruct them to go up as fast as possible, allow the elbows to extend almost to full extension and immediately reverse the action and get the bar back to the chest. Bringing the bar back to the chest is less of a controlled eccentric and more of a controlled drop. The bar should descend rapidly, using as little eccentric energy as possible but not bouncing off the chest. Lots of contradictions. I know as I said, I teach this a specific event having nothing in common with anything else I teach an athlete about strength training.
In other words, I want the athlete to do as many reps as possible, as fast as possible, with technique that is at best borderline. At no other time in the year would this be acceptable but the reality is that the best performances of this test are done in this style.
Pro scouts will not count reps that are done with a big bounce, an arch, or an obviously short arm action that comes well short of lockout. However, the “judging” of this test is entirely subjective and the best performances I have seen were always on the border of being unacceptable. The key is to learn to walk the line. This means fast reps with just a hint of a bounce, extending the arms almost to a fully locked position but not locking out until you need a rest.
Heavier loads- some coaches will advocate a warm-up set at a weight greater than 225 for 1 rep to get greater neural excitation. I believe this may work for athletes anticipating more than 20 reps but may be too taxing for those anticipating less than 20.
Lighter loads- I have always advocated a simple strategy based on my powerlifting experience. Two warm-up sets. 135 for 5 and 185 for 2 and then go for it.
The bottom line- Up to a point endurance is proportional to strength. You need to get as strong as possible. At the same time endurance is a skill. You need to work on endurance. The bottom line is to work on strength, endurance, and the specific skill of the test.
Lactic acid tolerance is a big factor. Coaches have had success with various forms of endurance training. Some coaches will have athletes train with lighter loads like 185 and 205 lbs. Some coaches will have athletes practice max reps at 235 so 225 will feel lighter on test day. I personally like drop sets on day 2.
400 lb bench max- current max at 225 – 20
Day 1 Day 2
340×5 Bench Drop set
300×10 225x max 185 x max 135 x max
The key is to understand that your athlete is training to impress a scout, not you. You need to allow technical flaws that are not acceptable at any other time of year or with any other group. Our job is to help our athletes make the best impression possible. Remember, practice, practice, practice.