Should You Bench Press Your Max?

With so much hype about bench press, even newcomers want to hit it because it can work your entire upper body and fill your T-shirt with hot muscles in the chest, arms, and shoulders. But once you start benching out your max, as the bigger guys suggest, your muscles get locked up, and soon you ditch the workout. This makes you wonder, should you really bench press your max?

You shouldn’t bench press your max unless you want to test your lifting ability or prepare for an intense competition. Weightlifting at max for an extended period can cause injuries, so only bench 40-70 percent of your max. Also, consider your weight, gender, and age before loading the barbell.

In the rest, we’ll talk about what is max in weightlifting, how you can calculate it, and what portion of your max you should bench. You’ll also learn how to choose the most suitable weight for your specs and how to scale up your gains without benching at max.

What Is Max in Bench Press?

To answer whether you should bench press your max, let’s first clarify what you mean by “max.”

When talking about max in bench press, you usually mean your one-repetition max (1RM), which is the highest weight you can lift in one repetition without compromising on form and technique.

When you perform a rep with your max weight capacity, you can’t go for another one unless it’s not your max. So, not only you shouldn’t, but also you can’t do a complete set of bench presses with your max.

With that in mind, read on to discover when and how often you should bench press your max, plus what happens if you do it regularly.

When Should You Bench Press Your Max?

You should bench press your max only once in a few months to evaluate your strength, progress, and workout effectiveness. Some people lift their max only to beat their last record. And competitive athletes do it as a trick to improve their neural systems and get ready for a weightlifting event.

However, maxing out your bench press is detrimental if done regularly. It can overexert your muscles, cause strain, and even lead to chronic or lifelong injuries. So, you should only recruit your max capacity as a testing measurement, not as a standard for your everyday workouts.

So What Portion of Max Should You Bench?

You should bench about 40 to 70 percent of your max capacity to get the most out of your exercise without injuries. To find your best fit within this range, bench for ten reps at the highest recommended percentage. If you couldn’t complete the set without fatigue, decrease it by values of 10 but don’t go any lower than 40.

Considering that principle, if your 1RM is 250 lbs, you should train with a 100-175 lbs barbell. First, load the bar with 175-pound weight plates and if you couldn’t handle it for ten consecutive reps, decr ease it to 150, 125, and lastly, 100 pounds.

How to Calculate my 1RM?

To evaluate how much weight you should lift based on your 1RM, you can use many online calculators. All you need is to insert how many pounds you can lift for a specific number of reps. The machine, then, automatically outputs your 1RM. It also gives you a list of 1RM percentages, so you won’t need to calculate them separately.

Those numbers tell you how much weight you should lift while bench pressing.

However, that’s only one part of the story: your ideal bench press load isn’t just a matter of your maximum lifting ability. It also depends on your gender, body weight, fitness level, and age.

We’ll elaborate on each factor in detail to give you a better idea of how much you should bench press.

How Much Weight Should You Bench?

Other than your max capacity, consider these factors to know how much you should bench press.

Body Weight

As a rule of thumb, one can bench press at 50 to 150 percent of their body weight. But if you want to find out where you stand within this wide range, you should also count in your age, fitness level, and sex.

Gender

Due to genetic and hormonal differences, women can generally lift lighter weights than men. So, the low end of the 50-150 percent spectrum usually applies to female bodybuilders. On average, they can carry about %85 of their body weight, with the strongest ones about %100.

Men, on the other hand, start at %100 of their body weight and reach %150 when they nail it.

Fitness Level

Needless to say, the amount of load you can handle will increase as you grow your muscles and strength with consistent training.

For example, a man who’s just started his fitness journey can lift about 100 percent of his body weight. But as soon as he reaches the intermediate level, the number can reach 125 percent. More advanced guys have reported benching 150 percent of their body weight, with the elite muscle men setting foot in 175 percent.

Note: if you don’t know what category you fall into, use this strength calculator to recognize and set your weights accordingly.

Age

No matter your gender or athletic prowess, everyone starts losing some strength and muscle mass as they age. But although natural, this process can wreak havoc on how much weight you can lift in your benching sessions.

Your lifting capacity can drop as early as you enter your thirties and will drop by 10 percent per decade.  

Taking this theory into account, a man who benches 150 percent of his body weight in his twenties can do it about 140 percent in his thirties, 130 percent in his forties, and 120 percent in his fifties.

The Verdict

Finding a good balance of your gender, fitness degree, and age isn’t a straightforward task. So, you can use an online calculator and get the optimal weight you should lift by entering your specifications.

How to Improve Your Bench Press Performance

So if you can’t max it out, then how can you revamp your muscle gains through bench pressing? Here are a few tips:

Improve Your Form and Technique

No matter what program you follow for benching, your posture and style can make or break your entire plan. So, before anything, you should read about how to bench properly because even seasoned gym-goers may miss some small but important points. 

Here’s a video on the correct way of benching.

 

Extend Your Rest Periods

Rest periods are a vital factor in the succession of your next set. They recover your aerobic or energy system by breaking down the stored phosphates. They also erase the created lactic acid and prepare you for the next demanding physical activity.

So the longer this period, the better your body restores from the strenuous set, enhancing your strength for weightlifting. 

Studies suggest the most efficient rest period between bench press is 2-5 minutes.

Warm-Up

Warm-up activities improve your HR, sweating, and breathing, all of which can increase blood flow to your working muscles and prepare your body for more intensive activities.

But if you don’t warm up, it’s more challenging for your muscles to exit from the resting phase and do the heavy lifting. So, it’s a very important step in lifting more weights in your bench pressing sessions.

Here’s the best warm-up you can take before benching:

 

Increase Your 1RM Percentage Gradually

As stated earlier, you should bench press anywhere between 40 to 70 percent of your 1RM. However, that doesn’t mean you have to work with the same amount of weight in the long term. The most beneficial way of bench pressing is to vary the amount of weight set by set, session by session, and week by week.

Here’s a sample workout program:

  • Week 1: Three sessions of five sets
    • First set: 8 reps at 40% of your 1RM
    • Second set: 5 reps at 45% of your 1RM
    • Third set: 5 reps at 50% of your 1RM
    • Fourth set: 3 reps at 55% of your 1RM
    • Fifth set: As many reps as you can at 55% of your 1RM
  • week 2: Three sessions of six sets
    • First set: 8 reps at 40% of your 1RM
    • Second set: 8 reps at 45% of your 1RM
    • Third set: 5 reps at 50% of your 1RM
    • Fourth set: 5 reps at 55% of your 1RM
    • Fifth set: 3 reps at 60% of your 1RM
    • Sixth set: As many reps as you can at 60% of your 1RM
  • Week 3: Three sessions of seven sets
    • First set: 8 reps at 40% of your 1RM
    • Second set: 8 reps at 45% of your 1RM
    • Third set: 5 reps at 50% of your 1RM
    • Fourth set: 5 reps at 55% of your 1RM
    • Fifth set: 3 reps at 60% of your 1RM
    • Sixth set: 3 reps at 65% of your 1RM
    • Seventh set: As many reps as you can at 65% of your 1RM
  • Week 4: Three sessions of eight sets
    • First set: 8 reps at 40% of your 1RM
    • Second set: 8 reps at 45% of your 1RM
    • Third set: 8 reps at 50% of your 1RM
    • Fourth set: 5 reps at 55% of your 1RM
    • Fifth set: 5 reps at 60% of your 1RM
    • Sixth set: 3 reps at 65% of your 1RM
    • Seventh set: 3 reps at 70% of your 1RM
    • As many reps as you can at 70% of your 1RM

Note: As you go higher in 1RM, you should lower the number of reps to avoid overtaxing your muscles. And as you lower the repetitions, you need to increase the number of sets to gain bulk on a weekly matter. This is called a pyramid workout.

Final Thoughts

Benching your max is not only ineffective but a surefire way to hurt your joints for good. Instead, you need to take your sex, fitness level, and age into account to find out how much you can bench.

For a male beginner 20 to 40 years old, 100 to 150 percent of his body weight would do the job. And for a female beginner in the same range, this number translates into 80 to 100 percent of her body weight.

You can also calculate your 1RM and adjust your weight plates about 40 to 70 percent of that.

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James Wright

James (36) has been working out since he was 15 years old. He has a home gym where he pumps iron, does bodyweight workouts and boxing. He likes sharing his experiences with others who want to build a better physique.

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