By: Kyle Hunt
2 plates. It’s a milestone for every young lifter. We all remember the gym we were in when it first happened. Some of us probably even remember what we had for breakfast that morning.
It’s safe to say, a 225-pound bench press is a nice milestone.
However, as we get more advanced in our lifting career, the expectations rise. It’s no longer acceptable to just hit 225lbs for a rep or two. The next goal is to rep it out with ease.
Enter the NFL Combine
The NFL combine has made the 225lb bench press for max reps famous. Every year the NFL hosts a scouting combine where college players go and participate in a wide range of physical events. The combine gives teams a chance to see how athletic the college prospects are.
In addition to the bench press, the other events are: 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and shuttle runs. From a logistics standpoint, the 225lbs bench press for max reps is an easy way to test upper body strength and muscular endurance.
So, how do you stack up?
300-pound defensive lineman Stephan Paea holds the all time record with 49 reps! On the other end of the spectrum, pro bowl safety Tyrann Mathieu only did 4 reps.
Taking a look at the results over the past 10 years, I came up with a ranking/category system. Let’s see where you stack up…
- Under 5 reps – Anemic…acceptable, if you are a kicker.
- 10 reps – Mediocre… better be fast!
- 15 reps – Formidable…for a skill position.
- 20 reps- Strong
- 25 reps – Powerhouse…NFL linebacker strength.
- 30 reps – All World…strong for any position.
- 35+ reps – 225lbs Bench Press Hall of Fame
If you are feeling a little inadequate after looking at the categories, let’s get to work. Here are my 3 tips to get you benching like an NFL linebacker by next season!
Step 1 – Learn How to Bench Press
I’m sure you know how to bench press to some extent. The bench is one of the first fundamental lifts you learn after stepping foot inside a gym. However, very few athletes outside of elite powerlifters will understand all the variables and intricacies involved in a proper bench press.
If the first thing you think about when starting a bench press is grabbing the bar, you have already started down the wrong path. First, you need to get your body in a good position. A proper set up will absolutely add pounds to the bar and in this case, how many reps you can perform.
The most important point to consider during the setup process is scapular retraction and depression (pinching your shoulder blades together and down). To accomplish scapular retraction, you will need to arch your back while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Think about trying to hold a pencil in your upper back. This is not only the most efficient way to bench press, it’s also the safest.
The “arched” bench press puts the shoulder joint in a more favorable and healthy position as well as shortens the range of motion. A shorter range of motion creates a more efficient press, especially for longer armed benchers. Get your shoulders retracted and KEEP them in that position throughout the entire movement.
Next, we need to look at grip position. Where you grip the bar is going to largely depend on personal preference and limb length. Longer armed people will require a wider grip. Generally speaking, you want to find a grip position that allows your forearms to remain vertical throughout the entire lift.
Ok, so you are set up properly and are ready to start. Now what?
The first thing to do is create tension one the bar. The cues “break the bar” or “pull the bar apart” can be helpful to keep in mind.
Elbow position is a BIG aspect of the bench press where people often need some work. A “bodybuilding bench press” involves flaring the elbows throughout the range of motion. Keeping your elbows out wide may provide the greatest stimulus to the chest but it’s not the best or safest way to bench the most amount of weight. For maximum performance, tuck your elbows slightly on the way down and don’t let them flare out until the bar is about halfway up.
Step 2- Improve Absolute Strength
Once you learn how to bench the most efficient way possible, now you need to get stronger. It can’t get much simpler than that.
Absolute strength is the maximum force that a muscle can produce in a single voluntary effort – think 1 rep max. Generally speaking the stronger you are, the more reps you will get with 225lbs. The reason is, the higher your one rep max is the lower percentage 225lbs is in relation to your max.
For example, if your max is 405lbs, 225lbs is only around 55% of your 1RM. On the other hand, if your max were only 315lbs, 225lbs would be about 72% of your 1RM. What can you do more reps with – 55% or 72% of a 1RM? At that point muscular endurance is not going to matter.
At least one bench press training session per week should be devoted to absolute strength with the goal of increasing your 1RM. All working sets should be above 80% of your max. Progressive overload is going to be key here. Try to add 5-10lbs to your working weight each week.
Step 3- Improve Muscular Endurance
Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or group of muscles to sustain repeated contractions against a resistance for an extended period of time. Essentially muscular endurance comes into play in sets with high reps – 15+.
If you can’t hit 225lbs for 15 or more reps, improving your muscular endurance is going to do little to help you out. In that case, you would be better off focusing all of your efforts on just increasing your absolute strength.
With that being said, improving muscular endurance can be the extra edge to get you over the top. Muscular endurance can be the reason why one 400-pound bencher does more reps with 225 than another 400-pound bencher.
When training to improve muscular endurance, training volume is key. Volume is weight x sets x reps. The best way to accumulate a lot of training volume is to keep the weight moderate and increasing the amount of sets and reps performed.
A special technique I like to use with my athletes is incorporating AMRAP (as many reps as possible) sets. This concept is pretty simple, after the working sets perform one or two all out sets for maximum repetitions. This is not only a great way to increase volume, it also reinforces the skill of working close to failure. Typically I don’t recommend pushing to failure, however, when training for the 225 bench test, learning to grind reps will be important.
How to “hack” the Test
I’m typically not a big fan of “hacks” or shortcuts, but in this case there are a few little tricks to help you perform better on the day of the test.
Hack 1: Start the day off with a big meal and lots of water. This is not an excuse to hit up the breakfast buffet but you also don’t want to be under fed. Have a mixed meal containing protein, a big dose of carbohydrates and a moderate amount of fat. As for water, again no need to overload yourself, but sip on water all day to make sure you are well hydrated. Even a small dip in hydration can negatively affect performance.
Hack 2: Dial in your warm up on the day of the test. I cannot stress this enough. The warm-up process is very important. A well-structured warm-up can literally add a couple reps.
45lbs Bar for 3 sets of 10 (yes, start with the bar)
95lbs for 1 set of 10
135lbs for 2 sets of 5
185 for 1 set of 4-5
205lbs for 1 set of 3-5
225lbs for 1 set of 2-3
275lbs for 1 set of 1
300lbs+ for 1 set of 1 (70-80% 1rm)
That’s not a typo. I recommend going over the 225lbs testing weight during the warm-up. I do this to excite the nervous system and elicit a form of post activation potentiation. Although this sounds like a bunch of science that’s not really applicable, I actually came to this conclusion in practice.
Time and time again I saw myself as well as a lot of my clients all perform more reps after doing a heavy or in some cases even a max out rep! Now, I’m not saying you should max out before testing but do one or even two heavy singles before hand. How heavy you go will depend on your 1 rep max.
Hack 3: Last but not least, rep speed is important. This is not the time to do slow negatives and tempo work. Most people fail around 45 seconds into the set regardless of how many reps they performed. Try to get the reps done as fast as possible. Do not stop for rest; keep pumping out reps until you fail.
What do I know about benching 225lbs for max reps?
Here is video of my best attempt to date: 32 reps at 225lbs at a bodyweight of 165lbs.
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