Bench presses can seem like an intimidating exercise, especially when you see people putting big, bulky weights on a barbell and straining to do three to five reps at a time. The reason they're loading up the bar is to build a bigger and stronger upper body. However, when your objective is to tone and define your muscles, the concern isn’t how much you can lift at a time, but rather finding the right balance between the amount of weight you're pumping and how many times you're lifting the bar. Once you've figured that out, you can perform enough reps to develop a sleek, firm-looking physique.
Lifting heavier weights with fewer reps helps build muscle mass, so you may think that lifting light weights with more reps would tone your muscles. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Your muscles still require adequate resistance to encourage growth and firmness. To turn your bench-pressing routine into an effective toning exercise, work with just enough weight to bring your muscles to fatigue in 10 to 12 reps. The weight amount you choose should be neither heavy enough to stop you from completing 10 reps, nor light enough to allow more than 12 reps at a time.
After you’ve established your ideal weight amount for toning during your bench press routine, focus on fine tuning your sets and resting periods. Ideally, you should rest for at least one minute between standard bench pressing reps, where your objective is to build mass and strength. When your sessions are geared toward toning, however, lessen this amount to 30 or 40 seconds to encourage a higher caloric burn. Perform at least two sets of 12 reps no more than twice a week to allow your muscles time to rest and rebuild. On your off-days you can perform a couple of aerobic exercises, such as jump squats or jumping jacks, to increase your caloric burn and enhance your toning efforts.
Standard bench presses -- where your back is horizontally aligned with your hips -- target the pectoral muscles in your chest. Although a high percentage of your pecs are stimulated during these presses, you can apply extra emphasis on certain regions to enhance your toning regime. Perform incline presses to target your upper pecs and decline presses to target your lower pecs. Bring your hands closer together on the bar to tone your inner pecs or place them wider apart to focus on your outer pecs.
Less weight doesn’t mean less caution. Ensure you’re following proper form throughout your bench pressing routine. Give your muscles adequate rest periods to avoid straining or overtraining them. Don't allow the bar to bounce off your chest during your sets. Warm up before and after your sessions to increase circulation, maintain joint flexibility and prepare your muscles for your toning workout.
Residing in Florida, Anton Reid began writing in 2005. He has written a range of health- and cultural-related articles for various organizations and companies, including A.Meem.Ra Institute, The Holistic Arts Center and “MAAT’s Pot." Reid is certified in homeopathic healing, licensed in herbal medicine and is a certified Reiki practitioner.