The bench press may be an exercise more commonly associated with hulking bodybuilders, and in your average commercial gym, you probably won't see many women bench pressing. This is a shame, though, as the bench press is a key exercise for women, according to trainer Shannon Clark of Bodybuilding.com. It builds upper-body strength and sculpts your chest, triceps and shoulders. In your next workout, push the gorilla-like alpha male trainers away from the bench and work out your maximum bench press, then compare it to your body weight.
To test your maximum bench press, you've got to be familiar with the technique. Trying to test your maximum in your first session is a recipe for disaster. Start with an empty barbell and perform a set of five to eight reps. Add a little weight and perform another set. Keep going until the weight starts to get challenging, then drop to three reps per set. When this gets hard, drop to one rep each time and go until you can't lift any more. Always have a spotter on hand when testing your bench. It should take eight to 12 sets to find your maximum. Once you're done, jump on the scales to find your body weight, then divide your bench press weight by your body weight.
Body Weight-to-Strength Ratio
The test is an accurate measure of how strong you are relative to your body weight. A heavier woman would be expected to bench press more, as she would have more muscle mass, and the heavier you are, the more padding there is around your joints, making lifting easier. The higher your bench press weight and the lower your body weight, the better your strength-to-weight ratio.
While this may be an excellent way of finding how good you are at bench pressing, it doesn't tell the whole story. Bench pressing only tests your upper-body strength -- it doesn't challenge your lower body at all. The test also only really matters if you intend to compete in powerlifting, where you'll be put into a body-weight category and compete against other female bench pressers of similar body weight. According to a study in the "Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology," women also tend to carry less of their muscle mass in their upper body, so a weaker bench press doesn't necessarily mean you're weak overall.
If you're training for muscular endurance rather than strength, a maximum pushups test may be more appropriate. To see the bigger picture, you also need to test your lower-body strength, preferably by squatting or deadlifting. As a general guideline, strength coach Adam Farrah of Practical Paleolithic suggests that if you want to be considered strong as a woman, you should aim to bench press 165 to 210 lbs., squat 220 to 280 lbs. and deadlift 275 to 350 lbs. These numbers could take several years to achieve, but they will certainly make you one strong lady.
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