Training

Should The First Reps Of The Flat Bench Press Be Hard?

May 18th 2019

Do you find that the first few reps of your bench press are difficult? If so, you may have some technique or other variables that are preventing you from bench pressing at your full potential. The bench press, itself already, is a bit awkward in general. Unless you have been pushing maximal weight throughout your life, learning for the first couple of years can be challenging. This problem is magnified when you start to do your heavy sets and you think that the first reps are always difficult. So, let us find out whether or not this is true or not.

Flat bench press first reps

If you are having difficulty doing the first reps of your bench press, you need to work on your technique first. Make sure you are unracking your bench press effectively so that you are not losing energy and power.

If the first rep is always hard, you need to work on your unracking bench press technique. Some lifters may struggle to unrack the bench press, which will severely hinder your pressing ability. If the first rep is usually difficult while the sequential reps are relatively easier, you will need to place more emphasis and focus on your initial setup to make sure everything is good prior to when you unrack the weight.

Mental block

For some lifters, they may find that there is a mental hurdle with the first rep of the bench press. For powerlifters, this is similar to their openers. As many competitors will tell you, your opener will usually dictate how your meet will end up. If you crush your opener, you will find that the meet is going great. If you miss your opener, hell has fallen on the Earth.

For many coaches and fitness enthusiasts, they may want you to just get over it and will try to recruit new thinking habits so that you can be successful. This can work but it can fall short if someone is really having a bad day.

What is probably more effective is if your program has incorporated many heavy singles. This way, you are practicing both your technique and power, two crucial factors for a big bench press.

Do warmups play a factor?

They can, but in general, warmups are there for only one reason - to warm your body up prior to your working sets. Your body needs to fire off and warm up the neural connections to all the muscles associated with bench pressing. If you feel fatigued prior to your working sets, you are doing too many sets.

There are several schools of thought. According to Larry Wheels, a professional powerlifter, strongman and bodybuilder, he only warms up with the bare minimum. He tries to stay fresh before his working sets because that has worked for him. I was curious about that and have tried it out for several weeks. I found that his idea is great if you decide that it is great. In fact, I believe legendary powerlifter Ed Coan also did not stress that lifters need to perform all these crazy sets for their warmups before going into training. He would say that you just need to do enough so that you are ready. How much is enough? You should not be tired at the end of your warmups.

There is another school of thought - in practically all strength training programs, they will have a set formula on how you should warm up for every single lift. There are even calculators online that will spew out your warmup sets for you. For instance, if I were benching 190lbs for a 3x5 paused bench workout (I did that yesterday), I would do the following:

  • 2x5 45 lbs
  • 1x5 95 lbs
  • 1x3 130 lbs
  • 1x2 170 lbs
  • 3x5 190 lbs

I will be honest with you - when I first typed in these numbers into the warmup calculator, I was impressed with how balanced these numbers are. I never really followed any warmup routines when I was strength training in the past. Though I did pick up some ideas here and there from Youtube videos, the final decision on how I would warmup would be made on the spot.

In the past, I remembered I tried to do sets of 10 for my warmups all the way up to my working set. For instance, if I were to do 165lbs for my bench press working set in the past, I would do:

  • 1x10 45lbs
  • 1x5-10 95lbs
  • 1x5 135lbs
  • 1x2-3 155lbs

I tried to follow these protocols but I found myself always leaning away from doing exactly what was recommended. At first, I would feel a bit tired all the time from all the warmup sets. This is my fault since I am not conditioned enough. But even with some fatigue, I did not feel any struggle with the first reps of the bench press. Usually, the weight would be so heavy that I could not even do all my 5 reps in my 3x5 workouts. Or I would just get 1 or 2 really slow reps.

Reflecting back on my warmup sets, I was probably doing way too much for my warmups. Honestly, I think my motivation for creating that warmup style was from watching a lot of big benchers, who did do sets of 10 for 135lbs, 225lbs, which dropped to sets of 5 for 315lbs. These benchers were doing 500+lbs and I wanted to imitate their warmup ritual. I thought that it would help me increase my bench as well.

I am a “get in groove” type of bencher

For some lifters, they may need a couple of reps before they feel ready. For instance, if you are benching for a set of 6, rep 1 may be around the same difficulty as rep 4. So, is there anything you need to work on?

In general, most lifters should not have this affect their performance. There is nothing wrong with “getting in groove” but if you are a powerlifter, this may be difficult to achieve when you only have 3 max singles. So, in theory, your opener would dictate the pace of your meet.

You should be aware of this sensation and make sure that performance is not impacted.

Conclusion

The first thing you should work on is your technique. If you are having trouble bench pressing now, it will only get heavier in the future. You need to make sure that your form and unracks are precise. Do not allow your body to leak out energy.

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