There’s a lot of info out there on the mistakes men make with bench pressing, but what about women? Yes, there is a difference.
More and more women are taking up the bench press, and this means more and more mistakes being committed.
So I will set things straight so that women can focus on doing the bench press right, and this includes not just technique, but information about this compound exercise that many women have wrong.
Common bench press mistakes women make (no particular order):
#1. Avoiding this effective exercise altogether out of fear it will bulk up their chest. Believe it or not, some women still think that bench pressing will give them a chest just like their husband’s.
Though women who compete in this exercise and lift literally 300, even over 400 pounds (Becca Swanson set a world record with a 551-pound lift in 2006) don’t exactly have the physiques that most women dream of, we’re not talking about training to break records.
This is about performing this multi-joint exercise as part of a fitness and toning regimen.
In order for a woman to start looking more like a man as a result of bench pressing, she’d have to be lifting as much as a man — and that’s men who are strong!
Men just starting out with this exercise may still look scrawny, even though they’re lifting 150 pounds!
You will not “bulk up” lifting the range typical for females: 45 pounds to barely 100.
At health clubs, it’s rare to see a woman benching what would be considered a lot of weight, and even then, they aren’t anywhere near bulked up.
Let’s crush this myth once and for all. Becca Swanson (5-10) weighs 240 pounds. She couldn’t weigh this much without a special dietary regimen to support it.
#2. Under-loading the weights out of fear of bulking up. See #1 above.
#3. Overloading the weights and then bringing the bar down only part way, but then believing they actually lifted all that weight.
Bringing the bar down only half way is not the same as all the way, and you’re fooling only yourself. This is a bad habit that can and should be broken.
#4. Thinking that this popular routine will make their breasts larger. If this were true, it would spread like wildfire and put breast-enhancement surgeons and manufacturers of “breast creams” out of business.
Why would a woman spend $5,000 on breast implants when she could just build up her breasts with the bench press? Weight-lifting does not build up fat — and breasts are made up of fatty tissue.
#5. Believing that this routine will shrink their breasts. Trust me, this won’t happen. This concern was presented to me by several of my female clients when I was a personal trainer. “Will never happen,” I’d tell them.
#6. Not doing rotator-cuff exercises. Women need to realize that the bench press recruits the rotator cuff muscles and their tendons, especially as the weight becomes heavier.
Rotator-cuff-targeting exercises should be done to guard against injuring these tendons.
#7. Arching their back while straining to push up a weight. This defeats the purpose, because the back arch causes other muscles to get in on the act.
Bench pressing is for the chest/shoulders/triceps, not the back. Plus, the back arch can harm the back. Place your feet flat on the bench to discourage back-arching.
# 8. Not being aware that they’re pushing the bar up crooked. This is most prevalent when an individual uses just the Olympic bar (only 45 pounds), or an even a lighter bar.
#9. Not asking for a spotter to help with heavier lifts. Many men will be more than happy to spot a lady with a bench press, even if she doesn’t look like Pam Anderson.
#10. Believing that the bench press is the only means to achieve results, be they muscle-toning, increased upper body strength or firmer arms. This exercise can be uncomfortable, even at lighter weights.
It is said that Arnold Schwarzenegger hardly ever, if at all, did this exercise on a flat bench, because of the injury risk to the rotator cuff. Instead, he used an inclined variation.
Women need to realize that the bench press is not the only means to an end; other exercises will do just as well, such as incline, dumbbell and horizontal chest presses.
Women should never assume they are missing something if the bench press is not part of their workout regimen.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.