Every February, college players with pro aspirations are invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. As seen on the NFL Network, these athletes are evaluated by NFL coaches, trainers, doctors, scouts and other front office personnel who are trying to determine which players could help their specific teams in the NFL draft later that year.
For the players, these four days at the combine consist of medical tests, interviews, psychological tests and various demanding physical drills to showcase their strengths and weaknesses.
One of the most popular events at the combine is the 225 pound bench press. This test is simply to see how many repetitions a player can do until he fails. It tests both their overall strength as well as their endurance.
During this time of year at the Fischer Institute, I am fortunate enough to help a few of college football's best prepare for the NFL Combine. It is my job to properly prepare them for all of the tests and events they will be faced with in Indianapolis.
This article will focus on a few foundational tips I would like to share in order to maximize improvement in the bench press.
*Tip #1 - SETUP/BODY POSITION *
This important aspect is often over-looked. The proper setup requires the athlete to tuck his feet behind his knees (but be able to push into the floor), contract his shoulder blades together, grip the bar a little wider than shoulder width, be far enough down on the bench so the bar is inline with his forehead and tuck his elbows as close as possible to his torso. This position not only eliminates the possibility of his butt coming off the bench (and subsequently getting that rep disqualified), but also prevents needless body movements that decrease power. If done correctly, this proper position puts the shoulders and upper body in an optimal position to produce the most power. Furthermore, a little wider grip than normal (near the rings on a barbell) decreases the distance the bar needs to travel. Less distance means less work is needed to travel that distance, which leads to less energy needed per rep. (see Figure 1)
Tip #2 - WARM-UP
The best warm-up will get the athlete ready to perform at their optimal level but without fatiguing them. I recommend the following before the 225 pound bench press test. Take around two to three minutes to rest between sets.
» Eight reps at 95 pounds
» Two slow reps followed by four fast reps at 135 pounds (six reps total)
» Three reps at 185 pounds
» One rep at 225 pounds
» One rep at "overset" weight (see below)
NOTE: Only athletes who bench more than 320 pounds for a one rep max should include the overset. Anyone whose one rep max is below 320 pounds should NOT do an overset because it will prematurely fatigue him/her before the test. A quick rule of thumb for an overset is to do a weight that is no more than 70 percent of your one rep max. For example, an athlete whose one rep max is 330 pounds would have an overset weight for one rep of 230 pounds (330 x .70 = 230).
Once this warm up is completed, start the test in eight to 10 minutes.
Tip #3 - BUILD STRENGTH
Even though the 225 pound bench press test is an endurance strength test, I recommend that an athlete must also become an overall stronger bencher to improve his performance in the drill. For example, there should be days where the focus is soley on improving the athlete's one repetition max. For example, do five sets of three to four reps where the weight is heavy enough that you could only perform three or four reps before failure. Stronger athletes will be able to perform more reps at 225 pounds because the weight is a lower percentage of their one rep max than a weaker athlete.
Tip #4 - DEVELOP MUSCLE ENDURANCE (LACTIC ACID CAPACITY)
It is one thing to be strong for this test, but you must also prepare for the lactic acid (soreness) that will develop in your chest and arms during the test. Due to this, incorporating high repetition days into your program is necessary. I use a program that the Juggernaut Training Systems advocates. Begin by performing repetitions at 225 pounds until you feel like you can only do two more reps, then rack the weight and rest for 30 seconds. Perform repetitions at 225 pounds again until you feel like you can only do one more rep, then rack the weight and rest for another 30 seconds. Finally, with the weight still at 225 pounds, do repetitions until you feel you will miss the next rep. Rack the weight and rest for seven to 10 minutes.
Tip #5 - AUXILIARY LIFTS
Auxiliary lifts are a necessary component to help improve the athlete's ability to perform more reps as they target the minor muscle groups. Emphasize muscles such as the lats (pull-ups), chest muscles (push-ups, dips, ploy push up, etc), scapula muscles (rows), rotator cuff muscles (internal/external rotation exercises) and triceps (dips, extensions, etc).
Tip #6 - TECHNIQUE
The actual bench press motion must be quick, but not too fast that it disrupts the set up. The athlete must be under control, powerful and fast at the same time.
Correct technique involves lowering the bar to the lower chest line and then quickly extending the elbows to press the weight back up. The bar path (Figure 2) should be in a direction as if the athlete is pushing the bar slightly forward. This "forward" pushing motion is a stronger motion as opposed to pushing the bar "backward" or toward the spotter. For proper breathing, inhale as the bar is coming down toward the chest and exhale as the bar is going back up to the top.
*Tip #7 - RESISTANCE BANDS *
Use resistance bands or elastic bands that attach to the barbell throughout the training sessions to help develop the proper speed and maximize the athlete's potential power development.
Even though this event may look very straight forward when you view it on NFL Network in February, the training for this test requires a proper set up, correct technique, strength/muscle endurance and proper planning.
As always, an athlete should consult a certified strength and conditioning specialist when training for this test. They will surely give the proper plan and feedback to guide them appropriately.