How to Bench Press Your Body Weight

Erik Isakson/Getty Images
 Erik Isakson/Getty Images

Beach-muscle vanity aside, there are functional reasons to being able to bench your body weight. Strengthening those chest and arm muscles means that all other pushing movements are easier — working a heavy bag, push-ups — and you’ll get a boost in power for everyday things, like moving the couch, throwing a baseball, or lifting your kids in the air.

Bench pressing your body weight takes slow and steady progression, but it’s a goal anyone can achieve. We recommend a 16-week progression, which allows time to toughen up tendons and strengthen and work the stabilizers of the shoulder joints. Start at moderate loads and higher reps, and taper down to higher loads at fewer reps until you hit your one-rep max, says Neal Pire, CSCS, exercise physiologist at HNH Fitness, a medical fitness center in Oradell, New Jersey. If you’ve been lifting regularly (at least twice a week), you can shorten the process.

Bench Press Form
Use the five-point body contact position: Head, upper back, and butt should be on the bench, and your right and left feet firmly on the floor in a wide stance. “This is the most stable position and allows you to elicit the most force,” says Pire. Your spine should be neutral, with a natural arch, on the bench. Grip the bar slightly wider than shoulder width. Lower the bar to your chest, in line with your nipples, and press up.

Body-Weight Training Plan
If you’re a bench press novice, start on Week 1. If you’re more experienced, try starting on Week 5. Perform the prescribed sets and reps twice per week on nonconsecutive days. Rest three to five minutes between sets. “Hit supporting muscle groups like delts, triceps, shoulder girdle stabilizers after you are done with your benching for the day,” says Pire. “Train them so they don’t become the weak link in your bench’s kinetic chain.”

Week 1: 5 sets x 10 reps at 60% of 1-rep max goal (120 lb for a 200 lb man)

Week 2: 5 x 8 reps at 65% 1RM

Week 3: 5 x 5 reps at 70% 1RM

Week 4: 5 x 3 reps at 75% 1RM

Week 5: 5 x 10 reps at 60% 1RM

Week 6: 5 x 8 reps at 70% 1RM

Week 7: 5 x 5 reps at 75% 1RM

Week 8: 5 x 3 reps at 80% 1RM

Week 9: 5 x 10 reps at 60% 1RM

Week 10: 4 x 8 reps at 75% 1RM

Week 11: 4 x 5 reps at 80% 1RM

Week 12: 4 x 3 reps at 85% 1RM

Week 13: 5 x 10 reps at 60% 1RM

Week 14: 3 x 8 reps at 80% 1RM

Week 15: 3 x 5 reps at 85% 1RM

Week 16: 3 x 3 reps at 90% 1RM

One-Rep Max Warm-up
On the day of your 1RM body weight attempt, line up a good spotter and be thoroughly warmed up with light cardio and lower-weight sets before attempting your max. “The key to this progression is taking enough rest time between sets,” says Pire. “The ideal warm-up is very personal. Some people need more warm-up sets than others.” Here’s a good pattern to start with:

Set 1: 8 reps at 40% 1 RM, 2 to 3 minutes rest

Set 2: 5 reps at 60%, 2 to 3 minutes rest

Set 3: 3 reps at 70%, 3 to 4 minutes rest

Set 4: 1 rep at 80%, 3 to 4 minutes rest

Set 5: 1 rep at 90%, 5 minutes rest

Set 6: One rep max