If you're a teen who includes the bench press as part of your weight training routine, you're probably curious about how your level of strength stacks up to other people your age. That's a natural inclination, but unfortunately, that information is not as easy to find as it is for adults. There's very good reason for that, however: At your age, your focus should be on developing good exercise habits and not on lifting a maximum load.
A Word on Maximal Training
At age 15, you may or may not have gone through puberty -- a time when your body will be going through lots of changes that can affect your overall strength.
While it does recommend strength training for young people, the American College of Sports Medicine doesn't recommend any maximal training -- or in other words, training that forces you to lift the maximum weight you can possibly lift. That's because of the potential for damage to your bone growth plates, your back and your long bones.
The Focus of Your Training
At your age, your focus in strength training should be on performing each exercise safely and effectively, and in working to beat your own personal best -- not that of another person your age. If you haven't been lifting weights for long, it's not fair to compare what you can bench press to another 15-year-old who's been lifting longer, or has limbs of a different length -- or whose body is more predisposed to building muscle faster. In general, fitness experts including the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that youth weight training be focused on learning how to do each lift safely and with proper technique instead of on how much you can lift. If you're working with a coach or personal trainer, he should teach you how to perform lifts such as the bench press with little or no weight to start with, to train your muscles in the proper form before adding any weight. On that note, all youth strength training workouts should be performed in the presence of a coach or trainer who's certified to teach young people.
Strength to Weight Ratios
For adults, fitness experts use a formula based on a person's current weight to determine how much a person should be able to lift compared to how much they weigh. That's called the "strength to weight ratio." Use this as a source of general information and not a judgement of how much you can currently lift. For men under age 20, an "excellent" one-repetition bench press weight is a weight that is 1.34 times your body weight for men. For women, it's .78 times your own body weight. If you're a man who weighs 100 pounds, an "excellent" bench press would be 134 lbs., and for a 100-pound woman, "excellent" would be 78 lbs. A "good" or average rating, meanwhile, would be between 1.07 and 1.19 times your body weight for men and .59 to .65 for women. Note that those numbers are for your one-rep maximum, or the maximum amount you're able to lift just one time, instead of a full set of eight to 12 repetitions.
Typical Training Program
Your coach or trainer should be able to help you develop a safe and effective program to help you build strength and improve your bench press, but some basic recommendations apply. Start out with a bench press weight that you think you can safely lift about eight times. Ideally, your muscles will be really tired toward the end of the set and it will be difficult to complete the set; that's when you know you're using enough weight to achieve gains in strength and endurance. Stick to that weight for a week or two, and then increase the number of repetitions each week until you're able to do 12 at a time. After that, add a second set to your training routine, again trying to do eight to 12 repetitions of the second set. When you can do two sets of 12, add a third set. When you can do three sets of 12, it's time to move up in weight, adding about 10 percent to the amount you've been lifting. After you add weight, start with just one set of eight to 12 repetitions and work toward that second and then third set.