Powerlifting differs from other form of weightlifting because it consistently involves lifting heavy loads for a lower number of repetitions --- usually three to five reps for at least three sets --- with long rest periods between sets. The bench press is the most common upper body powerlifting exercise that primarily targets the chest. A powerlifting chest routine will always begin with the bench press then progress to training the muscles that assist in the bench press.
Muscles Used in the Bench Press
The primary muscles used in the bench press are the pectorals, deltoids, triceps and latissimus dorsi. Your lats are most important because they are first used when lowering the weight and are where all the weight is transferred, according to Ryan Kennelly, author of "Building a Monster Bench Press." Your pectorals and shoulders come into play at the bottom of the lift, and the triceps aid in pressing the bar up and finishing the lift.
Bench Press Technique
Proper bench pressing technique is essential in powerlifting. Unlike the standard bench press performed at submaximal loads, maximal effort bench press recruits muscle throughout your entire body to aid in pressing the weight. Lay flat on the bench and grasp the bar using an overhand grip with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your shoulder blades together causing your back to arch up. Your lats should be flared out, and your chest should be puffed up slightly. Position the bar directly over your chest, lower the bar down until it reaches the bottom of your sternum, pause briefly before pressing up to starting position. Keep your feet flat on the floor and your bottom on the bench throughout the entire movement.
Bench Press Routine
Begin your powerlifting chest routine with one or two warm-up sets at about 50 percent of your one repetition maximum, or 1RM, for eight to 10 repetitions. Start by lifting 65 percent of your 1RM for three to five repetitions for four or five sets. Each week increase the weight you lift by 5 percent, always lifting at least three reps for each set.
Following the bench press, train the assisting muscle groups using an eight- to 12-repetition range for two or three sets of the following exercises. Incline bench press, close-grip bench press, dumbbell pullovers and triceps pressdowns. Shoulders can be trained on the chest or back day with exercises such as shoulder press, front plate raises and lateral raises. Exercises to strengthen the lats include pullups, bent-over barbell rows and lat pulldowns.
Train your chest at least once a week, but no more than twice a week on nonconsecutive days. Powerlifting is extremely taxing on the body and requires full recovery between workouts to experience continued gains. Do not attempt to perform maximum lifts more than three or four times a year. Never bounce the bar off your chest and always use a spotter when lifting heavy weights. Practice the proper technique regularly using a moderate weight before attempting a maximal bench press.