You're hoping your bench press efforts will do double duty: Give you strong enviable pecs and flat, sculpted abs. A dedicated bench-pressing routine will help you build chest muscles, as well as shoulder and triceps definition. As for your washboard belly? You'll have bench press a very long time before you see that.
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The bench press is a strength exercise that helps to build muscle in the upper body. Yes, you contract your abs to keep your torso stable on the bench, but it's not an abdominal specific exercise. Even it was, abdominal exercises alone won't get you abs like those seen on models on the cover of fitness magazines. Ab exercises build muscle, but if that muscle sits under a layer of fat, you'll never see it. Until you embark on a comprehensive fat-loss routine, your abs will never appear no matter how much time you spend at the gym.
The Key to Abs
Abs appear at athletic body fat levels of 14 percent to 20 percent for women and 6 percent to 13 percent for men. To put this in perspective, the average woman carries between 25 percent and 31 percent fat and the average man, 18 percent to 24 percent, notes the American Council on Exercise.
The bench press is only part of a whole strategy you'll need to undergo to reduce your body fat levels. A healthy, calorie-controlled diet, strength training for all the major muscle groups — not just the chest — targeted ab exercises and cardio to help burn fat are all necessary steps to getting abs.
You may bench so frequently and diligently that you work your way up to 300 pounds or more at each session — but this is no guarantee that you'll ever see your abs.
Read more: Body Fat Percentage for Abs
Utilizing the Bench Press
The bench press is an important component in one step of your fat-loss, ab-defining strategy. It helps you build lean muscle, and the more muscle you have, the more efficiently your body burns calories. Calorie burn is still No. 1 in fat loss — you need to expend 3,500 calories more than you take in to lose a pound of fat.
Develop all your major muscles, not just your pecs, to turn your body into a fat-burning machine. This means squats, deadlifts, rows, biceps curls, triceps extensions, shoulder presses and lunges in addition to bench presses. Working all the major muscle groups two to four times per week will help you build muscle all over. How soon that muscle will help you lose fat and reveal your abs depends on how much fat you have to lose, your commitment and your adherence to other fat-loss strategies.
You also burn calories with increased physical activity. Jump on a treadmill, ride a stationary bike or climb the revolving step machine to raise your heart rate and break a serious sweat. The American College of Sports Medicine says it takes at least 250 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio per week to lose significant weight.
Eating for Fat Loss
All this exercise is in vain if you fail to eat to support your goal of getting abs. Cutting calories and eating reasonable portion sizes is a good step, but when your goal is a six-pack, you may have to be even more diligent.
Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta, sugary drinks and desserts, are definitely off the menu, as are most processed foods. You'll up your intake of lean protein, such as chicken breast and fish, fresh leafy vegetables and healthy fats, including olive oil and avocados.
Combine this focused diet with your strength-training efforts and cardio, and you'll get closer to seeing your abs. Moves such as crunches, hanging leg raises and planks create muscle that will be revealed when you lose the fat.
How soon all this work pays off is impossible to predict — but know that even if your abs never pop like a swimsuit model's, you're still making strides into improved health and a better feeling body.
Read more: The Seven Principles of Fat Loss