If you currently do not have a good bench press warm up routine, you are making a big mistake. Warming up before bench pressing does two things for the lifter: it reduces injury risk and increases the amount of weight the lifter can lift.
Reducing your Injury Risk with a Bench Press Warm Up
A good warm up should literally accomplishes exactly what the name states – it should warm up your muscles. You actually want to increase the temperature and pliability of the tissues through your warm-up.
As you perform a bench press, your tendons and ligaments receive some strain and are stretched throughout the lift. As your tendons and ligaments move more and more throughout a work-out, they become more pliable and more resistant to injury. You also want to warm up your muscles and increase the amount of blood-flow to these regions.
An ideal bench press warm-up would engage these tissues and consist of enough repetitions to thoroughly warm-up these tissues.
Increasing Your Bench Max with a Warm Up
If you ever go to a powerlifting meet, notice that no one simply steps on the bar and maxes out on the bench without a warm-up. You might think this is just to reduce injury risk. This is true, but also note that nearly every lifter does his first attempt at a relatively easy weight.
What is the point of opening with a weight that is not near the lifter’s known max? The truth is that warming up in this fashion can actually increase your max bench press.
Musclces do not move on their own but rather in response to commands issued by the brain. The neural pathways that the signals travel down from the motor center in your brain to the musculature responsible for creating movement need to be warmed up as well.
Warming up neural pathways is the same reason a golfer takes a few practice swings before hitting an important shot. Is the practice putt to warm-up the musculature? Not at all; it is not that intense of a movement. Rather, it is to get the brain ready to replicate a motor command with precision. The psychological comfort and motor readiness help the golfer putt more accurately.
This is the same reason bench press pros always perform an easy opener – they want to get their brains ready to press under certain circumstances – getting a lift and responding to commands. This comfort effectively removes any mental “brakes” and lets the lifter perform with all his strength.
Notice how warming up a neural path-way is very specific: a golfer warms up by taking practice swings, a discus-thrower warms up by taking practice throws, and high-level lifters warm-up by practicing the lifts they are competiting in.
Putting it All Together: A Good Bench Press Warm Up
As we have stated, a good bench press warm up needs to literally warm-up your soft tissues and also prepare you mentally to complete the lift.
For this reason, to warm up for the bench press, I recommend.. bench pressing! Was all that text really necessary? I think so, given that a lot of gurus like to recommend everything under the sun for their bench press warm up when the truth is that every other athlete warms up by practicing sports-specific movements rather than doing all kinds of odd warm-ups and “activation drills”.
With that said, here is my recommended warm-up for someone who is doing working sets with 315 pounds:
45 lbs (i.e. unloaded bar) : 1 set of 25 reps
95 lbs: 1 set of 15 reps
135 lbs: 1 set of 10 reps
185 lbs: 1 set of 5 reps
225 lbs: 1 set of 5 reps
255 lbs: 1 set of 3 reps
265 lbs: 1 set of 1 rep
285 lbs: 1 set of 1 rep
Not much rest is needed between these sets. Notice that the high rep work with light weight is what helps warm up the muscles and tendons. The low rep work just below working set weight helps warm up the nervous system without tiring out the lifter.
If we just lifted for a set of 5 for every set, the sets of 255, 265, and 285 would tire out the lifter before his real work set even started. By getting our reps in with light weight, we effectively warm up the lifter without tiring him out prior to his work sets.
Since you are literally trying to warm up your muscles before lifting, cold weather may result in you needing more time to warm-up. Try warming up by wearing a hoody and keeping it on until you start sweating.
About Mobility Work
I try to keep the amount of work I do before lifting to a minimum aside from bench prsesing. I keep stretching to a minimum just because it really is not necessary priro to lifting. It is much more effective in my opinion to warm up thoroughly on whatever your first lift is and then stretching as soon as you are finished lifting (while you are still warm).
If you want to a good warm up for the bench press, be sure to warm-up with the bar for a lot of reps, and slowly increase the weight as you work up to your top sets. This will reduce injury risk and increase the amount of weight you can bench press!