If you like to bench press, you probably also like to assess your strength on occasion with a one-rep max test or perhaps go slightly lighter and find a three- or five-rep max. But one of the most well-known bench-press tests — the 225 test elite football players take at the NFL Scouting Combine and pro-day workouts leading up to the NFL Draft — requires going even lighter, assuming you have a decent level of strength. The objective is to do two plates on each side of the bar (225 pounds) as many times as possible without racking the weight. It’s a simple test, but it also can provide a new goal to train for to keep things fresh. And there’s no reason it has to be reserved for football players only. Give it a try yourself.
The first thing to do: Following a proper warm-up, see how many times you can bench-press 225 pounds, repping out to absolute failure. The last rep you can do on your own with zero assistance is your “score” (i.e., six reps, 11 reps, 23, whatever). Always use a spotter when testing max reps — no exceptions. Write down your score, plan to test again in a month or two, and in the meantime, heed these tips from Fred Duncan, a personal trainer and manager at New York Sports Center in East Amherst, N.Y., and former strength-and-conditioning coach to NFL hopefuls preparing for the Combine.
BE STRONG: Some people feel the 225 test is a measure of muscular endurance. Duncan disagrees. “It’s much more of a strength test,” he says. “You should try to make 225 pounds feel as light as possible; you do this by making it a lesser percent of your one-rep max. When athletes are timed in this event, it rarely ever goes past 45 seconds, and a lot of guys don’t even go that long.”
Duncan’s preferred rep range for bench workouts is one to five, and he’s a big fan of submaximal sets (using anywhere between 50 to 70 percent of your 1RM and stopping short of failure) to keep the muscles and nervous system fresh.
VARY YOUR LIFTS: The standard bench press isn’t the only exercise you should be focusing on. Duncan believes in using a number of barbell pressing variations — namely floor presses, board presses, and incline and close-grip presses — as well as accessory exercises like explosive medicine-ball throws, triceps extensions and heavy rows for the back.
Here’s an example of how Duncan has trained athletes leading up to the 225 test: “For bench days, Week One they did floor presses submaximally for three to six sets of two to five reps, leaving one to two reps in the tank. Week Two we went from an abbreviated range of motion (floor press) to full range of motion (incline bench presses with chains) at 50 to 60 percent of 1RM for around three sets of six to eight reps. Week Three we moved to a board press for three to five sets of two to five reps, leaving one to two reps in the tank. Then every fourth week, we’d de-load to ensure the central nervous system recovered.”
DOUBLE UP: “If an average Joe is looking to up his bench,” Duncan says, “I’d go with benching two days a week, with Tuesday as a max-effort bench day (floor press, board press, incline bench), followed by an assistance exercise for chest [like dumbbell presses, for example]. Friday would be
dynamic-effort bench press, and this is also when you would use bands or chains. An example of dynamic-effort bench would be eight sets of three reps, moving the bar as fast as possible and using around 55 percent of your 1RM.”
In case you’re wondering, the best performance in the 225 test at the 2014 Combine was 42 reps by 310-pound offensive lineman Russell Bodine. That’s a ton of reps, so don’t feel bad when you get nowhere near that. If it makes you feel better, a dozen or so players got fewer than 10 reps at the Combine, and many skipped the test altogether. <