3 Ways To Bench Press Safely When You’re Training Alone

Asif wonders if it’s a good idea to Bench Press with free weights when you’re training alone, or if it’s safer to Bench on machines. Quote…

Hi Mehdi,

How are you ? Hope you doing well. I’d like thank for your support. I really like your blogs because they keep me motivated. I religiously check your website everyday.

I have just started your SL5x5 program and completed 2 days of worked. Just curious if I can do bench press on the machine. I work out alone and wonder  if can set proper weight on the machine. I have  cybex gym in my house. I want to do bench press on machine due to safety issue. What weight should I set and increase on machine bench press based on your SL5x5 program. I don’t know if it going to work out but your suggestion is appreciated.

Thanks
Asif

Bench Pressing on machines is better than doing nothing, but not ideal. I did a lot of Benching inside the smith and on that vertical chest press machine from 1999 to 2004 (the period I trained in a public gym) because that’s what all the other guys did and I didn’t know better. Bench Pressed with free weights too though, the do-7-exercises-on-chest-day-until-sore-and-pumped idiocy.

The big difference between machines and free weights, is that barbells allow for natural movements. When you Bench Press with free weights, you don’t have a perfectly vertical bar path. Yet machines force you into these fixed, unnatural movements. Couple that with heavy weights – crucial because muscle size is directly related to strength gains – and you get shoulder impingement.

So you may not never get stuck with the bar on your chest with machines, but injuring your shoulders you will. On top of that, machines balance the weight for you which is less effective for muscle building, strength gains and fat loss. That’s why I don’t recommend doing StrongLifts 5×5 on machines.

Dumbbells aren’t safe either  – the only way to get them back to the floor if you get stuck with the Dumbbell Bench is by throwing them. The total weight is also always lower than when using Barbells and that means less muscle gains. Heck, Arnold didn’t got big with Dumbbells – he Barbell Benched Pressed 440lb.

Anyway, it’s been my observation that most guys are afraid of things that never happen. I’ve been training alone, in home gym, without spotter, for the majority of the past 7 years. Failed reps on the Bench Press countless of times, got stuck under the bar a lot, but never ended up in the hospital. Here’s 3 powerful tips I’ve found useful to Bench Press safely when training alone…


1. Get a Power Rack.
Power Racks have safety pins to catch the bar if you get stuck under it. Sell that cybex gym on eBay or craiglist, and invest that money in a Power Rack like mine. If you’re one of those cheapskates, build it yourself from scaffold or wood. If you lack space: get Squat Stands and saw horses.

They key is to set the safety pins correctly so you don’t hit them on the way down and mess with your bar path. Bench with your back arched (keep your glutes on the Bench) so when you do get stuck, you just have to suck in your stomach for the bar to rest on the pins. Then simply get under the bar.


2. Stay Away From Failure.
Just stop the set if you think you won’t be able to do another rep. So when you’ve just done 3 reps on set 4 with StrongLifts 5×5 and feel you won’t be able to do Bench the last 2 reps – stop. Give it another go on your 5th set, get as many reps as you can, and stop again when you think you’ll fail. Then try to do better the next time you Bench Press.

There’s only one problem with this method – there’s a difference between what you THINK you can Bench, and what you can ACTUALLY Bench. Safety boosts confidence under the bar – you know you can go all out because nothing can go wrong. But by stopping your sets early without even giving it a try, you’ll often find yourself Benching at lower intensities and thus making slower gains. That’s why I think it’s better to Bench inside a Power Rack and go all out.


3. Do The Roll of Shame.
This is what I do with submaximal weights (meaning, when not going for 1RMs). Basically you just roll the bar to your legs and then Deadlift it. Here’s a video of a Japanese guy over 50y old showing the Roll of Shame Bench Press technique with 264lb. If he can Bench safely like this…

Bench press alone at home what if you failed 120kg(264lb)

Another solution is to Bench Press without collars so the plates can slip to the side and drop off the bar if you get stuck, and so you can tilt the bar to one side and then escape under it. I don’t like this technique though, I think the roll of shame is a lot safer when Benching alone. Your mileage may vary.

If you’re training in a public gym, just ask one of the gym goers to spot you. Heck, ask the gym manager if you’re the only one training at that time because you lift late at night or early in the morning. Nobody is ever going to refuse you a spot, it doesn’t exist. Don’t be concerned if your Bench Press weights are still light, with StrongLifts 5×5 you’re going to surpass the other guys quickly.

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