Upper Body Strength for Women
by Tracy Zimmer
In the short time that I’ve been lifting, I have made some pretty remarkable gains. I’m currently training for a bodybuilding competition, and the split I’m doing consist of lifting 4 days a week. I still train heavy on the basic lifts—just about every workout is a PR. The strength gains I’ve made on my squat and deadlift are crazy, but they are also my 2 favorite lifts. The bench press is a lot less exciting for me and in general, I’d say most women don’t have the desire to have strong and especially not muscular upper body’s. On chest days, Steel has had me do a lot of dumbbell or barbell incline work, flyes, and some sets to failure with forced reps on machines. Every once in a while I would finish with flat bench using a light weight, maybe 100 pounds, and go to failure. Without benching consistently, I couldn’t even guess where I would be in terms of a one rep max. My best bench was 155 for 6 singles during a workout almost a year ago when I was training for a powerlifting competition. Last week Steel told me to bench heavy for sets of 6, starting with 95lbs. The workout progressed like this: 95x6, 115x6, 135x6, 155x6, 160x6, 160x10. I weigh somewhere around 150, and thinking that I basically benched my body weight for 10 reps is awesome.
With benching so infrequently, I’d have to say the strength gains are a result of the volume of incline and shoulder work I’ve done. Any incline and pressing incorporates the triceps a lot—which really help the lockout on bench—and mine have gotten much stronger as a result. On shoulder days Steel has me do dips, pushdowns, or barbell or dumbbell tricep extensions, usually beyond failure training because at this point my arms are fried. Looking back, it seems like I’ve hardly done any pre-exhaust on chest days which allowsme to train using heavier weight, whether the workout calls for dumbbells or a barbell.
I don’t typically get excited to bench, but soon I hope to hit 200.
Tracy is Assistant Stength Coach at the University of Pennsylvania. She is 23 years old and holds the USAPL PA state squat record in the 148lb class with a lift of 402 lbs. She is currently training for a bodybuilding show.