The YMCA bench press test is a multiple joint assessment of upper body muscular endurance (1).
BENEFITS OF THE ASSESSMENT
The YMCA bench press test is relatively easy to administer, avoids the use of maximal loads, is safe, is responsive to changes in fitness over time, and can be used for predicting one-repetition maximum (1RM) bench press strength in novice and recreationally trained men and women (2–4).
The bench press, a multi-joint pushing exercise used for developing strength, power, and endurance in chest, anterior shoulder, and elbow extensor muscles, is also one of the three lifts performed in the sport of competitive powerlifting (5–7). The 1RM test is considered a valid assessment of maximal bench press strength and requires the lifter to push a maximally loaded barbell off their chest from a pause to a fully extended elbow position at approximately eyebrow level (5–7). The 1RM test requires multiple trials interspersed with relatively long rest and recovery periods between lifting trials (typically between 3 and 5 minutes) to determine maximal strength (6). A number of field-based tests have been validated as surrogate or proxy measures for predicting 1RM bench press strength from the performance of multiple repetitions with submaximal loads for multiple populations with varying training histories (3–6,8–14). The use of single trials and the avoidance of maximal weight loads make the YMCA bench press test time efficient and easy to administer.
The YMCA bench press test is a standardized, field-based assessment of local upper body muscular endurance and can be an alternative to the push-up test for individuals interested in using free weights during their workouts. Males and females perform as many bench press repetitions as possible at a standardized cadence of 30 repetitions per minute with 80 pounds and 35 pounds, respectively. A metronome is set at 60 clicks per minute to ensure that the bar is either completing the downward or upward phases of each repetition on a click (two clicks equal one repetition cycle). Results of the test are compared with norm tables designed by the YMCA for individuals 18 years and older (1). The fixed weights and barbell favor larger, stronger individuals and might disadvantage older deconditioned clients (1). Results of the YMCA bench press test can help guide program design and help monitor improvements in fitness over time. The phases of the YMCA bench press test are depicted in Figure 1.
The required equipment includes a training bench with safety rack supports, a barbell with lightweight safety collars, weight plates, and a metronome (a metronome app also is sufficient).
PRIMARY MUSCLES ASSESSED
The YMCA bench press test assesses the local endurance of the pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, serratus anterior, pectoralis minor, coracobrachialis, latissimus dorsi, and triceps brachii (7,15). Figure 2 depicts the primary muscles assessed during the YMCA bench press test.
Use an 80-pound or a 35-pound bar with weightless safety collars for men and women, respectively. Set the metronome at 60 clicks per minute. Subjects should lie supine on the bench with their head, shoulders, and hips supported firmly on the bench and their feet resting at shoulder width on the floor. This position should be maintained throughout the test. They should not arch their back, lift their head off the bench, or bounce the bar off their chest. A pronated, slightly wider than shoulder-width grip should be used. The spotter assists the client with the liftoff and uses an alternating grip so that the bar rests above the client at eyebrow level. The bar is lowered to the rhythm of the metronome until it touches the chest. Begin the test with the bar resting on the chest with elbows flexed and hands spread slightly wider than shoulder width. Repetitions are counted after the bar has been successfully lifted through the full range of motion from the chest. Up and down movements must be completed in time to the 60 click per minute cadence (corresponds to a rate of 30 lifts per minute). The test is terminated when proper lifting technique, full range of motion, or cadence cannot be maintained or if the client requests to stop (1). The number of successful repetitions is compared with the age cohort–related norms (1). Clients are encouraged to exhale during the pushing or upward phase of each repetition.
SPOTTING AND SAFETY TIPS
To enhance safety and effective learning, lifters unfamiliar with performing the barbell bench press should use either unloaded or lightly loaded bars to learn how to balance the bar and develop the right body position and proper exercise technique. Clients should be screened for and free of musculoskeletal injuries before performing the YMCA bench press test and demonstrate proper technique and control before performing it. During the bench press test, the spotter should maintain an upright stance and be very close to the head of the bench without distracting the client. They should place their feet shoulder-width apart with their knees slightly flexed while grasping the bar with a closed, alternated grip inside the client’s grip. The spotter should assist with moving the bar off the supports at their client’s signal and guide the bar to a position over their client’s chest and release the bar smoothly. Full attention should be given to the client during each repetition and through the entire set. The spotter should keep the hands close to the bar with an alternated grip (one forearm pronated and the other supinated) without touching it and follow the bar path during both the lowering and the upward pushing phases by keeping the torso rigid and upright and by flexing and extending the hips and knees, respectively. The test should be terminated immediately if clients experience pain, discomfort, or sudden weakness in the upper extremity. Weightless safety collars should be used. When finished, the client will signal for assistance in racking (safely returning to the safety rack or supports) the bar. The spotter should maintain their grip of the bar until it is racked. (Please refer to Supplemental Digital Video Content 1, https://links.lww.com/FIT/A148.)
SCORING AND INTERPRETATION
The normative tables for the YMCA bench press test are organized into six age-ranged cohorts, which include 18 to 25, 26 to 35, 36 to 45, 46 to 55, 56 to 65, and 66 years and older for males and 16 to 25, 26 to 35, 36 to 45, 46 to 55, 56 to 65, and 65 years and older for females (1). An electronic scoring calculator based on the norms for the YMCA bench press test is available (2) (http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/YBenchPress.html).
Common errors include lifting the buttocks and head off the bench, failure to fully extend the elbows, holding of breath, and inability to maintain the proper lifting cadence (not keeping up with the metronome) (1).
Equations for predicting 1RM bench press strength from the results of the YMCA bench press test have been developed for novice, college-aged males and females 22 to 32 years old (3).
The YMCA bench press test is a time-efficient, safe assessment of local upper body muscle endurance and serves as an alternative to the push-up test for persons interested in beginning a free weight training program.
1. YMCA of the USA. YMCA Fitness Testing and Assessment Manual
. Golding LA, editor. 4th ed. Champaign (IL): Human Kinetics; 2000.
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Exercise Prescription on the Net. [cited 2020 June 30]. Available from: http://www.exrx.net/Calculators/YBenchPress.html