Advanced bench training techniques
By Steve Lousich NZPF President, Best Bench 250.5 Kg @110kg Bodyweight
In the last article I talked about the exercises that help develop the strength for training the bench as well as the process the body goes through during the lift and what to focus on.
In this article I want to concentrate on the set up, the shirts and the forces involved.
The Set Up
If you watch a big bench presser preparing for a lift they will sometimes spend 20-30 seconds getting prepared before asking for the bar. Beside the mental preparation the following techniques will help.
1. Your placement on the bench. The rules state the bar can be lifted out to arms length. You should place your self as far down the bench, whilst still able to put your hands around the bar. This means you won’t clip the rack on your press out phase which is distracting to put it mildly.
2. Feet. Your feet should be taking a lot of the load when benching. Focus on pushing through to your feet when benching, and therefore the placement of the feet is critical. Place your feet at 45 deg to the bench to maximize horizontal and lateral stability, and then push your body on to your feet. This will help your feet from slipping as well as help you get a good arch. Use squat shoes to bench in, they give you better leverage for the set up.
3. When you exert force to press the bar, an equal and opposite force is exerted back on your arms (Newton!). The idea is to distribute this force equally and stop errors like uneven extension affecting your lift.
4. Hands. The rules state you must use the wrap around method when gripping the bar, but placement of the hands is quite critical as it determines the muscles you will use. A narrow grip while focus on tri-ceps, lats and shoulders, whereas a wider grip brings the pecs in to play and places more strain on the shoulders, particularly the rotator cuffs. Try different grip widths, it will depend on your physical anatomy which suits, as well as the type of shirt you are using.
5. Whatever your grip width is, make sure that at the narrowest grip your forearms at the bottom of the press are at right angles to the floor from what ever view. This will give you the best leverage.
1. Over the past 10 years, we have seen a huge change in the design of the shirts, not to mention the poundage’s lifted. Most lifters who have been in the sport this long can testify to the gains they make.
2. Which shirt? Once again this is a trial and error situation. Some lifters, like myself, find the Fury/F6 the best for me. Some use the Phenom/Rage/Rage X.
3. Your decision on which shirt to use can depend on if you have a narrow grip or wide, a big arch or none, whether you press straight up or slightly back and so on.
4. When putting a shirt on use some talc or fabric/plastic sleeves especially around the arms. Depending on the shirt make sure the seams are in line with the elbow joint. Get the shirt as far up the arms as possible before putting over your head. Use rubber grippy gardening gloves to help move the shirt up your arms. Get your helper to grab the shirt behind the shoulders and make swimming or punching like motions away from them while they hang on to it. Once on (and especially with new shirts) dampen the seams to help elasticize the shirt which will dry out later for the competition. If you need to wear a soft suit, get your helper to reach under the soft suit and pull both side of the suit down before each attempt whilst another helper locks the belt in place to stop the shirt riding up. I personally am not a great favourite of changing shirts in the middle of a meet. It puts time pressure on the lifter and can lead to a shirt being put on incorrectly in haste. Only if you have a lot of help, should you try this.
5. Wrist wraps- using wrist wraps helps keep the wrist straight up, so the line of force through your wrist down through the forearm is centralized.
6. This then brings us to starting attempts. With the new design of shirts you have an interesting dilemma. Start too low and you can’t get the shirt to your shirt leading to sloppy attempts, or start too high and miss it altogether. Too many times I have seen lifters miss their first and sometime second attempt due to a wrong choice for starting. The best thing to do is have a pre- competition before the real one and go up in your attempts until you can get a nice, tidy successful attempt which you can bring down, pause and press comfortably. Not what you have board pressed in training, but a full benchpress. Get some one to call you for the pause and give you a critical decision. On the day, you must get your first attempt in. When training practice the pause.
The sweet spot
1. How many times have we seen a lifter struggle with his or her first attempt, see it go up or not go up in a shaky fashion, and be all over the place, only to watch them blast the next one as if they could do 3 reps on it? Often lifters exceed their set limits on days like this.
2. The difference is the placement of the bar on the chest and the line it follows as you press it. This is a very narrow band of movement; called the ‘groove’ and when you hit it right in the middle you have hit the ‘sweet spot’. Any tiny deviation means the all the forces in the bench movement will work against you and cause the bar to move unpredictably. Getting it right and all the forces are distributed evenly and the lift can be effortless.
3. Depending on the lifters physical shape the sweet spot varies in location but usually is around nipple high in the chest. The press is virtually straight up or maybe slightly back towards the head.
Even with all these things going right the bench is a hard beast to get right and then even harder to make improvements on. If you miss a bench, remember where you lost it (i.e. on the chest or part way up, uneven extension or heaving etc) and train on these weak points. Unfortunately you will get to a point where no matter what you do, you can’t seem to go further. This is what’s known as ‘hitting the wall’. It’s a state we all get and may last for years when all of a sudden you jump significantly and seemly for no reason. What’s happen is you have kept training and persevering and have improved. If you drew a graph of your bench improvements it would not go up in a steady nice even line, more like a stretched staircase.
Good luck and keep hard at it!