One-Arm Bench Pressing
Bench Press Training
by Paul Anderson
While bench pressing, a man is first assumed to be resting completely on a horizontal support, giving all of his faith and trust to that support as he lowers the bar from arm’s length to the chest, observes a pause and once again pushes it back to arm’s length. During this movement the successful bench presser is indeed not giving all of his faith and confidence to the horizontal support, but is in a chosen stance, being far from relaxed.
Each individual, staying within the rules of course, should choose his own stance for the bench press. the body should be flat on the surface of the bench and the feet pulled back under the lifter and spread wide enough to be comfortable. The feet should be placed to give each side of the body efficient support. I personally choose to pull my feet back under me as far as possible, and still allow them to stay flat on the floor.
The next move to insure a good bench pressing stance is to try to pull the shoulders toward the hips, in more or less of an arching of the back movement. By getting in this position, making sure that no part of the body is illegally raised from the bench, you are coiled for action. The athlete is not mercilessly wallowing on his support, but is ready to not only lift the weight in the proper, but prepared to overcome any misbalancing effect that may occur while the attempt is being carried out.
If you are a beginner, make sure that you start out with a good bench pressing stance; or on the other hand, if you are a seasoned veteran and feel that you have fallen into a bad position on the bench, reexamine your stance and correct it for maximum effectiveness in the lift.
Just as important as the stance on the bench is the width of a lifter’s grip on the bar. The rules governing the movement provide that the athlete can have his hands 32 inches apart. This means that one would want to adjust his grip from the beginning of the knurling, at the center of the bar, to the maximum width allowed. The 32 inches given seems to be a fair figure for everyone, or at least I have never heard anyone complain about it. Before this rule was made by the A.A.U., after deciding to sanction powerlifting meets and keep records on the same, many lifters used a collar-to-collar grip, and by bouncing the weight on the chest could handle a great poundage. Naturally, when the grip is wider the start from the chest will be weaker but the finish will be stronger.
I had the privilege of being present when the powerlifting rules were being discussed at an A.A.U. convention. I attended to ask for my reinstatement as an amateur, and since I was already there the committee set up to establish the governing regulations for powerlifting asked me to sit in. During this first session I suggested 32 inches for the maximum allowable width of the hands for the bench press. My way of thinking was that if there was going to be a pause at the chest, this was just about as wide a grip as could be successfully used by the lifter if a good start was going to be achieved. My suggestion came up only after the collar-to-collar grip was completely ruled out, and a mandatory pause at the chest was made a regulation.
The way the individual athlete is built has much to do with the grip he should choose for maximum poundage. The wider the grip the more pectoral muscles are used, and as the hand spacing comes in, more of the deltoid and triceps muscle groups are called on to perform. Thus, it is imperative for each individual to experiment with grip spacing and decide the best for his use.
Never decide that one hand spacing is forever. Not only should the beginner find a hand spacing that is more suitable for his build, but also the veteran lifter should occasionally experiment to see if his development has altered any through constant exercises. One may be surprised to see that after months or even years of training some muscle groups have developed faster than others, so a difference in hand spacing could be an advantage.
Whether a person uses a regular thumbs around the bar, or thumbs out position can also be experimented with and a decision made. This too can alter as time goes by, so don’t ever be afraid to experiment a little here. One more consideration is just where he bar should touch the chest at the bottom position. This decision must also be made by the lifter himself. Most feel that the highest point of the chest is the best, but I have always said that wherever the “groove” allows the bar to rest is preferable for a particular lifter. Wherever the natural striking point comes is usually where the bar should remain for the pause at the chest. There are several things that one could consider in getting his bench press into the groove. First, as a rule, the bar is going to travel not only upward but a little backward over the upper part of the chest or lower neck as it proceeds to the lockout position. This is the natural traveling path of the bar, and should be considered as it is driven off the chest. Many maximum lifts are lost when the first thrust allows the bar to travel downward toward the belt line instead of in the natural groove. When the bar goes this way the leverage begins to work against the lifter.
All of these routines I have tried and at one time or the other found them effective. Just how long any lifter stays on one particular routine for one lift must be left strictly up to him. As many of you know, I have always liked to work out every day, using what is commonly known as the split routine. In my powerlifting I have usually done bench presses and the assistance exercises for that lift on one day, and squats and deadlifts and their assistance exercises on the next. Usually taking a day’s layoff after four straight days of workouts.
The number of sets in a routine must be left up to the individual. My recommendation is to start out with one set after warming up properly and then continuing on as the muscles respond and become toned to as many sets as one feels is necessary. One type of personal education that can only be self-taught is when to change from one routine to another. A lifter should never wait until he goes to change the routines in a particular endeavor, but know his body well enough to know when this staleness is approaching and change before his lift stops escalating. Know yourself well, and then you will know when to change to other assistance exercises for the bench press, or in fact for any lift you are trying to strengthen.
Let’s start out with one of my all-time favorite bench press routines, one which is very simple but has always been effective. The first of as many sets as you would like to include starts with a warmup at the bench press and an extra barbell at the foot of your bench. After the warmup do one set of 8’s in the regular bench press, and then immediately turn around on your bench completely reverse from the barbell used for the lift. At this time I like to do heavy breathing along with bent-arm pullovers using the extra barbell placed at the foot of the bench. Have this weight relatively light; let’s say something you could easily do 20 repetitions with. Immediately after you have re-racked your bench press, make a turn on the bench and do a set of 10’s with a light barbell in the bent-arm pullover movement. While doing this exercise take in as much breath as you possibly can as you lower the bar, and exhale after pulling the weight overhead toward the chest.
The 8 bench presses and 10 bent-arm pullovers we will call one set. Repeat this for as many sets as you would like. I usually do about 5 while using this bench press routine. The purpose and results of the bent-arm pullover are several. One is to work the muscle groups that you are using for bench presses. Another is that this is a great ribcage expander, and by doing the heavy breathing when the weight is pulling tremendously at the upper body the rib cage can be expanded, making for a larger chest and more development. By using a lighter weight you should find that while doing this movement you are not only accomplishing the latter, but you are also recovering from the set of 8’s on the bench press.
This is also one of my favorites and has given great results through the years, and as you will notice, like all the others it always includes some type of exercise which we are endeavoring to enhance. I developed a theory years ago that is quite simple and has always proven true. That is, when doing an assistance exercise to increase a particular lift, always include the lift itself in the routine. The reason for this is to continue to coordinate the strength that is being built by the assistance exercises into the lift on which you are really concentrating.
On Routine Two warmup and do one set of heavy bench presses for about three reps. Immediately after the exercise do a set of handstand presses, ranging from 10 to 15. It all depends on just how many you can do. I realize that it can be quite confusing to just say “handstand presses” because there are so many variations of this movement. Allow me at this time to explain what I would like. I have always tried to do these movements in more of a cheating fashion. By putting my feet against the wall (see photos) and going through the movement, my upper body is quite a bit away from the wall itself, allowing me to go into a semi-dip on the lowering portion of the movement. The purpose of this exercise is to carry out the theory that I have been preaching for years, that is, reverse blood flow. Immediately after the handstand presses I have always liked to go back to the bench press for a set of 10s. This will cause some weight changes on the bar, some of the heavier weight you originally did the 3 reps with will have to be removed. The three exercises – bench press set of 3’s, handstand presses (maximum reps up to 15) and the bench press set of 10’s will constitute one complete set. Do as many as you fell will help you, always remembering to start off conservatively. When working on this routine I usually do five complete sets.
Here is one that you probably haven’t tried. Warm up and do ten bench presses with a weight that works you pretty well. Then, take a heavy dumbbell in one hand while on the prone bench. You must distort your bench position a little by moving to one side so that you can grasp one of the uprights or a rack support with the hand not holding the dumbbell. While secure in this position lower the dumbbell into an extreme one-arm bench press position and raise it up again (see photos). When doing this try to almost perform what was once called the flying exercise. By using only one dumbbell and the other hand as a support and helper, you can perform this in a cheating manner and handle great weight. This goes back to one of my original theories of handling the most weight possible on every muscle. You can handle more weight with the one dumbbell than if you had two. Use this movement for about 5 reps with each arm. The more you do it the more weight you can handle even without gaining more strength, because you will gain a little bit more form and more know-how in cheating on it. This will give the side being worked a tremendous amount of strength and so it has done for me. About 3 sets is what I have found works out best – a set constituted of 10 bench presses and 5 one-arm cheating dumbbell benches with each hand.
Since we are talking about the dumbbell on the bench, let’s consider a routine on occasions of just dumbbells. Here we are not deviating from the theory of always doing the exercise that the assistance movements are designed to enhance, because we are doing the bench press movement only with the hands turned palms facing and with a longer stroke. I point out it being a longer movement because the dumbbells will drop lower than a barbell which is restricted by the touching of your chest. On this routine let’s use the heavy and light system, that actually we use on almost everything that we do. Warm up with a light pair of dumbbells, then do 5 reps with heavy ones, then go back to the lighter ones for about 20 reps. I recommend 3 complete sets of this. Once again, repeating, 5 reps with the heavy dumbbells, followed by 20 reps with the lighter ones, which makes one complete set.
The fifth and last routine I will give you is a real killer. I have waited until last because you must be in tremendous condition to do this particular routine. It has to do with the theory of lowering a heavy weight with as much resistance as possible.
Have your spotters take the weight off the rack and hand it to you in a good up position. Then begin to lower the weight to your chest. As you begin your lowering movement have the spotters continue holding each end of the bar so that they can stop the weight along with their other responsibility. The other responsibility is the main one, and that is to bear their weight evenly on the bar mashing down on your resistance steadily. As you pass through a strong point they will have to press a little harder and in the weak points lift up a little bit. The object is not for you to control the weight as it comes down, but to actually be fighting with all your strength at all times as it is pushed down on you. With the weight loaded heavier than you can bench press, your spotters will not have to push down so hard with their own weight and will have better control of what they are doing. As soon as the weight touches the chest the spotters should release it and allow you to push back up on it as much as possible. Each time when reaching the sticking point once again lowering it back to the chest. Do about three reps while the bar is down. At that time let the spotters once again get their grip on the bar and lift it back to arm’s length, repeating their first assignment, pressing the weight back down to your chest. At that time you are to do three more heavy raises off of the chest and turn it back over to them. Three good reps like this is about all that a man in tremendous condition can stand.
The three reps of pushing the bar off the chest is to give a great deal of starting power for your regular bench press. I recommend about 3 sets on this lift, or as you find you personally should do. A set being 10 reps on the bench press and 3 (or as you would like) on the heavy lowering and raising movement.
Have your spotters practice with you using a lighter weight before attempting the heavier ones. By doing this they can get themselves coordinated, and learn where your strong and weak points in the lift are.
Here I have given you five of the greatest routines that I have ever worked up. Some of them you have possibly done before, or at least variations of them. Others may be new to you. I would personally think that it would take about a year to go through all of them, and you may use each of them for the period of time that you think is necessary. As I have said before, everyone is an individual, and one of the main things you should know is when you are about to go stale and should switch from one routine to another.