Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Bench Press - Charles A. Smith

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The Bench Press
by Charles A. Smith (1951)


Centuries hence, the weight lifting authorities of the future will attempt to write a history of our sport. They will begin by determining the origin of the barbell. They will trace the rise of the game from those dim, dawn years, and approach its dark ages. They will see freaks, mountains of blubber who hoisted ponderous poundages and downed equally ponderous quantities o food and drink. They will see the Renaissance of the sport, the era which opened with Eugene Sandow, they will observe the momentary setback it received with the coming of World War I, and they will note the steady recovery in the middle twenties and thirties. Figures, dim and forgotten will pass across the scene, with giants like Alan Calvert, Henry Steinborn, Mark Berry, George Jowett and Joe Hise.

The age of American supremacy will approach and remain for a while, and then wane, only to recover again as the Strength Athletes of America and England battle it out for world titles. The brief reign of Egypt and Russia will pass, as a meteor lights the skies momentarily, leaving only the memory of the brightness that once was there. These future historians will point to that era between the twenties and thirties and say, “Here is where the golden age of American strength athletics was conceived.”

There will be queer types of apparatus in the World History of Weight Training. These will be considered, their value determined and put in its proper place in the weight lifting scheme of things . . . and from all the welter of freak machines and “get-powerful-quick” contraptions will emerge apart from the barbell itself, the most important pieces of apparatus which have contributed to the success of the game as a whole and the lifters as individuals. These pieces of apparatus I see clearly as I gaze into my crystal ball . . . There are deep knee bend stands. There is the dead lift hopper and the Harvey Maxime bar, and along with them will be all forms of the exercise bench.

Then the weightlifting historians will ask, “What are the most important weightlifting and bodybuilding exercises since the beginning of barbell training,” and once more, glancing at the equipment they have already pronounced as foremost, they will say, “deep knee bends of all kinds, the many forms of dead lifts and BENCH PRESSES are the most important exercises since the game was born.”

You doubt me? I hardly think you do! No schedule is worth a damn these days, or any other days, unless it included some form of squatting or dead lifting and one of the many types of bench presses. Exactly who was responsible for performing presses on a bench, it would be hard to determine. a form of the apparatus (a box) appeared in the books of Alan Calvert and Mark Berry. The exercise in its basic form was used in England as long ago as 1934, by Joe and Bert Assirati and myself, altho I would make it clear that we DO NOT claim its origination in that country, for it is possible that it was used before us, and I fully expect some “expert” to cry, “Why, I used that in 1902.”

It is a wonderful exercise, this bench press. Never before has a muscle movement appeared that produced such results, such bulk and power, such thickness of muscle AND such definition of deltoids, triceps and pectorals.

Pseudo “physique” scientists have tried to tell us that the bench press is a bad influence on standing presses, that it created an adverse “development” of the pectoral muscles so that Olympic pressing was difficult. The genuine seeker after weight training truth, men like John Davis, Doug Hepburn and Marvin Eder, have PROVED on their own persons and IN their individual performances that the contention by the “know-it-alls” is a load of BULL. Forgive my basic English.

Now, this is the one lift, enjoying a tremendous popularity, producing equally tremendous results in strength and development, that does NOT have any rules governing its performance. You hear all sorts of people speak glibly of this and that record in the bench press when it isn’t recognized ANYWHERE in the WORLD as a COMPETITION lift, and there is not a single rule to say which bench press is correct and which one isn’t. One can only say that, at present, it is an EXERCISE and the greatest poundage they have ever heard of is so-and-so’s bench press of . . . 430, like that of Doug Hepburn, who made this enormous poundage by pressing it off his chest . . . of 410 by Marvin Eder, or 400 by Reg Park, or 415 by Danny Prata.

You will hear all sorts of arguments about how it should be done and how it shouldn’t. It is the popular opinion that a bench press can be dropped from arms’ length, bounced off the chest, and heaved to arms’ length again, the drop, the bounce, the heave of the upper body and arching of the back, for some ridiculous reason being considered as a PRESS. Why? It isn’t.

There is only one way to perform a bench press . . . that is to hold the weight on the chest for a count of two seconds and press it from there. This lift should known as the two hands MILITARY bench press. The best bench pressers I have ever seen are . . . Doug Hepburn . . . John Davis and Marvin Eder, who all press the weight strictly. Hepburn and Davis start their bench presses from a position where the bar itself is ACTUALLY RESTING ACROSS and on the chest. Young Marvin Eder lowers the weight from arms length overhead, makes a distinct pause as the bar touches the chest, and THEN presses it to arms’ length again. There is not the slightest doubt in MY mind that these three men are the world’s greatest bench press performers. And it’s no slur on the performances of other prominent strength athletes. Here is my version of rules for the


Two Hand Military Bench Press

The lifter shall lie at full length on a bench. The weight (barbell) can be lifted to arms’ length so the lifter can take his grip. It shall then be lowered to the chest of the lifter where it must remain for a period of two seconds. The referee shall signal the start of the lift by a hand clap. When the weight is pressed to arms’ length, the signal to lower the weight, of for the leaders to take it from the lifter shall be another hand clap by the referee.

Causes for disqualification. Any contact with the floor by a part of the lifter’s body. Any arching of the back or heaving of the chest. At all times during the lift the feet and legs must be kept together and the knees locked. Any uneven pressing or failure to lock out elbows, or beating the referee’s hand clap is also cause for disqualification.

In this lift, the fundamental principle to observe is that the weight shall be PRESSED steadily to arms’ length without any sudden starting or heaving of the body. Width of grip is optional.

Any other form of bench press or any lift that departs from the above rules is, in my opinion, a CONTINENTAL VERSION (loose style) of the exercise or, as it is now, a lift.


The assistance exercises that follow can be used either as body building movements, or a specialization schedule for the upper body and shoulders; also as a schedule to use AFTER you have practiced the lift itself. For the purposes of building up your limit, a series of 3 reps for 10 sets with a poundage 80-85% of your best lift will be found to provide the necessary drive that takes near limit poundages past that sticking point and to a successful conclusion.

Exercise 1.) Any movement that builds up triceps power is a good one to practice, and any exercise that also activates the deltoids and pectorals is just as beneficial. Parallel Bar Dips are GREAT for packing the triceps muscles with power. The exercise is a great favorite of Marvin Eder’s. Until you get used to the movement don’t use any added resistance to that of your own bodyweight. Start each dip from a low position and keep the body upright. Press up and return to that bottom position with a DISTINCT pause between each rep. Use 3 sets of 7 reps working up to 3 sets of 15. When you tie weight onto yourself, place it around the waist, and let the discs hang at your BACK.

Exercise 2.) Power Presses. The main value of this exercise is psychological. Of course it strongly affects the “locking out” muscles too. Place a barbell on two strong boxes. The bar should be of such a height that your arms have only 3” to go before they are straight. Lie under the bar and take your regular grip. From this position PRESS the weight out and then lower it as SLOWLY as possible to the commencing position again. Start off with a poundage equal to your BEST bench press. Use this for 4 sets of 5 reps until you are used to the movement and then immediately step up the weight by 20 lbs. Start off with 4 sets of 5 reps working up to 4 sets of 10 before increasing the exercising poundage.

Exercise 3.) An equal pressing power in each arm is essential. If one arm lags behind the other in the bench press, especially when heavy poundages are being used, there is a likelihood of losing control of the weight and a grave risk of muscle injury. Dumbell bench presses are great for developing control and pressing power. First, determine which arm is stronger. If you can make 10 reps with, say, 80 pounds with the right arm and only 8 reps with the left, then lower your starting poundage to one which will enable you to make an equal number of repetitions with each arm. Start off with a pair of dumbells at arms’ length over the chest. Lower them slowly until they are level with the chest and then press them together to commencing position. Don’t pause between repetitions but follow one rep immediately after the other. Your commencing poundage should be one which will enable you to perform 4 sets of 5 reps, working up to 4 sets of 12 reps before adding weight.

Exercise 4.) Anterior deltoid power is another important factor in successful bench pressing. Any pushing movements will build up pressing power. Dipping exercises in various forms will help you increase your bench press poundage. You are already using parallel bar dips, now here is a version of the Floor Dip which will increase considerably your anterior and lateral strength. The illustration shows you how these dips are to be done. There should be a slight DOWNWARD slope from the feet, where they rest on the box, to the shoulders. The hands are of course resting on the floor and the resistance in the form of bodyweight and a barbell plate. The plate is kept in place by the back of the head which is held UP. Perform each dip STEADILY, as the body is pressed up to arms’ length from the floor, going to lockout of the elbows. Start off with 3 sets of 6 reps working up to 3 sets of 15 reps before using any resistance in addition to bodyweight. If you can perform 3 x 15 with bodyweight alone, then obviously more resistance is needed and you can start out at once with that barbell plate back of the neck.

Exercise 5.) Starting a barbell off the chest for the press to arms’ length, a man must have powerful deltoid thrust to get it to the position where the triceps take over, with no lag or interval. In other words as the force of the deltoids expends itself, the triceps should be immediately ready to continue carrying the weight on its way. All too often, the weight slows up and the triceps are unable to keep it going . . . the sticking point. Here is an exercise to build up overall deltoid power. Take the widest possible grip on the bar. The hands should be touching the collars as it is held at arms’ length. Lower it slowly and under control at all times. DON’T lower it to the chest but go down as far as possible until it BARELY touches the chin or throat. From here, press it to arms’ length again, pause for a slow count of two, then repeat the lowering and press. Use a weight you can handle for 4 sets of 8 reps and work up to 4 sets of 15 before increasing the exercise poundage.

Don’t forget to keep these movements as strict as possible. A bench press is not an exercise accomplished with the aid of a sudden drop, an equally sudden bounce off the cheat, a heaving of the body and arching of the back and wriggling of the entire physique . . . to paraphrase Gertrude Stein . . . A PRESS IS A PRESS IS A PRESS.

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