Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bench Press, Part Six

Bench Press, Part Six

2.7 - The Sequence of Bar Movements Used in Raising the Bar

The differences in bar path used by the expert and novice bench press groups were found to be even more extensive than the horizontal shift of one relative to the other (as discussed in the previous section). The angles used to define the motion of the additional bar from instant to instant during the bench press provided additional insights into the lift. (Please refer to Figures 2 and 3 and especially Figures 10 and 11 of the last section). Note in Figure 11, in particular, the differences between groups for 3 (circled) and 4 (circled). The light expert group (as shown in Figure 11) moved the bar off the chest at an average angle of 60.3 degrees with the horizontal, while the novice subjects average 84.4 degrees for this same angle 3 (circled). This difference in angle was very significant statistically, and raises an interesting question. Does this rapid movement of the bar right off the chest (toward the head) serve to increase the capacity for force exertion when the bar is at the sticking point (by reducing the moment at the shoulder required to generate that force)? Note also in Figure 11 that 4 (circled) results are analogous to 3 circled. Table 7 presents this angular data on heavy expert lifters (from references 7 and 9, Section 1.4).

As shown in Table 7, he heavy expert group has a similar trend regarding the sequence of bar movements to that shown by the light experts. It is important to remember that the significance of the differences for 3 (circled), as well as 4 (circled), between expert and novice groups is magnified when you consider that this marked push toward the head occurs right off the chest (before the bar is but a few inches up!). The important point to remember here is to quickly begin the push of the bar horizontally toward the head right as the bar is first pushed off the chest. To not do so will result in a path not unlike the novice group. I am not saying that one should follow a specific angle off the chest, but rather that every bench presser needs to push MORE toward the head immediately off the chest. It was interesting to note that world class bench pressers I analyzed over time decreases 3 (circled) and 4 (circled) over the years as their lifts increased.

A final point of interest regarding the bench press and competition. It seems possible that a lot of lifters may forget about their technique in competition (or with new personal record attempts in the bench press) and mistakenly push up more than they normally would. From experience, I often find myself thinking more about "blasting" a record bench press weight off my chest than about following a better bar path. When any lifter in this situation sacrifices his technique and "blasts" the bar off the chest his path mimics more the one in Figure 11 for novices, and typically may result in a failed lift. Like in all sports, technique is actually MORE important in maximal, competitive situations. So, try to remember to follow the sort of bar path we've discussed when you're on the platform. It should help.

2.8 - Grip Spacing

In addition to bar path, two factors must be specified to completely describe the bench press technique. The first is hand position on the bar (i.e. grip spacing). The second is the rotation of the forearm and upper arm about an axis through the shoulder and the hand (which will be discussed in the next section, 2.9).

Any bench presser should increase the distance between his hands to further enhance his performance. Although expert lifters demonstrated no significant differences in upper body length relative to the novice lifters, their finishing bar position was significantly closer to the shoulder. The normalized average heights above the shoulder were 0.923 meters and 0.794 meters for the novices and light experts respectively (reference 7, section 1.4). If arm length is proportional to to body length this could occur only if the competitive lifter's hands were placed further apart on the bar than were the novice's. The benefit associated with the increased hand spacing is to help compensate for the increased tricep involvement required by the optimum path described earlier. If the bar is held fixed and the hands moved outward, the elbow moves closer to a vertical line through the bar. This motion reduces the elbow extension movement required. The required tricep involvement is correspondingly decreased. The lifter could conceivably reduce the shoulder torque requirements without affecting the elbow torque requirements by modifying his bar path and hand spacing in a coordinated fashion.

The large expert bench pressers also used grip spacings significantly wider than the novices and analogous to the light experts. For these larger lifters the mechanics of the bench press are affected b the rules of powerlifting. When a very tall individual bench presses competitively, the 32 inch grip width limit works against him since a wider grip would be more advantageous. For very big bench pressers this limit on width roughly approximates a smaller lifter having to "close-grip" his bench presses! Perhaps the rules on grip width can someday be amended to be proportional to shoulder width, height, etc.

As I have just mentioned, yes - I have said here that a wide grip is optimal for bench pressing. My major reasons for supporting this view came from a study that I did with Dr. Nels Madsen back in 1982 (reference 6, Section 1.4). We did a three-dimensional analysis of yours truly performing three types of bench press: (1) wide grip (31 inch), hitting high on chest; (2) wide grip (32 inch), hitting low on chest; and (3) narrow grip (shoulder width - 20 inch), hitting high on chest. (NOTE: the grip spacings here are the distances between index fingers (as in rules), and "low" on chest was base of pectoralis major and "high" on chest was 2 inches above that toward the head). A three-dimensional cinematographical analysis was performed as I did single lifts with 300 pounds using all three styles. In addition, a simplified musculoskeletal modeling approach was used, incorporating the pectoralis major (chest), anterior deltoid (shoulder), and triceps (arm) muscles. These three muscles are by far the major muscles involved in the bench press. Markers on the body and bar were used to track the arm and bar in space during my lifts. Forces required in these muscles to successfully perform the lifts were calculated in several ways using optimization techniques. However, of greatest importance here was the prediction of the maximum force that I could have exerted at my sticking point (or how much I could have maximally bench pressed using each style). We used a variation of the work equation for a fixed direction here, and predicted that I would be strongest in the wide grip styles by about 10 to 23%.

There are several final comments I'd like to make before we leave grip spacing:

1.) As anyone proficient in bench pressing knows, a little change in grip width can cause significant changes in muscle involvement. A wide grip involves the pectoralis major (chest) and the triceps (arm) less, and a close grip does the reverse. The largest muscle by mass involved in the bench press is the chest and it is logical to involve it more, using a wide grip, to lift ultimate weights.

2.) I find that those top bench pressers using narrow grips are few and far between, and more often than not they use a narrow grip because of a former pectoralis injury.

3.) From a mechanical work perspective, the wider the grip the less the distance required to push the bar to completion (and less work required as well). Bench pressers who break world records are typically endowed with (or have well-developed) large chests and short arms. Coupled with a wide grip these people are terrors in competition when when bench press time comes around.

4.) Obviously, a few people can excel in bench pressing with narrower grips, but just think what they could do with a wide grip if they gave it some time. It is important to realize here that narrow grip benchers are tricep and deltoid strong and pectoralis major weak. When switching to a wide grip it is necessary to give yourself some time to get the chest up to par (and for a while your maximum lift will possibly be less with a wide than narrow grip). It just takes some time.

2.9 - Angling of the Arms

The ideal arm position during the bench press is difficult to determine from a two-dimensional analysis. The necessary three-dimensional studies to determine this are presently underway. If the hand is fixed on the bar (which it is) and the bar is not allowed to move, there is still one degree of freedom in positioning of the arms. This freedom is equivalent to a rotation of the arm about an axis (or line) through the hand and shoulder. The range of motion of the rotation during a bench press is small, but critical. The location of the end of the bar and the shoulder cannot be used to determine the position of the elbow. Investigation of the optimal arm orientation during a lift awaits more three dimensional kinematic studies of the bench press.

The angle I have defined is most easily seen (Figure 12) at its maximum position, when the elbows have rotated as far as possible toward the shoulders. From my film studies I have found this to be the final position of nearly every bench presser who MISSES a lift. This also happens to occur at the (guess where) sticking point. What's really funny about this is that any hope of pushing the bar through the sticking point is dashed when the arms rotate to this position. Since the hands can't move outward along the bar, there is little the triceps can do here in extension. Also, the anterior deltoid is largely ineffective by this point, and the pectoralis major is also not at the greatest leverage here either. It would be better to rotate in the other direction (elbows more towards sides) to at least put the arm in a position where the tricep could help more.

This brings up an interesting point, that rotating the arms here is a very crucial timing skill. The narrower your grip also the more critical it is since a narrower grip shortens the pectoralis major and thus makes it less of a contributor to bench press force production (since the shorter a muscle the less force it can generate). Ever notice that the narrow grip bench press specialists have tremendous trouble locking out at the top? With this grip, once they rotate themselves out (as in Figure 12) there is even less help possible from the chest to lock the lift out. I have seen this in Kazmaier and others, and we also showed it in my narrow grip style lift in our three-dimensional study (reference 6, section 1.4). The triceps kill you once you rotate out. Narrow grip benchers and probably ALL bench pressers need to avoid this maximm rotation position until the lift's completion. It will be fun to explore this further and somday show how this rotation should be performed optimally in the bench press.

2.10 - Torques About the Shoulder

A torque (or moment) is a measure of the effect of a force to produce rotation, the "turning effect" of a force, if you will. It is the product of the force multiplied by the perpendicular distance from that force to the point of rotation. An approximation of the total three-dimensional torque required at the shoulder during bench presses was obtained by calculating the moment of the force exerted on the bar about the shoulder (references 7 and 9, section 1.4) All torques calculated i this way are two-dimensional approximations of the net torque actually acting on the shoulders .These torques are due to the total force provided by the lifter (i.e., both arms are included). This is felt to be a good approximation of the total torque about the shoulder, since our three-dimensional data showed this was by far the largest component of the total torque.

Despite the enormous difference in the forces applied to the bar by the light experts versus the novice bench pressers (reference 7, section 1.4), the shoulder torques (whether normalized or not) required by the two bar paths showed no significant differences at any of the characteristic instants (see, for example, Figure 11). In fact, at the sticking point the torque required by the novice lifters was actually less than that required by the light expert lifters was actually less than that required by the novice lifters (see Table 8). Torque requirements were typically of the magnitude of 200 NM for the light experts and novices, as shown in Table 8.

The light experts' path has allowed them to lift 79% more weight without increasing the torque at the shoulder their musculature is required to generate. The large horizontal component of the bar motion as it leaves the chest moves the bar considerably closer to the shoulder when the sticking point is reached. The torque required to prevent the force decrease associated with the sticking point is reduced to a level attainable even in this "worst" configuration. Although the change in bar path may place the muscles crossing the shoulder joint in a position of reduced mechanical advantage, the drastic reduction in torque required would seem to more than compensate. In light of the moment it can produce at a joint or joints, as shown here it is probable that differences in kinematics play a significant role in determining differences in performance between groups.

When heavier expert subjects were later analyzed (reference 9, section 1.4), it was discovered that the torques produced at the shoulder were larger than for the light experts and novices. A look at Table 8 shows that at all positions evaluated they are about twice as large as the the values reported for the two lighter groups. The heavier group did lift 30% more weight and had upper body lengths 9% larger than the light experts (.508 meters versus .466 meters). If geometrically and temporally identical identical bench press techniques were used by all groups, then an increase in torque of 42% would be expected for the heavier lifters. Obviously, a much greater increase occurred. For some unknown reason the larger lifters positioned the bar farther away from their shoulder, relative to their upper body size, than did the smaller lifters. What may explain this unexpectedly great increase is the restriction in grip spacing to a maximum of 32 inches, which may prevent the larger lifters from maintaining geometric similarity with the smaller lifters. With a narrower (relative to their body size) grip the larger lifters are faced with a choice of either increasing moment at the elbow by increasing elbow flexion or of increasing increasing shoulder torque by moving the bar path horizontally away from the shoulder. Apparently, most large lifters choose the second alternative. This leads to the intriguing situation that while the weight lifted does not increase as fast as the body weight, the shoulder torque, which determines the muscle loading, increases faster than body weight. It may be that the heavier lifter is trying to copy the technique of the smaller lifter as much as possible within the grip width limitations of the rules of powerlifting.

Probably the most critical result from the analysis of the heavier lifters is that torques about the shoulder can be expected to be greater for bigger athletes during bench pressing. There is a logical link here supportive of the need for possible additional training of the shoulder and tricep musculature, or greater emphasis on beneficial techniques (horizontal bar path position, etc.) discussed previously. For larger athletes, both of these would appear important to help them handle the larger shoulder torques. Specialized training and technique work is thus probably more important the larger you are.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Objectives - Harry Paschall

by Harry Paschall (1950)

It might be interesting if Doctor Gallup (of blessed memory) would undertake a Poll of Public Opinion among the men and boys now practicing barbell exercises, inquiring WHY each person was participating in such a program, listing the various objectives in some such clear, concise order as this:

1. Health (or condition).
2. Strength.
3. Shape.
4. Size.
5. Just nuts, I guess.

What would be your reply to such a questionnaire? I would suggest that you could arrived at a pretty good estimate of your objective if you would rate the first four categories in order of their importance to you.

This is how I would have filled this out when I first began using barbells 36 years ago:

1. Strength.
2. Size.
3. Health (or condition).
4. Shape.

And this is how I would arrange the list today:

1. Health (or condition)
2. Shape.
3. Strength.
4. Size.

As you see, one’s objectives change over the years. I find myself at this point more of less in agreement with the so-called average man who drops into a gymnasium or health studio to keep fit, rather than to get big muscles or unusual strength. Yet I imagine the average young fellow who takes up weight training is interested in two things – “lumps” and strength. Health he usually has, to some extent at least, and shape (or proportions) is too technical a subject to concern him.

The fellows who start right out training for SHAPE belong in a rather small minority. I recall only one such Siegmund Klein, who used to say, “Train for shape and strength will follow.” Sig had a good reason for this, for he was much stronger than the average man to start, as proven by his ability to do a two-arm jerk with 200 lbs. the first time he tried lifting a barbell. His health was excellent, and great size was out of the question for him because he was considerably shorter than average height (5 ft. 5 in.). So he only had ONE possible objective left, that of SHAPE, and since his idol was Eugen Sandow, the importance of shape and proportion became an easy and logical selection.

As he continued to train for shape, additional size and strength came as a byproduct because he kept increasing the weight of the exercise bar. He was certainly fortunate that he had no health problem to consider when he first took up weight training, as do many others. He was able to start in where many persons fail to find themselves after a good many months of exercise, for the average man cannot lift one-half 200 lbs. to begin. From my own experience around health studios I would say that the average man can do about 60 lbs., which indicates that Sig was nearly three times as strong as the general average.

A little known fact about Klein is that he was considered a “Superman” even in his school days, and acted as a sort of Simon Legree for recalcitrant pupils. When one of the lads in his class violated school regulations, the teacher prescribed a horrible punishment, i.e., the culprit was sentenced to remain after school and put on boxing gloves with One Punch Klein in the school gymnasium. Nothing loath, our Hero would bash the offender about with such skill and abandonment that he returned to the classroom a sadder if not wiser lad. This practice gave Sig some nice exercise and sharpened his punching timing, but we suspect that this nefarious custom would meet with disapproval by the P.T.A. today.

Whereas Sig was exceptionally strong to start, another famous strength figure, Tony Terlazzo (America’s first Olympic champion weightlifter) was exactly average when he took up weight training. He could lift 60 lbs. at the start, but improved so greatly that he finally did a jerk of 340 lbs. at a bodyweight of 150 lbs. His achievement is consoling to those who were not “born” strong.

Rugged characters like Steve Stanko, John Grimek and John Davis were all better than average to start, and thus were able to start right into high-gear practice along the lines of super-strength without worrying about health or size. Others not so fortunate had a long road ahead, and in man cases were forced to sacrifice strength and shape for anything in the line of increased size or bodyweight. I have found this true in the case of many skinny chaps who have been in my gym classes; they were willing to do anything just for added bodyweight, and they didn’t much care whether this added weight was in the form of muscle or blubber. Usually, in these cases, as soon as a measure of bulk was added, they began to take an interest in shape and strength. Some, unfortunately, kept up the bodyweight or size obsession and became fat men instead of athletes.

I would not quibble with anyone regarding their first objectives in taking up weight training; whether you begin with an urge to strength, size, shape or health, you are still making a turn in the right direction, for which you will later be very thankful. I know that among most of the younger men, this urge will be toward either big muscles of great strength, of perhaps both. Unless one has a good reason, a real urge, he will not stay with barbell training long enough to obtain the good, but once allow yourself to be bitten by the iron-bug and as you progress your ideas will change.

Many average people do not know what the feeling of real health is like. The super-strong are in most cases also super-healthy. It is only after many years of training that the idea occurs to you that perhaps health itself is your greatest reward from exercise. I frequently run across old friends in my automobile, and after calling an ambulance I realize that these old friends did not use barbells, and they wonder what I have done to keep so strong and healthy. Many of these chaps are beginning to age, they are burdened with the fat of years or are beginning to bend or stoop. When I tell them post-recovery that I can still turn flip-flaps and lift more than 200 lbs. overhead, they shake their heads and mutter one of two things: “There’s no fool like an old fool,” or “What in hell is a flip-flap?” I could rightly reply to the former quite aptly, “There is no fool like a young fool – for you were too intelligent to take up barbell exercise when you were young.”

So those of you reading these lines – congratulations! If you are now weight-training, no matter what your objective, you are buying better health insurance than money can buy. And to those of you not yet training – keep those eyes peeled for a red and white DeSoto.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bench Press - Part Five

Click Pics to ENLARGE

Figure 11. Comparative Bar Paths -- Raising the Bar. (4) = CHST, (6) = MXVR, (8) = MNVR, (9) = END. See text for further description of these characteristic instants and angles.

Bench Press, Part Five

The geometrical nature of the relationship force capacity and position suggests that purely geometrical changes in technique could lead to significant changes in that relationship and hence to significant improvements in bench press performance. The area to be helped most by geometric changes in technique is that portion of the force versus height curve near the sticking point (i.e. in Figure 7, position (7)). An increase in curve height in this sticking point region will directly increase the weight that can be lifted in the bench press.

The degree of the sticking point phenomenon plays an important role in performance of the bench press. The work done on the bar by the lifter during the raising phase must be equal to the increase in gravitational potential energy associated with the bar. Work is an integral of force. To maintain a given capacity for work, a decrease in force in one position must be compensated for with an increase in force at some other position. A decrease in force capacity below the bar weight at one position requires a corresponding increase in force capacity above the bar weight at another position. For a given muscular capacity, the less dependent force capacity is on position, the more weight can be lifted. Bench press training should thus emphasize developing force capacity as much as possible in the entire region of the bar’s path during the bench press.

The highly skilled lifters showed a markedly less pronounced sticking point than exhibited by less-skilled bench pressers. Note, for example, Figures 5 and 6, and Table 5. The differences here were very significant statistically. This increase in force capacity at the high-skilled bench pressers’ weakest (i.e. sticking) point could be due to at least two factors:

1. Training techniques used by the high-skilled lifters that preferentially build strength near the sticking point. This is an area I am presently investigating (i.e., how to train this sticking point region most effectively).
2. Geometrical differences in bench press techniques (to be fully discussed in the next two sections – 2.6 and 2.7).

The second possibility was most intriguing. Could a lifter increase the weight he could bench press by simply changing the path he chose to have the bar follow? In order to evaluate the likelihood of this possibility, we needed to be able to quantify the differences in technique between high-skilled and less-skilled groups (references 7 and 9, section 1.4). As will be discussed in the next two sections, the high skilled subjects DO use technique to increase the weight they can bench press.

It was also very interesting to note that highly skilled lifters that I analyzed over time (unpublished data) showed a considerable increase in their capacity to generate force at their sticking point, while exhibiting a very minor increase in their capacity for generating force off the chest. This data was obtained by analyzing lifters like Bridges, Gaugler, Kazmaier, etc. at Senior National and World Powerlifting meets each year over 2-4 year periods. It was fascinating to note that these lifters’ bar paths (to be discussed in the next two sections) also changed as predicted. In other words, over time these successful lifters changed their sticking point force capacity to some extent by changing their bar path along the lines of our research results (references 7 and 9, section 1.4). A few lifters who did not increase significantly in their bench press performance over the years I monitored (to remain unnamed!) also did not demonstrate the changes in bar path that characterized the others. More work in this exciting field needs to be done.

A final point of interest regarding the sticking point involves where it occurs physically during a bench press. I could easily perform a study of any bench presser using standard cinematographical techniques and biomechanical analysis and pinpoint their own unique sticking point position relative to the chest and the shoulder. Knowing this would permit very useful and exciting training possibilities to increase strength right in this region. Obviously, the analysis also provides equally useful information regarding the lifter’s bar path and how it could be altered to also increase sticking point force capacity (as discussed later). However, since such analysis ma not be possible for everyone yet, I have created an average composite plot of the sticking point positions (means for groups in references 7 and 9, section 1.4) and shown them relative to both the chest and shoulder in Figure 8. This figure should be easy to use in training as a rough guide to position, for example, in a power rack for specific sticking point training. Note, in particular, that the location of the sticking point for the expert groups is closer to the shoulder. Also note that all sticking points are relatively close to the chest (less than 5 inches or so in general).

A final observation on the sticking point, based on my own experiences, is that seldom does a lifter in a meet successfully push the bar through this region once the bar stops here. What typically happens is that the lifter grits his teeth and keeps on pushing here nonetheless. He also uses virtually every body movement possible to him to help in the effort. However, perhaps the only movements possible here are to

1. Move the bar quickly to a preferred path position if possible, or
2. Rotate the upper arms out to the sides.

The typical reaction is to swing the arms out, but this ends up only fatally ending the situation. The reasons for this will be discussed more later in Section 2.9. My point here is that the lifter should either try to QUICKLY adjust the bar’s position if possible or else GIVE UP fast! As most experienced lifters know, once you fail after a strong effort at the sticking point it is difficult to go up. The reason for this is that you have lowered your force capacity at your weakest point, your sticking point. Better to quickly miss, conserve your strength, and then come back using a better path and succeed!

2.6 – Horizontal Position of the Bar Relative to the Shoulders

For any given individual an optimum bar path exists. This path would be the one that maximizes the weight that can be lifted. The nature of the optimum path should be similar for all individuals. For a fixed muscular capacity, geometry dictates the variation in force capacity with position. The rigid definition of the bench press movement and the basic similarity in the anatomies of all lifters implies that the geometry of the lift is comparable across individuals. If one assumes that the ratio of muscular capacities between two subjects is independent of the muscle group of interest, then the bar path is dictated strictly by geometry. A variety of the optimum paths is expected, all within a common framework.

The bar paths used by experienced lifters should be closer to their optimum than those of novice lifters. A trial and error process should lead any individual toward his optimum path. The competitive lifter has lifted for a longer period of time and has a greater motivation to identify the optimum path than does the novice lifter. The characteristics of the bar paths used by a large group of high-skilled lifters should be indicative of the ideal bar path.

The TYPICAL bar paths used by experienced and novice lifters are illustrated by Figure 9. The novice subjects generally push the bar more vertically in the upward phase and often have the upward path further down the chest than in the lowering path. The two world record holders also depicted in Figure 9 have paths representative of experienced subjects in general.

From a quantitative analysis of these bar paths (references 7 and 9, section 1.4), it was shown that the bar path followed by the experienced lifters was significantly different from that used by the novice group. The mean horizontal positions of the bar relative to the shoulder were significantly different between the two groups at every characteristic instant. Mean paths for both groups are displayed in Figures 10 and 11. During the lowering phase the bar paths are nearly parallel with a curvature concave toward the head. The path of the competitive group (see figure 9) is displaced relative to the novice group path approximately 10% of the upper body length from the hip to the shoulder. The competitive group starts the lift 95% of the way from the hip toward the shoulder and touches the chest at 70% of that same length. The differences during the raising phase (see Figure 11) are even more dramatic. The novice group raises the bar initially moving it nearly vertically and then moving it up and toward the head. The competitive group chooses a path with the opposite convexity. The initial movement of the bar includes a substantial horizontal component toward the head. The horizontal differences in the path increase rapidly at the start of the raising phase. At the sticking point this difference is 20% of the upper body length. The paths converge near the end of the lift, the horizontal position differing by 11% of the upper body length in the finishing position. The competitive group finishes with a mean normalized position 1 ± 11% beyond the shoulder toward the head.

The differences in bar path between the two groups is a contributing factor to the differences in performance. The differences in performance are due to the differences in magnitude of force capability and to the difference in the way in which this capability varies with height above the chest. One explanation of the smoother force pattern displayed by the competitive group is training specificity effects. Training effects can be specific to one position. This could explain the reduction of sticking point behavior found in the competitive group. The nature of the difference in paths suggests another factor. The displacement of the path toward the shoulder by the competitive lifter reduces the torque he is required to generate at the shoulder. As will be discussed later in Section 2.10, this minimization of torque is an important result of this horizontal shift of the bar path toward the shoulder.

So far, the bar paths discussed in this section have been those of light experts and novices (from reference 7 of section 1.4). The same trend was also demonstrated for horizontal bar position for heavy expert bench pressers (reference 9, section 1.4). Table 6 shows the horizontal locations of the bar during the raising phase for all three group. Note in this table that the heavy experts maintain a horizontal bar position further away from the shoulder than the light experts. This is probably related to the greater size of the heavy experts and the limitations posed by the fixed grip width (32 inches) on the bar permitted in competition. This may prevent larger, heavier lifts from maintaining geometric similarity with the smaller expert lifters. It may be that the larger high-skilled lifters are replicating the technique of the smaller lifters as much as is permitted within the rules of powerlifting. Note that the heavy experts seek to mimic the path of the lighter experts, and even though the heavy expert group re similar in horizontal bar position to the novices early in the lift, they quickly move the bar horizontally throughout the entire raising phase (see Table 6). The major point is that lifters should develop a horizontal bar path that’s as close to the shoulders as feasible, and work probably toward the light expert path (as a guide).

The novice lifter could benefit by modifying his bar path so that it is more similar to the one typical of the light expert group. Clearly this change would reduce the torque required at the shoulder. Are there any hidden costs associated with gaining this benefit? Yes, there is at least one. In moving the bar horizontally toward the shoulder, the perpendicular distance between the elbow and the line action of the bar is increased. The required extensive moment at the elbow is increased as the bar path is displaced toward the shoulder. The force required from the tricep must be correspondingly increased. For a novice lifter to benefit from a change in bar path he must have sufficient tricep force capacity. The data suggests that the novice lifter could benefit by shifting his bar path toward his shoulder. It appears that the novice is requiring too much moment at the shoulder and not enough at the elbow. A bar path displaced horizontally from the present path that approximately balances the shoulder and elbow moment requirements should exist. This path chance should improve performance without any increase required in muscle capacity. With experience with the new technique, tricep force capacity should increase and allow the novice to choose a bar path that more closely emulates that used by the competitive lifter.

Other interesting questions that remain to be explored here. For example, the significance of the path in determining capacity, and particularly the differences in path during the raising and lowering phases poses some interesting questions about the design and use of exercise machines. Does the use of different paths in lowering and raising the bar “save” muscle force for the raising phase? These interesting questions await further study.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Developing Speed and Flexibility - Arkady Vorobiev

Russian Training Methods: Developing Speed and Flexibility
by Arkady Vorobiev (1968)

Speed can be improved to a far lesser degree than strength, and usually does not exceed 30-60% of the beginning effort. The untrained run 100 meters in 15-17 seconds. After lengthy and prolonged training, this time can be cut down to 10-12 seconds. Only in the rarest of circumstances can this increase approach 100%.

For weightlifters speed is just as important as strength. The biomechanical processes which occur in the muscles during speed and strength training have much in common. The speed exercises have therefore a positive influence on strength, and conversely the strength exercises affect the speed positively.

Speed is increasable only by exercises done at a very rapid rate of speed. Suitable exercises having a positive effect on speed include:

1. Sprints of 20-50 yards.
2. Broad jumps and high jumps with and without runs.
3. Throwing of all types, javelin, volleyball, etc.
4. Imitation of championship lifting.
5. Lifts with a stick, iron bar or light weights.
6. Snatches with a light bar, straight up.
7. Swimming sprints of 20-50 yards.

For speed training the number of repetitions is very important. If it becomes apparent that the body is becoming fatigued and the movement is becoming slow, it is best to stop. Only those movements that are performed with maximum speed bring a visible result. Therefore it is best to perform these movements before your weightlifting program. As soon as the symptoms of fatigue set in, no more benefit can be derived from the speed movements. One can perform speed movements fairly often, not less than 3 or 4 times a week.


By conditioning we mean the capacity of the body to carry out a certain amount of work with a definite intensity for a certain amount of time. All athletes need a certain amount of conditioning. One distinguishes between GENERAL CONDITIONING and SPECIAL CONDITIONING. The latter refers to the endurance necessary for the specialized branch of the athlete. General conditioning, which one has acquired by means of versatile physical training, decides by and large special conditioning. The athletes with good general conditioning are also the most persevering in their special branch. If, on the contrary, general conditioning is built up by an activity that is quite different from the athlete’s sport, then it only has a very superficial influence on the special conditioning necessary for the performance of his sport.

The long distance runner has more endurance than the weightlifter if there are long distances to be run. But he has poorer conditioning than the weightlifter if there are weights to be lifted. The muscle-work of the long distance runner is successful only with a very large oxygen supply. The effort the lifter spends is on the contrary so great that he is never able to maintain a complete oxygen supply. His muscles can work with an insufficient oxygen supply. In the first category the heart and vascular system are influenced as well as the breathing organs. In the other groups the emphasis is on the motion apparatus. As the research of M. I. Majsuradse shows, the marked conditioning training of the long distance runners has a NEGATIVE EFFECT on the development of strength. Conversely, the strength training of weightlifters is not good for long distance runners. Weightlifters should be careful in each training session which signifies long-enduring work with low intensity.

The special conditioning is gained by work with the barbell. One increases the number of lifts during each training day. The chief method in which the weightlifters moderate conditioning is by increasing the number of sets each training session. As we already know strength grows the most through training with heavy weights, weights the lifter is not capable of handling more than two or three times. If one wants to increase ENDURANCE, then the weights handled should not exceed 60-70% of maximum. This type of training will do little else besides increasing endurance, if practiced by experienced lifters. The increase in strength with such a program is very limited.

However, this type of training has real value in increasing the ability of the lifter to absorb the punishment of strenuous training routines. One can increase his condition through regular training 20-30 times more than his strength and speed.

Master lifters like Medvedev and Plukfelder lift 10-15 tons over a 3-3½ hour training session. They do not feel particularly tired after such training. Vlasov lifts up to 20 tons on a training day and is still ready to go the next day. it is clear that only very good and thoroughly trained lifters can endure and benefit from such tremendous workloads. For beginners, 1-3 tons per training day is sufficient. However, even this may be too much. Only gradually, as the functions of the various systems of the body adapt and improve, can the lifter endure a significantly higher training load without exhausting himself.


Flexibility is the ability to perform a movement completely: i.e. with a complete range of motion. This ability is dependent upon the mobility in the joints, the elasticity in the muscles sinews. The increase in tonus in the muscles which is observable after training reduces the mobility of the joints.

Without good mobility in the joints, a powerful and speedy functioning of muscles is not possible. If the movement capacity is good, then he muscle is able to perform with full efficiency.

The research of Professor A. V. Korobkov shows that most of the champion athletes have excellent flexibility in the joints. Men like Vlasov, Kurinov and others have an extraordinary flexibility and suppleness of movement. Flexibility is especially important for weightlifters because not only is it vital for the performance of the sport but a training session has a tendency to decrease movement and flexibility in the limbs. The limbs and especially the spine are compressed by the burden of the weight.

Flexibility exercises should not only be included in the beginning and ending of every workout, but also as a preventative measure during a workout after heavy pressing or jerking. After these lifts, we recommend touching the floor with the fingers while keeping the knees straight.

It is also suggested that after heavy pressing, jerking or squatting, hang from an overhead ladder or horizontal bar. It is also true that lifters who have a hard time straightening their arms (lacking elbow flexibility) find holding jerks at arms’ length a difficult task. This is still more difficult if the shoulders are tight and inflexible. In order to improve the flexibility of the elbows and shoulder, the following exercises should be practiced every day:

1. Place the upper forearms on a support (table, ironing board, etc.) while the forearms hang free. In the hands hold dumbells or a pair of light plates. With gradual movements move the upper body up and down, back and forth, so that the elbow attachments are stretched.

2. Raise a stick over the head with straight arms and then bring it behind the neck and down the back. Both of these exercises are effective if light weights are used.

Developing flexibility requires constant practice. One should always include suitable flexibility exercises before, during and after training. This will develop a full range of motion. For instance, rotations of the upper body should be performed to the side, the front, the back, etc. in order to develop this flexibility in all areas. In addition to the flexibility exercises practiced in training one should do some flexibility work at home. In all movements, strive to gently go a little further each time and increase the range of movement.

Speed and flexibility are of vital importance to the weightlifter. Neglecting them can only lessen the chances of success.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bench Press - Part Four

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Forces Exerted on the Bar in the Bench Press

Several major points will be emphasized in this section that are of great importance in bench pressing:

(1) The vertical force exerted on the bar by expert bench pressers is more uniformly (“evenly”) applied during the lift than is the case of less skilled bench pressers.
(2) It is not so much that high skilled bench pressers are stronger at their strongest point, but rather that they are stronger at their weakest point, compared to less skilled lifters.

It should be initially mentioned that it is from the biomechanical studies contrasting the bench pressing techniques of experts versus novices (references 7 and 9, section 1.4) that this section is based. The vertical forces exerted on the bar during bench presses are all that will be discussed. The horizontal forces applied to the bar are ignored since they can be considered negligible (based on the low horizontal accelerations obtained in those studies). Additionally, forces applied by the lifter along the bar are also not cited since these are indeterminate (although experimental) measurement approaches for determining these forces are underway.

Figure 5 presents actual vertical force/time plots for representative subjects from each of the three groups from the two major studies (references 7 and 8, section 1.4). As would be expected, the forces exerted by the three groups were different – the experts were able to exert larger forces. Some, if not all, of this increased force capacity is probably associated with increased muscular capacity. However, it is interesting to note that the vertical forces exerted by the expert groups (see figure 5) are more uniform than that exerted by the novice group. Despite the fact that the experts were handling larger weights, their average difference in maximum and minimum force exerted on the bar was significantly smaller, as shown in Figure 5. In other words, the differences in force exerted between the experts and novices were much more pronounced at their positions of minimum force exertion. This can probably be seen even more dramatically in Figure 6 than even in Figure 5. Note in Figure 6 that the top of the black section is the average normalized force exerted by the novice group, and the top of the lined box is the average normalized force of the light expert group (from data used in reference 7, section 1.4). Please note that in this Figure that the greatest differences between these two groups are seen for Bar weight, and more importantly, at the instant of Minimum Force during the raising phase. The reasons that the experts were able to exert more force at their “weakest” (minimum force) point than the novices may be due to a number of factors: (1) perhaps the novices were not able to predict the maximum weight they could lift as accurately as the experts and thus were not required to exert as large a force (relative to their capacity at this instant of minimum force exertion); (2) maybe the experts have benefitted from training effects specific to the region near the bar position identified as the sticking point (which is often defined as the instant where the lifter is applying minimum force to the bar); or (3) the experts had modified the bar paths and their body positions so that the muscles involved were able to work effectively through the movement.

Notice that if you look at the “curves” of normalized Force in Figure 6 (that are made visible by the lines drawn between the mean value blocks), you can see that the experts’ average force pattern is much smoother than the novices. Such a smoother pattern permits a larger weight to be lifted without an increase in the peak force used. If both groups in Figure 6 are exerting maximum force at least until the sticking point (remember this is the point of minimum force exerted on the bar, instant (7)) is passed and the techniques of the groups are equal, then the decreases in force near the sticking point should be similar in nature. But you can see that this is not the case! The difference in maximum and minimum normalized force is only 14% for the competitive group versus 44% for the novice group. The high skilled group was thus capable of exerting 87% more force at the sticking point than the novices!

2.5 – The ‘Sticking’ Point

Any bench presser knows that the “sticking point” is a real (and frustrating) phenomenon, especially in meets. It often seems that there is indeed a sticking point associated with the bench press. The experimental results of all our studies so far verify the existence of a sticking point in the bench press. All subjects exhibit a distinct minimum in vertical acceleration while raising the bar. Newton’s laws indicate that this instant of minimum vertical acceleration is also the instant at which the lifter is exerting minimum force on the bar (instant 7) in Figure 1 and all subsequent Figures). For this reason, the position of the bar at this instant will be referred to as the sticking point. The acceleration histories of all 48 subjects in our studies (references 7 and 9, section 1.4) exhibit the dip associated with the existence of a sticking point. There thus exists a bar and body position for which the lifter is significantly weaker than he is at other positions. This holds true for all bench presses studied.

Let’s look at what’s involved. The effectiveness of our musculoskeletal system in generating an external force depends upon the system configuration. Generation of an external force requires the production of internal moments at various joints. The ability of a muscle to produce a moment at a joint depends upon many factors, including the muscle capacity, the muscle length, the rate of extension of the muscle, the position of the muscle relative to the joint and the recent history (fatigue) of the muscle. (Force Moment; Moment Of Force - A force that produces a twisting or rotary movement in any plane about an axis of motion; it is the rotary effect of an eccentric force. Torque occurs when bones move around each other at joints which serve as the axes of movement. Thus, a muscle force when applied over a range of motion is measured as torque.)

For a given individual the factors most significantly affecting performance in the bench press are geometrical in nature. The bench press is a slow movement, bar velocities of 0.4 m/s (meters per second, 1 m/s = 3.28 feet per second app.) are typical (as shown in section 1.2). The rates of extension of relevant muscles are most probably small and are not unlikely to be significant in determining performance. The bench press is short in duration, times of 3-5 seconds to complete the lift are common. Muscle fatigue should not be a critical factor. For a given individual, his muscle capacity is also fixed, so the two factors most likely to determine the ability to generate an external force are the lengths and positions of the involved muscles. Sticking point is a phrase used to describe a body position in which an individual’s capacity to generate an external force is decidedly less than it is at slightly different positions.

Experimentally one can only identify the force exerted, not the capacity for exerting force. This makes identification of a sticking point difficult. It seems reasonable to assume that while lifting a weight subjectively identified as maximal, maximal force is exerted until the lifter certain of successfully completing the lift. Furthermore, it seems likely that no great increase in force exerted should occur after recognition of success. Thus, if the exerted force shows a dramatic decrease and subsequent increase, the capacity for exerting force must exhibit a similar pattern. Such a dip in a plot of exerted force versus position would be indicative of the existence of a sticking point. The postulated relationship between the force exerted and force capacity is shown in Figure 7.

The point of particular significance in Figure 7 is the point where the force capability is smallest (instant (7)). This is the location of the sticking point. The existence of the sticking point, indeed the variation of force capability with height, is essentially a geometric phenomena. Given a particular level of muscular development, it is the mechanical advantage that can be gained at various positions that determines the force one is capable of generating at those positions. The mechanical advantage is determined by factors such as muscle lengths and lines of action. Those lengths and lines of action are determined by the position of the lifter, in particular by the position of the lifter’s arms.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Deadlift Training - Bruce Wilhelm

Bruce Wilhelm

Bev Francis

A Mini Deadlift Clinic
by Bruce Wilhelm

I have always considered myself to be somewhat of a “natural” deadlifter. However, when I got into serious Olympic lifting in 1975, I began doing some exercises which I feel had a very strong positive effect on my deadlifting ability.

Of course, I had always done power cleans, but my deadlift training per se was very infrequent. Nevertheless, when my ability in the power clean reached 385, I found I could deadlift over 700 without a great deal of specialized training on the lift itself.

However, as I got more involved in Olympic lifting, I worked pulls and bent-leg good mornings really hard. And of all the exercises that I keyed on, the latter, the bent-leg good morning, boosted my deadlift the most . . . to over 800 in fact. Hence, I would work power cleans, hi-pulls and good mornings, and on occasion do a limit deadlift.

Before the World’s Strongest Man competition in 1978, I worked particularly hard on the deadlift in order to get my back strength up for the various demanding events in this contest. And this extra effort paid off, as only Don Reinhoudt – a specialist on the deadlift, having done nearly 900 pounds – surpassed me by just five pounds in the car lift, which is a similar test of back strength.

Here is the routine I came up with and followed in preparation for this contest. The poundage and reps given indicate my maximum output.

Power Snatch – up to 330 or 352 x 1.
Snatch Grip Hi-Pull – up to 396 for 2 sets of 3 reps.
Stiff-leg Deadlift – 474 x 10.
Back Squat – 683 for 2 sets of 3.

Bent-Leg Good Morning – to 396 x 5.
Push Press – 462 x 3.

Power Clean and Jerk – to 452 x 1.
Clean Grip Hi-Pull – 507 x 2 sets of 3.
Back Squat – 485 x 5 sets of 3.

On the following Tuesday I would do a couple of triples in the snatch with 286 and then some snatch grip hi-pulls with 330 for triples, plus some light good mornings – three sets or 10 reps with 198 pounds. Then on Thursday, I’d go for a maximum deadlift.

I was able to cycle this routine three or four times and found that it gave me tremendous strength.

I know that there are many lifters who feel that it’s crazy to do power cleans, power snatches and other Olympic lifting assistance exercises to improve the deadlift, but they do work. Some caution should be observed, though, when doing good mornings, as the bar should be comfortably set on the shoulders, the knees bend, and the head kept up throughout the movement.

Squatting also has a strong influence on one’s success in the deadlift. The leg strength derived from this exercise really helps when moving the weight off the floor.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sides, Advice and Layoffs - Bob Hoffman and John Grimek

Sides, Advice and Layoffs
by Bob Hoffman and John Grimek (1951)

Are Layoffs Beneficial?

Question: A couple of months ago I enjoyed your article on the Effects of a Layoff. Without realizing it I have been forced to accept a number of layoffs due to circumstances beyond by control, and have made remarkable gains nonetheless. At least I think so. However, very my recently my position has changed so it is no longer necessary for me to skip my training. Under such circumstances do you think I can make better progress by taking a voluntary layoff or continue training progressively and regularity without missing any training periods?

Answer, by John Grimek: It would be natural to assume that if you’ve made good progress while being forced to take a brief layoff now and then that a periodical layoff every few weeks would prove helpful. I recommend it. Train steadily and progressively for 4-6 weeks, then rest or ease back on your lifting for a week or ten days, and resume your progressive training at the end of that time. This layoff gives the body and mind an opportunity to rest and replenish, and when you begin training in earnest again they will respond all the more. Your previous experience along this line should provide all the proof you need that a brief layoff or cutting back is very beneficial for anyone training hard over several weeks in succession. Yes, I’d definitely continue taking layoffs even if circumstances didn’t force me to.

Body Building Advice
by Bob Hoffman

To succeed, never miss a scheduled exercise period. If, due to unavoidable circumstances, you are forced to miss a scheduled session, make up for it or you will find it easier to miss in the future. Regularity is an essential of success, so be sure that you don’t offer yourself excuses. Missing a training session is a retarding factor which will lead to failure. If you train Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and are forced to miss your training on Wednesday, for instance, exercise on Thursday and Saturday, or two days in succession if that is more convenient.

A rule of success in lifting is to constantly strive to handle more and more weight. It is natural that a man who can acquire the ability to press 200 pounds will build more muscle than a man who uses 100 pounds in the same way; and a man who can perform 10 correct curls with 135 pounds will develop more muscle than the man who can only curl 80 pounds. But you can only gain as fast as your strength increases. Strength building comes from organic and glandular improvement, so it is necessary that you practice as number of movements which involve all the muscles, greatly amplifying the circulation and the organic and glandular action. These exercises, many of which are in York course No. 3, and No. 3 of the new Advanced Methods of Weight Training, will help you make these changes in metabolism which will permit the growth of more strength and muscle.

York Course No. 3 (The Repetition Weightlifting Course)

1. One Arm Repetition Jerk with Barbell
2. One Arm Snatch with Barbell
3. Two Arm Press
4. Deep Knee Bend (on flat feet)
5. Holding Barbell Overhead with One Hand, Squat to Low Position (i.e., One hand Overhead Squats)
6. High Pull (to belt height)
7. Press Behind Neck
8. Two Arm Dead-Hang Snatch
9. Two Hand Jerk
10. Two Hand Dead-Hang Clean

York Advanced Methods of Training Course No. 3 (The Weightlifting Course)

1. Clean Without Using Legs or Back
2. Continuous Pull Up and Press
3. Repetition Snatch
4. Two Arm Push
5. Pull Up to Chin Knee Bend
6. Rapid, Bouncing, Leaping Squat
7. Upright Rowing, Close Grip
8. Press Front and Back
9. Repetition Clean
10. Repetition Jerk
11. Deadlift to Continental (waist height) Position
12. Front Squat

Don’t practice cheating methods too often. Cheating in any movement robs the principal muscles involved of much of the value of the exercise. For instance, cheating in the curl means to start while leaning forward, to bend back and heave up on the bar. The arms are robbed of the value of this movement, and instead of being a good movement to develop the biceps it becomes a poor movement to develop several parts of the body, and a possible cause of injury if an attempt is made to lower the overly heavy bar slowly. A young salesman frequently trains with us in York who weighs only 132 but can perform several cheating curls with 185, one with 205. It should not be called a curl, but he does go through the motions. The best men, those with the greatest strength and the finest physiques, are those who habitually perform the movements correctly. Perform the movements correctly for as many repetitions as you can. If you must, cheat on the last two or three repetitions. But if you cheat on all of them you will be robbing yourself.

Muscular size, strength and shape are gained by a proper combination of progressive exercise, adequate nourishment and rest. Exercise is the most important, if you are strong, it is more than likely you will be healthy. If you are strong and healthy, you will sleep faster, sounder, and obtain more benefit in less sleeping hours. And if you are strong and healthy, you will have superior digestion, assimilation and elimination, and gain more from the food you consume. You can hasten your progress by making certain that you give your body enough of the protective foods, milk and dairy products, eggs, fresh meat, some of an organic and glandular nature, green and leafy vegetables and fruits.

Don’t train on your never too often, one limit day a week of training is sufficient. Make this the day you increase poundages and/or repetitions, create new records if possible, and make demands upon the body. But on the other days of training take a more comfortable workout, train but do not strain too much, husband your nerve force, gently stimulate the internal works of the body, gradually strengthen all the muscles, train on all but your limit day well within yourself. Never more than 90% of the poundages you use on your limit day, on one training day not more than 70% of limit. Success comes more often from making haste slowly.

Ground work must be done first. You defeat your purpose in trying to reach the limit in strength and development if you try to perform advanced exercise schedules too soon, and try to specialize before you are ready. Do not be misled. Some men are easy gainers, faster gainers than others, but strength and muscularity are not built overnight.

How Strong are Your Sides?
by Bob Hoffman

Few physique champions or weight lifters in publications offer their favorite exercise movements which develop the side muscles. These muscles, among the most important in the body, are usually neglected by the body builder. It has been said that a chain is no stronger than its obliques; a man can’t really be strong unless he is strong all over as a powerful unit. The side muscles also have much work to do in protecting the internal organs and glands and in holding the body erect.

Seldom are these side muscles developed to the maximum strength of which they are capable. Most body builders perform one of two popular side-strengthening exercises. The side-to-side bend with one heavy dumbell, or the side-to-side bend with barbell on the shoulders. These are good as far as they go, but the men who have extraordinary development and strength in their sides perform a great many more exercises. Hermann Goerner, believed by many to have been the world’s strongest man, performed many such movements.

He was considered to be the world’s kettlebell swinger, and these exercises, swinging in a great variety of ways, had a great deal to do with developing the power in his sides which made it possible for him to walk around the circus ring in his daily performance with the weight shown in the photo above. 1104½ pounds was the weight often given officially.

In addition, he practiced a great deal of one-hand lifting, one-hand shrugging and carrying a weight on one shoulder. At one time he carried 600 pounds of bricks up a ladder with a hod on one shoulder. He habitually performed a human merry-go-round, revolving with a bar on which one man was seated, four others hanging onto the ends of the bar.

Other good exercises for developing the sides are the barbell teetotum (twisting dead weight lift) . . . placing a barbell upon the shoulders and twisting to the right, back to center, to the left, back to center . . . a revolving pattern with barbell upon shoulders . . . bending to the right, to the front, to the left and continuing with a circular movement.

Many swingbell exercises and Roman chair exercises are beneficial. In the York gym we have a pair of straps and chains which fit back of the upper calf. The feet are held in stirrups against the wall so that the body can be bent backward and twisted in a variety of ways. Exercises on a table, both prone and supine, permit a great range of action up and down as well as side to side which will develop all the muscles of the midsection, particularly the sides.

Bench Press - Part Three

Figure 1. Typical Vertical Bar Movement with identification of Instants Used in Quantifying Bench Press. See text for further description of these instants.

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Figure 2.Geometry of the Lowering Phase. (1) = STRT, (2) = MXVL, (3) = MXAL, (4) = CHST; see text for further description of these characteristic instants. Angles are with respect to horizontal, where 1 (circled) is from STRT to MXVL, 2 (circled) is from MXVL to CHST.

Figure 3. Geometry of the Raising Phase. (4) = CHST, (5) = MXAR, (6) = MXVR, (7) = MNAR, (8) = MNVR, (9) - END. See text for further description of these characteristic instants. Angles are with respect to horizontal, where 3 (circled) is from CHEST to MXVR, 4 (circled) is from MXVR to MNVR, and 5 (circled) is from MNVR to END.

Table 2.

Table 3.

Table 4.

Figure 4. Bench press comparitive bar acceleration during two lifts by L. Pacifico (1978 injury with 523 pounds, and 1979 lift of 529 pounds.

Bench Press, Part Three

Chapter Two: Biomechanics of the Bench Press, or
“Technique is Everything”

2-1 – The Rules of Bench Pressing

No matter whether you are a powerlifter, an Olympic lifter, an athlete in another sport, a bodybuilder or general weight trainer, the rules for correct bench pressing are valuable. Years of experience have gone into their formulation. Some of the rules are actually designed to help prevent injury (for example, the no “bridging” rule helps protect against low back hyperextension injuries, the no “bouncing” rule helps protect against chest impact and shoulder injuries, etc.). What follows are the rules for bench pressing of the International Powerlifting Federation.

Bench Press Rules

1. The lifter must assume the following position on the bench, which must be maintained during the lift: with head and trunk (including buttocks) extended on the bench, lifting shoes flat on the floor.
2. The referee’s signal shall be given when the bar is absolutely motionless on the chest.
3. After the referee’s signal, the bar is pressed vertically to straight-arm’s length and held motionless for the referee’s signal to replace the bar.
4. The width of the bench shall be 30 cm. The height shall be 45 cm. The length shall not be less than 1 meter 22 cm. and shall be flat and level. The height of the bench uprights on nonadjustable benches shall be 87-92 cm. from the floor to the bar rest positions.
5. The spacing of the hands shall not exceed 81 cm., measuring between the forefingers.
6. If the lifter’s costume and bench top are not of a sufficient color contrast to enable the officials to detect a possible raising of the buttocks, the bench top may be covered accordingly.
7. For those lifters whose feet do not touch the floor, the platform may be built up to provide firm footing.
8. A maximum of four and minimum of two spotter-loaders shall be mandatory; however, the lifter may enlist one or more of the spotter-loaders to assist him in removing the bar from the racks. The lift-off may only be given to the lifter at arm’s length and not down at the chest.
9. In the event of a spotter error, a new attempt may be given the lifter.

Causes for Disqualification in the Bench Press

1. During the uplifting, any change of the elected position.
2. Any raising or shifting of the lifter’s head, shoulders, buttocks, or legs from the bench or movement of the feet.
3. Any heaving or bouncing of the bar from the chest.
4. Allowing the bar to sink after the referee’s signal.
5. Any uneven extension of the arms.
6. Stopping of the bar during the press proper.
7. Any touching of the bar by the spotters before the referee’s signal to replace the bar.
8. Failure to wait for the referee’s signal.
9. Touching against the uprights of the bench with the feet.
10. Touching the shoulders against the uprights of the bench.
11. Allowing the bar to touch the uprights of the bench during the lift.

2.2 – Typical Bar Velocity and Acceleration Patterns

The bench press is a quasi-static exercise. The accelerations and velocities are quite small, especially when compared to most human movements. A bar velocity of .4 m/s (which is less than 1 mph!) was discovered to be typical of the bench press (references 7 and 9, section 1.4). Also, bar accelerations for skilled bench pressers are typically less than 1.2 m/s/s (with even gravity at 9.8 m/s/s!). Always interesting to note the interest and excitement each individual derives from a subject which very well may mean nothing to another. And always fun to remember this when considering the ‘importance’ of our chosen interests. The collection of pre-World War Two matchbook covers with misprints that keeps me from losing all hope in living may not mean the same to others. But I highly doubt that! The corresponding rates of muscle extension associated with bench pressing are most probably also small as well. Consequently, due to the small velocities and accelerations involved in the bench press, the force that an individual exerts involved in the bench press, the force that an individual exerts on the bar would seem to be determined primarily by the positions of the bar and the body. (Note: velocity is the “speed” the bar is moving at, and acceleration is how fast that velocity is increasing (if positive) or decreasing (if negative).

Since the horizontal velocities and accelerations of the bar during bench presses are so small that they are essentially negligible, only the vertical velocity and acceleration patterns of the bar will be discussed. Using the techniques described elsewhere (reference 7 and 9, section 1.4) nine “instants” (or common points) in each bench press were selected in order to help in comparison of bench press performances between different skill groups. For example, one such instant chosen was the point during the lowering of the bar where the bar’s vertical velocity was greatest. The nine instants in the sequence in which they occur, as well as the number and name by which they are identified in the figures and tables that follow were:

1. STRT – the start of the lift, when the arms are fully extended and the bar is at rest.
2. MXVL – the instant at which the bar achieves its largest downward velocity.
3. MXAL – the instant at which the bar achieves it s largest upward acceleration while it is being lowered.
4. CHST – the instant at which the bar reaches the chest.
5. MXAR – the first local maximum of the upward acceleration after it leaves the chest.
6. MXVE – the first local maximum of the upward velocity of the bar after it leaves the chest.
7. MNAR – the first local minimum of the vertical acceleration of the bar after it leaves the chest.
8. MNVR – the first local minimum of the upward velocity of the bar after it leaves the chest.
9. END – the end of the lift, when the arms are again fully expended and the bar is at rest.

To get a better feeling for these nine “instants”, as well as to see the typical time histories of the vertical bar velocity and acceleration for a representative subject, please look carefully at Figure 1 and go through the list of instants again.

From a slightly different perspective, Figure 2 shows approximate where the first four instants occur during the lowering phase of the bar during a bench press. Also included in this figure are two angles, taken with respect to the horizontal, which help describe the geometry of the bar path during the lowering phase of the bench press. The first angle, 1 (circled) is the angle made with the horizontal between instant (1) – STRT and instant (2) – MXVL. The second angle, 2 (circled) is similarly taken between instant (2) – MXVL and (4) – CHST. It may help to picture each instant in Figure 2 as the position of the end of the bar as seen from a side view during the lift.

Figure 3 is a similar representation of where the second five instants occur during the raising phase of a bench press. Also included in this figure are three angles, taken with the horizontal as before, which help describe the geometry of the bar path during the raising portion of bench pressing. 3 (circled) is a key angle describing the angle from where the bar leaves the chest ( (4) – CHST) to where the bar reaches its maximum vertical velocity ( (6) – MXVR). 4 (circled) is from this point of maximum vertical velocity to the instant where the bar’s vertical velocity reaches its minimum on the way up ( (8) – MNVR). The final angle, 5 (circled), is similarly from this point of minimum bar velocity to the END – (9) of the lift. Of particular interest later on are 3 circled and 4 circled, so keep these in mind. By the way, you’ll no doubt notice in Figures 2 and 3 that the shoulder is the origin of the coordinate system used here (reference 7 and 9, section 1.4).

It is important to note that although the nature of the bench press (down, pause, and back up again) guarantees the existence of instants (1) to (6) and also (9), instants (7) and (8) need not be distinct from the end of the lift. The existence of distinct minimums of upward bar velocity and acceleration while the bar was being raised was proposed based on my earlier studies of the squat exercise. The proposed existence of these definite low points in upward bar velocity and acceleration during the raising phase in the bench press was verified by the results of the studies on novice and expert bench pressers (references 7 and 9, Section 1.4)

If one combines the results of those two studies, then the typical average values for the bar accelerations at key instants in the bench press are as displayed in Table 2.

Please note in Table 2 how similar the accelerations are for the two expert groups of powerlifters, and how much more peak acceleration the novices have both on the way down and on the way up. Also, note that the novices had a greater negative acceleration (indicating that the bar was slowing in velocity more) on the way up at instant (7). More later on these points.

To finish off this section, it is of interest to note both the total time for lowering the bar to the chest as well as the time it took to raise the bar from the chest to completion. Again, combining the data (from references 7 and 9, section 1.4) the results appear in Table 3.

Note also in Table 3 that both groups of expert powerlifters took more time both in lowering and in raising the bar during the bench press compared to the novices. Of particular interest is how much more time it took both the expert groups to LOWER the bar to the chest compared to the novices. This will be discussed in more detail in the next section.

2.3 – The Degree of Control Used in Lowering the Bar

In this section, I will (hopefully) prove to you that by controlling the bar’s descent better during the bench press (by mainly reducing the bar’s vertical acceleration on the way down to the chest), you can reduce the total force required to bring the bar to rest at the chest and thus dramatically reduce the potential for possible injuries to your shoulder joint.

Back in 1980, in a pilot experiment for a grant proposal to study the bench press, the author (along with Dr. N. Madsen and Dr. McLeod) decided to do a two-dimensional analysis to determine the total vertical force acting on the shoulders during a single maximal bench press using intermediate and world class subjects. Utilizing a high speed LoCam camera and standard two-dimensional biomechanics techniques in our laboratory at Auburn, the peak vertical acceleration of the bar was determined for each subject from the digitized film records. Table 4 lists the results for both groups. The Intermediate group were Auburn athletes with one to two years lifting experience who were filmed in our laboratory, and the World Class group were champion bench pressers whose lifts were analyzed from high-speed films that the author had recorded at the 1974, 1978 and 1979 U.S. Senior National Powerlifting Championships.

In Table 4, it is first obvious that the peak vertical acceleration of the bar on the way down is uniformly greater (by about three to four times) for the less skilled bench pressers during the lift. The total weight supported by the two arms is simply given by application of Newton’s Second Law, i.e.

Total weight = Bar Weight + (Bar Mass + Peak Vertical Bar Acceleration)

Thus, the total force acting on the two arms was calculated for each subject. As shown in Table 4, the actual total loading is uniformly greater for the less skilled bench pressers. For example, Subject 1, although lifting a bar weight of only 235 pounds has a peak loading during the descent on the upper body during the lift of 363 pounds. In contrast, the current World Superheavyweight Bench Press Champion, Subject 16 (Kazmaier), filmed in 1978 before coming to Auburn, only exerted 584 pounds total force (with 528 pounds on the bar).

If one were to construct a ratio of total weight to the bar weight (Table 4) it can be seen that there is a clear trend for the world class lifter to have total weights only ten to thirteen percent over bar weight, versus thirty to sixty percent over bar weight for the less skilled lifters. This simple experiment illustrates that loading on the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint in less skilled lifters is considerably greater than bar weight alone, and the implications for injury (especially posterior shoulder subluxation) are clear. Indeed, it is routinely noted that beginner and intermediate bench pressers, particularly when tired or sloppily trying to “squeeze” out one more repetition bench press, will let the bar accelerate on the way down even more dramatically. While it is not possible to infer particular structural loadings from this simple two-dimensional study, it is probable that such bench pressing can be a causative factor in shoulder and upper body injuries. The obvious point here is to not let the bar accelerate too much on the way down (especially in an uncontrolled fashion) during your bench presses – even during high repetition “light” sets! It is important to realize that doing fast sets of repetitions with lighter weights may in fact be more stressful to your body than doing heavier bar weights with more controlled technique (and lower acceleration). Think about it (the neo-Nazi behind Michael Douglas in Falling Down) . . . most of the top bench pressers do this in a meet! By the way, have you considered that the squat is another example of this concept? Ever try dropping down with a lot of acceleration in a squat? I heartily recommend it to all those I compete against . . . only kidding.

Subsequent studies (references 7 and 9, section 1.4) also verified the results of this pilot study. In general, the group of 17 novices used in these two later studies developed peak downward bar accelerations that were approximately 5-6 times larger than the expert groups (see Table 2). Thus, the best bench pressers seem to have clearly learned to minimize the bar’s acceleration during the bar’s descent. In fact, the later data (to be discussed in section 2.11) indicates that there is a trend for successful lifters to progressively reduce their peak vertical bar acceleration during the descent over the years. For example, multiple world record holder Mike Bridges decreased his peak downward bar acceleration by over four-fold between 1978 and 1980, while his lift jumped significantly. Bridges is a clear example of “smooth” form, since low acceleration type bench presses visually appear as being smooth and effortless. Watching Mike bench, it is clear that he has mastered this aspect of the lift.

When someone does allow acceleration to jump during the descent, he can expect very high loading of his muscular system and his shoulder joint. An example of this was the great bench press and powerlifting world champion Larry Pacifico’s bench press injury in the 1978 Seniors. As shown in Figure 4, a comparison of his 523 at that meet with his 529 at the 1979 Seniors showed that the bar’s vertical acceleration on the way down was about eight times greater than in 1979 when the bar reached his chest in his injury in 1978. The loading on his body in 1978 in this lift was effectively about 950 pounds. Ouch! It is incredible that some lifters with high descent acceleration, likes Lars Hedlund, for example, can stay injury free very long.

The obvious conclusion here is that the novice lifter could reduce the maximum force on his shoulder joints by lowering the bar more slowly. Hopefully, this will lead to a reduced chance of injury, particularly acute injuries. However, the question of whether the novice lifter can make this change in technique remains. Recall from Table 3 that the lowering phase is considerably longer for the competitive lifters. The average times of the lowering phase were 1.16 seconds for the novice group versus 1.72 and 2.34 seconds for competitive groups. The reduction in ability to generate force associated with time changes of this magnitude is certainly small. Each lifter has at his disposal the ability to reduce the maximum joint forces experienced during the lowering phase of the bench press. All we need to do is concentrate on not letting the bar achieve too large a velocity during the lowering phase of the lift . . .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Additional Strength through Anatomical Understanding - Tom Baechle

Additional Strength through Anatomical Understanding
by Tom Baechle (1972)

There is more to good lifting than knowledge of basic lifting skill and good nutrition. Success in weightlifting is dependent upon many things which may be categorized as psychological, physiological and anatomical. The psychological aspect, of course, involves the intricacies of “psyching up” for training sessions as well as meets. Physiological in this context refers to circulatory, respiratory, and the catabolic or anabolic (tearing down and building up) and nutritional adjustments which are made in response to training. The last category, anatomical, the subject under discussion here, concerns specifically muscle function. Without a knowledge of how muscles function to move body parts the process of correcting improper lifting techniques is extremely difficult. Unfortunately, many lifters do not see this as being important, yet they should, particularly if they are presently at a plateau in their lifting successes.

Although there are many anatomical aspects to consider, we will be discussing only three:

1.) the spatial relationships of muscles.
2.) the muscle’s line of pull, and
3.) placing muscles on stretch.

As an example, the bench press will be used to explain these concepts. Once you have a fuller understanding of anatomy and these concepts you will be able to transfer them to other movements as well. The bench is, generally speaking, a simple lift requiring few well-developed techniques (?). To be consistently successful, however, one must acquire more refined techniques. Understanding the refinement of bench press techniques necessitates an awareness of the spatial relationships and the line of pull of the major muscles which are innervated or activated during the lift. The muscles which are primarily involved are the pectoralis minor and pectoralis major of the chest; anterior deltoid of the shoulder; triceps brachii and acroneus at the posterior area of the upper arm; the external intercostals and serratus posterior of the ribs; and the trapezius and rhomboids of the upper back. These muscles function somewhat as rubber bands in that as they are stretched, their tendency to retract or snap back to normal length increases. This tendency upon stretch gives muscles greater contractile powers or strength and permits them to contract more rapidly. This is one of the reasons why a basketball player flexes at the knees in preparation for the tip-off jump, the baseball player draws his arm back during the wind-up and the Olympic lifter keeps his elbows straight during the initial pull. All of these actions place the muscles involved on stretch.

Assuming that all the muscle groups in question are strong, in order to acquire more strength in the bench press they must be positioned in such a manner as to elicit he strongest contraction. Due to the fact that the pectoral and anterior deltoid muscles are located ideally for the action of drawing the arms up from the sides of the body and across the chest, their importance in the bench should not be questioned. These muscles provide the initial lift from the chest during the bench press and are assisted by the coracobrachialis and biceps brachii. In order that they be placed on effective stretch the chest should be held as high as possible through contained deep inhalation made possible as the external intercostal and serratus posterior muscles contract to lift and hold the ribs high. The chest held in the high position serves to increase the distance or puts the pectoral and anterior deltoid muscles on additional stretch since they originate from the anterior aspect of the shoulder and the medial an upper borders of the chest and attach to the humerus respectively.

A wide grip further increases the stretch and therefore the strength of these muscles. The close grip, although it does place the muscles in question on stretch, does not provide the ideal line of pull from the chest to the arm that the wide grip does. Furthermore, a narrow grip places additional responsibility too early in the lift on the triceps and acroneus muscles which, seemingly, are not as strong as the pectorals and anterior deltoid collectively. The elevated chest with the wide grip with the resultant muscle stretch starts the bar up from the chest with a great degree of momentum. Momentum is a critical factor in bench pressing just as it is in military pressing. If the bar is pushed rapidly from the chest the chances of its reaching the locked out extension are better than if the bar begins slowly from the chest. All things being equal, the narrow grip and the low chest position do not place the involved muscles on stretch adequately enough to cause the bar to rise from the chest rapidly.

Another important aspect to bench pressing is a solid stable position of the scapula (middle of upper back) on the bench. By tensing the muscles such as the rhomboids between the scapula and the trapezius which overlap the two scapula, and the subscapularis and teres muscles which attach the scapula to the humerus, the distance between them remains stable. This is important since the pectoral and anterior deltoid directly or indirectly pull on the shoulder girdle. If the scapula are not stabilized, the shoulder will move forward as these muscles contract rather than the arms moving up from the sides.

To understand this concept, one must realize that the chest and upper back muscles form what might be considered an action reaction band about the middle torso. When one of the muscle groups such as those in the back contract, the reaction is a pulling back of the shoulders and a stretching of the pectorals and anterior deltoid. Conversely, if the anterior deltoid and pectoral muscles are not tensed or stabilized during pectoral contraction, the shoulders move forward and the back muscles are stretched. Therefore, when the back muscles are not tensed or stabilized during pectoral contraction in bench pressing, the distance between the muscle attachments on the humerus and rib cage is less than that possible resulting in less stretch on these muscles and decreased strength.

These anatomical aspects regarding muscle function during the bench press lift are presented to stimulate critical thinking. In no way is this an attempt to cover all the anatomical aspects important to bench pressing. It is rather an attempt to provide several anatomical concepts which should be considered in all lifts. If one does not have a good anatomical background, all he need do is pick up an anatomy book. By looking at where the muscles in question originate and attach, one is able to determine how they function and more importantly, their most effective angle for optimal contraction. Those who train diligently should realize the importance of an anatomical understanding. With such understanding, exercises are selected with a full knowledge of what muscles are primarily involved, how they should position for optimal contraction, and supplemental exercises can be chosen which will overload the same group of muscles for strength at the desired angle.

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