Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Incline Bench For Better Pressing - Gord Venables

The Incline Bench for Better Pressing
by Gord Venables (1962)

Are good pressers born or made?
Why is it that some weightlifters can press so much more than others?
Can the poor presser improve?

It’s unfair to compare modern pressers and their staggering records with those of the old-timers of the Pre-World War II era. In those days they did the Military Press and had to stand erect throughout the entire overhead lift with no deep arches, fast starts or back bends.

All that has changed and the classic Military Press has given way to the lay-back, deep-arched, rubber-lumbar Olympic Press. That is why the Press records are so much higher. It is inconceivable that a middleweight could Press 310 pounds in a strict military style, but they do in the Olympic Press.

Khadr el Touni of Egypt pressed 281 pounds as a middleweight in 1953. He was the best in the world and he pressed standing straight. Experts have often wondered what Touni would have done with the modern lay-back Olympic Press and conservative estimates give him about 325 pounds!

What John Grimek could have done with the Olympic Press is anybody’s guess – probably around the 350 pound mark if he could Clean it! Don’t sell the old champs short on the Press – they did theirs standing up straight.

The old Military Press placed emphasis mainly on shoulder strength. Of course, powerful trapezius and triceps muscles were required but usually the man with the strongest deltoids pressed the most weight.

In the “old days” we used to say that some lifters were “natural pressers” and some were not. Some said it was a favorable combination of bone lengths and, from a mechanical standpoint, it could be; bones are levers and some had better leverage than others.

Another school of thought ran to the insertion of the tendons as the secret of good pressing. They reasoned that the greater the distance of the deltoid insertion on the humerus bone from the shoulder fulcrum the greater the pressing power.

Another pet theory was that a good presser needed broad shoulders. Most of the good pressers had broad shoulders because pressing builds broad shoulders but there were exceptions to the rule. Touni was not excessively broad. He had massive trapezius muscles but he was not broad by any bodybuilder’s standards. Neither were John Terpak, Rudi Ismayr or Frank Spellman – all terrific pressers but not broad. Jip Nam Kim of Korea Military Pressed 281 at a bodyweight of 163, and he was actually narrow-shouldered!

One thing that all the experts agreed on: that a good presser had to have good deltoids. Pressing makes big shoulder muscles and big shoulder muscles make big presses. Touni had tremendous deltoids; so did Grimek, Frank Kay and Steve Gob – all terrific pressers.

Doug Hepburn of Canada, who is now consistently pressing over 400 pounds, has deltoid muscles on his shoulders some 4 inches thick!

Each of these theories had some merit, nevertheless poor pressers resigned themselves to the fact that Nature hadn’t taken into consideration that they wanted to be weightlifters. Many poor pressers improved somewhat by working hard and long on auxiliary Pressing Power Exercises such as Parallel Bar Dips and Hand-stand Press-ups but there was still a legion of poor pressers.

Prize for the world’s worst presser probably went to Karl Hipfinger of Austria. Middleweight Karl was a world’s record holder in the Snatch and Clean & Jerk but his Press usually terminated at 187 pounds. He finished before others began.

Stan Kratkowski, our great middleweight champ of 25 years ago, was a poor presser. But his terrific Snatch and Clean & Jerk always pulled him through. When Stan bulked up to the light-heavyweight class and trained for 6 months on Power Pressing Exercises his Press went up to 235, but that still wasn’t enough for a 181 pounder, particularly when there were lifters like Grimek, Gob and Kay around.

There were lifters who unwittingly added much confusion to the Press theory – fellow like little Joe di Pietro. Joe had abnormally short arms. When this bantamweight pressed his world’s record of 234½ pounds, the bar scarcely cleared to top of his head! Joe’s lift was a strict Military Press and that mark will probably stand forever as the bantamweight Military Press record though it has been exceeded a score of times by modern bantams in the Olympic Press.

The modern technique of pressing is entirely different from what it used to be, and the auxiliary Power Pressing Exercises are, likewise, different.

Parallel Bar Dips are still essential but less reps are used and a heavy weight is fastened around the waist. The big secret to greater pressing is the Inclined Bench.

The Seated Incline Bench Press is not a new exercise by any means, and during the last dozen years lifters have discovered that it can bring about an incredible improvement to their Olympic Press.

Why the Incline Bench? The Olympic Press brings another powerful set of muscles – the upper portion of the pectorals – into the lift and the Inclined Bench is the finest piece of apparatus for developing and strengthening of the upper pectorals. Little was required of the upper pectorals in a strict Military Press but a lot of work is placed on them in an Olympic Press. It isn’t so much the “lay-back” that has made the records in the Olympic Press go up – it is that more powerful muscles are brought into play. The more muscles you bring into play the more weight you lift.

Marvin Eder was one of the first to experiment with the Seated Inclined Bench Press as a means of improving his Olympic Press. Heavyweight Marvin once performed 2 reps with 400 pounds on the bench!

Featherweight Isaac Berger attributes much of his pressing ability to using the Inclined Bench. Berger handles 275 pounds on the bench and his world’s Press record is 266½ pounds!

Dave Sheppard, our middle-heavyweight champ of a few years back, made good use of the Inclined Bench and consistently beat the Russian lifters with his 325 pound Press. Dave used the bench every other day and his routine was: 5 reps with 135; 3 with 255; 3 with 285; 2 with 310; 1 with 320 and a final 1 with 340.

Why does the Inclined Bench act as a booster for the Olympic Press? For one thing, you can handle more weight because your back is firmly wedged against a surface at a fixed angle. The more you handle the bigger and stronger your muscles get.

When the Inclined Bench is set at 45 degrees, which is roughly the maximum angle permitted a lifter in the lay-back, you can really push. This brings the required Olympic Press muscles – the upper pectorals and the front deltoids – into action.

Using the Inclined Bench prevents any backbend. You must rely solely on the pectorals, deltoids and triceps to get the weight up. Your pecs, shoulders and arms are forced to do the work that’s intended for them. You’ve got to fight the weight all the way up and all the way down.

The Inclined Bench builds great pressing power.

There are two ways to use the Inclined Bench. If you train alone you need power stands, boxes, or a rack to handle heavy weight. The other way is to have two training partners lift the barbell to your chest when seated and hand it to you.

Lifters will increase their strength and improve their Press with the Seated Inclined Press, and bodybuilders, using the same routine but with lighter weights and more repetitions, will build bigger shoulders and a high chest.

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