Thursday, October 9, 2014

Make Your Benches Click - Eberhard Schneider

Available October 21/2014

Age-related changes influence all physiological systems, including those used during exercise and sport. Highlighting masters athletes—older adults who train and compete in organized sports—Nutrition and Performance in Masters Athletes examines the extent to which regular physical training can impact these changes. This book bridges the gap between theory and practice, addressing nutritional, exercise and sport sciences, and the actual performance of masters athletes and older exercisers. It reviews in detail many age-related changes that occur in the physiological systems, provides implications of these changes for masters athletes, coaches and clinicians, explores scientifically-based methods to maximize sprint, strength and power, team sport players, endurance and ultra-endurance performance, and focuses on the unique nutritional needs of master athletes.

Eberhard Schneider 

Even with just a bare minimum of weight training experience you know that you can use a lot more weight in half squats than in full squats. The same goes for bench presses, where you can handle significantly more weight in the upper half of the movement than when you let the bar travel all the way down to your chest. Some 'purists' view such short movements with contempt, decrying them as 'incomplete' and a sure way to get unevenly developed and possibly injured. The fact is that when you combine your training to full range movements only you also limit the exercise poundages to the amount that you can move through the sticking point, and thus you never get to tap your vastly larger potential for heavier weights in short-range movements.

So if you want to attain your maximum possible degree of muscle and strength you cannot afford to use only those weights which you find manageable in the weakest phase of the exercise and thereby leave substantial areas of your developmental possibilities unexploited. Instead, you must increase your poundages beyond what you can handle in full movements - and the best way is to practice heavy partial reps in the power rack. The superior and muscle building properties of this wonderful piece of equipment have been dealt with by various authors, and my own experience substantiates the numerous glowing appraisals. To quote just one (Ken Leistner, Iron Man, May 1974): "There is only one way to become really strong and that is to handle heavy weights. There is no other training method which allows one to handle the type of weight that one can use in a rack workout. No athlete can measurably improve his performance by waving around 30 pound dumbbells. But the ponderous loads that can easily be worked up to on the rack insure almost immediate strength gains. It is for this reason that so many Olympic and Power lifters depend on the rack for strength gains."

Now, I am no strength champion, but I am one of those unsung basement home gym trainers with limited physical potential and am rapidly closing in on 40 years of age. I have no personal experience with steroids - in my opinion taking steroids betrays a latent neurosis - and my best bench press of 308 lbs at 190 was built on nothing stronger than brewer's yeast, wheat germ oil and calcium. Reading about 500 lb bench presses no longer makes my thinning hair stand on end because I have my own standards - and by my own standards I do not regard a 300 lb bench as measly or something to bicker about.

My point is, while I do not want to forgo the very noticeable developmental value of handling 300 pounds on the bench, I cannot even hope to work up to that poundage at every workout without going stale very quickly and running the risk of injury. So do I have to reconcile myself to using lighter weights and consequently not achieving an optimal growth stimulus? Not on your nelly! [It helps to be named Eberhard when using that expression.)

I simply employ the power rack principle negotiating the heavy weight only through the upper half of the bench press movement - and my special quirk is that I do not use a power rack at all because it exhibits a particular drawback which I do not like to contend with: lack of pre-stretch. Let me explain.

When you take the weight out of regular bench press uprights and then lower it from the extended-arm position, your bench press muscles are stretched via eccentric contraction and this elicits a reflex which activates additional muscle fibers so that you have more strength at your disposal for pressing the weight back up to lockout. In a power rack, however, you must start your first rep from the dead point of the low position and cannot take advantage of the pre-stretch reflex as this will not make itself felt until you are halfway through the second rep. Setting a heavy load in motion out of the dead point is sheer drudgery, and I believe that even heavy training should be inherently pleasurable.

This is where my 'click-trick' comes in. As you can see in the accompanying photo I have simply would some thick wire around one upright, with a straight end jutting out horizontally at the exact height to which I want to lower the bar. When I lie back on the bench this straight end is pushed back so that it does not graze my scalp, and then with a deft flick of my left index finger is pivoted to where it hovers about seven inches above my chest. The weight is then taken out of the uprights (I use a rather narrow grip of about 25 inches to let the triceps bear the full brunt), and lowered to where it touches the wire with an audible 'click' and even bends it down to about half an inch. The click is the signal for firing nerve impulses with full force to press the weight back up, which, because of the pre-stretch, is not as hard as if I had started the movement from the dead point. The beautiful thing about this very simple device is that it allows me to use my maximum bench press weight in regular training, thereby subjecting my muscles to very heavy resistance, while at the same time, because of the limited movement, not tearing at the tissues like real full-range maximum attempts. And the click-wire always gives me the reassurance that I have let the bar down far enough, but not too far as this would come too close to resembling all-out maximum attempts.

Well, it works for me - for the time being at least, and may work again as well at a later date.

Update: 16 weeks have passed since my spree of partial benches and my progress is slowing down. Feeling the need to remunerate myself for my stick-to-itiveness by affording some variety, I have widened my grip a bit and am now doing full movements with medium weights and higher reps plus extra concentration on the working muscles. Pump City!!! The effect is simply enormous. This goes to show once more that instead of hoping for an absolutely ideal system which will work indefinitely, the diversified approach of milking a method for all you're worth and then deliberately changing the growth stimulus for continued gains is the way to go on going on.     

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