Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Bench Press - Judd Biasiotto

What an Elite Bencher Looks Like to an Ascended Being.
For a while, I knew a twig with a three-color leaf that became one of them.
Lately, there's a piece of broken bottle that's appears to be getting close
when the Sun gives it a boost of visual energy. 
A few more go-rounds and being broken on The Wheel of Life and it'll be there!

"For the Love of God, man . . . seek professional help before you actually understand something!" 

If you took a survey of American lifters, I'm sure you'd undoubtedly find that the bench press is by far the most popular lift. If you checked, you'd probably find that it's the most popular  lift in the world. Everyone benches, even the Russians, and just about everyone loves to do it -- except for me. 

For the longest time I hated the bench press with a passion. Just the thought of it would turn my stomach. If course, I had a few good reasons for the way I felt. First, but certainly not foremost, was the fact that I never had what you'd call an awesome bench press. It's true that I once out-benched Pee Wee Herman, but not by much. Generally, I used my bench press as a rest period between my squat and my deadlift.

Another thing that bothered me about the bench press was that everyone and his brother consider it the ultimate criterion for strength. No matter where you are, if people find out that you're a weight lifter, the first thing they ask you is, "How much do you bench?" If you don't come up with some great big numbers, they look at you as if you're someone who trains at Spa Lady. It's absurd -- especially when you consider that the bench press is the least important of the three powerlifts because you can lift significantly less weight on it. You can be blown away in the bench by 50 pounds -- whereas in the squat and deadlift you can be blown away by 250 pounds. Obviously, if you're a powerlifter, you'd be better off with a good squat and deadlift than a good bench. On the other hand, if you're a bodybuilder, it doesn't matter if you can bench press your own bodyweight as long as you look as if you can bench an apartment complex.

In the past, when I'd try to explain that to powerlifters or bodybuilders, they'd look at me as if I were intellectually constipated. In short, it seemed that everyone wanted a big bench, whether it was important or not.

The thing that grated on my the most, though. was that a lot of guys were cheating on the lift. In fact, in my opinion, there was more cheating going on involving the bench press than you'll find being discussed in most divorce courts. 

So what changed my mind about the bench press? 

It's simple. I learned how to cheat. That's right, I learned how to cheat, and my bench jumped fro 285 to 320 at a bodyweight of 132 in less than four months -- without my using a bench shirt. What's even more amazing is that I honestly don't believe my strength increased during that time. In other words, by learning to cheat -- which in this case means "correcting" my form -- I increased my bench by approximately 35 pounds without significantly enhancing my strength. 

Note: There's something to be learned there concerning the use of numbers only to measure strength. Argue at will online about it. Fer zample, a bench performed with an arch, the bar taken to the upper gut swelled out, etc. (you know the drill) . . . compared to a bench with the back completely flat on the bench and the bar taken to above the nipples (there's that drill again, what are you . . . a dentist?). Argue at will to no end if you please.

I'm sure you'd like to know how to cheat the way I do, right? The major secret is the arch. According to powerlifting rules, you're allowed to arch your back as much as possible during the bench press as long as your shoulders and buttocks remain in contact with the bench -- so it's not really cheating, according to competitive rules. 

The idea is to roll your shoulders under and then inch your buttocks in the direction of the shoulders as much as possible. In other words, you want to position your body so it looks like an inverted U. By arching your back that way, you can significantly increase the height of your chest above the bench, and the higher you can elevate your chest relative to your arm length, the less mechanical work you have to do to perform the lift. Arching also helps you increase the horizontal distance that the bar travels in the lift.

I've taken a good five inches off my bench press stroke by arching. Obviously, that makes the lift a lot easier because I'm not moving the weight as far. 

Another good technique is to learn to drive with your legs. That's right, you can use your legs to do exactly what most great benchers have done: taken a chest exercise and made it a near total-body exercise. By supporting the weight with your shoulders and legs and by just grazing the bench with your buttocks -- thus, staying within the rules -- you can generate momentum from your legs to your upper body. According to Dr. Thomas McLaughlin, a biomechanics expert who'd done extensive analysis of the bench press, the preferred leg position is with your legs parallel to the bench. As he said, "When the legs are positioned at this angle, the momentum generated by the legs can be channeled horizontally through the body much better than if the legs are out at an angle to the bench." 

Also according to McLaughlin, "The effect of the momentum -- especially in the more dramatic cases when bridging/arching is used to help this even more -- is to move the bar toward the shoulders. 

Note: McLaughlin's book is on this blog in full. You'll find it by, um, looking for it, eh.
Ah Fark! There's 16 parts not counting the Table of Contents post, starting here:

In fact, the result of this momentum transfer is to cause the bar path to be transferred horizontally toward the head and for the bar to move at lower angles toward the head. These changes in bar path caused by the momentum transfer in bridging/arching are exactly what constitutes superior technique in bench pressing. This is the main reason that bridging helps bench pressing -- i.e., by focusing a better bar path. 

There's only one little problem with arching like that to enhance your bench press -- it's dangerous. (They don't mention that much, do they. How often do you hear of some strength and/or powerlifting "coach" reminding you that when coupled with regular hard power squat and reg deadlift training the powerlifting bench press can lead to . . . and why should they! "Come on, we're tryin' to sell hats, supps, manuals and DVDs here, Bra." The whole race, we human beings that is, are basically whores for one thing or another. Cash, power, respect from pets, fictitious religious rewards, family, notions of service, health today, longevity tomorrow and all combinations therein. She's a long list. And so is he. Here's to all us whores! Whores to whatever it is that gives us the delusion of a meaning we can live with depending on our current view of what's it . . . 'worth'. But I'm sure you already see and know that and have gone on to stage two . . . refusing to see and know that.). Anyhow . . . You significantly increase your potential for injury to the lower back due to extensive lower-back hyperextension. In addition, any transfer of momentum from the legs to the upper body will result in more lumber hyperextension, so there's an even greater potential for injury. 

Obviously, lower-back flexibility is not only necessary if you're going to perform your benches with a big arch, but it's also necessary to help protect against injury. Still, even with superior flexibility, there's  chance for injury. You should consider this before deciding to use a technique that includes a big bridge. (And if you do choose to do so, remember the stress it can put on your lower back, and design your total program with that in mind. Or don't.)

A few other considerations now. 

Your grip. Generally speaking most top bench pressers use a wide grip, and there's some scientific evidence indicating that a wide-grip bench is potentially better than a narrow-grip bench. While there must be more research before we can draw a definite conclusion about bench press grips, I believe I can present a good argument for the wide grip from a strictly empirical standpoint.

First of all, in terms of mechanics, the wider your grip the shorter the life span of your shoulders . . . no, wait a second here . . . the wider your grip the shorter the distance the bar has to travel. I've seen some guys, like Lamar Gant, cut out a good foot of their bench press stroke by using these techniques.

How much could you bench if you shortened the distance the bar travels by a foot? I guarantee it would be a dramatic improvement, and if and when the rules grow up and start recognizing that short guys have access to much, much more grip width variation in the bench than tall guys, well, maybe we'll all be able to experiment with those wider widths. Don't hold your valsalva, though, this is likely a ways off still. That 32" deal, eh. A wee bit from the bottom of the deck, isn't it.

Another plus for using a wide grip is muscle involvement. As you're probably aware, a wide (damn you, hyphen) grip bench involves the pectoralis major more and the triceps less. With a close grip the revers is true. Since the largest muscle mass used in the bench press is the pec major (stop saying "the back" you wiseacre), it seems logical that you'd want to involve that muscle more. The closer your grip, the more the triceps are brought into play. Then, as you move your hands outward, the more the combination of triceps, deltoids and pecs takes over.

"Of course. Obviously!"

Obviously, the more muscles you bring into play, the greater your strength potential. Plus, your potential for strength is much greater in the pectoralis major than the triceps because of the pec major's much larger muscle mass. While I won't deny that there are some top bench pressers who use narrow grips, they're few and far between. Not only that, but I honestly believe that even those lifters would improve their bench numbers if they moved their grips out. 

"I see and agree." 

The next consideration is the question of whether or not greater enjoyment and audience involvement can occur in a work of storytelling art that does not limit itself by self-enforcing a plot or some sense of 'ending' along the way. The stability of characters, when allowed the fluidity of often changing expressions of behavior as is true in life, can be widened out and therefore become less predictable to the reader/viewer. Black hat, white hat, hats of all hues between. Developing a sense that all things emanate/manifest from the same foundation of energy transfer and are in that way connected/related can lead to characterizations of combination beings easily moving from one physical form of manifestation to others. The multi-species, variable form hero of the story who is shown in Chapter One to be a failing 40-year old human being but is a successful falling autumn leaf at the completion of a fulfilling life in Chapter Five. Or some such unrelated nonsense that is so rarely used to widen the scope of the storytelling experience, likely owing to a lack of energy input on the part of reader/viewers and an  inability to see the sentient life in all things. Incapacitated we are. But by what or whom? We really don't wanna know that. It ain't pretty. Whoooooom??? Who-What the hell is behind stopping the return of the mind to its all encompassing power and and a fuller perception of the life in all things? Wellsir, I guess that'd be you and me, then, ain't it. We ARE the WhoWhat! Talk about yer passive/aggressive crimes against the universe, Buddy! All this life and consciousness viewed as inanimate, blunt, and conveniently 'less' than us. And all these 'beliefs' spread by those who can gain power by leading us right into this abyss of semi-consciousness. Duped, I tells ya . . . we bin duped! Dupes! Now No future!!! No worries, though. Just poke out one eye, refuse to use whole sections of your brain, read some bloody crap in a series of currently accepted texts and  . . . call that your world view. Problem? Solved!

There was a child went forth everyday,
           And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
           And that object became part of him for the day or a certain
              part of the day,
           Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
Rubbish! Rubbish I tells ya!!! The whole idea of such a thing. 

Now. Consider the bar's ascent and descent. There are two very important points. The first is that we're all anatomically different. Consequently, each and every one of us has to develop his or her own groove. Not everyone's bench is going to look exactly the same. There are, however, some general rules to follow when developing your groove.

The second point is that strength is very specific. Even a slight deviation in your groove can cause a significant change in muscle involvement and a decrease in strength. I've experienced that phenomenon on numerous occasions. I'd attempt a weight in competition and miss it badly. Even so, I'd add more weight to the bar for my next attempt and smoke it. If course, the difference between the two lifts was that on the first one I missed my groove and on the other I nailed it. It all boils down to the fact that you need to develop your groove and then make a conscious effort to follow it on each lift lift you attempt -- even on your warmup lifts.

As for the descent, there are only two things to remember. First, let the bar descend straight down to the highest point on your chest, and try to stay as tight as possible. Be careful not to let the bar free-fall from the straight arm position to your chest. There's considerable research indicating that it takes more strength to stop the bar and reverse inertia when you let it descend at a controlled rate. Of course, it's also dangerous to free-fall the weight.

The second point about the descent concerns your elbows. They should be tucked near your sides during the descent. Whatever you do, don't let them flare outward, because you'll decrease your mechanical efficiency for driving the weight off your chest and through your sticking point.

On the ascent, according to McLaughlin, "Lifters should develop a horizontal bar path that's as close to the shoulders as feasible. The displacement of the bar path toward the shoulders reduces the torque that the lifter is required to generate at the shoulders. The initial movement of the bar from the chest should therefore include a substantial horizontal component toward the head and shoulders and should generally continue along this path until completion of the lift." In gym terms that means, when you push the bar off your chest, gradually drive it back over your eyes until you reach a lockout position.        
Note: the use of bench shirts can create a different animal. But argue forever online about the merits of a straighter bar path as opposed to the curved arc nonetheless. Remember the arguments for and against a straight bar path in the Clean/Snatch movement arc?

Okay, here's nine tips for a bigger bench press:

1) Arch your lower back and inch your butt forward toward your shoulders as far as possible. Your torso should form an inverted U. Note: be cautious, as this is a dangerous position for your lower back.

2) Plant your feet and keep your legs parallel to the bench, not angling out.

3) Use a wide grip to force the larger pec muscles into the role of the prime mover and to create better synergy from the pecs, triceps and delts.

4) Find your groove and consciously try to duplicate it on every set.

5) Control the bar's descent straight down to the highest point on your arched torso. Don't let it free-fall.

6) As the bar descends, keep your elbows tucked near your sides.

7) On the ascent, develop an horizontal path that's as close to the shoulders as possible.

8) Drive with your feet. Your butt should be barely grazing the bench so you achieve maximum power from your legs.

9) As you push, gradually drive the bar back over your eyes until you reach blackout, er, lockout.

And there you have the mid-90's view on bench technique.

Here's a sample big-bench routine:



Bench Press -
1x8 x 65% of 1RM
1x5 x 80% of 1RM
1x3 x 90%
1x1 x 100%
1x3 x 85% - with a 3 second pause on each rep.

Dumbbell Bench Press -
2 x 8 x max

Dip -
2 x 8 x max

Lying Triceps Extension -
2 x 8 x max,
substitute apple sauce and 30 weight motor oil for butter twice a month
and remember to keep practicing the Band-Aids song. Come On! 


Bench Press -
1x8 x 65%
1x5 x 75%
1x3 x 85%
1x1 x 90-95%
1x3 x 80% with a 3 second pause on each rep.

Dumbbell Bench Press -
2x8 x 90% of 8 rep max
This was the way they used to write RPE back then.
In the early 1920's they would . . . well, that's another story for another time
from another time. Check the research, Bro. This shit is all new!

Dip -
2x8 x 9% of 8 rep max

Lying Triceps Extension -
2 x 8 x 90% of 8 rep max.

Okay, Tiger. Make like that silly child up there and get to work on your bleedin' bench already! 


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