Monday, May 29, 2023

Five Tips for Elevating Your Bench Press -- Joseph Lucero



Control the Weight: Conquer the Iron

One of the most gruesome things to witness in the world of strength training has to be the sternum-blasting bozos who train at the university rec centers. 

The problem with this concept is that at some point, you have to question yourself in regard to using your structure as an advantage to elevate your bench pressing power. 

Your sternum can only handle so much abuse, and hell, it shouldn't handle any, period. But to cultivate the ability to load heavier weight on the bench press, we need to learn how to control the iron, especially throughout the descending phase of the eccentric contraction. 

Consider the elastic potentiation that can occur from the well-developed controlling motion that spans from the unracking position to the chest. One common misconception is that if you are to lower the weight slowly to your chest, many would argue this could become an unnecessary waste of energy as it could exhaust the potential of your powerful pressing motion. This misconception does have some merit, but it all stems back to one thing . . . 

"Lifting with Intent" 

This means that as you lower the bar, your goal is to control the weight instead of lowering the weight with the intent of disrupting the musculature as an individual would for aesthetic development in a bodybuilding routine. When you descend with the barbell, your mind should exhausted with the concept of building tension and keeping the chest as tight as possible. This is so that when the press command is given, you can redirect stored energy to deliver a blow harder than Iron Mike Tyson.

So why does this concept work -- the concept of elastic potentiation? 

It stems from the mindset of utilizing cellular biology. Even if this seems like a daunting concept, we will simplify it enough for you to understand the physiological components of muscular contractions and appreciaste the development of movement through cellular level biology.

It all starts with the intent of generating movement. Once this occurs, the brain will send a signal throughout the body which reaches our muscles through the neuromuscular junction. When this signal reaches the musculature, calcium is sent throughout the sarcoplasmic reticulum in order to allow the muscle fibers to be able to connect to each other through the smallest extensions of the muscle fibers known as the actin and myosin. During this condition, the myosin and actin can only connect if ATP is present. 

ATP is an abbreviation for adenosine triphosphate, and this molecule is key to movement. If ATP is present, movement can take place! So, when the myosin and actin are connected through the many cross-bridges in the muscle fiber, they can start to slide over and over which cause the muscle to stretch and shorten.

Why is this cellular level of movement important for us to know? The fact is, if we are building tension and keeping the muscle fibers tight throughout a controlled stretch of the bench press, those cross-bridges will stay stronger and connected. 

So, when we do press upward, we will be able to effectively and efficiently use our muscles to generate the strongest of movements! If we are reckless and let the barbell dump on our chest to get the rebound from our sternum, this could cause the cross-bridges in the muscle fibers to not be as effective, and we will lose the ability to generate the strongest of contractions for the strongest of movement. 

Exercises to help with improving your control with the barbell include tempo pressing and the Spoto press. The tempo press is just as it sounds -- working the barbell with a tempo or cadence in order to promote a slower movement pattern. This helps the body adjust to the concept of lowering the bar to the chest with control and stabilization. I know that earlier we discussed promoting control of the bar by not just simply lowering the weight. However, with the tempo press, we are specifically working to promote a movement power that would replicate a slow cadence, so when the weight does become heavier, you'll have a better opportunity to be successful based on this prerequisite movement. 

In addition to the tempo press concept, the Spoto press is another opportunity to help with controlling the bar for successful pressing. The Spoto press was created by one of the finest pressers, Eric Spoto. This exer consists of lowering the weight within one to two inches from the chest, pausing or bringing the bar to a halt, and then bringing the barbell upward.

Some people will work this movement at various parts of their program, but the concept of this movement is to work the barbell with a slower tempo. Why? Because if your intention is to be ballistic and malicious, you won't hit your target point of bringing the barbell a couple inches from your chest. 

Tuck Your Elbows, You Filthy Animal

When discussing the planes of movement, we brought up a controversial discussion of the bench press being either a sagittal movement or transverse movement. 

 - Sagittal Plane: cuts the body into left and right halves. Forward and backward movements. 

 - Transverse Plane: cuts the body into top and bottom havles. Twisting movements.

Note: Might as well go a little more into this. 

When we consider the anatomy of movement, planes of movement are an important topic to discuss. When describing the bench press, there is a level of controversy on the planes of movement. People would describe the bench press as either sagittalm, transverse, or both. 

Sagittal movement occurs with the intent of going forwards and backward. While the transverse plane explains the body moveming in a horizontal fashion, and, in this case, talking about the shoulders going though horizontal 

The big controversy over discrepancy is that even if we try out best to keep this movement in the sagittal plane, many people realize abduction and horizontal adduction. To understand better, imagine doing a flat dumbbell bench press with your elbows flared outward and at shoulder height. 

For us to be powerful pressers, we need to have this conversation about planes of movement. So we press with the intention of performing a sagittal movement, or do we press with the intention of pressing with horizontal abduction and adduction? With my experience, I believe it's necessary to bring the elbows in tight. This allows more biomechanical proficiency and utilization of the triceps, anterior deltoids, and pectoralis major. This harmony allows lifter to get full recruitment of all three nuscles. The minute your elbows flare is the minute you start to lose that back-arm strength.

Understand, though, that even if your goal is to keep the elbows tight in order to perform the bench press in a sagittal plane, it can become hard to stay true to this concept as most people will show some level of elbow displacment during the ascending motion of the bench press. But let's remember that before the ascending phase is the descending phase, and it is a scientific fact that (in regards to the bench press) that the body can withstand a much heavier load during the descending phase than the ascending phase. 

For a moment, let's focus on the descending motion of the bar during the bench press. If you can handle a heavier load and focus on the phase, work hard to keep the elbows tight so that during this motion the elbows are engaged and much more involved than if they hadn't been at all. 

Big picture -- even if the elbows become displaced into a biomechanical disadvantage, the "intention" of performing the bench press with these top cues will make you much more successful than mindlessly plowing through heavy iron with a complete disregard for your body. 

Back to . . . the big controversy over discrepancy is that even if we try out best to keep this movement in the sagittal plane, many people (especially those who press heavy) will start to show horizontal adduction of the shoulder joint. This motion would cause the lift to occur in the transverse plane as well. But, the goal is to continue to focus on keeping our elbows tucked in. This focus will incorporate more of our triceps to have an even more effective press. 

In order to make this a biomechanically successful concept, it also requires us to discuss hand placement on the bar. Many have adopted the wide grip bench press to limit range of motion in order to get an advantage amongst other lifters. 

Doug Hepburn, wide.

Doug Hepburn, medium. 

If this is your jam, trust that I am not jelly. Everyone is different, and everyone abides to different rules and policies. I do believe, however, the more effectively we can balance leverage amongst the pectoralis major, triceps brachii and anterior deltoids, the better we can press and the more confidently we can press. 

But even if we intend to keep the elbows tucked in, sometimes even the heaviest of lifters will begin to showcase a shift in elbow placement that has their elbows flared outward , which could cause strain and damage to the shoulder joint In order to fix this, we need to make sure and promote triceps strength through various movements. The biggest exercises I believe that will develop triceps strength are: 

Close Grip Bench Press
JM Press
A TON of Volume! 

When doing the close grip bench press, it seems much more realistic to keep the elbows tucked in so that they are underneath the wrists throughout the movment. Some people have a distorted understanding of the close grip hand placement, so, to me, it depends on the individual's current press grip, and if this concept is even applicable. 

For me, I bench press with my pinky on the inside rings of the bar. To bring me to close grip, I place my palms within thumb length of the knurling of the bar, which might very well be about a full hand inside my bench press grip. For people who already have a naturally close grip bench press, they could consider other exercises. 

Dips have to be one of the more effective movements I prescribe to individuals. Trust me, I am not the "originator" of this concept, but just because you don't prescribe a gimmicky movement to an individual doesn't mean you aren't a reliable source of information. Sometimes it's even more effective to stick with what's already being used and seen as worthwhile, even if that means you aren't the biggest innovator. 

Dips, especially weighted, can load the triceps based on the grip of the movement. This movement really forces the elbows to stay in a position that stays true to the sagittal plane, not to be confused with the sagettal plane. 


When you descent with the dips, you will start to feel an immediate tightness of the anterior deltoid muscles. This, plus the amount of leverage on the elbow joint will help you develop and grow tremendously, and that will translate over to the bench press. If you grow your triceps and deltoids, then why wouldn't your bench press grow as well? 

The JM Press is an effectual movement as well. During this movement, you will go through a movement pattern, hey, watch the video if you don't know this one . . .  

. . . you will go through a motion pattern that doesn't seem to be as traditional as other ones you could perform, such as the skull crusher or the triceps pressdown. 

The way I like to perform the JM Press is to use a straight bar to help translate more to the bench press. Afterwards, I have them keep the bar at "eye level" so that the arms are at a lean throughout the movement to help keep the triceps engaged. During the descending phase, I have the lifter work to come down slowly and keep the bar at eye level. So, whether it's the descending, ascending, or the lockout phase of the lift, the triceps are always engaged and cause a higher level of fatigue for a higher level of development! 

This movement also looks to mimic a part of the bar path that individuals naturally acquire as they learn to bench press more effectively. Bench pressers will place the bar at the lower part of their chest, and then as they press, the barbell's path will showcase an "arc" shape that will place the bar in a higher position than when it was at the bottom phase of the lift. This has to do with the power position from the arch and leg drive. Don't worry, we'll get to this concept of the power position later. 

Lastly, in order to keep the elbows tucked I promote a TON of volume to help elicit growth and development, but this isn't a tactic used year round.  

{He uses lots of volume on the bench accessory stuff, hypertrophy stuff, speed work. Close grips, Spoto press, speed bench, paused bench, bands, flyes, low inclines with BB and/ofr DBS, etc., etc. So, when he talks about only benching heavy three times a month with a deload every fourth week, he's doing quite a nice stack of bench stuff other than straight benching. I like that approach and my shoulders agree.}

During the offseason or initial parts of programming, we want to keep programming more basic but provide much more volume. This is what happens during the hypertrophy phase that helps to build the musculature to develop some slabs of beef that would intimidate the post-insult manly Mac from the old ads. 

To work this heavy volume, it's possible to try different levels of volume such as multiple sets of 12, 15, or 20 reps with limited rerst, or even working a single set of 80-200 reps all at once! It does truly depend on the lifter and their experience. 

An example of  this type of tricep work would be as follows: 

1) Triceps Pushdown. 5 x 20 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets.

2) Triceps Pushdown. 1 x 100 reps with 10 seconds rest at fatigue points (try to be get as many consecutive reps as possible between the 10-second rests). 

Difference between a triceps pushdown and a pressdown?

Pushdown, elbows out, heavier, cheaty, humped over to use bodyweight enabling higher poundage, pile on the weight, get a rhythm

Pressdown, elbows tucked in, stricter, more erect posture
 concentrate, stretch & squeeze. 

Powerful Pressing -- The Intent of Being Ballistic 

We have explored the topic of massive pressing, implementing concepts of controlling the weight, and tucking in your elbows to incorporate those massive tree trunk arms. But in addition to these principles of strength development, we need to explore the concept of working power into your routine to hoist the heavy iron with massive speed. There are many ways to develop this concept of power and we'll get into it in the next section . . . 

Enjoy Your Lifting!   



  1. FINALLY...someone explained the differing intricacies between the pushdown and the pressdown!

    1. I had to wring it out of a guy who kept going on about the difference between the two. Secrets revealed! Right here and now . . . sign up for inner square membership!


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