Sunday, June 4, 2023

Five Tips for Elevating Your Bench Press, Part Two - Joseph Lucero


One of the first suggestions I make is the power position. This relies on you to develop an arch with your back to get yourself in a position to load more weight in a secure position to develop a deadly press. 

In addition to this, there are more bench-focused concepts that'll help you develop more power such as submaximal speed reps, band resisted bench pressing, and leg drive to get the bar to fly off your chest like you're playing hot potato during your sister's Quinceanera. 

Let's start by (ignoring that photo that doesn't fit, maybe?) discussing the power position regarding the bench press. With the power position, the goal is to develop an arch with the lower back so that you establish three points of contact: feet, hips, and upper back. The advantage of the power position is to help you by reducing range of motion to spare the shoulder joint, better engagement of the antagonist muscles for stabilization of the movement, and getting a stronger base with foot placement to keep you secure and capable of employing leg drive upon the press command. Some steps to consider when developing this powerful position: 

1) Arch your back by pushing the hips backward and squeeze the shoulder blades. 

2) Bring your feet back and at good width to keep your arch and maintain your balance. 

3) Emphasize bar placement on the lower pec and keep your elbows tucked in. 

When all of these concepts are manifested into this power position, you have developed the best scenario possible towards having a successful press. How this works towards developing a powerful press is that you have put yourself in the best position to accept heavier loads and are able to redirect the barbell from your chest through various biomechanical advantages. 

Many people discuss the power of the legs used for the leg drive at the pressing command. One of the best ways I can describe this is that when we develop neuromuscular activity, it seems that the leg deive works in conjunction with pressing the weight off our chest to create an explosive movement. In addition to pushing the weight off our chest with explosive intentions, this level of intensity can maximize bench pressing ability to deliver a much more successful attempt. But to make this work, we need explosive movement from our actual pressing motion, which will be discussed next. 

Submaximal values pertain to percentages of your one rep max. When it comes to speed repetition, some people believe lifting values for speed and explosiveness should be as light as 40%. Every advocate of banging the iron could tell you their logic and belief regarding the utilization of submaximal loads for developing speed. 

So, who is to say one way is the right way? 

When prescribing submaximal loads for developing speed, I have utilized values as light as 60% and eventually building up to 85% or more as well. But when the percentages climb to such a high amount, how can there be any implementation of speed if the weight is too heavy? 

The thing about this concept is that with time, you want to progressively overload the body once you've built up to a peak, it makes sense that at this point you should hopefully become a ballistic bench presser who can sling heavier submaximal loads with more speed through adaptation. An example of this could be: 

Week 1: Speed bench press, 10x3 reps with 65%
Week 11: Speed bench, 3x2 with 85%

These valuies are arbitrarily conceived, just to serve the purpose of this informational discussion. I'll present more about various loads and concepts of implementing speed reps later on in the sample 8-week program.  

The next type of exercise I enjoy using for becoming explosive and ballistic would be band resisted bench pressing. This means placing bands under the bench to add resistance throughout the movement. As the band stretches during the ascending phase, it tightens to add more resistance as you reach lockout. 

This means that at the bottom of your press, the resistance is lightest so you can practice being faster off the chizette to help you with carrying your press into a stong lockout. This means that at the bottom of your press, the resistance is at its lightest . . . 

Is there anyone who lifts that still doesn't understand how bands work? 
Moving on . . . 

From here it transitions to maximal effort and dynamic effort days. Again, there's 3.5 berzillion things already written on this that are easy to find.
Moving on . . . 



A.K.A. No two people are indentical. 

When deciding on a programming for your bench press, it's very important to understand your "needs" in regard to growth and development. 

Are you weaker at the lockout? 

Are you weaker off the chest? 

These types of questions should be asked when developing a program aimed at improving your benching power. As the previous tips mentioned strategies towards pressing precision, it is important to diagnose your press as to whether you're looking to target bottom strength, transitional strength, and/or lockout strength. 

Below I have outlined three movements to use during programming and how they can help improve one or more of these areas. 

1) Dead Bench.

The dead bench is well known in the strength community as a superior movement for increasing your bench press. Many people use this movement throughout training, and as they work towards a peak, they will work on placing the dead bench sat different heights to increase bottom or lockout strength. 

To bring context to this, let's talk about John "Dim" Witt. John is a great presser and is dynamic with his ability. He bounces at the local night club where he enforces the rules and denies any insubordinate scum from entering this premier spot a socialization. 

When he blasts the iron with his fellow collegues, he notices that when pressing the heavy iron, he starts to struggle a couple inches off his chest. To me, it sounds as if he is suffering from bottom strength, and this should become his focus. 

The best way to cater to someone like Mr. Witt would be to program a dead bench press one to two inches off his chest. What happens with the dead bench is just as it sounds -- you're pressing dead weight off your chest without the support of the elastic stretch during the eccentric phase of the lift. 

John can either work dead press for several sets of triples, doubles, singles, or he could work heavier sets to increase his overall strength on the lift. In the 8-week sample program I'll outline later, you'll see some strategies for improving bench press ability. I know I am discussing "individualized" programming that meets a person's needs, but with the 8-week sample, I intended to give enough variety to hopefully cater to most people and their ambitions for hoisting the heaviest of iron. 

2) Band Resisted Bench Press. 

I think one of the more common things on social media is to see individuals lifting with heavy chains to add extra resistance to improve their lockout and transitional strength. 

Chains are great, but I think the popularity of chains must be soley driven by aesthetic considerations. When it comes to adding extra resistance, bands are my preference as the tension can be varied. Plus, the amount of exaggerated tension can really put a heavy strain on the lifter for a positive adaptation. One of the benefits for using bands is a much more severe impact on resistance against the barbell. This helps the lifter not just improve his lockout strength but also learn how to fight through the elevating tension to improve transitional strength (being the ability to transition with power from the bottom of the lift to the top of the lift). 

3) Isometric Press. 

Reading extensive literature on barbell strength, it became pretty evident that one of the superior tactics towards improving strength in any lift is through the utilization of isometrics. Isometric contractions can be defined in two ways: passive and active. 

Isometrics are defined as "motionless contractions," and to further discuss the concept of either passive or active, let's talk about the abdominal plank and the car push.

When you do an abdominal plank, you are holding your body in a motionless position and do not have an external resistance. In this case, this isometric is passive and does not require effort beyond simply holding your position. 

The car push, however, requires that you keep your arms steady, but at the same time, push against a car to get it to the desired location. Even though your arms are motionless, in this case, you are pushing against an external force. With this, we are discussing an active isometric. 

When working isometric pressing for the bench press, the goal is to place the bar against the rack pins in order to work on developing an overload of tension in various positions. The position I most frequently recommend to individuals is to place the bar where they are lacking the most strength. Are you lacking strength at the bottom of the lift or the top of the lift? 

When doing isometric pressing, it is also a good idea to match this movement within a superset including dynamic movement as well. That means once you've pushed on the motionless barbell for about 5 or 6 seconds, remove yourself from the exercise and then go into something lighter in submaximal weight in order to practice explosive movement. 

Perhaps you load the bar with lighter weight and press for three reps, or drop to the floor and do three clap pushups instead. Be Creative! Understand your personal needs and develop the program in a way that caters to you and the options you have for performing this exercise. 

Next: The Antagonist to My Agonist: Opposing Forces for Complete Control. 

Enjoy Your Lifting!      

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