Based on the positive feedback I’ve received from our readers after my previous article entitled “Bench Press Tips and Tricks” was published, I have decided to follow up with a Part II. In Part I of this installment I discussed four tips that I have found helpful in increasing athletes, clients, and even my own bench press. These tips involved changes in technique that in many cases elicited immediate improvement in one's ability to bench press. In this installment I will continue to provide guidelines which I have found helpful in increasing one's bench, only this time, the tips will deal more with the programming aspect of the movement.
Lock out every repetition
Locking the elbows out completely at the completion of every repetition is the only way to ensure you’re building the top portion of the movement. Ironically this is where many people fail to finish a rep when going for a max attempt. I will even go as far as recommending that at the completion of each and every set (before returning the weight to the rack), it is imperative to hold the weight at the top for a minimum of 2 seconds. I have seen athletes (read: “bodybuilders”) coming a few inches short of lockout on each repetition. Their reason is usually something along the lines of “I want to isolate my chest”. Well if that's the case, keep the tension on your pectorals at the expense of your triceps. In the end they’ll likely wind up making very little, if any gains on their bench press. You might say, “Who cares how much they’re bench pressing when all they need to do is look good on stage”. Wrong again. In the most cases they’ll need to get stronger to elicit new muscle growth, and being a “Half Rep Harry” just isn’t going to cut it. Plus, because they haven’t been finishing the top portion of the movement, chances are their triceps are going to suck! And we know, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Speaking of “Half Rep Harry,” it’s time for me to drop my next gem of wisdom regarding range of motion.
Overload the CNS by overloading the top of the movement
At first it may seem as though I am contradicting myself by mentioning partial reps after revealing our good ole friend, “Half Rep Harry”. There is however a time and place for everything. Let me ask you a simple question: Are you able to bench more if you stop 2 inches before touching your chest, or more if you bring the bar down (like you’re supposed to) and touch your chest? The answer is obvious, the further away you come from your chest prior to pressing, the more weight you can handle. I’ve seen partial repetitions being done by every ego driven individual in just about every commercial gym in America. The problem is they are doing it improperly and for the wrong reason. The way they're executing this “overload” isn’t quantifiable.
What I mean is, they may not be consistent on each and every repetition. Rep #1 may be one inch from the chest, while rep #2 is 2 inches off the chest and as fatigue really beings to set in, rep #5 becomes a bench press with a miniscule range of motion. Executing a set in the manner that I just described is not only unquantifiable, but would make it very difficult to plan future workouts based upon what had been completed.
With that being said, the best way to overload the top part of the bench press is board pressing , floor pressing, and by using the slingshot. These pieces of equipment allow you to add more weight to the bar than you could conventionally press, which will make the weight feel lighter when you go for a regular maximum attempt, since you’ve handled additional weight. Doing this also builds self-confidence. If done prior to a heavy attempt raw with no boards, it also may have what is called a “potentiation effect”, forcing your nervous system to turn on and recruit more motor units than it would otherwise to complete the given task. Add all of the above with the positive training effect that the overload work has on your triceps, and it’s hard to make a case against partial range top end work.
Monday might be “National Bench Day” in most of the country, but in my facility for those whose focus is increasing their Bench Press, Monday AND Friday are our training days for this movement. I have found one thing in common between those getting poor results from their bench press program; Lack of volume. 3-5 sets done once a week just simply isn’t enough. A total of 8-12 work sets are needed per session, and this needs to be done twice per week. What exactly is done during each of these sessions is better left for my next installment, or perhaps my video or book, since it would take more than this paragraph to answer.
A basic suggestion that I would give is to increase your bench days to twice per week. In essence a heavy day and light day could work, as would a low end and top end day. Top end meaning more focus on the lockout portion of the lift (i.e. more triceps) and low end focusing more on the first half of the lift. Paused reps work well for the low end.
Pause your Reps
Aside from being the way the movement is executed in competition, pausing the bar on your chest before pressing will have a positive effect on your strength, size, and technique. Pausing your reps will require you to stay completely tight during the entire movement, taking away that bounce which could leave to injury and basically a poor press overall (especially if your groove is all over the place). Pausing also increases the time under tension, which has been shown to have a linear relationship with hypertrophy.
Have a Spotter
In Part I of this series I discussed the importance of shoulder blade retraction and lower back arch. Without a spotter giving a lift-off, it is very difficult to maintain this position at the start of the movement. Another important point I would like to mention in regards to your spotter is THEYSHOULDNOTBETOUCHINGTHEF'INGBAR under any circumstances (unless the bar starts to come back down while you are pressing). Your spotter’s job is just that… TO SPOT! His or her job is not to help boost your ego by assisting you in completing repetitions you would not have been able to complete yourself. The rule of thumb we use in my facility is…. if the spotter touches the bar THE REP DOESN’T COUNT. Just like I mentioned above, with partial range pressing (which is unquantifiable), the same rules apply here. Training is all about progressing week after week, based on the results from each workout. When you have artificial assistance from a spotter, planning out the next session becomes an impossible task.