Benchipedia: Dave Tate's Free Bench Press Manual

TAGS: free, board press, bench press manual, hypertrophy, chains, accessory, strength, dave tate, bench press

When Dave Tate's Free Squat Manual set record views in December, it became clear that the readers were interested. The response to the 16,000 word article was incredible.

As a result, Dave is at it again. Matching the detail of the squat manual, Dave Tate's Free Bench Press Manual covers everything you need to become a better presser. This information grew from years of experience both under the bar and through coaching many other top-level powerlifters.

He took the best information we have on bench pressing and put them in one place for your benefit. In 15 Sections, here is the most thorough bench press manual you'll find, directly from Dave Tate.

  • Section 1: Plateaus Suck
  • Section 2: The Bench Cure
  • Section 3: Saving Face
  • Section 4: Things You'd Better Know if You Want Strong(er) Triceps
  • Section 5: The 225 Bench Press Test
  • Section 6: 60 Bench Tips
  • Section 7: Weak Lockout
  • Section 8: Weak Off Your Chest
  • Section 9: More Weak Point Tips
  • Section 10: The Power of the Board
  • Section 11: Chains 101
  • Section 12: The Dead Bench
  • Section 13: So You Think You Can Bench
  • Section 14: JL Holdsworth Instructional Videos
  • Section 15: 12 EZ Steps to a Bigger Bench

 

Section 1: Plateaus Suck

Plateaus suck, and the stronger you are, the more frustrating they become.

I’ve seen very strong guys let plateaus drive them to the brink of insanity. They become obsessed to the point of being reckless, resorting to some seriously stupid “methods” in hopes of breaking through. And when their absolute best efforts still don’t work, the shit can hit the fan in ugly ways.

This article is about smashing bench press plateaus. If your bench hasn’t progressed in a long time or just isn’t where it should be, this is for you.

In the final reflections installment in my monster evolution series, I describe how a lifter’s development tends to follow a Shit-Suck-Good-Great paradigm.

Getting from shit to suck is a snap, and most committed lifters can get up to Good within five years or so. It’s an okay place to be—you may be the best bencher in your big box gym and get tons of high fives—but in the grand scheme you’re nothing special. Sorry if that bursts any bubbles.

Getting from good to great, however, puts you in very elite company. Few guys can ever do it, mainly because it requires getting through the dead zone, that period when absolutely nothing “works” and injuries (and frustration) start to mount.

The dead zone can last 10 years or longer, and it’s often the last phase of a lifter’s career before either injuries force them out or they get frustrated and quit.

The irony is, this lack of progress (the dead zone) is absolutely necessary for success, unless you’re extremely gifted.

It’s a shitty deal and woefully one sided, but that’s what we sign up for when we decide we want to be “serious lifters” and not just “strong guys who work out.”

Besides, if it were so easy to be elite that everyone could do it, would you even bother?

In this new series called Lessons from the Dead Zone, I’ll give you some basic, effective tips to get your big three lifts moving again.

Some of the material will be stuff you’ll have read before, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. Besides, I know from teaching hundreds of seminars that the guys who say they have “awesome technique” are usually the biggest disasters—their ego just doesn’t let them see it.

Let’s start with the bench press. Do everything I say in this section and you’ll add 50 pounds to your bench. How’s that for a sales pitch?

The Other Big 3

Any sticking point, whether in the bench press, the squat, or the deadlift, can be attributed to one of three things:

  • Mental
  • Physical
  • Technique

As a coach, the first thing I do is figure out which of the three is contributing most to the plateau, as this determines the path I take.

However, 90% of lifters think their issues are exclusively physical. They ask questions like, “What exercises should I do to improve my lockout?” and “How do I get stronger off the chest?” or “How often should I change my program?”

The problem is that roughly 70% of sticking points are really technique related, 20% are physical, and the remaining 10% are mental. So most stuck lifters looking for help are like dogs sniffing around the wrong fire hydrant.

I came to this conclusion after doing seminars for many years. In most seminars, I can help almost any stuck lifter hit a PR that same day.

Obviously these lifters didn’t get stronger over the span of eight hours, so their issue was either physical or mental. And since most mental issues don’t manifest at a seminar, that leaves technique as the main reason.

However, to be thorough, we’ll touch on all three.

Mental

The typical lifter with mental “issues” is a former bodybuilder. These are guys wrapped up in bodybuilding mantras like “feel the pecs contract” that run completely contrary to proper powerlifting bench press technique.

A powerlifting bench requires pushing with the whole body, not just the pecs. That fact is, a triceps pump is more indicative of a good powerlifting bench than puffed-up pecs.

Then there are the self-imposed mental roadblocks. For example, at seminars guys will say, “I always get stuck four inches above the chest.”

So I’ll throw it back to them. “Always?” I ask.

“Yes,” they say, “four inches above my chest.”

I’ll throw it back again. “Always?”

Now they start to get it. They’ve conditioned themselves to expect to miss. It dominates their mental dialogue throughout the lift when they want to be focused on technique and performance cues.

Other guys are the opposite. They’re getting fucked over by too much false bravado and “rah rah rah” type of crap.

Again, the mind should be a blank void except for precise technique cues. If you let yourself get too aroused or are surrounded by overly amped spotters, these important cues will likely be forgotten or ignored.

For example, when I watch a lift on YouTube and I hear a bunch of yelling and swearing and carrying on during the setup, I know right away it will likely be a miss or just an ugly lift. On the other hand, if I hear a lot of “Tuck! Tuck! Tuck!” and “Belly up!” the outcome is usually much better.

It’s not just rookies, either. Too much arousal can make even experienced lifters make a lot of obvious mistakes, like gripping the bar incorrectly or setting their feet improperly.

As for getting the right level of arousal, everyone’s different. You need to find the level that works for you, the one that has your CNS firing, yet not so much that it affects your technique.

Still, mental issues are not my specialty. I don’t spend much time addressing them, as they’re usually not the problem, and I have little to no patience for them. Get your head screwed on right, get some smart training partners, and grow some balls.

Technical

These are the big rocks. It’s a shit ton to cover, and I’ve covered it all before, so start by watching this video. It covers some basic stuff that 90% of guys at the gym don’t do.

I also suggest reading this article. This one is special for me because it’s my very first T Nation article, published way back in 2000. And yes, wise ass, what worked 12 years ago will still work today.

With that out of the way, here are the top technique issues I see when guys complain about a “stuck” bench press.

1. They don’t know how to get tight.

A guy who simply hops onto a bench and starts pressing is a shitty bencher. This isn’t bodybuilding—there’s a whole ceremony of actions that must take place during the setup before you even touch the bar.

A powerlifting bench press is a full body exercise, and to effectively recruit the lower body into the movement, force must transfer through the hips and torso to the bar. The only way this is possible without a serious energy leak is to be tight—feet pushed into the floor, upper back driving into the bench.

So how do you assess tightness? If you’re setup and I walk over and push your knee, it shouldn’t budge. In fact, once you’re gripping the bar, I shouldn’t be able to move any part of your body. You and the bar should be like one solid piece of iron.

It starts with finding your upper back tension. Most guys don’t have a clue what this even is, so here’s a test:

Lie on the bench with your feet on the bench and go into a wrestler’s bridge—basically push your hips as high up as you can while driving your feet and upper back into the bench.

Feel that tension in your upper back? Remember it, because that’s exactly the level of upper back tightness you want during your setup.

It should not be comfortable. The fact is, you should be turning purple when you take the bar out. The worst part of the bench press is the setup, so if it sucks to do, then you’re starting to do it right.

The good news is, all this tightness doesn’t just transfer force better, it’s also much better for shoulder health.

2. They’re misaligned.

The barbell must be in line with the wrists and elbows. The number one thing I see are the wrists being cocked back. This takes them out of alignment and leads to less force transfer.

Correcting this solves a ton of problems. It helps keep the bar from traveling too far behind the elbow, which turns the bench press into a triceps extension, or too far in front of the elbow, which results in a shoulder rotation and/or dumping the bar on the stomach.

3. They have no leg drive.

Guys refuse to accept how important this is. To say it again, the bench press is a full body exercise, and if you aren’t driving with your legs you’re leaving a ton of force on the table. If you want to bodybuild, then fucking bodybuild—don’t try to mix methods cause you’ll only achieve marginal results in either.

Here’s how you do it. If you bench with your feet out in front, then push your toes through the front of your shoes (like you were trying to scoot up the bench) while driving your back down into the bench. Basically, you’re trying to push the floor away from the bench with your feet while driving your traps into the bench.

If you’re the type who prefers to tuck their feet under for a really big arch, try to push the heels down into the floor. This flexes the ass and helps achieve greater upper back tightness. The heels may never be totally flat on the floor (though some federations require it), but remember that leg drive comes from pushing the heels down.

Physical

This is what everyone thinks is holding them back. What’s the magic exercise, the secret sauce to get me from a piss-poor bench to the big kahuna?

Face it, this isn’t what’s holding you back. You don’t know how to fucking bench, period. Quit reading now and review the article links and video from the beginning (I know you skipped it) and then read the previous section a few more times. Cause this here isn’t your issue, friend.

But just in case it is, I’ll address each sticking point:

1. Weak at the bottom?

Dynamic work

This fixes almost anything. Being weak off the chest is no exception. Include at least one dynamic effort day a week.

Dumbbell work

Doing sets of relatively heavy dumbbell presses in the 10-15 rep range works well. Notice I said “relatively heavy” and “10-15 reps”—this is tough. Rest as long as necessary between sets to hit the rep targets.

Don’t go too heavy. Sets of 4-6 reps may look more badass, but I’ve never seen them do shit for bench press performance. Don’t forget to tuck your elbows—just because it’s a dumbbell movement doesn’t mean we’re now bodybuilding.

Floor press

You want to stop 1-2 inches above the chest, which can be problematic if you’re a long-armed skinny bastard. Do maximum effort-type work, for 1-3 reps.

Ultra-wide bench presses

Grip should be forefinger on the rings using a Texas power bar. This should be done for higher reps—50% of 1RM for sets of 5-6. Dumbbells can also be used for variety.

Soft-touch bench presses

These are great for bottom-end work. Slowly lower to your belly, pause for a moment, and drive up.

Board presses

Use a single board and come to a soft touch, not a bounce. For guys who train alone and can’t use boards, use the shoulder saver pad or the repboard set.

Pin presses

Forget I wrote this. I hate pin presses. The pins can never be set exactly where they should be and they’ve been the root cause of many a pec tear. I would much prefer you do a suspended bench press from chains, as this allows you to press the bar from exactly where you need it.

2. Weak in the middle?

Dynamic Work

Imagine if I took a light, flimsy, balsa wood board and held it at your sticking point and told you to press the bar slowly into it. The board would likely bend and flex but would stay intact.

Then I tell you to do the same thing but this time lift explosively. The barbell would crash through the board.

Now, we repeat the scenarios except we’ll use a thick, dense piece of pine held at your sticking point.

You press slow and the board doesn’t budge. Then you press explosively and this time the board doesn’t crack, but it does bounce up a few inches. That becomes your new sticking point.

That’s how dynamic work affects your mid-range sticking point. It helps you blow through it so you can reach ranges where you may be stronger and finish the lift.

Board Presses

Use three boards for a weak middle range.

Incline Close-Grip Bench Press

The incline takes the lats out of the movement, putting more focus on the triceps and shoulders. Grip the bar a thumb away from the smooth on a Texas power bar and push heavy for sets of three to five reps.

Incline DB Presses

Keep the reps higher (10-15) and the palms facing inward.

Slight Decline Presses

Don’t use too much of a decline or the ROM will become too short. Keep the reps on the higher side—I’ve seen way too many injuries from this.

3. Weak at the top?

Welcome to triceps heaven.

4-Board and 3-Board Press

Go for low reps here. It’s an elbow-friendly movement so get after it!

Suspended Bench Press from the High Position

This should be set to about the same height as the 3-board press.

JM Press

This is a highly underrated exercise. There are plenty of videos on YouTube showing how to JM Press. Learn it.

Triceps Extensions

There are too many to list. Rolling DB triceps extensions, triceps extensions from the floor, etc. Just don’t do the same one every workout. Rotate a different one in right before you usually get stuck.

How do you determine where you get stuck? By keeping a detailed training log. So, if your log shows that at week five of using a particular exercise you tend to plateau, start changing things up at week four.

Addressing The Weak Point

Once you identify where you are weak and how to address it, the smartest approach is to split things up into three phases.

In the first two phases, you address your weak points first while putting your strong points on the backburner. So, if you suck at the lockout, for two phases your focus would be on board presses, JM presses, and extensions.

On the third phase, however, you flip the script—you avoid your weak points and just hit your strong points.

This helps maintain balance while preventing overuse injuries, with the third phase also setting up a nice supercompensation bounce.

Now, let’s set it up.

Create Your Own Program

If you’ve followed my writing, you know I absolutely hate writing general strength-based programs because while they may work for a few, they’ll be largely ineffective for many.

Strength programming needs to be an individualized process, and this becomes even more important when you’re stuck in the dead zone.

So what I’ll do here is offer a general template for you to set something up on your own.

While it’s no substitute for having a good coach assess your technique and do your programming, it should still be highly informative and may open your eyes to options that could kick start your lagging bench. This information will work whether you use a shirt or not.

Day 1 – Dynamic Effort Day (Speed Day)

First Movement

Speed Bench (Press the bar as fast as you can)

Do a lot of warm-up sets. Start with just the empty bar and don’t move up until you feel ready for the next weight. If you’re going to use 185 pounds your warm-ups might look like this:

  • 45 pounds for four sets of 10 reps
  • 95 pounds for two sets of five reps
  • 115 pounds for two sets of five reps
  • 135 pounds for tw0 sets of five reps
  • 145 pounds for three reps
  • 155 pounds for three reps
  • 165 pounds for three reps
  • 175 pounds for three reps

I prefer any set above 30% to be lower in volume (three to five reps) with more sets. For example, I like to program two sets of five reps instead of one set of 10 reps.

There are several reasons for this. First, it’s easier to focus and stay tight with good technique for three to five reps than it is for 10.

In a typical set of 10 reps you’ll see technique break down with every rep over three or five simply because fatigue sets in. So if seven reps of our 10 are performed with less than optimal technique, you’re essentially spending twice as much time reinforcing poor technique as you are improving it.

A second reason is more warm-up sets means more time spent working on your setup. Most technical issues are a result of poor setup, and the more this can be practiced, the better.

For the work sets I’d suggest a four-week wave:

  • Week One: Ten sets of five reps @ 50% 1RM, 90 seconds rest
  • Week Two: Eight sets of five reps @ 52% 1RM, 60 seconds rest
  • Week Three: Nine sets of three reps @ 54% 1RM, 60 seconds rest
  • Week Four: Eight sets of three reps @ 56% 1RM, 45 seconds rest
  • Week Five: Repeat week one

Over the four-week wave there’s a 12 percent increase in intensity with a 41 percent decrease in workload.

There are many other waves that can be used (and that I do use), but this will work best for most readers.

For an advanced lifter, a flatter cycle is better. This is when there’s very little change in intensity and workload, but more manipulation of the resistance and/or bars (i.e., bands, chains, fat bars, cambered bars, Swiss bars, etc.).

I know most people would think this is a six percent increase. Remember, we’re looking at the increase — from 50 to 56 — which is 12 percent. (56/50 = .12)

Second Movement

The second movement of the day is what I call supplemental work. These are movements that you know will increase or build your building movements.

A building movement is a movement that you know carries over to the bench press. Usually these are used as max effort movements (the second day), but can also be used as supplemental movements if options are limited.

Let’s say that you know that every time your floor press goes up, your bench press goes up. The second movement in your program would be exercises that you know (or think) will carry over to the floor press.

Considering that the floor press takes the legs out of the press while maintaining lat involvement, the movements that build the floor press will be those that focus on the mid to lower part of the bench press. This is what most would call compound chest, pec, or delt movements.

Some examples would be JM presses, low board presses, dumbbell floor presses, and triceps extensions. It’s usually a safe bet to make this a heavy triceps movement.

Supplemental movements should be done in the heavy 3-5 rep range for 1-3 sets and for 4-5 week cycles. It’s usually best to stay with this movement until you can no longer add weight or reps, and then swap it out.

Third Movement

These are what I call accessory movements. Taking the builder concept one step further, these are movements that will help make your supplemental movements stronger.

To back track, if you know the floor press builds your bench and plan on using dumbbell floor presses and JM presses to build your floor press, these are the movements to build your JM press and dumbbell floor press.

I realize it starts to get a little overwhelming. How are you supposed to know what builds what? What the hell builds a dumbbell floor press? And what if I was wrong and dumbbell floor presses don’t even build the floor press to begin with?

First, realize that no single program will pull you out of the dead zone. If one did, odds are you would’ve found it by now.

The only way out is to pay attention and get smarter. You may not know the answers right now, but as you become aware of what to watch for you’ll be amazed at how the answers start to reveal themselves to you.

Second, you always have the option of saying, “Fuck it, too complicated” and simply go back to what you’ve been doing the past five years. How’s that been working out for you?

Back to the accessory movements. Typically these will be more isolation-type movements that will be trained in the 8-12 rep range for multiple sets. Examples would be exercises like face pulls, pushdowns, extensions, etc.

Fourth Movement

This is all the crap you have to do to maintain a certain degree of muscle balance and joint stability. Examples include external shoulder rotation, lat work, and rear delt work.

As a rule, find movements that work the muscle over a very large range of motion and don’t worry about the amount of weight used. Use this movement to isolate the muscle that either gets pounded with your core training or just gets ignored. Higher-rep sets of 15-30 reps work best here.

Last Movements

In my programming, I call this free time and usually cap it at 10-15 or 20 minutes, depending on how far away from a meet the person is. The closer the meet, the less free time allowed.

This is a time to do whatever goofy or fun stuff you want to do as long as the reps are over eight.

Day 2 – Max Effort Day

First Movement

Select a movement that you know directly carries over to your bench press and wave it for 1-3 weeks. The more advanced you are, the more frequently you need to swap this movement out.

If you choose to run it for three weeks, a good rule of thumb is to use the first week to feel the movement out. Work up to a heavy set of three reps, but not a ball-buster set – just heavy enough to get an idea of what you might be able to do for one rep if you had to. I call this your Perceived Max (PM).

On week two, use your PM from week one as your guideline and go to 90 percent of that for a set of one to three reps. This time, do bust your balls, but don’t do more than three reps, even if you can. Also, don’t do an extra set if you killed this one.

On the third week, go up to a ball-buster max set of one.

If you’re more advanced and need to change up movements every week because you can’t break your record two weeks in a row, I suggest working up slowly (same warm-up style used for the dynamic work) and listen to your body as you warm-up.

If you feel great, go for the one-rep record. If you feel a tad off then shoot for a triple record. If it all feels like dog shit then change movements before your work set or totally drop it and do more supplemental work instead.

Second Movement

Same as the dynamic day but with a different movement.

Third Movement

Same as the dynamic day but with a different movement.

Fourth Movement (and more)

Same as the dynamic day but with different movement(s).

Last Movements

Same as the dynamic day but with different movement(s).

That’s It!

I could write a lot more about bench press plateaus, but at a certain point general recommendations must give way to individualized programming. So start here for now. Figure out where you’re weak and what exercises you need to get you over the hump. Establish an intelligent plan and get to work.


Section 2: The Bench Cure

Dave Tate’s Six-Week Bench Press Cure
by Nate Green
Originally published on May 18th, 2009
I’m on the phone with T NATION® strength specialist Dave Tate, and he’s half-laughing, half-yelling into my ear. His voice is a few decibels higher than it needs to be. He’s not in a crowded place; this is just how Tate talks, aggressively and with authority. I preemptively hold the phone away from my head, lest the eardrum blow.”This is the United States of America,” he bellows. “Like it or not, the bench press will always be the most popular exercise. Too bad everyone sucks at it.” “But why does everyone suck at it?” I ask.”Give me any T NATION® reader and I can increase the amount he can bench almost instantly.””But you didn’t answer …” Then I realize what he just said. “Wait. How the hell do you do that?””And if you give me six weeks, I can have him really add some pounds to the bar. He wouldn’t even believe it. I’ve seen guys jump up 50 pounds or more.” I put the phone back against my ear, hearing be damned. With over 22 years as a competitive powerlifter, a career-best 610-pound bench press, and thousands of strength athletes across the globe successfully using his methods, I know when Tate talks benching, I’m supposed to take notes. There’s absolutely no way I’m going to miss his bench press cure.”Let’s hear it,” I say, trying to act nonchalant. Tate’s silent for a minute as if he’s contemplating whether or not to tell a young punk his secrets.” Alright,” he says finally. “Let me tell you what I know . . .”
NOTE: After the video, make sure you click the link below the video to continue reading the article. You’ll learn more about Dave’s technique, as well as the details of his new 6-week bench press program.

Section 3: Saving Face

After a September 2009 weightlifting accident at USC, loads of interest sparked online and in the press with regard to the bench press. While I’ll admit I’m not much of a news follower, this one, in particular, caught my attention. My first reaction was to ask the same battery of questions I’m sure many others have asked: Who was spotting? Why was the player even doing the bench press? Was this a single or a 1-rep max?

Then I read the following statements in The Daily Trojan:

“It was scary,” (Trojans Coach Pete) Carroll said. “That happens sometimes when you’re doing [the] bench press…but this one just hit him wrong.”

“I’ve seen players have the bar slip and fall on their chest, but never in my 25 years of coaching have I heard of someone dropping a bar on their throat,” (Trojans S/C Coach Chris) Carlisle said.

At this point, I began asking myself “WTF!?” and began to wonder if this is a regular thing.

Then I woke up and realized that I come from a sport where knee wraps appear under bench shirts, then disappear, then reappear only to have never been there in the first place. The point here is that unless you were there, you have no idea what happened or who’s to blame. It’s always easy to call the shots from the back end or be the Monday morning quarterback, but the reality is that there’s one hurt player and a lot of people making excuses and placing blame within the context of something they really know nothing about.

What I haven’t seen is what can and should be done to avoid this in the future. Just this morning, I did a Google search on how to spot the bench press, and was shocked at what I saw in the first four pages.

There is zero debate that the bench press in the most popular weight training movement in the United States. It’s as American as apple pie. There is, however, a lot of debate with regard to its application to sports performance (search our Q&A for Dynamic Correspondence), but this is for another time. Everyone knows the bench press. Just ask around. Actually, there’s no need to because I’m willing to bet at some point in your life, you’ve been asked how much you bench press. Everyone has. So, you would think with all this movement’s popularity, a simple Google search would provide you with valid and effective information on how to spot it.

While I am by no means the authority on the bench press, spotting or coaching, I have paid my dues and spent enough time in the gym to know what needs to be done to keep a lifter safe. This is not to say pulled muscles, tears and other injuries won’t occur. What I’m saying is that specific things need to be in place in case these things do happen.

Having been involved in powerlifting for the past 26 years, I have seen just about every single way you can miss a bench press. The multi-ply aspect of the bench press has now evolved to EXTREME status, with lifters pressing 800, 900, and over 1000 pounds. Lifters are now using such strong bench shirts that if the bar is slightly out of the groove, it can easily lead to several muscle tears and broken arms. Because of this, spotting is critical. If a bar with 800 pounds on it was to crash down on the lifter, well, this would not be good. Luckily, in the past few years, I’ve only seen reports of bruised ribs if the bar was to fall out of the lifter’s hands while trying to touch in a shirt. So what about all the pectoral tears, triceps tears, broken forearms, etc? They still occur, and they will occur, but the spotters knew what they were doing and kept a bad situation from becoming worse.

I’m going to present these tips based on advice from pro and elite level powerlifters and their spotters and coaches because I’ve always felt you should learn from the top down, and who better to learn spotting from than those who are spotting these extraordinary lifters?

1. Personal Responsibility

As the lifter, you need to know what your limits are and take responsibility for ensuring your own safety, as well as the safety of your spotter(s). This means trying what you think you can do. Just because you “feel good” doesn’t mean you can go for a 50-pound record. This also means your spotters aren’t there to do shrug workouts on your last three reps.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is communication. Your spotter needs to know what your cue is if you need help. I’ve read and seen several times what a “safe” word means in the bedroom. Maybe it’s a color or an animal name, but it means STOP. However, I’ve never read this in one single bench press article on spotting.

In the world of powerlifting, we have the unspoken law of the words “take it.” If the lifter needs help, he will say it, if the spotters see trouble they will say it, and if the judges see a problem they will say it. This is our “safe word,” and it’s what prevents small issues from becoming giant issues. Funny how simple basic communication can make such a big difference in almost any situation in life.

One other point is to make sure your hands are not sweating (use chalk), as this can lead to the bar slipping around in your hands.

2. The Setup

I don’t want to turn this into a bench press technique article, as you can see all this information here. I would, however, like to make a few comments that can ensure the safety of the lifter.

First, make sure your body is tight and braced. If someone was to come up alongside you and try to push you to one side or the other, they should not be able to move you.

Second, your grip should be tight and even. Even if you use a false grip, you need to make sure your thumb is jammed into the bar as hard as you can, and that you have as much tension as you can on the bar. While this is known as the “suicide grip,” and for good reason, it can be used safely if you know what you’re doing. In most cases this is not true. In the future, I will try to write about the pros and cons of this grip, but for this article let’s just agree that it’s too advanced for 99.9 percent of the readers and should not be used.

When I write “tight grip,” I’m saying it should be tight from start to finish, and NOT what I see time and time again (mostly with athletes outside of powerlifting and bodybuilding). They will grab the bar, and then after unracking, you will see something I call a “top bob” (where they do little pumps—I guess to get the bar ready), or the “wave” (they decide to open their hands in a wave-like motion). Both of these are far more common than you think, and if it was me personally, I would never let them bench over 50 percent until these habits were stopped. As lifters, you need to grab the bar tight for the entire set.

3. Informed Spotters

Before each set, it’s important that all the spotters know how many reps the lifter expects to achieve. It would help (even if it’s not quite realistic) if each spotter knows the capabilities of the lifter. We’ve all spotted “that guy” that says he’s going to do five reps, but can’t get one on his own—and then continues the set Jimmy “The Bull” style. If someone tries to pull this with you, immediately grab-n-rack that barbell and annul your spotting duties.

With each spotter knowing the expectations of the set, they can help better coach the lifter, count reps and give encouragement. The best spotters are always the most informed and involved.  It is a win-win situation for both parties.

In most gyms, the lift-off spotter is the main guy. At a meet, he has to step back so the judge can see. He is the one who has the control, and in many cases, he may be the only one there to spot. If you are this guy, there is some information you need to know before you even get to the bar. You need to know what the lifter’s max is, how many reps they’re going to do, and, if possible, where their sticking point is. You also need to know what type of liftoff they want and require. Some will want to count. Others will use a nod or tell you on what breath they will go on. Lifters use various signals, and you need to know what your lifter’s signal is. If they don’t have one, then provide them with one. Tell them you will lift it out to them on three, then count one, two, three, and then lift out. After lifting the bar out, keep your hands on the bar—don’t use the forearm Zercher liftoff—until you feel the lifter has taken all the weight and is ready to lower it.

At this point, stay close and AWARE of what is going on. If you are the only guy, and you’re not AWARE, then who is? Injuries can happen in an instant, so you have to be ready. If it is a max weight and you’re the only one, stay close. If it’s a set of reps, you can stay back some, but watch the bar speed to see when it starts to slow down. When it slows down, be more AWARE.

I will say this, and I’m being brutally honest, nobody wants your shorts in their face, and nobody wants to be able to smell what you had for lunch. Also, wipe your damned sweat off BEFORE you step up to lift off, and make sure any excess chalk is off your hands. What you don’t want to do is get up to help liftoff and drop sweat and chalk all over the lifter’s face. If you do need a spot, don’t ask someone right after they squatted a 10-rep PR. Give the guy some time to catch his breath.

It’s also your job to double check the grip to make sure it’s tight and even, and to make sure your lifter is focused on the task at hand.

Finally, listen and use your best judgment. If the lifter says “take it,” then grab the bar. If they look like they’re going to miss, then take the bar. It’s far better to be safe than sorry.

If side spotters are used (and I feel they always should be if you’re going for a max or training to or past failure), then you need to make sure they have their heads out of their asses and are paying attention. Don’t even lift the bar out until you have made eye contact with each side spotter and you see their hands are in position and ready. If the shit hits the fan, they are the ones who will save the day. They are also the ones who will get distracted the fastest. It’s also your job to yell “take it” if the time comes.

The back spotter must have both hands on the bar to give a lift off. You are not earning any strong points by lifting a barbell with one hand. Not only does this give the lifter a sub par hand off, it will be crooked.

This leads me to another point. The spotter must also have his hands wide enough to give a smooth lift off and be sure his hands are even. Also, once you’ve lifted the bar out to the lifter, the back spotter must take his hands off the bar. There is a difference between being an active spotter and an annoying spotter. Having your hands on the bar THE WHOLE TIME is just as bad as not having a spotter at all. The lifter can’t see (you are giving him Chinnuts), and he can’t focus on the task at hand. Furthermore, 100 percent of the time, the spotter is helping the lifter lift the barbell. So if you do this, not only do you want the lifter to get hurt, you want them to get weak. Hence, you are the worst training partner or spotter ever.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the back spot is the only one you will receive, so be sure that you pick this person carefully. Too often, we will grab anyone to give us a spot—any Tom, Richard or Harry will do, right? If you pick a 100-pound spotter for a 500-pound attempt, don’t expect to be shocked when the barbell starts to cave your chest.

Having a good spot is mostly the lifter’s responsibility. These are the people to whom you’re entrusting your safety. Do you really trust these people with your health?

4. The Side Spotters

The role of the side spotters is simple. They’re to watch the lift and the bar and make sure they’re ready in case something happens. Keep your hands very close to the end of the bar. If the plates leave little room at the end of the bar, then two side spotters per side will be required, and their arms and hands should be very close (but not touching) to the plates. With one spotter on each side, you need to remember that if the weight is this big, there is very little the liftoff guy can do except direct the path the bar will go after you take it. Finally, unless something major happens, do not touch the bar unless you’re told. The worst thing that can happen is one side spotter grabbing the bar while the other does nothing. Once again, awareness is key.

5. Equipment

Finally comes the issue of equipment. In most cases, the lifter does not have control over what equipment is in their gym or what they have access to use, so I’m going to try and be brief with this and provide recommendations in case the features I present are not available to you. Please understand the features and specs I’m going to provide are from our equipment line, because we build our stuff for the most extreme use, which requires that safety be a very high priority.

You have two options when bench pressing. You can use a rack-type setup or a bench made for the bench press.

If you’re using a rack option, then there are a couple of important aspects to look at. The J-hooks (where the bar is racked) should not be too deep, as it can become hazardous to get the bar out. If they’re too shallow it can also pose problems, so you need something that will allow the lifter and spotter to easily lift the bar OUT and not UP. If the bar has to be lifted up, the lifter’s tightness can be compromised. The hole spacing also comes into play here. Most rack holes are spaced every four inches, so the bar is either going to be too high or too low for the majority of the lifters. If you have to pick, then select the option where the bar will be too low, BUT be very careful to watch when the bar is racked because it can bounce off the rack post before being racked, and in some cases bounce past the J-hook and back onto the lifter. Aside from the safety aspects, not having proper J-hook height can greatly affect the start of the lift and compromise the lifter’s strength. I suggest looking for racks with 1-1.5 inch hole spacings throughout the bench region.

Elitefts™ Collegiate Power Rack

Next are the safety pins. These should also adjust every one or two inches. With the size of the average human head, I’ve never understood why most rack pins adjust every four inches. In almost all cases, this will put the setting too low to actually do anything, or so high that the bench is no longer a full range of motion. If you find your rack is constructed this way, I suggest putting mats or something under your bench so you can set the pins right above chest level. This way, when you get in bench position with your chest up, the bar will be free of the pins, but, if needed, will be in position to keep the lifter safe.

The J-cups are also a feature of the stand bench press units that also need to be considered. With the radical bench shirts and the amount of weight being lifted, I’m also a huge fan of the head cage. This provides extra protection in case the worst case situation happens.

Deluxe Competition Bench

6. Proactive Prevention

For coaches and administrators, spotting in the weight room is a huge liability. I would highly recommend that posted signs explaining how to spot are placed in plain sight in the weight room, that coaches be taught properly (sport and weight coaches), and that kids are also taught.

If you’re coaching athletes in a school or team setting, whether it be in junior high, high school, college or higher, your first priority as a strength or sport coach is to make sure you don’t get anyone hurt in your weight room. It’s like the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take: “First, do no harm.” Keeping your athletes on the field is your number one priority, and this takes precedence over getting them stronger. I would rather a school have no strength and conditioning program at all than have some “hardcore” jerkoff who puts his athletes at risk by not learning proper technique, not inspecting his equipment–or learning what equipment is right for his program–and not learning proper spotting techniques.

When you’re training athletes in groups, establish a set spotting rotation. If you’re training a group of five on the bench, rotate kids like a wheel. Once they lift, they take the next lifter’s setoff. Then they go to a side, then the back, then a side, and then they’re up again. The spotters on the sides load plates and collar the bar. This will take some work, because you’ll always have kids who want to stare off into space, especially when they’re spotting a squat. As a coach, it’s imperative that you make penalties SEVERE for a lack of focus while spotting a teammate.

We all forget things because our minds are elsewhere sometimes, but attention must be paid to spotting and safety. We don’t really ever want to spot for anyone else, we don’t have the time to go look for the “right” people to spot for us, and we simply assume that the people we ask to spot us can handle what they’re asking us to do.

The answer? Don’t assume anything. While the USC situation is awful and our hearts go out to everyone involved, let it serve as a reminder to us all that these things can happen to anybody. We should all look very carefully and objectively at our own behaviors and see where we can improve.


Section 4: Things You’d Better Know if You Want Strong(er) Triceps

Kicking back some thoughts on triceps training…

When I think of strength training, I think of training the muscle one of three ways:

  1. Strength: to make as strong as possible.
  2. Hypertrophy: to make as big as possible.
  3. Conditioning: to be able to handle and recover from the abuse of strength and hypertrophy.

Strength

Let’s look at this from the perspective of trying to build a bigger bench. Will training the bench press do this?

Perhaps.

Those who have been training for a period of time already know the answer to that question is “no.” If that were the case, everyone who walked in a weight room would have a bigger bench, because they ALL bench. Yet, they don’t. Why?

There are many reasons for this, but for the sake of this section we will assume it’s your lockout strength. Your lockout is largely determined by the strength of your triceps, so all you need to do is add in some more tricep work, right?

Wrong.

We’ve all tried that as well, and who did it work for?

What I’m going to suggest is to look at this from a different perspective. If I’m helping someone overcome a sticking point in the bench press, one of the first things I want to know is what movements seem to correlate with their bench. In other words, what other movements go up when their bench goes up? Does their 2-board press go up at the same rate as their bench press? What about the floor press or close grip incline press? If you look hard enough, you’ll find something.

The answer then becomes, what do you need to do to make THAT movement get stronger? Assuming your 2-board press goes up at the same rate as your bench press, then what movements are you doing to bring up your 2-board press?

In most of the programs I see, the core movements are programed pretty well. If they use a conjugated approach, the dynamic and max effort work is also programmed very well. Where I see the ball being dropped is with the supplemental and accessory work. For most, these are seen as an afterthought, or that they just need to do something for “tris, lats and delts” and then go home. To really push the boundaries, it has to be better than that.

I’ve said this a millions times before, “You can either train a lift or build a lift.” If you want to bench press just to bench press, so be it. Train it to no end, but if you want to build the bench press, you need to put some thought and experience into it. You need to know what builds your bench (usually another core movement) and then what you can use to strengthen this movement (usually a supplemental movement).

Driving the Bench Press

While everyone is different, here are three examples of each grouping. Keep in mind the bench press is the core movement:

1. Close-grip Incline Press

This was always a favorite of mine and one that always had a great effect on my bench press. I like to work up to heavy sets of 3-5 reps and see if I can break a record each time I did this movement (about once a month). Over the years, I’ve discovered this works better for me using a fat bar or some type of fat grip. The reason for this is to put more emphasis on the triceps and take some off the pecs. To illustrate what I mean, do a set of push-ups on the floor with an open hand. Then, do a set with a closed fist. With a closed fist, you will feel more tension in the upper pec and with an open hand, you will feel it more so in the triceps. The fat bar opens the hands up some allowing for more of the work to be done by the triceps. Of course, if you feel it is your chest, that is holding back your bench. In that case, don’t use a fat bar. However, in my experience (raw or geared) this is seldom the case.

If this is a movement that drives your bench press, we need to look at what supplemental movements can push this lift up. Without getting into great details, these could include palms out dumbbells presses, elbows out extensions, cross body extensions, or any other tricep movements where the elbows come out and away from the body. These movements should cycle for 3-4 weeks in the higher rep ranges (6-8) for multiple sets (3-4) just shy of failure.

2. Board Presses

I personally think the best all-around board is the 2-board press. It still allows for good technique, takes much of the shoulder rotation out of the movement and gives enough ROM to allow for you to build a bigger bench. A lower board is great for bench shirt work, but too low for much of anything else other than technique work. The higher boards are awesome for lockout strength and building a stronger setup and upper back stability.

For a quick review of the board press, here is the article we posted titled, Board Press 101.

Here are some other types of lumber lifting:

The supplemental exercises that would effect this the most would include (but not limited to), rolling dumbbell extensions, spoon presses, close-grip Swiss bar presses or extensions, or any other tricep movement where the elbows are tucked. These movements should cycle for three to four weeks in the higher rep ranges (6-8) for multiple sets (3-4) just shy of failure.

3. Any Chain Press

Using the bench or variation of the bench also makes this top list. Not only does this help build the lockout strength, it offers something else most people never consider. It deloads the eccentric portion of the movement, making it easier to increase volume, repeat more frequently and train heavier at the top end. It is very easy to set these movements up so you are over 100 percent at the top and 60 percent at the bottom.

For a quick review of chains, here is our Chain 101 article.

Here are some other movements using chains:

The supplemental exercises here depend on what the main movement is. For now, just refer back to number one or two to see if it’s more of an elbows-in or elbows-out selection.

Hypertrophy

What if your goals don’t have to deal with strength, but you are just looking to build bigger arms? This does change a few things such as exercise selection, order, volume, and execution of the movements. This can always be revisited later if you like, but I’m sure if you are reading elietefts™, you already have a grasp on this. So let’s just cut to the case and post some workouts for you.

I asked John Meadows of Mountain Dog Training Systems to provide me with some workouts to post in this section.

Workout #1

  • Fat Bar Pushdowns – After warming up, do a nice and heavy pyramid here. Rep scheme is 15, 12, 10, 8 and 6 for a total of five work sets.
  • Seated Dip Machine – Just use the range of motion that is okay on your shoulder and try to keep continuous tension. Burn the shit out of them! Complete four total work sets of 8-10 reps.
  • Decline Lying Extension – This is just a slight decline. I use a sit-up bench and lower it all the way down. Lower the bar to your forehead, and then drive it up and sort of back a bit, but not directly over you. Do four total work sets of fifteen.

Workout # 2

Rest break for triceps is 45 seconds between all sets.

  • V-bar Pushdowns – Do 2-3 sets to warm up elbows. Pyramid up. Rep scheme is 15, 12, 10, and 8 for a total of four work sets.
  • Pronated Tricep Kickbacks – Four total work sets of six. Try to go heavy! Flex hard at the top!
  • Dip Machine – Do four total sets of eight. On the negative, take five seconds to let the weight come up, then blast it down!
  • Incline Skullcrushers – Now that your elbows are juiced up, do these and try and let the bar go behind your head for a real good stretch. Do three total work sets of fifteen.

Workout # 3

    • V-Bar Pushdowns – Do a few sets to get warmed up. With the blood already in your arms from bis, it won’t take as long as usual. Start with a weight that you pretty much hit failure with around 20 reps. You are going to do four more sets. On each set, add some weight and go to failure. Complete five total working sets.
    • Dip machine – Do five total work sets of 8-10 reps with a shortened range of motion. Don’t come all the way down and flex, but don’t let it come up too high, either. Work the middle range of motion and focus on doing all the driving with the inner head of your tricep.
    • Incline Skullcrushers – Now that you have some juice in your elbows, these should feel awesome. You can use an EZ bar or straight bar on these. I want you to take the bar behind your head and get an awesome stretch. Do not lock it out. Only come up ¾ of the way. Shoot for five total work sets of 10-12 reps.

Workout #4

Rest will be 45 seconds between all sets!

  • V-Bar Pushdowns – Three sets of twleve to warm-up
  • Bent-Over Triceps Rope Extension– Do four total work sets of twelve reps on these. Let the rope come back on each rep and really stretch your triceps.
  • Pronated Kickbacks – Go heavy and flex for a second. Four sets of eight for four total work sets.
  • Dip Machine – Three sets of ten. On every rep, I want a three-second negative. Do this for four total work sets.
  • Skullcrushers/Lying Extensions done on an Incline Bench – Two sets of twenty for two total work sets.

Conditioning

There are a few ways to look at conditioning: endurance, strength endurance, recovery, rehabilitation and injury prevention.

Keeping with the simple theme of this article, these types of movements should be a part of ALL training. How you incorporate them will depend on the goals of the program. Personally, I always liked to use finisher type movements such as these:


This is one that I just started using and it BLOWS my arms apart.

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Section 5: The 225 Bench Press Test

How to increase your 225-pound bench for reps test

Q&A answers were taken from "Eat My Meet,The Sequel" by Dave Tate

QUESTION

I am trying to get my bench reps up on 225 and was wondering if you had any tips. I have to test in about three weeks. Here is a video of a time that I tested http://youtu.be/ozl7T_MWBfY . I have access to bands and fat bars and have been using them. I just wanted to see if there is anything new I could try. Thanks. — Colt


ANSWER

I get asked several times a year how to increase one’s 225-pound bench press rep test. This has got to be the dumbest test of all time, but I’ve found a few things to be very effective in performing and training for this test. The first, and most simple one, is to get stronger. You would think this would be well-known, but just about every time I look at the programming leading into this test, there’s never any max effort work (ME). So, make sure you’re doing ME work. Some of the most effective ME movements are 1-board presses, floor presses, and close-grip inclines. If this “rep test” is your goal, change this movement every week. The reason is simple. If you’re asking this question in the first place, then you probably don’t have much time before you’re tested. This forces you to hit these movements more frequently because you don’t have the time to figure out which one works best.

  • Pull out on the bar, or pull in? Check and see where you fail and how you fail. If it seems to be the pecs (fails at the bottom) or triceps (the top), then change the focus. If you’re a pec guy, just press until you feel “burning.” At this point, begin pulling the bar apart. This will give you a few extra reps. If it’s your triceps, then pull in.
  • Many times this is a time game. You may find you always fail around the same time (say 45 seconds). You can change this with training, but as you know, this one will take time. Usually when I’m asked this question, time is very limited. The trick then becomes how to get more reps in the same time frame. You can either shorten the stroke (classic Westside — tuck belly up and so on), or work with over speed work. Use the reverse band press to help move the bar faster. By doing this, you’ll learn to press faster.
  • Do speed work with bands. The same concept as above, but work more on a faster eccentric phase.
  • If you can gain weight and maintain speed, gain weight.
  • Make sure your wrists stay straight and locked. If the bar falls too much behind your wrists, your triceps will fail way too fast. This is a huge mistake that I see with ALL guys who do this. When this happens, the triceps will fail faster because of where the center of gravity of the weight falls.
  • Keep your hands SHUT. Don’t do any of this “opening your fingers” crap that we all see on TV hundreds of times. Keep your hands tight and locked onto the bar.
  • Don’t bounce the weights! I shouldn’t have to write this, but I’ve seen far too many people do this test and I’ve seen the same mistake over and over again. Aside from the injury potential from bouncing weights, the bar gets tossed all over the place. The best path is the same path for each rep. More fluid motion equals greater output.
  • Wear a black shirt and chalk the bar all over the center knurling. Do a few reps and check to see if you have one or three chalk lines. If you’re interested in doing more bench reps or increasing you max bench, then there better be only one line. If there’s more than one line, your technique is off and you’re expending too much energy.
  • I’ve seen very few who can train and perform the test in a high arched position. The tension is too long and the reps are too high to maintain this position without cramping in the lower back and/or hamstrings.
  • Count the reps down, not up. Instead of counting one, two, three, four, and five, start at what you would like to do and count back: 43, 42, 41, and so on. Better yet, count in groups of ten: ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, and then ten, nine, eights, seven, and so on. It’s even better if you can get someone to count for you. This is a mind game just as much as it is a physical game.

  • Stick-UM on the bottom of your shoes will help big time. Or make sure that there’s no way your feet will slip when you use leg drive.
  • Use your leg drive like gears. Start with enough drive to stay stable. Then, increase the tension and drive with about five reps before you would normally die out. This should happen a few reps before you begin pulling in or out on the bar.
  • If your technique is great, do all your endurance bench work with a Fat Bar (or Fat Gripz). This will make the regular bar feel like a twig when you go back to it. There are also physical reasons for this, but the mental ones far out weigh them.
  • Never hold the bar at the top for more than one to two seconds, except after a series of ten or more reps.
  • Learn to only press with the required amount of force per rep. You wouldn’t sprint for a mile, would you? The same holds true with the rep test. Don’t expend more energy then needed. You’ll need it later.
  • Try to keep yourself down, not crunched up with your chin in your chest. This test requires oxygen to get the maximal number of reps. This practice has helped and may help with a one-rep max, but we’re talking about twenty-plus reps here, not one.
  • Unlike with a one-rep max or all other bench strength work, don’t use a super tight grip on the bar. Grasp the bar with enough force to control it and keep it there until the last few reps. Then, squeeze the crap out of the bar.
  • When you discover where you fail, add in some extra work for that specific area at a twenty percent higher time range than your bench fail time. For example, if your bench fail time is 42 seconds and your triceps are what fail on you, add in one set per session of 3-board presses at 50 seconds. If you can’t do all the reps for this time, do what you can and statically hold the weight at midpoint for the rest of the time.
  • Focus your eyes on one main point on the ceiling and don’t deviate from it. Why? Next time you’re in the gym with beginner or intermediate lifters, watch what they do when the reps get hard. They always look to one arm or the other. Then one arm begins to give out. This may be before they looked at it or after. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they acknowledged it and let it defeat them. Remember this is a MENTAL game and every rep counts.
  • Make every rep count. It’s your own fault and a waste of your effort to do a rep that isn’t legal and doesn’t count. Do them ALL correctly.
  • If you are weak chested in the bench press, check your wrist to elbow position. They should be in line. If the wrist is toward the feet more than the elbow, then this is taxing the shoulders too much in the bottom position. If the wrist is closer to the head than the elbow, then the weight is focused more on the triceps. If you use a bench shirt this all changes depending on the shirt and length of the upper arm.
  • Most importantly, learn how to bench press. The worst technical benches I ever saw were performed by high school and college athletes in the combine or training for the combine. The internet is littered with videos of these sets. If all you did was learn how to bench properly, this alone would increase your rep test. After all these years, I’m still shocked and amazed that there are strength coaches and combine prep coaches that have no idea how to teach a proper bench press, but yet know every detail there is to know about how to nail the best 40 time. This is not to take anything away from the good ones–they do exist–but unfortunately, they are not in the majority.

 


Section 6: 60 Bench Tips

1.) “They don’t grab the bar tight.” – Dave Tate

2.) “Lack of overall body tightness.” – Dave Tate

3.) “Dynamic effort method.” – Dave Tate

4.) “Keep the bar in-line with the wrist and elbows.” – Dave Tate

5.) “They do not set the weight.” – Dave Tate

6.) “1. Big AIR. 2. Pull the bar apart. 3. Leg drive.” – Joe

7.) “The article Dave did for T Nation was and is the best ever. Maybe you don’t know how to f*ing bench.” – Josh

8.) “Bench Training for Gear and Raw by Matt Wenning.” – Anderson

9.) “Being told that not everyone benches best with a massive arch and their upper traps on the bench. Find your own grove.” – Ben

10.) “Don’t push the bar off you. Push yourself away from the bar.” – Jason

11.) “Tight back.” – Kurtis

12.) “Just getting your upper back and core strength in-line with your chest strength to allow for maximal strength through leg drive and the rest… (raw bench).” – Justin

13.) “If you lift it really fast, it’s not heavy.” – Brian

14.) “Don’t push the bar off you. Push yourself away from the bar.” – Yuri

15.) “Get your weight on your traps.” – Colin

16.) “Grant McRenolds told me, “Just push it, bitch. Stop f*ing around.” Put everything into perspective. – Des

17.) “Bench too low on your chest.” – Rob

18.) “I agree with Josh! The best video ever! The best tips: 1. Tight back. 2. Elbow under the bar. 3. And my favorite, PUSH YOURSELF INTO THE BENCH.” – Danijel

19.) “Squeeze the fuck out of the bar.” – Dan

20.) “Just press it.” – Jon

21.) “The directions for a tight setup by Dave, I think. Most people have no idea how to perform the lift correctly.” – David

22.) “Full scapular retraction for more power!” – Andy

23.) “Dave’s six-week bench press cure video. I watched it, put those tips to work, and went up 25 pounds in three weeks.” – Ryan

24.) “Speed bench stuff.” – Frank

25.) “Retract the scapulae. Don’t cock the f*ing wrists.” – David

26.) “Don’t miss!” – Andrew

27.) “If you’re not a SHW, don’t try to bench like one. Instead of raising your head and touching low, keep your head down. Raise your chest into your shirt and tear it apart. Stretch the chest panel until it bursts.” – Brian

28.) “Be tight.” – Nicolas

29.) “Only bench once a week. No other training. Boards, shirt, home.” – Karsten

30.) “Keep elbows under the bar.” – Nick

31.) “Push yourself away from the bar, not the bar away from you.” – Drew

32.) “Be tight from grip to heels.” – Tommy

33.) “Don’t push the bar back, push the bar UP. Straight up is a shorter distance than arcing back. I think it was Dave who said, “Pushing the bar back is the best way to smash your teeth out.” – Kirsten

34.) “Nut up and push it.” – Jim

35.) “Lower the weight with the lats.” – Joe

36.) “Technique first, weight second.” – Buddy

37.) “Actually let the spotter help you get the bar off the rack, or else you’ll lose tightness in your back.” – Mike

38.) “Courtesy of 24-hour Shitness: Don’t bring the bar all the way down to your chest. In fact, don’t bench press at all. Do some crunches on a stability ball instead.” – Mario

39.) “Train partials with a narrow grip in order to have same range of motion as regular bench, but avoid wear and tear on shoulders.” – Marc

40.) “Chains.” – Jonathon

41.) “Larry P to Louie, “You need triceps.” – Jeff

42.) “Tight setup. No tap dancing feet during the lift.” – Dave

43.) “Train with people who know how to bench.” – Lucy

44.) “Wendler’s ‘benching is all about the elbows’ from the bench press exercise index. It helped me a lot with staying tight on the way down, flaring, tucking and taking the bar out of the rack.” – Adrian

45.) “Never lose control. Talk to people who know how to use a shirt. Jack your boobies.” – Lindsay

46.) “Belly to the bar is the best shirted advice I’ve given.” – Chris

47.) “AJ Roberts’ Tips video and Dave’s T-Nation article.” – Michael

48.) “Shut up and lift.” – Dave

49.) “Squeeze the pencil between your shoulder blades…Chad Aichs video.” – Mark

50.) “Tuck! Tuck! Tuck! Flair!” – Thyge

51.) “Eat pizza pops before training.” – Rob

52.) “Look good on the way down.” – Jim

53.) “Take more shit.” – Kenny

54.) “Pull the bar apart.” – Adam

55.) “How to properly setup…more specifically, squeezing our shoulder blades together and driving your traps into the bench like you are trying to break it off.” – Jerome

56.) “Push YOU AWAY from the bar, not just drive the bar up.” – Adam

57.) “Crush the bar with your hands.” – Jonathon

58.) “George Halbert used to tell me to squeeze my hands tighter, which helped greatly at the time he told me that.” – Matt Wenning

59.) “Other than basic form advice, being told to do board presses. I have very long arms and board presses are the only thing that ever really helped me. They helped me to become faster and used to heavy weights.” – Aaron

60.) “Just keep pushing, no quitting early. Push until you lock it out, or your form breaks down.” – D.M.


Section 7: Weak Lockout

This is really one of the best problems to have and the easiest to fix. When you’re dealing with sticking points in the bench press you have to remember that there are several ways to correct the problem, but most won’t work for you. So don’t beat a dead horse! In other words, if what you’ve been doing isn’t working, then try something else. You have plenty of ammo. I’ve had this same problem with my bench and sometimes it takes years to stumble upon the right movement to fix the problem. Other times I hit the right movement the first time out.

1. Get your head right.

This is true with all sticking points regardless of the point at which you stall out. If you believe you always miss at the top, then you’ll always miss at the top! Your mind has a lot to do with your sticking points. I try to teach all the athletes I work with to visualize their sticking point at a higher position and focus very hard on driving the bar through it. In other words, when you bench you must focus on pushing the bar very fast through your sticking point. Focus will make a big difference.

2. Learn to use your triceps.

This is done by keeping your body tight and focusing on pulling the bar apart. This will involve your triceps more throughout the movement and keep the bar moving in a straight line. A good trick to teach you to do this is to use an elitefts™ pro mini resistance band. You double the band up and wrap it around your wrists while you bench. This forces you to pull the bar apart and grasp the barbell tight. If not, your hands will be shot together. Pull the bar apart and watch that sticking point disappear!

3. Start the bar where you want to finish.

This is a very simple concept but it’s very seldom practiced. Most lifters will unrack the bar and lower it to the chest without setting the bar first. This is usually done by habit and will cause you to lower the bar in a diagonal pattern that will result in you pushing it back up in the same pattern. When you push the bar back toward the rack, there’s more rotation and less emphasis on the triceps.

You need to unrack the bar, then “set it” in the same exact position in which you want to finish. This should be directly above where you lower the bar. If you bench to your lower pecs, then the bar must start above the lower pecs. This will create a straight line both on the eccentric and concentric. Remember, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

4. Move the bar fast.

You need to make sure you’re pressing as fast as possible to bust through your sticking point. A slow press won’t build enough momentum to bust past your sticking point. If you’re trying to open a stuck door would you try to open it slowly or would you bust into it as hard as possible? Speed is key!

5. Strengthen the top half.

There are several movements that can help you strengthen the muscles that lockout the bench. These are best done using the max effort method.  The best movement for a weak lockout is a 3- or 4-board press. A board press is performed by using 3- or 4- 2 x 6 boards placed on your chest. Lower the bar to the boards, pause and press back up. In extreme cases, you may want to use a set of mini bands on the bar as well.

A second movement that works very well is the floor press with the use of chains. The floor press is performed the same as the bench press except you’re lying on the floor. Work up to about 60- to 70-percent of your best bench, then begin adding one set of chains on the bar with each additional set. You fail when you can no longer add any more chains.


Section 8: Weak Off Your Chest

I get asked a lot about being weak off the chest in the bench press. I decided to make it easy by designing a four-week phase to address the problem.

This assumes that:

      • Your technique is rock solid.
      • You are not hurt or injured.
      • You have your head out of your ass and think you can overcome this sticking point.
      • You have the equipment I will be listing in this program. Please do not ask me what to do if you don’t have X or Y. This is all designed to work together. If you don’t have X or Y, then don’t do the phase.

I feel when designing a program you need to look at all three means of increasing muscle tension: the maximal effort method, the dynamic effort method and the repetition method. All three are utilized in this phase.

Week 1

Day 1

Dynamic Bench Press

      • Begin with the bar and make sure all warm-up sets are executed with perfect control and technique.
      • Once you hit 50 percent of your best bench, stay at this weight and perform nine sets of three reps. You will use three different grips. With a Texas Power Bar, these grips will be one finger on the smooth (close), a thumb away from the smooth (medium) and forefinger on the rings (wide). On this week you will take 60 seconds between sets and push the bar as fast (while keeping control) as you can.

Flat Dumbbell Presses

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • After you are warmed up you will work your way up in weight making sure to hit a set of 12, a set of 10, and then two heavy sets of eight with the same weight.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Push-downs and Close-grip 1-board Press

      • Do 2-3 sets of 10-12.
      • Do three sets going to failure on the push-downs (between 15-20 reps), immediately followed by close-grip 1-board presses for five reps. Your strength on the 1-board press will suck. It’s no big deal, just push as hard as you can and get the reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Chest-supported Rows

      • Do two warm-up sets.
      • Do three sets 10 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises

      • Do three sets of 20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Day 2

Chain Press

      • Warm up the same as you would the bench press – dynamic.
      • When you get to 60 percent, preform three reps.
      • With each succeeding set, add one chain per side (so the chain is totally deloaded while the bar is on your chest). Keep working up in chains until three reps is VERY hard to do, but you still do it. Don’t work up so high that you can’t do the required reps.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Dumbbell Extensions on the Floor

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • Find a weight that you could do 12 reps with and perform four sets of 10 reps with 60 seconds between sets.

Barbell Pushups

      • Position a barbell at the bottom of a power rack so it will not move.
      • Use an ultra-wide grip (forefinger past the rings).
      • Perform four sets to failure. If you can do over 20 reps per set, add chains across your back. You want to fail between 8-12 reps.
      •  Rest two minutes between sets.

Dumbbell Rows

      • Pause the bell on the floor between reps.
      • Do two warm-up sets and then three sets of 10 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Face Pulls

      • Do four sets 15-20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Week 2

Day 1

Dynamic Bench Press

      • Begin with the bar and make sure all warm-up sets are executed with perfect control and technique.
      • Once you hit 50 percent of your best bench, stay at this weight and perform nine sets of three reps. You will use three different grips. With a Texas Power Bar, these grips will be one finger on the smooth (close), a thumb away from the smooth (medium), and forefinger on the rings (wide). On this week you will take 45 seconds between sets and push the bar as fast (while keeping control) as you can.

Flat Dumbbell Presses

      • Do 2-3 warm up sets.
      • After you are warmed up you will work your way up in weight making sure to hit a set of 12, a set of 10, a set of eight, and then two heavy sets of six with the same weight.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Push-downs and Close-grip 1-board Press

      • Do two warm up sets of 10-12.
      • Do two sets going to failure on the push-downs (between 15-20 reps), immediately followed by close-grip 1-board presses for five reps. Your strength on the 1-board press will suck. This is no big deal. Just push as hard as you can and get the reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Chest-supported Rows

      • Do two warm-up sets.
      • Do three sets of eight reps. Make this heavier than last week.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises

      • Do three sets of 20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Day 2

Chain Press

      • Warm up the same as you would for the dynamic bench press.
      • When you get to 60 percent, perform three reps.
      • With each succeeding set, add one chain per side (so the chain is totally deloaded while the bar is on your chest). Keep working up in chains until three reps is VERY hard to do but you still do it. Don’t work up so high that you can’t do the required reps.
      • BEAT YOUR RECORD FROM LAST WEEK!
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Floor-based Dumbbell Extensions

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • Find a weight that you could do 12 reps with and perform four sets of eight reps with 45 seconds between sets.

Barbell Pushups

      • Position a barbell at the bottom of a power rack so it will not move.
      • Use an ultra-wide grip (forefinger past the rings).
      • Perform four sets to failure. If you can do over 20 reps per set, add chains across your back. You want to fail between 8-12 reps.
      • Rest 90 seconds between sets.

Dumbbell Rows

      • Pause the dumbbell on the floor between reps.
      • Do two warm-up sets and then three sets of eight reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Face Pulls

      • Do four sets of 15-20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Week 3

Day 1

Dynamic Bench Press

      • Begin with the bar and make sure all warm-up sets are executed with perfect control and technique.
      • Once you hit 50 percent of your best bench, stay at this weight and perform nine sets of three reps. You will use three different grips. With a Texas Power Bar, these grips will be one finger on the smooth (close), a thumb away from the smooth (medium) and forefinger on the rings (wide). On this week you will take 30 seconds between sets and push the bar as fast (while keeping control) as you can.

Flat Dumbbell Presses

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • After you are warmed up you will work your way up in weight, making sure to hit a set of 12, a set of 10, a set of eight, and then two heavy sets of five with the same weight.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Push-downs and Close-grip 1-board Press

      • Do two warm-up sets of 10-12.
      • Do two sets going to failure on the push-downs (between 15-20 reps), immediately followed by close-grip 1-board presses for three reps. Your strength on the 1-board press will suck. This is no big deal. Just push as hard as you can and get the reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Chest-supported Rows

      • Do two warm-up sets.
      • Do three sets of six reps. Make these heavier than last week.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises

      • Do three sets of 20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Day 2

Chain Press

      • Warm up the same as you would the dynamic bench press.
      • When you get to 60 percent, perform three reps.
      • With each succeeding set, add one chain per side (so the chain is totally deloaded while the bar is on your chest). Keep working up in chains until one rep is VERY hard to do but you still do it. Don’t work up so high that you can’t do the required rep.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Floor-based Dumbbell Extensions

      • 2-3 warm up sets
      • Find a weight that you could do 12 reps with and perform four sets of eight reps with 30 seconds between sets.

Barbell Pushups

      • Position a barbell at the bottom of a power rack so it will not move.
      • Use an ultra wide grip (forefinger past the rings).
      • Perform four sets to failure. If you can do over 20 reps per set add chains across your back. You want to fail between eight and 12 reps.
      • 60 seconds between sets

Dumbbell Rows

      • Pause the bell on the floor between reps
      • Two warm up sets and then three sets of six reps.
      • Rest as long as needed

Face Pulls

      • Four sets 15-20 reps
      • Rest as long as needed

Week 4

Day 1

Dynamic Bench Press

      • Begin with the bar and make sure all warm-up sets are executed with perfect control and technique.
      • Once you hit 50 percent of your best bench, stay at this weight and perform nine sets of three reps. You will use three different grips. With a Texas Power Bar, these grips will be one finger on the smooth (close), a thumb away from the smooth (medium), and forefinger on the rings (wide). On this week you will take 90 seconds between sets and push the bar as fast (while keeping control) as you can.

Flat Dumbbell Presses

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • After you are warmed up, you will work your way up in weight, making sure to hit a set of 12 and then two heavy sets of 10 with the same weight.
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Push-downs and Close-grip 1-board Press

      • Do two warm-up sets of 10-12.
      • Do two sets going to failure on the push-downs (between 15-20 reps), immediately followed by close-grip 1-board presses for six reps. Your strength on the 1-board press will suck. This is not a big deal. Just push as hard as you can and get the reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Chest-supported Rows

      • Do two warm-up sets.
      • Do two sets of 10 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises

      • Do three sets of 20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Day 2

Chain Press

      • Warm up the same as you would the dynamic bench press.
      • When you get to 60 percent, perform three reps.
      • With each succeeding set, add one chain per side (so the chain is totally deloaded while the bar is on your chest). Keep working up in chains until one rep is VERY hard to do, but you still do it. Don’t work up so high that you can’t do the required reps.
      • BEAT YOUR RECORD FROM LAST WEEK!
      • Rest as long as needed between sets.

Floor-based Dumbbell Extensions

      • Do 2-3 warm-up sets.
      • Find a weight that you could do 12 reps with and perform four sets of 12 reps with 90 seconds between sets.

Barbell Pushups

      • Position a barbell at the bottom of a power rack so it will not move.
      • Use an ultra-wide grip (forefinger past the rings).
      • Perform four sets to failure. If you can do over 20 reps per set, add chains across your back. You want to fail between 8-12 reps.
      • Rest two minutes between sets.

Dumbbell Rows

      • Pause the bell on the floor between reps.
      • Do two warm-up sets and then three sets of five reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Face Pulls

      • Do four sets of 15-20 reps.
      • Rest as long as needed.

Week 5

Day 1

Dynamic Bench Press

      • Begin with the bar and make sure all warm-up sets are executed with perfect control and technique.
      • Once you hit 50 percent of your best bench, stay at this weight and perform 4-5 sets of three reps. You will use your strongest grip. After these sets, begin to work your way up to test your strength on a 1- or 3-rep max.

This will tell you if you are on the right track or not.


 Section 9: Six Weak Point Tips

 

1. Bar feels heavy or unstable

Weak Points: Lats, posterior deltoids, external rotators, and rotator cuff.

Coaching Point: Contract shoulder blades (requires a static contraction to maintain) and drive upper back into bench upon concentric contraction.

2. Weak off chest

Weak Point: Bar is too heavy.

Coaching Point #1: Lower the bar with your back. Activate stretch reflex.

Coaching Point #2: Develop accelerative strength and prolong rate of force production.

3. Stuck halfway up

Weak Point: Triceps

Coaching Point #1: Spread the bar with your grip to activate medial head of triceps.

Coaching Point #2: Keep elbows positioned perpendicular under the bar. Any rotation outwards transfers the load to the shoulder capsule.

4. Pressing into the j-hooks

Weak Point: Triceps

Coaching Point #1: The shortest path between two points is a straight line, so maintain a straight bar path.

Coaching Point #2: Do not push into bar. Press yourself away from the bar and create separation.

Coaching Point #3: Keeping the elbows positioned perpendicular under the bar maintains the greatest mechanical advantage. Any rotation outwards transfers the load to the shoulder capsule.

5. Butt rises off of bench

Weak Points: Incorrect technique, the bar is too heavy, and/or the bench is too low.

Coaching Point #1: Maintain correct posture: knees up, straighten legs, or drive with heels.

Coaching Point #2: Do not arch low back. Arch upper back by contracting shoulder blades.

6. Head rises with eccentric lowering

Weak Point: Incorrect technique

Coaching Point #1: Maintain correct posture. Keep head down with chin tucked.

Coaching Point #2: Concaving chest causes an increased distance for the bar to travel.


Section 10: The Power of the Board

“During the past decade, the board press has become one of the most popular bench training movements,” says elitefts™ founder and CEO Dave Tate. “Whether the use of boards involves the dynamic effort method, max effort method, using it as a basic supplementary exercise, or as an exercise to increase tricep strength and development, board presses remain at the top for bench training movements.”

Board Benefits

Lifters use boards for a variety of different reasons. Dave believes the most important and widely used purpose for boards is to directly effect the following:

        • Increase/Correct Mini-Max: “Wherever your mini-max happens to be, overload that specific area of the bench press where you’re weak,” says Dave. “You’ll develop more strength through that range of motion.”
        • Tricep Development: This is more for athletes or bodybuilders.  A great exercise you can try is “Triceps Hell.”(example toward end of section).
        • Handle Heavy Weight: With boards, you’ll have heavier weights in your hands, but you’ll be working with only a partial range of motion. This is easier on your CNS, which makes for a faster recovery. “When you actually compete or go for a max,” says Dave, “the weight will feel lighter because you’ve handled it before.”
        • Confidence: Because you’ve handled a certain weight before, you’ll now have the confidence – or at least a good starting point, psychologically – to bench it through a full range of motion.
        • Rehab/Prehab: Boards can help you with the movement you want. If you have shoulder problems, you can take the shoulder rotation out of the bench press by using boards. “Pressing on boards will bring the elbows up higher from the floor,” says Dave, “while still giving them the range of motion for development and reducing strain on the shoulders.”
        • Breaking in Bench Shirts: Board presses are a good way to break in a bench shirt. Dave suggests using a 4-board during week one, a 3-board for week two, a 2-board during week three, etc.
        • Working Specific Segments of Press: Using boards, you can train whatever segment of the bench press you want.<iframe width="640" height="360" src="//www.youtube.com/embed

Size and Stroke Matters

There are a variety of different boards. They start at 1-board and go up to a 5-board. There are also various soft boards and, of course, the elitefts™ Manpon.

Each board has a bit of a different application. Here are some general applications from Dave:

Stroke the 1-board

The movement should be just like your bench stroke. However, if you wear a bench shirt, you’ll want to flare as soon as you press. “I always tell the guys here, you want to stroke a 1- board. Bring it down, touch, press and flare.” – Dave Tate

Flare off the 2-board

This board should put you right about where you would start flaring if you weren’t wearing a bench shirt.

Groove the 3-board

This board will get you to right where you start to groove, but not going to the point where you’d flare.

Muscle up the 4- and 5-board

“These are pretty much just a muscle board,” says Dave. “It’s a lockout board.”

Manpon

“The guys I train with called it this for obvious reasons, and they thought I was a puss for using it,” says Dave. The Manpon is a foam roller cut in half, with a handle on it. It’s light in weight and easy to use. You can slip it right under your shirt and you don’t have to balance a board on your chest or tie one on with a belt. The point of the Manpon is to keep your elbows from going too low and also to take stress off of the shoulders.

Soft Board

This is very similar to the Manpon, except it has a board on it and is padded so it’ll compress. “We tried to simulate something similar to the Manpon,” says Dave, “but more importantly something that guys can use while trying to break in their bench shirts. The soft board doesn’t limit how low you can go like the board does. Thus, it can break in a shirt faster because you can bring the bar down lower and still have support from the soft board.”

Exclusive Board Footage

Which Board Should You Use?

“You can’t just say to somebody, ‘Oh, you have a weak lockout. Here, you need a 3-board.”

Elbow position is the key. You should be looking at the distance between your elbow and the floor, not the board and where the bar will travel.

“Keep in mind that even though everyone says a 4-board is a two-inch lockout, it’s all irrelevant,” says Dave. “Everyone’s arm lengths are different, so a 2-board for one person may be a 3-board for another.”

Generally, a 1-board incorporates chest and lats, a 2-, 3-, and 4- board  involve more triceps. Therefore, the higher up the board, the more the shoulders become involved for stability. If a bencher has a problem with setting the bench press, high boards can come into play to help them. Be sure to pause at the top. The lower the elbows go, the more shoulder rotation is used. Dave uses a 1-board or 2-board so his elbows are even with the bench. Dave states, “It’s worthless for me to do a full press because I’m not going to be in competition. The risks outweigh the benefits.”

Can’t Touch This

Most people don’t think about how they touch the board, taking it for granted. Lots of people break records when using boards, but what they don’t realize is that they’re not really breaking them – they’re just changing the way they perform the press. As a rule, Dave cautions to always be consistent with your touch and pay attention to it.

Types of touches:

      • Soft touch – Bring the bar down with control. When you touch, you should barely hear it, and then press off. This is more for teaching the bench press and working on technique and control.
      • Hard touch – Slam down the bar and drop it onto the board. “This does have positive applications even though most people argue that you don’t want to do this,” says Dave. “It’s good for bench shirt training or for people who lower the bar too slowly. It builds confidence because they don’t feel like they’re going to break their chest in half.”
      • Bounce – Similar to a hard touch, but with no pause. It’s just a touch and go. “If you’re working with someone who wants to break an all-time record, this helps them get more reps in before they fatigue,” says Dave, “but they still need to be in control of the bar.”
      • Sink – Bring the bar down, let it sink in, and then press back up. This teaches benchers to relax at the bottom so they can touch better in a shirt.
      • Pause – Stay tight, slow and controlled. Pause at the bottom, then press back up. “This teaches tightness at the bottom, the exact opposite of sinking, and is more applicable for a raw bencher than a shirted one,” says Dave.

Types of grips:

The width of your grip determines the benefits you’ll reap from using boards.

Grips range from close to ultra-wide and the muscle groups hit will range from your triceps to your delts.

      • Close – Hands are 17 inches apart. This is used to work your triceps and for lockout strength during the top quarter movement of the bench press.
      • Medium – Hands are 22 inches apart. This is the same as the close grip, but it’s for lockout strength during the top half movement of the bench press.
      • Wide – Hands are 28 inches apart. This is used for more pec work and strength pressing out of the bottom part of the bench – depending on which board you’re using.
      • Ultra Wide – Hands are 33 inches apart. This is used to work your delts and help with stability.

Board Etiquette

This is for the guy holding the bar, not the lifter.

Pay Attention – No checking out chicks, texting, or daydreaming about buffets.

Listen to Your Lifter – Don’t put the board down any sooner than what the lifter wants. Make sure they are already setup and in position, but that they haven’t taken the bar out yet.

Hold the Board Correctly – Don’t hold the board at an angle or sideways. Make sure it’s flat and stable. Also, don’t shove it into the lifter’s chin.

No Battery – Don’t hold the board like a bat over your shoulder before lifts. You want to get the board to the lifter’s chest in a timely manner, and you won’t be able to if it’s so far away.  Also, don’t smack the board down on the lifter when you go to place it on their chest.

Find Other Spotters – As a board holder, you’re not a spotter. Make sure there’s a spotter on each side and one behind so you don’t have to drop the board to grab the bar.

Why Do YOU Use Boards?

“Helps me learn the shirt, my sticking points, and how to overload.” – Ray Law, Wisconsin Platteville

“To build strength in the lockout.” – Greg Allen, LSU

“Building horseshoe triceps.” – Bostjan Bavcon, Slovenia

“Learning to engage the triceps.” – Matthew Smith, Midland, Michigan

“Overload lockout. So I can get good shirt work in without having to touch after already learning the shirt via full range.” – Jeff Adkins, Minnesota

“Lockout. Warm-up for bench shirt.” – Andrew Abbott, Waterbury, Connecticut

“Teaching guys how to maintain arch under supermaximal load. Lots of intermediates fail the bench because they can’t maintain their arch in descent. They won’t really be able to build their chest and lat strength until they can maintain proper body position to load those muscles. Otherwise, the shoulders are just going to get beat to shit. I use the board press, and once they bring that up to 3-5 seconds of TUT, with a load beyond their current max bench (maybe 110-120%), we’ll go back to full pressing exercises.” – Thom Lamb, Fredericton, NB

“I like them to hit weak spots I have and to become more efficient in high end shirts. Most people like to use them since they can’t touch in their shirts, and hit big weights while using them with their gear.” – Stephen Nilsen, East Brunswick

“I train alone so I place a mini band from one spot on the bar to the other at the right height. It holds the boards right in place. I use them as a supplementary exercise for raw benching. I work to go really close to rep my raw max at 4- or 5-board level. When I can do that at a 2- or 3-board, I know I’m getting close to a PR as long as my raw full range is being maintained.” – Joe Lescano Handabaka, Union, NJ

“For me, it’s two different movements. I’ve got short stubby arms, and using 1- to 2-boards is a very short range. Touching is completely different. My chest flattens out, it’s a longer range of motion, and I have trouble locking out up to 50 less pounds than I can on a 1-board!” – Greg Buffington

“I use it to develop strength in the top half of my lockout. I also use it as a means of breaking a new shirt in, but the main reason is to increase tricep and lockout strength.” – Charles Bailey

“Partials and to help work in a new bench shirt.” – Jeff King, Hamilton, ON

“Our crew uses boards weekly throughout the year for a variety of reasons. It all boils down to some very boring physiology. It allows us to learn how to contract the muscle with 100 percent force during any point of the range of motion. You only fire a muscle at 100 percent of capacity at the start of the motion and reduce the contraction the closer you are to the completion of the motion (so you don’t throw the bar out of your hands at the top of the motion). Boards allow the athlete to fire at 100 percent at various points in the ROM of the press. This allows the athlete to overcome various sticking points and individual weaknesses. This is a similar situation as to why band training is so effective. Most training methodology addresses strengthening muscles and connective tissue. Board and band training have the added benefit of addressing central nervous system conditioning.” – David Edgell

“To build the bench, shirted and raw.” – Daniel Garcia

“Triceps and a strong lockout! Sometimes high boards are good for handling heavy weights. After my meet tomorrow, I’ll start doing high boards with a grand, and as time goes on, I’ll drop a board until I’m able to bang it full range.” – Tee Tee Mccray, Norwich, CT

“I have very long arms and bench raw. I kept reading that board presses were best for the shirted bencher, but wanted to try them anyway. My bench shot up once we started doing a lot of board presses. Getting used to having a heavier than normal weight in my hands helped me physically and mentally when I went back to normal benching.” – Aaron Snider, Huntington, IN

“Ascending and descending pushups. Five on each board starting at a 4-board followed by a five with a pause on the floor.” – Bret Carter

“Big lockout and a feel for heavier weights.” – Shannon Rotondo

“Besides the above, always gave my pec/delt tie-in a break, while letting you train heavy.” – Sean Patrick Donegan, Pueblo, CO

“Been using them lately for close-grip work.” – David Affolter, Baton Rouge, LA

“I use it to get used to a weight I want to hit in a meet. It keeps my shoulders healthy while using heavy weights in a shirt.” – Glenn Baggett

How Do Top Lifters Use Boards?

The most common use of boards, as explained by Dave earlier, is to work a weak point or sticking point. Matt Wenning, Marc Bartley and Jeremy Frey ( 650-pound benchers) discuss how they use boards.

Work a Weak Point

Most of the board work Frey does is for his lockout. He usually uses a 2-board or 3-board to work on this. He also uses the boards with his regular shirt workouts, but never usually goes above a 1-board.

“Using boards to work different ranges of motion in the bench press is a great tool. Many lifters have sticking points where the bench press is weaker. If the problem is your lockout, make sure it isn’t a technique issue. If it’s not a technique issue, then pick the board that matches up with where your lockout struggles.”

Engage Different Muscles

Marc says the brain and nervous system are always looking for the easiest and fastest route. From the very first day a bar is lifted, the routes become set and they never deviate. The muscles involved in the initial route become the strongest.

“The board makes you take an alternative route and makes other muscles contribute. For example, I use the same route from home to the store every day and it usually takes fifteen minutes. One day my wife and I left the store at the same time and I thought I would pass her and beat her home, but I never saw her. She had been home for ten minutes because she took another side road which was more direct to the house. I didn’t realize it then, but I went the roundabout way.”

This is similar to board work because it changes where you go with the bar, like with Marc’s wife and her new route. These new routes lead to new and different uses of your muscles, and then they work alongside the dominant muscle groups that no longer have to do all of the work.

Break in a Shirt

Because new shirts are rather tough to break in, you may not be able to bench the amount of weight it takes to touch the shirt. Boards can be used with a weight that’s comfortable until the shirt stretches and breaks in.

“I progressively work my way down from a 3-board all the way down to touching,” says Jeremy. “By having the boards there, you have something to shoot for, as opposed to always trying to touch, which makes the journey of touching seem sometimes unattainable, especially if you just went down a size in a shirt and it’s super tight.”

Rehab Work

When someone injures their shoulders, elbows or hands, boards can be used to limit the range of motion and eliminate pain.

“Rehab work is used to limit the range of motion,” says Marc. For example, “if a guy has an injury that hurts as the bar nears his chest, you can put a board on there before the pain starts. This limits pain, so they can still train. It’ll allow the weak area to get stronger and back to normal.”

Jeremy adds, “injuries do occur and I’ve had many athletes, as well as clients, with bicep tendon and rotator issues. Depending upon the injury, this can be very effective in rehabbing the injury while maintaining your upper body strength.”

Raise Confidence

Marc believes boards make people feel more capable and confident while handling big weights. Eventually when the boards are removed, this confidence carries over to handling real weight without limited range of motion.

Increase Speed

This is an easy way to teach someone how to push faster through the bench. It gives the lifter a target to hit and also a point to change momentum of the bar and improve leverages. This is like changing gears (eccentric to concentric is easier and faster).

“It’s like learning how to drive a stick shift and hitting the gears right without grinding the transmission to pieces,” says Marc.

Teach Pause

Boards teach you to pause. In most competitive benching, there’s a pause and then there’s a touch and go. In a meet, you can’t touch and go. You have to wait until the judge gives you a press command.

“You can use the board to teach someone how to lower the bar correctly into the right position,” says Matt. “This means sinking the bar into the board while holding some of the muscles tight and loaded, then pressing after the pause.”

Increase Leg Drive

Boards can be used to increase leg drive. After you sink the bar into the board, you can get the timing right with your leg drive and add a lot to your bench while still keeping it legal.

Matt says this can add at least 50–100 pounds to your bench press.

Marc adds, “we tell guys to sink the bar in and let the abs sink some, then drive the legs. Momentum creates a “pop” off the chest. If it’s done right, it will move the bar into the best leverage position to complete the lift.”

Stabilize and Create Foundation

With boards, you can stabilize and create a foundation for the upper body. By using the boards, in conjunction with your leg drive, you learn how to time the lower body and upper body. Sinking the bar into the board with the body until the load is completely absorbed, Matt describes this as your body being stretched like an elastic band, and then pushing it all back into the bar like a slingshot.

Board Press Workouts & Cycles

Speed Training (dynamic effort): I recommend a soft board, 1-board or 2-board for this. Every time you go up a board, add one rep.
Max Effort: Most beginners have success with this and work in three-week waves up to a 1- or 3-rep max.
Repetition Method: The board is used as a supplement after the main movement. The board chosen should help you work on a specific movement that is your weakest.

Hypertrophy & Finisher Workouts

Beekers

Application: This is used more for strength endurance and muscle hypertrophy. Select two different boards to work from. Select 3-5 reps for each segment. Perform desired reps on the first board and then proceed to do the same on the next board. Continue to repeat with no rest.

Triceps Hell

Application: This is used more for strength endurance and muscle hypertrophy. Select a weight you can do 15–20 reps. After warm-ups, proceed to the “tricep hell” set. For this, you’ll perform five reps on a 1-board and then immediately do five reps on a 2-board, repeating this scheme until you get to 3-, 4-, and 5-board. If you make it through the whole thing, try working back down.

Board Press Cluster Sets

Application: There are many examples of this, but one I’ve found to be very effective is to select a weight you can do for ten reps on a 3-board or 4-board. Perform three reps, rest for a ten-count and perform three more reps. Keep repeating this until you can only perform one rep.

3-Minute Triceps

Application: I suggest a spotter with all pressing movements, but highly recommend it with this one. For this, you’ll use a higher board (3- or 4-board) with a light weight (25–30 percent of your best 1-rep full bench max). The goal is to make the set last three minutes without racking the weight. You CAN hold it at the top and rest on the board for a long as you need, but try not to rest on the board for more than 20 seconds. The percent is just a guideline or starting point. I’ve seen people use up to 50 percent for this.

Diminishing Sets

Application: Select any mix from the matrix below and select a total number of reps between 50 and 100. Pick a weight you can do for ten moderately easy reps, then perform sets of ten reps (or whatever you end up doing) with 20 seconds rest until the final number of repetitions is reached.

Working down boards

Application: This is used to break in bench shirts and also used with many lifters when doing shirt work. Warm up to a point where you feel the need to put your shirt on. This is usually around 60 percent of your 1-rep max. Perform 3-5 reps on a 3-board or 4-board. For each set from here, you’ll work up in weight and lower the board until you get to around 90 percent off your chest. A sample progression may look like this:

          • Bar for  2-3 sets x 5 reps
          • 95 for 2 sets x 3 reps
          • 135 for 3 sets x 3 reps
          • 185 x 3 reps
          • 225 x 3 reps
          • 275 x 3 reps
          • 315 x 3 reps
          • 405 (with shirt) off a 4-board x 5 reps
          • 455 (with shirt) off a 3-board x 3 reps
          • 495 (with shirt) off a 3-board x 1 rep
          • 545 (with shirt) off a 2-board x 1 rep
          • 585 (with shirt) off a 1-board x 1 rep
          • 615 (with shirt) to chest x 1 rep

Shirt Work Cycle

Application: Wear the shirt for your 4-board sets the SAME as you would for your chest set. DO NOT jack the shirt up so you can barely touch a 2-board, just so you can press more weight. This is great for your ego, but there’s no way you’ll be able to touch your chest with your shirt jacked up the same way. A second point is let the shirt and weight determine when to lower the board. If you can’t get the weight down to a 3-board, don’t drop to a 2-board on the next set. Stay with the 3-board until the weight touches, and then move the weight up and lower the board after that.

          • Week 1: 3-board working up to max set of 3-5 reps
          • Week 2: 2-board working up to max set of 3-5 reps
          • Week 4: 1-board working up to max set of three reps
          • Week 5: No shirt week: this would be a great place to drop in a concentric-only pressing movement such as pin presses or presses off chains.
          • Week 6: 2-board working up to max set of three reps
          • Week 7: 1-board working up to max single
          • Week 8: Work down to chest for triple or single

Max Effort Board Press Cycle

Application: This cycle is for beginner and intermediate lifters. Stick with the same movement for three weeks.

          • Warm-ups: Work up using small jumps (5 percent jumps)
          • Week 1: Work up to max set of five reps
          • Week 2: Work up to max set of five reps (beat week 1)
          • Week 3: Work up to max set of five reps (beat week 2)


1-Board Dynamic Effort Cycle with Bands

Application: This cycle is intended for those trainees who would like to bring up their strength at the bottom point of the bench press with the use of bands. This is a great cycle for those who are dealing with shoulder problems and would like to take some of the shoulder rotation out of the bottom of the lift.

Training Cycle:

      • Week 1: 40 percent for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
      • Week 2: 40 percent for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
      • Week 3: 40 percent for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)

Suggested Band Tensions (based on max bench press):

      • 100-200 pounds – bands not recommended
      • 201-300 pounds – 30-40 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
      • 301-400 pounds – 40-50 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
      • 401-500 pounds – 70-80 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
      • 501-600 pounds – 70-80 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
      • 601-700 pounds – 100-120 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
      • 800 Plus pounds – 140-160 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift

One Board Dynamic Effort Cycle with Chains

Application: This cycle is intended for those trainees who would like to bring up their strength at the bottom point of the bench press with the use of chains. This is a great cycle for those who are dealing with shoulder problems and would like to take some of the shoulder rotation out of the bottom of the lift.

Training Cycle:

      • Week 1: 45% for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
      • Week 2: 45% for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
      • Week 3: 45% for 8 sets x 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)

Suggested Chain (based on max bench press – chain weight is for both sides combined):

      • 100-200 pounds: 20 pounds
      • 201-300 pounds: 40 pounds
      • 301-400 pounds: 60 pounds
      • 401-500 pounds: 80 pounds
      • 501-600 pounds: 100 pounds
      • 601-700 pounds: 120 pounds
      • 800 Plus pounds: 140 pounds

Supplemental Training Cycles

These cycles would be for those who are using submaximal training cycles or blocks to train their bench press. If this is the case, the board press work would fall as a second movement or on another day. The key here is to select a movement from the matrix below that will help bring up your weakness or mini max. The simplest technique that will cover most issues is to pick the board closest to where your sticking point is, ASSUMING your technique is good.

Heavy Band Cycle

Application: Select a band or combination of bands that will represent 50 percent of your max bench weight at the top (this 50 percent is true if it’s a shirt max or raw max). Load the bands on the bar first, then work up with weight from there.

Training Cycle:

        • Week 1:  3-board working up to a max set of 5 reps. Rest 3-5 minutes and try to repeat for max number of reps.
        • Week 2: 3-board with 80 percent for 3 sets x 3 reps. NO band tension added.
        • Week 3: 3-board working up to a max set of 3 reps. Rest 3-5 minutes and repeat.
        • Week 4:  No heavy supplemental work
        • Week 5Change movement

Section 11: Chains 101

No, I am not talking about the bling around your neck, what connects your wallet to your jeans, or even the crazy S&M stuff you may secretly be guilty of.

What I’m talking about is lifting chains—and these can help develop your speed, strength and stability. Chains can be added to your bench, squat and deadlift for a kickass workout. You can set them up for speed, so that they deload at the bottom and you must power through each rep. They can be set up for stability, so that they don’t touch the ground and you must balance and stay tight for every solid rep. No matter how they’re used, you’re bound to become strong(er).

In the squat and the bench press, the movement becomes easier at the top. That’s why you can half squat and half bench more than you can full squat or full bench. Chains can be added to balance or accommodate the strength curve. The strength curve is a result of the amount of exertion delivered during a movement.

You can work on the stability of the muscle or the movement that you’re trying to work. A lot of people have a hard time getting locked in for the bench press at the top and this is also true for the squat. Some have problems at the bottom of the squat, where they can’t maintain their balance and they fall over.

Besides stability, you can also work on how much force is put into the movement. This is something anyone from a beginner to an advanced lifter can benefit from. Some don’t understand the concept of explosion. So, when they add the chains to the movement, it deloads at the bottom. If they try to stand up in the squat as slow as they normally would or without force, they won’t be able to make it to the top. They’ll eventually be shoved back down. Hopefully they’ll think, “oh shit, I should have used more force” and then next time they’ll stand up more explosively.

Chains will teach you to apply more force throughout the whole entire movement because you won’t have a chance to decelerate. It will also teach you to lower the bar faster. This isn’t a big problem with raw lifters, but it’s a big problem for those with bench shirts.

With chains, heavier loads can be handled. You’ll know what it feels like to have a greater amount of weight then you could ever imagine squatting on your back. Say you have 900 pounds, and 500 pounds of that is chains. You’ll get used to having 900 pounds on your back, but you don’t have to deal with it throughout the whole movement because it will deload to 400 pounds at the bottom.

The last two things I use chains for is to take pressure off my injuries, and for motivation and confidence with lifters.

How to Set Up Chains

Each side of the chain set up weighs 18.2 pounds, with 29 links and one hook.

Bench Press and Squat: Stability

Attach the chains any way you want so that they aren’t touching the ground in the beginning. There are many ways to do this and you can even set up the chains so they NEVER touch the ground to make the movement more difficult.

Bench Press and Squat: Accommodating Resistance

Set up the chains so that they’re even on both sides. The best way to guess where to put the chains is to have half of the chains on floor for the bench press when the barbell is on the rack. You want all the chain deloaded onto the floor when at the bottom position. For the squat, it’s a little different, as you’ll want four or five links of chain on the floor when the bar is on the rack.

Floor Press: Accommodating Resistance

Throw the chain over the sleeve of the bar, which will allow for a partial deload.

Deadlift: Accommodating Resistance

If you’re using a lot of bar weight, you should use a chain mate to extend the chains out from the bar. This way you can load up the bar with as much weight as you want. However, if you’re pulling sumo, throw the chains over the center of the bar.

Accessory Movements: Accommodating Resistance

This is very easy. Just decide on a handle and attach the chain.

Training Cycles with Chains

Basic Chain Squat Cycle

This is a very good cycle for the advanced lifter who has good squat skill and form. The chains will help to develop a greater level of squat stability as well as increasing the explosion out of the bottom of the squat. This would be a very good off-season strength cycle for the advanced lifter.

Training Cycle:

  • Week 1 – 55% for 8 sets x 2 reps
  • Week 2 – 58% for 8 sets x 2 reps
  • Week 3 – 60% for 8 sets x 2 reps

Recommended chain weight is based on max squat. Chain weight is for both sides combined.

Max Squat Chains (per side) Weight of Chain (top)
200-400 pounds 1 (5/8) 40 pounds
400-500 pounds 1 (5/8), 1 (1/2) 60 pounds
500-600 pounds 2 (5/8) 80 pounds
700-800 pounds 2 (5/8), 1 (1/2) 100 pounds
800-900 pounds 3 (5/8) 120 pounds

Chain Speed Strength or Heavy Chain Phase

This cycle is intended for the intermediate and advanced lifter looking for a way to shock their bench training. This cycle is very effective for bringing up the top end of the bench press very quickly. It is recommended to follow this cycle up with a straight weight or chain cycle.

Training Cycle:

  • Week 1 – 30% for 8 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 2 – 30% for 8 sets x 3 reps
  • Week 3 – 30% for 8 sets x 3 reps

If the weight does not feel heavy, then add more chains to the training weight. This workout should be very hard to complete and may require rest periods in the 90–120 second range.

Recommended chain weight is based on max bench press. Chain weight is for both sides combined.

Max Bench Weight of Chain (top)
100-200 pounds 40 pounds
201-300 pounds 80 pounds
301-400 pounds 120 pounds
401-500 pounds 160 pounds
501-600 pounds 200 pounds
601-700 pounds 240 pounds
800+ pounds 280 pounds

How elitefts™ Uses Chains

Our elitefts™ sponsored athletes all use chains for various reasons.

Matt Kroczaleski:

I drape them around my neck for added weight on chins and dips. I also throw them over the ends of the bars when performing floor presses for added bench work. Occasionally I put them either over the ends of the bar, or in the center when doing deadlift work.

Scott Yard:

I use chains for my bench training. Chains allow me to keep my intensity and weights high, but also gives me some rest at the bottom part of the lift, which is also the most strenuous.

I use 100 pounds of chains on bench and go for singles. I like the chains better than bands, as they allow for more freedom and make me balance the weight more.

I also like to use chains for my delt training. Side raises, with a chain in each hand, are great. The chain swings and makes me work harder to lift the weight. Next time, try to perform three sets of 15 with a 5/8 chain in each hand of these and you’ll get a great workout.

Brian Schwab:

I use chains in my max effort training , dynamic effort training and occasionally with accessory work. I prefer them over bands since they’re real weight, rather than constant tension, which often seems to place excessive stress on my joints. Chains incorporate accommodating resistance and allow for you to overload through the portion of motion where most lifters are the strongest. I use them up until about eight weeks out from a meet for max effort training on all three lifts, and throughout the entire training cycle for dynamic effort if I’m incorporating it.

Josh McMillan:

I rotate chains into my training cycle on a regular basis. I use chains for squats with safety bar (I attach chain weight to each side of the bar and add 40 pounds of chain per set), deadlift speed pulls (the chains are draped over the end of the bar), floor press (the chains are draped over the end of the bar and I add 40 pounds of chain per set), and speed work on bench (the chains are hooked to each side of bar with a set bar weight).

Matt Rhodes:

I use chains when I bench and usually use a full range of motion when I use them. I set them up so that they’re completely off the floor at lockout. When I’m not using the shirt, I use the chains and/or bands as a way to train my lockout other than using board presses.

Brian Carroll:

I like to use them on my deload day for the squat. I still feel some decent weight on my back, but it gets lighter at the bottom and teaches me to explode and drive through as they load up and get heavier. I use about 200 pounds at the top and 100 pounds at the bottom, when they’re touching the ground. I use them about every three weeks for the squat.

Zach Even Esh:

We use chains at Underground Strength for lots of body weight training as we train a lot of young athletes from middle school through college. The chains are AWESOME for adding extra loading to movements such as:

  • Push-ups (with hands on floor, on dumbbell handles, rings or blast straps)
  • Pull-ups
  • Dips

Our advanced guys will use them when performing the bench press or floor press, squatting and deadlifting. For the most part though, our ability to easily use them during bodyweight movements is where it’s at!

Jo Jordan:

I use chains for squatting, benching, deadlifting, tricep work, and shoulder work. I use them for accommodating resistance and cycle them in every three to four weeks for a three-week wave. It helps me overcome sticking points at the top of my bench and my lockout on the deadlift. It makes me work harder and stay tighter during my squat training.

For tricep extensions, I use them because they’re lighter at the bottom and they take some pressure off my elbow joints, which allows me to train around elbow pain. For shoulders, I use them on lateral raises for stabilization work during the lift.

How YOU Can Use Chains

 

Linking it to Research

1. Your strength can increase more just by how you set up the chains. For example, a case study was done using a double-looped hung supplemental heavy chain to add more resistance for the squat. At the end of the day, it proved to have two times more resistance at the top, compared to just hanging the chain straight down. Basically, it really does matter how you set the chain up. (Neelly, Kurt R; Terry, Joseph G; Morris, Martin J. “A Mechanical Comparison of Linear and Double-looped Hung Supplemental Heavy Chain Resistance to the Back Squat; A Case Study.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 24. Issue 1. 2010: 278-281.)

Hypertrophy—increased size—of muscle fibers occurs mainly in fast-twitch fibers (especially Type IIb fibers if stimulated to fuse with surrounding satellite cells) in response to stimulation afforded by weight training, and most especially weight training that is explosive in nature (Hakkinen et.al., 1985; Thorstensson et. al., 1976; Connelly, 1992).

2. When Rhea, Kenn and Dermody implemented the speed squat and accommodated resistance into the training of 48 NCAA athletes, they found that variying resistance training produced more power and strength than using heavy, slow resistance. (Rhea, Matthew R; Kenn, Joseph G; Dermody, Bryan M. “Alterations in Speed of Squat Movement and the Use of Accomodated Resistance Among College Athletes Training for Power.” The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Volume 23. Issue 9. Dec. 2009: 2645-2650)


Section 12: The Dead Bench

By Josh Bryant

If your goal is to develop overwhelming starting strength in the bench press, can you simply pause the bar for one second on your chest and circumvent the whole stretch shortening cycle? The answer to this question is both yes and no.

A recent study by the Physical Education Department at the Josef Pilduski University in Warsaw, Poland, in conjunction with the Biomechanics Department at Somelweis University in Budapest, Hungary, found that a one second pause at the bottom of the bench press movement causes a 55 percent disruption of the benefits derived from stretch-shortening during the bench press. That means that 45 percent of the stored elastic energy is still present after a one second pause. Pausing will help develop starting strength, but it still does not completely bypass the benefits of the stretch reflex. How is this paradox remedied?

I would like to introduce you to a GREAT exercise for developing starting strength. The exercise I’m referring to is something that I call the “dead bench,” and it’s a great way to make your bench gains come alive! The dead bench has helped me improve my explosive power during that crucial initial period of clearing the bar off my chest. The lift is performed by pressing dead weight off your chest (as shown in the video below). There’s no eccentric motion to store elastic energy, which is why the dead bench is a superior exercise for building blasting power in the initial phase.

The dead bench should be performed for single repetitions only, because, as the study indicates, even after a pause in the bench press motion, almost half of the stored elastic energy remains. For higher volume, lower intensity training, rather than pumping out rep after rep, you can use multiple singles followed by shorter rest intervals.

Proper progression is where most strength programs fail. One can know the science of training front to back, but if you do not understand the art of progression, you’ll be lost in a sea of missed gains. Some variables to increase intensity in the dead bench are: shortening rest intervals, adding more singles with the same weight, and adding more weight. Focusing only on increasing bar weight is a good prescription for running yourself into the ground of failed progress. However, you can consider lengthening the rest intervals and decreasing the number of singles as the weight increases. An example of this would be starting out with eight singles with a one-minute rest in between lifts, and by week six, performing four singles with three-minute rest. Obviously, the weight would increase each week during this hypothetical cycle (excluding deload weeks).

If your starting strength in the bench press is what’s holding your numbers down, then give this exercise a try. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. Now start blasting!

Some Points to Remember

        • Start the weight at chest level, but no more than two inches off the chest.
        • To maximally develop starting strength and rate of force development push the bar as hard and fast as possible.
        • In regard to hand placement, use your raw competition bench press grip for the greatest carry over.
        • Foot placement is the same as a normal bench press.
        • Use singles, not reps.

Here is bodybuilder/powerlifter in training of Metroflex Gym, John Combs, doing a very brief demonstration of the dead bench:

Here’s all-around West Texas Badass Jeff Lofton, pushing some weight on the dead bench:

Section 13: So You Think You Can Bench

In this video series, Dave Tate showcases the process he takes to teach correct bench press technique. Prior to the video, Dave had never met this lifter. He had no idea of his training history, technique, or strength level. From start to finish, all nine parts of Dave’s “So You Think You Can Bench” series are authentic, unedited coaching videos.

 Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Section 14: JL Holdsworth Instructional Videos

 

Are you struggling to increase your bench press? Is your upper body getting beat up in the process? If your bench press doesn’t have proper leg drive, you’re leaving half of your body out of the lift and holding yourself back from heavier weight and new PRs. In his second installment of his Friday technique videos, JL Holdsworth shows how to set up to maximize leg drive in your bench press. Holdsworth claims that setting up properly, as he shows in the video, could increase your numbers by 10 to 15 percent.

Holdsworth covers how to:

1. Get tight before unracking the bar

2. Place feet to allow drive without raising your hips

3. Fully engage leg drive at the proper time

4. Push with your heels from a tucked position

5. Decrease range of motion in shoulder to prevent injury

In this technique video, JL Holdsworth looks at the very start of the bench press—the setup. Because each lifter’s body is different, the optimal setup for the bench press will vary. To find your best setup, Holdsworth says that you should look at the length of your bench stroke and the placement of your feet. By experimenting with foot placement, you’ll find the setup that gives the shortest bench stroke and strongest leg drive.

Holdsworth demonstrates these four options for foot placement:

1. Tucked

2. Untucked

3. Wide

4. Narrow

For tucked positions, your feet will be near or behind your butt. Only your toes will be on the floor but by pushing your heels down (you won’t be able to touch) you increase the arch and leg drive.

For feet out, the knees will be slightly in front of the feet. Again, the heels down cue is vital for leg drive and improved positioning.

In this technique video edition, JL Holdsworth shows how and where to grip the bar for the bench press. A lot of lifters let their wrists bend back during the bench press. These same lifters will use the tightest wrist wraps available but still can’t seem to keep the bar in line with their wrists and elbows. Holdsworth explains why this is problematic for the lockout and shares his own experience with missed bench attempts.

Holdsworth explains how to:

1. Avoid the dangers of a thumbless grip

2. Properly place the bar in your hands

3. Wrap your thumbs

4. Squeeze with your pinkies

5. Keep your elbows and wrists in line with the bar

Section 15: 12 EZ Steps to a Bigger Bench

1. Train the Triceps

Years ago, if you had asked Larry Pacifico how to get a big bench, he’d have told you to train the triceps. This same advice applies today. This doesn’t mean doing set after set of pushdowns, kickbacks, and other so-called “shaping” exercises. Training your triceps for a big bench has to involve heavy extensions and close-grip pressing movements such as close-grip flat and incline bench presses, close-grip board presses, and JM presses.

Various barbell and dumbbell extensions should also be staples of your training program. Don’t let anyone try to tell you the bench press is about pec strength. These people don’t know the correct way to bench and are setting you up for a short pressing career with sub-par weights. I just read an article in one of the major muscle magazines by one of these authors on how to increase your bench press. The advice given was to train your pecs with crossovers and flies and your bench will go up! This, along with many other points, made me wonder how this article ever got published or better yet, how much the author himself could bench.

I believe articles should go under a peer review board before they get printed. I’d like many of my peers to review these authors in the gym or better yet on the bench to see how much they really know. Bottom line: train the triceps!

2. Keep your shoulder blades pulled together and tight.

This is a very important and often overlooked aspect of great bench pressing. While pressing you have to create the most stable environment possible. This can’t be done if most of your shoulder blades are off the bench. The bench is only so wide and we can’t change this, but we can change how we position ourselves on the bench.

When you pull your shoulder blades together you’re creating a tighter, more stable surface from which to press. This is because more of your body is in contact with the bench. The tightness of your upper back also contributes. These techniques also change the distance the bar will have to travel. The key to pressing big weight is to press the shortest distance possible.

3. Keep the pressure on your upper back and traps.

This is another misunderstood aspect of pressing. You want the pressure around the supporting muscles. This is accomplished by driving your feet into the floor, thereby driving your body into the bench. Try this: Lie on the bench and line up so your eyes are four inches in front of the bar (toward your feet). Now using your legs, drive yourself into the bench to put pressure on the upper back and traps. Your eyes should now be even with the bar. This is the same pressure that needs to be applied while pushing the barbell.

4. Push the bar in a straight line.

Try to push the bar toward your feet. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, right? Then why in the world would some coaches advocate pressing in a “J” line toward the rack? If I were to bench the way most trainers are advocating (with my elbows out, bringing the bar down to the chest and pressing toward the rack) my barbell travel distance would be 16 inches. Now, if I pull my shoulder blades together, tuck my chin and elbows, and bring the bar to my upper abdominals or lower chest, then my pressing distance is only 6.5 inches. Now which would you prefer? If you want to push up a bar-bending load of plates, you’d choose the shorter distance.

Here’s another important aspect of pressing in this style. By keeping your shoulder blades together and your chin and elbows tucked, you’ll have less shoulder rotation when compared to the J-line method of pressing. This is easy to see by watching how low the elbows drop in the bottom part of the press when the barbell is on the chest. With the elbows out, most everyone’s elbows are far lower than the bench. This creates a tremendous amount of shoulder rotation and strain.

Now try the same thing with the elbows tucked and shoulder blades together while bringing the barbell to your upper abdominals. For most people, the elbows are usually no lower than the bench. Less shoulder rotation equals less strain on the shoulder joint. This means pressing bigger weights for many more years. I’ve always been amazed at trainers that suggest only doing the top half of the bench press, i.e. stopping when the upper arms are parallel to the floor. This is done to avoid the excess shoulder rotation. All they have to do is teach their clients the proper way to bench in the first place!

5. Keep the elbows tucked and the bar directly over the wrists and elbows.

This is probably the most important aspect of great pressing technique. The elbows must remain tucked to keep the bar in a straight line as explained above. Keeping the elbows tucked will also allow lifters to use their lats to drive the bar off the chest. Football players are taught to drive their opponents with their elbows tucked, then explode through. This is the same for bench pressing. Bench pressing is all about generating force. You can generate far more force with your elbows in a tucked position compared to an “elbows out” position.

The most important aspect of this is to keep the barbell in a direct line with the elbow. If the barbell is behind the elbow toward the head, then the arm position becomes similar to an extension, not a press.

6. Bring the bar low on your chest or upper abdominals.

This is the only way you can maintain the “barbell to elbow” position as described above. You may have heard the advice, “bring it low” at almost every powerlifting competition. This is the reason why. Once again, the barbell must travel in a straight line.

7. Fill your belly with air and hold it.

For maximum attempts and sets under three reps, you must try to hold your air. Everyone must learn to breathe from their bellies and not their chests. If you stand in front of the mirror and take a deep breath, your shoulders shouldn’t rise. If they do you’re breathing the air into your chest, not your belly. Greater stability can be achieved in all the lifts when you learn how to pull air into the belly. Try to expand and fill the belly with as much air as possible and hold it. If you breathe out during a maximum attempt, the body structure will change slightly, thus changing the groove in which the barbell is traveling.

8. Train with compensatory acceleration.

Push the bar with maximal force. Whatever weight you’re trying to push, be it 40 percent or 100 percent of your max, you must learn to apply 100 percent of the force to the barbell. If you can bench 500 pounds and are training with 300 pounds, you must then apply 500 pounds of force to the 300-pound barbell. This is known as compensatory acceleration and it can help you break through sticking points.

These sticking points are known as your “mini maxes,” or the points at which you miss the lift or the barbell begins to slip out of the groove. Many times I’m asked what to do if the barbell gets stuck four to five inches off the chest. Everybody wants to know what exercise will help them strengthen this area or what body part is holding them back. Many times it isn’t what you do to strengthen the area where it sticks, but what you can do to build more acceleration in the area before the mini max. If you can get the bar moving with more force then there won’t be a sticking point. Instead, you’ll blast right through it. Compensatory acceleration will help you do this.

9. Squeeze the barbell and try to pull the bar apart!

Regardless of the lift, you have to keep your body as tight as Monica Brant’s behind. You’ll never lift big weights if you’re in a relaxed physical state while under the barbell. The best way to get the body tight is by squeezing the bar. We’ve also found that if you try to pull the bar apart or “break the bar,” the triceps seem to become more activated.

10. Devote one day per week to dynamic-effort training.

According to Vladimir Zatsiorsinsky in his text Science and Practice of Strength Training, there are three ways to increase muscle tension. These three methods include the dynamic-effort method, the maximal-effort method, and the repetition method. Most training programs being practiced in the US today only utilize one or two of these methods. It’s important, however, to use all three.

The bench press should be trained using the dynamic-effort method. This method is best defined as training with sub-maximal weights (45 to 60 percent) at maximal velocities. The key to this method is bar speed. Percentage training can be very deceiving. The reason for this is because lifters at higher levels have better motor control and recruit more muscle than a less experienced lifter.

For example, the maximal amount of muscle you could possibility recruit is 100 percent. Now, the advanced lifter ­ after years of teaching his nervous system to be efficient ­ may be able to recruit 70 to 80 percent of muscle fibers, while the intermediate might be able to recruit only 50 percent. Thus, the advanced lifter would need less percent weight than the intermediate. This is one of the reasons why an advanced lifter squatting 80 percent of his max for 10 reps would kill himself while a beginner could do it all day long.

If you base the training on bar speed, then the percentages are no longer an issue, only a guideline. So how do you know where to start? If you’re an intermediate lifter, I suggest you start at 50 percent of maximal and see how fast you can make it move for three reps. If you can move 20 more pounds with the same speed then use the heavier weight.

Based on years of experience and Primlin’s charts for optimal percent training, we’ve found the best range to be eight sets of three reps. Based on Primlin’s research, the optimal range for 70 percent and less is 12 to 24 repetitions.

We’ve also found it very beneficial to train the bench using three different grips, all of which are performed within the rings. This may break down into two sets with the pinky fingers on the rings, three sets with three fingers from the smooth area of the bar and three sets with one finger from the smooth area.

11. Devote one day per week to maximal-effort training.

For the second bench day of the week (72 hours after the dynamic day) you should concentrate on the maximal-effort method. This is best defined as lifting maximal weights (90 to 100 percent) for one to three reps. This is one of the best methods to develop maximal strength. The key here is to strain. The downfall is you can’t train above 90 percent for longer than three weeks without having adverse effects.

Try performing a max bench press every week for four or five weeks. You’ll see you may progress for the first two, maybe three weeks, then your progress will halt and begin to work its way backward. We’ve combated this by switching up the maximal-effort exercises. We rotate maximal-effort movements such as the close-grip incline press, board press, floor press, and close-grip flat press. These exercises are all specific to bench pressing and all have a very high carryover value.

12. Train the lats on the same plane as the bench.

I’m talking about the horizontal plane here. In other words, you must perform rows, rows, and more rows. “If you want to bench big then you need to train the lats.” I’ve heard both George Hilbert and Kenny Patterson say this for years when asked about increasing the bench press. When you bench you’re on a horizontal plane. So would it make sense from a balance perspective to train the lats with pulldowns, which are on a vertical plane? Nope. Stick to the barbell row if you want a big bench.

Hopefully, I’ve helped you correct a few problems that might’ve been keeping you from breaking your own personal record. Remember, the smallest things often bring the biggest results.


Section 16: 10 Shirted Bench Press Tips

By Joey Smith

People are always asking me how to fix their bench press, how to improve their technique, or the obvious—how to get strong(er) on the bench press. So, I decided to sit down each week for 10 weeks and give a bench press tip, hoping to help someone who might be lacking in the area I addressed that day. Did I cover every aspect of the bench press? No. But what I tried to do was give tips that worked for me and helped increase my bench press over the years.

While these tips are better suited for geared shirted lifters, some of these tips can still be utilized for the raw guys, too. If you have any questions, contact me on the Q&A or comment section below, and I will do my best to answer your questions the best I can.

1. H2O

If you’re having trouble touching the bar, try wetting your collar and chest plate with good ol’ H2O. Just get a spray bottle, fill it up with water, and keep it in your gym bag. Wetting the collar allows the material to stretch easier, which can help you get the bar down.

2. Dig into the Pad

When setting up on the bench, make sure that you dig your traps into the pad of the bench so that you get a good, solid foundation. Be sure to pull your shoulders and lats back tight to the pad, and make sure that you don’t roll your shoulders back up when you receive the bar from your handler. This will give you better stability and keep your shirt in place.

3. Pull Back

As you set up on the bench, be sure to pull your shoulders back as hard as you can. Do this before the weight is handed to you. Pulling back the shoulders allows your lats to provide a strong(er) and better foundation. Plus, you’re utilizing the power from your lats in conjunction with your triceps when you push the bar up.

4. Eyes Under the Bar

Make sure that your eyes are under the bar. Before you lift the barbell off, it’s important that your body is positioned correctly on the bench. The easiest way to ensure your position is correct is to have your eyes directly under the bar.

5. Arch

Learn to create a good arch. A good arch can cut two or three (or more!) inches off your stroke. Be sure to keep your butt on the bench while arching. Placing a four-inch PVC pipe under my lower back helped me start learning how to get an arch. Then, as I got better, I started using a six-inch foam roller on all of my raw sets to help me with my arch and to stretch my lower back.

6. Bend the Bar

When taking your handoff, be sure to grab the bar tightly and try to “bend” the bar, as this will help with your stability. In turn, always make sure that you’re tight throughout the lift. Be sure that your lats and triceps are doing the work as you descend and push up. Stay “tight.” Technique is everything.

7. Leg Drive

Leg Drive—This power comes through your feet and legs. It fortifies the arch in your back, stabilizes your body, and focuses the energy towards your upper body. However, pushing through your legs doesn’t mean that you should raise your ass off the bench. The front of your feet should be trying to press through the floor as you try to press your heels to the floor. This takes a lot of practice to get correct, but what else do you have to do?

8. Deep Breath

Make sure to take a deep breath before you lower the bar (take a breath at handoff and hold it). Hold it in as you bring the bar down, pushing your belly to “meet” the bar, and continue to hold your breath as you push the bar upwards. Don’t let your breath out until you complete the rep. This technique gives you better core stability and spinal reinforcement. This will lead to a stronger bench press and better overall tightness and stability.

9. Elbow Flare

When coming down with the bar, keep your elbows flared out to allow the shirt to help “carry” the weight down. As the shirt tightens, begin to cut your elbows in so that you can touch the bar to your belly area. Once you touch, immediately flare your elbows back out (as fast as you can) in order to create the momentum and power needed to press maximal weights to the locked position. When pressing the bar up, fade the bar slightly back over your eyes and remember to explode the bar upwards. Contract your muscles forcefully in order to lift as fast as possible. Even if the bar goes up slowly, you’re still delivering maximal force output.

10. Visualize

Visualize the lift. What is visualization? In essence, visualization simply means using your creative imagination to see something you want and then achieve it. Always see yourself over and over again, going through your checklist and successfully completing the lift every time. Arch, take a deep breath, grip the bar, get tight, leg drive, and press upwards.


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