Starting Over By Mike Miller (as told to Dave Tate)

TAGS: bench, powerlifting, strength training, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, bench press, training

I was watching our new bench video with Bill Crawford this weekend and I asked him what he thought. He said, “The video is great but your benching technique is horrible.” I looked at him puzzled. I’ve bench pressed 760lbs so I thought my form was pretty good. As we watched the video, Bill picked apart every aspect of every movement of my bench. Bill was meticulous with his criticism. No one is more in tune with bench pressing than Bill Crawford. Bill spends thousands of hours watching his lifters, as well as others. He is always trying to figure out ways to bench bigger weights. He is the model of perseverance and desire. Bill goes over every little detail; from my hand placement, foot placement, shirt positioning, bar path, etc. Just about every aspect of my lifting needed improvement. At that point I really began to realize how critical everything was. Benching big is more than just being strong; you can get away with bullying weight for so long. It’s the technique that will set you apart from the crowd. For example, Steve Castone struggles to bench press 350 without a bench shirt. I have watched him bench 500 for reps with his shirt. He is a great example of how to get the most out of your bench shirt and how much technique comes into play when you have to make up for a weak point.

Once we were done watching the video, Bill instructed me to get my bench shirt. We headed off to the gym where I started to perform a light warm-up. At this time, I hadn’t benched in over 2 months. I did this to allow my body, especially my forearms to heal. After the warm-up, I put my shirt on. We pulled the shirt up high on my shoulders, pulled my arms in, took the slack out of the shirt and tightened my belt. With 550 on the bar, I lay down and grabbed the bar with a wide reverse grip so as not to allow the shirt to loosen. I pulled myself up into an arch. Bill shouted, “Arch harder. Pull yourself up more.” I start pulling up harder not sure if it was possible to arch anymore. I planted my butt, dropped my head, pulled my shoulder blades tight and set my traps on the bench. Bill looked it over and approved. Before he handed the bar off to me, he told me he wants me to concentrate on pulling my elbows in. I have always tucked my elbows so I’m pretty sure that I know how to do this correctly. I grabbed the bar with my index fingers on the ring, take the handoff and held it locked out. As I started to bring the weight down, Bill yelled, “Elbows in!” I pull them in more. He yells again for me to tuck my elbows. Finally, I pull my elbows in harder and something miraculous happens. As my elbows came in closer to my body, my wrists stayed behind the elbows and the weight dropped smoothly to my chest and hit the top of my abdomen. There was no struggling, no fighting. Before, 550 would have never touched my chest. I did it for 3 reps and realized that I just learned how to bench all over again. I went on to hit 650 for a single and this is after not having trained for two months. There was something else that I noticed immediately; I had no elbow or forearm pain. This was from keeping my elbows in and my wrists just slightly behind my elbows. This technique changed the stress point. Just when you think you have learned it all, some guy like Bill will come around and show you there is a better way. On another note, I had squatted on Friday. The above workout was done on Tuesday. Even after all of that arching, I had no lower back pain. There is a common misconception that you can’t arch big and do a three lift meet. You just need to condition your body into doing it.
I go to meets all the time and talk with people who are astounded by what some of our guys’ bench. They think that the only way someone could bench like that is because of drugs. They don’t realize that they too can do it. With some technique changes, some work on the arch and a lot of desire anyone can bench big.

We had a seminar last month and a group of lifters from out west came in for some help. One of the lifters, Susan, had a previous best of 275. By reworking her technique she benched 320 and did 315 at the IPA Worlds after squatting. Several of the other lifters had the same experience; by changing a few things around they made 30-40 lb improvements. One of there guys who is only 22 went from 585 to 650 and hit 700 in a meet a month later.

A truly great athlete not only lifts big but realizes that there is always room for change and has the ability to change. One of the most valuable tools that an athlete has is a video camera. Tape your workouts, watch them over and over again and get others to watch them. Learn what mistakes you are making. I have watched the same video one hundred times and the hundred and first saw a mistake for the first time. You may consider this a bit compulsive but it will take me where I want to go and help me to realize my goal. Sean Connery once said, “Losers go home and cry about how they did their best. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen”.

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