Sushi Improvements

TAGS: weakness, sushi, solution, adamson, deload, powerlifting, training

After competing in the Iron House Classic this past spring, I wanted to turn my attention to developing my raw strength. Based on some reading and videos I had seen, I made some unique adjustments to my dynamic effort bench training. These changes helped improve my raw (sushi) bench by 40 lbs in only 14 weeks.

Although I haven’t found a definitive method of training, I want to encourage coaches and lifters to think critically about the methods they are using and learn how to adjust them to make the program fit the lifter’s needs. It’s very easy to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing over and over again with diminishing returns brought from each attempt. Whether you’re a competitive lifter or a strength coach, you have to continually make changes in order to keep making yourself or your athletes better. Once the body accommodates to a certain type of training, it will no longer make positive adaptations.

I don’t intend for anyone to directly copy what I’ve done and expect the same gains. Training does not work that way. No two people will respond to the same program in the same manner, which is why programs must be adapted to the specific needs of the individual.

In a future article, I will go into more depth as to why this method of programming is effective. I didn’t do much research before trying this method. Instead, I just wanted to try something new. Since it worked so well, I became even more interested and began (and am still working on) doing research as to why it worked.

History

I’m far from being an elite powerlifter. My best totals at the time of writing this article are 1335 lbs at 181 lbs and 1365 lbs at 198 lbs, which were all done in single ply gear. Although these numbers are not of elite classification, I’ve been lifting consistently without any major distractions since 1993 and have been a competitive powerlifter since 2001. Therefore, I do have an actual training history. I didn’t simply make gains because I’m a beginner who will benefit from anything.

I have struggled over the past four years to make any improvements at all in the bench. In a six month span in 2002, I sprained both my right acromioclavicular and sternoclavicular joints. Although the pain has been gone for quite awhile, it seemed as though I wasn’t able to make significant progress with my bench. It took me two and a half years to get back to 275 lbs, where I was at before the injuries. Since then, my raw bench has lingered in the upper 200 lbs, and I managed to hit 305 lbs once during that time.

After finishing the Iron House Classic this past year, I knew I needed to find a way to improve my bench. At the meet, I locked out 345 lbs but was called on a technicality. So I was left with my opener of 305 lbs. Since I based all of my training weights off of 345 lbs, I must state that this was done in single ply gear, as this will make a significant difference for those who use double ply or are only trying to improve their raw bench. Also, my best raw bench going into the meet was 275 lbs for a double, which was ground out.

Knowing that I wasn’t planning on doing a meet for a while, I wanted to devote time to developing my raw strength. I felt that if I improved my raw bench than my shirted bench would be sure to follow. The primary adjustments I made to my training were to my dynamic effort days, which helped take my raw (sushi) bench to 325 lbs in 14 weeks.

Weaknesses

In thinking about what I needed to work on to improve my bench, I pinpointed three primary weaknesses that I needed to focus on—upper back strength, strength off the chest, and technique. What I did to improve the latter two of those weaknesses is what this article will address.

Most of my technical issues revolve around the bench shirt, but I wanted to stay away from shirt training for a while and just focus on getting my strength up. With that said, I still needed to improve my raw technique. The biggest technical issue that I needed to improve was learning how to stay tight throughout the lift, which was an issue for me when lifting either raw or equipped.

My strength off the chest was horrible. I was very fast with light and medium weights, but as soon as the weight even started to get heavy, I was grinding it out all the way from my chest. My speed-strength (fast movement against a light resistance) was not an issue, and more of the standard dynamic effort training wasn’t going to help me. In the past, speed bench has always been beneficial to me, especially when using chains. So I had no desire to completely eliminate dynamic effort training. On the contrary, I wanted to find a way to make the dynamic effort method work for me so that I could improve my bench press. More specifically, I needed to find a way in which dynamic effort training would improve my starting strength.

The solution

A week after the meet, I read an article on EliteFTS.com by Jay Floyd called “Starting Strength.” In this article, Jay described perfectly what my problem was on the bench. His solution was to incorporate what he called the “soft-touch” bench press, in which the lifter only lightly touches the bar to his chest, pauses, and then explodes upward. Of course, I couldn’t just leave it at that. I had to make it into a very complex issue.

For the past year, I had been intrigued by a post from Coach X on May 17, 2005, which discussed his method of induction, destruction, and production. I had incorporated this with some of my assistance lifts with much success. However, I hadn’t thought about using it with my main exercises until I had a phone conversation in February with Tom Myslinski, the head strength coach at Robert Morris University. He told me he used six second eccentrics with the box squat with his athletes. Although this discussion was completely unrelated to improving my bench, it did get me thinking.

I had also recently watched Freak of Training, which shows how Jay Schroeder incorporates explosive dynamic isometrics (EDI) into Adam Archuletta’s training. EDI are a method of performing a maximal isometric contraction followed by several dynamic reps.

Constructing phase one

At this point, I want to emphasize that I did NOT write out a program to be followed week by week. I merely planned out the first three weeks. Later, I would build on these to plan subsequent blocks of training. However, to make things easier to understand, I will label each block of training with a phase number.

As I stated earlier, speed bench using chains had helped me in the past so I wanted to keep them in my training. I also knew that I wanted to keep my speed but develop my starting strength. Starting strength can be improved by increasing the rate of force development, and one method for increasing the rate of force development is to incorporate isomiometrics. Isomiometrics can be described as an isometric pause in the middle of the movement. This is similar to the soft touch bench press that Jay Floyd described. However, I have included a longer pause on the chest.

Using Coach X’s method, I planned the first three weeks by placing an isometric emphasis (introduction) in week one, an eccentric emphasis (destruction) in week two, and a concentric emphasis (production) in week three. I will refer to this as the IDP method. By devoting the first week to an isometric emphasis, isomiometrics fit in perfectly. For the set/rep scheme, I kept the reps at the standard of three only because that’s what has been described by Louie Simmons and Dave Tate in numerous articles discussing the dynamic effort bench press. For the isometric pause, I used a 6–3–1 method as described in Freak of Training. So, for the first rep, I paused on my chest for six seconds, for the second rep I paused for three seconds, and for the last rep I paused for one second. For the eccentric emphasis in week two, I used a six second eccentric for all the reps. And for the third week (concentric emphasis), I performed the old, standard speed bench, in which both the eccentric and concentric portions of the lift were done as fast as possible while under control and with no pause in the movement.

Previously, I’ve had my most productive speed bench training when using two chains. So, I chose my bar weight in order to achieve 60 percent at the top of the movement in week two with two chains per side. My bar weight ended up being 135 lbs. I kept this weight constant over the three weeks and increased chain weight each week. Below is exactly what I did in the first block, including max effort work.

Wk #

Method

Emphasis

Date

Description

Sets X reps

Bar weight

Acc. resistance

Phase 1

1 DE

isometric

April 30 Isomiometric speed bench

6 X 3

135 1 chain
ME May 3 Floor press 275; old PR 280
2 DE

eccentric

May 7 Eccentric-dynamic speed bench

6 X 3

135 2 chains
ME May 10 Pin press off pin 9 (approximately six in ROM) 365; 10 lb PR
3 DE

concentric

May 14 Speed bench

6 X 3

135 3 chains
ME May 17 Two-board press; index touching smooth 300; 5 lb PR

Constructing phase two

After completing the first three weeks, I liked the way I felt, but I wanted to try something similar with bands. I knew that adding bands to the bar each week would be too much for my strength level. So, I decided to keep the band tension constant and wave the weights. To do this, I tried to hit 60 percent at the top of week two.

To calculate the bar weight, I multiplied 345 lbs (from the Iron House) by 55 percent, and then subtracted 80 lbs for the band tension. (I actually measured the band tension after the three weeks were over, and it turned out to be only 60 lbs. Thus, all of the percentages I have listed below can be thrown out since I actually had 20 lbs less at the top than what I had originally thought.)

i.e.        345 * 55% = 189.75 (round to 190)

190 – 80 = 110

So the three week wave looked like this:

Week 1: 55 percent at the top

Week 2: 60 percent at the top

Week 3: 65 percent at the top

The manner in which I achieved the isometric, eccentric, and concentric emphasis for each week stayed the same as in phase one. Below is a table showing the second block:

Wk #

Method

Emphasis

Date

Description

Sets X reps

Bar weight

Acc. Resistance

Phase 2

4 DE

isometric

May 21 Isomiometric speed bench

6 X 3

105 1 mini-band (doubled)
ME May 24 Bench press (raw) 295; old PR 305
5 DE

eccentric

May 28 Eccentric-dynamic speed bench

6 X 3

125 1 mini-band (doubled)
ME May 31 Four-board press; index touching smooth 305
6 DE

concentric

June 4 Speed bench

6 X 3

145 1 mini-band (doubled)
ME June 7 Reverse band bench with purple band 345; 15 lb PR

Constructing phases three and four

During phase two, I discovered that I really liked what was beginning to happen with my strength. Although it was too soon to really tell anything for sure and I didn’t hit a big PR on my max effort days until the end of phase two, I was feeling much stronger overall and wanted to continue using the IDP method for my speed bench days. Late one Friday night, my wife and I were sitting on the couch. While she watched TV, I was scratching down notes on how to apply IDP to my dynamic effort bench training. In doing this, I came up with two more phases. They followed the same pattern of isometric, eccentric, and concentric but in a much different manner.

Phase three

For phase three, I decided I wanted to focus even more on improving starting strength than I had in the isomiometric bench. I decided to use the pin press. For the isometric emphasis, I referred to an article by Louie Simmons called, “Isometrics.” In this article, Louie described a method called dynamic isometrics in which the lifter presses the bar into a pin for a brief contraction. He recommended a time of one second per contraction.

To do this, I set up one set of pins at chest height. I set a second set of pins three inches above the first set. To perform the exercise, I set up under the bar so that the bar was touching my chest and at the same time lowered it to perform the full movement. I then drove the bar into the top set of pins while someone else timed me with a stopwatch. I drove the bar into the pins for two seconds (the time started when I hit the top set of pins), dropped the bar to the bottom set of pins, and then repeated two more times to complete a set of three reps. I used two seconds per contraction instead of the recommended one second, taking into consideration that I’m not as advanced as the lifters Louie often writes about. It would probably take me longer to recruit the desired number of motor units. However, I may have been better off staying at one second, as this was extremely demanding.

For week two, I simply removed the top set of pins and performed a full ROM pin press with a six second eccentric. Finally in week three, everything was full speed with the pins causing the same effect as a box squat does by breaking the eccentric-concentric chain.

To select my bar weight, I knew that I wanted to go lighter than a regular bench press because of the pins. However, I wasn’t sure how much lighter. I decided to try a wave of 45 percent, 50 percent, and 55 percent. This seemed to work pretty well.

Wk #

Method

Emphasis

Date

Description

Sets X reps

Bar weight

Acc. resistance

Phase 3

7 DE isometric June 11 Isometric speed pin press
pins set at 7.5 (chest level) and 8.5 (3-inch ROM);
two seconds press against top pin

6 X 3

155

none

ME June 14 Three-board press 330; old PR 335
8 DE eccentric June 20 Eccentric-dynamic speed pin press; pins set at 7.5 (chest level)

6 X 3

180

none

ME June 23 Wide grip bench (index outside rings) 245 for 6 reps
9 DE concentric June 27 Speed pin press
(with full pause/relax on pins)

6 X 3

195

none

ME June 30 Three-board press with mini-bands 300; 5 lb PR

 

Phase four

In phase four, I really started to try some new things. To begin with, I utilized the partner-resisted speed bench for the isometric emphasis. I got this idea from Freak of Training. To do this, I would lower the bar to my chest and then my training partner would put his weight on the bar while I attempted to press the bar off my chest. After a six second count, he would release the bar, and I would do three explosive reps. At least they were supposed to be explosive!

In order to reach 60 percent for week three, I waved the weight from 50 percent to 60 percent over the course of the three weeks. In week one, I used 50 percent of my max from the Iron House as my weight for the partner-resisted speed bench.

For week two, I brought in weight releasers. Instead of doing the same old slow eccentrics, I used the weight releasers to overload the eccentric portion of the lift. In turn, I lowered the bar in a controlled manner but not slow. After the weight releasers fell off, I then did three explosive reps.

Weight releasers on the bar at lockout.  Weight releasers after they’ve fallen off the bar.

I’d never used weight releasers before, but I wanted this to be a very demanding block of training. I added enough weight so that the bar, including the weight releasers, would be 95 percent. In other words, I used 40 percent for the weight of the weight releasers combined with the 55 percent bar weight.

For the concentric emphasis, I simply performed the standard dynamic effort bench at 60 percent and then worked up after I completed the six sets. Going into the workout, I was a little banged up so I played it safe as I worked up. As I worked through the sets, I felt better so I worked up hoping to get a solid 295 lbs and then shut it down. However, 295 lbs was so easy I decided to take another weight at 310 lbs. I got 310 lbs and may have had a little more in me but decided to shut it down there.

Wk #

Method

Emphasis

Date

Description

Sets X reps

Bar weight

Acc. resistance

Phase 4

10 DE

isometric

July 4

Partner-resisted speed bench;
6 seconds resist on first rep

6 X 3

175 none
ME

July 7

Bench with 2 chains got 275
11 DE

eccentric

July 11

Speed bench with weight releasers

2 X 3

185 45 on each WR

4 X 3

185 70 on each WR
ME

July 14

Reverse cambered bar bench 340; 5 lb PR
12 DE

concentric

July 18

Speed bench

6 X 3

205 none
Worked up with singles after speed work 310; 5 lb PR (15 lb improvement since May 24)
ME deload July 21 Dumbbell bench with neutral grip 3x20 50 lb dumbbells

Deload

This block of training didn’t occur by design but was an important factor in the improvement of my bench. At this point in my training, I was physically exhausted, which is why I only did high rep dumbbell work in place of max effort on July 21st. The next week I drove back to the Midwest for a wedding and was unable to get in any quality training. However, it did allow my body to recover and for the delayed transformation to take place so that my actual strength could be realized following the short vacation.

Wk #

Method

Emphasis

Date

Description

Sets X reps

Bar weight

Acc. resistance

13

DE

deload

July 25

Speed bench

6 X 3

175

1 chain

ME

vacation/deload

July 28

Push-ups with band in hotel room Worked up to 5 reps with purple band (easy)
14

DE

vacation

Aug. 1

16 hours in the car, no lifting

ME

Aug. 4

Bench press 325; 15 lb PR (30 lb improvement since May 24)

Results

Improved raw (sushi) bench to 325 lbs in 14 weeks: Although I had benched 305 lbs one time in August of 2005, my starting point at the beginning of these 14 weeks was around 285lbs. This was based off of my double at 275 lbs before the meet. Regardless of which number you choose to use as a starting point, the improvement was significant.

Raw bench technique improved significantly: My ability to stay tight throughout the lift was probably the biggest aid in finishing at 325 lbs. The rotation of the isometric, eccentric, and concentric emphasis essentially taught me how to use my body to achieve the correct technique during the lift.

Starting strength is no longer a weakness: My bar speed, though still excellent at light weights, is now also good with heavy weights. As I identified, my weakness was not speed but strength off my chest.

Phase objectives

Now that I have looked back at each block and thought about how each phase went, I have classified each block according to the type of strength that was trained. Below is a definition of each type of strength, according to Supertraining.

Phase 1 Speed-strength The ability to quickly execute a movement against a light resistance (pg 106).
A movement performed at an intermediate velocity (pg 150).
Phase 2 Strength-speed Similar to speed-strength but places a larger emphasis on the importance of strength to perform the movement (pg 150).
Phase 3 Starting strength The ability to develop force as rapidly as possible once the contraction begins (pg 108).
Always produced under conditions of isometric muscle action (pg 108).
Phase 4 Circa-max Training with loads that are close to one’s 1RM (pg 394).*Circa-max is not actually a type of strength but does describe the block of training. (Week 1: Maximal isometrics; Week 2: Eccentrics near 1RM; Week 3: Sixty percent straight weight and then work up to near 1RM).

Looking back

Looking back, I see some things that should probably be changed to make this program more effective. Although I did plan each three week block before I actually did it, I didn’t plan out the entire twelve weeks. Therefore, the organization could have been better. Phase two primarily trains speed-strength while phase one has a strength-speed emphasis. It would be much more effective to reverse the order of these phases so that speed-strength (phase two) is trained before strength-speed (phase one). Also, using the weights that I used in combination with the accommodating resistance, the speed-strength phase is a much less demanding phase than the strength-speed block. To adhere to the general to specific sequence, it makes much more sense to switch these blocks so that the speed-strength block precedes the strength-speed block.

Depending on the lifter’s objective, it may be beneficial to increase the weights during the speed-strength block. When actually calculating the percentage of my raw max, I discovered that the weight at my chest was only 36 percent on week one and 49 percent on week three. This is extremely light. These weights may not be appropriate for less advanced lifters since they will be unable to recruit the number of motor units necessary at such a low intensity. However, I have recently utilized this block of training again, sticking with the same intensity that I described. It seemed to be a good fit because of where I was at in my training.

The next change I would make is to the third, or the starting strength block. In the first week, I used a two second maximal isometric contraction. In Louie Simmons article, “Isometrics,” he suggested using a one second contraction for dynamic effort isometrics. Thinking that I wasn’t as advanced as the lifters at Westside, I felt it would be better to use a longer contraction. After performing the six sets with the weight I had chosen, I realized that two seconds is a very long time. Looking back at it, I think that sticking to one second would have been a much wiser choice.

The weight releasers were probably the most demanding week of the entire 12 weeks. The heavy weight used on the weight releasers really beat me up. I wouldn’t recommend these weights to anyone with any sort of shoulder or pec issues. Handling this heavy of a weight as it dangles and swings from the bar can tear your shoulders up very quickly as you try to stabilize the weight.

Future implications

Obviously, the biggest implication is to improve the development of a lifter’s raw bench. But beyond just improving someone’s bench press, I think there are other worthwhile implications to training.

As a strength coach, I have tried to find ways to use this methodology for developing my athletes. I have applied IDP methods to a few assistance exercises with excellent results and am now beginning to use it with the bench press (but not in the same manner I used for myself). In order to teach proper technique in the bench press, I’m using this with some of the freshmen I work with. It appears to be working well at this point.

Most athletes with limited experience in the weight room have no concept of how to use their bodies. By using the three week block with the isometric, eccentric, and concentric emphasis, athletes will learn how to use their muscles in a more efficient manner. As I said in the results section, learning how to stay tight throughout the lift was the biggest factor in increasing my bench. If athletes can learn how to stay tight during a lift, they will learn how to control their movements in a more proficient manner.

I don’t really know what implications this has for powerlifters in their training. I think most lifters will benefit from this type of training in some way or another. For me, my strength improved dramatically. I have also incorporated the same type of methodology with various assistance exercises such as rows and shoulder raises with significant improvements. However, things may change considerably when gear is introduced into the equation. Currently, I’m following the same four, three week blocks, with a few adjustments while training for the IPA Nationals. However, as of right now, I can’t say if this type of training is beneficial for gear work since this will be the first time that I will be using a double ply shirt.

References

Coach X (May 17, 2005) EliteFitness Systems Q&A. https://www.elitefts.com.

Floyd D (2006) Starting Strength. Elite Fitness Systems. https://www.elitefts.com.

Myslinski T (February 2, 2006) Personal communication.

Schroeder J (2002) Freak of Training: The Adam Archuletta Workout (Volume 1.0) [Videotape]. Phoenix.

Simmons L (2006) Isometrics. Westside Barbell. http://www.westside-barbell.com. (I believe this article was also in Powerlifting USA.)

Siff M. (2003) Supertraining (Sixth ed.) Denver: Supertraining Institute.

 

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