010817 Alternate Bench Press Training Methods
By Danny M. O’Dell, M.A. CSCS*D
Most everyone has heard the saying that if you want a ‘big bench then you have to think big’. Just ‘thinking a big bench’ is NOT going to cut it. Instead, you have to analyze your current bench technique. Look at the strong points, the weak and the in between ones as well. Examine how the bar is traveling. Is it fast and sure or slow and tentative? Where does it go fast and where does it go slow? Is it going straight up or angling back toward your head? Where are your elbows when the bar slows or is moving quickly? Where does your strength lie? Is it in your pectoralis major, your anterior deltoids, your triceps or maybe in your upper back? Once you have closely examined the way you lift, then you have the information necessary to chart a course of improvement.
Many bench press practitioners are relying on the false belief that simply by doing more benches their lift will become stronger. Clearly, there is an error to this premise. If it were as easy as this, the world would be witnessing more 800-pound benches.
Making your strong points stronger and improving upon the weak portions of your lift by practicing variation in exercise selection is the key to progressive development toward heavier loads. If you have difficulty in locking out the weight then more triceps work is needed. If you cannot stabilize on the bench and remain in the groove then more upper back work is evidently necessary. In time, using the same exercise becomes stagnant and unresponsive to your needs. Variety truly is the spice of lifting progress.
Just as the palate becomes tired of the same food so does the body become tired of the same tools of exercise. If you consistently use the barbell as the single training instrument, your nervous system will eventually quit responding to the training and you will have reached the infamous ‘plateau. Use dumbbells in place of the barbell for a change. Use bands or surgical tubing for added speed or resistance elsewhere in the strength curve. Begin doing various types of push-ups (see the Push up power for more ideas) and you can positively stress your bench press muscles in a variety of different ways.
The use of stability balls, asymmetrical loading and camber bars adds even more dimension to the exercise options just as will changing up the range of motion (ROM). Instead of a full ROM, do fast partials from three to four inches below lockout. Or, from three to four inches off the chest to the lockout. Use dumbbells to increase the ROM but be very careful in using this method as it will be extremely stressful on your shoulders at the low (below chest level) point. Floor presses and board presses are also very handy to practice when going for the big bench press.
The utilization of these exercises at differing times in your training schedule will elevate the strength and power throughout the entire curve.
Stress placed at the natural sticking point will eventually change the position of that particular point of resistance. It will not eliminate the sticking point. It will only move it elsewhere up, or down, the path. Adding chains, bands or tubing will change the sticking points depending on the attachment points selected.
For example, attaching a band to a point above the bar will reduce the load off the chest, thereby making the ‘starting strength’ weight lighter. This in turn helps to improve the speed of the push off the chest. Additionally, the high band attachment will help to contribute to the overload during the explosive strength phase of continually increasing the force production on the bar.
Conversely, attaching bands at a point lower than the bar will develop starting strength and further change the location of the sticking point lower into the movement pattern. It also contributes to helping increase the top end of force the production strength curve due to the added resistance on the bar resulting from the tension of the stretched bands.
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