Tag Archives: bench press

Secrets of Strength Volume 3: Pause Reps

Sorry for the post hiatus, school has been hitting hard as I near the end of the last academic semester in my DPT program.  I am five months from graduation and couldn’t be more excited. But enough about me ~ let us get to the next edition of The Secrets of Strength!

Graduation_hats

When it comes to strength training it seems to be common practice for everyone to attempt PR’s everyday.  Week in and week out, people pile the weight on the bars and lift as heavy as they can until they plateau, form breaks or injury occurs.  I myself have fallen into this trap. As a young lad I would lift heavy every day, play sports and consistently over train.  The result was moderate strength and being injury plagued throughout high school and part of college. I have strained muscles, sprained my MCL, herniated a disc in my back, and broken bones. The list goes on and on.  As I gained knowledge in training and program design I learned that you do not need to lift over 90% of your 1RM every single session to get strong.  I am stronger now than I was when I was always lifting near maximal, and I have not had as many injuries or pain as compared to 4 or 5 years ago.  The sooner you can come to understand this, I guarantee you will not only be stronger than ever, but also be injury free.

Why to use Pause Reps to get strong and back off your 1 RM

Simple&Sinister

I have dabbled here and there with pause reps, but never fully incorporated them into my own programming.  That is about to change.  Once I finish the Simple and Sinister program by Pavel (which I will be writing about in the future), I will be adding pause reps into my program to aid in my strength goals.

The reason I want to add pause presses into my program, aside from using them to monitor my overall workout intensity, is to master my technique, assist me at key points of the exercise and use more muscle mass.

Mastery of Technique

Pausing at the bottom of a lift and maintaining tension is a self-limiting task.  If you use a weight too heavy and try pausing, your technique will break and you will not be able to complete the lift.  By pausing under moderate weight, you make sure your biomechanics are correct every time. This helps drive better technique.  Even though you will be lifting a percentage of the weight you normally lift, it will still kick your ass.

For example, I tend to struggle with the transition between the eccentric and concentric phases of my squat.  I will sometimes side bend or lean forward as I try to drive out of the hole.  Pause reps will help me with this problem and allow me to hit some PR’s.

Use of More Muscle Mass

When it comes to lifting, we have an eccentric and concentric portion of the lift.  As we complete the eccentric phase of an exercise, energy is stored.  This energy is stored in the passive structures, (i.e. the tendons and ligaments) and assist us in the concentric portion by releasing that energy (think of pulling on a rubber band and letting go).  When we pause in our lifts, we take these passive structures out of the equation.  We require the muscles to actively hold us, and produce enough force to move a weight.  This is the reason pause reps will still give you such a great workout.  Think about holding a weight in the hole of the squat for 2-5 seconds before having to explode out of it… I am cringing at the thought of it.  But no one said the process of gains is always fun!

Arnold Bench

How to use Pause Reps

Without thoroughly using pause reps, I am not going to prescribe percentages, reps or situations in which to incorporate them… at least not yet.  If the “why to use them” (the reasons why I will be using pause reps) intrigues you, I will refer you to an article on T-Nation by Christian Thibaudeau.  He goes into depth on how to use this methodology to help make you stronger.  You can check that out here.


The Big Five – The Final Saga: Push-ups/Bench

Mayan

I hope everyone has some Happy Holidays, and also are thankful that we survived the horrific end of the Mayan calendar.  Now that we all made it past the apocalypse, its time to stop letting ourselves go and get back into shape.  Again, it has been a long time since I put up a blog post, and it is time to end the saga of the “Big Five.”

THE BIG FIVE -THE BENCH PRESS.

Just about every guy in this world wants to have a bigger bench.  It is part of that XY gene every man carries.

The bench press is one of my weaker exercises, and because of this I had to work extra hard in order to push heavy weight. Through my hard work I have learned a trick or two along the way that can help take your bench to the next level.  But before we get to the tricks of the bench, we must first talk about technique.  This is the ground work to building a big bench, and many times just changing the technique can add a few pounds to your bench instantly:

heavy-bench-press

TECHNIQUE

  • Once lying on your back, place your hands on the bar slightly wider than your shoulders’ width.
  • Place your feet behind your knees, so that only your toes can touch the floor (you need this so you can drive your feet hard into the floor).
  • Squeeze your glutes hard, and try to pull your pockets apart (this will help you lock your glutes even tighter).
  • Pull your rib cage down to activate your core musculature.
  • Pack the scaps and pull the bar off the rack.

That was just for the set-up, now for the actual lift:

  • Pull the bar down to your chest as if you were doing a row.  You want to have full scapular retraction at the bottom.
  • As you are about to drive the bar back up, drive your heels to the ground (your heels should NOT touch the ground, your heels should only get closer to the floor.
  • Drive your shoulders into the bench and push hard towards the ceiling.
  • Make sure you maintain all the cues above in the set-up through-out the entire range of motion and through-out every rep completed.

Why make the bench technique so complicated?

Well for starters, force production starts from the ground up.  If you want to lift maximal weight, you must push hard through the floor to help increase force production.  The same reason we drive our shoulder blades into the bench as we push the weight up.

The scaps stayed packed so the chest musculature can perform its role maximally.  If we shrug or let our shoulders round out at the top we use other muscles to assist in the lift making us weaker rather then stronger. For you guys who are naturally strong and are lifting over 315 with bad technique, imagine how much you can bench if you use good technique and follow these techniques.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in the bench press is dropping the bar to their chest. You MUST, I will repeat this: YOU MUST have tension in your back through out the entire range of motion.  Your body is like a rubber band.  Your body stores energy within it so you can use it later.  The best example of this is you can jump higher with a running start then you could from a stand still.  By pulling down you will allow greater eccentric loading on the body, so when it comes time for the concentric portion, the weight will just explode off your chest.  This may take some time to get adjusted to, but it will surely pay off in the long run if you get the movement down pack.

BENEFITS TO THE BENCH PRESS

  1. Increased Muscle Mass – Every guy wants big pecs.  It is aesthetically pleasing, and will earn you respect from all around you.  Plus it will allow you become Mr. Romeo and help you get that lady you’ve been eying.
  2. Increased Strength – Both men and women can benefit from increased strength.  The compound movement of the bench press will help increase chest strength, tricep strength, and to a small degree, back strength (mostly in a stabilizing role).
  3. Improved Athletic Performance – This is something you will hear a lot, from a lot of people.  I am not a big believer in this.  Yes, you will be stronger, but how will that really affect you on the court or field? Probably not too much.  Dead-lifts and squats will help you a lot more with that.  But I definitely think that if you have a big bench, you most likely will have pretty big numbers in all your other lifts and also, for many athletes, it is a confidence thing.  When you bench big, you feel better about yourself and from a psycho-social standpoint can help increase a players’ performance by increasing their so-called “swag” on the field.

Improving Your Bench

Once you have the technique down, it’s time to get stronger.  There are quite a few ways we can go about that.

First, and what I personally believe to be the best way, is to increase your back strength and stability. I feel that almost everybody who attempts the bench press falls flat here.  With a weak back, there is no anchor for the pecs to work through.  This will cause energy to be lost through the chain causing missed pounds off the bar.  Here are some assistance exercises that can be used to improve scapular stability and back strength:

Scapular Stability

Scap Push-ups:

This is an exercise that is botched up quite often, but when done correctly can help with shoulder problems, and can help build us the stability needed to bench.  The scap push-up helps with upward rotation of the scapula as well as helps us get the scapula to sit on the rib cage better by targeting the serratus anterior.

To do a scap push-up get into a push-up position.  Get your core really tight by driving your belly button towards your chest, squeezing your glutes and drive your toes towards your knees.  Once set up, the movement is very simple – just pull your shoulder blades towards your feet.  YOU ARE NOT TO SQUEEZE YOUR SHOULDER BLADES TOGETHER.  All you are doing is squeezing your arm pit.  Your shoulders should move down towards your feet, and not together.  And you should not move.  Your body should pretty much be in the same position as you started, just your scaps pulled lower.  Once you get a good squeeze let the arm pits go and repeat.

Back Strength

In order to increase back strength, one should work both bilaterally and unilaterally.

Inverted Row

This is one of my favorites; it is just like an upside down push-up.  You can use either a TRX or a smith machine to do these.

To do an inverted row, just set up in a TRX or smith machine; grab the bar or handles and step underneath your hands.  Your position should be the front of your body facing the ceiling.  Once here, you will row yourself to the top so that the bottom of your chest touches the bar, (or by your ribs if your using a TRX).  Make sure your elbows go out, and your shoulder blades come together.

One Arm Row

Set up on a bench with the same side leg and arm resting on the bench.  The other leg and arm are off the bench, the leg on the floor so you can push through it.  Use the free arm to grab the weight and row it to your ribs.  Making sure again the chest is out, elbows are out and you slide your scapula towards your spine.

Stay tuned for part 2 that will discuss the push-up.