Bench Press Secret #1
Who wants a bigger bench?!
The All-American lift, the movement that makes everyone happy and excited. But you have been at a stalemate, a plateau, fatigued and miserable and unable to achieve greatness. The bench press has DEFEATED you and you are shying away from the lift that made you feel like a machine in the early days of training. What has happened? Why is there a feeling of being stagnant? Is there something that can pull you out of this rut and back into the realm of greatness?
Bench Press Relationship
This past month we have had over half a dozen athletes bench press 205 kilos or 450lbs for over 2 reps! This has also led to two different athletes bench pressing 500+lbs, one on an axel bar. What has sparked this development?
Over the last decade, I have played around with the loading behind bench press, I have altered rep schemes, I have altered compensatory acceleration training and have taken a deep dive into accessory movements. All of these experiments have lead to very interesting results. Different types of athletes respond differently to various forms of stimuli and these experiments have aided me in understanding each athlete and their specific adaptation.
We have even tried to figure out if the bench press is even an effective movement to push in the various strength sports we train! That question can be answered rather quickly. It has an incredible carry over to a TON of sports. In wrestling, it increases mat strength, in throwing it increases upper body power output, in football, it enhances stiff arms and blocking, even in swimming we have seen a positive correlation between the breaststroke and the bench press! Along with pull-ups, the bench press is arguably the best upper body movement an individual can execute.
Over the last 6 weeks at Garage Strength, we have seen MASSIVE bench press numbers being smashed. Typically, these numbers are the result of numerous programs. In reality, the last 2-3 programs will set up a current program’s PR’s. That has to be understood when discussing current personal bests.
So let’s dive deep into some of the science behind the bench press and various ways that we work the movement to improve performance.
How to Move Heavy Weight Fast
The advantages of performing high speed, “pre-stretch” before an explosive movement are very well known throughout the strength community. This is known as the stretch-shortening cycle, something that happens very naturally in regards to force production and explosive exercises. Think about jumping or running or even throwing, there is always a rapid prestretch that occurs prior to the main movement to ensure power output is up to par! This is why plyometrics have been shown to be very effective for improving jumping ability and even speed and power output. In short, it is known that a rapid contraction just prior to a concentric movement can result in a very significant amount of force created.
When muscles and tendons are lengthened or stretched, there is a reflex that the muscle spindles govern and ultimately lead to greater motor unit recruitment. The spindles initiate the stretch-shortening cycle, leading to incredible power output. This can be felt easily by doing an air squat and as you get to the very bottom of the squat you feel a “spring-like” action out of the bottom from the reflex. This leads us to our next simple principle. Move the weight as fast as possible.
Faster Concentric Leads to More Rapid Contractile Force
By using the stretch reflex out of the bottom of the bench, the nervous system will be heightened and the mental focus should be extremely high from the individual. The target group of muscles (in the bench press, the chest/shoulders/triceps) should be the main focus of contraction. That incredible focus on moving the concentric action as rapidly as possible will also lead to greater motor unit recruitment. This mindset can push the body to make impressive adaptations of speed and acceleration which will then lead to the eccentric portion of the next rep.
By having a speed based intent, high threshold motor units will activate and then as the next pre-stretch occurs, even more, motor units will be imprinted for usage! Over time, this will lead to an evolution of greater fast-twitch fiber dominance. This may take months in some athletes and possibly years in others but by actively understanding the intent of the concentric and eccentric relationship, our body will adapt accordingly and improve its output in conjunction with the necessary tasks.
Understanding Coupling Time
The coupling time, or as I refer to this as the “turnaround” time is the transition period between the prestretch and the following eccentric action. To fully understand the coupling time, it must be understood that a short and rapid eccentric phase will lead to incredible gains in rapid force production. The shorter this time frame of stretch to contraction becomes, the more likely there will be an increase in power output and furthermore, kilos on the bar!
Think about a weightlifter catching a clean. When they catch the clean in the front rack, their body creates a stretch reflex in the bottom position which then aids them in the concentric portion of the clean as they stand up to the top position of the jerk. Another good example is the coupling time seen in the actual jerk movement. When athletes have a very LONG period of transition from the bottom of the jerk to the drive, we will typically see blatant errors in technique. When a lifter has a faster coupling time at the bottom of the dip, they will create a faster drive and thus a better jerk!
Much of the mastery behind coupling time comes back to the actual rhythm and timing of the lift itself. As athletes develop technique in the lift and they comprehend the coordination needed, they will find a better relationship between the prestretch and the concentric movement. This takes thousands of reps to master and it takes proper periodization and optimal accessory movements to enhance the development! By being on the right program, the bench will develop over time and lead to incredible gains.
What’s one secret we have for blowing up the bench?
The bench pad. With all of our lifters, we love to use the bench pad to enhance the coupling period and improve the concentric drive. At Garage Strength, we pair the usage of the bench pad with timed sets. The main goal is to move heavy weight FAST. That means finding the rhythm behind the eccentric movement into the prestretch and then into the overly active concentric portion. This takes time to master but the speed improves technical learning and the motor unit sequencing is learned by the body internally at a very rapid pace!
We prefer to use the bench pad on our speed days with about 60 seconds rest, sometimes 90 seconds. As the athlete smashes rapid reps with heavyweights, they learn to accelerate the bar at a tremendously rapid pace! On the typical heavy days of lifting, we will still push too heavy reps during the workout and then drop down and hit drop sets at about 70% with timed sets. By combining the timed sets with pad work, neurological adaptations are made at a faster pace and the athlete becomes more coordinated with their bench performance!
For starters, ensuring that two days of benching are inside your programming will lead to greater muscular adaptations. The goal of each day needs to be determined during periodization and then cultivated during the execution of each day. Is Day 1 a focus on strength or speed? Is Day 2 a strength or speed focused day? When these questions are answered, you can adapt the training with the bench pad and timed sets and ultimately build massive gains on the bench press.
These are the very principles we have used to develop the program behind the 8 Week Bench Program! By clicking on the link below, you will add serious POUNDAGE to your bench press!
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Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.