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Developing Upper End Strength in the Bench Press
By now it has become obvious that raw bench strength is not as important as the lockout and upper end strength in the world of Powerlifting/Bench Only. In this article we will take a look at how to develop both upper end and lockout strength in the bench press.
First let’s take a look at Upper end strength. This is the area where your shirt begins to stop supporting the weight and you are preparing to lock the weight out. Usually this is past the transition when the help of the shirt lets go. This can be 1 or 2 inches at the top or 4 to 6, depending on the lifter and his/her setup and technique, shoulder-blade retraction, and so forth. I will certainly go into them more in future articles. In this article I will discuss how to train the upper end of the bench press for competition bench pressing in a bench shirt.
Let’s start with the warm-up. Most lifters just throw on some plates and pump out half reps until they start getting to the more challenging sets. Many times I have seen lifters not lockout warm-ups and these lifters always have trouble with upper end strength. But they can never figure out why. If you want to get strong at the top you need to use every rep of every set to practice holding weight and locking out. When the weight is handed off to the lifter, the lifter should hold the weight fully locked out and motionless for 2-4 seconds. Holding weight locked out for slightly extended periods of time during training sessions, will greatly improve stability, holding strength and control. Just incorporating this into your training can cause dramatic increases in your ability to place the bar in the proper groove with a bench shirt on.
I have also seen many lifters throw the bar back into the rack unable to control it, at the completion of a lift. These lifters almost always blow the weight right of their chest, making it look easy, but then are unable to hold the weight locked out or motionless. This is often overlooked by lifters during their training, but can be easily cured. By holding every rep of every set locked out and motionless for extended periods during training.
Now let’s look at a few exercises to develop upper end strength. I will start with boards: 5 and 6 boards. When first starting with boards, take the weight out and hold for a few seconds. Bring the bar low toward your stomach, elbows in. Let the weight sink and sit in to the board while you relax your arms and shoulders. Push up into the board with your stomach, not letting the weight flatten you out. Then throw the bar back to the starting position and hold for 2-4 seconds on every rep, and repeat. 6 and 5 boards are used on upper end day, for most. The 4 boards are getting into mid strength and we are not going to discuss that in this article.
Rack work should be limited to 2 to 4 inches max depending on your body, arm length etc… A good way to figure out if you are doing around the right height is to use your shirted bench as a guide. If you are doing lockouts with a lot more weight than you can do in a bench shirt, then chances are you are not at the right level. Assuming you are even slightly experienced in shirted lifting. I often here people say “I am locking out 700+ but can’t hit 500 in a shirt” Right away I know they are not doing them at the right height. You should be locking out somewhere in the neighborhood of your shirt bench. When you get real good you should be at about 50lbs over your shirt best, give or take a few lbs.
Now let’s talk about the execution of the lockout. Arms should be sticking straight out to the sides, elbows NOT tucked in and the bar should be at upper chest shoulder level. Upper back should be slightly relaxed and the arch should be about 50% of your best shirted arch position. When pushing against the bar, don’t try to jerk the bar off the pins explosively. Gradually build power until the bar breaks free from the pins. Continue building power to the lock-out and extend arms fully. Once the arms are extended fully, we do what is called an exaggerated extension. This is where the bar is pushed beyond your comfortable lock-out, where most lifters would normally stop. You try to hyper extend your elbow. This position is held for 3-5 seconds on every rep. We then release the bar, with no negative resistance. In other words, we kind of let the bar drop. Rack lock-outs are only a positive movement. There is no negative (movement).
I will now lay out a work-out including these exercises. This work-out is a typical Metal Militia assistance work-out day:
Close grip bench press
6 sets working up to a 3RM
6 Board press
6-8 sets working up to a 3RM
5 Board press
6-8 sets working up to a 3RM
6 -15 sets or as many as needed
6-8 sets working up to a 3 RM
Note: It is very important to hold weight in the starting position and the lock-out position, for extended periods of time (approx. 3-5 seconds), of every rep of every set.
I guarantee doing this workout for only a few weeks, you will see drastic changes in your shirted bench press and the ability to control heavy weight.
More in-depth information on Metal Militia training can be found at Home. Most of the exercises are hard to convey into words, without seeing it done yourself. I recommend checking out some of the videos found on Home. In closing, I would like to thank Wesley Kampen of Monster Muscle for inspiring me to write this article. If anyone would like to contact me please feel free to e mail me at Metalmilitiabench@yahoo.
By: Sebastian Burns
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