The first installment of this series covered the history of the bench press and it’s evolution to the modern-day version we are familiar with. It also covered how the actual movement has evolved as well. In this day and age those most interested in strength are focused on how to best increase the poundage lifted by trying to minimize the distance that the bar has to travel. Those interested in building muscle are more interested in how to increase the tension by slowing the lift down or by using bands or chains as well as different grips and of course by using as many angles as is possible.
One thing remains constant, and that is attention to proper form throughout the exercise. This is often overlooked in relation to performance. Those who are less experienced have a different setup and execution than those who have experience. It is because of this that new lifters must focus on technique and reinforce that technique with every rep. Remember it isn’t practice that makes perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
One of the most frustrating things about benching is the sticking point. It isn’t actually a point but a portion of the range of motion that is characterized by a period of lower external force in relation to gravity that results in a slowing of bar speed meaning a decrease in momentum.
An average one rep max lift may last less than two seconds and the sticking point begins around two to four tenths of a second into the concentric portion of the rep and ends at around eight to nine-tenths of a second. This means it lasts for roughly 25 percent of the push portion of the lift.
Two very different theories try to explain what is occurring during the sticking point. One is that the muscle activity remains unchanged during this part of the lift but the increased elastic strain that happens at the muscles most stretched point has stopped and so the extra ‘push’ supplied by this reversal on motion is no longer helping. Because this elastic assistance ends so abruptly an extra burden is placed on the contractile components of the muscle fibers (1).
The second theory is that the prime movers muscle activity is diminished during the sticking point and that a neural delay is created between where the muscle’s leverages diminish and where the brain activates more muscle in order to complete the movement (2).
One method to overcome the sticking point is to ‘psych’ oneself up. Apparently an eight percent increase in force production can be yours by simply mentally preparing yourself for the execution of the bench press (3). The same study also noted that distracted lifters lifted 12 percent less than psyched up lifters. I’m sure you all can relate to a particularly busy day that resulted in below average numbers at the gym. I have about one of these a week, but that’s the reality of living in the real world.
Another reality is that psyching oneself up for every lift is going to suffer from the law of diminishing returns at some point. It has been said that focus equals strength and speaking personally it depends largely on what (or who) else is going on around me at my coed gym. My focus may be very good or sometimes my mind wanders completely off track, if you understand what I’m saying.
Numerous studies indicate that if you want to increase your power on the bench press, the ideal amount of weight to use is 50 percent of your one rep max (4, 5, 6, 7). As far as tempo is concerned, the most effective method to lift the largest amount of weight is to do a quick eccentric with no pause at the bottom portion of the lift (8), which makes sense seeing as power is a simple equation meaning force x velocity. Quick reps using 50 percent of your one rep max is the best way to demonstrate your highest level of power output, but in order to develop power you must work through varying loads ranging from 30 percent to 100 percent of your one rep max.
When we next get together I’ll continue to show you around the world of The Bench Press – The Greatest Lift Ever. Until then,
1. Elliot et al. (1989)
2. Van den Tillaar & Ettema (2010)
3. Tod et al. (2005)
4. Stock et al. (2010)
5. Siegal et al. (2002)
6. Jandacka & Uchytil (2011)
7. Pearson et al. (2009
8. Pryor et al. (2011)
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