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How to Boost Your Bench Press


www.ironmanmagazine.comQ: My progress on the bench press and incline-bench press has stalled, especially at the sticking points. I train the lifts twice a week, one light workout and one heavy, and vary the reps every few weeks.

A: I believe in using a lot of variety with training methods to break through strength plateaus. Varying the reps is good, but it sounds as though you’re ready to try some other methods. Here are two workouts that should help you jump-start your progress on the bench and incline press.

The first is a program inspired by an article published in 1966 by Armand Tanny, a method he called “Change of Pace Power Training.” Tanny believed that sticking points often develop from fast starts in regular movements, to the point where a muscle “becomes dependent on momentum, and its real potential is forgotten.” In fact, many powerlifters develop this problem by regularly doing bench press workouts with lighter weights in order to develop speed off the chest when pressing.

Tanny believed that the best way to resolve the problem was to break down the lifts into components using a power rack. I’m a big believer in partial movements because you can use more weight than you can with full-range movements and therefore overload specific parts of an exercise’s range of motion.

Tanny’s workout program focused on performing partial repetitions in a power rack from several positions, moving from the weakest position to the strongest. In this case the weakest position would be with the barbell set at chin level, followed by nose level, and the strongest position would be at hairline level. As for lifting technique, Tanny said that it’s important to avoid bouncing the bar off the pins on each rep and to perform each rep from a dead stop to give the muscles “a chance to fully exert themselves in positions that the full movements never get.”

With that background, here is a variation of “Change of Pace Power Training” you can try that supersets the incline press with lat work. Note that an “X” designation for tempo means to move the barbell as quickly as possible

 

A1) Incline presses (barbell set at chin level), 3/1/X/1 tempo, 3 x 3 reps

Rest 45 seconds

A2) Seated rows to waist (neutral/medium grip), 3/1/1/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

B1) Incline presses (barbell set at nose level), 3/1/X/1 tempo, 3 x 4

Rest 45 seconds

B2) Pulldowns (neutral/wide grip), 3/1/1/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

C1) Incline presses (barbell set at hairline level), 2/1/X/1 tempo, 3 x 5

Rest 45 seconds

C2) Pulldowns (supine grip, narrow), 3/1/1/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

 

Note that I increase the reps on the incline press exercises as the range of motion decreases. That way the time the muscles are under tension is consistent throughout the set.

Now here’s a routine that will work both your incline- and flat-bench presses in the same session. With this one you increase the amount of weight you can lift by changing your pressing position. Jerry Telle, a personal trainer from Littleton, Colorado, has written extensively about this type of training.

My variation requires an adjustable incline bench and a power rack, or a bench press that allows you to adjust the bench angle. In my example, you start with the incline-bench press set at 45 degrees (weakest position), then lower the bench about 15 degrees (stronger position), then lower it to the supine position (strongest position). As with the previous workout you will be able to handle more weight with each successive exercise, but the improvement comes from changing the angle from which you’re pressing rather than shortening the range of motion.

 

A1) 45 degree incline presses, 3/0/X/1 tempo, 3 x 3

Rest 45 seconds

A2) Bent-over dumbbell rows (neutral grip), 3/1/1/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

B1) 30 degree incline presses, 3/0/X/1 tempo, 3 x 4

Rest 45 seconds

B2) Pullups (medium grip) 3/0/X/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

C1) Bench presses, 3/0/X/1 tempo, 3 x 5

Rest 45 seconds

C2) Pulldowns (V-handle grip), 3/1/1/0 tempo, 3 x 4-6

Rest 60 seconds

 

It’s important not to get locked into a specific set-and-rep protocol or other loading parameters, so consider using these two methods to add variety to your program and to ensure that you continue making strength gains as quickly as possible.

Editor’s note: Charles Poliquin is recognized as one of the world’s most suc-cessful strength coaches, having coached Olympic med-alists in 12 different sports, including the U.S. women’s track-and-field team for the 2000 Olympics. He’s spent years researching European journals (he’s fluent in English, French and German) and speaking with other coaches and scientists in his quest to optimize training methods. For more on his books, seminars and methods, visit www.CharlesPoliquin.com. Also, see his ad on page 155.   IM


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