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Isometric Training to Improve Your Bench Press

Q: Is isometric training worth the effort to improve my bench press?

A: Consider that the heavier the weight you use on the bench press, the slower the bar will move and the more closely the contraction will approximate an isometric contraction. For an explosive exercise such as the power clean isometric work has little value, but for a strength lift such as the bench press it can be a valuable training method. In bench press competitions the muscles must produce an isometric contraction prior to the referee’s giving the signal to press the weight off the chest.

One of the criticisms of isometrics is that it develops strength only at the precise angles the muscles are worked. In fact, isometrics produces the strength gain in plus or minus 15 degrees of the angle worked. In other words, if you do heavy isometric holds at 130 degrees of elbow flexion, your strength will go up only between 115 and 145 degrees of elbow flexion. So the first 115 degrees of elbow flexion will remain untrained. On the other hand, much of the training effect that occurs with bench presses depends on the joint angle. A greater training effect at the specific angle worked and the overall strength training effect at other points of the strength curve are highest when the muscle is in the stretched rather than shortened position.

Q: I’m trying to improve my power clean, and I’ve heard that Bulgarian weightlifters have started replacing squats with stepups and Bulgarian lunges. Did they really stop squatting?

A: Sure, and did you also know that the movie “Yogi Bear” is based on a true story? Seriously, that rumor makes the rounds every few years in the strength-training community, and I’d like to put it to rest.

Ivan Abadjiev was the coach who helped Bulgaria become a world power in weightlifting for two decades, and one of his first success stories was Alexander Krychev, who won a silver medal in the ’72 Olympics and in 1977 became Abadjiev’s first assistant coach. Krychev says the squat was the “fundamental exercise” of the Bulgarian national weightlifting team and they did not perform stepups and the so-called Bulgarian lunges. Further, Krychev said that not all the information that Bulgarian coaches taught to weightlifting coaches from other countries was legit. Said Krychev, “During the time of Communism, Bulgarian coaches visited other countries with the supposed intention of helping develop the sport. These coaches were instructed to mislead as much as possible to keep the true methodology a secret.” Bottom line: keep squatting.

Q: I read that a major research study found that green tea does not prevent cancer as many of the supplement companies that sell it have claimed. Is green tea just another scam?

A: First, the study I believe you are referring to was looking at breast cancer. Second, just because eating carrots doesn’t prevent breast cancer doesn’t mean I’m going to stop eating carrots. The same with green tea—there are many benefits of using a green tea supplement, backed up by peer-reviewed research. For example, a study involving 49,000 Japanese men who were followed for 14 years showed that the men who drank five or more cups per day of green tea had a significantly lower risk of developing prostate cancer. If you’re interested in trying green tea, do your homework when looking at formulations—the potency levels and the purity of individual products often vary greatly.



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