Last week, Dr. Anthony Falco discussed the basics of heart rate training and how to properly calculate your resting heart rate and maximum heart rate. Once you determine these numbers you can properly utilize heart rate monitors to enhance your training. In athletes, this can be tremendously useful, as it will allow them to better determine if their aerobic training is focused on recovery, maintenance, or aerobic improvement. For the sake of this article, we will be focusing on aerobic improvement. To improve an athlete’s aerobic capacity you must understand the percentage of maximum heart rate needed to reach the improvement threshold and also how to use exercises which best work towards achieving that same goal.
Proper Heart Rate Percentage For Aerobic Improvement
In the past I discussed using the aerobic capacity system to help aide in recovery for athletes. For recovery, it is best to work in a 60-75% range of the athlete’s max heart rate. However, the range for aerobic improvement goes as high as 85-90% of the max heart rate. Basically, apply Dr. Falco’s formula for your maximum heart to these percentages and you can find the best threshold for an athlete to work in to improve aerobic capacity. For example:
How To Construct A Proper Movement Pattern Aerobic Program
As I previously mentioned, the movement patterns are great to use for aerobic improvement for a number of reasons. In addition to helping improve an athlete’s working capacity, you can also use this as extra time to drill home proper form with the main movements. However, it is extremely important to note that an athlete must show proficiency in these movements prior to using them, as it is never ideal to learn a new skill or movement in a fatigued state. For example, an athlete who cannot perform a proper bodyweight squat should not be allowed to use this movement in an aerobic circuit as they will be susceptible to not only injury, but can further program their nervous system to perform the movement incorrectly.
The most important thing to remember here is that you can find success with a multitude of different methods. Once you have determined your proper heart rate the main goal is simply stay in that zone and maximize your aerobic capacity. Movement pattern circuits are simply a great alternative to use because they can further solidify the proper form and technique of the most important qualities and movements for an athlete.
In the next phase of our accessory and supplemental exercise series I will dive into accessory exercises for each movement and what muscle groups are responsible for each of the fundamental movement patterns. In terms of your programming, you will now be learning about the next piece following our fundamental movement and the supplemental exercise you have just completed.
Main Areas Involved In The Bench Press
Aside from the chest, there three areas that play a pivotal role in the bench press and your ability to target these areas effectively can help you build your bench and all pushing movements. Essentially, you should target your triceps (main muscle used during the latter 1/3 of the range of motion in a bench press), upper back (crucial for stabilizing and drive off the bench during a press) and shoulders. The following are some of my favorite exercises to build each of these areas.
Always remember that our goal with accessory exercises is to build muscle mass that will directly translate into building strength with our main movement patterns. The bigger a muscle is the more potential it has to be strong!
The first fundamental movement covered in our supplemental and accessory exercise series will be the push, which is most commonly associated with the bench press and push-up. So, as part of our supplemental exercise recommendations the following exercises will be focused on perfecting push form, and also building the barbell bench press. Remember, supplemental exercises are performed with the same movement pattern as the movement you are trying to improve.
The Best Way To Perfect Your Push-up and Pressing Form (The Barbell Push-up)
The number one supplemental exercise to improve the push-up or press is the barbell push-up. The barbell push-up allows us to work with eccentrics and perfect push form due to the fact that we can alter our angle (higher angle is far easier) and progress as we improve our form and strength. Also, we can focus purely on eccentrics to improve. Basically, the strength curve shows we are stronger eccentrically (downward portion of the range of motion), so those who cannot perform regular push-ups properly can simply lower to the bar with good form, and then reset and perform more reps in that manner. I generally do not advise to “push-up” off the bar until proper form can be executed.
Top Two Supplemental Exercises To Improve Your Barbell Bench Press (Board Press and Pause Repetitions/Thick Bar Work)
These two exercises will help with your not only your lockout but also your ability to get the weight off your chest. The first exercise is a board press in which you limit the range of motion to the top half or third of the press and work on your triceps and shoulder strength while perfecting the lockout. Many athletes and lifters struggle getting the bar to full lockout, and performing the board press for either hypertrophy purposes or even strength can go a long way. The next exercise or supplemental variation I like to incorporate is thick bar work with a pause on the chest. I have used these together for tremendous success in my own training and with my athletes. Thick bar work (fat gripz are the cheapest way to go about this), can stimulate the nervous system and improve handling of the bar (while also strengthening grip and wrists). In addition, a pause on the chest can limit momentum and strictly focus on the ability to drive the bar off the chest in the early portion of the range of motion.
Repetition Ranges for Supplemental Exercises
For athletes or lifters who need to or can afford to gain weight, supplemental exercises can be used to gain muscle mass (12-15 reps). For athletes who need to maintain or even lose weight they can be performed for max strength and in the 1-5 repetition range.
In terms of programming, one of the main components of building an ideal program comes from a sound and consistent template. Over the next 11 weeks I will be breaking down two tremendously important aspects of a training program, which are supplemental and accessory lifts. Basically, there are five fundamental movement patterns that are almost always involved in our training.
They are as follows:
Each of these movements can be improved upon via supplemental and accessory lifts. Essentially, supplemental lifts are of the same type of pattern as the primary movement pattern and help build that movement pattern directly. Think of it in the sense of a training family tree. The fundamental movement patterns are the ancestors of the family. Each movement pattern then branches off into supplemental exercises, and from those supplemental exercises come a multitude of accessory exercises. Accessories are more specific and target particular muscle groups to strengthen the supplemental and then back up to the fundamental movements.
Breaking Down an Effective Training Program
Now that I have shed some light on supplemental and accessory exercises, I would like to briefly detail a skeleton or template of these exercises and how they should be utilized for performance benefits. You will see that this is a fairly simple concept and it can be used and repeated for all of the fundamental movement patterns. In addition, having a template allows us to collect a database of exercises for each category and as a result we can keep our training fresh by utilizing different variations for similar effects.
The template breaks down as follows:
What To Expect Moving Forward
Over the next ten weeks I will write separate articles for my favorite supplemental exercises for each of the fundamental movement patterns. Once I am through with that, I will do the same with accessories. That is a total of 10 articles, two pertaining to each movement pattern. At the conclusion of this comprehensive breakdown you will be able to use this template I provided and utilize my favorite exercises.
Lately I have been experimenting in order to find the best combination of exercises to use for the ultimate bench press warm up. I am going to provide my usual step-by-step warm up I use prior to my bench, and I think you will find them very helpful. Basically, the idea is to mobilize the shoulders and chest with a few static stretches, activate the shoulder and upper back musculature with a couple different dynamic exercises, and then rehearse the movement pattern and excite your central nervous system. Oh, and I have also found a bicep pump to be extremely beneficial as well. But, I will explain more about that later.
As I mentioned, I begin each warm up with a brief stretch of the pectoral muscles as well as the shoulders. Many people in this field feel that static stretching limits performance and should only be used as a means for recovery. However, they are mislead and simply need to understand that static stretches are fine and actually needed as long as they are followed by dynamic activation and a heightening of the central nervous system. Mobilizing the chest and shoulders is key in allowing mobility throughout the entire range of motion.
Like I said, static stretching can be extremely helpful prior to training, but it must be followed by activation. I like to perform each of these for 1 set of 10 repetitions.
Central Nervous System Activation
I am going to provide a few of my favorite nervous system exercises, and you can use whichever one you seem to have the most success with. Perform 2-3 sets of 3-4 repetitions.
Bonus Upper Back and Bicep Pump
Not many people understand the importance of the upper back during the bench press. To create proper torque you must externally rotate your shoulders and retract (pinch) your scapulae. Activating your back properly will aid tremendously in the bench press, and is something I have utilized successfully in my own training. In addition to this, a biceps pump can also have an immediate impact on bench press performance. For example, most big time power lifters have large bellies. They take big, deep breaths and utilize their bellies as a slingshot to press off their knees and quadriceps and propel them through the bottom of their squat. Think of the biceps in the same way. Having a bicep pump can act as a slingshot to press your arms back into lock out and help your bench. With both of these exercises, look for 3 sets in the 12-15 repetition range. We want high volume to give us the necessary activation and “pump,” in both areas.
Now that you have properly mobilized, activated, and gotten a tremendous arm and upper back pump your ready for the best bench press performance of your life. Enjoy!
This week I break down the proper step-by-step form and cues to help you perform a safe and much more effective bench-press. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to not focus on or coach more than 2-3 cues at once. This will be overwhelming and hinder the actual bench press. Instead, find the biggest areas and flaws that need work, and aim to be more attentive to them. Lastly, this is a breakdown of a more conventional bench-press. One I would teach to athletes and general clientele. I do not consider myself an expert on powerlifting bench press style (while I also do not admonish this style in anyway whatsoever), and prefer to teach my athlete’s and clients a more standard technique that does not over emphasize an unnatural arch.
Firstly, the most important thing I want to emphasize is that your feet must remain planted throughout the lift. The biggest mistake I see with the bench-press is the tendency to have “dancing feet,” especially once there is any sort of struggle to complete a repetition.
Feet Slightly Behind Knees
This is one of the key proponents of creating a tight and natural arch in your lower back. Keeping your feet behind your knees will create a tightness and rigidity and help create a power source for your bench from your lower body.
Heel Planted/Driving Into The Ground
As I have mentioned in previous articles regarding deadlift form, creating torque is essential for all major barbell lifts. Keeping your heels planted can allow you to properly drive your knees out and “screw” your feet into the ground and create torque throughout your lower body.
Unless there are major discrepancies between someone’s grip and more “conventional” positioning I will let an athlete grip the bar in a manner in which they are comfortable.
Eyes Slightly Behind Bar
To ensure a proper bar path and a lack of disturbances from hitting the hooks on the power rack, it is imperative to make sure your eyes are slightly behind the bar when you lie down on the bench.
Bend The Bar
Much like proper positioning of the feet can help create torque throughout the lower body, cuing the hands to “break the bar” can lead to proper external rotation of the shoulders and essential torque creation in the upper body. Much like how screwing your feet into the floor calls on a clockwise rotation of the right foot and counter clockwise rotation of the left foot (which will lead to external hip rotation and torque), breaking the bar will lead to this same essential movement in the arms and shoulders.
Glutes and Lats
This will help create the natural arch I mentioned earlier.
Pinch and Bring Down Shoulder Blades
Again, this will help create external shoulder rotation and the necessary stability provided by proper torque generation.
Perform a Lat Pull Down With The Bar
Essentially this is a way to cue proper lat engagement. If you have ever done a lat pull down before you know that your lats lead the movement and are the primary mover. Pulling the bar in the same manner you would during a pull down will help drive your lats into the bench and provide much needed added stability.
Drive Chest Up To Meet The Bar
This can slightly shorten the range of motion and also aide in creating torque
Triceps To Lats/Elbows Straight Forward
Cuing to keep the triceps close to the lats or driving the elbows forward will ensure that the shoulders remain in a position that will not hurt or damage them.
Feet Through Floor
As I mentioned before, maintaining your foot positioning and contact with the floor is essential. This is also a good way to ensure you continue to drive and finish throughout the latter portions of the lift.
Drive Head and Back Through Bench
This will also help preach unconscious (basically these final cues will help finish off the lift and reach the point where the final drive is second nature) drive throughout the last stages of the bench. This will also help maintain stability.
As I have mentioned previously, the lats are extremely crucial to your performance on the bench. They play a huge roll in creating power and drive and stabilizing your body throughout the duration of the range of motion. When performing sets with heavy loads your rest periods can be quite lengthy. As a result, it is imperative that you utilize these resting periods to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed during your next set. Focusing on certain areas of your back and shoulders during your time between sets can be key in helping create upper body torque via maintaining proper posture and ability to externally rotate your shoulders and activating your lats and upper back musculature. By incorporating and varying these three exercises in between your sets you will ensure that you are in the most ideal position to perform your optimal bench press. Band pull aparts, slow eccentric wide grip pull-ups, and wide grip lat pull downs will surely put you in the best possible position for your bench press.
It is truly remarkable. If you actually utilize your time between your bench press sets you can accomplish some amazing things. Much more amazing than if you stand there and scroll through your instagram feed and find pictures to like. Yes, it is shocking I know. Once again I am here to provide you with a massive revelation. Now, let’s get to those exercises.
Band Pull Aparts
Activating your upper back musculature, specifically in your scapular area can be extremely beneficial to your bench press. Not only does the natural motion of a band pull apart improve posture, but doing so can also activate your upper back muscles so that you will be able to properly externally rotate your shoulders. It is IMPOSSIBLE to create the necessary torque for heavy bench presses without being able to externally rotate and create torque. With that being said, posture and activation of your upper back muscles play a huge role in that.
Wide Grip Pull-Ups
In addition to Band Pull Aparts, Wide Grip Pull-ups with a focus on slow eccentrics do a tremendous job of not only activating your lats, but also your shoulders in an externally rotated position that is quite similar to how you grip the bar. Perform only a few reps with exceptional form. The goal here is to engage your lats, not pre exhaust them. As I have mentioned previously, your lats play a huge part in stabilizing yourself against the bench. I often cue an athlete or client to “engage and drive” their lats while bench pressing. These pull-ups will help activate
them so they can properly be engaged.
Wide Grip Lat Pull Downs
These will provide a similar effect to the pull-ups, but are a nice alternative to those who either struggle with the pull-ups or just want a slightly easier way to activate their lats. Again, with these I advise to maintain the grip width similar to when bench pressing as it will help create muscle memory and motor control of the proper torque needed to externally rotate the shoulders in the bench press. Again, keep it light and keep the reps to a minimal. The goal of all these exercises are to engage and activate, not exhaust and create the presence of lactic acid.
Now, go implement these exercises and unlock the ultimate rest period bench press hack!
Have you ever walked into a gym and saw someone pushing out 315 pounds on the bench press and thought to yourself “man, I wish there was some way I could do that.” You admired the ease and the fluidity of the motion, but then thought that there was never a way you could build your bench press up to the same level no matter what you did. Today, I am here to give you some tools that if used properly and couple with determination and hard work, could have you on your way to making tremendous strides with your bench press.
In today’s day and age the bench press is one of the most highly regarded and sought after lifts in many platforms. The National Football League swears by it. In fact, the number of reps a player can pump out at 225 pounds could either launch them into the first round, or leave them mired in middle round mediocrity. Every basic bro that has ever stepped foot in a gym has had dreams of joining the 225-pound club with their bench press. With so much focus numbers and not enough on strategy, many lifters have ignored accessory lifts that can assist your bench and take it to the next level. Incorporate these movements into your workouts and I can assure you that you will see significant improvements with your bench press.
Close Grip Bench Press
If you have ever seen someone fail at a new bench press PR, or even get stuck on the last rep of set, you can almost guarantee that they got stuck at the top part of the movement, otherwise known as the lockout. That is, they can get the bar off their chest, but driving it that last third of the way into a lockout is too challenging for them to complete. A major cause of this could be a lack of focus on the triceps. The triceps play a pivotal role in helping you drive the bar the last third of the way up, and can be extremely significant when going for a new PR. One way to improve the strength and endurance in your triceps would be the close grip bench. Placing your hands closer together on the bar in comparison to your grip on your standard bench allows for you to take a good amount of the stress off your chest and overload your triceps, thus targeting them and getting them stronger.
Another important facet of the bench press is your back, and more specifically your latissimus dorsi (more commonly referred to as “lats”). If you are performing the bench press correctly (this will be addressed in another article), then you should be engaging your lats and almost be performing a “lat pull down” type movement when gripping the bar. One of the key power components of the bench press comes from driving your lats down into the bench during your lift, and engaging them so they can power you throughout the full entirety of the motion. The inverted row is one effective way to address strength building in your lats.
Find a power rack and adjust the pegs to a height that will allow you to place the barbell high enough so that you can hang from under it and perform a pull-up without your back ever touching the ground. Now, perform inverted rows and really target your back and lats. If this movement is too easy there are multiple ways to increase the difficulty. Slow your tempo down to increase your time under tension (otherwise known as the amount of time your muscles are contracted during the duration of a repetition). Studies have shown that increased time under tension directly correlates to mass and hypertrophy gains. In addition, you can grab a weighted vest from your local sporting goods store if your bodyweight simply isn’t challenging enough.
Dumbbell Bench Pressing
One of the biggest problems many lifters have with the barbell bench press is that there is an imbalance between their right and left sides. Meaning, that they could be stronger with their dominant hand, and since the barbell bench press is a bilateral exercise the weaker side can be masked by the stronger and more dominant side, which will mean the former will never properly develop.
With this being said, dumbbell bench pressing can be extremely beneficial since it isolates both side of the chest and can make sure that if there is an existing imbalance it will eventually be minute. Flat dumbbell benching is obviously ideal, but incline benching can be helpful in better engaging the shoulders, which you will see are very important when I discuss overhead pressing.
Abdominal Roll Outs
Please do not think I am some bitter, fat storing endomorph that resents abs. A shredded core is awesome, purely for the aesthetics alone. But, if we are speaking about functionality, a shredded core is sometimes very superficial. I say this because visible abs are the result of body composition and dieting, not a strong and stable core. With this being said, core exercises that incorporate bracing are extremely important.
As many of you know, the art of breathing during compound lifts is extremely important. This is especially true during the bench press. The body is one big kinetic chain from the shoulders across the body down to the hips. Thus, a strong and stable core is incredibly important if you wish to efficiently transfer energy across this kinetic chain and maximize your body during the lift. During the bench press, a strong and properly stabilized core will allow you to get much more out of your body as you will drive your back and lats into the bench which will help you create more drive. As a result of this, abdominal rollouts are a perfect way to increase and augment core strength while practicing the art of core stabilization and bracing. So, go ahead. Grab a pair of rollers, get on your knees, breath and stabilize, and roll your way to a stronger and more effective core.
I have listed this last mostly because it is one of, if not the most important thing you can do to make improvements to your bench press. Thus, I want it to be the last thing you read before you get up and down three scoops of pre workout and get to the gym.
Overhead pressing has become a lost art in the world of strength training. Many lifters feel that pumping out tons of front and side raises gets them the ideal shoulder definition they want. Firstly, let me say this. Oh, and by the way I am going to preface this by saying that the basis for this claim is from first hand experience. If you desire rounded and well developed anterior deltoids (these give you those “boulder” type shoulders), then let me tell you that no number of raises will be more effective in achieving this more than good old fashioned heavy overhead pressing. Like I said, this is from first hand experience. Over the last six months I have made overhead pressing a staple of my shoulder training. The results I have noticed in my shoulder size and development have been astounding. Go ahead, and give it a try.
Now that I have addressed the topic of aesthetics and your fear of hampering that aspect of your training, I can move on to the actual bench press related developments of overhead pressing. Go on Google and look up some of the best strongmen of all time. Hell, look at the ones prior to the mid 1960’s when steroids started to permeate the land of training. Anyone who had a dominant bench press almost certainly had an equally dominant overhead press. The overhead press allows you to develop the shoulders without being able to drive your back into the bench to assist your drive. So, grab some dumbbells or a barbell, stand up, and press your way to a better bench.
Gerry DeFilippo: ISSA CPT- CPPS, AAPS. Founder/Owner: Challenger Strength.