Category Archives: Guest Blogs

The Most Under-Utilized Exercises for Developing Devastating Power

Today I have a guest blog for you by my former intern Joey Percia. I vouch for all of these exercises; they’re my favorite for improving power. Great stuff right here!

The Most Under-Utilized Exercises for Developing Devastating Power
By Joey Percia

‘Olympic lifting is terrible, heavy barbell training is useless, sprinting sucks’.

Sound familiar?

Training to maximize power output becomes a very interesting topic when discussed amongst strength coaches. Some coaches swear by Olympic lifts and its variations, while others use a variety of approaches when seeking out maximal power development.

What is power?

Power is work divided by time ( P = work / time) and is a product of strength and speed. Research has shown that the optimum load for maximizing power production in a particular exercise depends on the movement being performed. Some studies show very little significant difference between loads (the Olympic lifts), while others have a much more obvious load that maximizes power (jump squats).

Someone that tells you that power is only developed at a certain percentage of your 1RM (for example, at 30% of 1RM), no matter what the exercise being performed, is misinformed. Some lifts are maximized at 0% of 1RM (jump squat), others at 30-70% of 1RM (bench throw, bench press, leg press, half squat, split jump squat), and others at 80% of 1RM and above (Olympic lift variations).

Considerations for Exercise Selection

Here are some important variables to account for when choosing exercises to develop devastating power.

1. Training Age

Choose exercises that coincide with an athlete’s training age — referring to the number of years they have been strength training. Those with a younger training age tend to show greater difficulty properly executing complicated exercises, in which case these should be avoided. Athletes spend a limited amount of time with a strength coach, which is why it is of great importance to perform exercises that will elicit the greatest gains (‘the most bang for your buck’).

Time is precious. It is a waste to prescribe frustrating and difficult tasks to athletes whose time spent with a strength coach is limited and valuable. Choose movements that are significantly easier to learn and perform yet are still highly beneficial.

2. Coach to Athlete Ratio

Monitor the athlete. Make sure form is correct and exercises are being performed safely and effectively. This is critical because the job of a coach depends on the athlete’s safety. Advanced movements and technical lifts which require different equipment and more coaching may not be optimal for settings other than one-on-one and small-group training. There is nothing wrong with performing these lifts if the proper amount of coaching is dedicated to each athlete.

3. Equipment Availability

Equipment is not just a common problem in commercial gyms. With larger groups of athletes, equipment can become an issue as well. When choosing an exercise make sure the athlete is able to perform it in the manner in which it was designed to increase maximal power output, specifically in relation to recovery time between sets and the optimal loading being used. It would be foolish to try to manage a group of 15 athletes doing barbell jumps squats with only 2 barbells .

4. Movement Specificity

To ensure you choose the most beneficial exercises to improve power in a particular sporting movement or event, look at the movement and ask these simple questions:

  • What is the direction of the movement?
  • What joints are involved?
  • What are the muscles that cross those joints?
  • What is the speed of the movement?
  • What is the duration of the movement?
  • How intense are the muscular contraction?

Pick exercises that best fit the answers to these questions. When answering these questions appropriately you will see the best carry-over to improving maximal power potential in a particular movement.

Movement Execution

“Bad Intentions”

You can’t just grab a kettlebell, do half-hearted swings and say you are training power. Well you can, but that doesn’t mean you are going to achieve the desired training adaptations you are seeking.

One of the key aspects for developing power that demands respect is intent. The intent to move the bar, object or body as fast and hard as humanly possible while maintaining proper technique. When the load is higher, speed will necessarily decrease, but the intent to move as fast as possible must remain. This is a very important component to developing power.

In this case, violence is acceptable — often encouraged. Perform the movement with ‘controlled chaos’ as I like to call it.

Quality over Quantity

Speed must be maintained throughout the set. If it starts to decrease the set or exercise should be terminated. This is critical. Speed may drop off because the intent has decreased or fatigue has set in because rest in between sets was too short or due to the accumulation of volume.

Make sure you allow adequate rest in between sets to fully recover and keep those bad intentions flowing.

The Exercises

Here’s a video you can check out before delving into the individual exercises:

Band Resisted Swing or Heavy Kettlebell Swing

Heavy kettlebell swings have a noticeably different feeling than using a lighter kettlebell. Pilot research shows that heavy swings compared to lighter swings elicit higher glute and hamstring activity. To get the most out of the heavy kettlebell swing for a power exercise, make sure you focus on the ‘hip snap’ by violently contracting the glutes. This makes a huge difference opposed to coasting through the end of the movement, especially when it comes to developing serious power.

When I worked with Bret at the Glute Lab we liked to perform heavy kettlebell swings with the 203lb kettlebell. For males with a 450lb+ deadlift this is a good goal weight.

band resisted swing

Unfortunately the largest kettlebell I have access to is the 106lb, that is shown. I attach bands to the kettlebell to add resistance. This doesn’t have the exact same feeling of swinging the 203lb’er but it is very similar and teaches a powerful hip extension. I actually prefer the band resisted swing over the heavy kettlebell swing because it is easier for most to control the movement but still must be performed violently because of the added band resistance.

how to setup band

How to set it up (right image first, then left)

Prescription : 5-8 sets of 8 explosive repetitions

Hex Bar Jump Squat

The hex bar jump squat looks similar to the traditional barbell jump squat except weight is held in the hands. This makes it a hip dominant movement compared to the barbell jump squat being more quad dominant. Research has shown that you can achieve greater power outputs with the hex bar jump squat compared to the back loaded barbell jump squat.

hex bar jump squat

Most feel more comfortable with the weight in the hands as opposed to the weight placed on the back, especially if something ‘doesn’t feel right’. It is easier to let go and release the weight rather than trying to dump the bar off your back.

Jump as high as possible on each rep, absorb the impact during landing, and minimize the time you spend in contact with the ground in between each rep.

Prescription: 3-5 sets of 3 explosive repetitions with 50-60% of 1RM hex bar deadlift

Explosive Back Extensions

The explosive back extension should be performed with a slightly rounded upper back and posterior pelvic tilt compared to the traditional back extension with a neutral spine. Perform explosive back extensions with a lighter load or against resistance bands — preferably monster mini band for males and mini band for females.

explosive back ext

The main focus should be maintaining posterior pelvic tilt, keeping the upper back rounded, driving the hips into the pad as hard as possible and then reversing the movement as quickly as possible.

Prescription: 3-5 sets of eight explosive repetitions with 50% load used for a hard set of 20 reps

Jumping Lunges

Jumping lunges are a great movement to develop power when space and equipment is limited to only bodyweight. The jumping lunge is great because technique can be dialed in to ensure the athlete’s safety. The movement is very easy to learn compared to other single leg plyometrics activities and in most cases very similar to positions found in common field sports.

split squat jumps

An external load can be used by holding dumbbells or wearing a weight vest if need be. I prefer the weight vest (typically 10-20lbs) compared to dumbbells since the weight vest still allows the use of an arm swing, which is a important component in improving jumping ability.

Prescription: 5-8 sets of 4 repetitions per foot

Sled Sprints

Sled sprints are an amazing movement to include for the development of tremendous lower body power. The sled allows the athlete to strengthen the sprinting muscles while decreasing the overall loading as well as wear and tear on the joints.

sled push

Two common ways to perform sled sprints include:

  • Lighter weights which moves quickly
  • Very heavy weights which moves slowly

Both must be performed with the intent of moving the sled as fast as humanly possible. The idea behind these two methods is it allows us to train two different parts of the strength continuum. The lighter weights train more speed strength/explosive strength and the heavy weights will train more strength speed/absolute strength.

Prescription: 5-8 sets of 10-20 yards sprints

Putting it all together

When the goal of training is to increase maximal power production it is important to perform these movements in a well-recovered state. This can be accomplished by placing power exercises at the beginning of training or training these movements at a separate time after allowing adequate time for refueling and recovery — For example:

  • AM Session – Heavy sled sprints of 5 x 10 yards
  • PM Session – Normal strength training regimen later that day with decrease in normal volume

Allow proper time in between sets to ensure full recovery. Training to increase maximal power output is not meant to be performed during a state of fatigue.

Conclusion

Whether you are training for looks, fun or an athletic event it never hurts to be more powerful. Using the movements listed in this article will allow you to train harder while feeling better. Give your body a break and give these joint-friendly power exercises a shot.

Remember ‘QUALITY over QUANITITY

Author Bio

joey

 

Joey is a strength coach and personal trainer. He is a performance specialist at ‘Soho Strength Lab’, a boutique training studio in New York City and runs an online training business where he helps clients crush their goals. Joey has his Masters degree in Exercise Science and has received his CPPS, CSCS and is Westside Barbell Certified. He is a competitive powerlifter and has been mentored by Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell as well as Bret Contreras at ‘The Glute Lab’.

He provides free content related to all things strength, fitness, health and life on his YouTube Channel ‘Percia Performance‘. Connect with him via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter for a cyber high five. SUBSCRIBE to his free newsletter and receive his 23 page E-book ‘Damage Control for Special Occasions‘ a complete guide for managing fat gain while enjoying special events.

Considerations in Athletic Performance Enhancement Training: Athlete Weight Room Preparation

Considerations in Athletic Performance Enhancement Training: Athlete Weight Room Preparation

Robert A. Panariello MS, PT, ATC, CSCS
Professional Physical Therapy
Professional Athletic Performance Center
New York, New York

During my 30+ career as a Physical Therapist (PT), Certified Athletic Trainer (ATC) and Strength and Conditioning (S&C) Coach, I have been involved in both the Sports Rehabilitation and Performance Enhancement Training of athletes and have had many valued experiences throughout my years of practice in these two related professions. When confronted with an athlete who presents with a pathology that occurred during the course of S&C or personal training participation, my observations of the athlete, the review of the athlete’s injury and medical history, and my experiences in the sports rehabilitation of athletes, often reveals that the injury is not directly due to a specific exercise performance, but to one of two other training considerations. The first possible cause is the implementation of a poor program design, i.e. inappropriately prescribed exercise weight intensities and exercise performance volumes, which is beyond the subject matter of this dialog, and the second, is the athlete was not properly physically prepared prior to their participation into the formal training program design. Often times, the athlete enters the weight room to initiate their physical training and regardless of their physical condition and/or training experience, they are expected and instructed, along with their peers, to participate in the first day of the identically prescribed formal training program design. This is especially true of the high school athlete. The question then arises, how does the S&C Professional know the athlete will be able to correctly perform and physically tolerate the prescribed program design when implementing this manner of training?

My good friend and one of my mentors, Hall of Fame S&C Coach Al Vermeil has established and imparted upon me his hierarchy of athletic development. This system is utilized as a well-organized progression to assist the S&C Professional in the optimal athletic development of the athlete (Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Vermeil’s Heirarchy of Athletic Development

Figure 1. Vermeil’s Hierarchy of Athletic Development

Coach Vermeil’s system is fostered upon a continuum of the physical qualities necessary for optimal athletic performance. A review of this hierarchy will reveal that strength is the physical quality, the foundation, from where all other physical qualities evolve. Each physical quality is dependent upon the optimal development of the preceding physical quality so that the ideal development of each successive physical quality in the hierarchy may transpire. One should note that although several physical qualities may be trained simultaneously, the emphasis of training is placed upon one specific physical quality until the time where the next ascending physical quality in the pyramid is determined to be developed.

Prior to the initiation of training, a review of Coach Vermeil’s hierarchy will exhibit the necessity for the physical evaluation of the athlete, as well as the development of the athlete’s work capacity, or as some coaches may call this level of the pyramid “general physical preparation (GPP)”. Work capacity or GPP is necessary for the preparation of the athlete for their eventual safe participation in the formal weight training program design.

During my time studying at the Soviet Institute for Physical Culture and Sport in Moscow, prior to the break up of the USSR, the topic of the system of athletic development that ensued at the thousands of Soviet Sports Schools across the USSR was discussed. Included in this lesson was the necessity for the preparation of the young Soviet athlete prior to the progression of applied higher stresses,over time, that would occur during their specific athletic development (specialization). A modification of this concept is presented in figure 2.

Figure 2. The General Physical Preparation and Specialization of the Young Athlete

Figure 2. The General Physical Preparation and Specialization of the Young Athlete

The successful Soviet structure of training acknowledges the importance and incorporation of a systematic process of general physical preparation prior to the athete’s eventual participation in 100% specialization of training, therefore, shouldn’t we as S&C professionals also heed from this lesson of athletic development?

Javorek’s Exercise Complexes

One method utilized over the years to prepare our athlete’s for the participation into the formal training program design is to incorporate Javorek’s exercise complex system into the training process. These exercise complexes were developed by S&C Coach Istvan “Steve” Javorek as part of the training system utilized with his athletes. These exercise complexes require the athlete to perform a series of specific exercises, employing either barbells or dumbells, with one exercise performance immediately followed by another until an “exercise cycle” or “set” is completed. The athlete then performs the prescribed number of exercise cycles/sets to complete their prescribed daily workout. An example of a Javorek’s exercise complex is as follows:

Barbell Upright Row X 6 Reps
Barbell Snatch High Pull X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Squat Push Press X 6 Reps
Barbell Behind the Head Good Morning X 6 Reps
Barbell Bent Over Row X 6 Reps

In this example the athlete will have performed a total of 30 successive exercise repetitions while incorporating the entire body during the training in the exercise cycle/set. Exercise weight intensities are initiated with 10% to 15% of the athlete’s body weight and are progressed over time until the athlete is able to perform the exercise complex with 30% – 35% of their body weight. The workouts are performed three days per week and depending upon the individual athlete, may begin with three exercise cycles/sets in their initial workout and progressed over time until the athlete demonstrates the performance of 5-6 cycles/sets at 30% to 35% of their body weight per daily workout.

Some of the advantages for incorporating Javorek’s exercise complexes include but are not limited to:

  1. Establish the proficiency of exercise technical performance
  2. Preparation of the neuro-muscular and musculo-tendonous systems of the body for the eventual application of high volume, high weight intensity exercise performance
  3. Enhance joint mobility and soft tissue compliance
  4. Enhance strength and power output
  5. Increase work capacity

Depending upon the specific needs, presentation, and medical history of the athlete, exercises may be substituted and/or modified for the athlete as part of their prescribed exercise performance.

Javorek’s exercise complex systems work well to assist in the preparation of the athlete for the ensuing intergration of the formal training program design. A program design that will include the application of higher exercise volumes and weight intensity performance. We have also implemented Javorek exercise complexes during the “end stage” of the athletes sports rehabilitation prior to their discharge from the clinic and eventual particpation in a formal off-season S&C program.

The preparation of the athlete prior to their initiation into the formal training program design is an important aspect of training that is often overlooked. A properly prepared athlete will not only perform superiorly in the weight room, but likely reduce the incidence of training injuries as well.

12 Tips for Better Hip Thrusts

Today’s article comes from Los Angeles based personal trainer Ben Bruno. Many of you will recall Ben’s plentiful hip thrust variation contributions to the Evolution of the Hip Thrust article, but Ben has contributed numerous unique, effective methods to the strength training industry. I consider Ben to be one of the top five best trainers in the world for developing glutes with both men and women. At the end of this article you will find links to Ben’s blog and social media. 

12 Tips for Better Hip Thrusts
By Ben Bruno

I really like hip thrusts and single leg hip thrusts and use them with most of my clients regardless of whether their goals are more physique or performance oriented because I think they have value in both cases. One thing I like about them is that there’s a relatively fast learning curve so clients tend to pick them up quickly, but they can still be a little awkward at first. After using hip thrusts with all sorts of different clients of all ages, abilities, and body types, I’ve found some ways to improve the thrusting experience that I hope you’ll find helpful.

1. Pause for a Second

I like to tell my clients to pause each rep for a second at the top to help ensure that they’re coming all the way up and achieving full extension and also to ensure that they’re using their glutes to do the work instead of the lower back. This brief pause also helps ensure that you select a weight you can control and eliminates ego lifting because if the weight is too heavy you won’t be able to pause at the top.

The one exception to this rule for very advanced lifters and experienced hip thrusters where I’m not as anal about the pause at the top if it’s clear they’re coming all the way up and using good form, but as with many exercises, you must first prove that you know the rules before you can break the rules.

Ben

2. Find Your Center

One of the biggest problems people have when they first start using the barbell for weighted hip thrusts is getting into a good starting position with the bar centered on the hips. And if the bar isn’t centered from the start, it’s going to tilt and make it impossible to get in a good groove for your set. It can be tough to know if the bar is centered though, especially if you’re using a pad between your body and the bar (as you should be) because the pad keeps you from seeing your hips.

A simple way to help make sure the bar is centered is to put a small piece of tape right on the center of the bar so you can make sure it’s centered. I just use scotch tape so you can’t even notice, but it really helps.

3. Find Your Ideal Foot Position

As a general rule of thumb, I like to tell people to position their feet in such a way that when they’re at the top of the hip thrust, their shins are perpendicular to the floor. If your feet are in too close to the butt it tends to put more stress on the quads (and I’ve also had numerous clients say it bugs their knees), but if you’re feet are too far away it tends to take stress off the glutes and puts it more on the hamstrings.

That being said, when you train a lot of people you learn that there are really no hard-fast rules and for every person that falls within “normal” guidelines, there will be two exceptions because everyone is different. As such, take some time to play around with different foot positions and see where you feel it best.

The same applies for stance width, as some people do better with a narrow stance while some prefer a wider stance.

Once you find your ideal foot position though, it can help tremendously to put plates where you want your toes positioned so that you can find the same foot position for each set.

4. Pick Up Your Toes

You’ll often see people pushing through their toes, even with repeated cueing to push through the heels. Rather than continue to cue them like a broken record to no avail, I like to have them physically lift their toes off the floor, or at least tell them to lift their toes inside their shoes.

Another way to achieve the same thing without having to lift up the toes (which can feel a little awkward at first) is to put your feet on the small mat with your toes dangling over the edge, as UFC fighter Brendan Schaub demonstrates here:

5. Use Collars!

This sounds too obvious to be worth mentioning, but I’ve seen enough near-accidents happen to where it warrants noting. A lot of people do their hip thrusts after they deadlift since they bar is already loaded on the floor, which makes sense and is something I often do as well. Trouble is, if you aren’t using collars on your deadlifts and go to hip thrusts, the plates will slide around, especially when you’re first trying to lift the weight up off the floor as it rarely goes up evenly. I won’t belabor this point, but pay heed!

6. Don’t Sleep On the Short Bar

I’ve found that a lot of women, especially women with slighter builds, tend to do better with a shorter barbell. If you or your client has trouble stabilizing the full-size bar on your hips and finds it wobbling and tilting, try using the curl bar or E-Z bar. The preset mini bars that they have in a lot of commercial gyms work really well, too. The shorter bars also make it easier to get the bar into position if your gym doesn’t have big diameter bumper plates and you aren’t thrusting a weight that allows you to load the bar with full-sized 45 pound plates.

7. Trouble Getting It Up? Try This

Most people report that the hardest part about hip thrusting is getting it up.

Cue the jokes…

If you have trouble sliding the bar over your legs to get into position, try doing rack hip thrusts like this if your rack allows you to set up in this fashion.

Another option is to use a curved buffalo bar if you’re lucky enough to have one in your gym. These bars are rare and are usually something you’ll only find in powerlifting gyms, but for bigger dudes that have one available, it works great for hip thrusts by giving you more room to slide under the bar, and the curve in the bar helps keep the weight steady on your hips to avoid tipping.

8. Progressive Overload Matters, But…

I think that fastest way to see physical changes in your butt is to focus on progressive overload on the hip thrust. Don’t just do the same weight every workout and go through the motions. Record your numbers and try to beat them every workout. I set the bar very high for my clients when it comes to hip thrusting performance and most of them look at me like I’m crazy when I first tell them the goals I have for them, but with a concerted effort to improve it’s amazing how quickly your numbers, and in turn your glutes, will improve.

That being said, a lot of people reach a point in their progression where the weight on the bar starts to bother their hips—even with good padding—and it becomes very difficult to get the bar into position for the first rep. Some of my bigger guys can seemingly thrust as much weight as they want without issue, but a lot of my clients with slighter builds—both men and women— reach a point where continuing to add weight to the bar is not a viable solution, and I can totally relate because I find the same thing. I’d like to be a tough guy and tell you it doesn’t hurt with a ton of weight on me, but, it does.

As such, it can be useful to use different methods to allow you to get a training effect with lighter loads. Two of my favorites are:

“1.5” reps: Come all the way up and pause, then come halfway back down, then come back up again and pause. That’s one rep.

Countdowns: Start by performing five reps followed immediately by a 5-second iso hold at the top. Then go immediately into four reps followed by a 4-second hold: then three, then two, then finally one. After the last rep, hold the top position for as long as possible, shooting for 10-30 seconds. This makes for a great finisher that will leave you with an unrivaled glute pump.

With both of these methods you should still focus on progression, but the weight will be substantially less than if you were using regular reps so it won’t be as uncomfortable on the hips.

9. Don’t Neglect Single Leg Hip Thrusts

I see a lot of folks focus on weighted bilateral hip thrusts but I don’t see nearly as many people focusing on progressing single leg hip thrusts. To me, that’s a mistake.

I actually prefer the single leg hip thrust to the bilateral hip thrust for myself and a lot of my clients, and I think it has tremendous value.

Interestingly, I often talk about the value of single leg knee dominant training (Bulgarian split squats, lunges, skater squats, single leg squats, etc.) as a way to overload the legs more than you can in bilateral squatting variations through the bilateral deficit. With hip thrusts though, the bilateral deficit doesn’t seem to apply, and I think most people won’t single leg hip thrust even close to half the weight they can use for bilateral hip thrusts. Even with lighter loads, I still think it’s a great exercise and I actually feel it more in my glutes. I also think it’s a great option for people who tend to feel heavy bilateral hip thrusts in their lower back, as flexing the hip on the non-working leg seems to limit the ability to overarch the lower back.

And for my fellow lazy-asses out there who abhor loading and unloading plates, it takes a lot less setup due to the lighter loads. Just sayin…

10. Single Leg Hip Thrust Progression

Once you’ve mastered bodyweight single leg hip thrusts, it’s time to add load.

My first progression is to place a dumbbell on the thigh of the working leg, like this.

From there you can progress to a barbell, which can be a tricky transition at first because it can be tough to keep the bar steady on the hips.

For that reason, I like to start people off doing a version where they come up on two legs and lower down on one leg, like so.

Once you feel good with those, you can go to full single leg reps.

And again, the shorter bar can be very useful here.

11. Start Single Leg Hip Thrusts From the Top

With single leg hip thrusts I’ve noticed that people struggle a lot with steadying the bar on the first rep and getting centered. The best way I’ve found to help with this is to have people thrust up on two legs and then pick one foot up and start the set from the top as opposed to trying to break the bar off the floor with one leg. It’s a small tweak that makes a huge difference.

12. Try This Combo

Why choose between bilateral and single leg hip thrusts when you can do both?

One of my favorite hip thrust variations is to start with single leg hip thrusts, doing a predetermined number of reps per leg, and then going straight into bilateral hip thrusts for the same amount of reps.

A lot of my clients will do this with just bodyweight and it works as an awesome finisher, and you can also do it with weight if you’re the masochistic type (like me) who enjoys doing the awkward duck walk out of the gym.

Author Bio

Ben Bruno is a personal trainer in Los Angeles, California. He also publishes a blog and free newsletter at www.BenBruno.com. You can connect with him on social media through:ben

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3 Hacks to Improve Your Bench Press

The following is a guest blog by Jordan Syatt.

Right about here is where I’m supposed to insert a moronically generic article introduction about the bench press and how it’s the ultimate test of strength.

I’ll pass.

I like to bench press. You like to bench press. And, like most people, you probably want to learn how to bench press more weight.

Sound about right?

Perfect.

bench press

Bench Press Photo Credit / © Elitefts.com Inc

In this brief article I’m going to share with you 3 simple hacks that will drastically improve your bench press.

  1. Do NOT Pinch Your Shoulder Blades Together (as hard as possible)

I know this flies in the face of pretty much everything you’ve ever been told about the bench press so bear with me and allow me to explain.

Pinching your shoulder blades together (forcefully retracting your scapulae) is a cue meant to help you do a number of things, including:

  • Put the shoulders in a safer position
  • Reduce the lifts range of motion (ROM)
  • Utilize the right muscle groups (notably the lats) for a stronger, safer press

I’d note, pinching your scaps together isn’t always wrong. It’s actually a great cue to use with beginner lifters who are still in the early stages of training, developing kinesthetic awareness, and mastering technique.

As you progress into more of an intermediate/advanced lifter, however, pinching your scaps together as hard as possible will become counterproductive.

Why?

A number of reasons but, notably, full retraction of the scapulae isn’t necessary for lat recruitment.

In fact, I’ve found fully retracting the scapulae makes it harder to use the lats properly which inhibits bench performance.

On the other hand, forcefully depressing the scapulae is necessary for lat recruitment.

So what should you do?

Rather than forcefully retract your scaps, focus on emphasizing scapular depression (put your shoulder blades in your back pockets) throughout the entire lift. At the same time, you should slightly retract your shoulder blades but do not actively pinch them together as that takes the focus away from scapular depression and subsequent lat recruitment.

Your Takeaway: pinching your shoulder blades together as hard as possible is NOT necessary for optimal bench performance and may inhibit your strength. Instead, focus on scapular depression (put your shoulder blades in your back pockets) with slight scapular retraction. This technique will help to recruit your lats and maintain the best position throughout the entire lift.

  1. Pause on Your Chest

Where do you usually fail when you bench press?

On your chest?

Maybe a couple inches above?

That’s totally normal and where most lifters tend to get stuck. Some develop sticking points near lockout but those instances are few and far between.

If you’re weak off your chest and need to develop more starting strength, incorporating the pause bench press into your training program is a smart move.

How Do You Pause Bench Press?

Simple.

Un-rack the bar.

Lower it to your chest.

Pause for the prescribed time period.

Press it back up.

Repeat.

Seriously, it’s that simple. Don’t overcomplicate it.

How Long Should You Pause For?

I opt for anywhere between 2-4 seconds.

Keep in mind, I don’t mean count as fast as you possibly can and pretend to pause for 2-seconds when you really just bounce the bar off your chest.

No.

I mean pause on your chest for 2-4 full seconds.

How Do You Program the Pause Bench Press?

Use it as your 1st or 2nd exercise of the day on upper body strength training days.

You can use a variety of set/rep schemes (I’ll give you a few of my favorites below) but make sure to do it near the beginning of your training session so you’re fresh and able to maintain perfect form.

As for set/rep schemes, it all depends on your goal but a few of my favorites are:

For hypertrophy/volume: 3-5 sets of 8 reps with a 2-sec pause on your chest

For strength/hypertrophy: 3-5 sets of 5 reps with a 3-sec pause on your chest

For strength: 3-5 sets of 2-3 reps with a 2-sec pause on your chest

I’d note, there isn’t a single “best” set/rep scheme. Rather, the “best” one depends entirely on your needs, goals, and preferences at any given time.

Of course, an intelligent combination of all set/rep schemes (rather than solely focusing on a single one) over a period of time will yield the best results in overall strength, hypertrophy, and performance.

Your Takeaway: If you want to get better at benching you’d be wise to add the pause bench press into your training repertoire. Not only will it directly target the most common sticking point, it also improves starting strength and forces you to slow down and focus on using perfect form.

  1. Train the Bench Press with High(er) Volume – Use Clusters!

I never used to train above 5-reps per set.

I mean…everyone knows 1-5 reps is where “max strength” is built so if you want to get stronger you need to stay in that rep range, right?

Wrong.

Over the years I’ve found venturing into the higher repetition ranges (6-8…sometimes even 10’s) is extremely beneficial for jacking up your bench press.

Don’t get me wrong, heavy sets of 1-5 reps are obviously important and hold major significance within your program, but neglecting higher repetition ranges and overall volume will destroy your progress.

How do you train your bench press with higher volume?

There are numerous effective methods and below I’ve provided my personal all-time favorite.

Cluster Sets

Cluster sets are a quick and simple – not easy – way to accrue a huge amount of volume at a relatively high training intensity.

Fair warning: they’re brutal. Offensively difficult. Absolutely horrible.

But they work.

And they work really, really well.

What’s a cluster?

A cluster involves performing several “mini sets” in order to complete 1 “full set.”

To illustrate, let’s look at a normal set/rep scheme (3 x 6) and break it into a cluster.

Using 3 x 6 as the example, we know each set is comprised of 6 total reps. But instead of performing all 6-reps in a row, a cluster would involve performing smaller sets of 1, 2, or 3 reps until you complete all 6.

To illustrate, below are 3 sample clusters:

  • 3 x 1-1-1-1-1-1
  • 3 x 2-2-2
  • 3 x 3-3

*Rest 10-15 seconds between each cluster. Rest 2-4 minutes between each set.

See how it works?

The total number of repetitions per cluster varies, but every cluster still comes out to a total of 3 sets of 6 repetitions.

Need a visual?

Here’s a video of me performing a 2-2-2 bench press cluster

Why are clusters beneficial?

They’re a quick and effective way to increase the total volume of your training session.

More importantly, performing fewer repetitions per set allows you to accomplish two important things:

  1. You can handle more weight. Needless to say, fewer reps per set will allow you to handle heavier loads which facilitates more repetitions at a higher percentage of your 1-repetition maximum (1RM).
  2. You ingrain perfect form. Performing fewer reps per set allows you to focus on using perfect technique without fatiguing as you would during a standard high-rep set. Of course, practicing perform form at a relatively high training intensity and volume will drastically improve the skill set (because it is a skill) of using perfect form under maximal loads.

Want a Sample 4-Week Cycle of Bench Press Clusters?

Below is a sample 4-week cycle of one of my favorite bench press cluster progressions.

Replace your main bench press movement with this cluster cycle for the next 4-weeks then re-test your max to see how much you’ve improved.

Week 1: 4 x 2-2-2 (as heavy as possible while maintaining perfect form)

Week 2: 3 x 2-2-2 (as heavy as possible while maintaining perform form)

Week 3: 4 x 2-1-1 (as heavy as possible while maintaining perform form)

Week 4: 3 x 2-2-2 (moderate difficulty – not too hard)

Week 5: Re-test your 1-5RM

Remember, cluster sets are extremely effective but brutally difficult. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Wrapping Up

Right about here is where I’m supposed to conclude the article with a clever ending and maybe even a catchy tag line.

I’ll pass.

I hope you enjoyed the information provided in this article and that it helps you bench press more than everyone else in your gym.

Because…well…that’s the goal, isn’t it?

-J

Author Bio 

Jordan Syatt is a strength training and nutritional consultant. He is an IPA World Record Powerlifter featured in publications such as Schwarzenegger.com, T-Nation.com, Muscle & Fitness, and Men’s Fitness Magazines. He is Precision Nutrition and Westside Barbell Certified, has a B.S. in Health & Behavior Science, and is the owner of www.syattfitness.com. Jordan does extensive work with online training and nutrition consultations and specializes in strength gain, athletic performance, and general health. Fitness aside, Jordan is an avid traveler, self-proclaimed nerd, and is unashamed of his obsession with the Harry Potter series. Here are links to Jordan’s:

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Jordan pulling 485 lbs at 132 lbs.

Jordan pulling 485 lbs at 132 lbs.