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How to Keep the Flame Burning
he bench press is no doubt the most popular exercise in all of weight training. Most bodybuilders and strength athletes believe it’s the very best upper-body lift for adding size and power to that area. Since the early ’70s it’s replaced the military press as the standard of strength. People no longer ask, “How much can you press?” but rather, “How much can you bench?” to determine your strength level. The transition came about when the military press was dropped from Olympic competition and at the same time the sport of powerlifting emerged and strength training for all types of sports became the norm. In high schools and colleges with meager equipment, the flat bench could still be done. I knew of several high schools that did the exercise on locker-room benches. It was easy to teach and fit in nicely when the strength coach also happened to be the sports coach. When Tommy Suggs and I formulated a simple but effective program for coaches that could be done with a minimum of equipment and in a by Bill Starr • Photography by Michael Neveux
Only the Strong Shall Survive
limited space, we selected the bench press as part of the Big Three. Why not the overhead or incline press? At that time the overhead press was getting lots of, well, bad press. Many authorities had declared that pressing heavy weights overhead was harmful to the lower back. So we figured that would create difficulties for athletic directors and coaches. We really preferred the incline over the flat bench, but there was a problem—there weren’t many incline benches available, even in fitness facilities and YMCAs. Shaky as they might be, flat benches were plentiful, and they did build stronger upper bodies. So they became a fixture in strength programs even after incline benches became more prevalent. Everyone was happy—until lately. A number of people have sent me comments that they’ve pulled off the Internet concerning the damaging effect the bench press is having on the chest, back (primarily the rotator cuffs), shoulders and elbows. They contend that the lift should be eliminated from all programs and replaced with inclines as it’s espe-
cially harmful to youngsters and older trainees. They wanted to know what I thought. As most readers know, I’m a big fan of the incline bench. I like it because it hits the target muscles very directly and because there’s less opportunity to cheat on the incline. Also, the motion of the incline is closer to the actual movements made in nearly every sport, whereas the flat-bench press relates to only a few athletic activities. I’m not, however—by any stretch of the imagination—antibench. It was one of the first exercises I did when I found a weight room, and I include it in all of my routines. The exercise is not an evil movement just waiting to do harm. When done correctly, the bench press is a safe exercise and helps enhance strength in the chest, shoulders, and arms, the key word being correctly. When it’s grossly overtrained or when trainees repeatedly use sloppy technique, injuries occur—but that’s the case with any exercise. The lift is not at fault; the lifter is. The reason ugly form shows up so frequently on the bench press is
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Model: Berry Kabov
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The exception was John Phillip. coaches and parents care little about how the lift is done. At the contest. Quite often. pecs. At that point he was doing 515 but was rebounding the bar off his chest rather excessively. Back when the military press held that distinction. the lifter is. it counts. my Tongan friend in Hawaii. Yet he did just that. The workload for their shoulder girdles is often two or even three times greater than what they do for their hips. Excessive bridging. It would be necessary to use much less weight. and the bench is so closely aligned with their egos that few can handle that. It must be understood that the groups that comprise the shoulder girdle—deltoids. He had to go back down to 405 before he could manage a legal lift. Once trainees have done a certain poundage. Then there are those who use decent technique on the bench but still have a host of dings or outright injuries to various parts of their upper body because they overwork the exercise to the extreme. he asked me to train him for an upcoming one in Honolulu. That makes the bench press extremely important. As a result. All that matters is the number. If 252 NOVEMBER 2007 \ www. even if it means sore elbows and shoulders. and (yes) the rotator cuffs—are quite delicate and can’t Model: Dan Decker When the bench press is grossly overtrained or when trainees repeatedly use sloppy technique. rebounding the bar off the chest. twisting—anything goes. John was a legend on the island. Big numbers in the bench reflect favorably on the coaches. A lofty bench might catch the attention of a coach at a Division I college and translate to big bucks. In truth. squirming. That’s all changed. You don’t see form noted alongside the amount on the bench. it’s close to impossible to break them. injuries occur—but that’s the case with any exercise. I’ve encountered very few who could swallow their pride and learn to bench correctly after handing big weights using sloppy form. linked to its status as the gauge of strength. Once bad habits become ingrained. legs or back.Only the Strong Shall Survive it touches the chest and is locked out in any manner. I told him that he had to learn to pause the bar on his chest for at least a full second if he expected to get the lift passed at the meet. they’re not going to change their style. They are so intent on improving their benches that they train the lift at every session and add several more exercises for their shoulders and chest for good measure. triceps.ironmanmagazine. and I fully understood what it took for him to lower his bench by more than 100 pounds in front of all his friends. three months later.com . In all of my years of lifting and coaching. It’s the one lift used to test athletes in nearly every sport. When he found out that I’d competed in some powerlifting contests. it’s not the lure of scholarships but peer pressure that results in using poor form. a football player’s best bench press is listed right next to his time in the 40-yard dash. they resort to any means to record a high one. to most. sloppy technique is encouraged. Since. he benched 525 and got three white lights from strict judges. biceps. even if the athletes have to stand on their heads to complete the lift. just so the poundage is noteworthy. What it all means is that there are no rules for the bench press. I trained with Phillip at the Church College of Hawaii in Laie when I first moved to Oahu. the bench is the only lift that matters. The lift is not at fault. the bench press was regarded as an auxiliary exercise and no one paid much attention to how much a person could bench. For those who train in commercial fitness facilities.
and why aerobics may be a waste of time for a lean.... but often overlooked... That’s the attention-grabbing look you want now. but it’s seldom included in the programs of athletes obsessed with obtaining a bigger bench. and there’s no reason to use a false grip. Oxnard. If you know that the bench press is causing undue stress to any part of your upper body.... Or just do lots of auxiliary movements for a month or so..... True. (Learn the CarbStacking strategy that can transform muscle size and stoke the fat-burning furnace... Maintaining the forearms in a vertical position also alleviates a great deal of stress on the elbows and wrists.. you must adjust your program and modify your technique. but it won’t be as fresh as if you’d been benching recently. and tell yourself that if you do everything right...95 plus $6.. To my way of thinking. Rush my copy to: Credit card orders call Model: John Cowgill 254 NOVEMBER 2007 \ www. They do it in the belief that it enables them to handle more weight. lock your wrists. . you’ll eventually get back to the bigger numbers. perform the bench press.. wor fat. As you assume your grip. Top 6 fat-to-muscle tricks.. 1701 Ives Ave... curls. Stronger and Leaner Faster Than Ever Before! You don’t have to burn hard-earned muscle as you melt away fat. where the thumbs are not around the bar... take nearly as much work as the more powerful hips.... the best thing you can do for yourself is to stop benching for a while... They have to bridge because the false grip works against them whenever the bar moves even the slightest bit forward. Since it’s really a simple movement—lower the bar to your chest and press it back to lockout—very few bother to examine the many form points of the lift. Rush me IRONMAN’s Fat to Muscle 2.. it certainly does. Muscle memory will still be there..... You’ll discover: Precise nutrition guidelines and diets— • eat to max out your muscle mass as pounds You Can Get Many experience shoulder and elbow trouble because they use a wide grip—but some of the greatest benchers I ever saw used a rather close grip relative to their shoulder size. The secrets to melting away bodyfat as you build lean. .. Second.. of course.. Start with the basics..50 postage & handling ($15 outside North America) (California residents add 8.... Stop dieting Pack On Le an away muscle—pack As You Shed Mass Bodyfat Includes carb on more as you burn -sta diets.... More often than not. it happens more often than you realize. though. Grip the bar firmly with your thumbs wrapped around it.. and pay attention to the Many experience shoulder and elbow trouble because they use a wide grip.. overhead presses done with a bar or dumbbells.S. How to increase fat use with a minimum of aerobic exercise. offer ITS Rotator cuff work—done here with a Shoulder Horn—can strengthen the shoulder structure and improve your bench press poundage. Everyone I watch who uses a false grip also bridges to bring the bar through the sticking point. muscle rub and aspirin just to get through a workout.......25% sales tax) $9. cheese and milk can get you leaner. workout routines. Once you decide that you’re ready to start benching again. That shouldn’t be an immediate goal...... better muscular response and fat burning... Your goal should be to achieve the perfect bench press—so clean from start to finish that you could be a model for a training video..25% sales tax.... such as dumbbell raises....... For some... . they figure it builds a more impressive chest... with your thumbs around the bar. such as the grip. The grip I teach to everyone except those who have small or very wide shoulders is this: On an Olympic bar.. the upper back is also a part of the shoulder girdle.. Set your ego aside..S... you’ll end up handling as much as or more than if you selected that wider grip. which means it’s a problem in itself.. Besides.. but benching with a wide grip over a long period of time is extremely stressful to the shoulders and elbows and will take its toll.com Model: Berry Kabov Enclose check or money order for $9.. When your elbows aren’t directly under the bar. do all other aspects of the lift correctly.. here are suggestions that will enable you to continue to bench and avoid being punished in the process.. you must forget you did numbers.. The 8 key nutrients for faster fat burning.. One slip.. offer ITS CA residents add 8.... Credit card orders call TOLL FREE 1-800-447-0008..50 shipping payable to: Home GYM Warehouse.. the lifters who overtrain their upper bodies also employ ugly bench technique... With light weights it doesn’t matter all that much. ... and there goes your dental health. and the new Fat to Muscle 2 shows you how. and dips. (Great info!) The 10 rules for super energy... or you’ll slip back into the old habits right away. Give your body time to heal. The combination eventually results in some type of injury or nagging pain that makes sleeping without medication impossible and will ultimately cause them to stop For those who have pain when they training altogether. Old Man Usta died. The time spent away from benching will help in that regard... triceps pushdowns. CA 93033...... and both will be difficult.... You can still work your shoulder girdle with other exercises... but when the poundage gets heavy.. legs and back.95 1-800-447-0008. but I’m not talking to powerlifters or those who have been benching for many years. muscular look.. The false grip is just too dangerous. I realize many big benchers prefer the false grip.. dollars drawn on U.ironmanmagazine. That’s a good starting point. including how much to take of each....... I’ll come back to that later..... grow cking and carb-reducti on fat-burning th hormone activatio n. The amazing direct/indirect Fat-toMuscle 2 training program—with this innovative routine it appears as if you train a bodypart only once a week.. form on the bench press is that they’ve never been taught how to do it correctly... Or if they’re bodybuilders...... metabolism-acceleration techniques and the best fat-to-muscle nutrients..... muscular best in record time! • • • • • • • IRONMAN MUSCLE 2 FAT TO Magazine’ s BULLETIN #5 Just plus $6. it’s smarter to bench a few pounds less or have a bit smaller pecs and be able to continue to do benches than it is to have to resort to wraps. That assumes you of ugly bodyfat disappear.Only the Strong Shall Survive small points.... Foreign orders (except Canada) add $15 shipping.. extend your thumbs until they barely touch the smooth center. you’re giving away power.. but you really train each twice thanks to indirect work (and each workout takes less than an hour). banks only.. If you start with a close grip and use it consistently. Doug Young stands out as the perfect example. the best thing I believe that one reason so they can do is often to stop benching for many people use improper a while. Simple fact.. and look your and the 10 kouts and supplements Rules for Sup er Energy hard. Payment in U.) Which substance—found in almost any kitchen—is the ultimate aid for energy.. The rest and high-rep work for the smaller groups often work wonders.. That usually means starting from scratch. various degrees of inclines... straight-arm pullovers and rows. you must take two steps.. How dairy can help you burn fat— yogurt. and keep them that way throughout Bigger. Maybe. ripped muscle are all packed in this bulletin—eating plans. By contrast... Now you can actually build more muscle size and strength as your abs get razor sharp and you get ripped... you can guide it back into the proper line should it run forward.. First... YES! I want to transform my physique. You’ll know a grip is right for you if you can keep your elbows under your wrists throughout the movement..... some of the greatest benchers I ever saw used a rather close grip relative to their shoulder size.
They feel that affords them more control of the bar right away. That will hold them in place and also serve as a reminder for you to keep them straight. and it works against you because the unnecessary movement of the wrist diminishes the power generated by your chest. Trite.com © 2007 IRON MAN MAGAZINE ALL RIGHTS RESERVED PDF Articles . Similarly. Bear in mind that your wrists are delicate joints and very susceptible to injury. power flows through them into the bar. you can power up from the solid foundation into the pressing muscles. have the spotter hand you the bar on your signal. When the wrists are locked.. Tap into the latest news NOW! HOT NEW Videos Extend Contesed Video & t CoveraPhoto ge! "We Know Training" ™ 256 NOVEMBER 2007 \ www. I know. the lift. and become a part of the fabric. Make sure you and your spotter are on the same page. That doesn’t help. there’s no source of power when you need it. Fix the bar at arm’s length. but you get the idea. The constant cocking or twisting will aggravate them. Bench pressing really starts with the feet. without any assistance. and they’re one of the tougher areas of the body to rehab. shoulders and arms. That helps establish a firm base so that when the bar does hit the sticking point. though. Neither is permissible for the perfect bench press. Once you’re fixed on the bench and have gripped the bar. Quite a few prefer to take the weight off the racks on their own. Now let’s move from the hands to the feet. trying to coax it through the sticking point. take a deep breath. tape or wrap them. If you allow your feet to dangle. Lock your shoulder blades and glutes tightly.go to: down into it.ironmanmagazine. The combination of grinding down into the bench and driving your feet into the floor will ensure that you have a very solid foundation from which to press the weight. when you position yourself on the bench. Many beginners pick up the habit of cocking or turning their wrists while the bar is in motion. Be the bench. So you end up bridging or twisting to nudge the bar upward. Brace your feet down into the floor before you lie back on the bench. an aspect of benching that is generally overlooked.. squeeze Model: Noel Thompson I r o n M a n M a g a z i n e. If you find it difficult to stop cocking or twisting your wrists during the lift. c o m TRAINING I NUTRITION I GALLERIES I CONTESTS I BLOGS I FORUM BACK ISSUES I ARCHIVE I SUBSCRIBE I SHOP Want more of a good thing? Go online. Either way is fine.Only the Strong Shall Survive You’ll know your grip is right for you if you can keep your elbows under your wrists throughout the movement.
Your choice. In order to establish a pattern in which every rep is identical. Every day is even better. to my way of thinking. but a small arc. try dumbbells for more freedom of movement—and pause at the bottom of each rep for a full second. Of course. which is available for $20 plus shipping from Home Gym Warehouse. and invariably it’s a result of disproportionate strength between the front and rear of the shoulders brought about from too much upper-body work and a severe lack of upper-back work. It will travel upward in an arc. As you pull the bar down to your chest. Going heavy more than once a week isn’t a smart idea. That’s what you want. Why? Inhaling or exhaling while the bar is in motion forces your rib cage to relax. however.and then lower it in a controlled manner to the point where your breastbone ends. then glide back slightly at the finish so that it ends up over your chin or neck. and you won’t. Learn to bench-press perfectly. and in a short time you’ll be able to say that you’re a master bench presser—and be pain free. be deliberate. If you’re experiencing pain in the back of your shoulders. make sure that one of the days is a light day. Should you decide you can handle benching twice a week. A good deal. and exhale and inhale before doing the next rep. Touch and go doesn’t make it. Raise your feet up above the bench and cross your legs. Or keep abusing your body with sloppy form in order to satisfy your ego. or visit www . Rebounding bypassed the target muscles. Lock the bar out. and it shot up like a rocket. I compare it to coiling a giant spring. it’s critical. you must make sure the bar touches your chest in exactly the same spot every time. or at least until the bar breaks through the sticking point. since they wanted to involve as many muscles If you have shoulder pain when benching with a bar. Now comes the part of the bench press that many refuse to accept because it means using a lot less weight. however. whom I consider one of the greatest powerlifters ever? He’d lower the bar so slowly that you’d have thought he was trying to avoid aggravating some old injury. If you’re handling a light or moderate poundage. Think of the start as a boxing punch—short and powerful. creating a solid base on which to position the bar. follow through. which is cause for disqualification. wrists. but no more than that. Once you learn to pause. Your goal should be to obtain the perfect bench and. Call (800) 447-0008. Now you can’t bridge. which is where the sticking point usually resides. IM 258 NOVEMBER 2007 \ www. as possible in the movement. do it only once a week. pecs or damaged rotator cuffs. and that adversely affects your base. Stay extremely tight. Clean up your technique and do less for your upper body. The purpose of benching was to strengthen the front deltoids and triceps. and that was achieved by pausing. and it will float through the middle range. And do only one primary exercise per workout for your shoulder girdle. When you use heavier weights. After you’re comfortable with pausing and have the line down pat. Remember the rule: Your elbows must stay under your wrists at all times. contract the muscles in your pecs. there are variations on where the bar touches the chest. When you pause with the bar on your chest. for the time being.Home-Gym. The bar should move in a straight line off your chest and through the middle. Editor’s note: Bill Starr was a strength and conditioning coach at Johns Hopkins University from 1989 to 2000. get aggressive. Remember Doug Young. Olympic lifters did so because they were doing benches to help them with the start of the military press. Shrugs. and there’s little danger of running out of air unless you’re in terrible shape. Take a moment to consider the big picture. especially if you’ve had problems with your elbows. do a couple of sets of dumbbell rows at the end of every session. Many athletes tell me of pain in their rear deltoids. That happens only when you lower it under complete control and don’t allow it to crash on your chest. creating a positive intrathoracic pressure. For those who find it difficult to stop bridging. As a result. he was making certain his downward line was precise. and didn’t make any sense. In fact. as the lift takes only a few seconds from start to finish. how you breathe isn’t that important. You can add one auxiliary movement as well. I’m talking about pausing the bar on your chest for a full second.com Model: Mike Morris . shoulders or some other bodypart in the past. Hold your breath throughout the lift. especially at first. No sore elbows. Five reps will work well. It’s something lots of powerlifters did to keep themselves from bridging in a contest. Until you get the feel of pausing and determine where to drive the bar in the proper groove. chest. Until powerlifting became popular. If you have a history of being injured from benching. try this. He’s the author of The Strongest Shall Survive— Strength Training for Football. shoulders. Holding your breath ensures that your diaphragm stays locked. you have much more control of the its flight. particularly the deltoids. high pulls and rows will get the job done. Be sure to include some specific exercises for your upper back. but it shouldn’t touch too high or too low. the starting line may vary a great deal and adversely affect the rest of the lift. then releasing it. That also really helps the start because you aren’t getting any assistance from your lower body.com. Lowering the bar in a slow fashion also enables you to really tighten all your pressing muscles in preparation for the upward thrust. and you’ll be able to include it in your program for the rest of your life. Then he exploded into the bar. everyone who benched paused with the bar on his chest. When you rebound or even touch and go. As soon as the bar leaves your chest. and focus on driving the bar upward in exactly the same line every time. you’ll discover that you can hold the bar on your chest for four or five seconds and still be able to blast it upward. arms and upper back. Bodybuilders paused. but stay away from singles until you’ve built a strong foundation and ideal technique.ironmanmagazine. forget about the numbers. as will threes. neither group of athletes had any injuries from benching.
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