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Bench Press Plateaus by Bill Starr (1990) I arrived fter-work ward to a m student at the gym early, in hopes of getting

my workout finished before the a crowd hit. It was spring break at the university and I was looking for nice, quiet session without the hindrance of hundreds of questions fro athletes.

For an hour and a half, my plan worked perfectly. I was close to concluding this light day of training with some bench work when a shadow loomed over me. I igno red it, hoping that whoever it was only wanted to share the 40 lb. dumbells that I was using, but it was not to be. Excuse me, the shadow said softly. Still, I didn t look around as I switched the dumbell to my right hand and continu ed curling. What is it? I grumbled, foreseeing the inevitable. Could you help me with my program? The question came out more like a plea than a request and I knew I couldn t refuse . I replaced the dumbells in the rack, then turned and faced a very serious youn g trainee. What is it you want to know? His stern expression changed instantly; his eyes brightened and he stood more er ect. I was hoping I d run into you today, he began eagerly. I ve been wanting to talk t o you, but you re hard to track down. It s my bench press. I ve been stuck at 275 for over a year. And I ve tried just about every exercise in the book: inclines, dumbe ll inclines, declines, flyes, triceps pushdowns. Nothing seems to help, he added dejectedly. Any suggestions? It was, of course, a very silly question to ask a strength coach because that s wh at they get paid for. Have you ever used the power rack? I asked, resigned to the fact that I was going to be in the gym a bit longer than I had planned. He stared at me as if I had lost my mind and with a little, scornful laugh said, Sure, I do shrugs and sometimes squat in it, but I m interested in improving my be nch, not my pull. I understand, I muttered, slightly irritated at his tone, but the power rack is one of the most effective tools to help you improve your bench press. Really! he blurted incredulously. How?

It ll be easier and faster to show you and there s a special technique required in or der for the movements to work effectively. Great! he cried cheerfully and pulled on his belt. What do we do first?

First, you warm up. Do 4 sets of 8 in the bench, working up to somewhere around 2 05 for your last set. He nodded, hurried to a vacant bench and went to work while I prepared the rack. He was on his third set when I asked, What s the most difficult part of the bench for you? The start, middle or lock-out? He crashed the bar back into the uprights, sat up and studied the matter for a m oment before saying, The start I would say. Why, does it matter? I nodded and answered, It does because you ll want to give priority to the weakest portion of the lift that is, do it first in this routine.

I waited by the rack while he completed his last set; then he hurried over sligh tly red-faced. Not used to working so fast he explained. I laughed, You didn t have to bomb and blitz! Lie down on the bench. I need to see where to set the pins so that the bar is resting as close to your chest as possi ble. He did as instructed; I set the lower set of pins so that the bar rested about a half inch above his chest, then put the second set of pins about two inches hig her. I loaded 135 on the bar and instructed, Today, you re going to do 3 sets at ea ch position I show you. This will help you get the feel of pushing against the p ins. Once you master the technique, you ll do only two sets at the first two posit ions. I ll explain more about the third position when we get to it. I understand. What should I do? This feels kind of light. It should feel light. I want you to get used to pushing against the pins. Now pus h the bar up against the top pins three times and hold for a five count. He did so, set the bar back on the lower pins and looked up at me for further in struction. Feel it? I asked. and with only 135.

Yeah, I do. That s amazing

I loaded the bar to 185 and said, Do the same thing again, three times against th e top pins and hold the third rep for a six-second count. This time, the bar started to jitterbug by the time I counted to five. He crawle d out from under the bar, rubbing his arms. Damn! What a pump! I can t believe it! One more set and I m going to drop the weight to 175. This final set is the money s et; all the others were just warmups. This time, try to hold the bar against the pins for 12 seconds. Try to push the bar through the pins. He lasted only till 7, climbed out from under the bar, his face distorted. r would have believed it! he exclaimed. How come it pumps me like that? I neve

Because it s very concentrated work and there s no way to loaf or cheat, that s why. Th ere s no training partner helping you through the hard part. One set like that is worth equal to a dozen outside of it. Now let s move the pins up and work the midd le range. After repositioning the pins and dropping the weight back to 135, he worked the difficult range just below the sticking point to just past it and found that he was a tad stronger here than in the starting position. He was able to hold the f inal, third set for almost a 10 count and came up smiling, pleased with himself. I thought I d be stronger there. And you were right. Now for the third and final position, the lockout. You ll work that a bit differently. On this one, you won t be pushing into a pin, but rather m oving it off the bottom pin to a full lockout. Set the bottom pin just above whe re you had the top pin for the middle position. This one you ll like because you c an handle lots of iron. My prediction held true, and then some. He did 4 sets on this one, since the thi rd at 375 was much too light. He ended with 405 on the bar and stood, wearing a Cheshire cat grin, obviously pleased with himself. That s great! My arms and should

ers are whipped and my upper body is pumped. I do this three times a week? he ask ed enthusiastically. No, a little rack work goes a long way. Too much will wreck you. Remember what I said about it being very concentrated work. You will want to balance the rack wo rk in with your regular bench routine and some auxiliary work: Monday Work your bench hard, going up to a heavy single, double or triple; then go to t he rack and work the starting position, but not the other two. Tuesday Do weighted dips and heavy overhead presses. Wednesday You can do inclines, heavy, and add in some triceps pushdowns on the lat machine , 2 sets of 20. Friday Make this your full rack day. This will give you two days to rest up after doing them. Follow the same routine that you did today. Then if you feel confident wi th your technique, drop the second set. Don t increase your top-end weight on the first two positions until you are able to hold that third set for the full 12 se conds. I got it, he said smiling, and you really think this will move my bench to 300?

If you stick to the program I outlined and don t start slipping in extra work like flyes, declines and such. All that they ll do when added to this routine are tap i nto your strength reservoir and keep you from making gains. The basic premise be hind isometric work is that once you ve stimulated your muscles, tendons and ligam ents to 80% of maximum, that s all the stronger you re going to get on that day. Any thing else is counterproductive. That s straight from the mouth of the founder of Isometrics, Dr. John Ziegler. So this is isometrics? Not pure isometrics. Actually, it s a combination of isotonic / isometric exercises . It s isotonic when you move the bar to the upper pin and isometric when you hold the bar for a 12 count against the top pin. I ll certainly give it a try. Thanks, he said extending his hand. It was over a month before I ran into Josh again in the produce section of a sup ermarket. I was trying to decide between oranges and bananas when he came up to me, all grins. Guess what? he shouted, his eyes sparkling. Your bench went up, I guessed correctly.

Yeah, I got 300 Monday. That rack work did the trick. I got a dozen guys doing it now. That s terrific; keep up the good work, I advised and decided on bananas.