Wednesday, 17 May 2006: Bench
I have spent a good deal of time analyzing and honing my benching technique, but results have hung around 100 kg/220 lbs for longer than I care to remember. My sticking point has always been about midway, right where the weight is transferred from the pecs to the deltoids. The obvious conclusion is that I need stronger delts.
The less obvious conclusion is that there might be ways of altering my benching form to give better leverage to the delts. Eons ago, it was suggested to me that allowing the bar to drift back towards the head and flaring the elbows could help me overcome my sticking point; at that time I shrugged it off because I didn’t feel ready to radically mess with the straight-line tucked elbows style I had worked so hard on. The circle finally closed as I was watching the NASA (Natural Athlete Strength Association) DVD Monster Bench Press & Monster Bench Press Assistance Program the other day. On that tape, Rich Peters states that nine times out of ten, people who miss their lift in a meet miss it right at the transition from pec to deltoid. He blames this on poor bar path, namely trying to push the bar up in a straight line. Not only that, but apparently a straight bar path is also linked to sore shoulders, rotator cuff problems and the dreaded pec/deltoid tie-in tear. He advocates driving the bar back towards the eyes in a roughly 45 degree angle, something that is easy to practice with a stick resting lightly in the V of the hand as to move immediately if the bar travels into it.
[source: N.A.S.A.Monster Bench Press & Monster Bench Press Assistance Program DVD]
That tape, transferred from VHS to DVD by Crain’s Muscle World, was apparently shot in the mid 1990s and was geared towards raw and single-ply lifters (as a sign of its time, it should be noted that the word “arch” is never mentioned on the whole tape and the discussion on bar path doesn’t go far beyond the angle of descent and ascent). Now, a decade later, letting the bar drift back towards the face while flaring the elbows out has become fashionable thanks to Bill Crawford and the Metal Militia. In fact, many Westside Barbell lifters have followed suit by ditching the hallmark Westside style of benching where the bar travels in a straight line, feet are kept wide out in front and a very moderate arch is used.There are of course several ways that the bench can be set up by manipulating the feet, arch, bar path and hand positioning variables - take for instance JM Blakley who advocates a severe arch combined with a totally straight bar path with feet retracted on the toes and using the maximum legal grip - but due to perhaps popularity and general impact, the Metal Militia and Westside Barbell styles of benching have come to symbolize polar opposite styles. Whereas the Westside/straight line benching style effectively minimizes the range of motion, the Metal Militia/tuck and flare style drives the bar more efficiently into the support of a bench shirt by taking the bar down very low while arguably providing better leverage towards the lockout. Just how different they are can be appreciated by comparing these screenshots.
The classic Westside Barbell benching style bottom and lockout position demonstrated by Jim Wendler. [source: EliteFTS Exercise Index Bench Press DVD]
Metal Milita lifter Sebastian Burns doing his thing. [source: Advanced Bench Press DVD]
Jim Wendler in the bottom and lockout position in the Metal Militia style of benching. [source: EliteFTS Exercise Index Bench Press DVD]
In a nutshell, after slavically following the Westside straight-line benching style, I will now make the transition to a Metal Militia cum NASA inspired style. There are no guarantees that this will be a successful move. My bench will be in disarray for the next couple of months or so as I relearn my technique, but if it turns out that it gives me a leverage curve more suited to my strengths it will be more than worth it. On the other hand, if it proves to be a bad move, I can always go back to what I did before much wiser than I am now. How do you know when your bench technique is optimal? When you have tried them all, I say. Makes me wonder how many people have just concluded that the conventional or sumo deadlift style is what they are most suited for based on, say, anatomical features without actually giving both techniques a serious shot. I know I have, but now that my lower back is no longer what it should be I am forced to find out, but that’s for another entry.
Unsurprisingly, today’s workout inaugurated the laborious transition to the new style. Arching severely tends to kill my lower back, but am definitively shooting for a bit more than previously by making sure that I have both a lower and upper back arch with the weight on the upper traps as usual. I also like to keep my heels on the ground, but am bringing them in behind my knees to the position recommended on the NASA tape. Both the NASA tape and the Metal Militia DVD recommend tucking the wrists back when touching for different reasons (”controlling leverage” and “making it easier to touch with a shirt on”), but so far I am keeping my wrists straight. During the transition period, I will naturally lose some weight on the bar, but if everything goes well I should gradually build back up and beyond what I benched in the straight line style with feet out. I am also starting to set up the Metal Militia way, i.e. pulling myself up with an underhand grip towards the bar, putting the head down on the bench, retracting the shoulder blades before setting the upper back down on the bench and gripping the bar with a competition grip. Today’s video (4.9M) features a lot of technique practice and a few tricks of the trade, namely the above mentioned stick benching and Jim Wendler’s trick to find out where precisely the sweet spot to lockout is.
Bench, technique practice: lots of sets with light weights, worked up to a test with 90 kg/198 lbs
Standing barbell curl: worked up to 4 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Dumbell bench: worked up to 1 @ 41 kg/90 lbs (bummer!)
Metal iso-lateral shoulder press: 6 @ 30 kg/66 lbs per side
Close-grip pulldown: 10 @ 14th (70 kg/154 lbs?)
Metal cable preacher curl: 10 @ 3 plates
Saturday, 20 May 2006: Squat
I was really confused with my stance today and had a hard time getting my squat act together. I went for a new PR, but didn’t get to the carrot.
5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/110 lbs
3 @ 60 kg/132 lbs
1 @ 70 kg/154 lbs
1 @ 80 kg/176 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/198 lbs
1 @ 100 kg/220 lbs
1 @ 110 kg/242 lbs (belt on)
1 @ 120 kg/264 lbs
0 @ 125 kg/275 lbs
Dumbell step-ups on bench: 12 steps (6 per leg) @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs dumbells
Seated band leg curl: 2x15 @ doubled mini
Standing cable crunch with stability ball: 2x10 @ 10th (50 kg/110 lbs?)