In part one of POWERLIFTING we covered the proper technique to perform both the Olympic and low bar back squat….Next up is the bench press!
That’s right, the one lift that everyone who has ever stepped in a gym has done. Another great exercise for strength, but when someone asks you “How much ya Bench?” you certainly don’t want tell them an underwhelming number that any average Joe can do.
So how can you squeeze every last ounce out of your bench? The first thing you need to realize is that the bench press for powerlifting is most likely different than the bench press that you see the masses performing, more of a bodybuilding style with the elbows flared out to the sides.
Powerlifting | Lower Body
If you haven’t figured it out by now, this tightness thing is becoming a trend. Tightness is crucial when performing max effort lifts. But what about tightness in your lower body, it’s the bench press, and all that will help you is a bigger chest/stronger triceps?… Well this is where many people mess up.
Benching is as much about getting your lower body tight as it is your upper. Once you build that unbreakable base, you’d be amazed at how much easier those previously heavy weights are to move.
Well how in the world do you incorporate your legs into the bench? It’s simple, leg drive. At the root of it all is getting your legs planted solidly under you.
There are a handful of ways to get the best leg drive, but in the end they all include getting your feet planted solid under you. Doing this, you may find more stable and comfortable being up on your toes, tilting your feet so that you are favoring your instep, or just flat on the ground.
For this case, we will focus on having the feet flat on the ground, which is required in the USAPL and IPF. The one thing that can help to get your feet flat while having the feel of being more on your toes is lifting in Olympic style shoes which have a heel anywhere between ½” to ¾”.
I choose to bench in Olympic shoes angle my feet about 15-30° as it gives me a little extra stability while still being able to drive through my heels.
Getting your legs under you all starts in the setup, but generally I’d suggest to pull your feet as far back as you can while being stable and having them flat on the ground. This tip will help lead into the next step to building a bigger bench.
Powerlifting Back Arch
An arch in your back will not only help reduce the range of motion (ROM), but will also help with stability in your upper body.
You are able to create immense stability in your upper body by using this back arch, as it drives your traps and upper back into the bench.
When you un-rack the weight with this flat back, with no arch the weight may swing around and become unstable. In contrast, the arched back with the traps being forcibly driven into the bench will be much more stable when the weight is un-racked as it will just further drive your lats and upper back into the bench.
Improve your bench press back arch
? Spending more time working on lower back mobility – as this is the origin of the arch.
? Tacking down the lats and erectors with a lacrosse ball or anything I had handy, and simply rolling around on it to encourage more flexibility.
? Warm up during the bench press with a foam roller or ball under your back and focusing on not touching it with your back has produced noteworthy success.
These techniques coupled with consistent effort over time will help develop or improve your arch if that is an area that seems to be lagging behind for you.
As far as back arches go, there is no “perfect” arch. Everyone will have a different ability to create an optimal arch based upon genetics, past and previous injuries, mobility, as well as how much time has been spent developing this arch!
Beginners AND Pro gym-goers:
Consuming pre-workout 30 minutes before starting your training session will give you a boost of energy to focus on exceeding your potential down to every last rep!
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Powerlifting | Upper Body Focus
The final part of the equation stays in your upper body, but now we focus on the back, and the crucial muscles that help your bench even more.
Your lats play a major role in not only controlling the bar while you are lowering it to your chest, but also when driving it up as well.
Tips for controlling the bar
? On the descend you want to focus on pulling the bar down to your chest rather than just letting it free fall down by tightening your lats while pulling your arms in. This will not only aid in greater stability but will also help your arms and triceps by giving them a place to stop when the bar is on your chest.
? With your lats flared out at the bottom of the bench and your triceps resting on top them, we now want to press the bar back up. This should more explosive since your arms have been given some support from your lats at the bottom of the movement.
? When pressing the bar up you want to focus on keeping your arms tucked in at the start and finish locking out the rep by rotating your elbows out so they are perpendicular to your torso.
Following these key tips the next time you get on the bench will not only result in a bigger bench, but will also give you some iron cred to impress your friends with.
Take Home Message
Remember, the goal in powerlifting is to move as much weight as possible, so it only makes sense that you use as much of your muscle and body leverages as possible to move maximum weight.
Stay tuned for part three of POWERLIFTING which will be all about the deadlift!