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I have said for years that lifting light weights faster makes them feel lighter. Try it out; first lift a 50-pound dumbbell off a rack slowly, next snatch it off quickly. Dollars to donuts says it feels a helluva a lot lighter when picked up quickly. Furthermore, the faster you accelerate a barbell, the greater the odds are of by-passing potential sticking points.
The obvious way to build explosive bench pressing prowess is to bench press lighter weights with maximum speed and acceleration; this is called Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT). To be a great bench presser you have to train in CAT style, but CAT does have limitations.
Let's look at some alternative methods, shall we?
Plyometrics and bench press specific throws can aid your explosive pressing quest and even offer some benefits CAT does not.
Bench Press: Phase 1, 2, & 3
In the bench press, as the barbell is pushed off the chest to lockout, I divide the upward movement into three phases.
Initial Acceleration Phase: The weight is pushed from a paused position on the chest to maximum speed.
Constant Speed Phase: The objective is to maintain the speed off the chest.
Deceleration Phase: The weight slows toward lockout to avoid hyperextension of the joint. This sounds like a blessing but it's a bench pressing curse, this safety mechanism acts way too early, especially in less-experienced lifters. Phase 3 is where CAT is limited, throws and plyometrics are not.
Bench Press and Sprinting
In the 100-meter dash, after the first 45-55 meters, or five to six seconds, you reach maximum velocity. After that the goal shifts to maintaining maximum speed as long as possible, usually three seconds. This is coined speed endurance.
The same principles that apply to the 100-meter dash apply to the bench press. In sprinting, the deceleration phase sets in because of a lack of speed endurance. In the bench press, speed endurance is not the issue; it's your body impulsively offering protection.
The triceps are the prime mover in the bench press lockout. The biceps oppose a forceful bench press lockout in the name of safety. CAT bench pressing has limits in developing maximum force through the entire range of motion.
You can defy the limitations imposed by CAT with bench press specific plyometrics or throwing the bar beyond lock out with bench press specific throws (use a Smith machine).
Not only will this bring long-term explosive strength gains, this can immediately enhance more ability to bench more.
Let's take a look at practical application.
5 Bench Press Specific Plyometrics
Here are some of my favorite bench press plyometrics:
Depth Jump Push-up (Long Response)
Start by lying in a push-up position with your hands on top of a stable surface, like a four inch box. For the downward phase, move your hands from the top of the surface down to the floor, keeping your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Allow your chest to come about an inch off the box. For the upward phase, push up as fast and as high off the ground as possible, and land in the starting position, and then repeat. Do this for 2 to 4 sets of 3 to 6 reps.
Depth Jump Push-up (Short Response)
Same starting position as the long response depth jump push-up. Downward phase is again the same as the long response depth jump. Immediately, when the hands hit the ground, be ready to come back to lockout on top of the box. For the upward phase, push up as fast and high off the ground as high as possible and land in the starting position, then repeat. Do this for 2 to 4 sets of 3-6 reps.
Start by lying in a push-up position with one hand on a 3 to 4 inch surface and the other hand on the floor. For hand spacing, try and replicate your competition bench press grip or the grip you will use for your max. We are after transfer of training. Come down until your chest touches the box. For the upward phase, explode in the air as high as possible. Land on the box. Repeat. Do this for 2 to 4 sets of 3 to 6 reps.
Upper Body Box Jumps
There should be boxes or benches of appropriate height for your ability (between 3 and 16 inches) placed next to each other. Assume a push-up position between the two boxes (your shoulder width will determine the distance between the boxes. You should have approximately 2 to 4 inches of free space on either side). Explosively thrust your upper body upward and land with your hands on each box. "Step" down easily before your next repetition. Don't try and just get up to the box, get maximum height at each jump. Perform this for singles, 3 to 12 will suffice.
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Most medicine ball drills can be done not by catching the ball, rather by repelling it. Lie on the ground. Have a partner stand above you and throw the ball toward your hands with your arms extended and don't catch the ball! Rather, cradle it and push it back up as forcefully as possible. The idea is to resist the eccentric contraction and push the ball back up as high as possible, as fast as possible. Think of the ball as being red-hot and one you want to spend as little time in contact with as possible. Do this for 3 to 6 repetitions; the idea is to build explosive power, not endurance.
Recently, another strategy that I have used is Smith machine bench throws, using 10 to 20 percent of a client's bench press max. Throw the weight as high as possible; triples work well for 3-6 sets. This improves elasticity efficiency. Even after a one-second pause, nearly half of elastic energy is still present! Most meets won't make you pause that long.
If your bench press hasn't improved since the Clinton administration, you have nothing to lose and your lack of explosive power could be what's holding you back.
Strength is primarily a function of the nervous system. Explosive plyometrics and throws program the nervous to produce maximal force contractions as quickly as possible.
To a bigger bench press, my friends!
Are you stuck on a bench press plateau? What are you doing to shock your muscles into forward progress? Let us know in the comments field below!