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Generally, full range of motion should be used for full development! But, as a lifter advances and starts to plateau, partials can become an important part of continued progress. Want to bench more? Read on…
The famous Russian sports scientist Vladimir Zatsiorsky wrote about the accentuation principle, which means to train in the range of motion where the highest amounts of force are produced.
By training partials with weights exceeding a lifter's one-repetition max, that lifter will become accustomed to heavy weights, neural inhibitions will decline and muscles that are generally under worked can be overloaded. Let's take a look at how to practically apply partials to increase your bench press.
Board presses are the bread and butter exercise for many big benchers. Board presses offer a host of benefits to anyone that wants to bench more.
Abundant overload can take place with board presses because lifters can use more weight with them than with a full range of motion. Board presses can also help build power in the range where the power built from dead benches and plyometrics wears off.
Moreover, they can be used to work the bench press lockout or even directly target sticking points. Board presses even allow guys with bad shoulders to keep on pressing! I have had powerlifting clients with poor shoulder and pec health train primarily with boards and go on to bench press very successfully in powerlifting meets. This is not advisable unless working around an injury, but it certainly beats the alternative of early retirement. Here is what a potential training cycle looks like for someone with poor shoulder health who can only bench press very infrequently.
12 Week Full ROM Injury: Board Press Cycle
Week 1 - Board Bench Press
Week 2 - Full Range of Motion Bench Press
Week 3 - Board Press
Week 4 - Deload
Week 5 - Full Range of Motion Bench Press
Week 6 - Two Board Bench Press
Week 7 - Reverse Band 1 Board Press
Week 8 - Deload
Week 9 - Two Board Press
Week 10 - Full Range of motion Bench Press
Week 11 - Reverse Band full range of motion bench Press
Week 12 - Deload
Week 13 - Max out or meet
Board Press Transference
Going past two boards will really decrease transference from the full range of motion bench press. Three and four board presses can be used to attack the midrange point of the bench press, and five and six board presses to attack the lockout. This will, of course, depend on the individual leverage of the lifter and structural weaknesses. Guys with short arms generally don't need high board work. Guys over six feet with knuckles that drag on the floor generally can derive benefit from higher board work.
Champion Powerlifter Robert Wilkerson Board Pressing
Progressive Distance Training
Boards do provide a sufficient overload to targeted portions of the bench press. The potential downfall is the lack of transition phases. At some point, there will be a major change in mechanical advantage. When it is worsened, this is overcome by successfully made transitions through the movement.
One archaic method of training in the power rack is progressive distance training. This involves lifting a weight off the pins in the power rack for a partial range of motion but instead of adding weight to the bar progressively, lower the pins in the rack.
At first this method will work very well, but likely, you will run into a major sticking point. The bar will stop moving. Lifters have used this method more successfully with the squat and deadlift. This happens simply because the transition phases are eliminated, so the sticking point is much more pronounced.
If you want to experiment with progressive distance training, I suggest doing so with boards. Make each board approximately one quarter inch. This way you get an eccentric and concentric phase like a regular bench press.
For dead movements or concentric only movements, the rack is your choice. For reversible muscle action (both a negative and positive), boards are superior to rack presses. The difference is more pronounced than you might think. In the bottom position of a rack press, the energy of the weight is transferred into the rack, dissipating into the ground. This is not a factor for the dead bench because all that matters is pushing the weight up in a bottom up fashion, not the redirection of force from a negative to a positive.
Technique reinforcement is more likely with board presses because board presses allow less room for error, forcing you to stay tight. If you lose tightness on a rack press, the rack can absorb the weight, which is not the case with board presses.
Additionally, board presses have one point of contact with the bar (center of the chest) and rack presses have two points of contact, the metal pins of the rack. The groove will feel much more “real,” like your raw bench pressing technique, when board pressing.
There is no secret formula to the implementation of board presses. If you are weak off the bottom, low boards are the order. If you stick in the mid-range, that's where work needs to be done, and if you struggle toward the top end, that's where attention needs to be paid. Blend board pressing off of different heights with CAT training, and sticking points will be banished to the ash heap of your lifting history!
Board presses can be used for limit strength work at or above your one repetition max, repetition work, burnouts or even drop sets. Board presses are not just for shirted benchers anymore!
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Rack lockouts don't generally offer the transfer of training one might expect. When you miss a weight at lockout, generally, you are out of position, or there is some sort of technical break down. This movement should not be dismissed.
Simply put a flat bench inside a squat rack and set the bar across the pins where you will only have to move the barbell two to four inches. This is a great chance to use weights that exceed your max bench. By using these weights you will build some lockout strength, but more importantly, handle heavy weights. When you get to a meet and you are attempting to lift a personal record, this unchartered territory will not be such a shock. Because of the heavy weights used in training, be mindful when training heavy partials. It is not difficult to over train. Heavy partials can be used three weeks in a row, and then a cessation is needed.
Over the years, I have become more partial to partials.
Full range of motion bench presses are the key to a big bench press, but partials can be an important supplementary tool to a big bench press.
Are you stuck on a bench press plateau? Can't seem to add another plate? Let us know in the comments field below how you're tackling this challenge!