By Noah Bryant ProSource
ProSource’s Newest Expert Columnist Helps You Breach Your Bench Plateau
In the quest for a bigger bench, athletes are always looking to get that extra few pounds. If you have tried and tried but your bench isn’t budging, try using some advanced training techniques.
By advanced training techniques I am referring to modalities that may not be suitable for the beginning lifter (who would be better served training with traditional means), but can help the novice to elite lifter bust through those pesky plateaus.
The three best “advanced” bench press techniques are Compensatory Acceleration Training (CAT), Supramaximal Eccentric Training (SET), and Isometric Muscular Contractions.
Compensatory Acceleration Training, or CAT, simply means that you compensate for improved leverage by increasing acceleration.
For example, in the bench press your leverage is worse at the bottom and leverage improves as you press the bar off your chest. So, instead of exploding off the chest and “coasting” through *******, you would continue accelerating the bar as fast as you can as your leverage improves.
CAT was popularized in the west by ISSA co-founder, Dr. Fred Hatfield. Here is what Dr. Squat had to say about CAT, “If you’re applying a thousand pounds of force at the bottom of the lift and then as leverage improve you continue to apply a thousand pounds or less, you’re not accomplishing as much as you can. Instead, you’ll see that as leverage improves you’re able to apply twelve hundred pounds of force, fourteen hundred pounds of force up near the top. The secret though is that you’re applying as much force as you possibly can exert all the way through the lift. That means you’re spending more time under maximum tension. That means you’re going to make progress much faster than you could otherwise, probably twice as fast.”
Lifting sub maximal weights with maximal effort leads to strength adaptations similar to lifting maximal weights. Furthermore, lifting maximal weights with explosive intent throughout the entire range of motion can create staggering strength benefits.
Supramaximal Eccentric Training (SET)
Supramaximal Eccentric Training, or SET, involves using more weight on the eccentric portion of a lift (the lowering of the bar in the bench press) than you could handle concentrically (pressing motion in the bench press).
Studies have shown that we can handle 20% to 60% greater loads eccentrically than we can concentrically. During traditional lifting we choose our load based on what we can complete a full lift with, because of this, the eccentric portion of our lifts are repetitively underloaded. The increased eccentric load in SET leads to explosive muscle growth and strength gains.
Load the bar with 110-120% of your 1RM and lower the weight as slow as you can. Once you reach your chest your spotter will assist you in lifting the weight back up.
To ensure transfer of training to your bench press, do 3-4 sets of 3 reps of CAT benches after your SET sets.
Aside from the proven physical benefits of heavy eccentric training, they also provide a strong mental benefit. A lot of missed lifts happen because of fear; fear of failure, fear of injury, fear of weight. Handling supramaximal weights in training can help to alleviate some of that fear.
An isometric contraction is a muscular contraction with the muscle in a static position, no lengthening or shortening. An example of this would be pushing as hard as you can against a wall.
The biggest benefit of including isometric contractions in your training is that the amount of activation (muscle fiber recruitment) during an isometric hold is greater than both eccentric and concentric. A 2001 study by Nicholas Babault et al. found that, “The mean activation levels during maximal eccentric and maximal concentric contractions were 88.3 and 89.7%, respectively, and were significantly lower (P < 0.05) with respect to maximal isometric contractions (95.2%).”
To perform an isometric “press” head over to the squat rack and put the safety pins at your sticking point level. Press the empty bar up into the safety pins as hard as possible for a count of 5-10 seconds.
Isometric presses allow the lifter to push maximally for a greater amount of time at a specified point in the lift. For example, a complete bench press will maybe take two seconds. But with isometric training you can push the bar up into the pins in any position you want and contract maximally in that particular position/angle for 5-10 seconds.
Another great benefit of isometric training is that is allows you to recruit fibers without all the wear and tear on your joints. You can work your sticking points without going through the entire range of motion, this can save your shoulders and elbows from some stress.
Again, do 3-4 sets of 3 reps of CAT benches immediately following your isometric work to ensure transfer of training to you competition bench is optimal.
If your bench is stuck in a rut and not progressing the way you would like, don’t get frustrated! You now have three scientifically proven training techniques to add to your training tool box. Use them wisely, and watch your bench soar to new heights.
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Babault, N., Pousson, M., Ballay, Y., & Van Hoecke, J. (2001). Activation of Human Quadriceps Femoris During Isometric, Concentric, and Eccentric Contractions. J Appl Physiol, 91, 2628-2634.