Attacking the sticking points that are inherent in all lifts
Danny O'Dell explains how you can increase the speed of the bar movement in the bench press.
The speed of the bar is vital to lifting success. Rapidly pushing past the sticking point in the lift with a fast travelling bar can contribute to a higher total load. Yes, I am talking momentum here. To get this blazing speed, train using your known strengths to develop it. Of course, you will still have to work on your weaker areas but not exclusively. If you are not training fast, you are missing the boat.
The most effective strength training exercises designed for your program must be similar in "amplitude, external structure (spatial and temporal form) and internal structure similar to the perfected technique" (Kurz 2001). When performing speed work during your training, the bar path and the implements used must conform to those used in competition. The speed must be high enough to improve the adaptive mechanisms, but not so high, that it makes shambles of the technique and coordination of the lift. 'Uncontrolled' speed will disrupt the neuromuscular pathways and impair the synchronization of the lift.
The reasoning behind increasing the bar speed is to move it so fast that it either bypasses the sticking point or moves it to another part of the lift. These positions will change as your strength increases because the groove will refine itself to match your abilities. Continual force improvements will lead to improved strength and a higher load.
When training for the speed of movement, pay meticulous attention to the details of the lifting technique such as the proper rhythm and flow of the movement, and the breathing and arch control. Concentrate on the different parts of the lift and as they become faster, integrate them into more of the entire lift. For instance, during the lift, you have to think speed throughout the full movement - even if the bar is barely moving - think speed. Connect the thought processes up with the desired action outcome. Your brain does not know if the structures are under load or not, establish the nervous pathways and adapt to the training loads.
Dr Fred Hatfield calls the process of increasing the speed throughout the movement compensatory acceleration training. It is the continual firing of the muscle fibres throughout the full range of movement (ROM) brought about by attempting to accelerate the load so "that maximal force is being delivered throughout the movement". Of course, the braking at the end of the ROM will have to take place, or the joint will be destroyed. As an aside note, some fascinating studies are going on now regarding moving this braking effect later on into the stage of the lift. This implies more (as in time duration) lasting power can be put into the lift before it has to be slowed down at the end position.
Each time a particular load is moved quicker, more power is displayed. Recall the power formula where 'P' represents Power, 'F' represents force, 'D' means distance and 'T' is representative of time. Putting these components together we have P = (F x D) ÷ T. Now if we can move a specific load over a measured distance in an exact amount of time, we produce a quantifiable measure of power, also known as explosiveness or explosive strength, i.e. the ability to rapidly increase force (Kurz 2001). Take the same example and move the same load the same distance in a shorter amount of time, and you have increased your explosiveness. This is what we are trying to accomplish by speeding up the bar travel during the lifts, more power, more explosiveness and greater results on the scoreboard.
Remember the mind-muscle connections.
You must concentrate on developing a faster bar speed at all times during the concentric portion of the lift. Bar speed will give you that all-important momentum; yes, I said momentum, and it is not a bad thing to have in a bench press, contrary to what many may believe. Developing and maintaining fast bar speed will move you into and past the common sticking points in the bench press. Imagine starting the bar upward rapidly. Now as it approaches the sticking point with the deltoids and pectoralis transitioning the lift to the triceps, the speed is high enough that this point is moved upward into the triceps alone.
There are many ways to increase bar speed, but 'thinking speed' is essential in all cases. Make use of the mind-muscle connections by continually thinking of pushing the bar faster and faster every second of the lift. Developing this over-speed or fast bar through training teaches the body how it feels to move this fast.
This, in turn, is transferred to the competition phase. "The faster movement allows all systems of the body to gain experience in how to function under a faster condition. When the faster than normal exercise is removed, and the athlete once again trains at a normal unassisted maximal speed, the body remembers the previous feeling of fastness and applies it to normal conditions." (Brunner & Tabachnik 1990)
As with any training method, the speed increases "should be gradual to allow the body time to adjust to the new levels of stress, it should provide a continual overload stimulation to improve performance and should involve systematic adjustments in parameters that influence the desired end of the progression." (Kurz 2001)
Here are a few strategies to increase your bar speed
Auditory stimulation set at the predetermined bar speed. Each should be loud enough to be heard during the lift:
Central nervous system stimulation
These are designed to positively affect the nervous system by stimulating the body before the competitive exercise. The tonic effect of plyometrics and jumping exercises before performing the competitive exercise can act as a stimulant
Here are some methods that can be used to increase the bar speed without additional equipment.
The use of several different pieces of equipment can aid in developing this ingredient of concentric speed and are invaluable to the 'over-speed developmental' process.
The Flex Bands® come in various strength sizes and are graduated according to their description and colour.
When using a Flex band® the use of a 'larks head' knot works well to secure the band around a solidly attached chin-up station bar or power rack top. Or, you can loop it over the bar; make sure it does not come off the bar at the top of the move when the weight is unloaded.
An excellent book entitled "The Scientific and Clinical Application of Elastic Resistance" by Phillip Page and Todd S. Becker is devoted to the use of elastic resistance devices. This book is available through Human Kinetics
If you do decide to use elastic resistance, then here are a few precautionary notes on the use of the rubber tubing or rubber bands:
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About the Author
Danny O`Dell is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of several training manuals including The Ultimate Bench Press Manual, Wilderness Basics, Strength training Secrets, Composite training and Power up your Driving Muscles. Danny has published articles in national and international magazines describing the benefits of living a healthy fitness lifestyle.