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Strength

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.

Speed

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)[1]. 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 speed of movement, pay meticulous attention to the details of the lifting technique such as the proper rhythm and flow of the move, 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, just 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, there are some fascinating studies 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 are able to 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)[1]. 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 exactly what we are trying to accomplish by speeding up the bar travel during the lifts, more power, more explosiveness and greater results on the score board.

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 constantly 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)[2]

As with any training method, the increases in speed "should be gradual to allow the body time to adjust to the new levels of stress, it should provide a continual over load stimulation to improve performance and should involve systematic adjustments in parameters that influence the desired end of the progression." (Kurz 2001)[1]

Here are a few strategies to increase your bar speed

Sensory stimulation

Auditory stimulation set at the predetermined bar speed. Each should be loud enough to be heard during the lift:

  • Beeps at a faster than normal movement cadence
  • Whistles blown at the top or bottom of each repetition
  • Metronome set at varying training speeds above normal
  • Music with a certain beat that is comparable to the speed desired with the bar
  • Cadence counting, i.e. one, one thousand and one, two, two thousand and two, or one, two, three, four. This is effective as long as the count is consistent and at the right cadence or rhythm for the lift. We are talking speed here, so the coach has to pay strict attention to the spacing of the numbers and not let the motion of the bar affect the counting rhythm.

Sight

  • Flashing strobe light - beware of seizures or headaches at the different frequencies. Caution - each of your lifters to notify you if they experience any type of adverse reactions to the light. Be prepared to administer to any reaction. This light has to be visible, but not blindingly, to the lifter throughout the entirety of the lift. Do not direct it into the lifter's eyes at any time. We are not working on vision training now. This light must not affect other lifters in the gym.
  • A video of the lifter moving at a slightly faster rate that is visible to the lifter during the lift. Move the speed of the lift up just a bit but not so fast that it turns into a cartoon show.

Tactile stimulation

  • Body taps or touches - have a coach tap the lifter in a non-lifting area of the body at a specific rate necessary to increase the lifters repetition rate
  • Ball presses the bar hits the ball and goes rapidly upward. Similar to board presses but with a forgiving surface, that allows a rapid rebound rate. Heavy sponge rubber, spring-loaded boards make up a training tool that allows the bar to be lowered then 'sprung' back upwards with a flourish
  • Weight releasers - begin with a lightweight to build speed up and mid-way or at the sticking point the bar catches extra pounds and carries them through to the lock out
  • Vibrations set to a higher rep speed at each pulse the bar should be at a certain point in the lift:
    • Vibrate the bench
    • Vibrate the bar

Emotional stimulation

  • Lifting next to a person who is using a lighter weight
  • Constant encouragement from the coach about going faster
  • Lifting next to a person who has started out one half to one full repetition ahead and trying to catch up to that person

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

  • Jumping - push up jumps from the floor up to varying height boxes and back down again
  • Plyometrics - from varying height boxes to the floor and back up again

Here are some methods that can be used to increase the bar speed without additional equipment.

  • Use a rapid descent without crashing the bar on the chest. Make use of the pent-up energy from the eccentric contraction via the myotatic stretch reflex mechanism explode the bar back up again
  • The use of thirty to forty percent one repetition maximum weight
  • Partial range of motion movements at the self-determined sticking point
  • Control the weight at all times but as it nears three to four inches off the chest letting it drop faster and then stopping it to make use of the stretch reflex. Be very judicious in using this technique, as injury is always possible with a fast-moving bar at the end range of motion.
  • Non-cable controlled and non-counter balanced Smith Machine throws. Set the bench up EXACTLY positioned for your bench press. Try out a few benches to make certain it is correct for your groove path. Now load it with LIGHT weight not to exceed 10-20% of your one rep max in the machine. Now violently push the weight up and let go of the bar - this is dangerous so pay attention!!! What you are doing is eliminating the joints natural tendency to protect itself by braking the load before it causes damage. You are exploding throughout the entire concentric range of motion. Now with the weight going out of your grasp you must prepare to catch it on the way back down-do so just above your chest. Now push violently back up and repeat the exercise by catching it again. Do five to six sets of three repetitions. Take ample rest periods between each set so your muscles are refreshed and ready to make another maximum speed effort
  • Jump stretch bands attached overhead so the bar becomes lighter as it approaches the top of the lift.

Summary

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.

  • Jump stretch bands
  • Surgical tubing - see cautionary notes in Appendix A
  • Quick weight release apparatus
  • Rubber chest pads
  • Rubber cushions on the bar
  • Tight elbow wraps
  • Smith machine throws
  • Medicine ball drops

The Flex Bands® come in various strength sizes and are graduated according to their description and colour.

  • Mini band - 25 pounds per band
  • Light band - 50 pounds per band
  • Monster mini - 35 pounds per band
  • Average band - 75 pounds per band
  • Strong band - 100 pounds per band
  • Monster band - 200 pounds per band

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 just loop it over the bar; just make sure it does not come off the bar at the top of the move when the weight is unloaded.

Appendix A

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:

  • Avoid using the bands or tubing if you have long fingernails
  • Take off your jewellery, or other sharp things you may have on your body
  • Always check the condition of the tubing and bands before every use. Check for tears, abrasions, and wear. Replace if any of these conditions are noted. These implements can be very dangerous if left to decay. At the stretched-out position, if they break, they can come flying back in a violent manner causing injury to you
  • Always check the connections at the points of attachment before using the tubing or bands
  • Wear good eye protection while using the tubing or bands
  • Do not stretch the tubing or bands more than 300% longer than their normal resting length to help prevent them from breaking


References

  1. KURZ, T. (2001) Science of Sports Training, Stadion Press
  2. BRUNNER, R. and TABACHNIK, B. (1990) Soviet Training and Recovery Methods, Sports focus Publishing
  3. HOUGLUM, P.A. (2001) Therapeutic exercise for athletic injuries, Human Kinetics Publishing

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Attacking the sticking points that are inherent in all lifts. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 31 /April), p. 7-9

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • O'DELL, D. (2006) Attacking the sticking points that are inherent in all lifts [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/scni31a3.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Danny O`Dell is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning coach from the USA. He is the author of a number of 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 the healthy fitness lifestyle.

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