How To Get The Most Speed Possible Off Your Chest For A Huge Bench Press by Jared Bachmeier for CriticalBench.com
There are several ways to get speed going raw or (pop) when using a shirt when trying to bench the most weight possible. Increasing your speed is about the easiest way to boost your bench-the faster you get the weight moving the more momentum you have to help carry you through the lift to the lockout. Sometimes though, you have a weak point that limits your ability to gain speed. I have found that if you know you have a weak point or a slower spot during the lift, the best way to overcome this is to start training from a dead stop from that point. Since you'll have no movement-induced momentum to help you through the weak point, it will help you build strength until it no longer is a weak spot anymore.
I used to have a problem around a 2-3 board area on the bench. I have always been able to get plenty of speed off my chest but I would slow down or miss a lift right around that point, so I began doing sets off a 2 board. When I first started, I was really weak off a 2 board-much less than my full-range press. If you are working in a shirt you also want to work in a raw day every 2-3 weeks also. This enables you to build up your shirted bench and your raw bench from that weak point. After a month or two of doing this, I no longer had a slow or weak point around the 2 board area. In fact, I am actually strong there now. And, my full range press still has the speed off the chest and it carries through the lift to lock out with out slowing or stopping in that area any more.
So if you find that you are getting stuck on your chest, you can try this for yourself, working both raw and in your shirt. Learning to do it properly just takes practice. First, bring the weight down and when you touch your chest, don't let the bar sink in at all, but pause for 2-3 seconds. From that point try and get the bar moving as fast upward as you are able to. Some guys-if their shoulders can handle it-use a cambered bar to actually go lower than the chest. This builds the muscles so that when you do come down and touch your chest those muscles are stronger from that point and just below-helping you to get the bar moving.
I've been reading lately that lots of guys are having difficulty right off the chest. For many of these guys, weakness in the lats could be part of the problem. Whether you're in a shirt or not, your lats are going to be the most important thing in getting you down in the right position and helping keep your elbows in and staying tight. More important, it gives you that extra power you need to get heavier weight moving right off your chest.
The easiest way to tell if your lats are not strong enough for the amount of weight you are trying to press is to have someone watch when you lower the weight. If your lats are not strong enough, at the bottom of the lift just before touching your chest your elbows will flare out instead of staying tucked in like they should. When that happens, you lose your leverage to get the bar going back upward. By flaring out your elbows early, you lose most of your power and will most likely miss the lift.
It's important to keep your elbows tucked throughout the lift. With your elbows tucked in, when you touch your chest you're able to use both your lats and your tri's to drive the bar up. You should stay tight the entire time so that it should feel almost like a spring. The farther down you go, the more pressure you should feel on your lats and tri's so that when you touch and are ready to press, you let the spring go and explode.
The only time your elbows should flare out is right when you start moving into the lockout part of the bench. By doing this you take a lot of the stress off your pecs and shoulders. This results in fewer injuries and reduces the risk of tweaking shoulders or pecs. Your lats have the potential to be very strong, and when build them up, you'll find that you're able to handle more weight and your max bench press will increase considerably.
When I train my lats-regardless of the exercise-I keep my elbows in like I would while benching. If I'm doing lat pulls I will use a wide grip, tuck my elbows in, and pull the bar down lower towards my top two abs like I would benching. I do the same thing with narrow grip pull-down, pulling the bar down low with my elbows tucked in. When I do that, I can really feel that working the bottom half of my lats. It's the same for seated rows. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and get a wide grip on the bar, pulling towards your abs.
I do the same thing when training my upper back. I make each lift with my shoulder blades as tight together as possible. If you do this, it builds strength and helps get you used to doing the same thing-keeping your shoulder blades tight together-when you're benching. If any part of your back is not strong enough, when you get to a certain weight you will flatten out, lose your arch and your shoulders will flatten out. When that happens, you lose your leverage and power to drive of the chest. So you can see that this type of focus not only makes your back and lats stronger, but it improves your bench too.
In benching, using the legs is almost always overlooked-not many guys understand the benefit of this. It doesn't matter how you set up-with your feet out like I do, or tucking them under you-leg drive is one of the most important things that can help get the bar off your chest. Your legs-and lats too-come into play after you get set up and lower the weight. As soon as you get that press command everything needs to fire at the same time-your lats, legs and everything. To incorporate your legs, you need to push off your heels and drive back into the bench. Think of it as pushing yourself back into the bench on your neck or traps, not up, with your legs.
Doing this provides extra drive to help get the bar moving upward. And for me-since I touch low-the leg drive pushing back gets the bar moving back over my face a little so I can flare my elbows at the top and lock the weight out. When I'm not able to use my leg drive on a max bench attempt the weight will stop about half way up, and be too low towards my feet. If I had gotten my normal drive I would have had more speed off the chest and it would have helped bring the bar back towards the rack a little and I could have flared and locked it out instead of getting stuck just before that point. Getting the timing down properly and learning to use all of the leg drive possible is not easy and does not happen overnight. Like anything worthwhile, it takes work and practice but the effort does pay off.
During an attempt you need to make sure you are set up properly. First, you want to be sure to get as high of an arch as you can while also getting your feet set. Next, pull your shoulder blades together as tight as you can. When you grab the bar squeeze it hard-very hard. I turn my hands slightly inwards to help get my elbows in a little tighter. When you get your hand off, or un-rack the weight you need to maintain your body just like that-let nothing relax and keep everything as tight as you can. Before lowering the weight, take a deep breath, holding it in your stomach not your chest. This will force your abs and core to stay tight as well. Then when lowering the weight, focus on maintaining your arch, keeping shoulder blades together, and your elbows in. Let your triceps ride down and keep them against your lats. Keep everything as tight as possible.
If you have the lat and back strength to hold your arch during all this you should feel a lot of pressure and be ready to explode. Right after the bar touches your chest, everything needs to fire. Focus on keeping your elbows in and using your lats and your leg force to drive the bar off your chest. By staying tight and using all of these muscles, you should generate enough speed to carry you into the part of the lift where you can start to flare your elbows and finish locking out the weight. The more speed you can generate the easier it will be to get through the middle part and the lockout at the end.