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by Daniel Remulla
A TECHNICAL BREAKDOWN OF THE BENCH PRESS HAND-OFF IN POWERLIFTING
The bench press – an ultimate test of strength and one of the standard measures of masculinity and physical prowess in the gym and on the streets. Whether you’re a powerlifter, an athlete or a fitness enthusiast we’ve all benched and we can all appreciate a solid bench attempt both in the gym and on the platform.
Can you recollect the last time you hit a big bench PR, a weight you’ve had in the forefront of your conscious every waking moment of your life, or a weight you’ve been training tirelessly to achieve? Remember how invigorating it felt; the surge of excitement and relief knowing the culmination of training has finally come to fruition? Nothing quite beats it in my opinion, especially for the bench press where progress and gains come at a snail pace. However, do you remember the hand-off you received (if any) for that attempt? Do you recall how the bar felt in your hands when your spotter handed you your ticket to PR city? Most powerlifters don’t remember and often neglect to acknowledge the spotter that blessed them with a PR breaking hand-off, a role I’ve coined as the “man behind the bar”.
The hand-off in a powerlifting specific bench press is a crucial tool and if done properly can be a big game changer in a supra-maximal bench press attempt. Its purpose is to assist the bencher with lifting the bar from a mechanically disadvantageous position on the rack, thus conserving valuable energy, increasing overall stability and providing an optimal scenario for success. Over the 6 years of my competitive powerlifting career, I’ve come to realize the importance of a solid hand-off both in competition and in training. I’ve developed a preferred hand-off technique and procedure that allows me to easily convey it to just about anyone. Whether it be an experienced or inexperienced teammate, training partner, an individual on the platform crew or a complete stranger. This gives me the peace of mind and confidence knowing that I can comfortably handle maximal & supra-maximal loads.
In this article I’ll take you through an in-depth look into the hand-off as I discuss my views around variability in the competition bench press and how to control them, the key components of the hand-off and tips on how to be the “man behind the bar”.
Considered to be the most multivariate movement in powerlifting, the bench press can be difficult to train for and master. On the platform the bencher has to constantly adapt to 2 variables:
When attempting a bench press, you want to eliminate as much variability as possible and ensure you have maximum control over your attempt. If you have more control of the situation and can anticipate in advance each possible scenario, your probability of success will be significantly higher. So how do you accomplish this when you have zero control over which chief referee and platform volunteer you get at your meet? Simple, you plan in advance.
Let’s say you end up with a notoriously strict head referee, someone who will not hesitate to make you hold the bar to your chest for what seems like eternity. Are they actually strict or are they just abiding by the rulebook? Referees must witness a multitude of pre-requisite actions before giving any of the three commands, including but not limited to the following:
To ensure you get the fastest possible commands, it is imperative to practice the pre-requisite actions during training. It is sometimes recommended to have your teammates and/or training partners ensure legitimacy by giving you the competition style commands for your training sets. Another way to plan in advance is to plan for the worst, and by that I mean accept that you may get a 3+ second pause on your chest regardless of how motionless the bar is. You can manage this by training with longer pauses so you become accustomed to handling maximal loads under these conditions. Consequently, if you receive a faster than anticipated “press” command you’ll be able to blow that bar right to the roof!
During the bench press segment of a powerlifting meet, it is generally safe to assume that the hand-off role will likely go to a platform crew member with some form of previous experience. However, it would be foolish and irresponsible of you to assume that they would know exactly how you like your hand-off without a brief explanation prior to your attempt. To account for this, make sure you march right up to him/her when the bar is loaded and take the time to precisely explain how you want your hand-off. With practice, your instructions should be brief, straight to the point and easy to follow. I find that with the right instructions anyone is capable of giving you your preferred hand-off regardless of experience. Here is an example of how I like to explain my preferred hand-off:
Count down from 3, when I say “up” you’re going to lift-off lightly and help me guide the bar out to just above my chest. When I say “release” you’re going to slowly and gently let go.
These instructions take me no more than 10 seconds to say and contains enough information for the platform crew member to execute my preferred hand-off.
THE KEY COMPONENTS OF THE HAND-OFF
THE MAN BEHIND THE BAR
Powerlifting has grown to be a community based sport run by volunteers and powerlifters alike. Always keep in mind that the “man behind the bar” is strictly a volunteer role filled by advocates who love the sport and want to give back. As such I urge everyone involved in powerlifting to challenge the role and strive to deliver the best quality hand-off each lifter deserves. Yes, it is a daunting role to have but the satisfaction of witnessing lifters break their personal records with your help is a worthy sentiment. Here are some tips on how to give the most impeccable hand-offs as “the man behind the bar”:
Working towards a bench press personal record can be a daunting task, especially with a plethora of uncontrollable variables in the way. Planning ahead, controlling for the variables and using the hand-off to your advantage are just some of the ways to significantly increase your chances at successful bench attempt. Now that you have a new found appreciation for the hand-off practice giving them out to your training partners so you can give back to the powerlifting community and take part in meets as “the man behind the bar”.