by Leon Brown
“START. PRESS. RACK.”
These are the commands for the bench press. When the lift moves exactly the way you want it, the bench press can be quite fascinating. In October 2017, it was the North American Powerlifting Federation’s (NAPF) Bench Press Championships that brought forth one of the most significant milestones in my powerlifting career. By God’s grace, I was able to break the 500 lbs bench press barrier that I had been fighting to achieve for years. That moment was an incredible blessing and accomplishment for my career.
Many of you know that my bench press technique is different than many of the other lifters I compete against. We are all built different and because of that we all lift differently. For example, for some, the back-arch position combined with a strong leg drive is the preferred benching technique. For myself personally, I am not comfortable with that style and that is okay. The way that we can move, think, and train are all unique. We need to go with the technique that suits our own individual bodies when lifting.
With that being said, I would like to share with you the inspiration and the process behind my bench press style with the hopes that it will help others improve.
My inspiration for the flat back bench press came from Para Powerlifting. Have you ever noticed how the Para Powerlifters bench? Have you noticed that their setup and execution does not use leg drive or over-arching when they lift? These impressive lifters have the ability to lift so much using the flat back style! I did a calculation on a lifter named Le Van Cong. Cong is a Vietnamese lifter with a body weight of 47.54kg. In 2016, Cong lifted a staggering 181kg, which would put him at a wilks of 191.023. You can see this incredible lift here:
Wasn’t that unbelievable! If Para Powerlifting was still included in the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), that would have put him as the top bencher of all time in the world for the classic bench press with that lift.
So now that you can understand my passion behind using this technique, I would like to share with you how I personally do my flat back bench press.
- Setup – Some of you may have noticed that as I approach the bench, I raised my hand above my head and point one finger up. I recognize that I would not have been able to make my lifts without the strength and guidance from the Lord, so I do this to give glory to God before I make my attempt. This action also helps me focus on the task at hand and serves as a reminder of why I do this. I find that why I am lifting is just as important as how I am lifting.
Photo credit: Loaded Bar Collective
After this, I would then approach the bench and position myself under the bar. It’s very important that my chin is under the bar. The reason I line up my chin under the bar is because it will allow me to take any stress off my shoulders when I lift the weight off the rack myself. Once I am lined up correctly, I would lift myself up to retract my shoulder blades and then dig them back into the bench as I begin to apply pressure to the bar.
- Lift-off – I lift the weight off by myself to balance the weight and to truly feel how heavy it is as it comes off the rack. It’s at this point that I begin to tighten my chest, lats, and triceps. I take a deep breath and begin to lift the weight using the back part of the rack as a guide. As soon as the weight is balanced and stable, I move the bar forward into the start position.
- Start – Once the judge gives the command for me to start the lift, I would exhale then take one more deep breath before I begin to move the weights. I would continue to keep my chest, lats and triceps tight as I descend the weight into the tightness of my lats. At this point, it is very important that your elbow stays partially tucked. The reason for this is that it allows for you to drive down into your expanded lats and create a greater tightness in your upper body. Think of this like a race car revving its engine before the race is about to start. All the power is just waiting to be released.
- Press – At this command the light has turned green and our race has really begun. All the power that we have saved up can now be shot out through the drive of the lift. Maximum pressure is the key here. It is important that all the power is expelled in the shortest amount of time. Keep in mind your breath as well as the continued tightness in your chest, lats, and triceps. When driving the bar up, start first with the force coming from your lats, then triceps, then finish with the strength in your chest as you continue to hold. All that movement should get the bar up off your chest and partway to lockout.
Photo credit: Loaded Bar Collective
This is where things get interesting. Once your triceps pull away from your lats, you will need to ensure that your elbows stay partially tucked and that your triceps are fully engaged. It is very important that you keep consistent power on the bar. Once you past the sticking point, the weight will start to move easier. At that point you will know that you reach the finish line and you can now release your breath and hold the weight in the lockout position.
- Rack – This is the final command where the bar is guided back to the rack by the help of the spotters. In the final moments as I leave the bench, I wait in anticipation until I hear the heartwarming words: “THE LIFT IS GOOD!” Oh, what a sweet refreshing sound that truly is!
Thank you for joining me on this journey. My prayer for you is that this blog will help you to look at your bench press with a fresh perspective.
I would love to hear from you so please contact me if you have any questions!
Blessings and have a great day!
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