Shoulder Setup

February 19th, 2014 by Laura

Since i have a knack for misinterpreting cues, the ‘squeeze your shoulder blades’ cue had me tensing and bunching soft tissue so tightly, I was in an awkward position and my arms were almost straight out to my sides for bench. My overhead work was awkward, too. For me, the ‘squeeze’ cue for bench has no stopping point. Maybe because I’m very flexible, or maybe just my skewed interpretation.

Retraction of the shoulder (as prescribed in the bench), to me, means push the shoulder blades down. Again, no real stopping point if you are a bendy person. I tend to overemphasize that movement with the overlying muscles (squeezing with no purpose).

I started reading about “packing the shoulder” regarding overhead movements at first.

Shoulder Packing
When Coaching Cues Attack! “Packing the Shoulder”

In a nutshell, you pull the shoulders into their sockets. There are a lot less ‘options’ trying this overhead than there are horizontally, so I spent some time getting acquainted with what this felt like with overhead movements:
retract overhead

Then I tried it horizontally.
retract back

Next, I worked with horizontal dumbbell retractions, straight arm pulldowns, and setting up properly for all horizontal and overhead pushes and pulls.

Moving on to bench, pulling the shoulder into the socket was a short and strong movement, like clicking a padlock shut. There is a definite stopping point – pull it in and that’s it. Click! (Or, NO click since my shoulders are now in a safe position).

This position was immediately stable. I felt the entire bra-strap back fat region light up (for lack of better term), which is the same area that I force to light by twisting the bar. I was able to pull out the bar with my lats and let the weight settle heavy in back rather than wobbling all over the bench. My ROM feels shorter.

I performed some heavy unracks with this setup and felt invincible. For some extra confidence, I partial benched weights that I hadn’t even been able to unrack in weeks prior.

At this time, this seems to cover most of my bench shoudler setup, and the leg drive into the bench is taking care of the rest.

Maybe this will evolve to figure out how to “squeeze” on top of what I am doing. Or, maybe the squeezing action is intrinsic with the retraction. There is an instant connection to the heel of the palm, a sturdy and straight wrist, pinky and ring finger, lats, and a tight grip.

This was applied to all upper body movements and diminished shoulder pain greatly. Overhead pressing performance improved immediately.

Video Comparison
In my first bench session after the shoulder setup revision, I easily benched a weight that I nearly failed 2 weeks before. It was not ‘perfect’, but there are obvious stability differences between the first clip and the second.

It is embarrassing to see the second clip in this vid. The bar is wobbling everywhere. Not sure why I decided to lift my feet UP and slam knees together when I normally rely so heavily on leg drive.

Bench Cues

February 1st, 2014 by Laura

Notes on my current bench style

Bench Setup
1. Feet narrow
2. Forehead to bar. Then, Head, Traps, Upper Back on bench.
3. Wiggle feet back (not so far that the hip explodes).
4. Shift feet out to engage glutes.
5. Shorten distance between shoulders and hips.. Point chest at wall behind me.. Test drive to upper back.
6. Take bar deep in hand and lock it tight
7. Pack shoulders, push into sockets
8. Tighten everything, huge breath.
9. Pull bar out with lats, very small and forceful movement. Not a giant bunny hop.
10. Re-sink weight by retracting again (pull down with bra strap back fat muscles if can’t figure out how to retract again from there)

Cues for Execution of Lift
1. Big Air
2. Pull bar into lats
3. Stay under the bar
4. Triple Pause (makes me grip the bar harder and be deliberate as it nears the chest as though i were still triple pausing rather than panic and loosen up)
5. Flare elbows ** ( admittedly, I really don’t know what I am doing with this yet. I am freaking out so much at the chest again I can’t even think about anything other than getting the hell out of there, so this is for later )

Videos of Good Bench Days

Bodyweight Bench for Reps

165 Touch and Go, was able to get knees farther below bench here

170 Paused


Bench Banding

November 2nd, 2013 by Laura

To keep tightness on unrack
Brocksteins – loop band around the bar to pegs on back posts of cage and practice unracking

For a more stable base with the upper body and keeping lats active during bench
Bands around wrists

To engage glutes and core
Bands around knees

For leg drive
Bands looped through belt to feet. Video below. (Thank you to Euqinom for this tip)

When I am in off seasons or in lighter cycles, I seem to get a bit lazy with some technique elements. I won’t notice until I start working closer to my max. Adding band set ups periodically during those times (whether I think I need it or not) help me refresh and reinforce things I might not notice have slipped.

Bench Tech Problems and Solutions

July 26th, 2013 by Laura

A collection of bench issues that have come up and ways they have been fixed.

Problem: Can’t find lats
A. Pinkies and ring finger (Pavel)
B. Retractions pre-bench
C. Straight arm pulldown, light row, plate hold, pull up hold
D. Bench with fat Gripz
E. Hyperextend elbows along with shoulder retraction

Problem: Chest flattens
A. Point chest at wall behind you
B. Head, neck, then upper back on bench, in that order
C. Bring butt to shoulders
D. Raise chest (duh)
E. Move feet closer to head
F. Take bigger air

Problem: Cant remember how to retract or set shoulders
A. Don’t attempt to retract until leg setup is done
B. Use leg drive to push into bench
C. Hold arms out super-straight and stiff/ Hyperextend elbows along with shoulder retraction
D. Twist bar
E. Push against bar a bit to slide shoulders into sockets
F. Bench with fat Gripz

Problem: Hip Pain
A. I went too wide. Set up narrow and angle feet out for drive.
B. I went too far back

Problem: Messy bar path
A. Chest flattened or some other inconsistency that is changing the angles at the top
B. Not paying attention. Focus. Count to 4 in my head on the way down, build tension at each point and connect the dots.
C. I don’t have a stable base. See ‘Cant remember how to retract or set shoulders’
D. I’m flaring my elbows off the chest

Problem: Messy unracks that feel heavy
A. I don’t have a stable base. See ‘Cant remember how to retract or set shoulders’
B. Not retracting or resettling the weight
C. Twist the bar out of the rack
D. I’m using too much momentum to ‘jump’ the weight out of the rack

Problem: Missed leg drive
A. Angle feet out and push into upper back
B. Keep drive engaged on way down and let it build
C. Hip thrusts pre- bench
D. Get legs totally set up and test drive before attempting to set up shoulders. The leg drive set up simplifies what I do with shoulders to one small step whereas if I do it fist, it feels more hit or miss/ complicated

Bench Chest Sticking Point

June 1st, 2013 by Laura

I hate this sticking point. Assuming that the weight wasn’t just too heavy and I got stapled, this one means that I basically forgot how to bench. Not as quick a fix as other sticking points but every time I have to refresh with this, it gets easier.

Triple-Paused Bench Press
This type of paused bench was a misinterpretation of something that I read but it works out really well for me. It was a lucky miss.

  • Bring the bar down, pausing 1-2 inches off the chest on the eccentric. Think of bringing chest to the bar instead of the other way around.
  • Pause for a moment, then bring chest up to touch the bar for the second pause.
  • Begin the ascent, pausing again 1″ off the chest on the concentric.
  • **Be precise, deliberate and sharp with the movement. The tendency as you fatigue is to get sloppy and make the pauses higher off the chest.

    The pattern from this bleeds into a normally paused rep as extra tensing where I would normally loosen up.

    I find that a little bit of overload work or heavy (over-max) partials can be confidence-boosting, but it makes no sense that I spend too much time locking that out when nowhere near that amount of weight is coming off my chest. I do best when I keep the exposure to that low and hit something overload-y maybe once every 7-10 days, just touching on it before or after my normal benches. If my overloaded benches are just swimming along and my bench is going nowhere, I’ll drop overload stuff further (or altogether). Paper Towel Roll Press is my favorite overload-y movement. I press to a roll of paper towels secured to my chest with a band. I like it because it sinks in a bit and is less cumbersome to work with on my own than boards. I’ll alternate between a skinny dollar store roll and Bounty (for when I want to go heavier).

    Use nothing that gradually lightens tension at chest
    I need to stay away from reverse bands/ lightened work/ slingshot, etc. These tools have yet to do anything for me other than train me to expect the weight to get progressively lighter as it nears the bottom. That bleeds into my regular bench as relaxing near the chest and a loose, lazy start to the ascent- the exact thing I am trying to avoid. A hard stop (like the paper towel roll press) does not seem to do this as long as it is used sparingly.

    Annihilate Lats
    Heavy rows, volume rows, pull ups, inverted rows… Annihilate lats. Do something every day.

    Wake the Lats Before Benching
    Bring awareness to the region in the back that lights up as you twist the bar. Some favorite moves:

  • Hold plate to chest and contract against it
  • Straight arm pulldown
  • Row to chest with iso hold
  • Pull-up hold
  • Band pull-apart hold
  • Relate
    Relate lat work and any bench-related work to the bench. Similar time under tension, brief pause/ iso-hold at the base of the movement, feel the bench in that movement

    Grease the Groove
    Grab a broomstick whenever the urge strikes and hold it out, try to turn palms facing while holding and squeezing it. Contract lats and bring the bar to sternum. Pick a deliberate point to touch down to and push chest toward it, esp in the last inch. Contract everything isometrically and feel how tight that position is. The more I put myself through the movement, the more efficiently the bench muscles fire.

    Bench with Bands Across Wrists
    Teaches and enforces a stable base.
    Things I Tried and Didn’t Like:

    Negative Bench- horrible
    Lowering the weight with no intention of bringing it back up might possibly be the worst thing I tried for this. My hope was that it would teach me to control the eccentric but it encouraged relaxing at the bottom of the lift.

    Dead Bench
    I abandoned the cycle because I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it other than sore shoulders. My main problem in the bench was that I was panicking and losing tension at the bottom. This variation is probably good for strength out of the bottom, but it doesn’t address maintaining tension throughout the lift and not panicking at the reversal. So I abandoned this to make room for something else. If I do ever try dead benches again, I want to do the off chains instead of the safeties. I had a lot of trouble setting up under them and irking my (normally healthy) shoulders regularly.