Here’s a slightly different variation on the 21-rep, rest-pause, extended set theme today with the floor presses.  I combined a wide-grip floor press, followed immediately with a narrow-grip floor press, while still maintaining the 21-rep theme.  In other words, the individual reps looked something like this: unrack with a wide grip, perform 1 wide-grip floor press, rack, immediately adjust hands to a narrow grip, unrack and perform 1 narrow-grip floor press rep.  Repeat for the Rx number of reps.  I took pauses as necessary with no regard as to whether the pauses were uniform (i.e., I didn’t worry about whether the pause followed a wide-grip rep or a narrow-grip rep).  Notice I pulled the plug at 20 reps on the narrow-grip part of the combo (I didn’t attempt the 21st narrow-grip rep), as I struggled with rep 20.

But Why? Why?  Why?…you hate the bench press, right?

While I’m personally not a big fan of the conventional bench press, I do believe that some variations of the movement are beneficial.  Of course, the bench press is like any other exercise in its usefulness being totally relevant to the individual;  for some trainees (especially those with short arms relative to torso length),  the bench press can be an excellent pectoral and upper-body power development movement.  For most people, though, there just (in my opinion) is not much carry-over value to be derived from the classic, flat bench movement.  Power lifting, of course, is a different animal altogether that requires specific bench press acumen – that’s a sport-specific topic, and not what I’m discussing here, or trying to achieve with this movement.  There are no sacred cows in my exercise toolbox, and I’ll unabashedly tweak any movement to fit my needs.  I modify the floor press to support my needs and goals by, among other things (1) performing dumbbell and barbell versions of the floor press, and (2) bracing myself in a glute-bridge which places me in a more natural, “flat” pressing position.  Notice I said “natural” and not “competition legal”.  Again, two different animals.

In this specific instance, I chose to alternate between both extreme hand positions of the movement, with the wide-grip (index finger a thumb’s width outside the bar’s outer smooth ring) version emphasizing the pectorals/shoulders, and the narrow-grip (index fingers approximately 6″ apart) emphasizing the triceps.  The obvious follow-up question is, why not just perform a regular grip floor press and be done with it? And true enough, I could have.  However, by going to extreme hand positions, I was able to really “isolate”/emphasize the pectorals (wide grip) and triceps (narrow grip); in other words, I am a natural “tricep” bench presser – my chest being the weak link in the movement.  Alternating the hand grips in this way allows me to push my pectorals and triceps both sufficiently and concurrently.  Note: notice the amount of work being performed in each part of the movement.  The bar travel on the wide-grip press is approximately 1/3 that of the narrow-grip press, with the same loading in each portion.  This translates to a significant power differential as well.  Note as well that if I were attempting to increase my bench press overall, I would be more concerned with bettering my weakness (chest), and this would necessitate a totally different angle of attack.  Know your goals, and plan accordingly.

Today’s workout: approximately 15 minutes of rigorous, ballistics and dynamic stretching, then –

  1. wide-grip/narrow-grip floor press combo: 135 x 3, 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 225 x 11 (wide) & 10 (narrow)
  2. GHR: bw x 5, 5 (ballistic sets), 30 x 3; 40 x 3; 45 x 21 rest-pause – mostly grouped in 3s and 2s

6 COMMENTS

  1. Keith,

    I think I understand (and agree) why a bench press is not your fav exercise.

    Would you like it better when it is performed more like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auRjYhGqaJM (at 0:46): a bench press movement combined with some kind of lunge, creating a full body pushing movement?

    (don’t mind a lot of the other exercises from the vid, just quickly searched youtube for a dual pulley vid)

    I think weights are great, but the resistance is always in the same direction. Of course you can alter your body position, but that has its limits. Think of the exercise I suggest as an ‘olympic’ kind of push: whole body engagement, powerful, but in the horizontal plane.

    best,

    Pieter

    • I think it’s a step in the right direction, if the trainee is looking for an enhanced sport-specific carryover. If you think of the pushing movement, and the use of that movement in sport, how much force would one realistically be able to apply while standing, running or even in a grappling/wrestling situation (i.e., without toppling over)? In terms of American football, for instance (and taking into account kinetics, body position, etc.) how much force can be applied – even if one is leaning in at a severe angle – in the pressing movement? I don’t have a qualitative answer for that, but it seems on an intuitive level to be much, much less than what can be achieved in the supported bench press. I’m sure a human kinetics/math wiz can quantify this value within a realistic and usable range, though (any takers?). So if the amount of force we can realistically apply is limited (my conjecture), then what we really ought to be shooting for with our press motion training is an increase in power via an increase in movement speed. This seems to be the line of thinking from the Marinovich camp as well.

  2. Keith,

    Thanks for the reply. Actually, your remark on the limited force that can be applied without toppling over, is also the thing I thought to be the problem.

    On the other hand, if a forward pushing movement is really the goal, this could still be useful. I can think of no ‘real life/sport’ situation where you push and don’t need the trunk and legs for the ground reaction forces (or maybe a wrestler/judoka on the ground?). If you topple over in the exercise, you will topple over in the real life/sport situation.

    I guess the exercise suggested in my comment will be relatively easy on the chest/arms and relatively hard for the abdominals, and somewhere in between for the legs?

    Should one train (strength/power) these body parts separately in a non functional way, and put them together in the very specific task (a punch, a tackle, …). Or do you think vertical shoulder push/press and dips will develop enough strength/power for the horizontal movement?

    Thanks,

    Pieter

    PS: I had to google Marinovich, now I know… You know, in Belgium , football is probably the number 5 sport, if you start counting from least popular to most popular. You must be thinking ‘silly Europeans’ 😉

    • I think the answer is not either/or, but both. Ideally we’d want to shoot for just enough raw pressing strength so as to be maximally useful (transferable) in a functional manner. Any raw strength over and above what can be used in a functional manner equates to just so much “wasted” training time and energy that could have been put to use training other modalities. And here’s where that delicate balance comes into play – the danger of strength training the speed out of an athlete. To revisit the Allyson Felix example, increasing to a 2 x bw DL had the effect of dramatically improving her sprint times, as, at that point in her career, she was strength deficient. At some point (a 2.5 bw DL?) she reached a point of diminished returns, and turned her focus to bettering some other “weakness” while doing just enough strength work to maintain adequate levels. As another weakness improved, it is conceivable that she may have then been able to wring some more value out of acquiring additional strength. And so the assess/fix/adjust/reassess dance continues…this is (or ought to be) the core question of every trainer in his every interaction with an athlete – what’s the goal? What’s the most glaring deficiency relative to that goal? What’s the best fix?

      BTW, I meant to provide this Marinovich link in my last post. Sorry to send you off to the Google-sphere 🙂 And hey, what you Belgians lack in American football sophistication, you more than make up for in cycling bad-assness (big Eddie and Axel Merckx fan, here). I do find it interesting how culture influences the leaning towards certain sports.

      • Keith,

        Thanks again.

        The point of diminishing returns is probably something you can only know a posteriori? Or could you predict it, dependant on sport and person? It probably is a true n=1 experiment…

        Ah, Eddy Merckx, our greatest! I guess not that many Americans are cyclist fans? Or did Lance change that? Actually, de Tour de France is popular, but the best Belgian cyclists aim for the ‘classics’. The Tour of Flandres, Paris-Roubaix and the likes are probably somewhat like a superbowl thing. Really crazy!

        Best

        • Yes, the point of diminished returns is largely an exercise in n=1 experimentation. General thumb rules can can help (as were discussed in the Strong Enough post), but really it boils down to the individual and his unique set of “givens” (goals, abilities, strengths, etc.). Strength, in my opinion, is the easiest of the qualities to improve – the flip-side is that it’s also the easiest to overdose.

          Yeah, Lance went a long way toward introducing mainstream America to cycling. Only a small minority follow the sport, though, and an even smaller subset of that follow the classics. Of course being American (and speaking of the classics), I’m a big George Hincapie fan. I really wish cycling would take off here like it has in Europe. Even more so, I’d like to train a cyclist using a high fat, Paleo approach. I really believe performances would skyrocket.

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