T Nation

Stuck in the Middle 1/3

Got another quick question for everyone. I’ve got a friend that can get through the bottom 1/3 and top 1/3 of any bench press (incline, decline, flat), but gets stuck in the middle 1/3. Any tips on working that section of the lift?

Just wanted to bump it back up, see if anyone had any ideas.

You can try partials in a rack to work the strength in a certain range. Just set the pins so that the bottom position is where your friend usually sticks.

3 comments. (1) your friend has got to work on speed off the chest to blow through the sticking point; (2) over-load the sticking point with partial range movements like floor presses, board presses and rack lockouts; and (3) Tricep work, tricep work, tricep work…

Look for Dave Tate’s article on how to bench 600lbs. It gives a good outline on bench training.

Give some of those ‘isometronics’ that Charles Poliquin writes about a go. The poliquin principles is a good starting place! basically same as before, place the pins of a power rack at about the sticking point away from your chest, do 6-8 partial range reps, on the last rep push against the pins maximally (don’t hold breath) for 6-8 secconds. If this is done correctly your friend should not be able to do another rep, if he can, up the weight.

tell him to SLOW DOWN!!! how do I just know that he benches “explosivly”? I would bet money that he explodes up on his benches, what happens is the first third is overloaded and after the momentum leaves the last third is overloaded. again tell him to SLOW DOWN!!peace

Sorry Hetyey, you are just plain WRONG about the advice that lifting explosively is causing weakness in the middle third of the bench. It seems to me that the faster the bar moves off of the chest, the further the bar will travel upward. Thus, the faster the bar moves, the easier it is push past a sticking point. Moreover, the bar must be lifted with compensatory acceleration. Just because you “explode” off the chest doesn’t mean your muscles relax after the initial impulse. Rather, you continue to attempt to accelerate the bar throughout the lift. Additionally, from a physiological point of view it makes no sense to move the bar slower than is possible when lifting near one’s 1 RM. The ATP-CP energy system is used for such muscular contractions – this energy system peaks within a second or two, so it you cannot complete a max effort lift (1 RM) in less than 2 seconds you need to get a hell of a lot faster if you want to get stronger. Beyond about 2 seconds, weaker, but longer lasting, energy systems take over. Now, lifting more slowly than physically possible may be fine and dandy for general fitness and bodybuilding, but it is not optimal for speed, power and limit strength training. An athlete MUST train all non warm-up and non-active recovery sets ALONG THE FORCE-VELOCITY CURVE. Maximal force must be applied to each weight used throughout the range of movement. Sometimes the bar will move relatively quickly (i.e., when light weights and high velocity are used) at other times, the bar will move relatively slowly (i.e., when heavy weights and corresponding slower velocity are used) but at all times, the bar is lifted as fast as is possible. This is not to say that there is no place for slow concentrics (there is) or isometric training (there is), but the concentric portion of any lift must be made maximal available force and speed. I will say it again, training below the force-velocity curve (again I am not referring to active recovery or warm-up/cool-down) is sub-optimal for athletic training and is much more applicable to body-building.


Matthew A. Levy

training explosively is dangerous! never ever do it! !!! lol

Try floor presses…and do train with good bar speed.

matt, then I would assume that you have never benched “explosivly” because EVERYONE I have known or observed bench “explosivly” have had the SAME results, great off the chest and great lock-out but the mid. is where they lack. say what you want but PLEASE THINK FIRST!!! the momentum will only last so long (about 1/2 of the lift, now at lower wt. the momentum will last longer maybe 2/3 of the lift) then muscles will have to contract (which I know everyone that likes “explosive” training is against). another thing PLEASE THINK, this person did NOT say wether they were BB or PL so to assume they were PL is wrong. let me quote you “the bar must move with compensatory accleration” WHY??? why MUST it??? tell me WHY this is good. PLEASE TELL ME how this is better than moveing slow and under control. PLEASE TELL ME!!! peace

Great post Matt… I heard a great analogy used by Dave Tate about bar speed. If a martial artist wants to break a board does he slowly push through the board. NO. the board wouldn’t break. He explodes into the board. Now think of this board as your sticking point.

Okay, maybe I can help to keep this little debate from becoming an all out flame war. Ebbertt, what’s your goal? How do you now train? If your a PL’er and trying to push more weight, then yes, you’re going to want to explode through that sticking point, and build up that explosive strength. Basically you’d be wanting to pass that point so you can get to a new PR for your next meet. If you’re more into the BB thing or just trainng for strength and not PL, then I’d agree with Hetyey on the slowing down. If you slow it down, the gains you get will be true strength gains and not manipulations of technique. Mind you, “under control” speed isn’t the Super Slow stuff (30 seconds per rep). Tempo should be to where you could stop the weight anywhere in the lift and the bar wouldn’t travel any farther due to momentum.

Hetyey, I do an awful lot of thinking, thank you very much. Although I am not certified by any body, and have no degree applicable to this debate, I have read very widely from many different exercise disciplines. I have read everything from C. Poliquin, M. Metzger, I. King, S. MacRoberts, E. Darden, M. Bryzcki (sp?), A. Jones and many others (all of whom are or were in favor of lifting slower than possible at one point or another) to the writings of M. Siff, C. Staley, V. Zatsiorsky, Verkoshansky, F. Hatfield, T. Bompa, Hartmann, Tunnemann, D. Chu, C. Francis, L. Simmons, D. Tate, Fleck, Kraemer and many others who contradict this advice. My advice is based not only on the basis of my academic studies, but also on my own personal experience, the advice of just about every elite athletic trainer and good old fashion science (both physics and physiology). Funny that you would say that I must never lift explosively since I had a ME bench workout (I currently use the WSB system) this morning and I attempted to explode the weight up from my chest (I was performing steep incline close-grip bench presses). I get stronger every week during my strength phase. The funny thing is that, being an explosive lifter, my sticking point moves around. I choose exercises that address that sticking point or weakness and work on my speed off the bottom (or out of the hole in squats). Also, you shouldn’t assume that I have never tried lifting in the manner you prescribe – I have. I used to be anti-explosve lifting until my studies and experience convinced me otherwise. Anyway, back to the point…

What makes you think that explosive lifters are against using their muscles? What do you think an "explosive lifter" is using to get the weight off of his or her chest to begin with? I am not talking about those who bounce the weight, this is improper form, I am talking about someone who lowers the weight under control, touches the weight to his chest, pauses slightly and then attempts to accelerate the bar as fast as possible all the way to the top. The peak and mean force (as well as power generated) during this type of lifting is much higher than lifting a lighter weight at a slower speed than is possible (i.e., lifting below the force-velocity curve). Also, you asked why a trainee must use compensatory acceleration. The fact that you ask this question (coupled with your belief that "explosive" lifters do not use their muscles) convinces me that you do not understand explosive lifting very well. The "explosive" lifter does not merely impart an impulse at the beginning of the lift and then relaxes and lets the bar glide upwards. Not at all. Instead the "explosive" lifter attempts to accelerate the bar throughout the range of movement. In order to accelerate the bar, not only must muscular force be "turned on," at the beginning of the lift, it remains on and the lifter tries to increase the muscular force applied. A body in motion will stay in motion unless acted on my an external force. The barbell is being operated on by both the force of gravity and the opposing force generated by the muscles. In order to accelerate a bar, great and greater muscular force is required throughout the movement, not just at the beginning. This is why CAT (compensatory acceleration technique) must be used, because the athlete will be lifting along the force-velocity curve. If you think lifting like this is easy, you are quite mistaken. It is quite demanding when properly done. No, it does not generate the same sort of "burn" that slow lifting does, but then again, explosive lifting uses the phosphate energy system rather than the glycolic energy system, so there is not the same build up of lactic acid. Don't judge the effectiveness of a lifting method by the "burn" you feel. Additionally, by lifting explosively, you are training for myofibrillar hypertrophy as opposed to to sacroplasmic hypertrophy. Finally, explosve lifting benefits the CNS so that a trainee learns to use a greater and greater percentage of his or her muscle fibers. I ask you, if an explosive trainee fails at the middle 1/3 of a bench press, where does a "slow" trainee have his sticking point? At the bottom? 1/3? 1/2? 2/3? Or do you assert that slow trainees don't have sticking points?

To Brider: I just have a couple issues to discuss with what you wrote. First, “explosive” lifting isn’t a “technique” like the valsalva maneuver or the Fosberry flop. You seem to distinguish between “real” strength and explosive strength. Maximal strength is maximal strength (assuming we are talking about limit strength). The measure of limit strength is the most weight an individual can lift one time. Moreover, slower lifting is more of a test of strength-endurance than it is limit strength. It has also been noted by exercise scientists that strength gains acquired by slow training only manifest themselves at slow speeds whereas strength gains made while lifting explosively manifest themselves at all speeds. Additionally, you said that someone training for strength (as opposed to PL training) should lift slowly. Why? PL training is strength training, so a person training for strength whether or not they plan to compete in a PL competition must apply methods used to increase strength. Slow lifting (BTW, I mean lifting the weight more slowly than can be lifted – i.e., below the force-velocity curve) will teach your muscles to be slow (see my discussion re the CNS, above and in my answer to the question about why a person with bigger muscles can be weaker than a person with smaller muscles). Now, I am all in favor of a slow eccentric if you are into bodybuilding. Static holds at the bottom prior to concentric lifting is another great way to build strength (and both of these methods can be used to counteract the myotatic reflex), but I believe that optimal results will be achieved if every concentric lift is carried out as I have described.

BTW, here is another important point in blasting through sticking points. When you hit a sticking point and you know you cannot get the lift, DO NOT QUIT. Keep fighting at the sticking point. Thus, you are performing a true functional isometric. Keep pushing until then the bar starts to come back down or until about 4-6 seconds pass – whichever comes first (only then should your spotter take the bar from you). Since isometric exercises only improve strength within +/- 15 deg. of the joint angle trained, you will effectively be performing a functional isometric at the angle you need it most (wherever that may be).

I have no doubt that my words alone will not convince Hetyey that his advice is incorrect (and perhaps not Brider, although I am less sure about how resolute his beliefs are). I am not answering to start a flame war (I have nothing personal against either one of you). I am hoping instead that the person who asked this question will be presented with what I believe is the correct information so that his training may progress. Your opposing view-point(s) (while I believe incorrect despite the fact that they are given with the intention of helping) may very well cause the person who asked this question to try different training methods and to investigate them on his own. This is good. Each person must decide on his or her own what his or her goals are and what methods he or she will use to achieve them. It is still better to train using sub-optimal methods than not to train at all. I am confident, however, that if a true test is given to each of the respective methods discussed (for the purpose of limit strength, speed and speed-strength), that so-called explosive lifting will win out as the vastly superior method of training.


Matthew A. Levy

Matt – I think we really agree more than is on the surface. I’m not advocating anything approaching Super Slow, but a controlled speed, whatever that is for a particular trainee. For me, that amounts to about a 2 second concentric on benches (if that, I’ve never timed it). Continuous acceleration throughout a lift is definitely a good idea, and I think that’s what’s I’ve used, even at the “under control” speed. You’re spot on in my book about what to do when you hit the sticking point. I call it a “failed” rep, and that’s what I shoot for every set. My measure of limit strength is indeed the maximal weight one can lift IN CONTROL AND IN GOOD FORM. Maybe I’m way off base here, as I’ve never trained for PL or maximal sigles, but what I usually see is the use of massive amounts of body english and momentum in an attempt to lift more weight (post a higher number). I’ve seen a lot of the authors you named call this “demonstrating” strength. And finally, yes, the usual sticking point of a very slow rep is the bottom. For my bench, it comes at about 1/3, then at the bottom if I try for another rep. I do have a question for you. You mentioned at least twice “lifting the weight more slowly than can be lifted.” What is that supposed to mean? Does this imply some violation of the laws of physics? Just something I’m not understanding.

I agree that we are closer than I thought when I originally read your post. However there are a few differences still. To explain what I meant… When I refer to lifting a weight more slowly than it can be lifted I am talking about lifting below the force-velocity curve. Of course 60% of your 1 RM can be lifted faster than 95% if you use the maximal force possible – I am not talking about a repetition that moves slowly in the absolute sense, rather I mean a weight that moves slowly in the relative sense. The cadence of the rep should be as fast as possible for that rep. Also, while “cheating” can be used as a form of set-extension, I do not advocate breaking form to make a lift – only that the speed with which each lift is made be the maximal amount possible WHILE MAINTAINING GOOD FORM. This means, for example, that the butt has to stay on bench throughout the lift, the bar cannot bounce off the chest, etc… I define failure as the last rep that can be lifted in good form. Also, I do not lift the weight such that I could stop it at any point because I am literally trying to throw the weight into the air, however, my eccentrics are usually much more “controlled.”


Matthew A. Levy