Be Less S**t | The Competition Bench Press
If you came here looking for elaborate technique suggestions or exercises to enhance your arch, you've come to the wrong place. Whilst changing your technique can often lead to serious gains, it's impossible to provide a "one size fits all" approach, as a number of anatomical variables play into finding the best technique fit for an individual. What we're focussed on is maximising your competition bench press numbers.
Bench pressing is pretty simple but we often see good lifters fall short of their potential in competition due to ill-preparedness, sometimes leaking in excess of 10kg's vs their best in the gym.
This article is designed to address some basic failures we see in competition that can be helped by small tweaks to your training.
Hold the Weight
In competition, there are 3 things that will happen before you can start the lift:
The weight is lifted out either by yourself or by the center spotter
You have to wait for at least one of the side judges to indicate to the head judge that the lifter's feet are flat and their buttocks are touching the bench (Among other things).
The head judge gives you the start command provided elbows are locked and the head is down
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this 3-step process takes around 3-5 seconds to complete. That's 3-5 seconds where you're likely holding near your 1 rep max above your face. A max attempt is hard enough at the best of times so when you're training at the gym, doing single lifts or top sets make sure you hold the weight for a few seconds before starting.
Holding the weight for a reasonable period before your top set of bench press, or top training single can be useful for preparing you for competition conditions.
Holding the weight in before starting the eccentric part of the movement in training can help prepare you for competition.
Wear Appropriate Footwear
In the IPF and its affiliates, you are required to have your feet flat to the floor during the bench press.
Now that's out of our system, a common cause of a lifter bombing from the competition, or an otherwise good lifter falling short of their potential is the shoes they choose to wear. The rules require a lifter to have their feet "as flat as the shoe will allow". The problem with that is, however, that some kinds of shoes will make it look like the lifter's feet aren't flat OR make it even more obvious that the feet aren't flat.
Chuck Taylors are notoriously bad for this (at least in the NZPF lifting scene). They may feel good due to their rubber sole but they're certainly one to avoid in our humble opinion.
Here's some good bench pressing footwear:
Please note: We've seen lifters fail to get their feet flat in a wide array of footwear. Before competing, film yourself from the side and be honest as to whether your feet look flat.
A7 Slippers are known for their anti-slip, flat sole.
Avoid Benches That Boost Your Ego
Sadly any bench isn't a bench and often, commercial gyms, or benches readily available to buy through the internet are oddly shaped, higher off the ground, more cushioned, or a combination of these, when compared to a competition bench press.
Anecdotally (No, we don't have any science to prove this, yet), a higher and softer bench press allows a lifter to get into a more advantageous position, with a higher arch and "on" their traps which on many occasions will allow the lifter to bench press more than they could on a competition bench.
Many years ago, when I first benched 140kg in competition I was training on a bench that was around 4cm higher and much softer than a competition bench. I failed 135kg twice in competition whilst eating in a caloric surplus and working with an experienced powerlifting coach.
Powerlifting specific gyms will often have bench press stations the same as, if not closer to the bench you'll use in a powerlifting competition.
Eleiko benches are often used in Powerlifting competitions.
Get Your Mates to Ref
Have your mates or even better, a real powerlifting judge do your bench press calls in the gym, when approaching heavy loads. This doesn't just go for benching but should be most utilised for it as there's a lot of room for technical error I.E your buttocks coming off the bench, head coming up etc.
It's not uncommon to hear from a lifter in a competition "that pause was really long", or "My butt doesn't usually come up".
Both of the above can often be attributed to not practicing lifting to competition standards.
As basic as it sounds, consistency is key. In a competition, you can put chalk on your upper back to stop yourself from slipping and you'll also likely be able to if you train at powerlifting gyms (Such as NSBB).
If you train at a chalk-hating commercial gym you'll need something to keep you steady on the bench. An A7 "Bar Grip" T-shirt is ideal, as the print on the bar of the shirt will keep your upper back in place on the bench however, if you're after a cheaper option a non-slip mat from your local discount retailer will work reasonably well.
Not slipping in training is especially useful when performing heavy reps. An upper back that stays in place will help maintain your position from rep to rep.
You'll often see Eleiko racks covered in chalk during competition but most gyms won't allow you to do this.
In competition, the bench press is an excellent opportunity to make up KGs. Whether you're competing in a powerlifting meet to set some official PBs, or take on the best in the world, everyone can benefit from being less "s**" on in the bench press.
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