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Bench Press: How To Get Stronger Unracking The Bar

bench press fail
Sometimes the small things can become very frustrating. This article is for those who have trouble unracking the weight in the bench press.

The muscles we want to strengthen here are the lats, delts and the long head of the triceps. Specially the lats, which are extremely important for stabilization in the bench press.

But we want to train these muscles in the fashion that you unrack bench presses, and those are pullovers.

This sometimes forgotten exercise can be a valuable tool for training your bench press weakness.

Barbell Pullover to Front Raise

You can do these with a straight barbell or Ez Bar. My advice is to use your regular bench press barbell.

This is the key exercise here as it is the one with the most carry over to racking and unracking the bench press.

Try to maintain the arms as straight as possible without straining the elbows, slightly bent and maintain that position throughout the movement.

Use a shoulder width grip or slightly closer.

Perform each rep with the correct ROM, don’t exaggerate but don’t half rep either.

Form > weight

major decline
Old-timers weren’t afraid of experimenting.

Dumbbell Pullovers

Your regular dumbbell pullovers.

Position dumbbell over chest with elbows slightly bent and keep them fixed throughtout exercise. Don’t turn it into tricep extensions.

Lower the dumbbell over and beyond head until the upper arms are parallel with the floor. Pull up over chest using your lats.

Machine Pullovers

If you have access to one, use it.

The main benefit is that while there is less resistance against the lats when you reach the starting point of the exercise above your face in the free weight version, machine pullovers help to maintain that tension throughtout the movement.

The machine provides constant tension over a greater ROM.

Serratus Barbell or Db Incline Shoulder Raise

serratus anterior muscles

Serratus anterior muscles A.K.A. “boxer’s muscle” originate on the upper eight ribs and get the name because of their mobility pattern.

When a boxer punches and reaches, his scapula is protracting and retracting and the serratus muscles come to work. They help us move our arms multi-dimensionally and fast. When the serratus anterior is flexed, it appears to lengthen the arm by moving the scapula forward toward the chest.

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Basketball player Manny Pacquiao

The serratus anterior muscles also assist in breathing. They stabilize the shoulder blades and spread the ribs for an inhale. The greater the inhale, the greater the internal pressure. (link to intra abdominal preassure).

Serratus also supports arm balancing. You will notice that gymnasts have well developed serratus muscles.

So if you want to improve your handstands, start strengthening these muscles.

serratus muscles
Weak serratus muscles contribute to neck issues, rotator cuff issues and poor circulation.

The incline bench puts you in a good angle to train them, but you can use a flat bench too. Here is an illustration on how to perform this exercise.

incline bench press

If you have any doubts on how to perform the exercise, click here for more details.

Bench Press Isometric Holds

Take your 1RM weight and try to hold it for 15-30 seconds in this position:

Isometric strength is an often overlooked aspect of training.

Try to even ‘taste’ weights beyond your 1RM.

If you hold and stabilize heavier weights than you can press, you will get more confident with your regular loads because you already balanced more weight than that before.
bench press
Arnold living the aesthetic life before it was cool.

Bench Press, Racking & Unracking After Each Rep

This will groove the movement pattern so it becomes more natural and help you get the lat strength for unracking and stabilizing big benches while building your press and muscles as usual.

Just put the weight in the rack and unrack it after every bench press repetition. Pull the weight out of the rack instead of pressing it out of the rack; think doing a pullover followed by a bench press.

You will be definitely getting out of your comfort zone here.

Skullcrushers with Extra ROM

Target the triceps with extra range of motion.

Healthy elbows and strong triceps equal strong pressing.

Weighted Pull Ups

Healthy shoulders and strong lats equal strong pressing.

Ditch The Spotter

If you always rely on someone to unrack the bar for you, you’re missing valuable strength development.

Ditch The Smith Machine

Do I even need to state the obvious.

If you want to find some practical use for this machine, I suggest watching this video:

The Workouts

While the pecs help initiate the movement, these exercises fit better in a ‘back’ workout.

So if you are a bodybuilder you can do these exercises on your back day, or it would be even better to train chest and back together arnold style.

If you are a powerlifter add them accordingly either on bench press days or rows and lat work days.

‘Back Day’ Friendly Workout:
  • Weighted Pull Ups 3-5 x 5-10
  • Unracking your 1rm for reps isometric holds 3 x 15-30 secs
  • Serratus Barbell or Db Shrugs 2-3 x 8-12
  • Barbell Pullover to Front Raise 3-5 x 10

‘Chest Day’ Friendly Workout:
  • Bench Press Racking & Unracking after each rep 3-5 x 10
  • Dumbbell Pullovers 3 x 10
  • Ez Skullcrushers with extra ROM 3-4 x 10
  • Machine Pullovers 3 x 10

My Shoulders Hurt

If pullovers cause shoulder pain, maybe you shouldn’t be benching at all in the first place.

Not all exercises are for everybody, even if you correct muscle imbalances and fix your shoulders, our bodies are designed in different ways and are better fit for different type of movements.

Establish your strengths and work on them.

Stop pursuing a lift that can put you out of the gym.

tl;dr: pullovers

If you apply these methods, all your press exercises will improve and your handstands and overhead work (snatch, jerk) will also benefit from stronger and more stable shoulders and lats.

In case you were wondering about the article’s image video:

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