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10 Versions of the Push-Up

The motivation to write this article comes from a driving force to remind people that often times in life the simple answer is the correct answer. Unfortunately, what seems to happen more often yet, is over complication of simple matters. In the fitness world, novices or the uneducated are guilty of this most of the time. In my opinion this happens for two reasons. One, it just seems too simple to be true and thus something more complicated must be the answer. Two, people just want to feel or look smarter for coming up with a complicated equation to solve a simple solution. These two reasons, even though they are wrong, are the only reasons I can think of for the lack of popularity surrounding the push-up in strength training.

If you are a frequent visitor of this blog you know my thoughts on the importance using the barbell lifts to build strength no matter your goals. However, a close second is body weight exercises and for the purpose of this article specifically the push-up. The push-up has been around since the beginning of time yet most people brush it off when it is referred to as one of best exercises to build upper body strength. I can only assume that this is because most people perceive it as boring and too simple to be so effective. In reality, it still is and always will be, one of the most effective ways of building not only upper body strength but also shoulder stability and health. For these reasons, it is one of the best accessory lifts you can choose to build a bigger bench press or overhead press yet I rarely ever see anyone doing pushups in the commercial gyms I visit. This can also be because pushups are generally very difficult for the untrained individual. Now, I have never not done an exercise because I deemed it boring. Heck I’d watch paint dry if I thought it would give me a bigger bench press. However, I am also not naïve to the fact that some may find the push up boring and I also respect the push-up enough to know that it can be very difficult for some people. So in the following sections I have provided how I teach my clients to progress the push-up and also different variations of the push-up you can try with all being effective in their own way.

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Different Versions of the Dumbbell Bench Press

If I had to guess I would say that the barbell bench press is the very first exercise that most people learn when starting to train with weights. It also doesn’t take long for a beginner to realize how awesome the bench press is and for the question “How much do you bench bro?” to become a regular part of their life.  As it turns out however, if you continue your weight training career past the first couple months of benching every day, you discover that there are a number of other exercises that are just as awesome. However, even as you mature as an athlete, bodybuilder, or powerlifter, yes I’m leaving out CrossFit, the bench press will most likely always hold a special place in your heart. It deserves a special place in our heart because the barbell bench press is or should be one of the major lifts of your program no matter your goals. Like I’ve already discussed in an earlier article (View the Article here: “Become Strong”) the barbell is the most efficient and effective way to build strength and mass and using the barbell bench press as a major lift will yield great results. Now, I talked about the barbell bench press to lay the foundation for what this article is really about; dumbbell bench variations and why they are important.

As I just pointed out, the barbell is the most efficient way to build strength and mass simply because it can be done with the most weight thus the barbell bench press and not dumbbell bench variations should be considered the “major lift” in your program. This is a problem I see with a lot of people in the gym, they misuse the dumbbell bench as a “major” lift and never quite see the strength and mass gains they would with the barbell bench press. This of course is disregarding injury or other outside circumstances. However, the dumbbell bench and its variations are very important accessory work. Dumbbell bench variations are a great tool to work on unilateral strength, stabilization of the shoulder girdle, and strength at different angles among other things. As with most exercises, it’s cool to see how much you can press on the dumbbell bench every once in a while, but by the very definition of accessory work you should stay with high sets and reps when it comes to the dumbbell bench variations and leave the max effort attempts for the barbell bench press. Following are a few different variations of the dumbbell bench press. You should try all of these at some point and switch back and forth between them pretty regularly. These can be done directly after your barbell bench work, on a completely different day, or during a de-load week.

Note: These videos were all filmed using a flat bench but can also be done using an incline bench.

 

Conventional Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Conventional Dumbbell Bench

 
Alternating Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Alternating Dumbbell Bench

 
Unilateral Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Unilateral Dumbbell Bench

 
Neutral Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Neutral GripDumbbell Bench

 
Reverse Grip Dumbbell Bench


Can’t play video? Click here: Reverse Grip Bench

 

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3 Exercises to Improve Bench Press Lockout

In all the years that I have been weight training I can count on one hand the amount of people I have come across in the weight room that wasn’t trying to get a bigger bench press. This is not counting the hamsters running on the elliptical for an hour at a time. Everybody, and I mean everybody, wants a bigger bench press and if you are the one person that doesn’t well then just keep quiet because you are weird anyways. I will always say that the best way to get good at something is to simply do it and do it often. If you want a bigger bench press then you must bench and bench often. However, there are ways to be creative and work on specific parts of the lift. Training specific parts of a lift is a form of weak point training and is how powerlifters train for competitions. Side note, you do not need to be a powerlifter training for a competition to use these techniques. Instead of looking at the bench press as one single lift we break it down into one lift that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are exercises and techniques to target each of these different parts of the lift and in this article I want to focus on the “end” of the lift which we refer to as the top or lockout portion. This is a common part of the lift to get stuck on, myself included. In the bench press the lockout portion of the lift involves a good bit of triceps so these three exercises I am about to discuss will also improve your triceps strength and size. These three exercises are very similar with some slight differences that make each unique but effective at helping you improve the lockout portion of your bench and thus a bigger bench overall.

Pin Press

The pin press is a great exercise for training to maintain tightness in the upper back, especially at the bottom of the lift, something that most lifters struggle with. It also trains explosiveness out of the “hole” or bottom portion of the lift because you are pressing from a dead-stop. However, as stated in the intro, the greatest advantage that I find with the pin press is the benefits of improving the lockout portion of the bench press. By shortening the range of motion of the lift, the pin press allows you to handle heavier weight and overload your shoulders and triceps. This will improve both your shoulder and triceps size and strength which will in turn strengthen your lockout. What separates the pin press from the floor press is that your entire body is still included in the pin press, legs included, something that the floor press does not include in the lift.


Can’t play video? Click here: Pin Press

In the video you will notice that the pins are placed right above my chest. I like placing the pins directly above my chest, not too high above, so that I can also practice staying tight at the bottom of the lift.

Floor Press

The floor press is unique because it takes away the bench. You set the pins at the very bottom of the rack and lay flat on the floor. Usually it puts you in a tough spot to un-rack the weight yourself so you may need a liftoff. Your legs are also lying flat on the floor, this will completely take your legs out of the equation. By taking your legs out of the lift even more emphasis is placed on your triceps. This is the reason this lift is effective at increasing triceps strength and size.


Can’t play video? Click here: Floor Press

In the video I am pausing at the bottom of every rep. The length of the pause can very but I highly recommend pausing to train explosiveness out of the bottom of the lift.

Board Press

The board press is a great exercise for training every possible sticking point of the bench press. You can use a one board press, a two board, three board, and a four board press for training different sticking points throughout the bench press. For the purpose of training the lockout phase of the bench press a three-board press is usually the go-to exercise. This obliviously shortens the range of motion so that you can handle heavier weight. The tough part of this lift is that you usually need two buddies to help you out. One holding the board on your chest and the other to give you a spot. You want to make sure that you keep a normal bar path when executing a board press. Do not change anything you normally do in your conventional bench press.


Can’t play video? Click here: Board Press

There are two ways you can use the board press. One way is like how I did it in the above video, bring the bar into the boards and think about squeezing the bar down into the boards, like you are trying to crack the board. This is a great way to train to squeeze your back, maintaining tightness throughout the lift. The other way is to barely touch the board before pressing it back up. This is effective at training to maintain control throughout the lift.

 

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How to Bench Press

Yes, It Is Awesome

Ahh the bench press. The holy grail of exercises. “How much can you bench?” is asked thousands of times a day (an educated guess) in gyms across the world. To most novice lifters, it’s the standard by which their peers judge how strong they are. Side note, experienced and mature lifters know that this is simply just one exercise and the judgment of strength is relative to what strength means to an individual or group of individuals but I digress. No matter how much emphasis you put on the bench press it’s hard to argue the exhilarating feeling of pressing some big numbers. It looks like a simple lift with not much technique, if any at all, and compared to the squat and deadlift it is a much simpler lift; however, there is technique involved that can be easily overlooked.

4 Points of Contact

There are four points of contact when bench pressing. This means that there are four places your body has to be in contact with at all times throughout the lift, not counting your hands gripping the bar, and they are:

  1. Both feet must remain in contact with the ground.
  2. Your butt must stay in contact with the bench.
  3. Your upper back and shoulders must stay in contact with the bench.
  4. Your head must stay in contact with the bench.

Tips:

  • If you are on the shorter side and it’s difficult for your feet to completely reach the ground when lying on the bench you can put plates under your feet so that they can act as the ground.
  • Bend your knees so that your feet are back towards your butt and push your knees out. This will help keep your lower body tight which is commonly overlooked.
  • Your butt and upper back must stay in contact with the bench but it is completely fine to have the arch of the lower back.

Hand Position

We are talking about the conventional bench press here and not a close-grip or some other variation so our hand placement will reflect that.

  1. Take the end of your thumb on each hand and place it right where the knurling (rough part on the bar) begins. See picture below.
  2. Straighten your thumb fully on both hands and the spot where the rest of your hand is gripping the bar is where you are going to grip it. See picture below.

Tips:

  • The end goal for the conventional bench press is for our forearms to be directly over our elbows when benching. This ensure that’s our wrist, forearm, and elbow are all aligned.
  • Start with your grip as we just discussed and then look at your wrist, forearm, and elbow to ensure that all three are aligned and if they aren’t then adjust accordingly by moving your hands either in or out.

Eye Position

Your eye position is something that is extremely underrated when discussing the techniques of bench pressing. During the bench press we want our eyes to be on a constant spot throughout the entire set. Pick a spot on the ceiling and look at the same spot during every rep. Our eyes being on the same spot throughout the set is important because it helps us ensure that the bar is traveling a consistent path from rep to rep. An inconsistent bar path is something that can destroy a person’s set even if they are physically strong enough to get one or two more reps. If you have bench pressed you have certainly had reps where you know you hit either too high or too low on your chest and ruined the momentum of the set. This was most likely caused by your eyes moving around causing the bar to move away from its correct path.

Pinching the Pencil

Pinching the pencil is something almost every weekend warrior or novice lifter doesn’t realize needs to occur. Pinching the pencil refers to the pinching of the shoulder blades as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them. By doing this you will create a base or platform to press from. This base will allow you to stay tighter and have more control of the weight throughout the set. It will also protect your shoulders by restricting the range of motion as the bar will not travel as far with your shoulders pinched compared to having your shoulder blades relaxed. See video below.

Tips:

  • If you do this correctly it will at first feel like you are not completing the rep because the bar isn’t traveling as far.
  • This takes time to perfect so make sure you practice this with light weight and make doing this consistently a priority.

Videos Here: Not Pinching the Pencil (Wrong)    Pinching the Pencil Correctly

Breathing

Breathing correctly can make or break a rep or set. The tighter you are the stronger you are. The better you breathe the tighter you can be and thus the stronger you can be. We stay tight by filling our bellies with air. This can go for any barbell lift. Think of your spine like a telephone pole. If we breathe improperly and don’t fill our bellies with air our telephone pole (our spine) can waver back and forth when under stress. However, if we fill our bellies up with air this air acts as cement poured around our telephone pole (our spine) and it is much sturdier and less likely to waver when stress is placed upon it. How we accomplish this:

  1. Breathe in, focusing on the air going to your stomach instead of your chest, at the beginning (top) of the rep.
  2. Hold this breath until you return to the starting position (top).
  3. Breathe out at the top and then breathe in again.
  4. Repeat this process for the remainder of the set.

Tips:

  • We want to try and hold our breath for the entirety of the rep but if you are nearing the end of the set and are struggling to complete a rep you can breathe out on the way up at your sticking point.
  • By breathing out while trying to force a rep this release of air will act as a kind of “turbo” to help us finish.

Enjoy!

So there they are. All the tips and hidden gems to help you take full advantage of what is most likely your most enjoyable barbell lift. My hope is that you take these tips, no matter how insignificant they may seem, seriously because they will help increase your bench. If one or more of these tips are brand new to you my advice is to practice them with lighter weight and work your way back up as anything new added to your technique will take a little time to perfect.

As always, thanks for reading and please subscribe to this site so that you stay up to date on all the new articles coming soon!

Become Strong

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Recently I asked people to tell me their “Why?” Why do they go to the gym every day? What are they hoping to get from it? One of the most common responses to this question is to get bigger and stronger. Whether you’re an athlete training for a sport, a bodybuilder preparing for a contest or show, or someone simply looking to improve your strength, this post is for you.

Most people don’t like to hear this because it is not a new, sexy thing, but the best and most efficient way of getting stronger is basic barbell lifts. Yes, that’s right, the same barbell lifts that have been around forever are still the best way to build strength. That is the reason they have been around forever.
When people come up to me in the gym and ask how to get stronger or how to get a bigger the first question I ask them is if they are doing the standard barbell lifts like benching, squatting, deadlifting or an overhead press. If not, I immediately tell them to add these four lifts into their program for the next month or so and they will already notice they have gotten stronger.

Yes, there are other great ways to get bigger and stronger but if you are looking for the most bang for your buck, lift a barbell. The barbell is the most efficient way of getting stronger simply because you can lift the most weight with it. The lifts are also compound movements. A compound movement is a movement that involves more than one joint, thus involving more muscles. For example, a squat involves the hip, knee and ankle joints. By involving all these joints, multiple muscle groups including the hamstrings, quadriceps, adductors, spinal erectors, etc. are being used to perform the squat. When someone does an exercise like a leg curl or leg extension they are working around one joint (i.e. the knee in this example) and isolating only one muscle group. I used the squat in this example, but this is true for the other barbell lifts as well.
After explaining the importance of needing the barbell lifts to get strong, a common follow-up question I’m asked is, “how heavy to go?” Heavy is five reps or fewer. I never go over 5 reps if I am doing strength work on the barbell lifts. Strength programs are going to have some version of three to five sets of three to five reps. It is important to perform your strength exercises while you are at your strongest and freshest state. So do the barbell lifts first. A great example that I grew up on is doing a heavy bench first on chest day, a heavy squat first on leg day, etc. Perform the sets at or near full recovery so take between two and three minute rest between sets. This is a common mistake I see so pay attention to your rest periods and don’t rush it! I write all of this with caution because you should be competent with the technique aspect before trying heavy weight.
I won’t delve into the technique aspect of the barbell lifts because each lift will be its own individual article. Those articles will be coming soon so stay tuned!

One of my favorite quotes comes from 8x Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, in which he says “Everyone wants to be strong, but don’t nobody want to lift heavy-ass weights.” To get strong you have to lift heavy. At times, it really is that simple. So I challenge you that if you have the technique down to go and lift heavy and don’t be afraid to feel the strain of heavy weight, learn to love it, because that is how you will become strong.

My Story, What’s Yours?

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I first started training to get bigger and stronger for football in the middle of my eighth grade year. I immediately fell in love with weight training. I loved seeing myself get bigger and stronger. This continued throughout high school, and into college where I continued my football career. After tearing my ACL for the second time, ending my football career after my sophomore year, is when I first began to look at weight training as something more than just to get prepared for football. I started reading articles and visiting websites about powerlifting. I knew I would love it because I already loved the barbell lifts and being as strong as I could be. However, I knew I wanted to train to look good also which lead me to dabble in the bodybuilding lifestyle. As time went on I realized there was no reason why I had to pick one set way of training. So I started training in a way that is now commonly called “powerbuilding” which combines bodybuilding training with training for power and strength. Up to this point I have never competed in a competition of any sort but I am currently training for a push-pull (deadlift and bench) completion in early April. The reason I am sharing this with you is so that you can see that I am in this with you. I have faced or am currently facing similar challenges as you. This is important for me to share with you because when I first started working out I often wondered if I was doing things right or if people were facing the same problems as me. I would look at older, bigger guys and think “man they have it all figured out, they have to know everything there is to know.” Well, as I started reading and watching videos of famous powerlifters and bodybuilders I started to realize that they face the same problems I was facing. Growing up my favorite people to follow were the ones that showed their human side. They showed their failures and struggles but they also showed how they overcame those problems. I found it refreshing that someone at the top of their “game” could face the same problems as me. This gave me confidence that certain challenges I faced were normal and I just had to find a way to overcome them. Because of this, I will share my failures with you as well as my successes. I look forward to in the future getting feedback from you, the readers, about what topics you would like me to write about. I think that we will find that many of you have the same questions about certain things.