Bench to Military Press More By Pavel
June 19, 2012
Training fashions swing from one extreme to the other. The bench press used to be the end all. Today it is a pariah exercise labeled “non-functional”. As often is the case, neither extremist view reflects the reality.
It is easy to like the bench press because it blows up the upper body so quickly and easily. It is just as easy to dislike it when you take a look at your typical light bulb shaped gym rat who lives for the bench. In the unlikely event that you will see him play touch football or do something else halfway athletic, he will move spasmodically like Inspector Clouseau defending against Cato.
Yet the blame for his pathetic lack of athleticism belongs not to what he is doing but to what he is not doing.
Research shows (ping Prof. Tom Fahey for details) that the Bench Press (BP), together with the Deadlift (DL), are the best predictors of throwers’ performance. Russian full contact fighters bench heavy and hit hard. I believe the reasons these athletes get a lot more out of the bench press than a gym rat are three:
CrossFit – “Proper Bench Technique” with Shane Sweatt and Laura Phelps-Sweatt
Check out Power to the People!
Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American
1) Powerful legs and hips
The Pecs & Co. were never meant to be the muscles to take the full brunt of a throw or a punch. They just add a cherry on the top of the leg and hip drive. Ergo, you need to squat and/or deadlift. Throwers do. So do Russian full contact karate fighters.
2) Flexible hip flexors that don’t interfere with power transfer from below
At the end of a throw and many other athletic moves the hips are supposed to be fully extended. If the hip flexors are too short they act as brakes for the powerful hips. The “bench and nothing but the bench” mullets have your typical non-athletic hips, with the hip flexors shortened by sitting.
Fighters and throwers, on the other hand, stretch their hips to “take the brakes off”.
3) Very strong rotational muscles that ‘link’ the lower and upper body
One of the midsection muscles’ jobs is transferring the leg drive into the arms with minimal losses. That takes a manly waist of Laurent Delvaux’s statue Hercules; Apollo’s pretty boy tummy and a beer gut alike are too weak to allow this strength to reach its destination, be it a thrown shot or something else. Because, as Prof. McGill has quipped, “you can’t push a rope”.
Russian throwers and fighters train their abs hard and heavy so their waists do not “leak” strength.
The Full Contact Twist is a powerful midsection drill popular with Russian throwers and fighters. “The FCT is one of the few exercises that I can honestly say revolutionized my training,” wrote Steven Morris in MILO: a Journal for Serious Strength Athletes. “No other exercise has improved my core strength and rotational power to that degree.” The exercise will be covered in detail at the Maximum-Impact Barbell Training Workshop
Photo courtesy Prof. Stuart McGill’s Spine Biomechanics Lab, University of Waterloo, Canada
It should be obvious that, unlike the typical bench pressing musclehead, a serious Hardstyle kettlebeller has strong and flexible hips and a solid midsection. Which means you can get a lot of mileage out of the bench press. Here is how to use it to set a kettlebell military press PR within weeks.
You will be benching with a close grip. The CGBP is the best tool for strengthening the triceps. Its winning combination of very focused stress on this three-headed muscle and a very heavy weight used cannot be beat. The volume required for great results is ridiculously low by kettlebell standards and the overall fatigue is a lot lower than from kettlebell presses, due to lower coordination and overall tightness demands. Which means you can save your energy for important things like the US Secret Service Snatch Test.
A couple of CGBP technique subtleties. First, when you have positioned yourself on the bench place your hands on the bar as you would for diamond pushups: the index finger and the thumb of one hand touch their counterparts on the other hand. Without losing this angle slide your hands out until you are barely touching the smooth part of the knurling with the insides of your hands. Make sure the bar is pressing against the meaty heels of your palms and finally grip the bat. Second, “tear the bar apart” on the way up to maximally activate your triceps. If you do it correctly you should feel your rear delts.
Here is your weekly schedule:
Day 1: CGBP, other “grinds”, barbell and/or kettlebell
Day 2: Kettlebell ballistics, work up to an easy C&P single or two
Day 3: Rest
Day 4: CGBP, other “grinds”, barbell and/or kettlebell
Day 5: Kettlebell ballistics, work up to an easy C&P single or two
Day 6: Rest
Day 7: Rest
Where it says “work up to an easy C&P single or two”, you had better believe it. To use an example, if your best press is 40kg x 2, your whole press session will look like this:
24kg x 3-5, 32kg x 1/2, 36kg x1
If you don’t own a 36, just press an extra single with the 32. This will feel like nothing after high volume pounding of the ETK Rite of Passage, but this is the idea. According to Drs. Verkhoshansky and Siff, “…the ‘degree of contrast’ in training… is a factor which enhances the functional responsiveness of the body.” Or, in Marty Gallagher’s words, “…institute a radical departure to what the body perceives as the current status quo…” It works both ways. When you get back to high volume pressing of Enter the Kettlebell! or Return of the Kettlebell, you will be a lot more responsive to it after your low volume stint.
In your first close grip bench workout find your 10RM in this exercise. Do easy sets of five making big jumps between sets and resting plenty until you start noticing the weight, then add a little more, rest a lot more, and test your rep-max. For instance:
95×5, 135×5, 155×5, 175×5, 195×5 (starting to feel it), 205x9RM
It does not matter if you got 9 or 11 reps, this is close enough and this is your cycle’s starting weight.
In your next CGBP workout do a couple of lighter low rep sets to groove your technique, then do 5 reps with that weight. Rest for 3-5min and do 3 reps. Rest for the same amount of time and put up 2 reps. Keeping the weight static and doing a triple and a double instead of a lighter set of five is a Power to the People! modification suggested to me by Jack Reape, RKC. This version has already made it into the Russian PTP edition.
The above workout will be very easy. It is supposed to. When you are done take 20% of the weight off and do three sets of five with as little rest between them as possible. Here is what our hypothetical girevik would end up lifting:
135×5, 155×3, 185×1-2, 205×5, 3, 2 (3-5min between sets); 165×5/3 (minimal rest between sets)
Every workout add 10 pounds to the 5, 3, 2 sets. Not 5, not 2.5, and definitely not those mini-plates. When you have reached the point where it takes all you have got to press the weight five times, next workout still add another 10 pounds, but skip the first set. In other words, instead of 5, 3, 2, do only 3, 2 reps. Next time add another 10 and get rid of the set of 3 reps. You are down to one double. This is the end of the cycle. Skip your back-off 3×5 and in the next kettlebell workout test your kettlebell C&P. Report your PR on the Dragon Door forum.
Enter the Kettlebell! – Strength Secret of the Soviet Supermen, by Pavel
Return of the Kettlebell – How to Master Advanced Kettlebell Drills—And Explode Your Strength! By Pavel Tsatsouline
Power to the People!
Russian Strength Training Secrets for Every American