Category Archives: Bench Press

Why Do You Do This To Yourself?

Right after the question “what the hell are you doing? that usually comes after someone sees me painfully cranking on knee wraps and bruising the back of my legs while putting my feet half to sleep, comes the question “why would you do that?”

I guess I never really step back to think that to the average person wanting to put hundreds of pounds of weight in your hands or on your back might seem a little weird, and maybe it’s as simple as that: I’ve never wanted to be average. There’s no money in powerlifting, you’re not going to become famous from it, aside from people in your close circle who area vaguely aware that you pick things up and put them down, no one cares about what you do. Win a meet, qualify for nationals, set a new record? You’re probably going to get some likes on Facebook, and then get lost in the abyss of baby photos and cat videos.

That being said, I know I that will I be dragged broken and screaming away from the weights that I have given so much to and they have given so much in return. I know I will rage against the dying light of whatever career I have left, but the question remains:

Why the fuck to do you do this?

I sat here stuck looking for the perfect answer, but the more I think about it, it just comes down to who I am. To me, powerlifting is the perfect metaphor for many of the things I value the most in life.

Personal Responsibility

Powerlifting is beautiful in it’s simplicity: it’s you vs the weight, you either lift it or you do not. There’s no teammates, no opponent, no one but you on a platform, there’s no weather or other extraneous conditions to blame a poor performance on. 500lbs will be 500lbs, and it doesn’t give a shit whether you had a bad day, whether you’re nervous, whether you’re feeling sick, partied too much, cheated on your diet or skipped the exercises you don’t like doing. If you don’t make the lift, weaker minded lifters will blame their coach, the bars were too slippery, there was baby powder in the chalk… The strongest lifters will take responsibility for their performance and begin the process of investigating and correcting the error.

Determination, Acceptance of Failure, and the Value of Hard Work

The second you start powerlifting you accept that eventually, given enough time, the weight always wins. There’s a respect among top tier lifters that I believe centres around this very fact. You may have goals and successes along the way, but no matter how strong you are, you’re always after the next 5lbs, and it will never be enough. It’s a relentless search for self improvement that spans beyond just the physical into the mental and emotional realms, and you will be tested in all of them. Stay in the game long enough and you will get injured, you will get scared and lose your confidence, you will miss lifts, you will deal with setbacks and pain that would break many, lifts will go backwards, BUT, through calculation and sheer–I-will-not-be-fucking-broken attitude and determination, you will succeed anyways and you will be better for it.

For me personally the endless pursuit of a goal that is eternally out of reach is the true value that powerlifting provides. To accept that you will never be done, but to devote yourself regardless through whatever trials and tribulations you may face shows not only character, but is the roadmap to success in every worthwhile endeavour in life. Whether you desire to be the best parent to your child, launch a business, or look to make a meaningful change to the world, it requires a process that mirrors the exact same process you will undergo chasing that ever elusive 5lbs more.

Healthy Competition, Perspective, and Community

For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be the best at something, to push myself past any measurable marker, and outperform my peers. I’ve been admittedly hyper competitive to a fault and when I first started powerlifting I wanted to be the best lifter in my weight class in BC, and then Canada, and then see where I could fit in the world stage. If I’m being honest, I never fully believed that I could become the best in the world, but as I close in on the second goal making a run at all three Canadian records in July, I realize I no longer care where I sit among others. Don’t get me wrong I am absolutely hell bent on getting those records, but not to be better than anyone else, to be the best version of myself, wherever that sits me on the world scale, I am fine with.

Right now I am no longer the outright strongest person in my own gym, we have Cameron who actually is the strongest lifter in the world in his age and weight class and will likely set the all-time world squat record at 105kg bodyweight and out squats me by 90lbs, we have our coach Cam Bennet who out benches me by 30lbs, and although we have a bet on who can make it to double bodyweight first (a tub of protein for a 2+year bet, we really should have aimed higher here Cam…), but if either of you two are reading this, there’s no way I’m ever letting you out deadlift me. All kidding aside I would be more than ecstatic to see both those men remain stronger than me forever, so long as we’re all still getting working towards our next 5lbs, and of course I’m going to do everything in my power to put them under as much pressure as possible as both a coach and fellow lifter, and guaranteed we’ll all be stronger for it.

Always Improving

Today I am chasing a 700lb deadlift, in the future it will be 705, and today I tried to do everything I could to get better, tomorrow I will add one more thing and improve on the things I missed.

Imagine for a second that you took responsibility for your actions and performance, were ferociously determined but could accept the lessons that failure provides, you knew the value of hard work, embraced healthy competition with a sense of community, had the courage to re-examine your perspective, and always believed you could be a little better – what could possibly stand in your way?

This is why I am so drawn to powerlifting beyond just the joy of getting stronger, every day I get to challenge myself to be a little better. Some days I will win, and some days I will lose and learn, but guaranteed I’ll be getting up the next day and will be standing next to that fucking bar determined to try again, and I genuinely hope some of you reading decide to join me

See you on the platform and in the gym.

Article Request Series: What’s With All the Different Bars at Blacksmith Fitness?

We have a ton of different bars at Blacksmith Fitness: we have 5 different types of straight bars and 7 different specialty bars (and counting) and each one of them has a specific purpose! Because of how many questions we get about the different bars, I wanted to put together this article for you to show you how to integrate them into your training. Whether your goals are to build insane levels of strength and muscularity, work around an injury or immobility, or build explosive power or improve your sport, below is a detailed description of each bar and what they do

Straight Bars:

I’ve put together a little video that gives quick overview of the different straight bars, and you can check it out here https://youtu.be/f3BfTdp66TQ  and read on for more detailed descriptions

Texas Power Bar:

texas-power-bar

We have three of these, and they’re our best all around training bars. They’re 28.5mm meaning mid-thickness and have a good compromise between whip for the deadlift and explosive movements, and stiffness for the bench press and squat. They have moderate to aggressive knurling and grip is almost never an issue. These bars are rated well over 1500lbs, and we challenge you to load enough weight on them to do them any harm.

Rogue Ohio Deadlift Bar:

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The deadlift bar vs. a standard length power bar (pictured above)

The deadlift bar is longer and thinner to allow for more bend in the bar before the plates break the floor, this allows the lifter to get a slightly higher hip position and generate more tension through the hamstrings, glutes, and lower back before the bar breaks the ground. This is the standard competition style bar for pretty much every other powerlifting federation except the IPF. Pictured below is the deadlift bar at 635lbs, you can see how much the bar flexes under moderate to heavy loads

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Rogue Ohio Power Bar:

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This is an IPF approved competition power bar. This is the stiffest bar we have, it’s also the thickest standard bar we have at 29mm, making it the best and most stable bench and squat bar in the gym. If you’re squatting anything above the mid 400’s you’ll notice how much less this bar flexes in the reversal portion of the lift, allowing you to track perfectly according to your technique, instead of the bar flex pulling you out of your path. With max attempts, or even heavy triples, the margin for error between an easy lift and one that staples you can be millimetres, so this extra stiffness really comes in handy. Pictured below is the bar loaded with 570lbs displaying very little noticeable flex. Since we now have squatters who have hit 685 and are approaching 700 (raw) we’ll soon be adding an even stiffer 65lb squat bar into the mix570-squat-opb

Texas Crosstraining Bar 25mm

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If you have small hands (coughcoachmegancough) then this is the bar you’ve been waiting for. This bar is 6ft making it sway less from side to side for smaller lifters, and has a significantly thinner shaft that will allow even the smallest hands to get full finger wrap and grip. The bar has a little more flex at lower weight for smaller lifters to learn how to use bar flex to load the hips and start more explosively.

Rogue Olympic Bar:

This is a 28mm 20kg men’s olympic bar. The main difference between this bar is the different markings (slightly wider for IWF standards) and the fact that it has bearings instead of bushings in the sleeves. The bearings allow the bar to rotate faster without causing any rotation or shift in the plates that would alter the bar path on explosive movements like cleans and snatches. It also serves as a great all purpose training bar and is our second stiffest squat bar

Specialty Bars

Ok here’s where things really get fun, these are the bars you may not have seen before, they’re made for one or two specific things, but they do them better than any other bar out there. They allow lifters to key in on weaknesses and work around injuries that would normally significantly hamper or stop them from training completely. Here they are in no particular order.

Buffalo and Duffalo Bar:

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Believe it or not, this bar is supposed to bent (buffalo bar, not duffalo pictured)

These bars are mainly meant as squat bars, but also serve as a way to work bottom end bench press strength if you’re weak off the chest by allowing a slightly increased range of motion; however, you’d better have healthy shoulders and ensure you still feel the chest doing the work. The main reason these bars are bent is to allow a slightly lower hand position in the squat, reducing the elevation of the humerus in the shoulder joint, keeping it away from some of the more sensitive tissues in the top and back of the shoulder joint. The advantage of these bars vs some of our other shoulder friendly squat bars is that the load point isn’t changed that much from a regular straight bar, so the transfer is pretty high. When I tested my one rep maxes in November I had a small tear in one of the rotator cuff muscles in the right shoulder and hadn’t squatted with a straight bar in over 3 months, the highest I went in training was 525 for 3 sets of 2 with the buffalo bar, which was good for a 570lb squat on test day with the straight bar. The Duffalo bar, which is on it’s way as we speak, has a multi-radius bend that angles the wrists slightly better for benching, and is flatter across the back, feeling a little more like straight bar on the back.

Safety Squat Bar aka The Yoke Bar

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Performing some Hatfield overload squats with a pause with the SSB

 

The safety squat bar is the most shoulder friendly option we have in the gym. It allows a totally neutral shoulder position or even a hands free position once there are plates loaded on the bar. Because the hands are elevated in front of the body or not anchored at all in free squat variations, the role of the lats in keeping the torso stiff and upright is greatly reduced. If you’re one of those squatters that falls forward in the hole, and your chest has sunken (i.e. you can’t see the logo on your chest very well anymore) or you tend to get compressed when you unrack a heavy squat, this bar is for you. It forces you to work the vertically running thoracic extenders harder than almost any other bar, and the load position makes it a really nice blend between the upright torso of a front squat but still keeping a little more load on the posterior core and chain. Another excellent use for this bar is getting those with AC joint pain to do any type of squat by turning the bar around and loading it like a front squat. This takes the arm pads and displaces the pressure across the traps instead of the collar bone, reducing pain, as well as allowing a more neutral grip putting less total pressure on the joint. Below Aaron (aka “Socks”) is pictured using the safety squat bar in this manner

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There are so many other cool uses for this bar, but the last one I’ll touch on is using them for dead squats to develop the deadlift. You do this by loading up the bar on the safety pins with your hips around the same height you’d start start your deadlift, and then squatting the weight straight up using your deadlift pattern. This is great for adding some extra volume to the deadlifting muscles in their specific muscle action without taxing the central nervous system as hard as putting the a bar in the hands. With stronger lifters or heavily stressed athletes this can be the difference between getting a productive session in or driving a nail into their recovery

The Cambered Spider Bar

cambered-bar-good-morning

This 80lb beast is always trying to pin you to the floor! Say you fall forward in the squat, but it’s not because your chest is falling, it happens when you come out of the hole, and your hips shoot up while your shoulders go nowhere. There are many reasons this can happen beyond the scope of this article, but the cambered bar fixes all of them. It’s an awesome bar to work the hamstrings and glutes with exercises like the good morning (shown above). As opposed to a straight bar that just wants to push you down, the weight is on a hinge off the shoulder that wants to drift forward, increasing the action of both the hamstrings and the glutes in their hip extension role (think hip thrusting). Use the forward handles if you want to decrease the role of the lats and focus more on the lower and upper spinal erectors, or use the side handles to keep the back tight like you would in a regular squat, allowing you to handle more load with the hips. Like all of our other specialty squat bars, this allows for several shoulder, elbow, and wrist friendly positions

Swiss Bar Aka Neutral Press Bar 

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Aaron aka “Shorts” has had multiple shoulder dislocations but still gets his pressing in with the swiss bar

This is one of the most versatile bars we have in the gym. It centres the shoulder in a more neutral position than a straight bar, it works the shoulders harder than a straight bar and is great for anyone with a weak midpoint in their bench press that isn’t related to a technique error, it’s wicked for hammer curls, working the hard-to-train long head of the triceps, allows people with posterior shoulder pain to overhead press, and I could keep on listing. Long story short, if you have a limitation in the shoulder wrist or elbow that is keeping you from pressing with a straight bar, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to find a grip on the swiss bar that works for you. It also works great for rows, allowing you to bring the shoulder blades together and squeeze the mid back harder than you could with a straight bar. The neutral position with arms tucked more closely replicates the pressing pattern that most athletes will use in a standing position, especially if they have to deal with contact from other opponents. This bar allowed me to still get some pressing in with a torn rotator cuff and reduce the amount that I lost on my bench press to only 30lbs over 12 weeks, where had I had to stop pressing completely I most likely would have lost 40-60lbs more

The Trap Bars aka Hex Bars

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Luke Allard Deadlifting 460lbs with the wider trap bar (80lb bar)

You’ve probably seen these before, so instead of telling you what to do with them, I’ll tell you why we have two different ones. The first trap bar, pictured above, has wider handles, working the traps and the upper back harder than the narrower version. It also has a built in deadlift jack for loading and unloading plates, and is long enough to fit inside a rack, meaning you can throw on some straps and do some serious overload work with it if need be. Combined with the extra long loading sleeves and our interlocking plates, you’ll give up before it will, guaranteed! The other cool thing you can do with this bar is perform a partial or full range overhead press where the bar travels perfectly overhead, vs a straight bar that you have to move the head out of the way, placing more stress on the front of the shoulder capsule. We also have a more standard length trap bar pictured below

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Camille rocking some farmer’s walks with the standard length trap bar

This trap bar is better for smaller people, Camille is approx 5’2″ and the wider handles put her in a snatch grip position, severely limiting the amount of weight she could lift or carry, but the smaller trap bar isn’t just for smaller people. The straight down arm position is better for trap bar jumps, and allows most people to carry more weight on loaded carries, overloading the hips, feet, knees, and ankles more effectively than they could on the longer bar.

So that outlines our current assortment of specialty bars at Blacksmith Fitness, but we’re always looking to solve problems and make our assortment even more effective. Hopefully now you can see that if you’re using the same generic straight bar for everything, you’re missing out on some serious strength, speed, power, and growth, and most importantly the ability to stay healthy while training. At Blacksmith we’re all about the important details and providing the most effective training and equipment available. In the coming weeks I’ll be doing some more articles on the other types of specialty equipment we have in the gym, but for now it’s onto the next requested article!

Do You Do This at the Gym? Use Reverse Pyramiding To Fix This Common Gain Killing Mistake

How many times have you seen this in your gym:

  • Guy walks up to bench
  • Adds 45lbs per side
  • Does 10-15 reps
  • Adds 25lbs per side
  • Does 8-12 reps, and only has 2-3 in the tank at this weight
  • Removes 25lb plate and adds 45lb plate, now at 225lbs
  • Does a glorified seizure on the bench and then racks the bar in frustration
  • Complains that he can never break the 225lb barrier

His real problem? The way he warmed up; it’s called traditional pyramiding, and in my opinion, it sucks. Enter reverse pyramiding to the rescue. The biggest problem was that our reference person induced way too much fatigue in the warm ups to 225 and told his nervous system to be conservative with its output, because it needed to perform multiple low intensity contractions. Keep in mind your nervous system is kind of like Usain Bolt, it has a HUGE amount of potential to kick ass, but it’s lazy, and doesn’t want to work unless you force it to. If you have the strength to do 185×12 then you have the strength to bench 225, but not if you fatigue yourself first and fail to prime the nervous system for what you want it to do. Below I’m going to explain how to warm up to actually getting a real rep or more at 225 if you already have the strength to do so. Please keep in mind this can be scaled to any number you want 315, 405, 495 etc. and applies to all other lifts as well.

  • Bar 2 sets of 5 reps, 30s rest, first set is slow and controlled grooving the perfect rep 5 times. The second set takes that pattern and adds velocity, telling your brain that it will need the fast twitch fibers activated in the coming sets
  • 95 x 5 reps, regular rep speed, re-groove the pattern
  • 135 x 5 reps, fast rep speed, stimulate the central nervous system
  • 185 x 3 reps,  regular rep speed, prime the nervous system for heavier weight
  • 205×1 whether it moves quickly or slowly, you must intend to move it quickly – the intention is just as important as the actual bar speed for recruiting fast twitch muscle fibers
  • 225x however many reps you can/want to do, if you want to use other methods afterwards, leave a rep or two in the tank
  • Do a sweet victory dance.

Now that you’ve hit the weight that you’ve always dreamed of, you have options. You can take advantage of the post activation potentiation effect – or PAP in most journal entries, which is like a fancy way of saying you’ve revved your internal engine and now it’s ready to kick more ass than if you started it cold. So now you can go back down the pyramid in a bunch of creative ways. Here are just a couple options:

Muscle Building:

  • 185 for 1-3 sets of max reps, rest 60-90s per set, use the same grip or change it each set (wide, narrow, close)
  • 135 for 1 set of max reps, use your weakest grip

Option 2

  • 205 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets) rest 2mins
  • 185 with the rest pause method (3 sets to failure with 30s rest between sets)

Option 3

  • Cluster 5×5 at 200-210 finished in as little time as possible

Strength:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each bullet is an option, all with full rest

  •  4-6 singles between 93-97%
  • 3×3 at 88-91%
  • 5×2 at 90-95%
  • Wait until next week and do 3,2,1 waves starting at 85% for 3 reps and add 5lbs do 2 reps, add 5lbs and do 1 rep, then add add 5lbs to your 3 rep set and restart the wave. Do 3-4 waves depending on feel. Note: if you’re above 300lbs in any lift, use 10lb jumps.

Athleticism and Rate of Force Development:

  • Calculate your new 1 rep max

Each Bullet is an option

  • 6×3 at 55-65%
  • 5×2 at 75% contrasted with an explosive lift under 40% or medicine ball throw
  • 3-5 sets of Bench press throws in the smith machine with 30-35% (don’t count the bar in the smith machine)
  • 4-6 sets of plyometric pushup variations 1-3 reps per set

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are honestly 30-50 more options for each category that I could have listed, but the point is you can use the PAP effect to improve output in any of those categories, just be sure not to burn yourself out and work up to a 1 rep max every week. As a very general rule, don’t train at or over 90% of a 1 rep max for more than 3 weeks in a row, more advanced athletes should stick to 2 weeks (by advanced I mean you bench press at least 1.7x your own bodyweight) and the extremely advanced athletes can break the rules in very specific scenarios, but if you’re there you already know that.