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The Best Homemade Granola Recipe

Ever worry about all of those not-so-healthy ingredients in store-bought granola? Well, fear no more by preparing this super-delicious, homemade version in your own kitchen. It’s an easily adaptable recipe, so use whatever nuts, seeds or dried fruit you like. You’ll find yourself adding it to other dishes (think yogurt, ice cream, even sprinkled on yourbreakfast smoothies) and we promise you’ll be making it again and again.

Chocolate Granola

The Best Homemade Granola Recipe

Yields 6 cups
Serves 12

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 24 minutes

The Skinny

Per half-cup serving:

  • 240 cal
  • 9 g fat
  • 28 g carbs
  • 4 mg sodium
  • 4 g fiber
  • 8 g protein

Ingredients

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup nuts or seeds of your choice (a mix of sliced almonds and sunflower seeds is pictured above)
5 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
2/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1 cup dried fruit of your choice (a mix of gogi berries, blueberries and Incan berries is pictured above)

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, combine oats, coconut flakes, nuts or seeds, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla and salt. Stir well until everything is evenly coated. Spread evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir the oat mixture. Return it back to the oven for another 12 minutes. It should be golden brown, but keep an eye on it because it can go from perfect to burnt very quickly.
  2. Remove from the oven and press the granola evenly with a spatula. Let cool and then add the dried fruit. Allow the granola to cool completely before storing in airtight containers. It can be stored at room temperature.


How to Overhead Press with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide

How to Overhead Press

how-to-overhead-press

Overhead Press inside your Power Rack if it’s tall enough. If it’s too low like mine, set the bar in the outside uprights of your Power Rack and unrack it. If your Power Rack has no outside uprights, or you have no Power Rack, pull the bar from the floor on your shoulders (Power Clean it). Once the bar is on your front shoulders, follow these five simple steps to Overhead Press with proper form…

  1. Setup. Stand with the bar on your front shoulders. Narrow grip, straight wrists, vertical forearms. Lock your knees and hips.
  2. Lift Your Chest. Raise your chest towards the ceiling by arching your upper-back. Try to touch your chin with your upper-chest.
  3. Press. Take a big breath, hold it and press the bar in a vertical line. Don’t press it in front or behind your head. Press it over your head.
  4. Move Forward. Stay close to the bar while you press the weight up. Shift your torso forward once the bar has passed your forehead.
  5. Lockout. Hold the bar over your shoulders and mid-foot for proper balance. Lock your elbows. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling.

Return the bar to your shoulders after each rep. Exhale, raise your chest and set your forearms vertical. Take a big breath and press your next rep. Don’t bend your legs. This takes work away from your shoulder muscles by using your stronger leg muscles. Keep your hips and knees locked from start to finish. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy. Lower it so your shoulders do most of the work when you Overhead Press.

Overhead Press Form 101

overhead-press-101

Your build determines your ideal Overhead Press form. If you have wider shoulders than me, you should grip the bar wider than I do. If you have long forearms like me, your wrists may bend if you try to rest the bar on your shoulders. Don’t copy someone’s Overhead Press Press form unless you have the same build. Follow these general Overhead Press guidelines instead, and tweak your form as you gain experience.

  • Stance. Heels hip-width apart. Feet flat on the floor. Point them slightly out.
  • Legs. Keep your knees and hips locked from start to finish. Bending is cheating.
  • Grip. Full grip. Bar in the base of your palm, close to your wrists. Squeeze the bar.
  • Grip Width. Narrow grip just outside your shoulders. Don’t use a wide Bench grip.
  • Wrists. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow. Don’t let your wrists bend back or they’ll hurt.
  • Elbows. Almost under the bar from the side view. About 45° in from the front. No flaring.
  • Forearms. Vertical to the floor from all angles: perpendicular from the side and front view.
  • Upper-arms. Not parallel to the floor. This isn’t a Front Squat. Your forearms must be vertical.
  • Shoulders. Hold the bar on your front shoulder muscles. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling.
  • Chest. Lift your chest by arching your upper-back. Try to touch your chin with your upper-chest.
  • Upper-back. Arch your upper-back to lift your chest up. Do not squeeze your shoulder-blades.
  • Traps. Shrug your traps at the top. Lockout the bar by shrugging your shoulders to the ceiling.
  • Head. Keep your head neutral. Look forward. Don’t look at the ceiling or the bar while you press.
  • Lower Back. Keep your lower back neutral. Don’t over-arch and hyper-extend your lower spine.
  • Torso. Lean slightly back at the bottom. Move forward at the top. Don’t over-arch your lower back.
  • Way Up. Press the bar in a vertical line. Stay close to the bar by moving your torso forward at the top.
  • Lockout. Hold the bar over your shoulders. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling. Lock your elbows.
  • Way Down. Lower the bar to your shoulders. Lower it under control but not slow. No elbow flaring.
  • Breathing. Inhale at the bottom before you press. Hold your breath at the top. Exhale at the bottom.
  • Bar Path. Press the bar in a vertical line from your shoulders over your head, above your shoulders.
  • Between Reps. Exhale, raise your chest, put your forearms vertical, take a big breath, press again.

Muscles Worked

The Overhead Press works your whole body. Your shoulders and arms are the prime movers to press the weight over your head. But everything between the floor and your shoulders must stay tight to balance you and the bar. This makes the Overhead Press a full body exercise that works several muscles at the same time with heavy weights. Here are all the muscles the Overhead Press works:

  • Shoulders. You must raise your upper-arms to lift the bar when you Overhead Press. This works your shoulder muscles: your front, side and back deltoid. It develops these three muscle heads evenly with heavy weights so you build wide shoulders that fill up your shirts.
  • Arms. You must straighten your elbows to press the weight overhead. This works the muscles on the back of your arms, your triceps. Their muscle mass is much larger than your biceps. Bigger triceps build bigger arms. Your forearm muscles also work to hold the bar.
  • Rotator Cuff. Balancing bar overhead works the small muscles that cover you shoulder-blades: surpraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These rotator cuff muscles stabilize your shoulders and prevent dislocations. Strengthening them protects your shoulders.
  • Traps. You must shrug your shoulders at the top of each rep to avoid shoulder impingement. This tilts your shoulder-blade to the side. It creates space for your rotator cuff tendons. Shrugging works your trapezius muscles on the side of your neck. It build ski-slope traps.
  • Abs. Your core muscles stabilize your body while your shoulders and arms press the weight overhead. They keep you from collapsing under the bar. This strengthens your abdominal muscles, obliques and lower back. Stronger abs are more muscular. Eat right so they show.
  • Legs. Your legs balance your body while your shoulders and arms press. This works your hips, thighs, calves and ankles. The Overhead Press won’t work them like Squats because your legs don’t move. They stay straight. But they have to do isometric work.

You don’t need to do tons of isolation exercises for your shoulders. The Overhead Press works your whole shoulder girdle. It works it evenly and with heavier weights. Most guys can easily increase their Overhead Press to 50kg/110lb. Try to Front Raise that. That’s why the Overhead Press is more effective to build stronger and bigger shoulders. It also saves time by working your three shoulders heads at the same time.

The Overhead Press is also effective to prevent and fix shoulder injuries. It strengthens you rotator cuff muscles. It strengthens them with more weight than internal and external rotation exercises with pink dumbbells. And unlike the Bench Press, it strengthens the back of your shoulders. Not just the front. The key is to press with proper form. Shrug you shoulders at the top. And make sure you start light.

Failing Reps

overhead-press-fail

The Overhead Press looks dangerous because you’re pressing weight over your head. But it’s safer than the Squat or Bench Press. You can never get stuck under the bar when you Overhead Press. If you fail to press the weight, you can simply lower it back your shoulders. You then rack it in your Power Rack or return it on the floor. You can even drop the bar if you use bumper plates. But you never get stuck under the bar.

Fear of dropping the bar on your head is common if you’ve never Overhead Pressed before. But it’s unfounded. Weight too heavy for you to press and control won’t leave your shoulders. You’ll usually fail at the bottom because it’s harder than the top. You therefore can’t drop the bar on your head because weight too heavy for you to control never gets that high. If you can press the bar past your head, you can finish and control it.

There’s only two ways to drop the bar on your head. One, you Overhead Press with a thumbless grip. The bar can slip out of your hands if you don’t wrap your thumbs around the bar. Press with a full grip. Two, you don’t lock your elbows at the top. This forces your muscles to support the weight over your head. If they’re tired, you can lose the bar and hurt yourself. Lock your elbows at the top so your skeleton can hold the weight.

You don’t need to Overhead Press inside the Power Rack for safety. You can simply lower the bar to your shoulders when you fail reps. If you feel more confident pressing in the Power Rack with the safety pins set, do it. I always Overhead Press outside my Power Rack because it’s too short to press inside. I’ve been pressing like this for over 10 years and not once did the bar drop on my head. It’s unlikely to ever happen.

Shoulder Safety

overhead-press-acromion

The Overhead Press is safe for your shoulders if you use proper form. It builds stronger, more muscular and healthier shoulders. It strengthens your rotator cuff muscles which hold you shoulder together and prevent dislocations. It also prevents muscle imbalances from the Bench Press by strengthening your rear shoulder muscles. But if you Overhead Press with bad form, you can hurt your shoulders.

Shrug your traps at the top of each rep. Don’t just hold the bar overhead. Start by standing with the bar on your shoulders. Use a narrow grip with your elbows 45° in. Don’t use a wider grip like on the Bench Press or your elbows will flare. Press the bar in a vertical line up. Straighten your arms at the top by locking your elbows. Balance the bar over your shoulder joint. Finish the rep by shrugging your shoulders towards the ceiling.

Shrugging at the top is crucial. This activates your trapezius muscles. It rotates your shoulder-blade out and puts its bony process more vertical. This creates space between the top of your upper-arm bone (humerus) and your acromion. It creates space for your rotator cuff tissues inbetween. If you don’t shrug, those tissues have no space. They get smashed on every rep. This causes inflammation and pain (shoulder impingement).

It’s not the hammer’s fault if you hit your thumb instead of the nail. But it’s easier to blame an exercise than bad form. The Overhead Press will kill your shoulders if you do it wrong. Just like Squatting half reps destroys your knees, Deadlifting rounded-back stresses your spine and Benching with flared elbows impinges your shoulders. Proper form matters. Shrug your shoulders at the top of your Overhead Press and you’ll be safe.

Overhead Press Technique

Stance

overhead-press-stance

Stand with your heels about hip-width apart. Squat stance is too wide. Heels together is harder to balance. Staggered stance is bad for your back.

Hip-width Stance. Overhead Press with your heels under your hips. This means the narrower your hips are, the narrower your stance should be. But your heels shouldn’t touch. That’s a Military Press and it makes it harder to balance yourself to press heavy. Your heels shouldn’t be shoulder-width apart like on the Squat either. It won’t feel right. Stand narrower than when you Squat, similar to how you Deadlift.

Feet Flat on The Floor. You have better balance when your whole foot is flat on the floor. It increases the surface is in contact with the floor. Better balance is more safety, more bar control and better form. This increases how much you Overhead Press. Don’t raise your toes. Don’t lift your heels and tip-toe either. This is cheating. Keep your toes, forefoot and heels on the floor when you Overhead Press.

Feet Parallel. Don’t use a staggered stance by putting one foot forward. This might give you better balance and stability when you Overhead Press. But it puts uneven pressure on your lower spine and hips. It can cause lower back pain. Overhead Press with your feet parallel. You can turn them out 15°. But they should be aligned horizontally when you look down. Don’t let one foot be more forward than the other.

Legs

overhead-press-legs

Knees Locked. Your shoulder and arm muscles press the weight overhead, not your legs. Any knee bending is cheating. It takes work away from your shoulder muscles. Keep your legs straight by locking your knees and squeezing your quads. If your knees hurt, you’re taking your joints past their normal range of motion. Don’t hyper-extend. Lock gently. If you can’t keep your knees locked, the weight is too heavy.

Hips Locked. Bending your hips is a Push Press. This is a different exercise that uses your stronger hip muscles to drive the bar off your shoulders. This allows you to press heavier weights. But it doesn’t work your shoulders like a strict Overhead Press does. Bending your hips on the Overhead Press is cheating. Keep your hips locked. Squeeze your glutes if you have to. Your legs should balance you but not move.

Grip

bench-press-low-grip

Full Grip. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. This makes the Overhead Press safer. The bar can’t slip out of your hands and drop on your head. It also makes you stronger because you can squeeze the bar harder. This engages your arms, shoulders and chest muscles more. And the bar can’t move in your hands and cause bad form. You can Overhead Press more weight, more safely, with a full grip than thumbless one.

Grip Low Palm. The bar must rest in the heel of your palm, close to your wrists. This allows your forearms to press directly into the bar using the force your shoulders, arms and chest muscles generate. Don’t grip the bar mid-palm or your wrists will bend back. This puts the bar behind your forearm bones instead of above it. It makes the weight harder to Overhead Press and hurts your wrists. Grip the bar low palm.

Bulldog Grip. Grip the bar like a Bulldog plants his paws. Put your hands on the bar just outside your shoulders. Then rotate your hands in to put the bar in the base of your palms. Close your hands and squeeze the bar so it can’t move. This Bulldog Grip will feel weird at first. It can feel less safe. But your thumbs are around the bar so it’s safe. And the bar rests lower in your palm so it’s more effective. Practice to get used to it.

Grip Width

overhead-press-grip-width

Narrow Grip. Hold the bar just outside your shoulders. The exact grip width depends on how wide they are. The wider your shoulders, the wider your grip. The narrower, the narrower your grip. Your grip is optimal when your forearms are vertical to the floor at the bottom. If they’re incline, your grip is too wide and the weight will be harder to Overhead Press. Grip the bar narrow to put your forearms vertical.

Vertical Forearms. Each rep you Overhead Press must start with vertical forearms at the bottom. If they’re incline, the weight will be harder to press. You can’t grip the bar too narrow because your shoulders are in the way. But you can grip it too wide. Videotape yourself from the front while you Overhead Press. if you’re forearms are incline at the bottom, your grip is too wide. Narrow it so your forearms are vertical.

No Bench Grip. The wider grip you use on the Bench Press doesn’t work on the Overhead Press. One, it puts your forearms incline at the bottom. This makes the weight harder to Overhead Press. Two, it makes your elbows flare. This is bad for you shoulders. Narrow your grip so your forearms are vertical. Your elbows should be 45° in at the bottom. This is safer for your shoulders and makes the weight easier to Overhead Press.

Wrists

overhead-press-wrists

Straight Wrists. Overhead Press with your wrists almost straight. Your knuckles shouldn’t be vertical or the bar will drop out of your hands. They should be about 75° back with your wrists slightly bent. This puts the bar over your forearms bones. It prevents it from bending your wrists back. It makes the weight easier to Overhead Press and prevents wrist pain. Don’t press with bent wrists. It’s ineffective and will hurt.

Grip Low Palm. Keep your wrists straight using the Bulldog Grip. Grab the bar with open hands just outside your shoulders. Rotate your hands in like a bulldog plants his paws. This puts the bar on the heels of your palms. Close your hands and squeeze the bar so it can’t move. Rotate your elbows down and the bar will rest over your forearm bones. Your wrists won’t bend and hurt. The weight will be easier to Overhead Press.

Elbows

overhead-press-elbows

Under The Bar. The most effective way to Overhead Press is with vertical forearms. Most people press with their elbows back at the bottom. This puts your forearms incline and kills strength. Move your elbows forward before you press. Move them under the bar so your forearms are vertical looking from the side. Press from here and the bar will move in a vertical line up instead of away from your face. You’ll press more weight.

Elbows 45°. Keep your elbows close to your torso. They can’t flare to the side but shouldn’t point forward either. Tuck them 45° so they touch your lats at the bottom. You need a narrow grip to do this. Don’t grip the bar wide like when you Bench Press or your elbows will flare. Grip it narrow, just outside your shoulders. Hold your elbows close as you press the weight. This is safer for your shoulders and more effective.

Lock At The Top. The rep doesn’t count if you don’t lock your elbows at the top. Worse, if your muscles are tired you could lose the bar and drop it on your head. Lock your elbows at the top. Finish each rep by straightening your arms and shrugging you shoulders. You can hold the bar longer and more safely with locked elbows. And as long as you lock gently and don’t hyper-extend your arm, your elbow joint will be safe.

Forearms

overhead-press-forearms

Vertical From The Side. Put your forearms vertical to the floor at the start of each rep. They’ll usually be incline because your elbows are too far back. Move them forward before you press. Keep your wrists straight by holding the bar low hand using the Bulldog Grip. All of this will improve power transfer from your shoulders and triceps into your forearms to the bar. It increases how much you Overhead Press.

Vertical From The Front. Your forearms must also be vertical with the floor when looking from the front or back. Don’t Overhead Press with the wider grip you use on the Bench Press. Gripping the bar wide puts your forearms incline at the bottom which is ineffective. Narrow your grip so your hands are just outside your shoulders. The exact width depends on your shoulder width. But your forearms should be vertical.

Upper-arms

No Front Squats! The Overhead Press is not a Front Squat. Your upper-arms must be horizontal on the Front Squat to keep heavy weight on your shoulders and off your wrists. Your arms don’t move. They do on the Overhead Press. And horizontal upper-arms turn the bottom of the press into a triceps extension. This is hard and ineffective. Keep your upper-arms down at the bottom so you Overhead Press with vertical forearms.

Shoulders

Bar on Shoulders. Setup with the bar on your shoulders. Hold it on your muscles, in front of your throat. Raise you chest by arching your upper-back. Shrug you shoulders slightly but don’t touch your ears. Squeeze your armpits by pushing your lats against your triceps. Put your forearms vertical with your wrists almost straight. Your body will be tight. This gives the bar a better platform to Overhead Press from.

Shrug at The Top. Shrug your shoulders towards the ceiling at the top. This engages your trapezius muscles and prevents shoulder injuries. The rep doesn’t count if you didn’t finish it by shrugging your shoulders. Press the bar until your elbows are locked. Then keep pressing by raising your shoulders up. You’ll achieve a stronger lockout position, build bigger traps and avoid shoulder impingement from the Overhead Press.

Chest

Raise Your Chest. Lift your chest before you press the bar off your shoulders. This creates a tighter surface to press from. Make a big chest and try to touch your chin with your upper-chest. Do this by arching your upper-back. Keep your lower back neutral, don’t over-arch. Squeeze your armpits and take a big breath to lock your chest in position. Remember to raise your chest between reps before pressing the next one.

Upper-back

Arch Your Upper-Back. Pressing with your upper-back rounded is ineffective. It drops your shoulders and the bar. It increases the range of motion and puts your forearms incline. It makes the weight harder to Overhead Press. Arch your upper-back before you press the bar. Don’t squeeze your shoulder-blades together. Don’t over-arch your lower back. Just raise your chest to give the bar a tighter surface to press it from.

Traps

overhead-press-traps

Shrug at The Top. Finish every rep by shrugging your traps. Press the bar from your shoulders over your head. Keep pressing until your arms are straight. Once your elbows are locked, shrug your shoulders towards the ceiling. Hold it for a second before lowering the bar. Shrugging your traps at the top makes the bar easier to hold over your head. It engages more muscles. And it also prevents shoulder impingement.

Head

overhead-press-head

Look Forward. Fix a point on the wall in front of you. If you face a mirror, look “through” it. Don’t look at the ceiling or the bar while you Overhead Press. This can cause excess lean back. Don’t look aside or tilt your head either. This can twist and hurt your neck. Keep your head neutral while you Overhead Press. Stare at a point level with your eyes in front of you. Keep staring until your set is over.

Lower Back

Stay Neutral. Keep the natural arch in your lower spine when you Overhead Press. Your lower back shouldn’t be flat but have a natural curve like when you stand. Don’t allow your lower back to hyper-extend by leaning back excessively when you struggle to press the weight. This will squeeze your spinal discs and can hurt your back. Keep your lower back neutral. Take a big breath before you press and squeeze your abs hard.

Torso

Move Forward. Lean slightly back before you press the weight off your shoulders. Do this by pushing your hips forward without over-arching your lower back or bending your knees. This keeps your head back and out of the way of the bar. Now press the weight in a vertical line up while moving your torso forward. Don’t stay back or the weight will be harder to press. Get closer by moving your torso forward while the bar goes up.

Way Up

Press in Vertical Line. You can Overhead Press more weight if you press in a vertical line rather than a curve. It’s a shorter distance. But your head is in the way of the bar at the bottom. You must create space for the bar to move in a vertical line up. Lean back at the bottom before you press the weight. Keep your lower back neutral while moving your hips forward. This will keep your head back and out of the way.

Stay Close. Keep the bar close to your face on the way up. The further it moves away from your face and shoulders, the harder to press it. It’s like doing front raises. Press the bar in a vertical line up, not a curve. Lean back at the bottom to get your head out of the way. Once the bar clears your head, move your torso forward to keep the bar close. The movement will feel shorter and the weight easier. You’ll Overhead Press more weight.

Straight Legs. Don’t let your knees or hips bend on the way up. Press the weight using your shoulders and arms muscles only. Do this by keeping your legs straight. Squeeze your butt (glutes) and the front of your thighs (quads). Any bending of your legs is cheating. It takes works away from your shoulder muscles. If you can’t keep your legs straight when you Overhead Press, the weight is too heavy. Lower it.

Elbows 45°. Don’t flare your elbows on the way up. Keep them close to your torso. Setup with a narrow grip just outside your shoulders. Raise your chest by arching your upper-back. Put your forearms vertical. Rest your triceps on your lats. Your elbows will be about 45° in at the bottom. Now press the weight while keeping your elbows close. They shouldn’t point straight forward. But they shouldn’t flare to the side either.

Lockout

overhead-press-lockout

Bar Over Shoulders. The bar is balanced when you lock it over your shoulders at the top. Holding it in front or behind them is ineffective. The bar will pull you forward or back. Your shoulders will waste energy trying to stop you from losing the bar. You might have to step forward or back to avoid losing balance. Lock the bar over your shoulders. This makes it easier easier to hold and Overhead Press.

Lock Your Elbows. Don’t keep your elbows bent at the top. One, the rep doesn’t count. Two, you could lose the bar and drop it on your head. Lock your elbows at the top of each rep so your skeleton can hold the weight. This is safe for your elbow joints as long as you don’t hyper-extend your arms. Lock your elbows gently without going past their normal range of motion. Don’t aim for more tension. Aim for more weight.

Shrug! You must shrug your traps at the top. If you don’t shrug, your upper-arm bones will mash your rotator cuff tissues against your AC joint on every rep. This will hurt and injure your shoulders. Finish each rep by shrugging your shoulders towards the ceiling. Press the bar over your head, lock your elbows and then shrug. The bar will be easier to hold because you’re using more muscles. And your shoulders will be safe.

Way Down

Mirror The Way Up. The way down must be a mirror of the way up. Lower the bar in a vertical line to your shoulders. Lean slightly back by moving your hips forward so the bar doesn’t hit your head. Keep your lower back neutral, don’t over-arch. Keep your elbows 45° in, no flaring. Keep the bar close to your face so you don’t waste effort on the way down. And keep your forearms vertical with your elbows almost under the bar.

Under Control, Not Slow. Lower the bar too slow and you’ll waste strength for the way up. Lower it too fast and you’ll struggle to maintain proper form. The optimal lifting tempo is one where you can maintain proper form and press the most amount of weight. Slow down if you’re new to the Overhead Press, go faster if you’re more experienced. Don’t go slow to feel the muscles more, add weight instead.

Breathing

Inhale At The Bottom. Setup with the bar on your shoulders. Raise your chest by arching your upper-back. Keep your lower back neutral, no over-arching. Put your forearms vertical and rest your triceps on your lats muscles. Now take a big breath, hold it and press. Breathing in increases the pressure in your torso. It locks your chest in position and creates a tighter surface to press the bar from. This boosts strength.

Hold At The Top. Hold your breath on the way up. Don’t exhale or your chest will deflate like a balloon and cave in. Your upper-back will round and the rep will be harder to Overhead Press. Don’t exhale at the top either. You’ll lose tightness again which makes the next rep harder to press. Take a big breath at the bottom, hold it on the way up and hold it at the top. Exhale once the bar is back on your shoulders.

Exhale At The Bottom. Exhale once the bar is back on your shoulders. Get tight by raising your chest and arching your upper-back. Then take a big breath, hold it and press your next rep. If the weight is heavy and moves slowly, you can exhale on the way up. But don’t empty your lungs. Exhale against your closed glottis (or grunt) to release some pressure. On most reps you can wait to exhale until the bar is on you shoulders.

Bar Path

Vertical Line. Press the bar in a vertical line. A perpendicular bar path is the shortest distance between your shoulders and the lockout. Moving the bar over a short distance is easier than a long one. It increases how much you Overhead Press. Videotape yourself from the side view to check your bar path. If it isn’t vertical, you’re leaving kg/lb on the bar. Press more vertical and you’ll Overhead Press more weight.

No Curve. Don’t press the bar in J-curve away from your face. This increases the range of motion and makes the weight harder to press. It moves the bar further away from your shoulders and wastes energy. Press in a vertical line. Keep the bar close to your face. Hold it over you shoulders at the top. Don’t lockout the bar behind your shoulders or you’ll increase the range of motion again. Go short and you’ll press more weight.

Move Your Torso. Your head blocks the bar when you Overhead Press. You can’t press it from your shoulders straight overhead without hitting your chin and nose. You must create space for the bar by leaning slightly back at the bottom. Move your hips forward while keeping your lower back neutral. This keeps your head out of the way. Now press. Once the bar passes your head, move your torso forward to stay close to it.

Between Reps

Get Tight. Rest at the bottom for a second before doing your next rep. Use this rest to get everything tight. Raise your chest by arching your upper-back. Put your forearms vertical to the floor. Take a big breath, hold it and then press your next rep. You’ll have better form which will increase how much weight you can Overhead Press. You’ll gain more strength and muscle while lowering the risk of injury.

Don’t Bounce. You can Overhead Press more reps if you bounce between reps. Lowering the bar stretches your muscles. They can contract harder if you quickly rebound the bar off your shoulders to do your next rep. But you must maintain proper form for this to work. If your chest collapses or you press the bar in a J-curve, you lose the advantage bouncing brings. Better is to pause a second at the bottom between reps.

Common Pains

Lower Back Pain

Bad form will cause lower back pain on the Overhead Press. Your lower back must stay neutral when you Overhead Press. Rounding won’t happen unless you clean the bar at the start of each set. But excess lower back arching can easily happen. Hyper-extending your lower back squeezes your spinal discs. Especially when it’s loaded during a heavy Overhead Press. This can cause back pain, or worse, injuries like herniated discs.

Do NOT lean back when you struggle by arching your lower back. You might get the rep but you risk hurting yourself. Keep your lower back neutral. Maintain a natural arch like when you stand. Your lower back shouldn’t be flat, but it shouldn’t over-arch either. If you can’t keep your lower back neutral, the weight is too heavy. Consider it a fail instead of leaning back to get your rep at all cost. This is safer for your lower back.

You can lean back at the bottom of each rep to get the bar in a better position and press in a vertical line. But this lean back must come from your hips. You lean back by moving your hips forward, not by arching your lower back. Squeeze your glutes, abs and quads to avoid lower back arching. If you’re new to the Overhead Press, this will be hard. Don’t move your hips at all for now to avoid lower back movement. Try it later.

Belts won’t prevent lower back pain from bad form. They can help you Overhead Press more weight by giving your abs something to push against. Your ab muscles can contract harder which gives your lower back support. But excess lower back arching can still happen, and it’s dangerous with or without belt. Don’t wear a belt to make up for bad form. Overhead Press with your lower back neutral.

Shoulder Pain

overhead-press-acromion

Shoulder impingement happens when you fail to shrug at the top. The top of your upper-arm bone will smash your rotator cuff tissues against your AC joint if you don’t shrug. These tissues will inflame and hurt. The easy fix is to create space for your rotator cuff. Rotate your shoulder-blades out to put its bony process more vertical. You do this by engaging your traps. Shrug your shoulders at the top of each rep. Shoulder pain gone.

Don’t Overhead Press with the wider grip you use on the Bench Press. You elbows will flare and your shoulders will hurt. Overhead Press using the narrow grip. Your hands should be just outside your shoulders with your forearms vertical to the floor at the bottom. Press the bar in a vertical line up and balance it over your shoulders at the top. Don’t hold it in front or behind your shoulders at the top or they’ll hurt.

Wrist Pain

bench-bulldog-grip

Gripping the bar wrong causes wrist pain on the Overhead Press like it does on the Bench Press. Don’t hold the bar mid-palm. The weight will push your hands down and bend your wrists back. Heavy weight will stretch your wrists behind their normal range of motion. This will hurt. It also makes the weight harder to Overhead Press because the bar rests behind your wrists. Your forearms can’t apply force directly into the bar.

Wrist pain doesn’t mean your wrists are weak. You don’t need to strengthen your wrists by doing wrist curls or by wearing wrist wraps. You need to grip the bar properly. Hold it in the base of your palm, close to your wrists. Use the Bulldog Grip to hold the bar on top of your forearm bones. This keeps your wrists almost straight when you press. It stops wrist pain and makes the weight easier to Overhead Press.

Neck Pain

overhead-press-head

Neck pain can happen if you Overhead Press with bad form. Watch out with grinders. Don’t try to press the weight at all costs using bad form. Pain can shoot in your neck or traps mid-set. It will hurt for 2-3 days every time you turn your head or tilt it back. This can force you to skip the Overhead Press until your neck heals. Neck pain slows your progress. Worse, it will come back unless you stop doing what causes it.

Overhead press with your head neutral. Keep it inline with the rest of your spine. Look forward. Fix a point on the wall in front of you. If you face a mirror, look “through” it. Don’t look at the ceiling or the bar. Don’t tilt your head to one side to make room for the bar. Instead, lean back slightly at the bottom by moving your hips forward without over-arching you back. This keeps your head out of the way, neutral and level.

Keep your head under the bar at the top. Don’t lockout by moving your head forward like a chicken. Your torso should move forward to stay close to the bar. But your head must stay inline the rest of your spine. If you do it right, the bar will end over your shoulders and ears when you lockout the weight. If the bar is behind your ears, you’re pressing too far back or pushing your head too far forward. Both can cause neck pain.

Warmup properly. Don’t jump straight into your work weight. If you have to Overhead Press 5×5 50kg/110lb, do two sets with the empty bar first. Add 20kg/45lb and do three reps. Then do 5×5. You’re less likely to hurt yourself because your muscles and joints are warm, and you’ve practiced proper form. The weight will be easier to press too. Use the warmup calculator in the StrongLifts 5×5 app for iPhone and Android.

Sleeping and working in a bad position can also cause neck pain when you Overhead Press. Sleeping on your belly with your head twisted to one side is bad. Sleep on your side. Get a good pillow to support the arch in your neck. Working with your laptop on your lap is also bad. You’ll slouch over and bend your neck. The screen should be eye level. Put a bag or pillow under it to raise it. Same if you use a desktop.

Massage can speed up recovery from neck pain. A physiotherapist can do this for you or you can try it yourself. Stand with your back against the wall. Put a tennis or lacrosse ball between your trap and the wall. Lean against the ball and the wall to apply pressure. Do this back on the floor for more pressure. Roll around to massage the whole area. Your neck will loosen up if you do this 2-3x/day. But fix what caused the pain too.

Common Mistakes

Cheating

overhead-press-legs

The easiest way to cheat the Overhead Press is to use your legs. You start StrongLifts 5×5 doing the Overhead Press by the book. Your knees and hips stay locked. Only your arms move to press the bar over your head. After a couple of weeks you’re Overhead Pressing double what you started with. But you’re struggling to get your reps with the heavier weights. So you use a bit of legs. And you get your reps. But it’s cheating.

Using your legs on the Overhead Press is a Push Press. The Push Press isn’t a bad exercise. It’s a great exercise. But it’s not the solution when you struggle to complete your reps on StrongLifts 5×5. You must use consistent technique on each exercise. Because if your technique is consistent but the weight on the bar increases, you know you’re gaining strength and muscle. Adding body language or doing half reps is cheating.

The Push Press involves more muscles by using your legs. They takes work away from your shoulder muscles in the bottom position. The bar gets from your shoulders to your nose or forehead using the momentum you create with your legs. This doesn’t mean your shoulders don’t work. But they work less than when you Overhead Press with straight legs. And your shoulders can’t get stronger if you always use your legs to press.

Keep your legs straight when you Overhead Press. Don’t let them bend. If you can’t keep your legs straight, the weight is too heavy. Don’t try to get your reps by doing a Push Press so you can keep adding weight. You don’t turn your Squats into half Squats when the weight gets heavy. You don’t raise your torso more on the Barbell Rows either. Consider it bad form and a fail. Repeat the weight next time and lower it if you have to.

Excess Arching

Your lower back must stay neutral when you Overhead Press. Keeping a natural arch like when you stand. Don’t lean back by when you struggle to press the weight. Extreme arching of your lower spine (hyper-extension) squeezes your spinal discs from the back. Add the loading of the bar, and you can suffer a bad lower back injury like a herniated disc. Don’t allow extreme arching of your lower back. Stay neutral.

Note that you should lean back when you Overhead Press. This moves your head out of the way of the bar. It allows you to press in a vertical line which is more effective. But this lean back must come from your hips. Keep your lower back neutral while moving your hips forward. Do this before the bar leaves your shoulders, not after or during. Once the bar moves, don’t lean back more. Move your torso forward to stay close to the bar.

If you can’t stop your lower back from arching, get tighter. Take a bigger breath before you press the weight. Squeeze your abs as if somebody was going to punch you in the stomach. Wearing a belt when you Overhead Press can cue you to squeeze your abs by giving them something to push against. if your lower back continues to hyper-extend, your abs are weak. Be patient and they’ll get stronger. Or add assistance for your abs.

Bent Wrists

Overhead Pressing with bent wrists hurts and is ineffective for lifting big weights. Your wrists must be almost straight with your knuckles about 75° back. The goal is to hold the bar close to your wrists, on top of your forearm bones. This stops the bar from hurting your wrists by stretching them beyond their normal range of motion. It also makes the weight easier to press because your vertical forearms can press directly into the bar.

Elbows Back

Most people Overhead Press with their elbows behind the bar. You’ll probably make this mistake. Elbows back puts your forearms incline instead of vertical. This creates bar path issues where you press it away from your face instead of straight up. Plus your forearms can’t push straight into the bar because they’re incline. Move your elbows forward. They should be slightly in front of the bar so your forearms are vertical.

Overhead Press Variations

Push Press

The Push Press is an Overhead Press using your legs. Stand with the bar on your shoulders. Bend your knees and hips slightly as if doing a Quarter Squat. Then quickly straighten them to create momentum. Once they’re locked, press the bar off your shoulders. You’ll press more weight than on the Overhead Press because the Push Press uses more muscles. It uses your stronger legs and hip muscles to press. Video from Klokov…

Using your legs when you struggle on the Overhead Press is cheating. It takes work away from your shoulders. Your legs lift the bar to your nose while your arms lock it out. Your shoulders don’t have to work as hard in the bottom. The Push Press doesn’t develop the shoulder strength and muscle mass the Overhead Press builds. It doesn’t matter if you can lift more weight on the Push Press. It’s mostly legs and hips.

Some think the Push Press increases the Overhead Press. Yes, the weight is heavier and your arms lockout heavier weights. But you have to lift the bar to your nose first. That’s the job of your shoulders. They can’t get stronger if you always rely on your legs to lift the bar out the hardest bottom position. Your shoulder muscles will stay weak and your Overhead Press won’t increase if you only Push Press.

If you can’t Overhead Press without using your legs, the weight is too heavy. Don’t do Push Presses to get your reps. You don’t turn your Squats into half Squats or Barbell Rows into Deadlifts when the weight is heavy. You keep your technique consistent because that’s how you know more weight on the bar actually leads to more strength and muscle gains. Keep your legs straight. Any bending is a failed rep on StrongLifts 5×5.

The Push Press isn’t a bad exercise. It’s a great exercise to lift heavy weights overhead. It’s a great assistance exercise for the Overhead Press when you use it as such. I like the Push Press a lot. But it’s not a substitution exercise for the Overhead Press. The only way to get better at the Overhead Press it to Overhead Press. Turning your Overhead Press into a Push Press when you struggle makes you weaker at it, not stronger.

Military Press

The Military Press is a strict Overhead Press. It uses a narrower, military stance. You stand at attention with your heels together and toes out. You then press the bar from your shoulders over your head. But you don’t lean back by moving your hips forward. You’ll lift less weight on the Military Press because it’s stricter than the Overhead Press. Many people call the Overhead Press a Military Press but they’re different exercises.

The only reason to Military Press is if you want to make the Overhead Press harder on purpose. But few people want that. The Overhead Press is hard enough. It uses small muscles. You’ll struggle to get your reps faster than on other exercises. Pressing military-style just makes it worse. Don’t do it. Overhead Press with your heels hip-width apart and lean slightly back at the bottom. You’ll have better balance and press more weight.

Clean & Press

The Clean & Press is an Overhead Press where you first lift the bar off the floor to your shoulders. You then press the weight from you shoulders over your head. It’s two movements in one: a power clean followed by an Overhead Press. This works more muscles than taking the bar out of the Power Rack to Overhead Press. The Clean & Press was the only way to Overhead Press before the invention of Power Racks.

The Clean & Press was part of Olympic Weightlifting until 1972. They dropped it because it was hard to judge proper technique. You had to press with locked knees and without excess lean back. But this was hard to see because weightlifters pressed explosively. Some lifters got away doing an almost standing Bench Press. Judging was inconsistent. Today only the Snatch and Clean & Jerk are part of Olympic weightlifting.

Here’s a video of my Belgian compatriot, the Olympic Lifter Serge Redding, doing the Clean & Press. He pulls the bar off the floor on his shoulders and then presses it overhead. Unlike a Push Press his knees and hips don’t bend (hard to judge, see?). But he leans back to press the bar overhead. Redding is fat, but hey that’s 228kg/502lb. He pressed this at the World Championships in Peru in 1971 (a year before the lift was dropped).

Do NOT Overhead Press by leaning back like Redding does in this video. Yes, you will press heavier weights if you do it. But you can also injure your lower back. Leaning back squeezes your spinal discs from the back. It’s as bad as rounding and can result in lower back injuries like herniated discs. You need strong abs and back muscles to get away with it. I’ve been lifting for 16 years and don’t do it. Press with your lower back neutral.

The Clean & Press is your only way to Overhead Press if you don’t have a Power Rack (or one without outside uprights). You have to clean the bar from the floor to your shoulders at the start of each set. This works more muscles. Some Overhead Press more weight if they clean it first. Others press less because of the effort wasted cleaning the bar. I prefer to Overhead Press from the Power Rack. It’s easier to grip the bar right.

Seated Press

seated-press

The Seated Press is an Overhead Press while sitting on a bench. You take the bar out of the Power Rack on your shoulders and sit on the bench. Or you clean the bar off the floor on your shoulders and sit. Your stance should be wider, shoulder-width apart like when you Squat. Overhead Press your set of five on StrongLifts 5×5. Once done, stand up with the bar on your shoulders. Walk it in the rack or lower it on the floor.

The Seated Press works less muscle than the Overhead Press. Your legs, lower back and abs don’t have to work as hard to stabilize you and the bar. This emphasizes your shoulders and arms. But it develops less overall strength and muscle than the Overhead Press does. Best is to do the Seated Press without back support, on the bench you Bench Press with. This forces your body to stabilize yourself somewhat when you press.

Lower back pain is common with the Seated Press. You can over-arch during hard reps. Hyper-extending your lower back squeezes your spinal discs and can injure them. Your lower back must stay neutral. But this is hard on the Seated Press because you can’t squeeze your glutes to lock your back. Your glutes are stretched. You also can’t lean back by moving your hips forward because they’re locked on the bench.

The Seated Press is the better substitution exercise for the Overhead Press if your ceiling is low. The best solution is to Overhead Press outside. The worst solution is to Overhead Press kneeling (the pressure of the bar will destroy your knees, even with knee padding). If you can’t Overhead Press outside, do the Seated Press. But don’t expect the same full body gains as people who press standing. And watch out with your lower back.

Behind-The-Neck Press

The Behind-The-Neck Press is an Overhead Press from the neck instead of shoulders. Stand with the bar in your neck as if doing Squats. Press the bar from your neck over your head until your elbows are locked. The Klokov Press is a wide-grip variation named after russian weightlifter Dmitry Klokov (video below). The Bradford Press alternates the starting position on each rep (neck, shoulders, neck, shoulders, etc).

The Behind-The-Neck Press is dangerous for your shoulders. It puts them at their end range of motion. Most people lack the shoulder flexibility to handle this position. Even if you can, the small muscles of your shoulders are in a bad position to keep it together. You can easily hurt your rotator cuff muscles. Some lifters like Klokov seem to be fine. But you may not be that lucky. Stick with the Overhead Press, it’s safer.

Dumbbell Overhead Press

The Dumbbell Overhead Press is an Overhead Press using dumbbells. Stand with the end of each dumbbell on your shoulders. Don’t flare your elbows. Tuck them about 45° and keep them under the dumbbells. Press the two dumbbells overhead at the same time. Hold them with locked elbows over your shoulder joint at the top. Shrug your shoulders to the ceiling like when you Overhead Press with a barbell.

Your head isn’t in the way when you press with Dumbbells. No need to lean back by moving your hips forward unlike with a barbell. The dumbbells go up in a vertical line without hitting your face. But dumbbells are harder to balance. You must control them independently and press them at the same time. This works your stabilizing muscles more. But it also makes pressing in a vertical line harder if you’re new to dumbbells.

You can Overhead Press more weight using a barbell than dumbbells. More weight is more strength and muscle building. Your body has to recruit more muscles and contract them harder to lift the heavier bar and overcome gravity. Pressing 60kg/135lb overhead with a bar doesn’t mean you can press two dumbbells of 30kg/70lb. The weight is usually 25% lower with dumbbells because they’re harder to stabilize than a barbell.

Getting stronger is also harder with dumbbells. In most gyms they go up by 2kg/5lb. This forces you to add 4kg/10lb each StrongLifts 5×5 workout. Jumping from 16kg to 18kg dumbbells is a 12% increase! This is too much, too fast, for the small muscles the Overhead Press uses. You’ll miss reps and plateau quickly. Barbells are easier to get stronger with because you can use smaller increments of 1.25kg/2.5lb or less by microloading.

Overhead Pressing barbells is also safer than dumbbells. If you fail to press the bar, you simply return it to your shoulders. The bar is unlikely to drop on your head because if it’s too heavy it never leaves your shoulders. Dumbbells are harder to control. If you fail, they can easily drop to the side, on the floor and hit your leg or foot on the way down. Barbells are safer, especially if you Overhead Press inside the Power Rack.

Dumbbells aren’t bad. They’re great as assistance exercise once you’re strong enough to need that. But they’re no substitute for Overhead Pressing with a barbell. The fact that dumbbells are harder to stabilize doesn’t matter. You can always press more weight overhead if you use a barbell. And the more weight you press overhead, the more strength and muscle you will build. Overhead Press with a barbell.


How to Bench Press with proper form

bench-press

How to Bench Press with proper form: setup on the bench, grab the bar, unrack it, lower it to your mid-chest and press it back up.

Bench Press in the Power Rack for maximum safety. Set the safety pins at the proper height so they catch the weight if you fail to lift it. You don’t need a spotter if you Bench Press inside the Power Rack as I do. If you don’t have a Power Rack, ask someone in the gym to spot you when you Bench Press. Then follow these five simple steps to Bench Press with proper form.

  1. Setup. Lie on the flat bench with your eyes under the bar. Lift your chest and squeeze your shoulder-blades. Feet flat on the floor.
  2. Grab the bar. Put your pinky on the ring marks of your bar. Hold the bar in the base of your palm with a full grip and straight wrists.
  3. Unrack. Take a big breath and unrack the bar by straightening your arms. Move the bar over your shoulders with your elbows locked.
  4. Lower the bar. Lower it to your mid-chest while tucking your elbows 75°. Keep your forearms vertical. Hold your breath at the bottom.
  5. Press. Press the bar from your mid-chest to above your shoulders. Keep your butt on the bench. Lock your elbows at the top. Breathe.

Rack the weight once you’ve Bench Pressed five reps on StrongLIfts 5×5. Finish your last rep first by pressing the weight away from your chest until you’ve locked your elbows. Then move the bar horizontally from above your shoulders to your Power Rack. Don’t aim for the uprights or you could miss them. Aim for the vertical parts of your Power Rack. Once you’ve hit them, bend your elbows to lower the bar in the uprights.

 

Bench Press Setup

Bench Press setup

How to setup for the Bench Press: sit on the bench, lie down, squeeze your shoulder-blades, grab the bar, set your feet and then unrack.

Set your equipment first. Put the safety pins of your Power Rack at the proper height so they can catch failed weight. Center your Bench. Then set yourself before unracking the weight. Your wrists will bend if you grip the bar wrong. Your shoulders will move if your shoulder-blades aren’t tight. And you can’t fix it mid-set when heavy weight is crushing you. Setup properly to improve your form and increase your Bench Press

  • Lie Down. Sit at the end of your flat bench first. Then lie down by lowering yourself back on the bench. Put your eyes under the bar.
  • Squeeze Your Shoulder-blades. Raise your chest and tighten your upper-back. Put your shoulder-blades back and down. Squeeze them.
  • Grab The Bar. Pinky inside the ring marks. Hold the bar low, close to your wrist. Squeeze the bar using the full grip so it can’t move.
  • Set Your Feet. Feet flat on the floor using a shoulder-width stance. Set your one foot under your knee first, then set the other one.
  • Unrack. Straighten your arms to lift the bar out of the uprights. Move it horizontally until it’s balanced over your shoulders. Done.

Setup the same way on every Bench Press set. The more consistent your Bench Press setup is, the more consistent your technique will be once you start to Bench Press the weight. Better technique increases effectiveness. It increases how much you Bench Press. Don’t setup with zero respect for the weight because it’s light. Setup the same way whether you’re Bench Pressing warmup weight or heavy weight.

 

Bench Press Form 101

 

Bench Press Form from backProper Bench Press form the back: vertical forearms at the bottom, bar touches your chest.

Your build determines how your Bench Press form will look like maximum effectiveness. The wider your shoulders are, the wider your grip should be. The longer your upper-arms, the closer your elbows will be to your torso at the bottom. Don’t copy someone’s Bench Press form unless you have the same build. Follow these general Bench Press guidelines instead, and tweak your form as you gain experience.

  • Grip. Hold the bar in the base of your palm, close to your wrist. Squeeze the bar.
  • Grip Width. Hands inside the ring marks of the bar. Vertical forearms at the bottom.
  • Thumbs. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. Don’t Bench Press with a thumbless grip.
  • Wrists. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow. Don’t Bench with bent wrists or they’ll hurt.
  • Elbows. About 75° out at the bottom. They shouldn’t touch your torso or flare out 90°.
  • Forearms. Vertical to the floor from every angle: from the side as well as from the front.
  • Shoulders. Keep them back, on the bench. Don’t shrug your shoulders forward at the top.
  • Upper-back. Squeeze your shoulder-blades together to increase stability when you Bench.
  • Chest. Raise it to the ceiling. Reach to the bar while you lower it. But keep your butt on bench.
  • Head. Setup with your eyes under the bar. Keep your head neutral. Don’t push it into your bench.
  • Lower Back. Natural arch. I should be able to slide my flat hand between the bench and your back.
  • Butt. Keep your butt on your bench when you bench. Don’t cheat by raising your butt off the bench.
  • Feet. Flat on the floor, not in the air. Feet under knees. Use a shoulder-width stance like on Squats.
  • Unracking. Unrack the weight by straightening your arms. Move the bar above your shoulder joint.
  • Way Down. Lower the bar to your mid-chest. Tuck your elbows in 75° while you lower the weight.
  • Bottom. Straight wrists, vertical forearms. Elbows in but not against your torso. Bar on mid-chest.
  • Way Up. Don’t pause at the bottom. Press the bar back to above your shoulders. Lock your elbows.
  • Lockout. Lock the bar over your shoulder joint. Lock your elbows at the top. Don’t bend them back.
  • Racking. Lockout with straight elbows. Move the bar back against the rack. Lower it in the uprights.
  • Bar Path. Diagonal line from your mid-chest to shoulders. Not vertical over shoulders, neck or chest.
  • Breathing. Big breath at the top, hold it on the way down, hold it at the bottom, exhale at the top.

 

Safety

Failing Reps

 

How to fail the Bench Press safelyHow to fail the Bench Press safely: lower the bar back to your chest. Flatten your torso so the bar touches the bar. Then slide under it.

You’ll never get stuck under the weight if you Bench Press in the Power Rack. Power Racks have horizontal safety pins to catch the bar if you fail. Set these pins slightly lower than the bottom position when you Bench Press. The bar can’t touch the pins on good reps. If you fail to bench the weight, lower the bar to your mid-chest. Then flatten your torso to lower the bar on the safety pins. This is the safest way to Bench Press.

Bench Pressing without Power Rack or spotter is dangerous. If you get stuck with the bar, the only way out is the “Roll of Shame”. Lower the bar to your mid-chest, roll it to your stomach and then Deadlift it up. This won’t feel pleasant though because heavy weights will bruise your stomach. The alternative is to Bench without collars so you can tilt the bar to one side. But the gym will hate you for dropping weight. Get a Power Rack.

Benching with dumbbells looks safer but isn’t. You can’t get stuck, true. But if you fail to bench heavy Dumbbells, they can drop on your face and injure you. Or you have to throw the dumbbells on the floor and piss off the gym manager. Bench Pressing in the Power Rack is safer because the safety pins catch the bar if you get stuck. The weight can’t drop on your face or on the floor. It can when failing with heavy dumbbells.

Fear of injury on the Bench Press is normal. People die each year from Bench Press accidents. Don’t use the thumbless grip. Use the full grip so the bar can’t slip out of your hands and kill you. Don’t Bench Press heavy without Power Rack – the bar will crush you if you fail. Start light and focus on form before going heavy. Proper form will boost your confidence which overcomes fear. Set the safety pins even if you think you can bench it.

Without Spotter

bench-press-spotter

Bench inside the Power Rack even if you have a spotter. Let him help you (un)rack the weight. He shouldn’t touch the bar while you Bench Press.

You don’t need a spotter if you Bench Press in the Power Rack. I’ve been doing this for over 10 years in my home gym, usually without spotter and never got hurt. World Champion Mike Tuchscherer Bench Presses amost 500lb and also lifts in his home gym without spotter. He could get killed if he gets stuck with that much weight. Yet he’s always been safe by Benching in the Power Rack with the pins ready to catch a failed rep.

Even if you have a spotter, you should Bench Press in the Power Rack. Most people don’t know how to spot. They’ll look around while you Bench and react too slow. Or they’ll grab the bar out of your hands mid-rep, miss the uprights and drop it on your face. Don’t assume you’re safe because you have a spotter. He might be clueless. Bench Press in the Power Rack. Set the safety pins so they can catch any failed rep.

The main purpose of a spotter is to give you a hand off. To help you unrack the bar to you shoulders. This keeps your shoulders back on the bench and your chest tight. It saves strength for Bench Pressing the weight. But again, most people don’t know how to spot. They can unrack the bar with too much force and pull your shoulders out of position. Their hand off can do more damage than good. You’re often better off Benching alone.

No Thumbless Grip

 

Thumbless Grip Bench PressLeft: thumbless grip, dangerous, don’t use it. Middle: full grip but bar too high, wrists will bend back. Right: correct bulldog grip with bar low in hand.

Don’t Bench Press with the thumbless grip. The bar can slip out of your hands, drop on your face and kill you. Wrap your thumbs around the bar using the full grip. The bar can’t slip out of your hands if your thumbs are there to secure it. If your wrists hurt with the full grip, it’s usually because they’re bent when you Bench Press. Straighten your wrists by gripping the bar lower in your hands. Use the Bulldog Grip as explained below.

Shoulder Injuries

Bench Press ElbowsLeft: flared elbows, leads to shoulder impingement. Center: elbows tucked too much, ineffective. Right: elbows properly tucked about 75°

Bad Bench Press form causes shoulder pain and injuries. Don’t Bench bodybuilding-style with your elbows flared 90°. Don’t lower the bar guillotine-style to your neck. You’ll get a bigger chest stretch if your elbows are perpendicular to your torso at the bottom. But you’ll impinge your shoulders. The top of your upper-arm will squeeze your rotator cuff tendons against your AC joint. The tissues will inflame and hurt.

Proper Bench Press form is elbows about 75° in at the bottom. The exact angle depends on your build. But your elbows shouldn’t be perpendicular to your torso because that’s unsafe. They shouldn’t touch your torso either because that’s ineffective. Lower the bar with your elbows in about 75° while keeping your forearms vertical from every angle. Videotape yourself when you bench press to check your elbows.

Don’t Bench Press in the smith machine. It forces a vertical bar path because the bar is attached to rails. But the bar path isn’t vertical on the Bench Press. The bar can’t move in a vertical line over your shoulders because that impinges them. It can’t move vertically over your chest either because that’s ineffective. The bar must move diagonally from your shoulders to your mid-chest. You need free weights to do this.

Bench Press Technique

Bench Grip

bench-press-low-grip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full Grip. Wrap your thumbs around the bar. This is the safest and most effective way to Bench Press heavy. Squeeze the bar so it can’t move in your hands. Your arms, shoulders and chest muscles will contract harder which increases your Bench Press (hyper radiation). Don’t relax or open your hands while you Bench Press or the bar will move around. Keep your hands closed and squeeze the bar as hard as you can.

No Thumbless Grip! The bar can slip out of your hands if you grip it without thumbs. If it slips, no spotter will be fast enough to catch the bar. It will crush your face, throat or chest. You’ll be injured, or worse, die. Wrap your thumbs around the bar to secure it. Squeeze the bar so it can’t move. This will increase your Bench Press at the same time. If your wrists hurt, grip the bar lower to stop your wrists from bending.

bench-bulldog-grip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grip Low Palm. Hold the bar in the base of your palm, close to your wrists. Don’t hold it close to your fingers like on the Deadlift or your wrists will bend back. Bent wrists hurt. Bent wrists also make the weight harder to bench because the bar is further from your wrists. This is bad leverage and bad power transfer. Grip the bar low palm so it rests over your wrists and elbows. You’ll bench more weight without wrist pain.

Bulldog Grip. The easiest way to grip the bar low palm is using the Bulldog Grip. Imagine how a Bulldog plants his paws. Grip the bar by rotating your hands in before closing them. Then squeeze the bar so it can’t move. The Bulldog Grip will feel weird and less secure. But it isn’t less secure because your thumbs keep the bar from slipping out of your hands. Try it for a few workouts, you’ll get used to it.

Bench Grip Width

bench-press-grip-width

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medium Grip. Grip the bar with your pinky inside the ring marks of your bar. Your forearms must be vertical to the floor when the bar touches your chest. Your build determines the grip width you need for this but medium usually works. Wider grips are tough on most people’s shoulders. Narrower grips are ineffective to bench heavy because it puts your forearms incline. It emphasizes your triceps. Go medium grip.

Vertical Forearms. Your forearms must be vertical to the floor when the bar touches your chest. Check this by videotaping your Bench Press. If your elbows are outside your wrists at the bottom, the weight is harder to bench (it’s like doing a triceps extension). If your elbows are inside your wrists, the weight is harder on your shoulder joints. Bench Press with vertical forearms at the bottom by adjusting you grip width.

Wrists

bench-press-wrists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Straight Wrists. The safest and most effective way to Bench Press is with straight wrists. Vertical line bar-wrist-elbow when the bar touches your chest at the bottom. Don’t Bench Press with bent wrists or they’ll hurt. Wrist wraps isn’t the solution to that, proper form is. Straighten your wrists by gripping the bar lower and closer to your wrist. This will improve power transfer at the same time and increase your Bench Press.

Grip Low Palm. Don’t grip the bar mid palm or close to your fingers like on the Deadlift. Gravity will pull the bar down when you Bench Press. It will bend your wrists and hurt them unless you grip the bar low palm. Setup for the Bench Press by gripping the bar low and close to your wrists. Use the Bulldog Grip to rotate your hands in before you close your hands. Then squeeze the bar so it can’t move and bend your wrists.

Elbows

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Tuck Your Elbows. Lower the bar while moving your elbows in. Your build determines how much your elbows should tuck. Your upper-arms can’t be perpendicular to your torso at the bottom. But your elbows can’t touch your torso either. The safest and most effective way to Bench Press is with vertical forearms at the bottom. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow. An upper-arm angle of about 75° usually works.

Don’t Touch Your Torso. Touching your torso with your elbows puts them inside your wrists. The weight becomes harder to bench and harder on your joints. Geared Powerlifters who use compression shirts do this. But we Bench raw without bench shirt to help us lift the bar off our chest. Our elbows and wrists must be inilne because that’s the most effective way to Bench Press. Don’t overtuck your elbows at the bottom.

Don’t Flare Your Elbows. Don’t lower the bar with elbows out 90°. Don’t Bench Press bodybuilding-style with your elbows perpendicular to your torso at the bottom. You’ll impinge your shoulders trying to get a bigger chest stretch. The top of your upper-arms will smash your rotator cuff tendons against your AC joint on every rep. Your shoulders will inflame and hurt. Tuck your elbows 75° in at the bottom.

Flare On The Way Up Only. The way up must be a mirror of the way down. You must flare your elbows to bench the bar back over your shoulders. If you don’t, your elbows will end in front of the bar. Or you’ll bench in a vertical line over your mid-chest. Both are ineffective for Bench Pressing heavy weights. Press the bar away from your mid-chest over your shoulder joints by flaring your elbows on the way up.

Vertical Forearms. The most effective way to Bench Press is with vertical forearms when the bar touches your chest. Straight line bar to wrist to elbow is better leverage, more power transfer and no wrist pain. If your elbows are too far back or forward, grip the bar low palm and adjust your grip width. If your elbows are still wrong, you’re touching your chest too high/low. Videotape your Bench to get your forearms vertical.

Lock At The Top. Unrack the weight with locked elbows. Lock them again at the top of every rep and when racking the weight. Don’t Bench Press with unlocked elbows at the top. One, the rep doesn’t count. Two, you could lose the bar and injure yourself. Three, locking is safe if you don’t go past the normal range of motion of your elbow joint. Lock your elbows at the top of every rep, but don’t hyper-extend.

Forearms

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Vertical From The Side. Your forearms must be vertical to the floor when the bar touches your chest. From the sideview, straight line from bar to wrist to elbow. This is the safest and most effective way to Bench Press. If your wrists bend back, grip the bar low palm using the Bulldog Grip. If your elbows are too far back or forward, tuck more/less or touch your chest higher/lower. Videotape yourself and adjust your form.

Vertical From The Front. Your forearms must also be vertical with the floor when looking from the front or back. Incline forearms are ineffective. Benching with a close grip and your elbows outside your wrists is like doing a triceps extension. Benching with a wide grip and your elbows inside your wrists is rough on your shoulders. Videotape yourself and adjust your grip to Bench Press with vertical forearms.

Head

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Eyes Under Bar. Lie on the bench with your eyes under the bar. This shortens the distance between the Power Rack and your shoulders. It makes the weight easier to unrack. Don’t lie low on the bench or the bar will have to move further when you unrack it. This wastes strength and it’s unsafe. The bar should be over your eyes when you lie on the bench and look up. If you hit the uprights on the way up, you’re too close.

Don’t Push With Your Head. Your neck will hurt if you push your head into the bench when you press. Tighten your neck muscles without pushing your head into the bench. The simplest way to do this is by keeping your head off the bench. Touch your flat bench with your hair only. Your neck muscles will be tight if your head is off the bench. Your neck won’t hurt because you can’t push your head into the bench.

Keep Your Head Neutral. Don’t turn your head to look at the uprights or you’ll tweak your neck. Don’t raise your head to check if the bar touched your chest. Look at the ceiling and keep your head neutral. Rack the bar without turning your head. Lockout the bar over your shoulders and move it back against the vertical parts of your Power Pack. When it touches, bend your arms to lower the bar in the uprights. No need to look.

Shoulders

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Shoulders Back. Keep your shoulders on the bench. Don’t shrug them forward when you bench the weight. If you shoulders come forward, your hands will be higher. The higher your hands, the longer the bar path and the harder to bench the weight. Setup with your shoulders back against the bench. Unrack the bar with straight arms. Let the weight sink your shoulders in the bench before you lower the bar.

Don’t Press, Push. The best way to keep you shoulders back on the bench is to think of pushing, not pressing. Push yourself away from the bar instead of pressing the bar away from your chest. Imagine you’re doing a Pushup and are pushing yourself away from the floor instead of pushing the floor away. Bench Press by pushing yourself away from the bar into the bench. Your shoulders will stay back.

Get a Hand Off. Your shoulders can come forward when you unrack the bar. Some Power Racks lack enough hole spacing which puts the uprights too high or low. Too low causes strength loss because you have to straighten your arms more to unrack. Too high causes your shoulders to come off the bench to unrack. Ask a spotter to help you unrack the bar so your shoulders stay back. You’ll have more strength.

Upper-back

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Squeeze Your Shoulder-blades. Lie on the bench with your upper-back tight. Imagine holding a pen between your shoulder-blades by squeezing them together. This flattens your upper-back and increases stability when you lie on the bench. You can push your upper-back harder against the bench which increases your Bench Press. Don’t just lie on the bench. Squeeze your shoulder-blades before you unrack the weight.

Stay Tight. Don’t shrug your shoulders forward. You’ll lose upper-back tightness, your chest will collapse and your hands will be higher. This makes the bar path longer and the weight harder to bench. Keep you back tight, chest up and shoulders back. Squeeze your shoulder-blades before you unrack the weight. Ask for a hand off so you don’t lose tightness. Keep your upper-back tight by pushing yourself in the bench on each rep.

Chest

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Lift Your Chest. Setup with your shoulder-blades squeezed together. Raise your chest towards the ceiling. Do this by arching your lower back and rotating your ribcage up. Keep your butt on the bench. Squeeze your lats to lock your chest in position. The weight will be easier to Bench because you’ll touch your chest higher. This shortens the bar path and decreases horizontal bar movement to press it back over your shoulders.

No Flat Chest! Benching with a flat chest forces you to touch your torso lower. The further the bar from your shoulders, the harder to bench it and the harder it is on your shoulders. Your shoulders can actually roll forward and get hurt if you bench with a flat chest. You’re not cheating the range of motion by raising your chest when you Bench Press. You’re making the exercise safer and more effective.

Lower Back

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Arch Your Back. Bench Press with your lower back arched. Lie on the bench with a natural arch in your lower back. The same arch your lower back shows when you stand. I should be able to slide my flat hand between the bench and your lower back. Arching your lower back helps keeping your chest up. It increases effectiveness when you Bench Press. Keep your butt on the bench while you arch your lower back.

Don’t Overarch. You don’t have to arch your back like a horseshoe. Some powerlifters do this to Bench Press heavier weights. But it stresses your back. Overarching compresses your spinal discs. It can cause back pain. Some also consider overarching cheating because it decreases the range of motion too much. Arch your lower back to keep your chest up. Natural arch like when you stand. No overarching.

No Flat Back. The goal isn’t to decrease the range of motion. The goal is to Bench with your chest up. This is safer for your shoulders and more effective for benching heavy weights. Your chest won’t stay up and your shoulder blades won’t stay squeezed if you Bench with a flat back. Arch your lower back to stay tight. If your back hurts, stop overarching. Bench with a natural arch like when you stand, no horseshoe back.

Butt

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Keep Your Butt Down. Bench Press with your butt on the bench. Your lower back can come off the bench to keep you chest up. But your butt can’t or it’s a failed rep. If it does, check if your bench is 45cm/18″ high. If it’s lower, get a better bench or raise yours by putting plates flat under it. Then bench by pushing your feet into the floor, and your upper-back and glutes into the bench. Don’t just push from your feet.

No Butt Off Bench! Benching with your butt off the bench is cheating. It’s like turning your Squats into a half Squats. It makes the weight easier to bench by decreasing the range of motion. Raising your butt off the bench gets you three red lights in powerlifting competitions. It can hurt your lower back if you hyper-extend your spine. If your butt comes off the bench on StrongLifts 5×5, it’s a failed rep. Repeat the weight next time.

Feet

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Feet On The Floor. Bench Press with your feet on the floor. Don’t put your feet on the bench or in the air to feel your muscles better. It’s unstable and ineffective for Benching heavy weights because you can’t use your legs. Feet on the floor increases stability, balance and strength. It improves your form by helping your keep your chest up and lower back arched. Bench Press with your feet flat on the floor.

Heels On The Floor. Bench with your whole foot flat on the floor. Don’t raise your heels. Raised heels are less stable for the same reason standing on your toes is less stable than on your whole foot. More foot surface against the floor is better. Some powerlifters Bench Press with raised heels. But the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF) doesn’t allow it. Keep your heels down when you Bench Press.

Squat Stance. Bench Press with your heels about shoulder-width apart. Use the same stance you use on Squats. Don’t Bench Press with a narrow stance, it’s less stable. You have better balance on the bench with a wider stance. If your hips hurt or cramp when you Bench Press, your stance is too wide (or you’re tight). Narrow your stance to shoulder-width apart from heel to heel. Turn your feet out 30° so they align with your thighs.

Knees Over Ankles. Bench Press with your knees above your ankles. This means 90° angle at your knee and ankle joints. Don’t Bench with your feet in front of your ankles. It makes it impossible to push from your legs and decreases strength. Your feet can be slightly behind your knees as long as you don’t raise your heels off the floor, your butt off the bench, or overarch. This can help you push from your legs better.

Unracking

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Eyes Under Bar. Lie on your bench with your eyes under the bar. This shortens the distance between your Power Rack and shoulders. It makes the weight easier and safer to unrack. If you lie lower, you’ll have to move the bar further to reach you shoulders. This wastes strength and is less safe. It’s like doing a lat pullover before you Bench Press. You could lose the bar and hurt your face. Move up so your eyes are under the bar.

Shoulders Back. Keep your shoulders back on your bench when you unrack the weight. Setup with your shoulder-blades squeezed together and your chest up. Stay tight. Don’t let your shoulders come forward. If they do, lower your uprights. Your elbows must be bent when you grab the bar. You must unrack by straightening your arms, not shrugging your shoulders. This keeps them back on the bench.

Lock Your Elbows. Lift the bar out of the uprights by locking your elbows. Keep them locked while moving the bar to your shoulders. Don’t unrack with bent elbows. You could lose the bar and hurt your face. Let your stronger skeleton carry the weight, not your muscles. Locking your elbows isn’t bad as long as you don’t hyper-extend them. If your elbows are locked before you unrack the bar, lower your uprights.

Bar to Shoulders First. Move the bar from your Power Rack to your shoulders before you lower it. Balance it over your shoulders first. Don’t lower the bar from the uprights to your chest in an incline line. You’re putting yourself in a weak position if you lower the bar from above your face. It’s like doing heavy lat pullovers. You could lose the bar on your face and die. Unrack the bar, move it to your shoulders and then lower it.

Way Down

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Tuck Your Elbows. Lower the bar to your mid-chest while moving your elbows in. They shouldn’t touch your torso because that’s ineffective. But they shouldn’t be 90° out and perpendicular to your torso either because that causes shoulder injuries. Your exact elbow angle when your Bench Press depends on your build. The rule of thumb is to tuck your elbows about 75° so your forearms are vertical at the bottom.

Vertical Forearms. Your forearms must be vertical to the floor when you lower the bar. Straight line from bar to wrist to elbow from every angle. If your forearms aren’t vertical when you lower the bar, you’re tucking your elbows too much/little. Or you’re touching your chest too high/low. Or your grip is too wide/narrow. Videotape yourself Bench Pressing. Look at your forearms and fix your form to get them vertical.

Under Control, Not Slow. Lower the bar under control but don’t be slow. If you lower the bar too slow, you’ll lose strength for Bench Pressing the weight up. If you lower the bar too fast, you’ll have a harder time Benching with proper form. Don’t lower the weight slowly to feel your muscles more. You’ll feel your muscles plenty when Benching heavy weight. Lower the bar under control with good form but not slow.

Bottom Position

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Touch Your Mid-Chest. Lower the bar to your mid-chest – the middle of your breastbone (sternum). The exact position depends on your build, grip and arch. Long upper-arms put your elbows further from your shoulders. The bar will touch your chest lower. Arching you back raises your chest. The bar will touch it higher. Aim for vertical forearms from every angle at the bottom and the bar will touch your chest where it should.

No Half Reps! Use a full range of motion. Lower the bar until it touches your chest. If it doesn’t, the rep doesn’t count. Half reps work less muscle, develop zero strength in the bottom and yield half the gains. They’re cheating like half Squats are cheating. Go all the way down. If you can’t, the weight is too heavy. If your shoulders hurt, fix your form. Raise your chest, squeeze your shoulder-blades and tuck your elbows 75°.

Touch and Go. Lower the bar, touch your chest and press it back up. Don’t pause at the bottom or the weight will be harder to bench. Use the stretch reflex by quickly reversing the movement. Your muscles will contract harder after the stretch on the way down. Powerlifters pause their Bench Press because that’s the competition rule. You’ll Bench Press more if you don’t pause but touch and go on StrongLifts 5×5.

No Bouncing! Touch and go isn’t bouncing. Don’t drop the bar fast against your chest. It can rebound to your feet or face instead of up. Bad bar paths make the weight harder to press and cause failed reps. If the bar slows after it touches your chest, you’re bouncing too hard. Lower the bar slower. Anticipate pressing it back up and it will decelerate. Brush your chest by touching your t-shirt with the bar.

Way Up

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Bench in Diagonal Line. Press the bar diagonally from your mid-chest to above your shoulders. Don’t press in a vertical line over your mid-chest. This is shorter, but ineffective. The easiest way to hold the bar at the top is over your shoulders because that’s your balance point. Holding it over your mid-chest is harder because it’s away from your balance point. It’s like doing front raises. Press the bar back towards your shoulders.

Flare Your Elbows. Press the bar away from you chest while flaring your elbows. They must stay under the bar. You’ve tucked your elbows on the way down to avoid shoulder impingement. If you don’t flare them back out on the way up, your elbows will end in front of the bar. This makes the weight harder to bench, like when doing triceps extensions. Flare your elbows while you bench in a diagonal line up with vertical forearms.

Push Yourself Away. Press the bar away from your mid-chest by driving yourself into the bench. Imagine you’re doing Pushups. You’re pushing yourself away from the floor because it can’t move. Bench Press the same way: push yourself away from the bar instead of pushing it away from you. This stops your shoulders from rolling forward. You’ll stay tight on the bench with your chest up and shoulder-blades squeezed.

Butt on Bench. Keep your butt on the bench while you bench the bar up. If your butt comes off the bench, the rep doesn’t count. Lock your butt on the bench by driving your upper-back and glutes into it while you Bench Press the weight. Don’t just push from your feet. If your butt still comes off the bench, check its height. Your bench must be 45cm/18″ high. If it’s lower, raise it by putting plates under it. Or get a better bench.

Lockout

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Bar Over Shoulders. The bar is balanced when you hold it above your shoulders. Bar above chest is harder. It’s like doing a front raise. Bar over face is also harder. It’s like pullovers. Test it: lockout an empty bar over your shoulders. Move it to over your chest. Then over your face. Then back over your shoulders. Notice how bar over shoulders is easier. That’s because it’s your balance point. Lockout every rep here.

Lock Your Elbows. Finish every rep by locking your elbows. Don’t keep them bent to keep tension or feel your muscles more. You could drop the bar on your face and die. Lock your elbows so your stronger skeleton holds the weight at the top, not your muscles. Your elbows will be safe as long as you don’t hyper-extend your elbows. Lock them at the top, but don’t go past their normal range of motion.

Racking

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Bar Over Shoulders First. Don’t Bench Press the bar straight into the uprights. You can miss them by pressing the bar under them. If you miss the uprights, your elbows will be bent in a pullover-like position. You’ll struggle to hold the bar, may drop it on your face and die. Always lockout the bar over you shoulders first. Don’t rush it. Then move the bar back against the Power Rack. Bend your arms to lower it in the uprights.

Lock Your Elbows. Your elbows must be locked before you move the bar back to rack it. Heavy weight is harder to hold with bent elbows. Weight that’s harder to hold is weight you can drop more easily. Dropping the bar on your face will injure or kill you. Press the bar over your shoulders and lock your elbows. Don’t hyper-extend them, lock gently. Then move the bar back to the Power Rack with straight arms.

Aim for The Power Rack. Rack the bar by moving it back against the vertical parts of your Power Rack. Then lower it into the uprights by bending your arms. Don’t aim for the uprights, you could miss them. Don’t turn your head to look at the uprights, it can twist your neck. If you set yourself and the uprights properly, and the bar touches your Power Rack, it’s over the uprights. Just bend your arms to rack it.

Bar Path

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Diagonal Line. Proper form is Bench Pressing the bar diagonally from shoulders to chest and back up. This distance is longer than with a vertical bar path. But it prevents shoulder impingement. Your elbows must tuck 75° at the bottom so your upper-arms doesn’t smash your rotator cuff tendons against your AC joint. And the bar must lockout over your shoulders (your balance point). You need a diagonal bar path for this.

Not Vertical. Unlike Squats or Deadlifts, a vertical bar path doesn’t work on the Bench Press. Moving the bar in a vertical line over your shoulders flares your elbows out 90°. This impinges your shoulders. Vertical line over chest puts the bar in front your shoulders at the top. This is harder, like doing front raises. The safest and most effective bar path is from shoulders to mid-chest. You can’t do this if the bar moves vertically.

Raise Your Chest. The bar path can’t be vertical when you Bench Press. If it is, you’re flaring your elbows or pressing over your chest. The former is bad for your shoulders, the latter ineffective. Bench the bar in a diagonal line. Then get that path more vertical by raising your chest. Lower the bar and meet it with your chest. Keep your butt on the bench. The bar will touch your chest higher and closer to your shoulders. This is more effective.

Breathing

Inhale At The Top. Setup with proper form. Unrack the weight and hold it above your shoulders. Breathe in, hold it and lower the bar. Breathing at the top helps you staying tight by increasing pressure in your torso. It helps keeping your chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed and back arched. Don’t breathe while you lower the bar. You won’t be tight. Take a big breath at the top, hold it and then lower the bar.

Hold At The Bottom. Don’t exhale at the bottom. Your chest will deflate like a balloon, you’ll lose tightness and the weight will be harder to Bench Press. Hold your breath on the way down and at the bottom. Your blood pressure will increase. But it will return to normal when your set is over. And the stronger muscles you build by benching heavy will decrease your blood pressure because they put less demand on your heart.

Exhale At The Top. Exhale once you’ve locked the weight over your shoulders. But don’t empty your lungs between reps or you’ll lose tightness. Skilled Bench Pressers often do several reps with one breath to stay tight. Take a big breath before lowering the first rep. Then take short, quick breaths between reps at the top. You can slowly exhale against your closed glottis, on the way up, if the pressure is too big on the last reps.

Equipment Setup

Uprights

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Set the uprights so your arms are bent when you grab the bar. Lie on the bench with your eyes under the bar. Chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed and back arched. Grab the bar and press it out of the uprights by straightening your arms. If you do this correctly your shoulders will stay back on the bench. You’ll stay tight and waste less effort to unrack the weight. This increases strength to Bench Press.

Your uprights are too high if your arms are straight when you grab the bar. This forces you to unrack by shrugging your shoulders forward. Your shoulder-blades won’t stay squeezed, and you can’t re-squeeze them once you’ve unracked the weight and it’s compressing you. Loose shoulders are unstable and ineffective for Benching heavy. Lower the uprights so your arms are bent when you unrack.

Your uprights are too low if you have to do a half Bench Press to unrack the bar. Your arms should be bent when you grab it. But you shouldn’t be benching a half rep. Save your strength for benching the weight. Don’t waste strength unracking it. Lower the uprights so you have to straighten your arms as little as possible to lift the bar out of the uprights. Your shoulders must stay back on the bench.

Some Power Racks lack enough hole spacing. My uprights don’t match my arm length. They’re either too high or too low. Check if you can drill extra holes without making your Power Rack unstable. Or raise your bench a cm by putting plywood under it. If neither works, set your uprights too low rather than too high. You’ll waste some strength unracking the bar with more bent arms. But your shoulders will stay back and tight.

Safety Pins

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Set the safety pins of your Power Rack lower than the bottom of your Bench Press. The bar must touch your chest without hitting the pins. If you lower the safety pins to the level of your chest, you’ll hit them on good reps. This throws the bar off balance and into a bad bar path. It’s a stupid way to fail reps on StrongLifts 5×5. Put the safety pins lower than your chest so you never hit them on good reps.

When you fail a rep and get pinned by the weight, lower the bar to your chest first. Then lower it to your safety pins by flattening your torso. This is another reason why you should Bench Press with your chest up, shoulder-blades squeezed and back arched. It raises your torso so you can Bench Press with lower safety pins without hitting them on good reps. Just flatten your chest and back to lower the bar to the safety pins.

You don’t need a spotter if you Bench Press in the Power Rack. Even if you have a spotter, Bench Press in the Power Rack for maximum safety. The safety pins will catch the bar if your spotter reacts too slowly, or not at all. Safety overcomes fear. It boosts your confidence. You’ll go all out instead of holding reps back. Your Bench Press will increase faster as a result. Here’s some Power Racks I recommend:

  • Atlas Power Rack. Cheap but no free shipping. 4.8 stars reviews on Amazon.
  • PowerLine PPR200X. Handles 600lb, outside uprights, safety pins, pullup bar. But too short to Overhead Press. 4.6 stars. Free shipping.
  • Body-solid Pro. Handles 1000lb, pullup bar, but costs more than PowerLine PPR200X. Similar rack to mine.
  • Titan Power Rack. Handles 700lb, 28 holes, chin-up bar, less than $300.
  • Rogue R3. High quality with pullup bar. But expensive and you must bolt it down.
  • Short Power Rack. Fits under low 6″ ceilings.

Bench

Center your bench in your Power Rack for proper balance. Don’t put it more on one side or you’ll unrack the bar unevenly. Put your bench higher up in your Power Rack so your head rests on it when you lie with your eyes under the bar. Your bench should support your whole upper-back so you can drive yourself into the bench. It should be 30cm/12″ wide. A smaller bench is less stable and ineffective for benching heavy.

Your Bench should be 45cm/18″ high. If your Bench is shorter, your butt will come off the bench when you press the weight. This is cheating. Keep your butt on the bench by raising your bench to the proper height. Put plates flat on the floor under the legs of your bench. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips. If you’re shorter and the bench is too high, raise your feet by putting plates under it.

Use a heavy duty bench. The limit load should be 300kg/600lb at least. Avoid cheap benches rated 140kg/300lb. It doesn’t take much weight for their legs to bend. The limit load includes your body-weight. So 140kg/300lb at 77kg/170lb BW is 63kg/130lb on the bar. You’ll Bench Press that within three months on StrongLifts 5×5. Get a strong bench so you don’t get killed. One without leg attachments. I recommend:

  • Adidas Flat Bench – handles up to 600lb
  • Rogue Flat Bench Press – handles up to 1000lb

Barbell

Center your barbell in the uprights so you unrack it evenly. Pull it against the front of the uprights before you unrack it. This shortens the distance to get the bar from the uprights to your shoulders. If your bar rests against the back part of your uprights, close to the vertical parts of your Power Rack, you’ll have to move it over a greater distance. This wastes strength and is less safe. Pull the bar against the front of the uprights.

Bench Press a barbell with revolving sleeves. The plates must spin independently of the bar. If the outside of your bar doesn’t spin, the bar will want to rotate in your hands. This stresses your wrists and elbows, and it lowers grip strength. Use an Olympic Barbell with revolving sleeves. Put your pinky inside the vertical marks of the bar so your arms are vertical. Here’s some barbells I recommend:

  • Rogue Power Bar. high quality, best of the best.
  • Troy Texas Power Bar. Handles 1500lb, center knurling.
  • Body-solid Olympic bar. If you want to go cheap, I wouldn’t buy it.
  • Cap Barbell. Tested at 1500lb, black. But lacks center knurling for Squats.

Bench Press Variations

Close Grip Bench Press

The Close Grip Bench Presses is a Bench Press using a narrow grip. Setup on your flat Bench like you do for the regular Bench Press. But grip the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart. They should be over your shoulders at the top and next to you torso at the bottom. This is the same grip width you use on the Overhead Press. Then lower the bar to your mid-chest and press it back up.

Bench Pressing close grip is harder than medium grip. The range of motion is longer because your arms are vertical at the top. Your triceps works harder because your forearms are incline at the bottom. And your chest works less because your elbows go less deep. The Close Grip Bench Press works the same muscles as the Bench Press. But expect to Bench about 20% less close grip than medium grip.

The Close Grip Bench Press is a good substitute for the Bench Press if you have shoulder issues. The narrow grip keeps your elbows closer to your body and doesn’t let them go as deep. If your shoulders hurt when you Bench Press, despite using proper form, try close grip. Many people who get shoulder pain on the Bench Press can do Close Grip pain-free. You’ll Bench less weight, but it’s better than not benching at all.

Don’t grip the bar too narrow when you do the Close Grip Bench Press. Your hands shouldn’t touch eachother. This puts your wrists too much out of line with your forearms. Your wrists will hurt, the bar will be hard to balance and you’ll have less strength. Grip the bar with your hands about shoulder-width apart. Use the same grip as on the Overhead Press. And squeeze the bar hard so it can’t move in your hands.

Incline Bench Press

The Incline Bench Press is a Bench Press done on an incline Bench. Put your bench about 45° incline. Lie down with your feet on the floor and grab the bar with a medium grip. Unrack with straight arms, lower the bar to your upper-chest and press it back up over your shoulders. Keep your butt on the bench and your lower back neutral. Bench Press in the Power Rack to avoid injuries if you fail to press the weight.

Most people do the Incline Bench Press to target their “upper-chest”. But you can’t isolate one part of your chest. Your biggest chest muscle is your pectoralis major. This is a two head muscle with one part attaching to your collarbone and the other to your chestbone. You can’t contract one head without contracting the other (try it). Both heads contract whether you Bench Press flat or incline. You can’t isolate one part.

The best way to grow a bigger upper-chest is to increase your Bench and Overhead Press. The Bench Press works your upper-chest because your chest contracts as a whole. The Overhead Press targets your upper-chest (but doesn’t isolate it) because it’s like a steep Incline Bench. The stronger your main chest muscle is (your pectoralis major) the bigger it will be. The bigger it is, the more it fills up the borders of you chest.

This is also how you grow your “inner and outer chest”. Both are your pectoralis major which contracts as a whole. You do have a small chest muscle on the side, the pectoralis minor. But it lies under your pectoralis major so you can’t see it. The only thing you can work with is your pectoralis major. And the best way to work it is by increasing your Bench Press. This will grow it bigger so it fills up your chest more.

Decline Bench Press

The Decline Bench Press is a Bench Press done decline. LIe on the bench with your hips higher than your head. You need a decline bench with leg attachments so you don’t slide down while you press the weight. Unrack the bar, lower it to your lower chest and press it back up. Bench in the Power Rack with a spotter so you don’t get hurt if you fail. Most people Bench Press decline to target their “lower chest”…

The Decline Bench Press is a waste of time. You can’t isolate your lower chest as explained above because your chest muscles contracts as a whole. You can target it by benching decline but the range of motion is short because your arms are incline and close to your torso. This is like doing half Squats. Just increase your Bench Press and your lower chest will grow. Worst case add Dips to target your lower chest.

Dumbbell Bench Press

The Dumbbell Bench Press is a Bench Press using two dumbbells. Put the dumbbells on the floor in front of your bench. Sit at the end, grab the dumbbells and stand up while pulling them to you thighs. Now sit again while keeping the dumbbells close to your chest and on your thighs. Lie back and press. Balance the dumbbells over your shoulders with straight arms at the top. Tuck your elbows 75° at the bottom.

Many people think Bench Pressing with dumbbells is safer. It does look like you can’t get stuck under the weight if you fail. In reality, if you fail with heavy dumbbells without spotter, you’ll have to throw them on the floor. One dumbbell can drop on your face if you can’t control it. Dumbbells are harder to control because each hand moves separately. This is their benefit but also their drawback when it comes to safety.

Plus, you can bench heavier with barbells. Benching 100kg/225lb is within reach of most guys. But try to Bench 50kg/110lb dumbbells. First you have to lift them off the floor on your chest. Then you have to get them back on the floor when done. Unless you have a spotter, you’re stuck benching light dumbbells. It doesn’t matter if they’re harder to balance, light is light. You can go heavier with barbells which is better.

Even if you have a great spotter, it’s still easier to progress with barbells. The dumbbells in gyms usually go up by 2kg/5lb. This forces you to add 4kg/10lb each workout. But the Bench Press works small muscles like your chest, shoulders and arms. They need smaller increments of 2.5kg/5lb maximum. Less is even better. But you can’t add less weight with Dumbbells. This will make you miss reps and plateau faster.

The Dumbbell Bench Press is fine as an assistance exercise. But it doesn’t substitute Bench Pressing a heavy barbell. If your shoulders feel better when you use dumbbells, make sure you’re tucking your elbows 75° at the bottom when benching with a barbell. Try also the Close Grip Bench Press first to force you to keep your elbows closer. You’ll be able to bench heavier and use smaller increments than with dumbbells.

Bench Press Machines

The Chest Press is a machine where you sit on a bench and press the handles forward. Your torso is usually vertical but there are machines where you lie horizontal like on a regular Bench Press. The handles usually move together like when you press a barbell. But some move separately like dumbbells do. There’s also the Smith Machine and its 3D version where you can Bench Press a barbell that’s attached to rails.

Machines are ineffective for gaining strength and muscle, and they’re unsafe. You don’t have to balance the bar, the machine does. Less muscles work overall as a result. You’ll know this when you move to free weights later because the same weight will be harder to bench. Worse, you don’t decide how the bar or weight moves. The machine does. You can’t bench the bar in a diagonal line to keep your shoulders safe.

Benching heavy on machines puts your shoulders at risk. Don’t do it. Don’t use machines because you can’t balance the bar either. The best way to get better at balancing the bar is to practice it by benching free weights. Your stabilizing muscles can’t get stronger if you rely on a machine do that work every workout. Stay away from machines and Bench Press free weights. They’re more effective and safer for your shoulders.

Pushups

The Pushup is a compound, body-weight exercise that works your chest, shoulders, arms, abs and lower back muscles. Lie with your belly on the floor. Put your hands under your shoulders and point your fingers up. Your elbows should be about 75° (not touching your torso or flaring). Push yourself off the floor by straightening your arms. Lock your elbows at the top. Keep a straight line from your shoulders to your feet.

Pushups are a great exercise but they’re not a substitute for a heavy Bench Press. Pushups work similar muscles. But it’s hard to do them heavy. You can’t use a dip belt like on Dips and Pullups. You can put a plate on your back but you need a spotter for that and it can fall off. You can wear an x-vest, put chains around your neck or use a resistance band. But it’s simpler to just Bench the bar and add 2.5kg/5lb each workout.

I did Pushups before I started to lift weights. I couldn’t do one rep the first time because I did zero sports for the first half of my life. I was so weak I had to do Pushups on my knees. But I stuck with it and eventually could do 70 Pushups in a row on my knuckles. They became easy and I realized after a while that I wasn’t getting any stronger or more muscular. I was building endurance. So I joined the gym and started lifting weights.

I rarely do Pushups anymore. I can’t do 70 reps anymore because I don’t train that (and don’t care about it). But I can do ten good pushups anytime regardless. Because I work my Pushup muscles with the Bench Press, using heavier weight than I weigh. That’s why increasing your Bench Press will also increase your Pushups. You won’t be able to do 70 reps. But you’ll be able to do more Pushups than the average guy.


All About Post-Workout Nutrition

What you eat is important. However, when you eat it can be just as critical.

What is post-workout nutrition?

Post-workout nutrition is an intriguing topic and rightfully so. The basic idea is threefold:

  • The body deals with nutrients differently at different times, depending on activity.
  • What you consume before, during, and especially after your workout is important.
  • By consuming particular nutrients after your workouts (aka post-workout nutrition), you improve your body composition, performance, and overall recovery.

Numerous studies have examined everything from the composition of the carbohydrate in post-workout drinks to exact amino acid combinations. Studies continue to reveal effective post-workout nutrition strategies for athletes and recreational exercisers of all types.

Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  • Replenish glycogen
  • Decrease protein breakdown
  • Increase protein synthesis

In other words, athletes/exercisers want to:

  • replenish their energy stores
  • increase muscle size and/or muscle quality
  • repair any damage caused by the workout

In doing so, they want to increase performance, improve their appearance, and enable their bodies to remain injury-free.

Proposed benefits of good post-workout nutrition include:

  • Improved recovery
  • Less muscle soreness
  • Increased ability to build muscle
  • Improved immune function
  • Improved bone mass
  • Improved ability to utilize body fat

These benefits seem to work for everyone, regardless of gender or age.

Why are workout and post-workout nutrition so important?

When we work out intensely, we damage tissues at the microlevel, and we use fuel.

This is what ultimately makes us stronger, leaner, fitter, and more muscular, but in the short term it requires repair.

Repair and rebuilding occurs through the breakdown of old, damaged proteins (aka protein breakdown) and the construction of new ones (aka protein synthesis) — a process known collectively as protein turnover.

Muscle protein synthesis is increased slightly (or unchanged) after resistance workouts, while protein breakdown increases dramatically. We’re doing a lot more breaking-down than building-up.

The relationship between these two parameters (rate of muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown) represents the metabolic basis for muscle growth.

Muscle hypertrophy occurs when a positive protein balance can be established during recovery — in other words, when we make sure we have enough raw materials available for protein synthesis to occur, so that it doesn’t lag behind protein breakdown.

This is especially difficult with endurance athletes as protein synthesis drops and protein breakdown goes up.

Protein breakdown and synthesis

Protein breakdown and synthesis

Studies show that this trend can be reversed – specifically, protein synthesis is stimulated and protein breakdown is suppressed when you consume the right type of nutrients after exercise.

Protein is not the only concern, however. During exercise sessions, stored carbohydrates can be substantially depleted.

Thus, during the postworkout period, we require protein and carbohydrates.

The raw materials we give our body through the consumption of food/supplements in the workout and post-workout periods are critical to creating the metabolic environment we desire.

What you should know about workout nutrition

AVAILABILITY

Availability strongly influences the amino acid/glucose delivery and transport.

In other words, in order for our bodies to use raw materials to rebuild and recover, those raw materials have to be available. And if they’re available, then our body is more likely to use them. Simply having the materials around can signal to our body that it’s time to rebuild.

We improve availability in two ways.

  • Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle during and after exercise means that more nutrients are floating around more quickly.
  • Providing an amino acid and glucose dense blood supply during and after exercise means that the rate of protein synthesis goes up.

Thus, we improve availability by having more blood circulating more rapidly, and by having more nutrients in that blood.

THE “WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY”

Some refer to this workout and post-workout phenomenon as “the window of opportunity”.

During this window, your muscles are primed to accept nutrients that can stimulate muscle repair, muscle growth, and muscle strength.

This window opens immediately after your workout and starts to close pretty quickly. Research suggests that while protein synthesis persists for at least 48 hours after exercise, it’s most important to get postworkout nutrition immediately, and within 2 hours afterwards.

If you feed your body properly while this window is open, you’ll get the benefits.

If you don’t provide adequate post exercise nutrition fast enough — even if you delay by only a couple of hours — you decrease muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis.

As soon as you drop that last dumbbell, you should be consuming some postworkout nutrition.

WHAT TO EAT

As we’ve mentioned, post-workout nutrition requires two things:

  • Protein to aid in protein synthesis
  • Carbohydrates to help replace muscle glycogen (and to enhance the role of insulin in transporting nutrients into cells)

You could certainly eat a whole food meal that meets these requirements after exercise.

However, whole food meals aren’t always practical.

  • Some people aren’t hungry immediately after exercise.
  • Whole food digests slowly, and we want nutrients to be available quickly.
  • A whole food meal that requires refrigeration might be less practical.

On the other hand, consuming a liquid form of nutrition that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates (e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, etc) and proteins (e.g., protein hydrolysates or isolates:

  • might accelerate recovery by utilizing insulin for nutrient transport into cells;
  • can result in rapid digestion and absorption; and
  • is often better tolerated during and after workouts.

insulin_after_training

Data indicate that it may only take about 20 grams of protein after a workout to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

WHICH WORKOUTS QUALIFY?

Save your workout drink for weight training, interval, and endurance training lasting 45 minutes or longer.

Casual exercise like walking the dog, moving cobblestones for grandpa, or riding your bike to the arcade doesn’t require a recovery drink.

When performing energy expenditure work to burn energy or lose fat, a recovery drink is not necessary. If you’re prioritizing fat loss, performance and recovery from these sessions are not as important as creating an energy deficit.

Still, if overall energy intake is low from food intake, and lots of time is being spent performing energy expenditure work, consuming a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) supplement might be helpful.

Summary and recommendations

With intense workouts/training, start by ingesting 30 grams of carbohydrate and 15 grams of protein (in 500 ml water) per hour of workout time.

You can sip this during the workout or consume it immediately after.

You can either make your own post-workout drink or find a pre-formulated drink that contains rapidly digesting carbohydrates (e.g., maltodextrin, dextrose, glucose, etc) and proteins (e.g., protein hydrolysates or isolates).

Once your workout is complete, have a whole food meal within an hour or two.

If priority #1 is to lose body fat, use only BCAAs as a workout drink. About 5 to 15 grams per hour of training (200 pounds or more = closer to 15 grams, 200 pounds or less = closer to 5 grams).

If you’re leaner but still want to lose fat, choose a smaller dose (like 1/2 dose) of the protein + carb combination, or opt for BCAAs.

For extra credit

The combination of carbohydrate and amino acids during/after exercise creates a stimulatory effect of growth hormone and testosterone that doesn’t happen  during the rest of the day. In other words, if you just drink a carb + protein drink while sitting on the couch, it won’t have the same effect.

When choosing carbohydrates, keep in mind that glucose is absorbed faster than fructose, and solutions high in fructose have been linked to gastrointestinal distress, greater fatigue, and higher cortisol levels.

It may be helpful to add creatine to your workout nutrition.

Essential amino acids may be more important than nonessential for promoting positive nitrogen balance after workouts.


BUILD MUSCLE & CRAZY DEFINITION WITH HYPERTROPHY TRAINING

Let’s face it, most of us want bigger, more defined muscles, and the way we’re going to get them is through top quality hypertrophy training! We need to stimulate those muscles to grow through the process of overcoming resistance.

We need to force the body’s muscular system to adapt (More on all that science stuff later!)  It is this adaption that will increase the size and improve the appearance of your muscles like no other form of training.

Hypertrophy Training  Definition

So if you’re ready to start making some serious progress in the gym then you’d better read on.  You’ll learn not only the science behind the hypertrophy, but also exactly how to apply that science within your own training right down to a weekly routine guaranteed to help you pack on lean muscle and size.

The Science Behind hypertrophy Training.

Hypertrophy training to add size and strength to muscles is a practice dating back literally thousands of years in the fields of warfare and sports.  King’s wanted stronger warriors and nations wanted stronger fighters.  Lifting weights in order to get bigger was part of those cultures.

Even as early as the 2nd century Romans were using ‘Halteres’, a seriously old-school form of dumbbell.  Hypertrophy training today builds on this history, but with gets rid of all that messy warfare stuff!

Birth of Hypertrophy Training

Bodybuilding for instance started slowly at first but seriously took off following the 1960’s and 70’s, particularly after the prominence of bodybuilding legend Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Hypertrophy training today is aimed explicitly at increasing muscular size, with increases in strength and fighting skills taking a backseat.

It is also worth noting that hypertrophy training today is also used to refer specifically to the method of HST, or Hypertrophy Specific Training. HST began in the year 2000 when Brian Haycock published an article in the ThinkMuscle newsletter.  Being the natural conclusion of the bodybuilding search for perfect hypertrophy, it is a set of training guidelines aimed at maximizing muscular size development.

Hypertrophy training works on three rules, these being mechanical load, chronic stimulation and progressive loading.  Although these terms sound complicated, they boil down to creating tension in your muscles, creating that tension quite frequently, and increasing that tension when the body starts to adapt to it.  The end result is both sarcoplasmic and sarcomere hypertrophy.  (For sarcoplasm read ‘fluid’, and for sarcomere read ‘contraction’ fibers)  In bodybuilding circles sarcoplasmic or ‘fluid’ hypertrophy is the number one goal.

This is because it is a much faster way to add size than waiting for those sarcomere ‘fibres’ to grow.  The downside of this is that since sarcoplasm ‘fluid’ doesn’t contract, the added muscle size will not necessarily result in any significant increases in strength or performance.  With that said, unless you’re an athlete you’re probably just aiming to look good, and hypertrophy will do just that!

You may be thinking, ‘why do my muscles actually grow?’  The truth of this question is that there is no single right answer.   There are actually multiple theories that don’t always agree with one another.  These theories range from muscle hypoxia (oxygen restriction) through to increased protein synthesis, better activation of ‘satellite cells’ and a whole range of suggestions in between.

Fundamentally muscular hypertrophy is a consequence of your body adapting to the demands it is given.  Most importantly you should remember that hypertrophy is not a direct result of training, rather a result of adaption to that training.  This means that giving the body a sufficient amount of time to recover, repair and adapt between training sessions is essential for the process of hypertrophy to work.

fundamental muscular hypertrophy

The main benefit of hypertrophy training is that it increases muscular size and gives what many people would call an athletic or attractive physique.  This in itself can increase confidence and make the training worthwhile.  Even better is that there are a whole range of other benefits to be gained through hypertrophy training.  Like any weight training or load bearing exercise hypertrophy training will serve to increase bone density and counter the issues of osteoporosis commonly seen as people age.

Resistance training of any sort will also assist in the maintenance of basal metabolic rate and the reduction of body fat percentage.  This in turn helps with combating obesity and diabetes.  Additionally training has been shown to reduce bad LDL (Low density lipoprotein) count and to increase good HDL (high density lipoprotein) count.  For more information about these benefits check out the study below, that has been officially endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)

American Heart Association Science Advisory, Resistance Exercise in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: Benefits, Rationale, Safety, and Prescription An Advisory From the Committee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention, Council on Clinical Cardiology

Michael L. Pollock, PhD1Barry A. Franklin, PhDGary J. Balady, MD; Bernard L. Chaitman, MDJerome L. Fleg, MDBarbara Fletcher, MN, RN; Marian Limacher, MDIleana L. Piña, MDRichard A. Stein, MDMark Williams, PhDTerry Bazzarre, PhDCirculation February 22, 2000 vol. 101 no. 7828-833

Importantly, the benefits hypertrophy of training need not be restricted only to those in good health.  It can also be significantly beneficial in the rehabilitation of patients with coronary disease.

An important study undertaken by numerous members of the US Public Health Service in 1995 analysed a dozen separate studies into the effects of weight training and found that there were significant health improvements across each study, and that no studies had reported any issues such as non-normal hemodynamics, angina symptoms or ventricular dysrhythmias.  It is also worth noting that the resistances used varied from around 20 to 85% of the subject’s one repetition maximum.  For further reading check out:

Wenger NK, Froelicher ES, Smith LK, Ades PA, Berra K, Blumenthal JA, Certo CM, Dattilo AM, Davis D, DeBusk RF, Drozda JP, Fletcher BJ, Franklin BA, Gaston H, Greenland P, McBride PE, McGregor CGA, Oldridge NB, Piscatella JC, Rogers FJ. Cardiac Rehabilitation as Secondary Prevention. Clinical Practice Guideline No. 17. Rockville, Md: US Dept of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Agency for Health Care Policy and Research and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; October 1995. AHCPR publication No. 96-0672.

Studies for Muscle Growth

Ok, so studies into health benefits are all good, but what about a study into actually building muscle, will this type of training really work?  Luckily, a study by Dr Abe of Tokyo Metropolitan University says that it does.

The study looked at three men aged 20-21 who had previously never undertaken resistance training.  The men exercised three times each week for sixteen weeks using a full body workout.  Each session would consist of five exercises between the ranges of 8-12 repetitions, and the resistances used were increased across the sixteen weeks.  On average (results varied per person) the group of men increased their strength by 23%, and added 3.4kg of lean muscle.  They also, on average, reduced their body fat percentages by 0.6%.  To summarise then, hypertrophy based training will make you stronger, more muscular, and even leaner.  If you want to read a little bit more about the study check out:

T Abe, K Kojima, C F Kearns, H Yohena, J Fukuda, ‘Whole body muscle hypertrophy from resistance training: distribution and total mass,’ in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2003;37:543-545 doi:10.1136/bjsm.37.6.543

Practical applications of Hypertrophy Training

Applying hypertrophy style training in the gym is actually a very simple process, and more often than not most guys in the gym will be following a programme of this sort (even if they don’t know they are!) The general rule for applying a hypertrophy workout is to perform 8-12 repetitions of an exercise at around 70% of your one repetition maximum.

Hypertrophy 1RM Calculations

There are numerous approaches to dividing your programme, but two of the most common methods used are full body training and split training.  Full body programmes do exactly what they say on the tin and target your entire body in a single workout.  Split programmes, also as their name would imply, split your programme into multiple body parts that are trained on different days.

Full-body-vs-split

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Full body programmes, by their nature, will have to allow only a limited number of exercises for each body part in order to fit everything into a single workout, whereas split workouts can devote multiple exercises all to the same muscle group.  Across a week, however, full body programmes allow for muscles to be trained multiple times, whereas split programmes have you training each muscle only once per week.  In this sense each approach has both its advantages and disadvantages, and people have had success using both methods.

The workout presented at the end of the article offers a balance between these two approaches, giving a mixture of both training frequency and training volume.

To give very basic examples of both programmes, a full body programme consisting of squats, chest press and barbell rows could be completed three times per week.  Alternatively, a split programme could dedicate one day to legs, another to chest and another to back.  The most common body part split is chest and triceps/back and biceps/legs and shoulders.

All you’ll need to get started is access to some resistance (whether in the form of free weights or machines) along with a good supply of sports clothing and plenty of new T-shirts to grow into!

And don’t forget, although your training is important, you won’t get anywhere without plenty of food  and sleep to help your body repair itself and build those bigger muscles.

Hypertrophy Training Workout

Monday – Lower Body

Exercise Sets Reps Details
Back Squat 4 6-8 60-90 seconds rest between sets
Leg Extentions 3 8-12 45 seconds rest between sets
Hamstring Curls 3 8-12 45 seconds rest between sets
Calf Raises 3 8-12 45 seconds rest between sets

Monday – Upper Body

Exercise Sets Reps Details
Barbell Chest Press 3 6-10 45 seconds rest
Barbell Row 4 8-12 45 seconds rest
Dumbell Shoulder Lateral Raise 3 8-12 45 seconds rest
Bicep Curl 2 8-12 45 seconds rest

Wednesday – rest/active recovery (for example mobility and stretching or a gentle walk)

Thursday – Lower Body

Exercise Sets Reps Details
Front Squats 3 8-10 60-90 seconds rest
Deadlift 3 5 90-120 seconds rest
Hip Thrust 3 8-12 45 seconds rest

Friday – Upper Body

Exercise Sets Reps Details
Chin-ups 3 Max Reps* 60 seconds rest
Barbell Shoulder Press 3 8-12 45 seconds rest
Incline Dumbbell Chest Press 3 8-12 45 seconds rest
Tricep Dips 2 10 45 seconds rest

*The repetitions are lower for the deadlift as you will be using a greater percentage of your one rep maximum.  Moreover, the exercise is very physically demanding and requires a large amount of attention in order to maintain correct form.  After multiple repetitions form commonly begins to deteriorate.  Plus, the spinal erectors and hamstrings typically respond better to low repetitions with higher intensities.

**Don’t worry if you can’t do 8-12 reps, just do as many as you can manage.  If you can do more than fifteen then you should start to add some weight, preferably using a weight belt.

Follow this basic programme and make sure to eat plenty of food alongside it, your body will need those calories in order to recover and grow.  Also remember that you will need to follow the process of progressive overload, i.e. adding more stimulus when your body has adapted to its current stimulation level.

As a general rule for this programme, when you can perform more than twelve good quality repetitions it is time to increase the resistance.  Follow this rule and you’ll be on the fast route to significant gains in size and strength.

Ask me absolutely anything, I bet i can answer it. Try Me!


PRE/POST EXHAUST

Pre-exhaust involves using one isolation exercise prior to one compound exercise.

Post-exhaust involves using one compound exercise prior to one isolation exercise.

 

Using the bench press as an example: The agonist is the pectorals major, with the main synergist being the triceps. Often, the triceps will fail before the stronger pectoral muscles. By employing either a pre or post exhaust isolation exercise it is possible to “bypass” the weak synergist and permit greater fatigue of the target muscle – in this example pectorals.

In pre-exhaust the pectoral isolation exercise is performed prior to the compound e.g. cable crossovers performed before bench press.

In post-exhaust the pectoral isolation exercise is performed after the compound e.g. bench press performed before cable crossovers.

 

Both methods result in the primary target muscle, the pectorals, doing more work than if regular bench press was performed by itself.

 

  •  Select an isolation (single joint) exercise for the target muscle
  •  Select a compound (multi-joint) exercise for the target muscle

then either:

  •  Perform the desired number of sets of the isolation exercise, then move on to perform sets of the compound exercise (normal rest intervals apply)

or

  •  Perform the isolation exercise immediately followed by the compound exercise (this is an example of a pre-exhaust superset). Rest between supersets and repeat as required.


Chocolate Banana Oat Protein Muffins Recipe

Chocolate Banana Oat Protein Muffins Recipe

Get in your chocolate fix without feeling guilty. This healthy, high protein snack recipe makes 9 sinfully delicious muffins that feature only 146 calories each.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 scoops (60g) NutriForce Chocolate Whey Protein Powder
  • 1c + 2tbs (100g) rolled oats
  • 1/3c + 4tsp (50g) oat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbs powdered stevia (or dry sweetener of choice)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 small bananas, mashed (185g)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbs (28g) coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

COOKING INSTRUCTIONS

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray muffin tin with non stick spray.
  3. Whisk together dry ingredients.
  4. Mix together wet ingredients.
  5. Combine wet and dry ingredients.
  6. Evenly divide batter among 9 muffin tins.
  7. Bake for about 12-15 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool before eating.

Makes 9 muffins,

Nutrition Facts

  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories 146g
  • Protein 7.4g
  • Carbs 17.2g
  • Fat 5.6g
  • Saturated Fat 3.5g
  • Sodium 26mg
  • Fiber 2.4g
  • Sugar 3.9g
  • Net Carbs 14.8g

 

Notice: Eating the right diet for your goals may result in increased gains and decreased body fat.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS

1 muffin.