On January 28th and 29th, our Humble Beast Barbell Club (HBBC) competed at the 2017 Baltimore Open weightlifting meet at Athletic Asylum in Baltimore, MD. This competition epitomized our barbell club in many ways. It was a hesitant return to competing for some, a qualification for USA Weightlifting American Open regionals series for others, and for some, just another day at the office; a quick tune up before the “big show” (Nationals). No matter the lifter, the reason, or the experience, it was time to come together as friends, teammates, and family.
Some of you may have been told by other fitness enthusiasts, "benching is great! That is, until you get injured and then it becomes not so great". Some people who have injured themselves benching may experience shoulder pain, which immediately indicates that mechanically improper benching technique was applied. You may recall a while back, we used to have two mechanical figure drawings on the white board (seen below). We referred to him as Michelle.
Michelle shows the leverage arms used when benching and dead lifting. It is a physical breakdown of the physics the body undergoes when creating leverage forces during these two lifts. It would be much easier to convince people of proper lifting technique if there was a sport created to exacerbate form to maximize range of motion (ROM) work capacity. Meaning, ROM standards were not implemented in order to create a competition of strength (aka Powerlifting). Functional is functional, not limited. Limiting ROM to create “equality” in lifting competitions leads to manipulation of function, which can and will result in inefficiencies/injuries.
We typically use the reference, “pushing a car”, when trying to help you relate to bench pressing. This analogy usually works because pushing a car is not typically a competitive sport; is a systematically autonomic movement. This means you don’t have to think about doing it, thus the body can derive force effectively and functionally. This thought of autonomy is the final reflection of our monthly position series. If you cannot move the basic lifts and more so, difficult lifts astronomically, you should practice them more and more with lighter loads until your body is ready to exert force safely.
Hips and Feet
Focusing back to the proper bench technique, the muscles involved in the bench press should be the triceps (back of the upper arm) and pectoral (chest) muscles. These are the major movers. Hand position should be equivalent to the placement of pushing a car. The rule of thumb for measurement is that of the front rack. Measure your hands with a thumbs-length distance from the knurling (see right photo). When looking at the majority of the “good” benchers in class and Michelle, you see that their hips are up high, sometimes even off the bench. In the world of Powerlifting (competitive), that would be illegal because it doesn’t allow for a level playing field. The higher the hips, the easier the press is by way of more leverage torque and less ROM. However, it is also the safest for the shoulder.
It’s very hard to explain how to pinch back your scapula (shoulder blades) and externally rotate your humeral heads on the bench. It’s easier to show by demonstration and feel, but the best way we have found is by having the lifter lay on the floor. Using your feet, push your hips straight up and back (by pushing the ground away from you) with your feet. You should feel your upper back slide towards your head and the weight seemingly off your traps/neck region. You have now successfully locked/blocked your shoulder blades into a retracted position and your deltoids (shoulder muscles that get improperly used in push-ups and bench) are now safely out of commission!
When standing to the profile (side view) of the lifter, the bar path should travel vertical, straight down to the lifter's breast plate and straight up vertical. The bar should not move horizontally forward or backwards. The elbows should stay neutral, 45 degrees, from the torso during the entire lift.
Even after reading this, whether you can visualize the lift with proper form or not, always ask a coach to demonstrate a proper bench press; always have a spotter there to watch, cue, and spot you!
The front rack is the position we typically see every Tuesday when we work on cleans. This is also the position we need to master for our Monday press series, and anytime we need to get something from the ground to our shoulders, and/or maintain something in the front rack position. The overhead squat (OHS) is where the inefficient position isn’t necessarily comfortable, but is easier due to bicep head/rotator cuff extension, and not proper scapular retraction and range of motion (ROM). The front rack is alternatively an inefficient position, the comfortable position, which is dangerously bad for you.
Too often the front rack position cue is to keep your elbows up. People will think the higher the elbow, the better the front rack by way of it feeling more secure. It is naturally more comfortable. Remember, McDonald's is also tasty and convenient, while not being necessarily good for you! ;)
The front rack position, even for experienced lifters, should be relatively uncomfortable as it is a working, not resting position. Your Serratus anterior muscle (front, off to the side rib-muscles - see image) muscles are extremely active during a proper front rack position. This makes it hard to breathe and move comfortably as your thoracic (chest) is fixed into a load-supporting position. If you find the front rack position easy breezy, you’re probably not doing something right, ask a coach.
Typically the look and feel of a proper front rack position can be found by doing the following:
- Stand with your palms facing away from your body on the same frontal plane.
- Try crushing imaginary walnuts under your armpits using just your armpit while keeping your arms completely straight.
- Holding that armpit-walnut crushing position, try to touch your thumbs to your shoulders, STILL on the frontal plane with your hands/fingers spread WIDE open.
- Holding the walnut crushing feeling and with your thumbs driving to your shoulders, lift your elbows forward and away from/off the frontal plane as high as they can go while holding the built tension in your armpit.
- Now grip the imaginary bar with you wrist straight.
If you have hyper-mobile shoulders and elbows, the rule of thumb for a front rack position when looking at the wrist to elbow position is that they should make a “W” when looking head on. The wrist can be on the same sagittal plane (see right image), but not more proximal (closer) to the shoulder than the elbow. Meaning, if you were standing in your front position and I were in font of you and stuck a life-sized credit card perpendicularly through your elbow, you hand would fall on that dissection or distal (away from the body) to the card, NOT proximal (closer to the body).
An example of a improper position would be:
- Hands and elbows super narrow, almost pinched together.
- Weight resting/stressing the wrists.
- Weight resting on the collar bone.
- Elbows perpendicular to the body (full 90 degrees).
- Wrists inside the sagittal plane of the elbow.
- Any fingers OFF the bar.
This blog post was written by a member of the Humble Beast Barbell Club.
The 2016 NOVA Open was my first time as a competitor (or even a spectator) at a weightlifting competition. The whole experience reaffirmed why I love Humble Beast; the support structure from start to finish helped me overcome my nerves and compete at my best.
I arrived in the morning for weigh-in, dehydrated and nervous about making weight. However thanks to Lindsay’s straightforward nutrition guidelines over the past month, I had nothing to worry about, and came in well under my target weight. During the two hours between weigh-in and my first lift, we feasted and rehydrated. Cutting weight is exhausting so the goal was to recover as much energy as possible before competing.
After a basic warmup, the competition began. I continued practicing until my name was called, at which point Jeff and Colin shuttled me quickly to the platform. They didn’t even tell me what my opening snatch attempt was going to be, which I think actually worked to my advantage! The nerves and adrenaline kicked in and my mind was basically blank when I finally stepped onto the platform. After my opener, which thankfully I made, I returned to the practice platform briefly before being called back up for my second attempt (each lifter is allotted 3 snatch attempts and 3 clean and jerk attempts).
One of the most nerve-racking aspects of a competition is the brief instant when you’ve completed the lift but have to hold the weight steady until the judge signals you to put it down. As soon as you drop the weight, three judges (left, right, center) wave either a white (good lift) or red (no lift) flag. For a successful attempt, you need at least 2/3 white flags. So even if you think you may have pressed out (illegal elbow bend), just smile confidently anyway and you may get lucky!
Under Jeff, Colin, and Ruben’s careful guidance, I performed at a high level throughout the competition, exceeding my own goals for myself. This was only possible because they intentionally removed everything else except the lift from my mind. I didn’t have to worry about the weights (I was never even sure what weight was on the bar) or the other competitors (whose lifts I didn’t watch).
For most of the other athletes at the Nova Open, weightlifting is an individual sport, but with Humble Beast I felt like it was a team sport. The Humble Beast cohesiveness, positivity, spectators, coaches, teammates, and even matching t-shirts combined to create a uniquely strong support structure. This support structure is what will stick with me the most about the 2016 Nova Open.
Come cheer on our members of Humble Beast Barbell Club this Saturday, October 1st! We will be participating in the 2016 NOVA Open weightlifting competition. Location: NOVA Strength and Conditioning 5560 Port Royal Road Springfield, Virginia
Here are the lifters and times they will be stepping on the platform: