Overloading your bench press weight is an important step in building a bigger bench press. You are probably familiar with the two most common methods, Board Presses and Rack Presses (also called lockouts), but what are the differences between these two effective training approaches, and how do you program them into your training plan? Here are a few pointers to help you use them effectively.
Board presses are exactly as the name implies: lay a board or boards on your chest, lower the bar to the board(s) and press back up.
What are the advantages to board pressing?
- The Partial Range of Motion (ROM) allows you to overload the weight lifted. The more boards you use (typically between 1 and 3 boards), the more weight you can lift.
- Unlike Rack Presses, Board Presses mimic bench pressing lifting pattern. Board presses have an eccentric (descent) and concentric (ascent) component. This allows you to practice your proper bench press technique with board presses.
- Because board presses have an eccentric component, board presses take advantage of the body’s stretch reflex to give you more starting power at the beginning of the press.
- Regardless of the gym or bench you use, you will always have a specific starting point for board presses, based on how many boards you use.
How can you use board presses?
- Use as a primary exercise: Because board presses use basic bench pressing patterns, you can use board presses as a primary benching lift. You can use them to train the bench press at heavier weights than you use for full ROM bench presses.
- Train for heavier weight: Using more boards, train your bench press weights above your current one rep max (1RM). As your training progresses train that heavier weight with fewer boards until you can press it from your chest.
- Equipped/bench shirt training: If you’re an equipped bencher boards are a particularly useful tool. When using a new or very tight shirt, using boards helps you break the shirt in. As you are working up to a weight heavy enough to touch the chest, use a decreasing number of boards as the weight increases, bringing the bar closer to your chest.
Rack Presses (also called Bench Press Lockouts)
Rack Presses are performed in a power cage. Set a bench inside the cage and set the safety pins to the desired height and press the bar directly off the pins.
- Because you’re using a partial ROM, Rack Presses allow you to overload the weight pressed. Note that for low pin positions (at or below your natural sticking point) you may not be able to press as much weight as you could press in a full ROM bench press. This is because (at least on your first rep) you do not have the use of the stretch reflex to assist in starting the press. Second and subsequent reps are typically easier than the first because of assistance from the stretch reflex.
- Because you start Rack Presses from the safety pins there is no eccentric phase (of the first rep). You must start the first rep from a dead stop with no assistance from the body’s stretch reflex. This makes the first rep much more difficult than a board press, or full ROM bench press, and will build greater strength at that point.
- Because you’re training in the power cage, you need very little assistance to perform Rack Presses. You don’t need spotter assistance – if you fail you simply return the bar to the pins. You don’t need assistance to hold the boards in place as with board presses.
How can you use Rack Presses?
- Supplemental Lift: Because Rack Presses technique is not the same as bench press technique, they are used more effectively as a supplemental lift than in place of a full ROM bench press.
- Single rep sets/Dead Bench Presses: Performing all sets of Rack Presses with a single rep forces you to start each set and rep from a dead stop without the aid of a stretch reflex. This can help build starting strength at that point in your bench’s ROM.
- Train your sticking point: Setting the pins at the weak point in your bench press (typically the mid-point, where your pec strength declines and your triceps strength takes over) allows you to build strength at that point. Use them to overcome this weakness and lockout heavier weights.
- Overload the top-end lock out: Training the top two inches of your bench press with a weight far above your full ROM 1RM prepares your body and central nervous system to handle heavier weights. You will find that it gives you much greater control and strength when lifting your full ROM 1RM.
Other Partial ROM Presses
Properly programming these overloading techniques at the appropriate point in your program can help you bust through plateaus, and let’s be honest, piling on a whole bunch of plates for theses presses is just plain cool!