by Armand Tanny (1968)
Momentum has a brief lifespan in the wide gulf that separates the start of the bench press with the bar on the chest to the completion of the lift with the arms locked out at the top. The start of the effort, when you think of it, is the easier part. There is always that certain heave from the chest, the help from the lats, and the fact that even the bar gives somewhat before the weight moves up. If you happen to have the initial fire-power of Pat Casey, and happen to be pressing around 600, the bar may travel nearly all the way to the top, at which point, suddenly recoiling, the oscillating plates on the ends of the bar exert a subtle and gigantic downward force that can be stopped only with the help of the triceps on a twenty-three inch arm.
In most cases power failure occurs about half-way up. Momentum ceases, and the lift hangs between life and death. If you have faithfully tuned in to these monthly power lift articles, you will recall how the prone was rescued from certain death right near the top by the appearance of “Triceps Power Cheats”, or how “Incline Power Cheats” prevented the prone from falling for the wicked body arch that corrupts so many chaste lifts, and finally how the “Touch System in Bench Pressing” worked its clever sorcery in a way that made midheavyweight Bill West’s prone go from 360 to 410 in three short months.
This latest segment on lockout prones attempts to show once again a method of striking at the sticking point of bench pressing by appealing to the ever-faithful power rack.
Although it bears a resemblance to the foregoing supplemental methods, the lockout prone introduce an effective new angle. It uses mainly the deadest of the dead starts. It begins from a position above the chest, from the power rack, totally isolated, dependent entirely on the voltage exerted by the brain on a muscle entirely inert trying to raise a weight entirely limp.
Now then, if it is such a tough movement, some may ask, how come you can prone so much more out of the rack at a position above the chest than you can on your regular press? Casey, for example, can do 700 from a position in the rack about six inches from the chest. His regular bench press is 620. The answer is position. He puts himself into position to press in a straight up and down line. That makes the difference when pressing out of the power rack.
There are two ways of pressing out of the power rack – the one just described, and the second one (distinct from the first), which we call lockout prones, which follows the true path of the regular unassisted press starting from the chest. They are both as different as true north and magnetic north on a compass. To find true north one must make the correction from magnetic north to which the compass needle will a always point. The magnetic north pole is many hundreds of miles off the side of the real north pole. Likewise, a correction must be made when using the power rack for this movement in question.
What this means is that the true prone does not follow a straight up and down line. When the bar is lowered to the chest after the handoff on a regular prone, it swings a few degrees in the direction of the feet. When it is pressed off the chest, the line of movement now swings toward the head. There is an unlikely chance that the line of movement would be perfectly vertical unless one pressed like middleweight Bill Thurber who has perfected the method of pressing at clavicle level. For most lifters Thurber’s method is as alien ass outer space.
Therefore, when pressing in the power rack by this method, the bar is placed at a position toward the feet that would coincide with the line of action of the regular press. The bar follows the same line of movement for each rep.
In the first position for starting the exercise the bar is fairly close to the chest, elevated approximately two inches. The upper arms are approximately parallel to the floor. In this position the action depends primarily on the pecs. The delts do a large share of the work getting the bar off the chest during a regular press, but in this exercise their services are diminished. This intermediate range – 2 to 8 inches off the chest – is mainly pec action. “The lockout remains with the triceps. So throughout the bench press motion the three muscles have individual duties. Of course, with some degree of overlapping. The major concern of lockout prones is to hurdle that middle area in which the press bogs down and stalls. With the absence of momentum this middle area is shocked into action. It launches what may be called an intensified “volley firing”. More impulses are sent from the brain to the pec muscles through the regular channels forcing the pecs to work harder. Somewhere in this process sticking points lose their stick.
This is a lonely exercise since body English is virtually eliminated. Bounce, arch and momentum are absent. Still, the entire body must be correctly positioned from the feet to the head.
The movement is practiced only once a week, usually on a Tuesday where the limit day is a Saturday on a weekly workout basis. This gives the pressing muscles plenty of time for recovery. The movement starts off the Tuesday session, and with the bar on the cross pins 2” above the chest a series of sets would go like this:
145 x 10
185 x 10
245 x 5
270 x 3
295 x 4 reps x 5 sets
The second series of sets is done with the bar elevated 4 or 5 additional inches but not over 8 inches above the chest:
325 x 1
345 x 1
370 x 6 singles
290 x 10 reps
Decrease that last set 80 pounds and use a narrower grip for more direct triceps work.
The depth of the rib box and the thickness of the pec muscles can vary in individuals. For a thick-muscled power lifter of average height like Bill West, the bar is about two inches above the chest where the actual measurement from the bar to the bench is 12 inches. Thus the bar might be somewhat more than two inches above the chest of a less developed man. The effort and the action is the same, however, since the upper arms will be parallel to the floor.
The power rack was in large part responsible for Pat Casey’s 620 official bench press. As proof of the great dead-stop power he developed through its use, he has done 10 reps, full prones, with 440 with his feet on a box at the same height as the bench. This kind of undiluted power can be had if one wishes to put lockout prones into his workouts. Joe DiMarco, the powerful 242-pounder, does lockout prones with as high as 470. Joe was one of the first to believe in practical power lift movements. He used to do much of his prone pressing right off the floor. Casey refined the movement by building a flat bench of his own design with the power rack attached.
Bill West uses the high, all-purpose power rack for variations on all three lifts. He can slide his movable bench into the power rack. His bench is 18” high and 12” wide, the regulation size he absolutely insists on for all training. Experience has taught him to train with competition in mind, simulating meet conditions in the gym at all times. The wrong training bench will cause some surprising failures under the maximum conditions. Hit the lockout prones once a week.
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