Covid has forced many of us to train on our own outside our normal gym habitat. When we finally get back in the gym, we discover that we must take some time to get back in shape.
Most of us will patiently do our reconditioning for about a week. Any more time than that, we start becoming grumpy and impatient.
In this newsletter I will discuss a part of reconditioning that may not have occurred to everyone. That is, the need for reactivating our mind-muscle connection. For months we have not asked our bods to do heavy lifting, complex muscle recruitment or coordinated strength movements.
We have not asked our brain to signal our muscles that we are going to lift heavy stuff. After a few weeks of such lolling about, our brain switches off the muscle activation channel and gets busy doing something else.
Use it or LOSE it!
After five months with no barbells, I discovered that getting back into the strength game would require retraining some key neuromuscular connections.
The good news is that the brain can very rapidly reestablish the mind-muscle connections that had gone a bit fallow during enforced layoffs. Here is a simple exercise that can help you build your bench press back again.
Rapid Retraining Strategy for the Bench Press
Every powerlifter knows that the only way you will get a maximum bench press is to have your entire body as rigid as possible during the lift. The bench press is a whole-body lift, and any muscles that are relaxed are like a leak in a hydraulic system.
Retraining is aimed at reestablishing whole body tension and muscle mobilization for the lift.
Step one is to do a quick assessment of where your body feels relaxed during a trial bench press. You do not need a very heavy weight, but you do need to see if you have lapsed into bad habits during the layoff.
One of the hardest parts of your bod to lock down during the bench press is your back. The first push out of the bottom of a bench press comes from the lats and scapula.
Therefore, perhaps the first place to look for unwanted relaxation will be in the lats and scapula area. Getting these muscles involved in pushing iron off the chest is difficult with constant practice, so it stands to reason that the lats and scapula would be the first place where rebuilding is needed.
Just about every powerlifter does bent over rowing to build the lats to support the bench press. Both one arm and two arm rowing (to the lower chest) is excellent to get the muscle circuits working again.
Probably the least appreciated exercise to rebuild this strength is the reverse pull up. Some of us have done this on the bench press bench as part of our warmup. IMHO it is best to do it as a regular exercise on a power rack.
Begin by setting a lifting bar at waist height on a power rack. Position your body under the bar (sitting or kneeling). Grip the bar with your palms facing you 6-12 inches wider youre your shoulders. Hang from the bar facing the ceiling. Move your feet out to a position where your body is completely rigid and straight as you hang from the bar. Allow your lats to roll up toward the bar. Your first move on the upward pull will be to contract the lats. During the upward pull your entire back should be flat.
Slowly pull your body up until your chest touches the bar at the top of the stomach (just below the nipples). Keep a totally straight back and leg alignment. Press your shoulders down toward your toes throughout the lift and do NOT shrug.
Concentrate on using your lats and scapula to pull you up. Do not make this into an arm exercise. Dont arch or use momentum to bounce you up and down.
Start with 2-3 sets of 5. If you cannot do the movement with strict form, try using an elastic band to help you pull up.
You can switch your grip on the bar to palms facing the toes (normal bench press grip). However, initially you should emphasize the grip with palms facing you.
The value of this movement is that it can be used to reactivate the link between your brain and all the muscles you want to use in the bench press. You can also use the reverse pullup as a
More retraining tactics
Here are a couple more tactics that can be useful for muscle recruitment.
- Try to bend the bar in the area between your hands. You will not be able to do it of course, but it will create major tension in your muscles and help move bigger loads.
- Try to crush the bar with your grip. Again, this tactic helps promote maximum muscle recruitment.
- Keep your neck as rigid as possible and push your shoulders down toward your toes.
- Lock your abs tight and pull your obliques down toward your toes.
Lift Big, Richard