Misunderstanding Specificity and the Long Pause Bench Press

Written by: Kevin Cann

Coming back from USAPL nationals and one of the biggest complaints I hear from lifters in the back is how long the pauses are on the bench press.  Sheiko analyzed this in Russia where pause length on the bench press would vary between .75 seconds to 2.5 seconds.  That is a big difference and can the upper end of that can seem like an eternity when nerves are running a bit high.

I used to think that we just needed to pause longer to be able to withstand these more aggressive pauses in big competitions, but this never really made a big difference for us.  In fact, it took us quite some time to be able to really begin to develop some competitive bench presses.  It was our weakest lift as a group for quite some time.

We began benching less.  We used to bench 3 to 4 days per week, but now bench only 2 days.  There is a strong emphasis on volume from special exercises in our programs now as opposed to getting most of the volume from benching before.  The other piece is we stopped pausing all together.

I am sure people reading this are a bit confused because specificity will say to pause longer to be able to withstand the longer pause.  The problem with this is it does not address the underlying issues.  We needed to get more explosive.  Training needed to be specific to that.

Pausing a bench press requires the lifter to slow down before the chest.  This decreases the utilization of the stretch shortening cycle (SSC) and decreases the ability to produce force.  You might be asking, “Why would we want to get more explosive and develop the SSC in a lift that it seems it is not important?”

The research is very clear and very strong on this topic.  Stronger athletes have a greater ability to store elastic energy.  A well-trained athlete can maintain stored elastic energy for 4 seconds or even longer.  This is longer than any pause you will receive in competition.  The more efficient the utilization of the SSC the greater the economy of the movement.  Less mechanical resources are used to execute the contraction.

During the stretching of muscles, the muscle spindles can create a stronger contraction.  However, there is a checks and balances system here.  If the muscle is stretched “too much” then the golgi tendon organs (GTO) engage to prevent more stretching.  This limits the contraction properties of the muscle spindles.

Louie Simmons has talked about the use of bands in training and how Dr. Mel Siff believed the bands were able to override the GTO and produce a greater concentric contraction.  Plyometric training has been shown to reduce the GTO inhibitory effects on the contraction force.  This is probably a main driver in why plyometrics are so beneficial to the training of athletes.  Bands do the same thing.

These aspects cannot be developed if we are constantly pausing in training as the bar speed must slow before the touch on the chest.  If the lifter does not have a well-trained SSC the pause will further decrease its utilization.  Therefore, we were struggling to hit bench PRs for years.

We need to train bench explosively.  We use a lot of bands and chains on bench, especially bands due to the overspeed eccentrics and greater kinetic energy.  This builds up efficiency within the SSC.  We then do a lot of benching without an eccentric movement.  This develops great starting strength off of the chest.

When we put these two aspects of training together (in conjunction with building weaknesses through small exercises) we get the ability to display our true strength even under the demands of longer pauses at major competitions.  

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