Powerlifting for the tall Part III: The Bench Press

Firstly, thank you for the great response to the other two parts of the series. I am glad these are helping people out, trust me I have been where you all are and it is a struggle especially when you first start out! But, It is possible to do well in the sport. Personally, I am 6’6 and I have made a tremendous amount of progress and I am certain I will create more. With that in mind let me get started on the most polarising of the lifts: the bench press.

The Bench is interesting because for most of us it makes up the smallest part of the total, but at the highest level, it can be crucial for the outcome of the competitions (for the most part). As a result, it is of the utmost importance that we succeed in this lift so we can build a big total.

Let’s get started!

Don’t worry about your arch

So the arch in the bench press has become a largely controversial topic. Recently watching IPF bench worlds, the champions seemed to be the lifters with the greatest arches. However, for a taller lifter focusing on building a huge arch isn’t always worth the investment. Flexibility does not come easily for taller people. Due to longer limb, bone and muscle lengths. Making flexibility specifically in the hamstrings and lower back difficult and creating an issue from which it is harder to create a large and effective arch in the bench press. So with this in mind do not worry so much about creating a supremely limited range of motion, instead, focus on creating a stable platform to press from.

Arching a small amount and getting tight on the bench will allow you to press with the highest level of efficiency and lift the most weight you can. So, by all means, work on increasing your flexibility but work harder on increasing upper back tension and driving yourself into the bench.

Max width grip… or die trying

The most crucial difference you can make to improve your bench press is by shortening the range of motion in the bench press.

The most simple method of doing this is through widening your grip. Obviously, there is a limit to this. One must ensure that their grip falls within the legal range of index fingers on the power rings.

The wider your grip the shorter the ROM. The additional benefit is that it helps you to effectively engage your lats. Think about doing a lat pulldown, gripping the bar wider helps you to feel out the movement more effectively. With the bench press, this can help you to be more stable and maximise the power output in the press.

But, the major drawback of this is the necessity for increased chest work and shoulder strength. Frankly, the most difficult part of the press for tall lifters is off the chest. Having the wider grip allows the press to me smoother off the chest and providing lifters with a more stable position to hold the pause at the bottom. Additionally, the initiation of the press of the chest can be more explosive allowing tall lifters to push through sticking points. The best accessory for implementing wide grip is to add in some spoto press with max width grip.

Tall lifters need triceps too

This is the biggest error that taller lifters make. Focusing too much on the competition movements can cause problems. While it is crucial to spend a lot of time practising the competition movements. It is also vitally important to invest time in getting bigger and stronger. While this certainly applies to all competition movements, it applies 1000x more to the bench press. You are quite literally holding a barbell over your chest and pressing as much weight as possible. Unlike the other movements in which you are able to use the powerhouse of your body: the posterior chain, in the bench press, it is much more difficult to effectively engage it in the movement.

But, the movement can be improved for tall lifters. There are a few key movements that have become staples of my bench press training program.

Chest supported rows and face pulls

You may think training back for bench-press why?

Well, the most relevant point of contact with the bench press is your upper back. Having strong lats and rear delts allows you to dig deeply into the bench and pull the bar towards your chest with the most tension possible. So doing movements such as chest supported rows and face pulls can assist you in improving the bench press.

Single arm tricep extensions, french press and skull crushers

The lockout is extremely hard for most tall lifters. Having long arms and usually struggling to get through a mid lift sticking point makes the lockout really hard. So working on having larger, stronger triceps will allow you to finish the lift as strongly you start it!

Pause to get better at pauses

While this applies for every lifter, it applies two-fold for taller lifters. Personally, I pause every press in the road to a meet there is no method of improving the paused bench press more effectively than pausing every rep you can. While there are some namely exceptions mainly those accessory lifts and really high rep sets, pausing as much of the work as possible is certainly going to help you improve your bench press.

All in all, it is certainly a hard battle to win. But, with consistency and determination, the bench press can become a friend to the taller lifter. The All time world record for bench press set by Krill Sarychev a very tall man so get to work!

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