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Pullups for a Bigger Bench

June 22, 2006 01:13 PM

Amongst competitive bench pressers it is no secret that big strong lats make it easier to drive heavy weight off your chest. Of course, there are many lat exercises to choose from and as some of you know, Westside loves pull-ups for developing the back for not only the bench, but the deadlift as well. However, I want to take the pull-up one step further and show you how you can create a pull-up groove that will help you with your bench technique for a stronger drive off the chest. Remember, anytime you try something new it takes your body a while to get used to it. For example, the first time you started doing your bench press correctly (without your elbows flaring, without the bar coming to the top of your chest, without bouncing it off your chest, keeping a solid arch, keeping your shoulders pinched back, keeping the shoulders down, pressing the bar away from you instead of up and back, etc. etc. etc.) C'mon, admit it, the first time you started getting serious about your bench and a PLer showed you all the stuff you were doing wrong it isn't easy to make those corrections . . . but you have to do it! Why? Because if you don't you will destroy your shoulders and you will NEVER move the kind of weight that top benchers move if you don't learn to use your lats. These pull-up techniques will help you put extra weight on your bench over the course of your next training template - I guarantee it!!!

First of all, look at your bench grip on the bar. If you bench raw it is probably around pinky on ring. If you bench with a shirt it is probably index finger on ring or even wider. Nevertheless, when you grab the pull-up bar you should grab it the same way you would the bar when you bench. Remember, we are trying to create carry-over from one exercise to the other. If you vary your grip on these exercises it will be more difficult to get your body to recreate the groove; therefore, use the same grip width.

Next, when you are on the bar (hanging) the first thing you should do is to suck your shoulders into the sockets. Again, the same thing when you are on the bench. When you get on the bench think about pulling your shoulder blades together and pushing the shoulders down towards the feet. If you don't keep the shoulders in the sockets you are going to hurt yourself when the weight gets heavy; similarly, if you don't suck the shoulders into the sockets when you do pull-ups you simply will not do too many because you are going to feel "disconnected" from your body.

Once you have established the proper grip, and sucked the shoulders into the sockets your next task is to create "relative tension" through the whole body. What I mean by "relative tension" is that you are going to create only enough tension in the body to do the rep. If you can't do a pull-up or can only do one or two, then you are going to have to create maximal tension for every rep. If you can belt out 20 reps, you only need to create maximal tension for the last three or four reps. In other words, as the reps get more difficult the tension must increase. The following is the best way to increase tension and maximize technique for the bench while doing the pull-up:
  1. Cross your feet and squeeze the knees and glutes together
  2. Breathe into your stomach and push the diaphragm down (like you are stopping yourself from having a bowel movement)
  3. Think of the lats, serratus, and abs as one muscle.
  4. Don't try to go straight up. Instead, sort of push yourself away from the bar a bit and then come up and over the bar (throat or chest to bar is the goal).
  5. The most important carry-over to your bench is to KEEP THE ELBOWS IN! Don't let the elbows spread apart the way you normally might. Doing this correctly will help you get a better carry-over to your bench and will also teach you to keep the elbows in when you bench.
I have found that keeping pull-ups within my routine has helped preserve my shoulders for pressing (learning to use the lats at the bottom of a bench press or military press is critical to shoulder preservation). I have also found that pull-ups have helped to put extra pounds on my deadlift. If you employ the principles I have described above while doing your pull-ups I can almost guarantee that you are going to see your bench go up ? you will also experience a lot less pain in your shoulders when you are done pressing. By the way, if everything I have been describing on the bench as far as pulling your shoulder blades together, keeping the shoulders down, etc. is foreign to you ? then you need to hook up with a competitive PL bencher ASAP! Otherwise, get to the bar and get going!

As far as program design, I recommend using Westside's approach. They generally incorporate pull-ups during max-effort bench days. The # of sets changes from week to week, but you generally are going to be doing ? of your max bodyweight pull-up number. For example, if you can do 12 bodyweight pull-ups, then you will be doing 6 per set. Louie talks about the pull-up being the squat of the upper body and in my experience he is right. Don't neglect your pull-ups!!!

Thomas Phillips