Sunday, March 24, 2019

Dan Gaudreau Bench Press Clinic

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a couple of hours at a bench press clinic by Dan Gaudreau hosted at Strong Bodies Performance Center by Rachel and Jason Crass.

Dan Gaudreau is a many time IPF World Champion and World Record Holder and has coached some phenomenal athletes including Blaine Sumner who bench 1,003 lbs at the 2019 Arnold.

We spent about an hour talking about the rules of USA Powerlifting Bench Press and international competition, commands, training theory and factors contributing to bench press success.

The Bench Press is the only movement that has a world championship.  The standard commands in competition are Start, Press and Rack.  Common faults include Red Card (not touching chest), Blue Card (going up, then down, then back up; heaving; any downward motion during press), and Yellow Card (a catch all for buttocks off the bench, moving feet, not waiting for commands, and others).  In competition only act when command given, shoulders and buttocks must contact bench and feet must be flat on the ground and not touching the bench press platform.

Strength is achieved through Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID).  Factors affecting success include (1) Training Program, (2) Nutrition, and possibly most frequently overlooked (3) Recovery.  Adaptation includes muscle hypertrophy, Intermuscular coordination (muscles fibers contracting in unison) and Intramuscular coordination (pectorals, triceps, shoulder muscles, leg drive working together).  Recovery cannot be judged by feel, it should be comprehensively examined with factors including sleep, soreness, mood, looking forward to workout, resting heart rate, blood pressure and other factors.  Testing vertical leap every few weeks is the best indicator of overall central nervous system recovery.

Work during the bench press is a function of mass, distance and velocity.  Position is directly related the distance and best exemplified by Female Japanese Bench Press athletes.  Arching the back from shoulders to buttocks minimizes the distance the bar needs to travel.  Widening the grip to pointer fingers 81cm apart minimizes the distance the bar needs to travel.  Arching the shoulders by pinching the shoulder blades minimizes the distance the bar needs to travel.

While the bench press is a test of upper body strength, in actuality the bench press involves the entire body beginning with leg drive.  Good bench press position positions the feet flat on the floor in a position in which leg drive will not result in the buttocks lifting off the bench.  It is not a comfortable position even when properly trained.

In terms of programming sufficient recovery is rarely possible training bench press more than 2X per week.  Rear deltoid training is an essential part of any bench press program and is best performed

The second hour was hands on and first consisted of a review of the ER Bench and the differences between it and the Eleiko Bench.  The spotter arms should be positioned to protect the throat (no lower than 3.  Positioning the spotter arms to protect the face risks touching them during a lift.  The rack height should be maximized for an easier lift off.

Getting into good position begins by getting under the bar with the head well behind the bar and the feet on the bench.  Then the arch is established by sliding towards the feet.  Next the shoulder blades are arched to further minimize bar distance traveled.  Finally the feet are lowered one at a time and placed flat on the floor and back towards the head, sufficiently wide to eliminate the buttocks coming off the bench (they will be unweighted during the lift, but will not raise off the bench).  Foot position essentially lowers the knee.

Training for strong arch position can be accomplished with a large exercise ball, foam roller or even a football at various states of inflation.  Mobility is essential for a strong position.

Proper competitive position is often criticized by non-competitive athletes as it minimizes range of motion, derogatorily referred to as "belly benching."  However, increased range of motion poses greater risk to the shoulders.

Cadence of lifting contributes to compensatory acceleration.  Lowering on a 1..2..count and then pressing up through the heels quickly increases compensatory acceleration.  As the squat could be considered a slowed down jump, the bench press is a slowed down punch.  There should be no break in the wrist angle and the elbows should be inline below the wrists.  There should not be any chicken winging.  Heeled shoes (think Olympic weightlifting shoes) can be used to ensure the foot remains flat during a lift if the heel has a tendency to lift up.  The bar must lower to a point between the clavicle an the belt during the start command.  The actual position depends on the highest point created by proper bench press position.

We also discussed wrist wraps to essential "cast" the wrist joint and eliminate any movement.  A good tape job pushes right to the line of not including the palm of the hand and is tight.

Finally we discussed programming partial movements with the underlying concept that you lift 400# to lift 300#.  You do NOT lift 200# to lift 300#.  It is better to work with larger weights through the strongest part of the bench press with the use of pins or boards, rather than training the weakest part of the bench press.  Bands and chains are another opportunity to train the strongest part of the bench press.

I was very impressed with Dan's knowledge and communications skills.  He is truly a master of the movement and encouraged us to all be students of the movement, studying all of the minutia of the bench press.  Dan and his wife Jennifer own Rocky Mountain Lifting Club in Aurora, a 5500 square foot facility in Aurora.

Strong Bodies Performance Center is a great gym that has multiple power racks, benches and Olympic lifting platforms in addition to a host of bars, competition bumper and iron weights, dumbbells, grip training and specialized equipment for accessory work.  Rachel and Jason use the Strong Bodies facility for training clients while pass card access is available for Strong Bodies members.

There were 13 of us in the class.  11 women and 2 men.  Most aspired to competitive lifting.  There were a few CrossFit athletes who also lift competitively.  I felt like a true novice among those athletes.

My current bench press position is not a competitive position.  My back is flat, my feet too far forward and narrow and my grip is too narrow.  I understand what constitutes a competitive position and should train in that direction.

The bench press is not a movement that can be fully understood in 2 hours.  It was ambitious to coach 13 athletes with 3-4 to each of the four benches.  However, at $25 it was a tremendous value and provided invaluable insights.  Top 3:
  1. Track recovery
  2. Rear deltoid training
  3. Lift 400# to lift 300#

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