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Plyometric Bench Press Training

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Will plyometrics increase my bench press?

Plyometrics is the term now applied to exercises that have their roots in Soviet training methods. It is a method of training that was originally known as "shock" training and was invented by Yuri Verkhoshansky in the Soviet Union. The interest in this type of training only really started during the early 1970s as East European athletes emerged as powers on the world sport scene.

It really all started when the Eastern bloc countries began to produce superior athletes in such sports as track and field, gymnastics and weight lifting. People all over the world started talking about the reason for their success which began to center on their training methods.

It was then that Plyometric training rapidly became known to coaches and athletes as a method of training that linked strength with speed of movement to produce power. The exercises became essential to athletes who jumped, lifted or threw.

It seems strange that not much is written about how plyometric training can also dramatically increase strength, power, speed and explosiveness in the upper body as it usually centers only around the lower body training methods. There are specific Plyometric drills which are utilized to bridge the gap between force and explosive power and increasing reactive strength.

You can think of reactive strength as something like a "spring-like" effect. The drills are performed to develop force by a quick loaded eccentric or negative contraction. This contraction causes a stretching of the tendons and muscles. The muscle/tendon units stabilize this negative force, stores it like compressing a spring and then releases it like letting the spring go.

It is this reflex action which ends up being a stronger than a normal muscular contraction in the opposite direction. If you pick up a ball, any ball, and throw it and pay attention to what you naturally do. You probably brought your arm back behind your head and paused for a split second and then threw the ball without thinking about it and that is a plyometric movement.

Letís stay with the ball that you threw and look at the quick swing back of your arm which quickly stretched the muscles, tendons and connective tissue in your shoulders and built up energy which allowed you to throw harder. You would not have thrown as hard if you brought your arm all the way back, paused for 3 seconds and then released the ball.

We all know that you can bench press more weight by using a quick "bounce" near your chest than you can by using a lengthy pause. The simple reason is because when we quickly reverse direction before pressing this creates a lot of eccentric force as during this downward movement force is created and energy is stored as the muscles and tendons are stretched, similar to a loaded spring.

You can see this even clearer when you watch a person jump. One of the main reasons that most people can jump higher when taking a few steps is because they create more downward force, which can then be utilized to an even greater extent in the jumping phase.

A good example is a bow because in order for a bow to propel an arrow, it first must be de-formed by pulling it in the opposite direction. This creates a buildup of potential energy and upon its release it has more useable kinetic energy.

A fully activated muscle undergoing a forced stretch is just like the bow example and it can increase force in the other direction with up to 2 times as much force, but increasing the speed of the eccentric (downward) force can further increase concentric or upward force due to the additional build-up of energy so we also have to consider the speed of these eccentric (downward) forces.

You can build up even more useable potential force by increasing the speed of the eccentric (downward) force, so the key is to be able to tolerate high and fast eccentric (downward) forces. There is a very specific way of establishing your own personal power of concentric contraction in your upper body.

When you know what these are you can become more proficient at the ability to build up and stabilize downward energy or movement on a bench-press. This will greatly increase the potential end product- in this case, power, explosiveness and avoidance of injury.

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