One of the most critical components of the bench press is learning to row or pull the bar into position by activating your upper back and lats. This produces maximal co-contraction of agonist and antagonist muscle groups during the eccentric or lowering phase.
This is something professional powerlifters have been advocating for years, suggesting that it’s the “make or break factor” for a powerful bench press.
It promotes optimal reciprocal inhibition during the concentric or lifting phase where the antagonists (upper back and lats) release allowing the agonists (chest, shoulders, and triceps) to maximally contract. Ultimately this produces the highest levels of power output, force, and torque during the press.
The Slingshot Effect
Using the back to help pull the barbell into position creates a slingshot effect. The body ends up producing a coiled-like sensation similar to a spring-loaded device where the muscles are ready to launch the weight up as soon as the lats release. This allows the pressing muscles to unload with maximal torque.
But many lifters have a difficult time transferring their lat strength and rowing mechanics to the actual bench press. This concept can be tricky to grasp. One of the most effective drills I’ve used to reinforce this rowing concept is the reverse bench press/reverse inverted row.
Anchor bands to the higher pins of a squat rack, then attach them to the barbell and do your favorite bench press variations.
The reason this is so effective is that it provides nearly the same bar path and osteokinematics as the bench press, only with the antagonist activation patterns. It directly teaches you how to row the bar into proper position during the bench press. I’ve used this with many of my NFL athletes to increase their bench strength.
As a bonus, the mind-muscle connection in your upper back and lats is phenomenal, making this a powerful strength and hypertrophy builder. But if you decide to go heavy, you’ll need to place a few chains on your body or wear a weighted vest to keep you anchored down.
Try supersetting these with the barbell bench press during your next several workouts. Not only will your horizontal pressing mechanics feel better, but you’ll notice that you can handle substantially heavier loads.