I’ve titled this article TNT (Tips-n-Tricks) for a very good reason. Many times it’s the small things that make the biggest difference. Usually when reading a new book or article you walk away with one good idea. This one idea could’ve been presented in a paragraph or two. So I got to thinking, why not just provide all those great ideas in a format that cuts out the BS? What you’re left with is pure TNT, the stuff great explosions are made of.

Through my many years of training, reading and discussing training with other lifters and coaches, I’ve collected a ton of ammunition. When an athlete is really stuck and has tried everything else, I can pull a little TNT from this stockpile and blast through the barrier. Some of this information has come about by pure accident and some of it has been borrowed or stolen from others, but it’s all worked very well for many athletes. If you find yourself stuck in any of the following situations, add in a little TNT and get ready to blow up!

"My bench always seems to stall at the top; my lockout really needs help."

This is really one of the best problems to have and the easiest to fix. When you’re dealing with sticking points in the bench press you have to remember that there are several ways to correct the problem, but most won’t work for you. So don’t beat a dead horse! In other words, if what you’ve been doing isn’t working, then try something else. You have plenty of ammo. I’ve had this same problem with my bench and sometimes it takes years to stumble upon the right movement to fix the problem. Other times I hit the right movement the first time out.

Get stuck at the lockout? Here’s some TNT to help you blast that problem:

1) Get your head right. This is true with all sticking points regardless of the point at which you stall out. If you believe you always miss at the top, then you’ll always miss at the top! Your mind has a lot to do with your sticking points. I try to teach all the athletes I work with to visualize their sticking point at a higher position and focus very hard on driving the bar through it. In other words, when you bench you must focus on pushing the bar very fast through your sticking point. Focus will make a big difference.

2) Learn to use your triceps. This is done by keeping your body tight and focusing on pulling the bar apart. This will involve your triceps more throughout the movement and keep the bar moving in a straight line. A good trick to teach you to do this is to use a mini band from Jump Stretch Inc. You double the band up and wrap it around you wrists while you bench. This forces you to pull the bar apart and grasp the barbell tight. If not, your hands will be shot together. Pull the bar apart and watch that sticking point disappear!

3) Start the bar where you want to finish. This is a very simple concept but it’s very seldom practiced. Most lifters will unrack the bar and lower it to the chest without setting the bar first. This is usually done by habit and will cause you to lower the bar in a diagonal pattern that will result in you pushing it back up in the same pattern. When you push the bar back toward the rack there’s more rotation and less emphasis on the triceps.

You need to unrack the bar, then "set it" in the same exact position in which you want to finish. This should be directly above where you lower the bar. If you bench to your lower pecs then the bar must start above the lower pecs. This will create a straight line both on the eccentric and concentric. Remember, the shortest distance between two points in a straight line. Set the bar!

4) Move the bar fast. You need to make sure you’re pressing as fast as possible to bust through your sticking point. A slow press won’t build enough momentum to bust past your sticking point. If you’re trying to open a stuck door would you try to open it slowly or would you bust into it as hard as possible? Speed is key!

5) Strengthen the top half. There are several movements that can help you strengthen the muscles that lockout the bench. These are best done using the max effort method. This is the method where you work up to a one or three-rep max on the movement. For more information on the method, see the Periodization Bible Part Two article.

The best movement for a weak lockout is a three or four board press. A board press is preformed by using three or four 2 x 6 boards placed on your chest. Lower the bar to the boards, pause and press back up. In extreme cases you may want to use a set of mini bands on the bar as well.

A second movement that works very well is the floor press with the use of chains. The floor press is performed the same as the bench press except you’re lying on the floor. Work up to about 60 to 70% of your best bench, then begin adding one set of chains on the bar with each additional set. You fail when you can no longer add any more chains. The chains increase the weight at the top of the lift while deloading it in the bottom. Check out the Accommodating Resistance article for additional info on chains and bands.

"I can’t keep my ass on the bench."

This is a very common problem with many lifters who don’t know how to stay tight on the bench. This problem can range from a small lift of the butt to something resembling the golden arches at Micky D’s. This can be caused by several factors but all can be fixed with the right training. I’ve come across several solutions to this problem:

1) Know your bench. This is probably the biggest reason most powerlifters miss a lift at a meet. They train on a bench that’s somewhat higher then the one they use in competition. So in training they know how to position their bodies and stay tight on the bench, but when they go to a meet they find their asses are one inch off the bench. In this case there are several solutions.

First, get on the bench before the meet and see if it feels lower. If it does, then tell your coach to remind you to get your feet out in front of you more; this way, when you go to drive the bar with your legs most of the drive stays lower. If you find this happens at every meet you go to, then you may also want to find another bench on which to train. Another solution is to place a one inch rubber mat under your feet when you train.

2) Know your position. You want to make sure you keep your body tight throughout the motion. Some people like to use a tight arch with their feet tucked back. While I don’t agree with this type of benching, you still need to be tight and squeeze your inner thighs into the bench as hard as possible. This creates an anchor to lock you down.

If you bench with your legs out in front of you, you want to make sure you’re driving your upper back and traps into the bench. You drive off your heals and through your shoulders. This will give you more power. If you’re only driving into your mid-back, then a lot of the force will be lost in the hip when you press, thus your ass comes up.

3) Get the rope. This is a great trick I borrowed from Bill Gillespie. Bill is the head strength and conditioning coach for the Washington Huskies who also happens to have a 635 pound bench. He found many of his athletes couldn’t keep their asses on the bench and had to find an easy and quick way to fix it. He came up with one of the best ideas I’ve seen in a long time.

What he does is attach a five or ten pound plate to a rope. He then has the lifter position himself on the bench and then sticks the rope under his butt so the plate is suspended in the air under the bench. If the lifter comes up, the plate falls to the floor. This is a great feedback device that’s worked very well for many athletes. Give it a shot!

"No matter what I do, I can’t bring up my hamstrings."

As I’ve written many times, the hamstrings are one of the most important muscle groups for athletes, if not the most important muscle group. The hamstrings are what drive the squat and deadlift as well as determining how fast you’ll run. Any coach you speak to will tell you the same thing, but most go about training the hams the wrong way. You first need to dump the seated, lying and standing leg curl machines and start training your hamstrings using movements that hit the muscle from both the hip and knee joint at the same time. This is how the hamstrings work in sport, so why not train them the same way? Here’s how to do it:

1) Get to know the glute ham raise and the reverse hyper machine. These movements are the best I’ve found for training the hamstrings, but most athletes are far too weak on them. I can’t count the number of Division 1 ball players who couldn’t do one single rep properly on the glute ham raise. Then they wonder why their knees come forward when they squat!

I see the same thing with the reverse hyper. Most people are afraid to use any kind of weight on the machine. You should be able to do eight to twelve reps on the reverse hyper with 55 to 60% of your best squat. Many of the gyms and schools I go to will only have their athletes use 20 to 50 pounds on the machine. This has always blown my mind. Our women at Westside use over 300 pounds!

These movements should be staple items in any training program. I’ve actually prescribed three to four sets of six to eight reps on the GHR (glute ham raise) four times a week as a warm-up to many of the lifters and athletes I consult. These would be performed as part of the general warm-up and then again later in the workout with heavier weight as a supplemental movement.

2) Bring up the volume! As stated above, you can train the same muscle more then one to two times a week if done properly (and especially if it’s a weak point.) Whoever came up with this "one time a week" stuff never had to display their strength or bring up a weak point. How are you ever going to get better doing something only one time per week?

There are many ways to change the parameters of a program to accominadate training a muscle more than once a week. You can include a "feeder" workout the day after training a muscle hard to help facilitate recovery. These feeder workouts are light in intensity and medium in volume. For example, if you did heavy glute ham raises on Monday and your hamstrings are sore as hell, then you could do them again on Tuesday with no weight for a few sets of eight reps. This will help to bring fresh nutrients and blood into the muscle. This is also known as a form of active restoration.

You could also try driving the volume of a certain movement up over two weeks. For example, you could use a resistance band during an extra workout. Sit on the end of a bench with one end of the band around your heel and the other anchored to a power rack or other heavy object. Then do seated leg curls by pulling the band straight in for five reps, off to one side for five more, then off to the other side for another five. Performing two sets would be a great place to start. This would be a total of 15 reps per set for a grand total of 30 reps. Then each day for the next ten to fourteen days you add one rep to each position. After ten days you’d have 15 reps per position or a total of 45 per set. This is a great shock method for the hammies!

3) Learn to sit back on your good mornings. Most people don’t realize a good morning is really a builder of the entire postier chain. When you bend over, you want to try to keep a neutral back and push the hips back so you feel the hamstrings stretch. You don’t want to just bend over because as you work up in weight the movement will turn into more of a quarter squat. This places too much stress on the spine and not enough on the hamstrings.

The next time you catch yourself stuck in one of the above situations, remember that a little TNT will go a long way in helping you blast through your plateaus.