Jan 26th, 2013
How the bench press is done
I wrote about Jennifer Thompson a little over a year ago and decided it is time to talk about her again. She’s an accomplished strength athlete who holds all of the Raw American records for her weight class (60kg/132lb) in the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) federation. She squatted 316 pounds, bench pressed 301 pounds, and deadlifted 430 pounds. All of that was done in 2012 by this 39-year old mother of two who makes her living as a middle school math teacher and claims to be drug free for her entire career. Did I mention that she trains in her basement gym and that she almost never misses training days? Thompson is impressive.
The video above comes from the 2010 USAPL Raw National Championships and is an example of extraordinary lifting. Firstly, she bench presses 292 pounds quickly and confidently with a pause at the bottom. That is better than 2.2 times her bodyweight. Think about that for a moment.
Of special interest is how Thompson approaches the lift. She doesn’t carry on, do lots of screaming, stomp around, or otherwise turn into an uncontrolled, self-absorbed performance artist. Instead, she sits down on the bench, briefly composes herself, and then dominates the bar in no uncertain terms. Further, after completing what is an impressive physical feat, she neglects to engage in self-aggrandizement, or remind the audience that she is number one. Instead, she smiles and then thanks each of her spotters before quickly stepping off the platform.
In most powerlifting meets, the bench press is done with a pause at the bottom. You can hear the head judge issue the "start, press, and rack" commands. This is to eliminate any chance of a bounce off the ribcage at the bottom. Much like lifting your butt off the bench is a reason for disqualifying the lift, so is bouncing the bar off the chest. While not the safest of practices, using the ribcage as a trampoline is also a good way to avoid getting strong through the initial portion of the bench press.
Not only are the numbers Thompson moves on the bench press incredible, she gets style points, too. She doesn’t make a scene, she just gets the work done. There is no indulgent carrying on. She plants her feet flat on the ground and performs a lift that everyone would recognize as solid bench press without the aid of bench press shirts or other assistive gear. After the lift is done, she stands up and goes on her way. There’s an awful lot of awesome packed into the forty five seconds of that video. It is full of ideas that can be applied to training and how we approach the lifts. I’m a fan.