Heavy Supports for Pressing Power

Charles Poliquin

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Q: My bench press hasn’t improved since Paris Hilton said something intelligent. Can you suggest any tricks to help me overcome my training plateau?

A: One of the best ways to overcome a plateau is to do heavy supports. This technique was first popularized by Chuck Sipes, a former Mr. America well-known for his amazing strength on all lifts. He claimed it built tendon strength. 

The truth is that heavy supports help heighten the shutdown threshold of the Golgi tendon organ, which is a tension-and-stretch receptor located in the tendon of a muscle. The effect can be seen when two people of uneven strength levels arm-wrestle. The weaker person—when losing—will look like he suddenly quits, as his wrist is slammed to the table. What really happens is that the Golgi tendon organ perceives a rapid rate of stretch during the eccentric contraction and yells to the brain, “Better shut down the contraction, or my biceps tendon is going to roll up under my tonsils!” The brain sends a rapid message to inhibit the contraction in order to prevent a muscle tear.

You can raise that threshold by performing eight seconds of heavy isometric holds, a.k.a. supports, between regular sets. Your bench press routine may look like this:

  • Set 1: Bench presses, 5 RM @ 85 percent of max
  • Set 2: Heavy supports, 8 seconds @ 120 percent of max (Basically a support is 1/16th of the range; you simply unrack the weight and hold with your elbows just short of lockout. The weight should be heavy enough that your upper arms shake like they’re suffering from a severe Parkinson’s attack.)
  • Set 3: Bench presses, 5 RM @ 85 percent of max
  • Set 4: Heavy supports, 8 seconds @ 125 percent of max
  • Set 5: Bench presses, 5 RM @ 85 percent of max
  • Set 6: Heavy supports, 8 seconds @ 130 percent of max

Don’t be surprised if your heavy-support poundages climb dramatically, but don’t shy away from using even greater percentages of max than the ones I’ve suggested. The percentages are merely for initial guidance.

I wouldn’t be surprised if your best bench press performance goes up 20 to 25 pounds in just four workouts when you use the heavy-supports technique. Make sure that you train in a power rack for this routine, and set the range-limiting bars two to three inches below your lockout position to prevent the need for instant plastic surgery.

Q: You said that people who have mostly fast-twitch fibers would do better training with lower reps for multiple sets. My question is, How do I know what kind of fibers I have? I usually lift very controlled on the negative and positive phases, and even with a light weight I’m not a person who can lift fast. I guess I’m not blessed with a lot of fast-twitch fibers.

A: An individual who doesn’t have a lot of fast-twitch fibers will move all loads, all other factors being equal, much faster than a person who has an average fiber distribution. In plain English that means, if you have two guys with the same weight, leverage, strength levels and, say, a 200-pound bench press, the man with more fast-twitch fibers will move the weight faster—whether it is 50, 100 or 200 pounds.

So, if you are indeed slow with light loads, you probably have slow-twitch dominance. If you wish to accurately assess your fiber type, it’s best to enlist the help of a PICP-certified coach to test you for it.

If you don’t have access to a qualified strength coach, here’s what you can do: Find your maximum performance for one rep on a lift using a 4/0/1/0 tempo. Let’s say you bench-press 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds. Wait 10 minutes, and then do as many reps as possible with 85 percent of that weight and a 4/0/X/0 tempo. In this case it’s 85 kilograms—around 185 pounds. If you have average fiber-type distribution, you will do five reps. If you have more fast-twitch fibers, you’ll do fewer than five; if you’re slow-twitch oriented, you’ll do more than five reps. Compared to the usual method of determining fiber type—taking painful muscle biopsies—this field test is extremely convenient; however, you must understand that you can bias the relationship by doing too much low-intensity aerobic work and making your body more neurologically inefficient.


Deflated-Delt Dilemma

Charles Poliquin

Deflated-Delt Dilemma

Q: My delts are about as flat as pancakes. Any rapid solution to the problem?


A: Wide, round shoulders have been built with both high loads and high volumes. Powerlifters and Olympic lifters have built impressive shoulders using low reps for multiple sets on compound exercises, such as presses and upright rows. On the other hand, there are plenty of bodybuilders out there with the fantastic deltoid development that comes from high reps, short rest intervals and isolation-type movements. I’m of the opinion that people achieve better deltoid development if they cycle in and out of both approaches.

Thick-Bar Training for Strength

Charles Poliquin

Thick-Bar Training for Strength

Q: I’m in a rut in my strength development. I need to get my power clean scores up. I will be tested by my college, and I need to up my numbers. Any new tricks?

A: One of my strength-coaching colleagues told me that in the early ’70s, during a press conference prior to a Russia-vs.-U.S. wrestling competition, someone mentioned that the American wrestler in the 165-pound-bodyweight class could bench-press 365 pounds—quite a remarkable accomplishment at the time, especially for a nonpowerlifter. Athletes weren’t using the elaborate equipment they have today, which can add hundreds of pounds to a raw performance. The Russian counterpart responded by producing two pairs of pliers and proceeded to squeeze them so hard that they snapped. After the match the defeated U.S. wrestler commented that when the Russian grabbed his arms, he felt as if they were locked in a vise and that he immediately began to lose sensation in his arms and hands. Again, the U.S. wrestler was certainly much stronger than the Russian from a weightlifting standpoint, but the Russian had achieved a remarkable degree of functional strength for his sport.


Sean Katterle

Power  SURGE

Do the thing, and you shall have the power: but they who do not the thing have not the power.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson


As the fitness industry continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the number of training gurus also grows exponentially. With each new fad and system the blueprint becomes increasingly more complicated. You’ve got Russian Smolov, High-Intensity Training, Bill Starr’s 5x5, Progressive Periodization, Westside Barbell, Joe Average, Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, Sheiko Training, the Poliquin Principles, Cross Fit, Plyometrics, Dinosaur Training, Positions of Flexion, German Volume Training, the Weider Principles, the double split (made famous and partially created by Schwarzenegger and his training partners) and so on and so forth.