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Never Say No to a Good Hand-Off

July 7th, 2011
Henry Day

I go to a lot of different gyms and do so for a variety of reasons. It may be because I am pressed for time and can’t make it to “The Pit” or I may need a facility with a pool or sauna that I will use after training.

Those that train at Muscle Pit know that my main focus has been the bench press and although I am far from a world class lifter I have developed my bench strength to a level that most gym rats will never attempt to lift. However no matter how much I lift I will always ask for a hand-off once the weight gets close to my body weight. Quite often I am asked “Why do you need help with 100kg when you can bench close to 300kg?” The answer is simple; I want to keep lifting for as long as my body will allow me.

Perhaps like many of you I used to hate asking people to spot me. I felt it was a sign of weakness and adopted the inner voice of “I will do this on my own no matter what”.

When my max bench was 80kg the impact on the body was minimal however once I started incorporating better technique, increased my training volume and progressively got stronger, I started to ache more and more. First it was my shoulders and elbows than it started to go to my chest and even my upper back. It got to the point where I started to go backwards in my strength development. I started to take time off and it was getting very easy to use the excuse “I am hurt” not to train.

By chance I got a copy of Ryan Kennelly’s DVD “The road to the Arnold Classic”. The film is about 80 minutes long and basically a camera follows Ryan around while he gets ready for The Arnold Classic which at the time was probably the most prestige’s Bench Comp in America.

I have been a fan of Ryan’s for some time and have read almost every article on the man.

In case you don’t know, Ryan Kennelly holds the biggest bench of all time of 1075lbs – that for you imperial impaired folk is 488Kg – which is just shy of half a tonne.

One thing that did surprise me on his video was he would have weights lifted off to him once he got past 2 plates a side. Yes, that’s right a 100kg lift off for a guy that bangs out reps of 20 with 180kg. What the F**!?? I thought – Surely he can’t be that lazy.

A few months later, by chance I managed to talk to Ryan on one of the forums and asked him about it. His reply was simple. “Why would I risk an injury with 100kg when I am aiming for world records” which sort of made sense. If that wasn’t clear enough after I spoke to a few more big benchers, Shawn Lattimer (900lbs), Rob Luyando (950lbs), Scott Mendelson (1036lbs) who all did the same thing, the point was drilled home. To a man they said “Get someone to lift off for you!!!” – O.K Point made…

If you look at it from a medical point of you, you will understand why. Your body is an amazing piece of equipment and it can be trained to do almost anything providing you take care of it. As strong as our bodies can become, there are certain things they are just not designed to do. Un-racking a weight from above your head while lying on a bench is one of them. This position puts your shoulder joints in a very unnatural position and in effect you are grinding away your cartilage.

If we examine the shoulder you will see it is a closely fitted joint. The humerus (upper arm bone), certain tendons of the muscles that lift the arm, and associated bursa (fluid filled sac that cushions to prevent friction) move back and forth through a very tight archway of bone and ligament called the coracoacromia arch. When the arm is raised above your head, the archway becomes smaller, pinches the tendons, and makes the tissue prone to inflammation. The condition known as bursitis occurs when the bursa becomes inflamed and painful as surrounding muscles move over it. The condition known as tendonitis occurs when the tendons or surrounding tissue becomes inflamed, swollen, and tender. Symptoms of these two conditions can last for only a few days but they may recur or become chronic. Anyone who has had shoulder problems will tell you that its hell. You use your shoulders for everything. Eating, walking, shaking hands and not mention lifting and wiping your bum.

Another problem that you face when un-racking the weight is that while the weight is moving from the rack to your optimum benching position you tend to flatten out causing you to lose all support from the bench underneath.

Worse still I’ve seen the occasional novice lifter actually lose control and actually drop the weight. Laws of gravity dictate that it will keep dropping down until something gets in its way…..YOU.

My advice is to save your strength for the actual lift and get someone to help you un-rack the bar and position it into your start position.

After all what’s better, “I benched 100kg but I un-racked it myself” or “I benched 120”.

We are in this sport for many different reasons however one thing remains constant – we all get stronger doing it.

One of my favorite quotes I have heard is “that with power come limits”. Nowhere are people limits more exposed than on the platform. To give yourself the best opportunity for that new P.R you need to ensure everything is healthy and strong.

I have seen countless videos of lifters breaking down on the platform. It’s always devastating; both physically and emotionally. I have been very lucky to have the right advice in grained early in my lifting career and to date have yet to have a serious injury – I hope I never do. I have set myself some very high goals and if I can keep my pride out of it and do the right things I will achieve them.

Next time you are at your gym start the trend, offer to spot and in turn you’ll find more people willing to assist you & your goals.

At Muscle Pit advice and help is always on hand.  As competitive as we are with each other we have built a culture where the only thing better to succeeding your self is watching someone you have helped succeed.

Hope to see you all at the Muscle Pit.


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