By; Robert Haro
You have been training on the mats for months, maybe years, yet your opponent is always stronger than you. You both have the same amount of technique, skill and experience, yet you feel over-powered at every turn.
Your opponent is just stronger than you, whether it’s upper or lower body strength. This exercise will hit the upper body while building explosiveness, building muscle and superior strength, all in one workout. The workout is called “Bench Press Throws”.
In BJJ, we are always told that skill and technique will overtake strength. While this is true, having superior strength AND technique will make you a beast on the mats.
This workout will benefit you in a few ways. First, bench press throws will build upper body strength much faster through shocking your muscles into working harder and faster. Second, your muscles will recruit and trigger the fast twitch muscle fibers and teach your central nervous system to fire harder.
And third, this exercise will build more muscle quicker than the regular bench press. All of this combined will give you the explosive power to finish a Kimura from closed guard or just get out of bad spots faster.
The main muscles involved in the bench press throws are the pectoralis major. The secondary muscles used are the deltoid anterior (Shoulder-Front) and the Triceps Brachii (Triceps), while the Biceps Brachii, Short head (Biceps) act as a stabilizing muscle.
Slow twitch muscle fibers are best suited for steady paced, endurance activities. These muscle fibers have the slowest contractile speed, higher oxidative capacity and lower glycolytic capacity. High endurance activities, such as long distance running and swimming, recruit slower twitch muscles.
Fast twitch muscles are most suited for short bursts of power. These fibers have a much faster contractile speed, lower oxidative capacity and higher glycolytic capacity. These muscle fibers are what help in explosive movements such as sprinting, long jumps and of course, Bench Press Throws.
Fast twitch muscles can be further broken down, but for now I want you to have the BIG picture of how these fibers work for you. While practicing Jiu-Jitsu on the mats your body will utilize a mixture of these fibers.
It’s always good to know you now have the explosiveness to get out of hairy positions or the ability to get that finishing move with some added strength.
For this workout, you will need a Smith Machine (A bench press machine that consists of a barbell fixed within steel rails, allowing only vertical movement) and just like a regular bench press, a spotter. On the Smith Machine make sure to use the bump stops to keep the bar from slamming into your chest. Always start out with just the bar, so you can get the feel for the movement.
Lay down on the bench under the Smith Machine, just like a regular bench press. Make sure the bar is over your nipple line, NOT your throat. Next, set the safety bump stops so that the bar isn’t touching your chest (just in case for some reason you miss the bar on the descent and your spotter isn’t paying attention). Have your hands placed shoulder width, just like a bench press. After you’re position is set, un-rack the weight.
Next, you want to press the bar up, exploding up and away from the chest. As the bar reaches the top or full “range of motion” (ROM), simply release the bar. The bar will come out of your hands and travel 2 or 3 inches past your hands.
As the bar naturally falls back to your hands, catch the bar and return to step 1. Repeat about 4 more times to get the feel for the explosion. After you feel more comfortable, SLOWLY progress up in weight. Start with 5 pounds on each side and work up from there. The key isn’t the amount of weight, but rather the explosiveness upwards.
Wider hand spacing creates larger emphasis on shoulder flexion, while narrower hand spacing utilizes more elbow extension. Because of this, a wider spacing is associated with working pectorals and narrower hand spacing is associated with working triceps.
When doing either of these variations, it is best to always start with less weight, and re-establish your comfort zone. Both of these variations will be harder to do than the regular Bench Press Throws.
This exercise can be done on its own, or as 3 sets before the bench presses you’re already doing. For the first set, start with no weight to get the rhythm of launching the bar up, and catching the bar coming down. On the second set, slowly progress up to 5-to-10 pound plates on each side.
Knock out another 8 reps in a fast pace. Each time this exercise is attempted, remember where you left off. Then subtract 10 pounds from that for your starting set. This will help you keep track of your progress and help you advance faster.
It the weight feels too easy for you, go for more weight, the example is just a guideline to keep pushing for more weight. Once you feel you cannot launch the bar as high as previous sets, take some weight off. The key is not going for full strength, but the power generated from launching the weight.
If you have 45 pounds on each side and are having trouble, it’s time to throw your ego out the door and go back down to 36 pounds on each side. Always shoot for the bar going at least 2-to-3 inches above your hands.
Robert Haro is an ISSA CPT, as well as a MMACA conditioning coach at Desert Valley Combatives (DVC) in Fernley, Nev. Feel free to contact him on Facebook at Rob Haro for questions related to this article. Also check out dvcbjj.com and show some support!!!