The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2009 issue 8



Bigger Bench Press

You'll find that there are countless discussions in fitness magazines and on the internet regarding the bench press.  How did the bench press become the defining exercise to measure strength and who decided it?  It's not the most functional exercise for athletic movement or something applicable to daily life.  Still, you'll find that many athletes set their bench press weight as a primary goal in their fitness regime.  "How much do you bench?" is a standard question in conversations between athletes in the weight room.

Hey, don't get me wrong... in my younger days I was a bench press junkie also.  However, nowadays my focus is more on function and benefit rather than the bragging rights ; )  Still, given the ongoing interest and the common struggle by many people in trying to add another 10 pounds to their bench, I thought that I'd use this article to touch on some tips that have been proven to help achieve these goals.


  • Arm circles, followed by pushups, followed by a light set or 2 helps prepare the body for the lift.  However, don't overdo the warm-up and reduce your ability to have a productive exercise.

Body Position

  • The best way to remember your body position when setting up for the bench press is to have 5 points of contact at all times.  Your head, shoulders, and butt should be in contact with the bench, and your left and right foot should be planted firmly on the floor.
  • Keep the pressure on your upper back and traps. You want the pressure around the supporting muscles. This is accomplished by driving your feet into the floor, thereby driving your body into the bench.  Try this: Lie on the bench and line up so your eyes are four inches in front of the bar (toward your feet). Now using your legs, drive yourself into the bench to put pressure on the upper back and traps (while keeping your butt down). Your eyes should now be even with the bar.
  • Position yourself on the bench and try to arch the back as much as possible while keeping the shoulders, head, and butt on the bench. This position will lessen the distance the bar must travel and will also allow the legs to drive the shoulders into the bench for much greater power.


  • Hands should be just outside of shoulders (not too close, not too wide)
  • "Squeeze the bar" and try to pull it apart!  The best way to get the body tight and ready for the lift is by squeezing the bar. Trying to pull the bar apart or "break the bar" also seems to activate the triceps more.
  • Keep bar squarely on palm, directly over the wrists and elbows, not towards the fingers.  This assists in driving force and limits instability of the wrist.
  • Dry your hands.  Gloves are not recommended since they cushion the bar, make it fatter, and thereby change the grip and force production.


  • Keep elbows tucked at a 45 degree angle to your body.  Not out towards 90 degrees and not too far in next to the body.  Keeping the elbows tucked will also allow lifters to use their lats to drive the bar off the chest.  You can generate far more force with your elbows in a tucked position compared to an "elbows out" position.


  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together and get as much of them on the bench as you can.  While pressing you have to create the most stable environment possible. This can't be done if most of your shoulder blades are off the bench. When you pull your shoulder blades together you're creating a tighter, more stable surface from which to press.  
  • Don't lift the shoulders during lift-off.  Push up and out towards the ready position.

Lower Body

  • Tighten the hips and glutes during the pressing motion to further stabilize the lower body.
  • Drive with your legs forward (not up) towards your head while keeping your butt on the bench
  • Don't pick up a foot (or feet) while lifting.  Keep them planted squarely on the floor.


  • Bring the bar down to the sternum area (where your lower chest meets your abs).  Not too high on the chest or too low on the abs.
  • Don't bounce the weight off your chest.  There is risk of cracking your sternum or ribs and the assistance with the lift is not productive towards your goal.  Control the descent of the weight rather than letting it fall.  This is not suggesting a "negative" (eccentric) contraction, but just bringing the weight down in control.
  • Lock the weight out on every repetition.  Don't do a 1/2 press.  The top portion of the bench press works the triceps and is important for the overall exercise.
  • Press the weight straight up, not backwards towards the rack.  Don't be in a rush to rack it... hold the bar at the top of the movement for a moment before returning to the rack.
  • As soon as the bar touches your body, you need to generate as much thrust and energy as you can, to power the bar back up.


  • Having a spotter will reduce your "mental doubt" and allow you to approach the lift with confidence.
  • The spotter should not touch or stabilize the bar during the lift.  Following the bar with thier hands is ok, but touching it reduces the benefits of stabilization.


  • Don't just train for the bench press.  Total body effort is both productive for your entire body AND will help increase your bench press as well.  Training your triceps for a big bench has to involve heavy extensions and close-grip pressing movements such as close-grip flat and incline bench presses.  Train your lats on the same plane as the bench with exercises such as the horizontal row.
  • Push the bar with maximal force. Whatever weight you're trying to push, be it 40% or 100% of your max, you must learn to apply 100% of the force to the barbell. If you can bench 500 pounds and are training with 300 pounds, you must then apply 500 pounds of force to the 300-pound barbell.
  • Mix it up... don't do the same thing month after month.  Change up your sets, repetitions, weight, tempo, rest period to keep your muscles adapting to the stimulus.
  • Work the bench press at least twice a week with a minimum of 48 hours between training that muscle group.


  • BELIEVE in the lift!  Get rid of the self doubt.  Don't think of the weight being lifted as a BIG number, but just a stepping stone to the next number.


  • Lastly you may want to try to add some more protein into your diet to add some more muscle mass. There is a 30 minute window, shortly after a resistance training workout, where your body is capable of the maximum protein absorption.  If you are able to time your protein intake with this window, you should be able to make the most out of your nutrient timing for muscle building benefits.  Also add some milk into your diet because strong bones do help promote stronger muscles.

So there you have it... I compiled this list of tips from a variety of sources that repeat most of the same technique points.  Even if you are not looking to push BIG WEIGHT, the technique tips listed above will assist in polishing your form and ensuring that you are getting the most benefit while limiting your risk. 

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Inverted Towel Row

Grip work, back, biceps... this version of an inverted row works it all.  You can adjust the intensity of this exercise based upon how close to horizontal you get.  The close you are to horizontal, the more bodyweight you are pulling.  If you raise the bar and stand more upright, you will be using less bodyweight.  As with many other bodyweight exercises, you can also increase the intensity further by adding a weighted vest or similar weights to add to the amount you are pulling.  This is another exercise that is recommended for wrestlers or other combat athletes.


Target:  back, biceps and forearms (latisimus dorsi, biceps brachii, brachioradialis)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Begin by wrapping 2 small towels around a horizontal bar.  Power racks, smith machines, playground equipment all work nicely.  Grasping the towels, lean back and walk your feet forward, keeping your body perfectly straight from head to toe.  Pull your chest up to the bar, and then return back to starting position in a slow controlled motion.  The closer your body is to horizontal at the starting position, the more challenging the exercise will be.

Outdoor Dip and Row Station

I've gotten some positive feedback about my homemade fitness equipment, so I'm just gonna keep it coming. 

We've had a successful couple of weeks with the pre-season boot camp that we started in July.  For the first session at the beginning of the camp I wanted to get some base fitness numbers to see where our athletes were starting from.  We tested them on push-ups, situps, dips, inverted row, 40 yd dash, 20 yd shuttle, and threw in the 3-cone drill for the heck of it.  Testing is an important part of performance enhancement in order to determine what type of impact that we are able to make with the athletes that we are coaching. 

Since we were out in the open field, and I wanted to get a good back and bicep test, as well as tricep, I came up with this fairly simple way of getting it done.  I say fairly simple since I do quite a bit of woodworking, but you do have to have some tools and some ability to use them.

This dip and row station that I made is really just a couple of saw horses.  You can buy the metal saw horse brackets at the hardware store, and I used pressure treated 2"x4"s for the legs.  I made the legs a bit longer than a standard sawhorse in order to get the clearance that we wanted to perform the exercises.  Since I wanted to cut grooves in the cross pieces, I used  2"x6" boards so that I still had enough wood to support the weight.  I originally bought a few pieces of sturdy plumbing pipe for the bars, but then I remembered that I had a few standard weight bars that were just laying around in the corner of my gym... they work like a champ!

We use this contraption for standard dips (chest and triceps) as well as inverted rows (back and biceps) and really found them to be useful for this type of portable station.  The athletes really liked these tests also and I'm told that they were feeling it the next day... better now than on the first day of practice, right?

MS Ride:  Riders Wanted!

MS150 Bike to the Bay

Wow... this is my 12th year doing this annual Multiple Sclerosis ride!  I continue to participate every year simply because it is a very well organized and fun ride that is for a great cause.  This is my annual pitch for riders, volunteers, and sponsors for this MS150 Bike Tour.  Participation in the National MS Society's annual ride will help raise funds for research and local programs.   

The 2009 ride is scheduled for Saturday, October 3rd and Sunday, October 4th.  There are a variety of ride length options for all levels of cyclists.  You can do the new 25k ride (15.5 miles), 45 miles, 75 miles (the full route), or 150 miles (full route on Saturday and returning on Sunday).  This year they have also added the option of doing a "century" ride on Saturday which would be 100 miles in one day.

Multiple sclerosis affects lives every moment of every year. At any time, someone with MS may suddenly be unable to stand up, hug their child or see a friend across the room.

If you are interested in participating in the Delaware MS150 Bike to the Bay this year, you can email me at or click here to join Team Bank of America

Sponsor dollars are good too!  If you are able make a charitable donation by sponsoring me for the ride, we can reach our goals that much quicker!  Every dollar contributed will help us to end the devastating effects of MS, sooner rather than later.

Thanks for your support!

Click Here to Register or
Sponsor Pete for the 2009
MS 150 Bike to the Bay

It's Go Time!

Are you kidding me?  Is it really August already?  Where the heck did the summer go?  I honestly believe that time picks up speed as I get older!  Well, there's only about a month or so left of the summer, so you better enjoy it! 

You ever notice how you have significantly more energy in the summer during the nice weather?  It makes you want to get moving, do something outside, or even... EXERCISE!  So if you aren't already doing so, now is a perfect time to get your @$$ in gear!  Seriously though, make it easier on yourself and take advantage of the energy that you have now, rather than waiting on that New Year's resolution in January when it's cold and gloomy.  If you can kick start your workouts and lifestyle changes now, you'll be golden when summer comes back around next year!

And as for my young athletes out there that are getting fired up for the upcoming fall sports season... good luck to you all!  Hang on... I take that back... make your own luck!  You have the power to direct all your focus and energy toward exceeding your goals.  Hard work, discipline, and most of all HEART will have a much bigger impact on your season than luck!  Work hard now and make an impact when you show up at that first practice.  YOU want to be the one that the coaches are looking at and everyone is talking about!

Anyhow, whether you are an athlete or a couch potato... enjoy the rest of your summer!  Winter will be back again before you know it!

P.S.  Happy 9th birthday to my daughter Rachel : )

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  


Exceed Your Potential!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

Bite off more than you can chew and then
chew like hell
" - Peter Brock

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