Power or speed training is a very overlooked aspect of most Average Joes in the gym today. They’ll turn up their nose at the thought of dynamic or speed work on the premise that they aren’t athletes or powerlifters. They’re only looking to get HUGE so who cares about how fast you move the bar. I’m here to tell you that if you haven’t been using some sort of periodic dynamic training then your training could be lagging behind.
Muscle Fiber & Nervous System Primer
For those of you who don’t know there are three types of muscle fiber and each have distinctly different characteristics.
Type 1- Slow Twitch: These are endurance muscle fibers. They are built to run on the aerobic system and to contract slowly and repeatedly.
Type 2a- Intermediate: These fibers aren’t purely slow twitch and they’re not purely fast twitch (discussed later) either. They can run on multiple energy systems and will take on the properties of the muscle fiber that it is trained as. So if you do a ton of endurance training they can become more like type 1 fibers. If your training is very fast and explosive they will become more like the type 2b fibers.
Type 2b- Fast Twitch: These fibers have very poor endurance but pack all the power. They won’t contract repeatedly but they do contract quickly with very high force.
Fiber type is important because the type 1 fibers don’t respond to hypertrophy well but the type 2 fibers do which is where your growth potential is at.
The nervous system is what relays the signal from the brain to the muscles in order to make the contract. Where many people will mess up their next training session up is to do to may warm up sets and move to dang slow! The body will only activate and use as many muscle fibers as it needs to complete the task at hand. If all the muscles of your hand fired at 100% every time you moved you would snap all your pens and destroy your keyboard! Here are a couple principles that will help you understand how the nervous system works:
#1- The nervous system fires muscle fibers starting from smallest to biggest (Type 1 then Type 2).
#2- The nervous system only has access to fibers that have been previously fired.
So, in order to hit those high power/high threshold fibers all the available type 1 fibers must be fired maximally. If your type 1 fibers are tired and fatigued then your nervous system won’t be able to recruit the type 2 fibers optimally.
In summary, type 2 fibers are where most of your growth and strength potential are at and those fibers can’t be recruited unless the type 1 fibers can fire maximally.
What does power have to do with it?
Power (for our purposes anyway) is the ability to produce maximal force in the shortest amount of time possible. This can be judged by speed of the weight as it moves relative to the amount of weight used (as a percentage of your 1 rep max). High power output = high type 2 fiber recruitment. Usually when people think of power training they visualize things like the olympic lifts, box jumps, or other plyometrics. While these certainly all develop power they aren’t appropriate for the average guy in the gym so how to we integrate power training for them? We focus on the intention of speed.
This article is going to focus specifically on the bench press. If you are still benching pressing down to your neck with a flat back and flared eblows you need to get with the program and start at the very least tucking your elbows some to keep your shoulders safe. Remember that part of getting those big type 2 fibers to fire is to be able to produce enough force to require they’re involvement which means STRENGTH development. If you have been benching the same numbers for months or years then I’m guessing your chest development has probably stopped as well.
So what is a Bench Rattle and what does it have to do with chest development?
Think of it as speed benching for beginners. These will be integrated into your warm up sets so that when you head into your heavier sets your nervous system is primed up and ready to rock. The Bench Rattle is simply trying to move the bar so fast that the plates rattle together when you hit the top. Leave the clips or locks off the bar for warm up sets in order to actually get a “rattle”.
First we abbreviate your warm ups to prevent unnecessary fatigue. So if the goal is to work up to a 200 pound work set or 5 reps your warm up will look like this.
Bar x 5
105 x 3
125 x 3
175 x 1
200 x 5 (work set)
Now instead of going through the motions during the warm up we focus on speed of the movement. As soon as there is weight on the bar you should be attempting to make it rattle on each rep. During your first sets the bar is going to move fairly fast. As the weight goes up your bar speed may slow down but the intention of speed should always be there. A purposefully slow contraction will prevent the big type 2 fibers from firing like they should. If you are using a false grip I highly recommend you switch to a full grip and start squeezing the bar as hard as possible during the movement. This will keep the bar more stable but it also helps fire up the nervous system via a phenomenon know as Irradiation.