By Keith Wassung
Andy Stone checked his watch. It was 7:23 pm and Howard, his training partner was late for their scheduled training session. Howard was often late and Andy was about ready to find someone new to work with. He had already warmed up and was anxious to begin lifting. He decided to begin his warm-up sets with the bench presses and hoped that Howard would show up by the time he needed a spotter. After loading a 45lb plate on each side of the bar, Andy placed himself on the bench and did 8 smooth repetitions. He stood up and did a quick visual spot check in the mirror. At a height of 5′7″, Andy weighed a lean 173lbs. He had been training for 7 years and was currently a senior pre-med student at the state university. His 5th bodybuilding contest was less than six months away and he knew he had to pack on some solid muscle before beginning the pre-contest cutting phase.
Adding a 25lb plate to each side of the bar, he did his second warm-up set on the bench press for an easy 6 reps. The twenty-fives were removed and re-placed with 45lbs. This was to be his last warm-up set and still no sign of his training partner. Andy bench pressed the 225lbs for a solid two reps and then loaded the bar to 270lbs for his first working set. He surveyed the gym for a potential spotter. A couple of elderly gentlemen doing impromptu exercises with a 15lb dumbbell and a jump rope and a 15 year old kid doing ballistic leg extensions were the only possible candidates. Andy started towards the front desk of the gym knowing that Glen, who ran the front desk was usually available to give him a spot-Glen was better than nothing, but just barely. Andy approached the desk and saw that Glen was leaning on the counter engrossed in latest special swimsuit issue of Maxim. Andy immediately changed his mind about asking Glen for a spot. Who could focus on their training when they had that kind of up close and personal view. Andy walked back to the bench trying to decide whether to rig up something in the power rack, he had done that a few times before and hated how awkward it was, or get the 15 year old to spot him. He then noticed a large figure walk through the front door of the gym. The man signed in and proceeded to the back lugging a bulging duffel bag. Andy recognized him as one of the few power lifters that trained at this gym. Andy had never been impressed with power lifters. He thought of them as overweight, out of shape guys who were too lazy to engage in serious bodybuilding training. The first gym he had ever trained at had a couple of power lifters-they were an obnoxious group and not very friendly to anyone at all. Andy often saw them stomping and screaming and smashing chalk around. Andy did not want to ask the power lifter for a spot, but he really had no choice. He walked over to where the man was sorting out his training gear and said “Excuse me, when you get a chance could you give me a spot over on the bench”?
Mike pulled his F-150 into the parking lot and located the nearest space. He got out of the truck and removed his gym bag from the back. Mike’s gym bag looked more like a soldier’s duffel bag. It was packed, not only with his gym clothes and toiletries, but training tools such as bands, chains, extra hooks and his lifting belt. Just carrying the loaded bag was a workout in itself. He entered the gym and nodded hello to Glenn and headed for the free weight area. The gym was practically empty and that was just how he liked it.
He could rig up his equipment the way he wanted and not have to worry about some mullet jumping in o him in order to do some reverse dumbbell power flyes. He tossed his gear into a corner and surveyed the room. A couple of old guys, one kid and some bodybuilder. Mike had little respect for bodybuilders-who would want to look strong, but not be strong? When the gym was crowded he often saw the bodybuilders strutting around and showing off by flexing in the mirror. He saw the bodybuilder walk towards him-”maybe he forget his posing oil and wants to borrow some from me” chuckled Mike. The bodybuilder approached him and to Mike’s surprise he politely asked Mike to give him a spot on the bench press.
“Sure, be glad to give you a spot” said Mike. They walked over to to the bench loaded with the 270lbs. “He must be trying for a max single” thought Mike. “How do you want the spot, do you want a lift-off?” asked Mike. ” Yeah, I will take a lift off. thanks” said Andy. “How about you count to three and on three I will assist you in the lift-off, I will keep my hands on the bar until you say got it” said Mike. “That is perfect said Andy as he positioned himself on the bench to begin his set. “My goal is ten reps, I want ten reps” said Andy with determination in his voice. “Then get ten reps”! said Mike in an equally determined voice. Andy placed his hands on the bar feeling the sharp knurling press into his palms. When he was finally ready, Mike, as if he was reading Andy’s mind placed his hands on the bar to ready himself for the lift-off. “One, two, THREE” growled Andy as Mike expertly pulled and guided the bar into the perfect start position. Andy begin his set, one, two, three, four. He noticed that Mike stood behind him with total focus and concentration, but also keeping his hands well away from the bar. Andy hated when guys would spot him and would hold their hands two inches under the bar throughout the entire set. What was even worse was when you were on the last few reps and the bar would slow or momentarily stall and the spotter would swoop down on the bar and give it a nudge. This always distracted Andy and he noticed that Mike did none of this.
Andy completed his eighth and ninth rep, but the ninth rep was very hard. As he readied himself for the tenth and final rep, he heard Mike say in a loud and commanding voice “Lets go man, get one more rep, squeeze the bar give it everything you have! Andy brought the ponderous weight down to his chest and pushed with everything he had. The bar moved halfway up then stalled. Andy fought through the sticking point and then very slowly begin to move the bar to completion. The last two inches seemed to take forever, he heard Mike shouting encouragement to him and finally the bar was locked. Mike grabbed the bar and carefully helped Andy guide it into the uprights. When it was safely over the supports, Mike shouted “CLEAR” and clapped Andy on the back as he triumphantly sat up. “Nice set, way to work” said Mike “Thanks” said Andy and thanks for the fantastic spot”! Your welcome, you know you look really strong coming off of the chest, but you seem to struggle with the top of the lift and especially the lockout” said Mike. “That has been a problem for me as of late” replied Andy. “If you have a few minutes I can show you something that might help” said Mike “Sure, I will take all the help I can get” replied Andy. “Strip the bar down to 135lbs” said Mike as he walked over to his large duffel bag and pulled out a stack of three 2×6 boards, each of them approximately 15 inches in length.
He walked back over to Andy and said “I am going to show you a board press. This is an incredible exercise to both strengthen and develop the triceps. Once glance at Mike’s ponderous triceps left little doubt in Andy’s mind that Mike knew what he was talking about “Take a narrow grip on the bar so that your index fingers are just on the smooth part of the bar. said Mike as he placed the stack of boards on Andy’s chest so that the ends were pointing at his head and feet. Mike positioned himself on the side of the bench and held the boards steady. “I want to you do a narrow grip bench press but bring the bar down to the boards, pause for a brief second and then explode the bar upwards to lockout. You need to try to pull the bar apart with your hands-this will help to activate the triceps, which is our target muscle group. Andy un-racked the weight and lowered it to the boards then exploded upwards. “Do 3 more reps” said Mike. Andy completed the required reps and racked the bar. “now that was just a warm-up to get you used to the groove. Mike added a 45lb plate to each side and instructed Andy to do 3 reps with the 225lbs. Andy performed the triple with ease. Mike added a 35lb on each side bringing the weight to 295lbs. “This is your working set, I want you to do this for a triple” said Mike. Andy positioned himself on the bench and un-racked the bar. The first rep went down and up smoothly. The second rep was slower and Andy seemed to struggle to complete the lockout. “C’mon one more rep” hollered Mike. Andy brought the bar down to the board and pressed the weight up. The bar cleared the board and then stalled. He fought through that sticking point and continued with the ascension. He could hear Mike yelling encouragement to him. Squeezing the bar as hard as possible, Andy drove the bar to within a inch of lockout where he stalled again. Mustering every ounce of strength possible he made one last effort and locked out the weight. Andy racked the bar and stood up to face the grinning Mike.
“Wow, I have never felt anything like that triceps-they don’t really feel pumped, but they do feel like an elephant kicked me in the back of my arms” said Andy. ‘Board presses will really do wonders for your triceps” said Mike. “How often should I do these” asked Andy. “Do them at least once a week, right after your bench presses” replied Mike. “Thanks, I appreciate you showing me that” said Andy “No problem, you really know how to work hard-you would make a great power lifter” said Mike. “Well, I am going to stick with bodybuilding for now, but maybe someday I might do some power lifting” said Andy. Mike smiled and walked over to the squat rack where be began warming up for lower body assault” Andy returned to his workout working his chest, shoulders and triceps with a variety of exercises, though the dull ache in his triceps made it necessary to reduce the weight on the rest of his pressing movements. Mike quickly worked up to his top weight of 645lbs, which he was going to do for a triple. He performed his squats inside the power rack so that he would not need a spotter.
Across the gym he heard Andy shouting encouragement to him. Mike squatted the weight for a solid triple and racked the bar knowing he had plenty left in the tank. This was always a good feeling to have. “Looking strong” shouted Andy “Thanks, those went better than I expected” said Mike. he stripped a couple of the plates off the bar leaving 425lbs. Mike performed three sets of 8 with the 425lbs. The weight felt light compared to the 645, but the sets were hard, especially the last set. Mike was breathing heavy and sweating profusely as began taking the plates off of the bar. Andy joined in and pulled the plates off of the other side. “I didn’t know that power lifters did more than 3-5 reps on their main exercises” said Andy “Some do, some don’t, you just have to find what works for you, replied Mike. I like doing the higher reps as back-off sets as I think it builds a good strength foundation.”
“Do you ever do front squats” asked Andy. “I did them years ago, but they felt very awkward and I found that once I got to around 250lbs then it was tough to balance the weight on my shoulders” answered Mike. “How did you hold the weight” asked Andy. “With my arms crossed, sort of like you see in the magazines” said Mike “So you admit to reading bodybuilding magazines” said Andy with a grin. “Are you kidding, power lifters read anything and everything that might even mention weight training” said Mike with a sheepish grin. “Of course, none of us will ever admit it” “What about with a conventional clean grip”? asked Andy. “I don’t think that I have the flexibility for that” answered Mike “Nonsense” said Andy ‘If you can scratch the back of your head you can learn to do a clean grip front squat” “Ok:, said Mike, ‘I will give it a shot”
“The first thing you have to realize is that the hands and fingers are really not supporting the weight-the fingers simply steady it and keep it balanced” “I use on the tips of my middle and index fingers on the bar” Andy demonstrate some simple hand, wrist and finger stretches to Mike. It was apparent that Mike had some work to do in order to improve his hand and wrist flexibility. “Keep working on those stretches-don’t worry it will improve in a rather short time” said Andy ‘I am going to demonstrate a proper front squat and then you can try them” Holding his arms straight in front of him, he positioned the bar to be directly on the groove of the deltoids. “It is very important to keep your elbows pointed up at all times-if you let the elbows drop, then you will likely lose the bar forward.” Andy demonstrated the proper grip and stance as he spoke. Taking a deep breath, he backed out of the rack with 225lbs. Demonstrating near perfect technique, Andy performed five smooth, rock bottom reps with the weight. The deep etched muscularity etched in his quads bore testament to his advice.
Mike was impressed and anxious to try it for himself. Mike pre-stretched each arm and attempted to duplicate the form that Andy had taught him. Mike descended into the first rep and came up strong but felt off balance. Andy told him that that was natural and to keep going. On subsequent reps Mike was able to find the right groove and ended up doing 7 decent repetitions. Mike racked the bar and turned to Andy and asked ‘How was that” “Not bad for your first time” said Andy. You were letting your elbows drop towards the end, but that will improve with practice. “I feel some discomfort in my wrists and shoulders, but not nearly as much as I thought I would” remarked Mike “I really like the feel of those and I think I am going to work them into my training schedule. “They are a phenomenal movement” said Andy “The reason they are seldom performed is because they are so darn tough and demanding-but the results will be worth it! “Thanks for showing me how to do them” “No problem,…..by the way my name is Andy” he said as he stretched out his hand to Mike. “I’m Mike, glad to meet you” he replied. “Same here” said Andy. “Listen, I need to leave, but when is your next training day” “I am lifting Sunday afternoon” said Mike. “That is about the same time I am going to train” said Andy “Maybe I will see you here”
The two athletes parted, each a little wiser and each with more respect for the other’s discipline.