When most guys think of plyometric exercises, they usually imagine jumping on boxes or bounding down a track. Sure, they're both great plyometric exercises for the lower body. But what about upper body plyos? Are they effective? Can they help you put up a few extra pounds on the bench? The answer to these questions is an emphatic YES!
WHAT ARE PLYOMETRICS?
Plyometrics are defined as a quick explosive movements using a pre-stretch or counter movement that involves a movement called the "stretch shortening cycle" (SSC). Plyometrics include exercises like the vertical jump, medicine ball throws, explosive pushups, or any explosive movement preceded by a pre-stretch.
Plyometrics are hard on the body, and should not be attempted by a beginning athlete. You must also take sufficient rest between plyometric workouts. When starting out, limit plyometrics to one workout a week. As you become more advanced, you may want to add a second day.
PLYOMETRICS AND THE BENCH PRESS
Since the bench press has an eccentric portion (pre-stretch) followed by a concentric portion (explosive movement) and is aided by the SSC it's pretty easy to see how plyos could benefit a guy who wants to improve his bench press. The harder and faster the bar explodes off your chest, the less likely you are to hit a "sticking point" when you can't get the bar all the way to lockout. Fortrunately, for upper body plyos are a great way to develop that high-powered explosion off the chest. Here are three moves to add to your repertoire:
Smith Machine Bench Throws
This is a pretty self-explanatory exercise. Load up the smith machine with 25-40% of your bench one-rep max. Lower the bar under control, and when it touches your chest, EXPLODE! all the way through the movement so that the bar actually leaves your hands and is thrown in to the air. Catch the bar and repeat. Start by doing 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps. It helps to have a spotter on this one, just in case the bar slips out of your hands.
Partner-Assisted Bench Medicine Ball Throws
Lay on your back on the ground with your partner standing on a box set up a foot behind your head. Have your partner drop a med ball (15-25lb.) straight down towards your chest. Outstretch your arms like you are locking out a bench press. As the ball makes contact with your fingertips, guide it down so it touches your chest. Once the ball touches your chest, forcefully explode upward, throwing the med ball as high as you can straight up. Have your partner catch it and repeat. Start by doing 3-5 sets of 6-10 reps.
Upper Body Depth Jumps
This is a very advanced movement that should be employed wisely and sparingly by advanced athletes. To perform this exercise get in a push up position with your feet on the ground and your hands elevated on a box (start with a small drop and gradually work to higher boxes). Drop off the boxes and land with arms in ¼ to ½ push up position and immediately push up and see how high you can elevate yourself. The key is to minimize your contact time with the ground. Start out with 3 sets of 3-5 reps.