Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saving Your Bench with the Sling Shot

In my first foray into shilling the Sling Shot I discussed how my bench was stagnant for a very long time. I tried many things, none of which really broke me through that plateau. I bought a Sling Shot but didn’t give it time in my training; viewing it just as a novelty. Then in an act of desperation I applied it more seriously to my training, then completely left that plateau behind.

Call it shilling if you want. But this is one of the very few things I’ve purchased that has had a near immediate positive and quantifiable impact on my lifting performance. I love my Sling Shot and I want to yell it from the top of a mountain.

Unlike milk, the Sling Shot is a good choice.

Many readers had questions about why I thought it was better than other training tools? Boards, bands, and chains. Why it is better than using other accessory movements? Close grip bench, incline bench, overhead pressing.  How strong should a lifter be before using a Sling Shot? And how exactly should the Sling Shot be properly implemented into a lifter’s training.

Boards

These require you to have a training partner who knows what the hell they are doing. Then, since you’re doing overload work chances are you’ll also need a hand off. That’s two more people needed to overload your bench training. You know how many people the Sling Shot needs? One. You.  For me, this is a big one as I don’t have a crew to train with and am not exactly the kind of lifter who wants one anyways. I enjoy my “alone time” in the gym.

Can you press off boards by yourself? Yeah. But I don’t want to strap a 2x4 to my chest with a knee wrap, nor do I want to shove it down my t-shirt. Screw that.

Another aspect of using boards to overload your bench is that it reduces the range of motion and thereby changes the way in which you bench. This is compounded with each additional board you press off of. Not too noticeable off of a one or two board but as you stack those Lincoln Logs up your bench groove is affected more and more.

Go ahead and bring some shit like that into a commercial gym.
You'll be nicknamed "Bob the Builder with the pathetic bench."

Bands and Chains

First these tend to cost much more than a Sling Shot. Sure, if you want to buy one set of bands that might be $20 and maybe you can go to a junkyard and find some chains. Yeah… you bring those rusty sons-a-bitches into your gym and get tetanus. I don’t think those are the kinds of muscle contractions you’re wanting there bro. Go ahead and be a cheapskate. Spend $20 on one set of bands and get a deadly medical condition from your rusty chains because you don’t want to support the corporate machine.

The more important aspect, even more important than not catching tetanus, is that when using bands and chains the weight changes as it moves through the range of motion. This is called “accommodating resistance” and many of you already know how this works. The gist is as you get near the end of the movement the weight on the bar becomes heavier. This isn’t true with the Sling Shot.

When using the Sling Shot 405 always feels like 405 in your hands, no matter where the bar is in the range of motion. The weight on the bar never changes. This is important because much of your nervous system feedback originates in your hands. That’s one of the reasons why grip strength is used as a measure of vitality and general health. (.pdf warning) By using the Sling Shot instead of traditional accommodating resistance tools like bands or chains your body feels the weight on the bar, and whether it’s at lockout or on your chest, 405 will always feel like 405 in your hands.

Banded, chained, deficit deadlifts. Hell, lets just 
see how many training variables we can throw into
our gym time!

Why not use other accessory movements?

Well from my perspective an athlete should spend a significant portion of their training practicing the movements judged within their sport. This is of course up for debate. With the Sling Shot you can practice your actual competition movement as a powerlifter, through its full range of motion, at overloaded intensities. Does it change your groove? Yes, but at a far less degree than something like a close grip, incline, or decline bench.

Why not use other accessory movements? Close grip bench? Overhead press? Bottoms-up pressing?  Dumbbell benching? Again, it goes back to spending time practicing your competition movement. If your time in the gym is limited then the Sling Shot is your best friend because you accumulate the necessary volume with your competition movement without having to spend excessive time in the gym training a variety of other lifts, which may or may not be of benefit to your bench.

"Bro, it's not gay if it's functional."

The more time you spend doing other movements the less time you have to spend refining your competition technique. Additionally the carryover to your competition movement is fairly unknowable. Maybe it’s not your triceps holding back your bench. Maybe your technique just sucks and you need more practice.

How bummed would you be if you spent a few months training a close grip bench only to see a five pound improvement on your competition bench? Speaking from experience, seriously bummed.

When people ask how to get their bench one rep max to increase the answer is most often, “bench more.” Well, this allows a lifter to both get more practice benching, and overload that movement to illicit a different stress adaptation. This will undoubtedly be of benefit to your bench.

I equate the difference of the Sling Shot to regular bench as being similar to training the high-bar squat to increase your low bar squat. They're both very, very similar to each other. But altered just enough to generate a positive stress adaptation. And thus more likely to have a good carryover. 

How Strong Should You Be Before Using the Sling Shot?

Before a lifter purchases a one of these they need to take an honest look at their training. Because maybe it’s not your strength that should determine whether or not you purchase a Sling Shot, perhaps it is something else. Are you getting enough reps per week on the bench? Have you filmed yourself benching to examine your technique? What about having a qualified lifter or coach teach you some tricks of the trade, or so to speak? 

Essentially, what else have you done in an attempt to get through that bench press plateau?

I'm saying the Sling Shot should not be the first course of action against a bench press stall. Don’t spend your money if you don’t have to! But, if you’ve tried many, many things, and none of them gave you the desired results, then maybe the Sling Shot is a good option.

I do however think that a mid to upper 200 pound bench press is a reasonable range of performance to consider incorporating this tool into your training. This is because I believe that most lifters can get to this level without spending extra money on their training. Hell, I was stuck in the 275 to 295 pound range for at least a year before I bought one, and longer still until I incorporated it into my training. 

You should go mildly insane trying different 
means of progress before jumping on the 
Sling Shot gain train.

But then again, a 200-pound bench is pretty damn impressive for a 123-pound female powerlifter. So in her case a Sling Shot may be a good option. Not so for a male 198 lifter. Perhaps a better determining marker for Sling Shot use would be using bodyweight multipliers- if so then I would say somewhere around 1.5 times bodyweight. Of course heavier lifters will have a problem with this bodyweight multiplier performance marker. I’m sure you’re seeing the confounding factors of determining when to implement the Sling Shot in your training.

What it boils down to is this: What else have you tried? And for how long have you tried it?

How to Effectively Implement the Sling Shot into Your Training

As I said in my first post I generally followed two routes when I more seriously implemented the Sling Shot in my training. At the time I was already benching twice per week, so what I did initially was simply do some overload sets with the Sling Shot after my regular bench work on one of the days. After eight weeks or so I switched to having one day’s workout dedicated to the Sling Shot and the other dedicated to raw benching. Below I’ll go over, more or less, how I went about effectively incorporating this training tool into my long-term programming.

I do recommend lifters generally follow the same route I did. Use it a little, learn how it works, get comfortable handling 100%+ intensities. Then as your understanding of how the Sling Shot works grows, and as you get stronger with it, then look to moving its use to a separate day.

(Keep in mind I program off of a Goal Weight, which is around a 2-3RM, and all percentages are based off of your raw bench Goal Weight.)


In this first example you’re undulating weekly your intensity and reps per set. Decreasing the volume as the 4-week training cycle progresses. Notice that both bench press and Sling Shot intensity and volume closely align with my First Tier (T1) guidelines for weeks one through three. Week four is when the total workout volume for each combined drops within the T1 guidelines. This is because the intensities are so high on both it warrants half as much training stress. 

This is a nice introductory option because it is simple and leaves the total Sling Shot work up to the lifter. They have a maximum and minimum number of sets to complete with the Sling Shot. So if they’re feeling great that day then push it. The benefit of this is that due to the decreasing volume the intensities can be slightly higher. This is at the sacrifice of developing more practice with the Sling Shot via greater repetition.


This second example has less raw volume as a sacrifice to incorporate more Sling Shot work afterwards. This is a good option for a lifter who has their technique dialed in. This is a simple linear progression of intensities across the four weeks. The raw work reps and sets stay consistent for simplicity’s sake. The Sling Shot overload work alternates weekly between five reps and three reps, with the last set of the Sling Shot work being as many reps as possible (AMRAP). So just like the first example, if you’re feeling great that day, push your Sling Shot work. If not, do the bare minimum. The benefit of this over the first option is more practice (volume) with the Sling Shot work versus lifting heavier with the Sling Shot. 

It should be noted that weeks three and four will be very stressful so make sure your recovery is on point. But I wouldn't be surprised if lifters were getting eight to ten reps on week three AMRAP and six to eight reps on week four AMRAP.

At the end of one to three of these types of training cycles with the Sling Shot I suggest you move on to one of these second two. This is of course dependent upon whether or not you can manage a 2nd bench day in your week. If not, consider taking a concept from one of these second two examples and implementing it after your raw work in order to continually progress your Sling Shot bench.


This third option is a good one for more experienced lifters. You’ll work up to either a five or a three rep max, depending on the week, then drop 20 to 30 pounds and complete the reps and sets as written. Very much along the lines of the format of option one. This option carries a lot of total volume with the Sling Shot, and that of course means practice! Another great thing about this is that since it is removed from percentages it allows the lifter to potentially lift intensities greater than 110% of their max, or more, with the top set if they’re having a great day. This means practice at super high intensities. This option can be repeated until your Sling Shot bench stalls. At that point in time consider another protocol in order to continue improving your Sling Shot bench. This has the benefit of an auto regulation set up at the expense of handling a variety of intensities depending on how the lifter is performing that day. There's no clear progression map so the lifter needs to know themselves and their training well enough to identify if they're making progress or not.


The fourth and final option I’ve created is simple linear progression with the Sling Shot. This is for the lifter who is thinking long term. Doing six reps at 65% of your Goal Weight is very, very easy with the Sling Shot. But keep in mind that you’ll be working up to six reps at 95% that same day. This allows you to practice the technique with the Sling Shot, and learn its groove, with sub-maximal weights for a longer term.  

By the fourth week the lifter has already completed 48 total reps with the Sling Shot at very manageable weights. When beginning their second cycle they can restart the first set at 75% instead of 65% and continue the same percentage increases as before so that by the end of their second cycle they’re now doing singles at 120% of their max. An option for this is to make the last set of each training day an AMRAP set like how it is set up in option two. I enjoy AMRAPS with my bench, so maybe give that a go if you've got a similar mindset. 

The benefit of this is that because it is for the long term the progress is likely to continue for longer before a stall. Also beneficial is the ability to practice singles with supra-maximal intensities. This may be of importance for a lifter who is aiming to compete at the end of a training cycle. In that scenario I would absolutely incorporate paused work with the Sling Shot at 100%+ of your Goal Weight. 

There are near endless possibilities with how a lifter can incorporate the use of a Sling Shot into their bench training. I’ve laid out only four simple progressions that demonstrate how a person could do so. My first priority in training the Sling Shot is volume, not intensity; this is because a lifter needs to practice using the tool they’ve purchased. I don’t think Bob Vila built a house the day he bought his first hammer. Likewise it isn’t smart to base your first experiences with the Sling Shot on your dumbass testing max singles with it- like I did. And that’s how it ended up in my gym bag for nearly a year because I thought it was useless.

It wasn’t that the tool was useless; I just didn’t know how to use it. And that made me the tool.

Don't be a dumbass with your Sling Shot.
Other Advice

Personally speaking I know that if I can get four to five reps of a weight with my red Sling Shot I can probably make a single with it raw. If I can do a single with my Sling Shot I can probably do 40-60 pounds less without it.

Like I said above when explaining the example templates, focus on volume rather than intensity- especially at first. It’s important you learn how to use it, otherwise you’ll throw it in a dark corner of your gym bag and hate me for writing these posts. I know it’ll seem exciting to throw on an extra plate over your raw max and try and hit it for a single. Sure it’s fun. But that wont build your raw bench like repetitive overload will. Volume with the Sling Shot will build your bench. I promise.

It will be scary once you start getting into the 110%, 120%, and 130% or more of your raw max intensities when using the Sling Shot. You’ll never have gripped a bar harder or wrapped your wrists tighter. This is a good thing. Harness that fear and use it to get stronger.

Think of the Sling Shot as your spotter bro that helps out just a bit off your chest then lessens the help as you near lockout. The difference is that with your spotter bro you never really know how much assistance he gives you. With the Sling Shot the assistance is consistent, and that’s very important. You know how much help you’re getting and you know your progress is real and not your bro saying, “It’s all you!” When in reality, he’s damn near deadlifting the bar off your chest and you’ve made absolutely no progress whatsoever.

"All you bro! Army Strong! Hooah!"

Don’t Buy it if You Don’t Need it

Seriously… take an honest look at your training history. How long has your bench progress stalled? What else have you tried? There’s no need to add another variable into your training if you don’t have to. Training should be as simple as possible, especially for novice and intermediate lifters. Try a few things to fix your bench before dropping the cash on one of these. Because if it is your technique that is holding you back adding overload work won’t help you at all. In fact, it will be more likely to injure you. Then the only progress you’ll be making is burying your face deeper and deeper into bags of potato chips and pints of Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked.

But, if you have $50 to throw around, buy one. Because I don’t see how it will have a negative impact on your training if all your other ducks are in a row. If you choose to follow one of the protocols I’ve lined out above, I’m confident you’ll make progress on your bench.  

"I'm your one way ticket to PR City." 
- Ulysses S. Grant, November 10, 1865

Too Long. Didn’t Read.

- The Sling Shot is better than boards, bands, or chains, because it doesn’t limit the range of motion and the weight felt in your hands doesn’t change during any point in the lift.

- The Sling Shot may be a better option than using a different accessory lift because that accessory may have little to no carry over to your raw bench. By using the Sling Shot you’re still benching and practicing that movement.  If anything the increased frequency and volume alone will be of benefit. The overload work will certainly help too.

- When should a lifter start using the Sling Shot? It’s hard to pinpoint a specific weight, or bodyweight multiplier, but if a lifter has diligently tried other means to attempt progress then the Sling Shot is a good option. Suggested weight ranges would be mid to upper 200’s or somewhere around 1.5x bodyweight.

- When programming Sling Shot work first focus on volume over intensity. This is so that a lifter can practice with the tool their using and learn how to use it properly. I am of the opinion that supra-maximal singles with the Sling Shot are near useless and overloaded volume is the key to progress when using the Sling Shot.

- Don’t chicken out when un-racking 110% of your max. That’ll turn the bench into a guillotine. Have confidence under the bar. That alone will benefit your raw bench greatly.

- There are many strong lifters who got there without a Sling Shot. It's not a magic pill.

- Don’t buy it if you don’t need it! If your bench sucks because you don’t know how to train then adding this variable to your training is not going to fix it! Get your shit in order first, and then add the Sling Shot. Bake your cake then put frosting on it, because the people who eat frosting by itself are fat. 

And nobody likes fat people. 

"Hi, I'm Bob Vila and welcome to 'This Old Bench.' 
Today we're going to carve a wooden spoon to 
shovel ice cream into your face as you cry about
the sorry state of your bench press."

7 comments:

  1. So, you think with safety bars its safe enough to sling shot bench alone?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd say yes, so long as you've taken the time to set them up in the perfect spot for you to 1. lose your arch then 2. wiggle out

      Delete
    2. Thanks, just got the red one, will try it Saturday :)

      Delete
  2. I train alone using a Rogue squat rack with the safety spotters. With my proper arch, I have set the safeties so that I have no more than 0.5cm clearance in my chest (ie, if my arch isn't right, or the barbell is a bit uneven, it'll hit the uprights). I have the red SS and little concern about overloading considering the ample leeway/wiggle room with the safeties.

    ReplyDelete
  3. thank you for the anchorman references and good content

    ReplyDelete
  4. Just had the opportunity to work with a s/m original slingshot (female, 5'2", 128, max 135). The opportunity to move through a full rom and while feeling the weight in my hands was incredible. I worked with 115% within a few sets which has given me an added confidence for my future raw bench days.

    ReplyDelete