Bench Press - Rules in Different Federations

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
I am lately lifting in both the USAPL/IPF and the USPA/IPL, and I'm interested in discussing rules differences as regards the bench press.

Specifically, having just done my first USPA meet, I noticed that lifters are

1) Allow to have the balls of their feet on the ground in the USPA while the USAPL requires the entire foot be flat on the ground.

2) USPA allows the head to come off the bench while the USAPL does not.

Here's how the USPA rule book puts it,

"The lifter must lie on his back with shoulders and buttocks in contact with the flat bench
surface. This position must be maintained throughout the lift. The head may remain flat
or rise during the lift. The lifter has the option of benching while either flat footed, or on
the toes, as long as the foot remains in contact with the lifting platform. The feet may
move up and down during the lift ..."

I learned to BP under USAPL rules but I'm wondering what performance advantage the USPA rules might allow, and in hearing the kinesiology/logic/reasoning as to why the USPA rules might allow heavier lifts.

Thanks in advance for your replies.

-S-
 

Philippe Geoffrion

Level 6 Valued Member
Hello @Steve Freides

Yes. As far as I know, the StrongFirst style bench press is more aligned with IPF, flat heels and still head. I believe this is in part because IPF is one of the only drug tested organizations worldwide and SFL training would help prepare lifters for competing here. Also it is a stricter press. Think military press vs old style Olympic press. One can not finesse or “cheat” the lift as much with momentum via the head, which when raises is usually accompanied with bar sink allowing one to “torso toss” the weight upwards. However, I’ve competed in USPA and have found several advantages to the other bench style.

Firstly with the feet. Allowing a lifter to rise on his/her toes allows more leeway for individuality, namely for lifters who like to set a very high arch but lack the dorsiflexion or have much longer legs to do so heels flat. Also, some find they get a better leg drive from this start. I benched this way for some time but now trade the high arch for the stability of flat feet, as being on your toes feels a little too wobbly to me.

As far as the head up part, @kennycro@@aol.com and I did an earlier blog post on the benefit of such. Hopefully Kenny chimes in with the data, but I found the head off the bench method is best for those who like a very explosive start. Lifters who uses this method often let the bar sink in the chest a bit and rely on a heavy explosive leg drive. There is a bit more looseness in this style and it takes a lot of precision and practice to keep the bar in the groove. A quicker descent is usually present here. Jeremy Hoonstra benches in this way and also Dan Green, yet Dan keeps his heels down vis the use of Olympic shoes. The head is lifted upon the bar touching the chest and is driven back hard into the bench and initiates a reflex that “pops” the bar off the chest and assists greatly with decreasing shoulder flexion demands and elbow extension. It is not best for those with neck problems. Also, since some people will say this method is heaving, it is not. Heaving is only called if the bar drops lower AFTER the press command, so if you SINK, make sure it’s at the lowest it will be at the pause.

one must be aware of the glutes remaining in contact with this method as they’re apt to jump up. This will obviously recurve red lights. The faster descent allows for saving energy and fast start while the slow is more precise and relies on grinding strength and less ROM as if done correctly, the bar will not sink too much. Leg drives makes up for the extra ROM in the former.

I think competing USPA can be a good thing, as maybe you’ll be able to try out new bench positions to see if the toes up, leg drive may suit you. All in all, the heels down, head down approach is more strict, though you still can use some of the other principles of the other style, namely high arch and strong leg drive, if mobility and practice of these techniques is observed.
 
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william bad butt

Level 6 Valued Member
In terms of foot position... There is the wide base (legs out, not tucked) and the tucked method (feet in and back. I use both. I train, for strength, with the wide base. I compete tucked.

I like the wide base because it allows for more drive (more explosive). I like the tucked method because I can get tighter and there is a shorter ROM. The tucked method is very uncomfortable for me. I get so tight, it wouldnt surprise me if my blood pressure spikes above 300! I'm stronger tucked.

In the tucked method, lifting your heels allows for you to move your feet more towards your head and accommodates a bigger arch. Bigger arch means more weight (cause ROM is decreased even more and you are tighter).
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
the StrongFirst style bench press is more aligned with IPF, flat heels and still head.
Yes.

I believe this is in part because IPF is one of the only drug tested organizations worldwide
This is no longer true. There are quite a few drug-tested federations now, with names like 100% Natural and the like. The USPA also has a drug-tested and non-tested division, and each lifter can choose which they want to compete in. Yes, I think that's pretty bizarre, but that's the way it is. I have also competed in the AAU and the WNPF, both of which are completely drug-free to the best of my knowledge (and the best of their ability to detect).

But 20 years ago, drug-free powerlifting was uncommon. If memory serves
the StrongFirst style bench press is more aligned with IPF, flat heels and still head. I believe this is in part because IPF is one of the only drug tested organizations worldwide and SFL training would help prepare lifters for competing here.
 

Rif

Level 6 Valued Member
Master Certified Instructor
I am lately lifting in both the USAPL/IPF and the USPA/IPL, and I'm interested in discussing rules differences as regards the bench press.

Specifically, having just done my first USPA meet, I noticed that lifters are

1) Allow to have the balls of their feet on the ground in the USPA while the USAPL requires the entire foot be flat on the ground.

2) USPA allows the head to come off the bench while the USAPL does not.

Here's how the USPA rule book puts it,

"The lifter must lie on his back with shoulders and buttocks in contact with the flat bench
surface. This position must be maintained throughout the lift. The head may remain flat
or rise during the lift. The lifter has the option of benching while either flat footed, or on
the toes, as long as the foot remains in contact with the lifting platform. The feet may
move up and down during the lift ..."

I learned to BP under USAPL rules but I'm wondering what performance advantage the USPA rules might allow, and in hearing the kinesiology/logic/reasoning as to why the USPA rules might allow heavier lifts.

Thanks in advance for your replies.

-S-
Steve

It seems every federation has to have their own rules. I left the USAPL when they ruled that the bar had to touch the nipple line and couldn't touch the upper abs, where my limbs dictate is the correct place for me to put the bar
Heels off the floor will help the lifter that uses a super arch , which is harder to get for some with the heels down . The heels down lifter usually relies on more leg drive and the lifter on their toes relies more on that super arch for leverage
As far as lifting the head it seems that helps many( especially those that use bench shirts )get leverage in the bottom of the press by activating cervical flexors. One can also drive the head back into the bench at the start helping create momentum after the pause
All the rules are just man made fashions imo
think of this, back in the early days one had to pause the squat before the judge gave an "up" command like in the bench now. Now, those who can "hit the hole" hard are considered expert squatters but if you do the same in the bench ( very similar mechanics) you are a cheater. Again, fashion.
 

Starlord

Level 4 Valued Member
On the balls of your feet you will have a better ability to get a big arch and get REALLY tight. However you are sacrificing leg drive.

In my experience the leg drive is much more helpful when lifting raw. Where as on the balls of my feet is better when lifting single ply, when I am handling substantially heavier weights.
 
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Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
Steve

It seems every federation has to have their own rules. I left the USAPL when they ruled that the bar had to touch the nipple line and couldn't touch the upper abs, where my limbs dictate is the correct place for me to put the bar
Heels off the floor will help the lifter that uses a super arch , which is harder to get for some with the heels down . The heels down lifter usually relies on more leg drive and the lifter on their toes relies more on that super arch for leverage
As far as lifting the head it seems that helps many( especially those that use bench shirts )get leverage in the bottom of the press by activating cervical flexors. One can also drive the head back into the bench at the start helping create momentum after the pause
All the rules are just man made fashions imo
think of this, back in the early days one had to pause the squat before the judge gave an "up" command like in the bench now. Now, those who can "hit the hole" hard are considered expert squatters but if you do the same in the bench ( very similar mechanics) you are a cheater. Again, fashion.
Rif, thank you. The history of where bar placement was allowed in the BP prompted me to look up this up in the current USAPL rule book, which says it was last revised about a month ago. Here's what it says, which sounds different than what it must have been when you lifted in the USAPL:

"... the lifter must lower the bar to the chest or abdominal area (the bar shall not touch the belt) ..."

Doubly interesting as I don't wear a belt, so I wonder how they'd judge that since not everyone wears their belt the same way.

And another interesting piece of history and comparison about pausing in the squat and the bench press. My preferred method of squatting, by which I mean "what I do for general purposes" and not necessarily for maximum weight, is to pause at the bottom of my squats, and often even exhale then repressurize before coming up. I know I can't do this with heavy-for-me weights, but now that I'm back to squatting again, it's how I warm up.

Thanks again.

-S-
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
In terms of foot position... There is the wide base (legs out, not tucked) and the tucked method (feet in and back. I use both. I train, for strength, with the wide base. I compete tucked.

I like the wide base because it allows for more drive (more explosive). I like the tucked method because I can get tighter and there is a shorter ROM. The tucked method is very uncomfortable for me. I get so tight, it wouldnt surprise me if my blood pressure spikes above 300! I'm stronger tucked.

In the tucked method, lifting your heels allows for you to move your feet more towards your head and accommodates a bigger arch. Bigger arch means more weight (cause ROM is decreased even more and you are tighter).
I think that's a good explanation of the difference - thank you very much.

When I maximally arch, including my lumbar spine, with my particular back history, it's not a whole lot of fun. My lower back is so stiff after a set like that that I can hardly get up off the bench, and I am completely unable to do things like untie my shoes for a few minutes afterwards until things calm down a little. So I flex my glutes hard, which I believe takes some of the arch out of my back overall, and it almost certainly means less arch in the lumbar, and that's what works for me - arch as much as I can with clenched glutes, and the clenched glutes protect my lumbar spine. I'm still trying to arch as much as I can in the upper back, and also doing the "lateral arch", and all that does help. As I'm executing the lift itself, I focus on the lateral arch; I try to bring my sternum up to meet the bar as I pull the bar apart and down.

Thanks again.

-S-
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
On the balls of your feet you will have a better ability to get a big arch and get REALLY tight. However you are sacrificing leg drive.

In my experience the leg drive is much more helpful when lifting raw. Where as on the balls of my feet is better when lifting single ply, when I am handling substantially heavier weights.
Again, an interesting observation and in keeping with my own experience. I lift even more "raw" than the rules allow - no belt, no wraps of any kind, literally socks, shoes, jock, singlet, t-shirt and that's it. So keeping the leg drive makes the most sense for me, which means keeping my feet flat, what I've been doing, is what I'll keep on doing.

Thank you very much.

-S-
 

kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
Allowing a lifter to rise on his/her toes allows more leeway for individuality, namely for lifters who like to set a very high arch but lack the dorsiflexion or have much longer legs to do so heels flat. Also, some find they get a better leg drive from this start. I benched this way for some time but now trade the high arch for the stability of flat feet, as being on your toes feels a little too wobbly to me.
Heels off the floor will help the lifter that uses a super arch , which is harder to get for some with the heels down . The heels down lifter usually relies on more leg drive and the lifter on their toes relies more on that super arch for leverage
On Toes Bench Press

As Phillippe and Rif state, benching off the toes, allows most individual to obtain a better arch. It is more of a Decline Bench. Most individual should be able to Decline Bench Press more than they Flat Bench.

Flat Foot Bench Press

There is more stability with the whole foot on the floor. As per Rif and Philippe, that probably allows you to produce more leg drive. That is what I noticed.

The head is lifted upon the bar touching the chest and is driven back hard into the bench and initiates a reflex

The Tonic Neck Reflex

Lifting the head and driving it back into the bench, elicits the Tonic Neck Reflex; something we have discussed before on this site. The Tonic Neck Reflex allows you produce more force.

Generally speaking, driving your head back in Pressing Movements and tuck your head down into your chest on Pulling Movements, like Lat Pulldown and Curls, elicit the Tonic Neck Reflex. Many individual do it without thinking about it or knowing what it is.

As far as lifting the head it seems that helps many( especially those that use bench shirts )get leverage in the bottom of the press by activating cervical flexors. One can also drive the head back into the bench at the start helping create momentum after the pause

Bench Shirt Stretch Reflex

As Rif essentially states, lifting the head and driving it back down into the bench in a Bench Press shirt utilize the stretch of the shirt, which produces momentum off the chest. You get a bit of a running or at least a moving start.

Effect of bench shirts on bench press performance

Elastic potential energy​

The deformation of the whole shirt-arm ( i.e. , to lower the bar) (Fig. 5) requires a gre589 lbsat deal of energy. This elastic potential energy will be returned to allow the shirt to return to its original shape ( i.e. , to raise the bar) (Fig. 6). Of course, the shirt is not everything. But as the results of this study show, the difference between performance without and with shirt may be quite impressive.

The head is lifted upon the bar touching the chest and is driven back hard into the bench and initiates a reflex that “pops” the bar off the chest ... Also, since some people will say this method is heaving,

Sinking the Bar Into The Chest and Heaving It Off The Chest

In lifting the head the chest drops down a little.

In driving the head back into the bench, the chest will arc up.

As Rif said, "Helping create momentum after the pause."

A little bit of driving the bar off the chest in this manner with a Bench Shirt is allowed.

If it is excessive, the lift is turned down for "Heaving'.

Then there is the in between where it is questionable. As a referee, when in question, I defer to the rule in baseball; the tie goes to the runner or in this case the lifter.

I fricking hate gray area. That one of the reason we have three referees. You rely on the other to pick it up and come to their own conclusion of if it marginally passed or failed.

The same applies with the..

The Pause In The Bench

One of greatest Benchers of all time was Doug Young, 242 lb lifter.

At a meet, Young (benching in a T-Shirt) called for a third World Record attempt at 589 lb/267.5 kg.

Young anticipated the "Press Command", driving the bar up a split second before the signal. The lift was red lighted.

Young then took 611 lbs/277.5 kg. Young again anticipated the "Press Command" at the precise moment it was given, successfully driving with weight up for three white lights.

As per Young, his training sessions revolved around "Anticipating The Signal".

This method should be employed by all competitive lifters.

The Stretch Reflex

Research (Wllson, Supertraining, the book) found that up to 50% of the Stretch Reflex dissipates in one (1) second. After 4 seconds, the Stretch Reflex is complete gone.

Research also has determined that up to 18% more force is produces when the Stretch Reflex is triggered.

That means, in the Bench Press, metaphorically speaking, "The longer it sits, the heavier it gets."

Which Method Is Optimal For You

Each method works. Some experimentation is required over a period of time.

Personally, I prefer benching on my toes.

By doing so, it allows me to perform more of a Decline Bench Press: less stress is placed on the shoulders.
 
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kennycro@@aol.com

Level 6 Valued Member
keeping the leg drive makes the most sense for me,
My Suggestion

My suggestion really know is to if benching on your your toes will work is to experiment with it over a good period of time to see how it works for you.

Many of the training method that I now promote came from trying something and seeing if would work,

If It Ain't Broke, Break It

This is one of my favorite book.

The underlying message is that many things can be improved by making adjustments and trying something new.

Fear Of Losing Ground

One of the biggest issues is that many individual fear losing ground by trying something new; so they don't.

Below is my written guarantee...
 

Steve Freides

Staff
Senior Certified Instructor
Elite Certified Instructor
My Suggestion

My suggestion really know is to if benching on your your toes will work is to experiment with it over a good period of time to see how it works for you.
I started competing in the USAPL about 3 or 4 years ago, and I switched to keeping my feet flat on the ground because I had to. I believe, although I can't swear on a stack of Bibles that this is true, that one of the reasons I've decided to compete in all three lifts again is because the USAPL rules forced me to adopt a style of bench pressing that doesn't bother my back as much.

Nonetheless, you make a good point, and I will try benching on the balls of my feet again the next time I bench, which will be in another day or two.

Thank you, @kennycro@@aol.com

-S-
 
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