With the beginning of the new school year, the Wellness Center sees upwards of 60 students each day.  A number of these young men are experienced at lifting, while others are freshman who may have never been in a gym before.  The idea of a heavy bench press, squat, or overhead press may seem daunting to some, but others hop right in.  The problem is that a number of kids (and adults alike) don’t have the requisite strength and stability of each joint and/or muscle group.  This post will detail how body weight exercises can help to progress someone until they are ready to grab the barbell.

Concerning the bench press, there are a few major problems that I see.  First and most glaring is a lack of strength.  If you don’t have enough force to lift the bar, it won’t go anywhere.  Secondly, the shoulder joint may lack stability.  This is seen as the bar begins to sway forward and backwards during execution of the lift.  These two problems can be address by doing a few simple exercises at home.  The push-up, which mimics the action of the bench press, will provide strength increases.  Complete 15-25 per night and watch the bar become lighter and lighter.  Another thing you can do is challenge the stability of your shoulder by raising one arm or tapping the chest during a plank or straight arm hold.  When doing this, be sure to not shift your weight and swing your hips.  These two things will provide you with the ability to safely and effectively execute a bench press.

Another pinnacle of the exercise world is the squat rack.  Once again, I see far too many students with poor form throw weight on the bar and hop under it.  I simply approach the young man and tell him that he isn’t quite ready for the squat but if he practices certain movements and exercises he can progress quickly.  The first exercise is a floor bridge.  Far too often, the glute muscles are under activated leading to a weakness of hip extension.  The bridge helps to correct this weakness and also improves posture.  Another simple body weight movement is the lunge.  Not only does is help to recruit the same muscular patterns as the squat but you get the added benefit of increased range of motion in the leg that is trailing.

I hope these help to clarify ways that someone can improve if they view the squat rack or flat bench as too advanced.  Everyone has to start from somewhere and the better you develop a foundation of strength and proper movements, the easier your progression will be.

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