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When one talks plyometric exercises it usually conjures up images of jumping on boxes or bounding down the track. These are both great plyometric exercises for the lower body. 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!
Plyometrics are defined as a quick explosive movements using a pre-stretch or counter movement that involves the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). This can be a vertical jump, medicine ball throw, explosive push up, or any explosive movement preceded by a pre-stretch. There are tons of pieces of information about lower body plyometrics and how they can help an athlete perform better, but not much is written about how one can increase upper body explosiveness using plyos.
Since the bench press has an eccentric portion (pre-stretch) followed by a concentric portion (explosive Movement) and is aided by the SSC it is pretty easy to see how plyos could benefit the bench presser. The harder and faster the bar explodes off the chest, the less the likelihood of hitting a sticking point. So our goal for upper body plyos is to develop punishing explosion off the chest.
1. Smith Machine Bench Throws
This is a pretty self-explanatory exercise. Load up the smith machine with 25-40% of your bench 1RM. Lower the bar under control and when it touches your chest EXPLODE! 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.
2. 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 and as the ball makes contact with your fingertips, guide it down so it touches your chest (try not to decelerate the ball too much.) 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.
3. 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.
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 keep them to once a week and as you become more advanced you may want to add a second day. All the warnings aside, upper body plyometrics are just one more tool for your bench pressing toolbox and can help add pounds to the bar.