The bench press, obviously, moves in the horizontal plane. And while strengthening all planes of motion is important from both an injury prevention and general strength perspective, it’s also important to keep the law of specificity in mind.
And considering strength and power development are often plane-specific, strengthening the back in the horizontal plane will carry over to the bench press far more than vertical rowing variations.
2) Horizontal rows still train the lats
A common argument for the emphasis of vertical rowing is that they train the lats.
Vertical rowing variations do train the lats as they work to produce humeral adduction (move the upper arm bones towards the mid-line of the body) under load.
But here’s the thing…
Horizontal rows train the lats, too.
Not only do the lats function to adduct the humerus, they also work to extend the shoulder and depress/retract the scapulae.
In other words, horizontal rows are extraordinarily beneficial for improving lat strength.
As a bonus, horizontal rows train the lats in the same plane as the bench press which – going off of the above point – makes them more specific to the bench press and likely more beneficial.
3) Lat strength for the deadlift can be trained separately
What about the deadlift?
Strong lats are an essential component of a beastly deadlift, so how do you train the lats for those?
Your options are endless and each variation – when performed correctly – is extremely effective at strengthening the lats.
My personal favorites?
The pause deadlift and snatch-grip deadlift.
For a variety of reasons, both of these variations are phenomenal teaching tools as they truly force you to use your lats throughout the entire range of motion (ROM). And if you don’t…well, you’ll know very quickly.
Pause Deadlift (Deficit)
Your Takeaway: Vertical rowing is extremely important and you should absolutely include some within your training. However, if you truly want to focus on raw powerlifting performance, you’d be better off emphasizing horizontal over vertical rows in the majority of your programs.
2) Faster Down, Faster Up
This is one of the best cues I’ve learned in all my years under the bar.
Faster down, faster up.
Simple concept, difficult to master.
Allow me to explain.
Specifically pertaining to the squat and bench press, as the weight gets heavier lifters will often slow the eccentric (lowering) portion of the lift in an attempt to establish more control of the bar and/or because they get nervous handling heavier loads.
Do NOT let this happpen!
The less you think about the movement – the less “in your head” that you can be – the more fluidly you will move and the more efficient you will become with your lifts.
Specific to the squat, thinking too much and purposefully slowing down the movement will hinder your ability to move efficiently and re-bound out of the hole which will drastically affect your ability to display your true maximal strength.
Granted, this is not an excuse to free-fall without any control until your ass hits the back of your calves.
Rather, you need to find the middle ground where you’re moving as fast as possible while maintaining control of the weight throughout the entire range of motion.
Same goes for the bench press.
Lower the weight too slowly and you’ll waste your energy on the way down, making it significantly more difficult to reverse the weight off your chest. Let the weight free fall towards your sternum, however, and prepare for a trip to the hospital.
Your Takeaway: For your strongest squat and deadlift, actively try to move as fast as you can while maintaining control of the bar throughout the entire range of motion. This is a tricky skill to master and will take a lot of time and practice but once you “get it” it will drastically improve your performance.
3) Deficit Deadlifts > Rack Deadlifts
Rack deadlifts are little more than an ego-booster.
Do they have some validity?
For beginner trainees with severe mobility deficits and/or injury concerns, as well as intermediate/advanced lifters with a glaring lockout weakness…rack deadlifts have some utility.
Think about it: deficit deadlifts directly help to increase speed and strength off the floor. And the faster you get the bar off the floor, the less work you’ll need to do at lockout.
So while deficit deadlifts won’t directly increase your lockout strength, they will help to improve your ability to get the bar off the floor faster and with more force, which will lead to a stronger and more powerful lockout.
2) Rack deadlifts stress the body way more than deficit deadlifts.
Think about it: deadlifts are stressful enough. In fact, most high level lifters rarely deadlift heavy more than 1/week as even a slightly higher frequency would burn them out. Add a reduced range of motion and significantly heavier weight into the mix and you’ve got yourself an exceedingly stressful movement that, in my opinion, has very little carryover to full ROM deadlift performance.
What About Slightly Elevated Deadlifts?
If you really want to train with supramaximal loads and truly overload your lockout, slightly elevated deadlifts (2-4 inches) are a valid option.
Personally, I only use elevated deadlifts for 3-weeks out any 12-week training cycle but I also think they’re far more useful than standard rack deadlifts which have a much smaller ROM.
Your Takeaway: Rack deadlifts have a time and a place but, by and large, they’re just an ego-lift. If you truly want to get the most bang for your buck, spend your time improving speed and strength off the floor with deficit deadlifts and occasionally incorporating slightly elevated deadlifts for true lockout strength development.
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