“During the past decade, the board press has become one of the most popular bench training movements,” says EliteFTS founder and CEO Dave Tate. “Whether the use of boards involves the dynamic effort method, max effort method, using it as a basic supplementary exercise or as an exercise to increase tricep strength and development, board presses remain at the top for bench training movements.”
Lifters use boards for a variety of different reasons. Dave believes the most important and widely used purpose for boards is to increase/correct the mini-max or sticking point.
· Increase/Correct Mini-Max: “Wherever your mini-max happens to be, overload that specific area of the bench press where you’re weak,” says Dave. “You’ll develop more strength through that range of motion.”
· Tricep Development: This is more for athletes or bodybuilders. A great exercise you can try is “Tricep Hell” (see example toward end of article).
· Handle Heavy Weight: With boards, you’ll have heavier weights in your hands, but you’ll be working with only a partial range of motion. This is easier on your CNS, which makes for a faster recovery. “When you actually compete or go for a max,” says Dave, “the weight will feel lighter because you’ve handled it, and even heavier weight, before.”
· Confidence: Because you’ve handled a certain weight before, you’ll now have the confidence – or at least a good starting point, psychologically – to bench it through a full range of motion.
· Rehab/Prehab: Boards can help you with the movement you want. If you have shoulder problems, you can take the shoulder rotation out of the bench press by using boards. “Pressing on boards will bring the elbows up higher from the floor,” says Dave, “while still giving them the range of motion for development and reducing strain on the shoulders.”
· Breaking in Bench Shirts: Board presses are a good way to break in a bench shirt. Dave suggests using a 4-board during week one, a 3-board for week two, a 2-board during week three, etc.
· Working Specific Segments of Press: Using boards, you can train whatever segment of the bench press you want.
Size and Stroke Matters
There are a variety of different boards. They start at 1-board and go up to a 5-board. There are also various soft boards and, of course, the EFS Manpon.
Each board has a bit of a different application. Here are some general applications from Dave:
Stroke the 1-board
“I always tell the guys here, you want to stroke a one board,” says Dave. “Bring it down, touch, press and flare.” The movement should be just like your bench stroke. However, if you wear a bench shirt, you’ll want to flare as soon as you press.
Flare off the 2-board
This board should put you right about where you would start flaring if you weren’t wearing a bench shirt.
Groove the 3-board
This board will get you to right where you start to groove, but not going to the point where you’d flare.
Muscle up the 4 and 5-board
“These are pretty much just a muscle board,” says Dave. “It’s a lockout board.”
“The guys I train with called it this for obvious reasons, and they thought I was a puss for using it,” says Dave. The Manpon is a foam roller cut in half, with a handle on it. It’s light in weight and easy to use. You can slip it right under your shirt and you don’t have to balance a board on your chest or tie one on with a belt. The point of the Manpon is to keep your elbows from going too low and also to take stress off of the shoulders.
This is very similar to the Manpon, except it has a board on it and is padded so it’ll compress. “We tried to simulate something similar to the Manpon,” says Dave, “but more importantly something that guys can use while trying to break in their bench shirts. The soft board doesn’t limit how low you can go like the board does. Thus, it can break in a shirt faster because you can bring the bar down lower and still have support from the soft board.”
Exclusive Board Footage
Which Board Should You Use?
“You can’t just say to somebody, ‘Oh, you have a weak lockout. Here, you need a three board,” Dave says.
Elbow position is the key. You should be looking at the distance between your elbow and the floor, not the board and where the bar will travel.
“Keep in mind that even though everyone says a 4-board is a two inch lockout, it’s all irrelevant,” says Dave. “Everyone’s arm lengths are different, so a 2-board for one person may be a 3-board for another.”
1-board – chest and lats
2-board – triceps
3-board – triceps
4-board – triceps
The higher up the board, the more the shoulders become involved for stability. If a bencher has a problem with setting the bench press, high boards can come into play to help them. “They also need to make sure they pause at the top,” says Dave.
The lower the elbows go, the more shoulder rotation is used.
“I don’t want to screw up my shoulders anymore,” says Dave. He uses a 1-board or 2-board, so his elbows are even with the bench. “It’s worthless for me to do a full press because I’m not going to be in competition. The risks outweigh the benefits.”
Can’t Touch This
Most people don’t think about how they touch the board, taking it for granted. Lots of people break records when using boards, but what they don’t realize is that they’re not really breaking them – they’re just changing the way they perform the press.
“Always be consistent with your touch and pay attention to it,” says Dave.
· Soft touch – Bring the bar down with control. When you touch, you should barely hear it, and then press off. This is more for teaching the bench press and working on technique and control.
· Hard touch – Slam down the bar and drop it onto the board. “This does have positive applications even though most people argue that you don’t want to do this,” says Dave. “It’s good for bench shirt training or for people who lower the bar too slowly. It builds confidence because they don’t feel like they’re going to break their chest in half.”
· Bounce – Similar to a hard touch, but with no pause. It’s just a touch and go. “If you’re working with someone who wants to break an all-time record, this helps them get more reps in before they fatigue,” says Dave, “but they still need to be in control of the bar.”
· Sink – Bring the bar down, let it sink in, and then press back up. This teaches benchers to relax at the bottom so they can touch better in a shirt.
· Pause – Stay tight, slow and controlled. Pause at the bottom, then press back up. “This teaches tightness at the bottom, the exact opposite of sinking and is more applicable for a raw bencher than a shirted one,” says Dave.
The width of your grip determines the benefits you’ll reap from using boards.
Grips range from close to ultra-wide and the muscle groups hit will range from your triceps to your delts.
· Hands 17 inches apart.
· This is used to work your triceps and for lockout strength during the top quarter movement of the bench press.
· Hands 22 inches apart.
· This is the same as the close grip, but it’s for lockout strength during the top half movement of the bench press.
· Hands 28 inches apart.
· This is used for more pec work and strength pressing out of the bottom part of the bench – depending on which board you’re using.
· Hands 33 inches apart.
· This is used to work your delts and help with stability,
Board vs. Pins – There’s a Difference
Pin Press - Bring the bar down onto the pins and then press back out. All of the weight will be dispersed onto the pins, which will cause a complete stop into a contraction. This is very hard on the joints, but is still a beneficial movement.
Board press – The weight comes into the body and then back out again, just like a bench press. It is a static to dynamic movement.
This is for the guy holding the bar, not the lifter.
- Pay Attention – No checking out chicks, texting, or daydreaming about buffets.
- Listen to Your Lifter – Don’t put the board down any sooner than what the lifter wants. Make sure they are already set up and in position, but that they haven’t taken the bar out yet.
- Hold the Board Correctly – Don’t hold the board at an angle or sideways. Make sure it’s flat and stable. Also, don’t shove it into the lifter’s chin.
- No Battery – Don’t hold the board like a bat over your shoulder before lifts. You want to get the board to the lifter’s chest in a timely manner, and you won’t be able to if it’s so far away. Also, don’t smack the board down on the lifter when you go to place it on their chest.
- Find Other Spotters – As a board holder, you’re not a spotter. Make sure there’s a spotter on each side and one behind so you don’t have to drop the board to grab the bar.
How YOU Use Boards
“Helps me learn the shirt. Sticking Points. Overload.” – Ray Law, Wisconsin Platteville
“To build strength in the lockout.” – Greg Allen, LSU
“Building horseshoe triceps.” – Bostjan Bavcon, Slovenia
“Learning to engage the triceps.” – Matthew Smith, Midland, Michigan
“Overload lockout. So I can get good shirt work in without having to touch after already learning the shirt via full range.” – Jeff Adkins, Minnesota
“Lockout. Warm-up for bench shirt.” – Andrew Abbott, Waterbury, Connecticut
“Teaching guys how to maintain arch under supermaximal load. Lots of intermediates fail the bench because they can’t maintain their arch in descent. They won’t really be able to build chest and lat strength until they can maintain proper body position to load those muscles, otherwise the shoulders are just going to get beat to shit. I use the board press, and once they bring that up to 3-5 seconds of TUT, with a load beyond their current max bench (maybe 110-120%), we’ll go back to full pressing exercises.” – Thom Lamb, Fredericton, NB
“I like them to hit weak spots I have and to become more efficient in high-end shirts. Most people like to use them since they can’t touch in their shirts, and hit big weights while using them with their gear.” – Stephen Nilsen, East Brunswick
“I train alone, so I place a mini-band from one spot bar to the other at the right height and it holds the boards right in place. I use them as a supplementary exercise to raw benching. I work to go really close to rep my raw max at five or four board level. When I can do that at a three or two level, I know I’m getting close to a PR as long as my raw full range is being maintained.” – Joe Lescano Handabaka, Union, NJ
“For me, it’s two different movements. I’ve got short stubby arms, and using one to two boards is a very short range. Touching is completely different. My chest flattens out, it’s a longer range of motion and I have trouble locking out up to 50 less pounds than I can on a one board!” – Greg Buffington
“I use it to develop strength in the top half of my lockout. I also use it as a means of breaking a new shirt in, but the main reason is to increase tricep and lockout strength.” – Charles Bailey, EFS sponsored lifter
“Partials and to help work in a new bench shirt.” – Jeff King, Hamilton, ON
“Our crew uses boards weekly throughout the year for a variety of reasons, but it all boils down to some very boring physiology. It allows us to learn how to contract the muscle with 100% force during any point of the range of motion. You only fire a muscle at 100% of capacity at the start of the motion and reduce the contraction the closer you are to the completion of the motion (so you don’t throw the bar out of your hands at the top of the motion). Boards allow the athlete to fire at 100% at various points in the ROM of the press. This allows the athlete to overcome various sticking points and individual weaknesses. This is a similar situation as to why band training is so effective. Most training methodology addresses strengthening muscles and connective tissue. Board and band training have the added benefit of addressing central nervous system conditioning.” – David Edgell
“To build the bench: shirted and raw.” – Daniel Garcia
“Triceps and a strong lockout! Sometimes high boards are good for handling heavy weights. After my meet tomorrow, I’ll start doing high boards with a grand, and as time goes on, I’ll drop a board until I’m able to bang it full range.” – Tee Tee Mccray, Norwich, CT
“I have very long arms and bench raw. I kept reading that board presses were best for the shirted bencher, but wanted to try them anyway. My bench shot up once we started doing a lot of board presses. Getting used to having a heavier than normal weight in my hands helped me physically and mentally when I went back to normal benching.” – Aaron Snider, Huntington, IN
“Ascending and descending pushups. Five on each board starting at a four board followed by a five with a pause on the floor.” – Bret Carter
“Big lockout and a feel for heavier weights.” – Shannon Rotondo
“Besides the above, always gave the pec/delt tie in a break and still let you train heavy.” – Sean Patrick Donegan, Pueblo, CO
“Been using them lately for close grip work.” – David Affolter, Baton Rouge, LA
“I use it to get used to a weight I want to hit in a meet. It keeps my shoulders healthy while using heavy weights in a shirt (two – three board).” – Glenn Baggett
How Top Lifters Use Boards
Matt Wenning, Marc Bartley and Jeremy Frey (all bench over 650 pounds) discuss how they use boards:
Work a Weak Point
The most common use of boards, as explained by Dave earlier, is to work a weak point or sticking point. These can be lockouts, halfway up, or at the chest.
“Using boards to work different ranges of motion in the bench press is also a great tool,” says Jeremy. “Many lifters have sticking points where the bench press is weaker.”
If the problem is a lockout one, make sure it isn’t a technique issue. If it’s not a technique issue, then pick the board that matches up with where your lockout struggles.
Most of the board work Frey does is for lockouts. He usually uses a 2-board or 3-board for his lockouts. He also uses the boards with his regular shirt workouts, but never usually goes above a 1-board.
“Every person has a part of the lift that has the poorest leverage and strongest leverages,” says Marc. “With the boards at or by the position of your weakness or where you have the most problems, that’s what you should work on.”
Engage Different Muscles
Marc says the brain and nervous system are always looking for the easiest and fastest route. From the very first day a bar is lifted, the routes become set and they never deviate. The muscles involved in the initial route become the strongest.
“The board makes you take an alternative route and makes other muscles contribute,” he says. “For example, I use the same route home from the store every day, and it usually takes fifteen minutes. One day, my wife and I left the store at the same time and I thought I would pass her and beat her home, but I never saw her. She had been home for ten minutes because she took another side road which was more direct to the house. I didn’t realize it then, but I went the roundabout way.”
This is similar to board work because it changes where you go with the bar, like with Marc’s wife and her new route. These new routes lead to new and different uses of your muscles, and then they work alongside the dominant muscle groups that no longer have to do all of the work.
Break in a Shirt
“In geared lifting, the tightest shirt with the most pop is what you’re always after,” says Marc.
Because new shirts are rather tough to break in, you may not be able to bench the amount of weight it takes to touch the shirt. Boards can be used with a weight that’s comfortable until the shirt stretches and breaks in.
“I progressively work my way down from a 3-board all the way down to touching,” says Jeremy. “By having the boards there, you have something to shoot for, as opposed to always trying to touch, which makes the journey of touching seem sometimes unattainable, especially if you just went down a size in a shirt and it’s super tight.”
“Rehab work is used to limit the range of motion,” says Marc.
When someone injures their shoulders, elbows or hands, boards can be used to limit the range of motion and eliminate pain.
“For example,” says Marc, “if a guy has an injury that hurts as the bar nears his chest, you can put a board on there before the pain starts. This limits pain, so they can still train. It’ll allow the weak area to get stronger and back to normal.”
“Injuries do occur and I’ve had many athletes as well as clients with bicep tendon and rotator issues,” says Jeremy. “Depending upon the injury this can be very effective in rehabbing the injury while maintaining your upper body strength.”
“If you believe it, it can happen,” says Marc.
Marc believes boards make people feel more capable – and confidence with big weights determines success in the end.
“Additionally,” he says, “you can lift more. Granted, there are those strange exceptions because the range of motion is shorter.”
This is an easy way to teach someone how to push faster through the bench. It gives the lifter a target to hit and also a point to change momentum of the bar and improve leverages. This is like changing gears (eccentric to concentric is easier and faster).
“It’s like learning how to drive a stick shift and hitting the gears right without grinding the transmission to pieces,” says Marc.
Boards teach you to pause. In most competitive benching, there’s a pause and then there is touch and go. In a meet, you can’t touch and go. You have to wait until the referee gives you a press command.
“You can use the board to teach someone how to lower the bar correctly into the right position,” says Matt. “This means sinking the bar into the board while holding some of the muscles tight and loaded (tension) then pressing after the pause.”
Increase Leg Drive
Boards are used to increase leg drive on the press. Matt says this can add 50–100 pounds or more onto your bench press. After you sink the bar into boards, then you can get the timing right with your leg drive and you can add a lot to your bench while still keeping it legal.
“We tell guys to sink the bar in and let the abs sink some, then drive the legs and throw the momentum into the bar, creating a pop off the chest,” says Marc. “Hopefully if it’s done right, it will move the bar into the best leverage position to complete the lift.”
Stabilize and Create Foundation
With boards, you can stabilize and create a foundation for the upper body to use. By using the boards in conjunction with your leg drive, you learn how to time the lower body and upper body by sinking the bar into the board with the body until the load is completely absorbed.
Matt describes this as your body being stretched like an elastic band, and then pushing it all back into the bar like a slingshot.
Board Press Workouts & Cycles
By Dave Tate
· Speed Training (dynamic effort): I recommend a soft board, 1-board or 2-board for this. Every time you go up a board, add one rep.
· Max Effort: Most beginners have success with this and work in three week waves up to a one or three rep max.
· Repetition Method: The board is used as a supplement after the main movement. The board chosen should help you work on a specific movement that is your weakest.
Hypertrophy & Finisher Workouts
Application: This is used more for strength endurance and muscle hypertrophy. Select two different boards to work from. Select 3-5 reps for each segment. Perform desired reps on first board and then proceed to do the same on the next board, then repeat – all with no rest.
Application: This is used more for strength endurance and muscle hypertrophy. Select a weight you can do 15 – 20 reps with. After warm-ups, proceed to the “Tricep Hell” set. For this, you’ll perform five reps on a 1-board and go straight into five on a 2-board. Repeat this up to a 4-board or 5-board. If you make it through the whole thing, try working back down.
Board Press Cluster Sets
Application: There are many examples of this, but one I’ve found to be very effective is to select a weight you can do for 10 reps on a 3-board or 4-board. Perform three reps, rest for a 10 count and perform three more reps. Keep repeating this until you can only perform one rep.
Application: I suggest a spotter with all pressing movements, but highly recommend it with this one. For this, you’ll use a higher board (three or four) with a light weight: 25 –30 percent of your best one rep full bench max. The goal is to make the set last three minutes without racking the weight. You CAN hold it at the top and rest on the board for a long as you need, (but try not to rest on the board for more than 20 seconds). The percent is just a guideline or starting point. I’ve seen people use up to 50 percent for this.
Application: Select any mix from the matrix below and select a total number of reps between 50 and 100. Pick a weight you can do for 10 moderately easy reps, then perform sets of 10 reps (or whatever you end up doing) with 20 seconds rest until the final number of repetitions is reached.
Bench Shirt Work
Shirt Work – Working down boards
Application: This is used to break in bench shirts and also used with many lifters when doing shirt work. Warm up to a point where you feel the need to put your shirt on. This is usually around 60 percent of 1RM. Perform 3-5 reps on a 3-board or 4-board. For each set from here, you’ll work up in weight and lower the board until you get to around 90 percent off your chest. A sample progression may look like this:
Bar for a few sets of 5 reps
95 for 2 sets 3 reps
135 for 3 sets 3 reps
185 for 3 reps
225 for 3 reps
275 for 3 reps
315 for 3 reps
405 (with shirt) off a 4-board for 5 reps
455 (with shirt) off a 3-board for 3 reps
495 (with shirt) off a 3-board for 1 rep
545 (with shirt) off a 2-board for 1 rep
585 (with shirt) off a 1-board for 1 rep
615 (with shirt) to chest for 1 rep
Here are some key points with this progression and board work with shirts:
First and most IMPORTANT – set the shirt for your 4-board sets the SAME as you would for your chest set. DO NOT jack the shirt up so you can barely touch a two board, just so you can press more weight. This is great for your ego, but there’s no way you’ll be able to touch your chest with your shirt jacked up the same way. A second point is let the shirt and weight determine when to lower the board. If you can’t get the weight down to a 3-board, don’t drop to a 2-board on the next set. Stay with the 3-board until the weight touches, and then move the weight up and lower the board after that.
Shirt Work Cycle
Week 1 – 3-board working up to max set of 3-5 reps
Week 2 – 2-board working up to max set of 3-5 reps
Week 4 – 1-board working up to max set of 3
Week 5 – No shirt week: this would be a great place to drop in a concentric only pressing movement such as pin presses or presses off chains.
Week 6 – 2-board working up to max set of 3 reps
Week 7 – 1-board working up to max single
Week 8 – Work down to chest for triple or single
Max Effort Cycles
Max Effort Board Press Cycle for Beginner and Intermediate Lifters:
Movement: Stick with the same movement for three weeks
Warm-ups: Work up using small jumps (5% jumps)
Week 1 – Work up to max set of 5 reps
Week 2 – Work up to max set of 5 reps (beat week 1)
Week 3 – Work up to max set of 5 reps (beat week 2)
1-Board Dynamic Effort Cycle with Bands
Application: This cycle is intended for those trainees who would like to bring up their strength at the bottom point of the bench press with the use of bands. This is a great cycle for those who are dealing with shoulder problems and would like to take some of the shoulder rotation out of the bottom of the lift.
Week 1 – 40% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Week 2 – 40% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Week 3 – 40% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Suggested Band Tensions (based on max bench press)
100-200 Pounds – Bands not recommended
201-300 Pounds – 30-40 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
301-400 Pounds – 40-50 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
401-500 Pounds – 70 – 80 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
501-600 Pounds – 70 – 80 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
601-700 Pounds – 100-120 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
800 Plus Pounds – 140-160 pounds of band tension at the top of the lift
One Board Dynamic Effort Cycle with Chains
Application: This cycle is intended for those trainees who would like to bring up their strength at the bottom point of the bench press with the use of chains. This is a great cycle for those who are dealing with shoulder problems and would like to take some of the shoulder rotation out of the bottom of the lift.
Week 1 – 45% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Week 2 – 45% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Week 3 – 45% for 8 sets 3 reps (use three different grips: close, medium and wide)
Suggested Chain (based on max bench press – chain weight is for both sides combined)
100-200 Pounds – 20 pounds
201-300 Pounds – 40 pounds
301-400 Pounds – 60 pounds
401-500 Pounds – 80 pounds
501-600 Pounds – 100 pounds
601-700 Pounds – 120 pounds
800 Plus Pounds – 140 pounds
Supplemental Training Cycles
These cycles would be for those who are using submaximal training cycles or blocks to train their bench press. If this is the case, the board press work would fall as a second movement or on another day.
The key here is to select a movement from the matrix below that will help bring up your weakness or mini-max. The basics of this were covered in the videos posted with this article and the specifics extend beyond the scope of this article.
The simplest technique that will cover most issues is to pick the board closest to where your sticking point is, ASSUMING your technique is good.
Heavy Band Cycle
Application: Select a band or combination of bands that will represent 50 percent of your max bench weight at the top (this 50 percent is true if it’s a shirt max or raw max). Load the bands on the bar first, then work up with weight from there.
Week 1 – 3-board working up to a max set of 5 reps, rest 3-5 minutes and try to repeat for max number of reps.
Week 2 – 3-board with 80% for 3 sets 3 reps with NO band tension
Week 3 – 3-board working up to a max set of 3 reps, rest 3-5 minutes and repeat
Week 4 – No heavy supplemental
Week 5 – Change movement
There are many more cycles I could list but would like to flip this back to our readers. I very interested in reading what has worked for you. Please feel free to post to me on the Q&A or make a comment on any of the YouTube videos associated with this article.
Board Press Matrix
|One Board||Close||Soft||Power Bar||Pro Short Mini Band|
|Two Board||Medium||Hard||Cambered Bar||Pro Short Monster Mini Band|
|Three Board||Wide||Tight||Fat Bar||Pro Short Light Band|
|Four Board||Ultra Wide||Sink||Swiss Bar||Pro Short Average Band|
|Five Board||Bounce||Pro Short Strong Band|
|Manpon||Pro Short Heavy Band|
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