Why I Am Not A Fan Of The Cue “Bend The Bar”
A very popular cue for increasing lat tightness is to “bend the bar”, entailing that you trying are to supinate/externally rotate your hands/arms to create tension and “bend the bar”. There is one big issue with this though, and that is the latissmus dorsi have nothing to do with external rotation of the arm. The reason someone may feel increased lat tightness using this cue though is that the action of external rotation can cue shoulder depression, but then you are left with an externally rotated humerus that is putting your shoulder in a compromising position. Notice the video HERE of myself. On the top I am using the cue of bending the bar, and you can see the rotation of my elbow as I perform this. As I descend my elbow tracks in front of the bar, creating a constant rotational force bearing down on my shoulder. Our goal is to have our joints stacked, with the elbow tracking directly under the bar to allow for the most optimal transfer of force possible, and this externally rotated position does not allow that. In my opinion, this is a cue that was more beneficial back when equipped lifting was the popular form of powerlifting, and should not be utilized in the same manner by the raw lifters of today. And within the raw powerlifting realm, this cue seems to be carried out more so by the heavier weight class benchers who use a close grip. This is important to note, as externally rotating the arm for a super heavyweight close grip bencher has a very different affect on the lift than someone who may require greater ranges of motion or uses a wider grip. The pec internally rotates the humerus, so what happens when you externally rotate the arm is it instead lengthens the pectoral muscle. Taking that information, think about the different demands on the pec that would create for a lifter who has a larger range of motion or a wider grip that places increased emphasis on the pec. That means that due to the lengthening of the pec, they are putting even a greater stretch/stress on it at the bottom range of motion. A muscle is weakest in its lengthened and shortened state, so the externally rotated humerus decreases the potential of the pec to produce maximal force from the bottom position due to its further lengthened position. So what should we do instead? We need to depress and retract the shoulders in the same manner as the “bend the bar” cue leads to, but without the external rotation of the arm. So how do we do that?
1.) The most successful way I have found to cue/force shoulder depression and retraction is during the initial setup and leg drive. If you watch the second video (HERE) of Aisling, you will see the difference between the top video where she externally rotates her arm to cue depression, versus the bottom video where she utilizes her leg drive to force depression. When setting up on the bench, we want to start with the contact of the upper traps driving down into the bench. This will allow for that elevated rib cage position and putting the shoulder naturally into a depressed and retracted state. To maintain that position though, initiating leg drive from the start and maintaining that drive throughout creates the necessary force to keep the shoulders pulling down and back. You can see in the bottom video with Aisling that as she drives back using her legs, primarily through the quads, her traps dig into the bench and her shoulders stay put, but the rest of her body slides backwards. She is utilizing the bench to hold her traps and shoulders in position, but then using her legs to create the necessary movements back to create the depressed and retracted position.
2.) While the leg drive may force that position, it is still beneficial for the lifter to also pull with the lats and scapular retractors simultaneously. There are many cues that could possibly lead to this action and just depends on what a lifter may internalize best, but for me personally I try to think about trying to touch my shoulders toward my butt, and vice versa. I am a big fan of directional cues such as this, as it gives a clear frame of reference for where the movement/cue should lead to.
3.) Lastly, if you have trouble finding this position, some type of activation work like a straight arm pullover can be done to help feel the ending position you are trying to achieve. To take even a step further, you can watch the final video (HERE) where I perform a straight arm pullover while spreading may arms to the width of my bench press, utilizing a circle band. This brings me to a very similar position as the above two points, allowing me to feel how the lats and scapular retractors are pulling the shoulders down and back so that I can recreate that tension on the bench press.