Why do sprinters do bench?

Sprinting has as much to do with the nervous system as it has to do with the muscular system. When training the muscular system there is some need to be specific, for example squats(open chain) vs leg press(close chain), reverse leg press vs leg curls, up plyos for acceleration, down plyos for top speed and so on and so on. However, when it comes to training the nervous system we can use a more general approach, hence the use of heavy bench pressing.
I don’t believe there is any “real” cross-over effect from muscle group to muscle group.
If someone does a real real heavy arm curl they would feel muscles contract from the back of their neck down into their legs. This is the way the body works, it never isolates one muscle group when performing a lift. Because of this we can see improvements in other lifts even if no work was done on that lift.

Chris- I made no reference to the bench press. I wonder if you meant to direct your question to Spartcus?


One of the old methods used to check general (not specifically trained) strength was the “grip test”

Can then this general strength be increased without hypertrophy? That is, can grip strength be increased by doing, for example, maximal effort squats?

What form of adaptation is this then the result of? Some kind of increase in Central Nervous System efficiency as oposed to changes in the muscles or the PNS?

Increased central drive and rate coding:

  1. Increased Recruitment

The strength deficit is defined as the difference between the force produced in a muscle by maximal voluntary contraction and the force produced by electro-stimulation of a muscle’s nerve cells (Siff, 2003). Appropriate training reduces the strength deficit by increasing ‘central drive’ and therefore also the ability of an individual to recruit fast twitch motor units.

Typically, motor units are recruited in order of size; hence the largest and fastest units are recruited last. Fast twitch motor units have high threshold neurones, axons with high conduction velocities and fibres with large cross sectional areas (Zatsiorsky, 1995). Their shortening velocity are up to four times faster than slow twitch fibres. Recruitment of fast twitch fibres therefore significantly increases both maximum force and ‘rate of force development’ (RFD) (Zatsiorsky, 1995).

Recent research, suggests ballistic training may permit, and accentuate, preferential recruitment of high threshold fast twitch motor units earlier in the recruitment order, i.e. against the size principle (Grimby & Hannerz, 1977). Due to the higher shortening velocities of fast twitch fibres, this adaptation contributes to increased RFD. Ballistic exercises such as medicine ball throws may therefore provide stimulus to high threshold motor units without the need for near maximal loads.

The Golgi tendon organs, arranged in series with the muscle, respond to increased tension by inhibiting maximum force development. Exposure to high forces decreases the sensitivity of the Golgi tendon and hence also decreases this mode of inhibition.

Interestingly, under conditions of high stress, remarkable feats (e.g. women lifting vehicles) have been reported. The implication is that even trained individuals are limited by significant inhibition to maximum contractions (Zatsiorsky, 1995.)

  1. Rate Coding

Rate coding is the number of nerve impulses per second that the motor neurone can transmit to the muscle fibres (Sale, 1992). Rate coding controls the gradation of force, in large proximal muscles, in the range 80% to maximum (Zatsiorsky, 1995). Training can increase maximum force by increasing frequency of stimulation. Tetanus is the prolonged (maximal) contraction of a motor unit resulting from the fusion of many successive ‘twitches’. Fast twitch fibres require higher firing rates of up to 60 impulses per second to achieve tetanus (Sale, 1992). Trained individuals have displayed firing rates in excess of those required to achieve maximum force (>100 impulse/sec) during ballistic activities. A firing rate of this magnitude positively impacts on RFD by reducing time to tetanus (Sale, 1992).

  1. Intermuscular coordination

Intermuscular coordination is the most significant contributor to early gains in strength in a given exercise (Enoka, 1994). Effectively the nervous system learns to optimise performance by recruiting agonistic and synergistic muscles in the most efficient sequence. Intermuscular coordination becomes more significant as movement complexity increases. The Olympic lifts, for example, benefit more from increased coordination than single joint ‘isolation’ exercises (Zatsiorsky, 1995).

To illustrate the importance of intermuscular coordination , consider a multi joint exercise such as the squat. The quadriceps muscles all have optimum joint angles to produce maximum force. Optimise performance requires preferential recruitment of each muscle through the appropriate range (Sale, 1992).

Antagonisic muscles produce force in the opposite direction to the movement being performed. Their function is to increase stabilisation and precision, and to reduce risk of injury by providing a braking mechanism (Sale, 1992). ‘Reciprocal’ inhibition is an increase in antagonistic activation in response to high forces or angular velocities (Sale, 1988). Training reduces reciprocal inhibition, (i.e. reduces co-activation of antagonists) and hence also the net resistance to a given load. The contribution of this adaptation to total strength gain is not however thought to be a significant (Enoka, 1994)

Increasing the strength of stabilising muscles improves the efficiency of force transmission. For example, in the clean, the spinal erectors, abdominal and obliques co-contract to increase the stiffness of the spine such that force generated in the knee and hip extensors can be transmitted to the upper body.

Whilst research is currently inconclusive, synchronising the activation of motor units within a muscle may also be a means to increase force and RFD. Improved synchronisation effectively means an increase in the correlation of discharge from relevant motor units (Enoka, 1994).

  1. Bi-lateral deficit

The bi-lateral deficit is the difference between the maximum force produced by two limbs contracting together, and the sum of the forces produced when each limb contracts alone (Zatsiorsky, 1995). For example in the bicep curl exercise, greater loads can be lifted with dumbbells than with a barbell (Siff, 2003). The magnitude of deficit in untrained individuals is typically between -5 and -10%, although it can be significantly greater during high velocity movements (Enoka, 1994). Bi-lateral training reduces and can even reverse the deficit (Howard & Enoka, 1991). Elite weightlifters for example, were found to produce greater force in the knee extensors bi-laterally (Enoka, 1994).

  1. Premovement Silence

Presumably, this was the idea behind testing an area that WASN’T trained and there was at least enough of an effect to draw this conclusion many years ago (I remember being given the grip test in 1966).

I just want to clarify previous points.

First, I acknowledge that bench press is an effective conditioning exercise for the upper body that has a place amongst all power track and field events, especially discus and shot put. However, for a sprinter, it is no more or less effective than dips, shoulder press, push ups and so on. For the sprinter that choose to achieve huge benches rather than a good bench, that is fine. I question the advantage, but realise that extra upper body weight over 100m is hardly going to be a huge disadvantage. I just believe that it is not an essential ingredient to sprinting success.

Second, there is obvious importance in making improvements in non-event tests. It would be rather boring just to rely on track times.
Hence, for myself and any athlete I will have anything to do with, I will use the standing long jump to express power to weight leg power, and the over head shot to measure power in its purest form. They are both simple tests and not subject to dramatic improvement from sophisticated technique compared to standing triple jumps or power cleans, squats and so on.

However, this is simply my choice. I aim to reduce any variable in regard to power tests. For others, they may well inceed choose to use a power clean as their main test (Edwards), Squat (Ben Johnson), standing triple jump (Borzov) and so on. However, from my experience, improvement made in complex movements subject to technical variation do not always convert to improvement in their chosen event. Hence, I merely aim to test leg power in a basic form along with tests related to the chosen sport; that being 60m for 100m. I will use many other strength exercises to get the necessary improvment to improve the tests such as lunges, squats, bounding, and so on.

1: Dips, push-ups, etc cannot generate the CNS demand of a max or near-max bench.
2: I agree that testing should primarily be centered around times over key distances.

1: Dips, push-ups, etc cannot generate the CNS demand of a max or near-max bench.

I agree, but argue that explosive pushups with a clap in between can also be pretty intensive and effective to develop explosive upper body strength in a similar way that bounding applies to the lower body.

Of course, ordinary pushups and dips are pretty useless unless the individual is relatively weak although they can be used to substitute weights for a lower intensity upper body workout.

Yes, but intensifying bounding after completing a max strength phase will deliver greater results than bounding alone.

As KitKat says, you can’t fire a canon from a canoe. I love that saying :slight_smile:

Let me first make clear what I am not saying.

  1. I am not saying that strength is unimportant.
  2. I am not saying that you should not lift weights.

The original proposition advanced was that neural adaptations to strength training cross over to all movements.

My response is that this notion is:

  1. Weakly supported by the literature. There is evidence to which David W alluded for neural adaptations from one trained limb to another using the same motion but not a general adaptation from arm to leg or arm to arm.

  2. My observation from many years of training and coaching wrestling is that strength improvement in lifting weight due to neural factors does not give rise to significant improvements in strength on the mat.

My conclusion therefore is that while benching may have some benefit for sprinting through the cns it cannot be explained by the original theory of transfer advanced by David.

Charlie- on your specific question I take it-but do correct me if I am wrong- that you are asking how strength can be developed through the
unlimited angles required if I do not accept the significance of training the nervous system? My point is of course that I would not try to replicate the specific movements found in wrestling precisely because they are specific and require the nervous sytem to be trained accordingly through the activity itself. It will not find favour here but
my contention is that significant improvements in mat strength are best derived from muscle hypertrophy.

I do not deny the importance of the nervous sytem. Quite the contrary as it clearly plays a critical role. The problem however is that strength gained in one activity does not automatically transfer to other activities and the transference gets smaller as the activities become more dissimilar.


This is the traditional “show me the research” arguement. If you wait for the research, you’ll be decades behind the observance of the phenomina. I’m sharing my observations of over 20 years ago, but wait longer if you must.
Now please explain what good hypertrophy is to athletes when the achievement of such puts them in a new weight class.

(1) Get stronger
(2) Wrestle

repeat steps one and two…

let the sport help with most of the specific demands…

Get stronger to support the sport.

This may sound obvious and rude…but what the heck?

My GPP exercises are stolen from DI wrestling programs and what programs and universities do you get your programs from? Maybe we can learn from your experiences and observations of various programs.

Check out Kurt Angles “It’s True”, now that’s a wrestling training program for u. Some of the stuff he used to do as an ameutear wrestler
was amazing. He argues also, that for high rep squats in the 40 to 80 rep kind of range he could outdo ANY powerlifter or bodybuilder in the world for the weight he could lift for those kind of reps.
As for the original tangent of why do SPRINTERS lift weights, I like to draw from experiance. When upperbody weight training such as benches have been a part of my program my arm drive has been more powerfull.
When upper weight training has not been in my program I have had to concentrate on my arm drive to make sure it’s big enough, during my sprints.

There is NO totally spacific upperbody strength exercise for sprints as we all know so in terms of strength it wouldn’t matter if it were bench, dips or weighted push ups. But Charlie has made the case for C.N.S and cross-over effects.

I have had experiance of cross over effects but only with the lower body. E.G, I’ve twice done the leg press in the last 3 years and both times I did better than the “GYM RATS”, why? Becuase I had been doing Low rep squats for over a year. Also, when I played basketball, I had one of the best jumps on the team even before I started doing plyos, Why?, becuase I was doing deadlifts, squats and rows at the time and my posterior chain was very strong. I know this does not argue well for C.N.S crossover from one part of the body to another but does argue for general strength and not needing to do totally “spacific” strength excercises.

However, perhaps one would need to bench about 1.5 x bodyweight to start getting much of a crossover? :confused:
(Side note; My arm drive has felt stronger lately, becuase my ABS are the strongest they’ve ever been and they’re letting my arm drive/energy travell down to my legs and visa versa.) :cool:

Charlie- I think that that is an entirely incorrect representation of my position.

If I may refer you to one of my earlier posts in this thread I stated quite clearly “…I am totally pragmatic about training and if this is something which is of use for sprinting it would be foolish to disregard it because there are no studies in support.”

To avoid any misunderstanding the proposition under discussion is that neural adaptations to strength training carry over to all movements. I say that the literature does not support that view. I also say that neither do my observations of nearly 40 years on the mat.

My observation is that neural adaptations evidenced by the ability to lift more weight in the absence of hypertrophy do not give rise to the expression of significantly greater strength on the mat. I am sorry but the theory of general neural adaptations must be supported by practical experience in all fields of athletics to be valid.

I make no observations or comments about strength training in general and what may or may not be valid for sprinting and would not presume to do so.


so wait,let me see if i am understanding this(im probably not but I’m going to make an attempt to!), the CNS is unlike muscles in that it is not in different groups, but interconnected, so stimulation with a heavy multi joing exercise(ie bench press) permits the CNS to be stimulated as a whole because it is interconnected, so bench press can be used to stimulate the entire CNS while not fatiguing or wearing down leg muscles?


By your theory, then, would it be a better use of time to avoid neural adaptations in weight lifting, i.e. reps 1-3, and instead focus on more on strength, i.e reps 6-10?

My question is, since neural adaptations from doing, say, two reps of 195 pound power clean won’t crossover to your chosen sport, but improving your bench press from 8 reps at 200 to 8 reps at 225 is a clear muscle strength improvement, over and above what can be accounted to neural adaptation, and therefore can be expected to have greater cross-over effect?

Or am I way off here?

I support Peter’s argument.

He is arguing that the specific skills for a given sport develop the necessary neural patterns, and that non-specific strength exercises are beneficial in terms of conditioning and hyperthrophy.

I also learnt a lot from observing wrestling in Melbourne. I remember one, Kelevitz (a Commonwealth champion, who did no weights at all but was extremely muscular. Now I will back Peter and declare that Kelevitz would have gained nothing from doing unrelated exercises such as a power clean or snatch for singles, triples or any other magical rep range. Afterall, wrestlers develop muscle from sparring and from specifric strength exercises. He made me think about how specific sport can be. A mate of mine, who is now a champion powerlifter by Australian standards, also got me thinking after he gave me an extremely hard arm wrestle despite outbenching him by 50kg (140 to 90kg) at the time and easily outlifting him in every upper body exercise. Now I was a pretty good arm wrestler so this reinforced my belief that there is little cross-over effect from just relying on lifting prowess. Given the specificity of skill for each sport, I believe that there are basically just two critical factors for every sport. 1)practice the skill. 2)get stronger by treating exercises as conditioning and muscle building activities. Focusing on a power clean, jerk, snatch for a sprinter or any other non-weightlifter is in my opinion a relative waste of time.

Now I don’t want to offend all the sprinters that are obsessed with lifting heavy olympic or power lifts, as I also acknowledge that a stronger sprinter will also be a faster sprinter as long as the specific skill is practised. However, I argue just keep the training basic and focus all the attention for nueral patterns on running rather than exercises that do increase the risk of injury and waste a lot of time on learning the technical detail of unrelated sports.

Of course specific work is the key to success BUT if more strength is to be in the equation, how can it be obtained other than through the selection of a tolerable number of exercises that can’t in fact be specific or cover all muscle groups in play in wrestling? Also recruitment is the key for max strength once reasonable cross section is in place.


No, I am not saying exactly that as I have not distinguished one program as being as being “neural” based and the other as “strength” based.

Using your example, I am saying in crude terms that the mere ability to
increase your bench press from 200 to 225 without hypertrophy does not give rise to any significant increases in strength displayed on the mat. If the theory of neural improvements and cross over were true this should happen. From my observation it does not.

I am NOT saying that Charlie’s observations or recommendations are incorrect. I’ll repeat myself and say that if the recommendations have been observed to work it would be foolish not to follow them. I am however saying that the general theory put forward to explain why the system works is not supported by the evidence both in the literature and from my own observations in a different discipline.