Why You Should Be Board Pressing

By: Brian Carroll

To build a big bench press, you need to work your pressing from various angles, grips, and setups. Today, we’re going to look at board pressing—another powerlifting technique you see people doing everywhere, in one variation or another. Walk into any commercial gym in America these days, and you’ll see people doing partial lifts—whether they know what they’re doing or not. So where’d all this stuff come from?

Certain techniques are like “dirty little secrets” in the fitness industry, and board presses fall into that classification. All the gurus find a bunch of shit that works and say, “Hey, let’s all pretend this didn’t originally come from powerlifting, okay?”

Powerlifters know, though. We know why you’re doing partial lifts, and we know where you got the idea from, even if nobody else seems to. Don’t worry, though. We’re not going anywhere. We, the people who actually know how the f**k to lift weights, will be here whenever you need more ideas to steal—so drag your sleds, work your posterior chain, and do your partial lifts. We’re happy to have provided the ideas for you. In particular, Westside barbell.

Chairman of the Boards

Everyone wants a big bench, and board pressing is a hidden gem of an assistance move that’ll help you quickly get one. Board pressing will help you build more triceps and lockout power, and it’ll allow you to get used to loads you typically wouldn’t be able to handle. This is also a great way to keep your bench press strong around pec and shoulder injuries during workouts.

Try board pressing over 400 a few times, and you won’t believe how light 350 will feel the next time you try it on the full range bench press. This is as much mental as it is physical. The weight, literally, will feel as light as a feather to you. That’s the feel you’re looking for on the days where you take your 1-RM. You want everything to feel that light, and getting used to these overloads is a great way to promote that psychological advantage.

How To Work Them In

To get started with any board pressing, I suggest performing your normal bench workout for the day, then supplementing with some lockout work. As it relates to the 10/20/Life program, board pressing is absolutely perfect for addressing your weak points because you can zero in on the exact points in your range of motion where you’re weak.

If you’re fortunate enough to train in a gym that actually has dedicated boards, each board is approximately 2” thick. If you’re consistently missing at the top of your range of motion when you bench, you will use a four or 5-board. If you miss in the middle, you will tend more toward a 3-board. On the other hand, if you’re the kind of bencher who can always complete a lift if you get it at least halfway up, you want to go with a one or 2-board.

However, if you’re always missing directly off your chest, anything other than a 1-board probably won’t be much use until you address your form and leverages. Remember, there’s no substitute for perfect form, so in this case, your best bet would be to refer to the form and technique cues section in 10/20/Life to fix any issues you have.

Training Solo

Not everyone can train with a partner to hold the boards, but if you’re training yourself, you can still board press by strapping the board to your chest with a mini-band. Then, make sure the board is straight and firmly attached to your body as you lie down on the bench.

Do not sink the board into your chest or bounce it. Instead, lightly tap or touch it, and then explode. Next, lower the board in a controlled motion, and touch the board directly in the middle without sinking or heaving the bar. Adjust the board either toward your belly or your throat to get this right.

If boards aren’t an option, your first move should be to change gyms. If you can’t do that, use a power rack and adjust the spotter bars to the correct positions to address your weak points—adhering to the same rules when lowering the bar and not bouncing it.

Varying Grip Styles

Again, we’re working on your weak points here, so the grips you’ll be using will depend on where you’re missing. For example, if you’re a medium-framed lifter who uses a medium grip, use a closed grip with your board pressing on some days.

This, however, can always vary. Typically, a lifter with lockout issues will board press with a closed grip, while someone who misses right off their chest would be better served by using a wider grip. This is because a close grip would entail moving your hand about 2” close to the smooth part of the bar, and a wide grip would have your hands 2” further out.

You can also do any of these variations as the main movement on your bench days, either for reps or singles. Play with all the different variations here, extending or shortening your range of motion to give yourself a break from doing the same old crap.

Putting It All Together

None of this is rocket science, but adding a few little custom twists to the basics works wonders for just about everyone. So your offseason programming is time to work stuff like board pressing in because that’s when you’ll have the time to experiment with things to see what works for you.

I’ve said this many times at this point, but the main premise of 10/20/Life is analyzing your weak points and then addressing them. This is a fairly straightforward process, but it takes time to figure out the exact movements to give you the proper training effect. With that in mind, board pressing could be just the thing to turn you into a world-class bench presser.

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Brian Carroll

Owner and Founder at PowerRackStrength.com
Brian is a retired world-class powerlifter with over two decades of world-class powerlifting. From 1999 to 2020, Brian Carroll was a competitive powerlifter, one of the most accomplished lifters in the sport's history. Brian started off competing in bench press competitions 'raw,' then, shortly into the journey, he gravitated toward equipped lifting as there were no "raw" categories then. You only had to choose from single-ply (USPF) and Multi-ply (APF/WPC). Brian went on to total 2730 at 275 and 2651 at 242 with more than ten times his body weight in three different classes (220, 242, 275), and both bench pressed and deadlifted over 800 pounds in two other weight classes. He's totaled 2600 over 20 times in 2 different weight classes in his career. With 60 squats of 1000lbs or more officially, this is the most in powerlifting history, regardless of weight class or federation, by anyone not named David Hoff. Brian realized many ups and downs during his 20+ years competing. After ten years of high-level powerlifting competition and an all-time World Record squat at 220 with 1030, in 2009, Brian was competing for a Police academy scholarship. On a hot and humid July morning, Brian, hurdling over a barricade at 275lbs, landed on, fell, and hurt his back. After years of back pain and failed therapy, Brian met with world-renowned back specialist Prof McGill in 2013, which changed his trajectory more than he could have imagined. In 2017, Brian Carroll and Prof McGill authored the best-selling book about Brian's triumphant comeback to powerlifting in Gift of Injury. Most recently (10.3.20) -Brian set the highest squat of all time (regardless of weight class) with 1306 lbs – being the first man to break the 1300lb squat barrier at a bodyweight of 303 lbs.
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