What is Para Bench Press?
The Amazing Para Bench Press
The basic break down;
The Para Bench press technique is in essence the same as standard bench press; accept you are only using your upper body strength as you are laying down on a 2.1 metre long bench.
The athlete starts from a locked out elbow position.
As the bar is motionless in this position the head referee makes the ‘Start’ call.
The athlete then descends the bar to their chest – it then must come to a complete stop before the press motion begins (there is no press call- this is all left up to the athlete to judge for them self).
Then at the top of the press motion as the elbows lock out the ‘Rack’ call is given.
“How much ya bench???”
Bench press is one of those things close to the heart of many gym-go’ers.
It is the only powerlifting movement that is embraced by both the casual “beach weights” dude with twiggy legs (no offence if that’s you – we all have our own goals at the gym!), and the seasoned powerlifter who agonises over planning their next three-lift training block.
It is also an avenue for athletes with lower body impairment to get on the world stage and compete at the Commonwealth Games and Paralympics – something that hopefully will be a reality for able-bodied powerlifters in the future.
In Australia it seems to be a little-known fact that Paralympic Powerlifting actually exists, so this article is here to shine some light on a sport that could bring opportunities to strength athletes who may not be able to compete in sports that require their lower body.
The most significant and obvious difference between Para-Bench and standard bench is the position of the legs – the feet must be up on the bench in Para lifting. To allow for this, a longer bench is used, which is also wider from the waist area to provide enough room to comfortably place the legs.
That’s right – legs up on the bench = no leg drive, no stability coming from the feet.
Para bench is truly the ultimate test of upper body strength and precision.
During the lift, your feet are not allowed to lift from the bench.
To assist with this, you may have a strap across your knees or ankles – you can opt for both, or neither.
The strap can help make up for some lack of stability that normally comes from leg drive.
In Para Powerlifting, the required technique for a clean lift is extremely strict.
Once the bar descends to the chest, it must come to a complete stop – any wobble or bounce will disqualify the lift.
When pushing the bar back up, the elbows must lock out simultaneously.
One other major difference with Para Powerlifting – there is no “Press” call. The athletes must judge themselves that they have paused for long enough to score a clean lift.
Next time you’re at the gym, watch people’s form as they bench press.
Do they lower the bar all the way to the chest?
Does it pause on the chest?
Does it wobble or do they bounce it off the chest to help get the weight back up?
Do they lift off the bench from their hips?
Does the bar travel straight up or does it pause or dip during the movement?
Do their elbows lock out (straighten) simultaneously or is there a delay between left/right?
The fact is that 99.9% of bench pressing that occurs in gyms would not result in a passable lift in Para Powerlifting. That is not to say that everyone is doing it wrong – it is just to highlight the standard required to compete in the sport.
Have a look at Ali Jawad (Great Britain) benching 170Kg, raw, at under 59kg body weight. Note how precise the movement is:
When I got the opportunity to join the Australian Para Powerlifting team in 2012, it was incredibly exciting. I had already competed in able-body powerlifting and my PB for the bench was about 72kg…
However, changing to the Para bench and stricter rules, my bench dropped down below 60kg. I realised I had a long way to go! Now 2015 I feel like I am only just starting to consistently hit clean lifts.
I was lucky enough to join the Australian team while there was still funding for the sport.
Since then I have traveled interstate and overseas to compete in Malaysia, Dubai, Scotland (Commonwealth Games – a highlight!), and Mexico.
In November, a team of us will be traveling to Hungary to represent Australia at the European Open Championships – also a qualifier event for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. It will be my 5th International level competition. Competing Internationally, the enormity of the events can be overwhelming, but each competition my confidence increases.
I am obviously saddened that over time I have lost some day to day skills and ability due to having MS but without my condition I would not have had this opportunity.
I have met so many wonderful people through this sport – it really pushes you to raise funds and train hard for the next competition.
It gives me direction for my exercise even when I’m very sick.
I believe that without the commitment I have to powerlifting there would be some days I would have just stayed in bed.
Athletes competing in Para Powerlifting come from all walks of life and circumstance.
Some were born with a condition like Cerebral Palsy, some have a condition that degenerates the muscles in their legs, and some have acquired injury through accidents or even injuries sustained in military duties.
Some of these athletes have gone through horrific injuries or lived with incredibly difficult circumstances their entire lives – yet they are still competing on another level compared to able body.
Some current World Records from IPC Para Powerlifting – keep in mind these guys compete raw and are drug tested:
Mens up to 59kg: Sherif Othman – 210.5kg
Mens over 107kg: Siamand Rahman – 295kg
Womens up to 61kg: Fatma Omar – 141kg
Womens over 86kg: Precious Orji – 164kg
Para Powerlifting uses the AH (Haleczko) formula to determine the score an athlete receives for their lift – athletes with amputations receive a penalty to their weight according to the amount of limb missing. It is actually an advantage in Para Powerlifting to be missing part of your leg!!!
I hope you found this little article informative – I’d love to get your feedback!
For more info check out http://www.paralympic.org/powerlifting – the official site for IPC Powerlifting.
Thank you for reading
Mrs Jessica Gray
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Australian Para Bench Press Athlete