Thibarmy Question & Answer Number 8

Christian Thibaudeau

Co-founder of Thibarmy, Trainer

Articles, Muscle gain, Strength and performance

0 min
Thibarmy Question & Answer Number 8

Here Our Question And Answer Number 8 Session, Enjoy!


I have a question concerning weaknesses. I have a relatively weak upper back, abs and grip strength. Can this weakness be the reason for my stagnation in bench press? And can a lack of lower body mobility be a limiting factor in squats?

-Benny Flath


Any weakness can become a strength leak. Let me explain. Imagine that your body is a tube in which you are trying to run some water from one end to the other. You pour water in the tube and it comes out at the other end. If the tube doesn’t have any holes in it, the water coming out is the same amount as the water your poured in.  If there are holes, you will get less water in the end than what you poured in.

The same goes with your body: if it is rigid and strong when doing a lift, the same amount of force produced by your muscles (water your pour in the tube) can be transferred to the barbell (water coming out of the tube).

Just like the water flowing to the tube, prime movers attempt to transfer force through your body but strength can leak out via muscles that are not strong enough to stay rigid/tensed, resulting in less force being transferred to the bar.   Basically, if any part of your body is “soft” when lifting, strength can evade from there. Your prime movements might be strong enough to lift 315lbs, but only enough force to lift 250lbs makes it to the bar due to strength leaks.

Now, to answer your question as to whether grip, upper back and abs strength affect the bench press? Of course!

The upper back is actually the main supporting musculature when bench pressing. It should be contracting hard during pressing, and the absolute WORST mistake you can make when bench pressing is to NOT do anything with the back. You have to squeeze both shoulder blades together and keep them like that for the duration of the press, and the lats also need to be engaged. There is no doubt that weaker rear deltoids, rhomboids, lats and traps can negatively affect your bench. Chris Duffin, one of the best powerlifters and an amazingly smart man when it comes to strength once said that he could train nothing but his back and his bench would go up.

As for grip strength, it makes a lot more difference than most people think. You must grip the bar hard when pressing, as this favors a more precise barbell path and also allows you to keep the arms tighter (through a concept called irradiation: if you contract a muscle hard, the muscles close to it will be easier to contract). By squeezing the bar hard with your hands, you increase forearms/biceps contraction which helps stabilize the bar and triceps contraction, which helps press the bar up.

Furthermore, never forget that your hands are the point of force transfer to the barbell. If your hands are weak, strength will leak out before being transferred to the bar.

Are abs important in the bench? If you have good technique yes, very. A good bench presser pushes hard through the floor with his legs (keeping the glutes on the bench of course). But for this to help transfer more force to the barbell you need strong abs, otherwise, there is no way to use leg drive properly.

If you bench “like a bodybuilder” (which is just lazy) and don’t focus on creating whole body rigidity (squeezing glutes, driving feet into the floor, keeping upper back super tight, squeezing the life out of the bar) then the abs don’t play as big of a role. If they are not contracted however, your body will be less stable and this will keep you from producing maximum force.

Can mobility affect your squat? Of course! Lack of mobility can affect any lift for three reasons:

1) If simply getting into the low position of the lift and staying there (without any weight) is an effort, you cannot be efficient at resisting a weight in that position. Optimal lifting requires optimal positions. If it is difficult to get into these optimal positions, you will not have optimal performance.

2) When you lack mobility, you need to “fight your body” to get into certain positions. So, you are fighting both the resistance of the weight and that of your body.

3) The body has protective mechanisms to prevent you from harming yourself. If there is pain (or even the anticipation of pain) associated to a position, your body will inhibit force production because it doesn’t feel safe letting you produce force from a position that already feels unsafe.  Pain is one of the strongest strength inhibiters and as such, painful positions and/or anticipation of pain will negatively affect strength performance.

Going back to your upper back, abs and grip weakness, these will also negatively affect the squat. In fact, squatting strength is highly dependant on core/abs strength and the upper back is a very important structure in all the big basic lifts. If you want to be strong, you need a strong back, period.

– CT