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Detecting and Training Balance in the Bench Press

Balance is important in everyday activities and in athletics; using the bench press and other weight training exercises, athletes may be able to improve dynamic upper body balance. A number of factors are at play working together to detect and correct imbalances when performing even a simple task. A network of neuromuscular sensors provide feedback and response to conduct movements without necessarily passing through the motor sensory system.


The bench press is a classic upper body strength exercise, and this experiment used a 20 kg barbell and flat bench as the form for the experiment. Dynamic balance refers to the ability to maintain an equilibrium during movements, as opposed to static balance, which is maintaining equilibrium while motionless.


In this experiment, 35 collegiate men averaging 23 years of age and with significant experience (about 8 years) in bench press were recruited. The experiment consisted of all subjects performing 1 repetition with 3 different bar loading arrangements.


The bar was loaded with an even, balanced load (20kg plate on each side) for the first arrangement. The 2nd arrangement was loaded with 20kg plates on each side with 1.25kg on one side (imbalanced and asymmetrical). The 3rd arrangement was loaded with one 20kg plate and sixteen 1.25 kg plates on the other side (imbalanced and asymmetrical centre of mass). The subjects were blindfolded and had ear protection to eliminate the effect of visual and audio feedback on balance.


Data was collected using binomial data analysis, which found that the imbalanced asymmetrical centre of mass was not detected, although it was detected that were was an overall imbalance on the barbell. However, the results were not consistent. Researchers noted that establishing a clear feedback loop (which detects and corrects imbalance) required a significant imbalance.


It was concluded that training upper body balance may be futile if the exercises and protocol do not establish such a feedback loop to train. Basically, if the body is unable to detect an imbalance, training under those conditions is irrelevant.


Piper, TJ, Radlo, SJ, Smith, TJ, Woodward, RW. 2012. "Dynamic balance abilities of collegiate men for the bench press." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26 (12) 3225-3229.

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