How the Slingshot Effects Bench Press Performance
The bench press is one of the most widely used exercises for exhibiting strength. It is one of the three lifts in the sport of powerlifting (along with the squat and the deadlift), and the bench press is also a highly recommended exercise for athletes in other sports such as disc throwing, football, and swimming. Mark Bell, professional powerlifter, created the Slingshot in 2012 with the intention of giving athletes the ability "to bench heavy with no pain". As the sport of powerlifting grows, there is more research that dives into the benefits of certain diets and training styles.
In 2019,the research article Influence of the "Slingshot" bench press training aid on bench press kinematics and neuromuscular activity in competitive powerlifters by James H. Dugdale et al. was accepted into the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Dungale and his associates designed a research study to evaluate the effects of the "...'Slingshot' on bench-press performance, prime-mover surface electromyographic (sEMG) amplitude, and barbell velocity...". Although previous research by Ye X. Beck et al. 2014 has already assessed the differences in barbell velocity of the one rep max (1RM) with the use of the Slingshot, this new study was going to introduce a new variable. Dugdale et al. introduced two new trials which included a 3RM (at 87.5% of 1RM) and 3 sets of 8 repetitions (at 70% of 1RM). By introducing these new trials, Dugdale et al. was able to compare findings to Beck et al. while addressing new findings on the effects of the Slingshot on repetitions.
Dugdale et al. used sEMG to measure the motor unit activity during the bench press to make conclusions on the amount of muscle activation of each prime-mover of the bench press (pectoralis major, anterior deltoid, and triceps brachii) in all trials. Each participant was to complete all trials within a 14 day period (more information in journal article - don't want to get too specific on methods). The participants completed a 1RM, 3RM, and 3 sets of 8 repetitions 'Raw' followed by the same sets with a Slingshot (participants attempted a new 1RM then did the 3RM and 3x8 using percentages of the Slingshot 1RM). Dugdale et al. collected data on sEMG, barbell displacement (commonly referred to as range of motion), and barbell velocity to determine the acute effects of the Slingshot.
After a variety of analyses, Dugdale et al. concluded that their was a significant difference between sets completed with the Slingshot and sets completed 'Raw'. All sets performed with the Slingshot had a higher barbell velocity specifically in the concentric phase of the lift even though the bar displacement was the same. The article continued to state that the Slingshot made participants able to move their 'Raw' 1RM an average of three times faster. These results were also found to be correlated with the participants body weight possibly due to the increased chest girth causing more elastic assistance of the Slingshot. Dugdale et al. specified later in the article that this could be a way to further analyze how the Slingshot effects an individual's bench press.
In addition to higher barbell velocity, Dugdale et al. concluded that prime-mover (specifically triceps bachii) sEMG was lower in the Slingshot trials than in 'Raw' trials. In simple terms, this means that there is less muscle activation when using the Slingshot, even if there is more weight on the barbell. Dugdale et al. continues to note that the most triceps bachii activation is seen at phase three of the bench press which is defined as the post-stick phase (stick point being defined as "...the point of peak velocity of the concentric phase"). In all trials where the Slingshot is used, the triceps bachii activation of phase three is still less than phase three of a 'Raw' bench press repetition.
More research needs to be done to evaluate some missing pieces; for example, an individual's benefit of the slingshot with variables such as body weight and amount of elastic assistance due to chest girth size. In addition, it would be beneficial to use a larger study group and maybe incorporate females (considering the amount of female powerlifters actively competing) to make more inferences on the benefits of the Slingshot.
Although this is just one study building on another, it creates a great platform for further evaluation. But as it stands right now, the studies show the best way to use the Slingshot is in one of three scenarios: deload training , speed training, or as a supplemental exercise to gain more volume on the bench press. Why should you not use the Slingshot as your only bench press exercise without performing 'Raw' bench presses? Simple, even if the range of motion is the same with or without the Slingshot, the bench press you will need to perform in competition will not use the Slingshot (unless you specifically sign up for the few meets Mark Bell runs where competitors only bench using a Slingshot). Secondly, due to a lower activation of the prime-movers, overtime this may create a weak point in the 'Raw' bench press. This meaning, if you were to use the Slingshot for 6 months and never perform a 'Raw' bench press, your triceps will have essentially been deloaded for 6 months, most likely making it difficult to perform phase 3 (lock out) of the bench press. The goal of powerlifting is to make your total increase over time and incorrect use of the Slingshot may hold you back from making progress on your bench press. If you are interested in purchasing the Slingshot make sure to use it properly as a supplement to 'Raw' bench press to increase your overall 'Raw' 1RM.