THANKS AGAIN TO LIAM TWEED!
Of the three powerlifts, the bench press is without doubt the easiest for me to write about and probably the most popular among weight trainees. Ever since I started training back in 1964 the bench press has been the cornerstone of my training program, even if it was the only exercise that I practiced in a workout.
This is not to say that the bench press came easy to me. Initially, my single best effort was 40 pounds. Needless to say, neither my training buddies or I ever dreamed that I would someday go over the 400 pound mark in competition.
Over the years I have found that no one single program offered the solution to building a great bench press. It was the combination of exercises, routines, power rack, overload, forced reps, etc., that helped me break past bench press barriers and set State, YMCA National, and the North American records in both the 165 and 181 pound classes.
The purpose of this article is not to have you follow my program, but to teach you to think for yourself and find the program or programs that work best for you.
Technique for the bench press is relatively simple: Lying on your back on the bench, grasp the uprights and plant your feet solid. At this point attempt to push away from the uprights with your arms and arch your back as high as possible while still remaining within the rules. Now hold this position. Adjust your hand spacing (I have found that the very widest legal hand spacing is best for me) and take a huge breath. Lower the weight to the center of your pectoral muscles and keep tight. It is very important that before you begin the upward drive that you think EXPLODE and you do EXPLODE with all the power that you can generate for one all out attempt. On the upward journey push the bar up and back towards the rack or uprights. The final step is of course to hold the bar at the top until the referee gives you the signal to return the bar on the racks.
When setting up a program you must keep in mind the muscles that are involved in your particular sticking points. The primary muscles are the pectorals and triceps, with the deltoids and lats being the secondary muscles in that order.
In my programs I have emphasized the explosion on the bottom, and heavy lockouts and triceps exercises to develop lockout power, since these are my weakest areas.
It may surprise you to know that I very seldom if ever practice the bench press movement at all.
Instead, my workouts consist of heavy inclines, heavy lockouts from the bottom (2 inches from the chest) and top (4 inches from the chest), heavy dips, plus shoulder and triceps exercises.
The Workout Program
Bench workouts are done twice per week on Mondays and Thursdays as follows:
1) Incline Press -
135 x 10
225 x 8
245 x 6
275 x 5
285 x 3
225 x 10 (pump set)
2) Rack Press (2 inches off chest) -
135 x 10
225 x 8
275 x 8
305 x 6
325 x 6
3) Rack Press (4 inches off chest) -
345 x 6
385 x 3
405 x 3
Note: with the rack work every rep is done with a pause at the "bottom".
4) Dips -
bodyweight x 10
50 x 10
75 x 10
100 x 10
125 x 6
bodyweight for a pump set to failure
The remainder of my Monday and Thursday program includes heavy back work and deadlifts.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, right after squats, I include some heavy shoulder and triceps work. This usually consists of Press Behind Neck supersetted with Upright Rowing Motion; Side Laterals working heavy with a cheat; and finishing with 3 sets of Lying Triceps Press with the E-Z Curl Bar.
You will note that throughout the program the emphasis is on reps and not singles. It has been my experience that heavy singles lead to overtraining. Save the singles for the meet and use your training workouts to build power.
Once again I would like to make a note that this routine is designed to meet my personal needs.
If you have trouble with the middle of the bench press, I suggest that you eliminate the rack benches from the top and substitute either heavy flyes with dumbbells or rack benches in the middle at your sticking point.
Remember that there are three distinct qualities apparent in all top pressers:
- short arms
- flexible lower back
- big chest.
There isn't very much you can do about the first one. Hyperextensions, stiff legged deadlifts and stretching can help with the second; heavy chest work (pectorals) and light stretching pullovers to expand the rib cage can help with the third. Also remember that attitude makes the difference between a winner and a loser.