Thursday, September 8, 2016

Adding Pounds to the Bench Press - Ted Kurlowicz

Included in this Issue

I think my bench pressing surprises people at contests because: (1) I certainly don't look strong - I'm 5 foot 9 inches at 181; (2) I don't have great natural leverages or short arms; (3) I don't maximize any technique advantage such as excessive bridging or a maximum width grip; (4) and still, I usually make the best or one of the best benches in my weight class at local contests.

My first contest experience came in the fall of 1977 when I made 350 at a bench meet. I had been training exclusively on Universal type equipment at a spa until one month before this event. Since I had made such quick gains, I predicted a 400 lb. bench within a year. I reached my goal, but was off by three years. As you can see, I have not been one of the lifters who seems to gain past a certain level on any and every program he tries. In fact, once it took me a year to get from 365 to 370! In the last two years, my bench has gone from 370 to 420 without any gains in bodyweight. This article will focus on my training during this period.

The program that originally got me started was George Elder's Strength Training Series.
(PLUSA, Vol. 3 No. 1, July 1979)

 - the first installment of that series is here, and includes the bench routine mentioned: 

What this program did for me was to add a high rep conditioning phase to my cycle and to cut my bench training to twice a week. Those were both important.  Unless you don't have trouble making weight or are using drugs, you can't bench heavy weights three days a week without running into problems.  

I used Elder's advanced program, but only followed it for five weeks. The timing of the first scheduled maximum attempts should be the targeted contest.
The program is simple for any lifter to follow since it uses percentages of maximum. It follows sound training principles since it starts with moderate (60%) weight for high reps and progressively moves to high intensity (90%) low reps. Best of all, it peaks you quickly.

I had to adapt this program slightly when I began missing lockouts. The close grip benches the program requires became too light (70%) for the triceps to get the necessary lockout power needed. I modified the program by doing a close grip single with 20 lbs. under my heaviest regular grip set of the day and the problem disappeared.

I rode this layout from 365 to 400 over about 18 months until I stagnated. After missing 395 in my next contest (May 1981), I decided this program became intense too fast and I needed some long term conditioning. The program that follows is how I trained for my last two contests, August 1981 (405) and December 1981 (420 - a PLUSA Top 20 Lift).

Conditioning and Flexibility Phase (4 Weeks)

Cambered Bar Only - 
Wednesday / Saturday, First Week:

Warmup - do 3 sets of 6-8 reps with a chosen weight.
I started with 260 when my bench was 400.   

Weeks 2 to 4:

Same workout, go up 10 lbs. a week on the work sets.
I reached 290 x 3 sets of 8.
If you don't have access to a cambered bar try using dumbbells in a way that approximates the range of motion and stretch. 

Training Phase (4 Weeks)

Regular Bar - 
Wednesday / Saturday:

Pick an arbitrary weight of about 70-80% max and work up to 3 sets of maximum reps. Don't change the weight on these sets, just go for more reps each week. Do these benches with the "Hatfield" training style (compensatory acceleration). Purchase "Powerlifting: A Scientific Approach" by Dr. Fred Hatfield for more info.

Force the elbows out to 90 degrees from the body while doing the reps and take a wider than normal grip. In my last cycle my best was 300 x 12, 300 x 11, 300 x 11. On the last week of this phase begin triceps training with 2 sets of light close grips, 60-70% for maximum reps.

Competition Phase (3 Weeks)

Competition Grip Benches - 
Wednesday / Saturday:

Start 3 weeks before the contest picking a training single as a goal and cycle back 5 lbs. per workout. In my last cycle I chose 395 as a goal and started this phase with 375. Following the single each workout, drop 15 lbs. and do a triple. Then close grip up to a single (choose a goal here too - 50 lbs. under projected contest maximum). Do one down set with the close grips with 80% for max reps. To make some sense out of this I will lay out my exact training during this phase as an illustration.

Sat. Nov 14:
375 x 1
360 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 2
330 x 1
315 x 5.

Wed. Nov 18:
380 x 1
365 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 2
340 x 1
320 x 5

Sat. Nov 21:
385 x 1
370 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 2
350 x 1
320 x 6

Tues. Nov 24:
390 x 1
375 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 2
355 x 1
320 x 4

Sat. Nov 28:
395 x 1
380 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 1
360 x 1

Tues. Dec 1:
Train Down - 
395 x 1 paused
385 x 1 paused
375 x 3
Close Grip - 
315 x 1
350 x 1

Thurs. Dec 3:
133 x 5
199 x 5 x 3

Sat. Dec 5:
Contest - 
385 x 1
410 x 1
420 x 1.

Bench Assistance -
Every workout of all phases except contest week:

Lat Work -
4 x 8-12 reps varying between Pulldowns and Seated Cable Rows. On the Pulldowns I vary my grip almost every set.

Arms -
Close Grip Benches as specified. 
Curls, 4 x 6-8 reps. I vary these also, from Hammer Curls, Concentration Curls and Preacher Machine Curls. 

Some Final Notes

(1) During Phase One, do not force the elbows out while doing cambered benches. This caused an extreme stretch in the pectoral region and I developed some pain in the shoulder that hasn't gone away since. 

(2) Don't add any unlisted assistance work unless you sense a weakness somewhere. I haven't done any inclines, overhead presses, triceps extensions, etc., in three years and I'm making great gains without them. Most of the lifters I've seen who do infinite sets of benches and upper body work have a bench that's gone nowhere. 

(3) Naturally, try to bench on the same type of bench you expect at the contest (height, width, etc.).

(4) Practice taking handoffs. Some competition benches have lower weight standards and will necessitate taking handoffs at the contest.

(5) Don't give up on the bench press when you hit a plateau. Try another program (providing it's a real plateau). You won't always be able to pick up the slack in your total with the other two lifts, so don't neglect your benching. 

I've tried my best to include everything in my program as clearly as possible, and hope you can add pounds to your bench press with it.      

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