Monday, November 4, 2019

More From Ken Leistner on the Bench Press (1984)

I'll make some bench press comments this time around. 

Now that my most recent pec injury is heading toward recovery, I'm more relaxed about discussing this lift. For the past year, Ray (Rigby) has benched two times per week, once heavy, and once light. 

On the heavy day, which coincides with his heavy squats and DLs, he'll do one or two sets of triples, doubles, or singles, depending on the meet schedule. He'll begin each cycle with triples on the heavy day, drop to doubles as the meet nears, and hit singles the last few weeks. 

For a minor competition, he'll stay at doubles, singling only in the meet, but for the Worlds, we had him doing singles on the heavy day, the last 10 weeks or so. These singles are rarely all out, but rather, may be two singles with 440, for example, when 468 is his best, or perhaps he'll do 430 for one single, and follow that next week with a max lift. 

It varies, but Ray rarely leaves his best lifts in the gym. Of course, one has to have a very good sense of their abilities, something which takes years to cultivate, and although it's true that Ray has this finely developed sense, most lifters do not, even those who have been at it for years.  

On his light day, Ray again varies the intensity of training, often using high intensity/low force training, and sometimes keeping the intensity AND the force low. For example, he stayed with one fairly heavy set of 10 reps on his light day, until three weeks prior to Sweden, then dropped to one all out set of six. At times, these sets were not all out, but rather, a "working" set of 10. If overtrained, he would at times eliminate the bench on the light day, or do 220 x 10 and call it a day. 

His only assistance work was one or two sets of triceps pressdowns on the pulley for 8-12 reps, and this was dropped in the weeks prior to the Worlds. 

We've discussed previously that of the three lifts, most lifters, especially the men, put a disproportionate amount of time into the bench, choosing assistance movements for the triceps, shoulders, lats, pecs, pec minor, biceps, and almost any bodypart you can think of that might be related to the bench press. I've attributed this to the closet bodybuilder lurking in most lifters' mentalities. Why not blast the upper body a bit, hell, if the bench doesn't jump much, at least you wind up looking pretty impressive for all that work. 

 Bob Zuver

Bob Zuver told me years ago that you could add approximately 75-100 pounds to your squat and DL with the effort and time needed to put 25 pounds on the bench, so why kill yourself on that lift. 

Work it, give it the time it needs, but don't overdo it because powerlifting meets, especially the big ones, are won with the two big lifts. Most guys take the opposite approach and squat, DL, do a leg curls or two, and then hit the bench with every upper body movement known to mankind. 

I am a great believer in simplicity and working things to the limit. Use the Walter Thomas approach when in doubt. Walter is, I feel, the most underrated lifter in the world today. 

Walter Thomas

Yes, everyone always marvels at his physique and his lifting ability, but if Mike Bridges had come along ten years later, Walter would be recognized for what he is, the greatest lifter in the world, pound for pound, excluding Mike. Hey, look at the Seniors totals two years ago, and you'll see that Walter makes absolutely staggering lifts, and he's never pushed either.

Note: 1982 Senior National Championships - 
Walter Thomas - 198 Class
Squat 766.1 | Bench 479.5 | Deadlift 755

The fact that he is perhaps the most considerate lifter on today's platform just adds to his impressiveness. Walter does lots of bench presses, and little else for his bench, and most lifters would do well to follow the same path, not because I think they will have the same success as Walter, but because it will prove to be the most direct path to success for most. 

Push the bench for all you can for six months, then, add an assistance movement or two (two per week that is). 

Walter often goes with 4 x 6 reps, heavy, once per week, and a lighter day. You could do that, although I personally feel that it's a lot of work for most. Or work to one or two heavy sets of 4, 3, or 2 reps, followed by a backoff set of 8-12 reps. 

The overwhelming odds are that you will find your bench increasing for a few months, and once you stall, cut back on the bench work, and add a triceps or a delt movement. On the light day, go with light benches, DB or barbell inclines, front raises (seated or standing), seated DB presses, or overhead presses done heavily and strictly. Choose one of these and go with it.

Once you plateau, add triceps pressdowns, triceps extensions, with lying, on an incline, or seated, or delt work, if your light day has you doing more benches. Dips on the alternate day, not as an adjunctive movement, but as a major movement, would be all that is needed by 85% of all lifters, and it works the major pressing muscles. 

I know, you don't believe it, and all the top guys do X, Y, Z, and H for the bench. 


Then why have you been stuck at 315 for the past year of so? 

You can't look at anyone's lift and say, "Hey, I'll do that because it's worked for him." Physiology doesn't work like that. Your own genetic limitations, and those imposed by family, employment, and a hundred other psychologically related items will bring about their own results.

All you can do is strengthen the benching muscles, develop flawless technique, and avoid overtraining. 

Yes, that's what this sport is about and all the pamphlets in the world won't change that. 

I would bench once per week, heavy, for varying reps, but no more than one or two top heavy sets. My other day would have me doing presses, primarily because I enjoyed Olympic lifting too (the press was once one of the official lifts), and I respond well to it. '

My bench really took off when I started doing dips, and these would be done after the presses, and, at times, in place of the presses, if I felt overworked. After my pec tears prevented me from doing dips, I went to triceps pressdowns, also, I felt, with good results, but if you can dip for 10 reps with 200 pounds around your waist, real dips with complete extension and contraction, you'll bench damn near close to your limit no matter what else you do. 

The problem with most guys is their insatiable desire to do bench related work, adding dips and triceps work to an already full schedule. 

I can't bench two times a week like Ray does, it just sets me up for injury, but you would get two heavy days in with presses and dips one day, and heavy benches on day two.

Yes, lat work will help too, but some cable rows or prone rows on top of your DLs should solve that problem. 

So, some suggested benching routines; 

Day 1: Bench to 10, moderate.

Day 2: Bench to heavy x3, x 2, or x1 for one or two heavy sets. Backoof set x8-12, all out.

This is the simplest, and for most, will be the most effective over a three to six month period.

Day 1: Press, Incline, DB Incline, or Dips - warmup followd by 8, 6, 4 reps; or warmup followed by some fives or triples.

Day 2: Bench, same as above for heavy day.

Or . . . another alternative: 

Day 1: A major pressing movement followed by a triceps movement, 2 x 10.

Day 2: Bench, heavy as above, followed by a deltoid movement warmup, 2 x 8-12. 

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