Bob Simpson (Nov. 20, 1937 - April 9, 2022)
More from Bob Simpson here:
Thank You, Jeff!
It's not every day you get to correspond with a legend in the iron game. It is my sincere hope that the information presented here will be of use to fellow lifters, and if I can help even just one person, I'll die a happy man. My regret is that I didn't take more time to correspond with Bob further. Let it be a lesson to always set time aside to talk with a friend or family member. You never know if it'll be the last conversation you have with that person. Without further ado, here is my conversation with Bob, which took place during April of 2016.
- Jeff Greathouse
Q [Jeff]: My name is Jeff and I am a huge fan of what you accomplished with your partial rep training. I have been doing the same type of training for two years now, and can't seem to make the kind of progress you have. I was hoping you could help me out and give me some advice. I can tell you all about my failures, training, diet, etc., later if you like.
A [Bob Simpson]: Hey Jeff, thanks for your interest in my training. Basically, my training philosophy is just to start light and add weight every workout, until it just gets to be too much. Then, start light again and get a running start, trying to reach a higher peak.
I like working on a muscle group twice a week. For example . . .
Bentover Row. Start with a weight you can get for 3 reps -- add 5 pounds a workout, twice a week. Eventually, of course, you will not be able to get the full movement throughout its entire range. That is okay. Just keep adding weight and pull as high as you can -- eventually even just barely getting the weighgt off the floor. I got good results doing this, doing only 1 set of partials like this, and sometimes, whenever I wanted to, drop to a lighter weight and do a set of full movement.
This works equally well with Press, and Upright Row. Main thing -- just keep adding weight. You will surprise yourself with what you can do, if you do it with DETERMINATION. Nutrition is very important, of course.
Just keep the poundage going up. You really can go much higher than you probably think you can.
The same approach can be applied to squatting. I once trained a guy who lifted at home and used 85 pounds on the squat. I had him squat twice a week, adding 5 pounds each workout. He kept adding weight every workout even after he could not do the full movement, and got up to over 500 on the top part of the lift, going as low as he could for reps. I believe it was around 10 reps with this weight -- this was decades ago. He reached a good squat with 400. His bodyweight increased from 136 to 196 in about a year. I had him use the same system on his bench presses.
Another friend of mine, back around 1962, started taking a weight more than he could handle for the full range after his regular sets on both the squat and bench. He would lower to bottom position and attempt to come up for 3 or so reps. Both lifts improved from 400 to 460 in a couple of weeks.
Q: Thanks, Bob! Trying to increase my military press off a rack and curl. My best press was 215@200 bodyweight. I did that two years ago and have been stuck ever since. I recently started squatting and can do 435x10 in half squat position. Can lockout 655 on my back for 1 rep in 2" range of motion. Best low press partial is 315 held for 3 seconds. Same for lockout. My best curl is 160 strict. Upright rows hurt my wrists and bentover row strains my back so I don't do either of them. I prefer V-bar pulldowns and pull-ins as well as one arm DB rowing for my back work. I also do one arm thick bar deadlifts for partial reps as well as farmer walks with 200 in each hand for about 100 feet.
I've tried doing cycles like Bill March did in his training, but going up 10 pounds a week is just too much and has caused my progress to stall. Now just going to train year round like this and try increasing my press and curl by 2.5 pounds a week.
I know you're a big proponent of push pressing for partials but I can never press like that. For some reason I never get anything to budge even with leg drive. I know my triceps are probably weak but whenever I try doing extensions my elbows get really bad pain. I've tried benching but I feel it doesn't help my press at all. I've locked out 565 for 1" on bench but I don't like the way it feels compared to lifting overhead while standing.
I get plenty of sleep, usually 8-9 hours a night. Diet consists of mainly chicken, eggs, sardines [yes!], brown rice and pinto beans with homemade salsa. Also juice via vita mix using veggies, fruit and vitamin C powder. I am lactose intolerant and red meat does not digest well in my stomach. I don't count protein grams but if I were to guess I'd say about 150 grams every day. In the past I've tried eating excessive amounts of protein and all it did was make me constipated and fat. Now I eat only when hungry and I feel better by doing so.
A: Actually, Jeff, I did not do push presses, only regular press -- partial and full.
Q: Okay, that's great. For some reason Mike Brown stated that you did push presses in a book that I have. I'd appreciate any more helpful tips you can give.
A: If I think of something, I'll let you know. There really is not much else. It is all pretty simple . . . and simple is good! I saw once that Mike Brown said he trained me. HE DID NOT -- we talked and agreed on some things, but I was pressing 500 before I ever met him. He did espouse partial movements.
Q: Have you ever tried progressive movement training like Paul Anderson did? I'm currently doing that with my squat and deadlift, working from lockout down to full range, gradually over a period of time. I'm wondering if that method can work for the press. It's easier for squats and deads because there's not much of a gap in poundage between spacings on the rack.
For example . . . I started doing quarter squats with 455 for 2 x 25 reps and now I can do half squats with 435. Just missed 455 because I was tired, but it is working. However, when I try press lockouts I've found that for every two inch spacing I have a 30 pound difference. Doing lockout is easy but trying to work down in the rack is harder. I have a few 3/4" mats to make the gaps less arduous but still the pressing is hard.
Do you feel that benching in any way contributed to increasing your press? I've never felt that it made an impact.
Do you have a theory as to why lifters such as Hepburn and Anderson used it effectively but Grimek never benched and still achieved an awesome press?
Note: John Grimek has stated that at one point he found that benching was hindering his pressing ability.
My best bench using a regular semi-wide grip was 300, which was four years ago. Recently I've done 235 with a close grip which is only 20 pounds more than my press. I guess I just suck at benching! Many lifters have used the 60-70 degree incline press with success. Have you ever done any incline pressing? I've seen the cool incline [standing] benches that the Oly athletes used in the '60s, but it's rare to find those nowadays.
Note: Old style slant (ab) board on a bar on lower pins in the rack at the angle you want, bar to be lifted on top pins, there it is. The actual ones back then were no more stable. Sweet D.I.Y. of life at last I've found thee.
A: I never used the progressive movement method that you mentioned. Back around '58-59 I worked the bench press pretty hard and it did help my press a good bit I thought. Never really trained it much after that, but did do some in the top and mid position, when Isometronic came along -- but for a very short time. Did not do inclines. I did a lot of partial standing presses in start position with very heavy weights. Also same way with lighter weights starting at shoulders and pushing higher to various heights. Triceps presses were a big help also.
Q: I see that triceps presses are a staple in elite lifters such as yourself and Chuck Ahrens. I understand that lying triceps presses are easier done than standing. For many years I performed them incorrectly by solely using triceps alone in the movement but I think I read that you stated that if you incorporate the lats into it like a pullover it relieves the much of the stress on the elbows. That's my main reason for not doing them . . . elbow pain. Maybe it's worth another try? You did them with 420 and your press was only 110 pounds more than that, so they must have had a direct carryover more so than benching or inclines.
A: I did not incorporate pullover on lying triceps presses -- I lowered the bar to the forehead. I only did these for about seven weeks and I feel that regular standing triceps press had a better effect for me. The point is to get strong triceps and any exercise that does that for you is what you should do.
Q: Thanks, Bob. When you did benching or triceps press did you do them after your press on the same day, or did you train those exercises on a separate day? Also, when you reach a plateau in a partial press, how do you overcome it besides lowering the weight? For example, I can lift 315 and inch off my shoulders and hold for about 3 seconds. Do I lengthen the movement and work up to where I can drive shoulders to nose height, or should I add more reps and then increase the weight?
A: A lot of my training was basically the chaos method. I REALLY JUST DID WHAT I WANTED TO MOSTLY. I usually did do the partial presses first and then everything else was usually just . . . "CHAOS". I might do squats, high pulls -- just whatever I wanted to. I did go through a few times where I did triceps on a progressive set routine, but rarely.
As for the partial presses getting to a very difficult point -- when I first started them, I held them at the high point for a few seconds. Later, I adopted the way of just pushing as high as possible and not worrying about holding for seconds. To make even these feel light and manageable -- set the pins to about the quarter squat position, then stand up with it and press it even if it is only a half inch distance -- just get to a monster weight on this and then drop to a lighter weight and press to a higher distance. These will then feel a lot lighter.
Q: Bob, when I read your power rack article on a blog I immediately sought out a rack and hit it hard these last two years. It's been really cool corresponding with you because your training opened my eyes on how to achieve superhuman strength. Thanks for this, and I really appreciate your info. I'll keep you updated once in a while when I hit a new PR.
A: You are welcome, Jeff, and good talking to you. May God bless you and I hope you can accomplish what you desire.
Q: [after some time has passed] . . . Hi Bob. Your tip on using the push press from the quarter squat position really helped! I got 325 for the low press start for half an inch . . . a 10 pound improvement. Also did a partial press lockout and did 345 for a half inch. I was very happy! Afterwards I benched 405 for a 3" lockout and then worked up to 555 for a one inch support lockout. The partial push presses really fatigued my triceps and made the bench lockouts harder to do than usual.
You mentioned previously that your type of training can be applied to the bench as well by lowering the bar down from the pins and attempting to bench from the low position for a few reps. You said a friend of yours increased his bench from 400 to 460 in a couple of weeks, so I'm hoping you can go into a few more details on that. I couldn't care less about the bench but I've decided to use that as assistance for the military press to get my triceps stronger.
Also, did you use this type of training for barbell curls? I've been doing the Peary Rader thing
and doing partials with holds against restraining pins. I got up to 160 on an EZ-bar but have plateaued so I'm working with much lower weight right now. The odd thing is that I struggled to do 160 for a partial lockout but did it easily for the start position of the curl. I got so mad that I took off the top pins and did a regular curl with 160 in strict form for one rep, and I had no problem locking it out even though I had just failed that particular position. Is it possible that this partial position training may not be the best to increase my curls? I have no problem doing partial curls in the start position but I sometimes really struggle to do the mid and top positions.
A: There really is nothing else to tell about that, Jeff. I was not there at the time he did that. As you stated, he would just take take more than he could bench, lower it to the chest, and attempt to press it for a few reps. Same thing on the squat -- just go down with more than he could squat with and attempt to go up for a few reps. I would likely do a few reps of quarter squats before I did those, TO MAKE THE WEIGHT SEEM LIGHT. Think what you could do just by adding 10 pounds a month to this -- 120 pounds in a year, on a negative squat and bench. You could doubtless add more than that of course.
Something helped my curl a lot, many years ago . . . I would sit on a bench, leaning forward, with upper arms sort of resting between my thighs and with a close grip, do a set of full curls. Then add weight and do a set of partials.
Glad you are making progress already! Just keep in mind, see in your mind what you can be doing in a year on some of these things.
Q: Thanks, Bob. So for the bench negatives I should only be using a little more than my max and attempt to press a few reps for partials. Or would it be better to simply just do several controlled negatives? I read that Bob Peoples would do negatives for the deadlift [that genius hydraulic jack idea!], and once he was able to complete seven of those he could do one regular full rep.
A: I would do these just as you stated -- just take a little more than you can press all the way and do 3 or so partials. Of course, you can make adjustments any way that you like, but that is the way I would at least start off doing them.
Q: Okay, Bob, will do. Also, just as you stated about the squats, I think I'll do bench lockouts and then the negative partials. Did those seated curls have decent carryover to doing them standing and strict? My best standing strict curl is 160, so I figure I should be able to rep that on the seated version. I'll know soon enough tomorrow when I try them out.
A: Yes, those seated curls did have a good effect on my standing curl. I only did them for a short time though -- I did not do curls often. I know that I should have, but I just did what I liked to.
You are doing really well.
And so concludes my conversation with Bob Simpson. Here's a link to a great conversation Bill P. had with Bob that gives great insight into the man and the life he lived:
Enjoy Your Lifting!
p.s. Hello Laree, if you see this. All the best to ya!