31 May 2012

Stop Bitching And Start Benching 2- Learn From People Better Than You

There are many ways to skin a cat, and the bench press is absolutely no exception.  Given the fact that many of you were shamed into depression with the news that a 130 lb girl out-benches you, I was initially planning to start with her and work our way through some of the greats.  Instead, I'm going to start with Rick Weil, who's got a lengthy but really insightful look at the bench press and methods for fixing failed attempts based on the part of the lift in which you fail.  Before I do, however, I'll mention that I noticed two striking similarities between the approaches of the people I outlined today- one, they don't seem to be overly preoccupied with limiting their volume, and two, many of them have backgrounds in bodybuilding.  I suppose that should come as no surprise, given that bodybuilders often list chest and arms as their favorite bodyparts to lift, but it's worth noting for those of you who eschew either or both.  After you drink in the goodness that's below, perhaps you should consider the possibility that you're not doing enough volume or enough variety for your chest and arms to facilitate an optimal bench press.  I'm sure that news is about as welcome as the teeth of a bath salt smoking homeless fucker's teeth on your cheek, but after reviewing the following programs and checking out their chest and arm development, you will probably agree.

Side note:  I want to stab everyone over the use of any spelling but "flies" when referring to the exercise.

Rick Weil
In a time when an afro and a mustache didn't necessarily mean you raped small children in the bushes behind elementary school, Rick Weil had both, and wore them proudly.  In spite of his incontrovertibly terrible taste in above-the-neck hair, Weil was a badass on the bench.  The records he set in 1983 and 1986 at 165 (485 lbs) and 181 (556) have remained untouched since he set them, and he's within 9 lbs of the world record bench at 198 with his lift at 181.  According to Powerliftinghub, "this is not only the record for the 181's but the biggest triple bodyweight unequipped bench press of all time across any weight division."  In other words, when Rick Weil opens his mouth about the bench press, you should fucking take heed, because he's the Ed Coan of bench pressing and can likely bench more with his semi-erect penis than you can with your entire upper body.

Interestingly, he is not averse to reverse gripping, either.  According to his post on Bodybuilding.com, "[he does] lift reverse grip, but never benched that way in competition. [He] did a lot of exhibitions reverse grip and actually did a 545 reverse in the gym. [He also] would do exhibitions with 505 for 5-6 reps." He was also a big fan of doing heavy negatives to increase your strength on the bench, though he cautioned that you should limit yourself to one or two singles at the end of a workout.(Critical Bench)  Doing so will strengthen your ligaments and tendons, in addition to work with better form on lighter weights, because you'll be accustomed to handling much heavier poundages.

Weil, who appears to be something of an intellectual, broke down the bench press into four distinct parts: the approach, the drive, the push, and the lockout.  Each of these distinct parts of the lift have their own issues, all of which Weil addressed with different assistance movements or techniques.
  • "The approach is the part of the lift where you bring the bar down to your chest. This is important because done properly it sets up the rest of the lift for hitting the groove. Remember to stay very tight during the approach, do not relax at your chest. The negatives will help here."
  • "When the bench command is given, the drive part of the lift begins. Practice pause benching in the gym because good habits are hard to break as well as bad habits. Also, injury can come from sloppy form, so always train as if a judge is watching. If you are stuck at your chest, perhaps you are forgetting a very strong and important body part at your disposal—your BACK. Remember the bench press is an upper body exercise and your back is part of your upper body. Powerlifters generally have very strong lats, so why not use them? With 135 on the bar, practice using your lats to drive the weight off of your chest. You do this by initiating a lat spread of sorts at the bottom of the lift. Trying is believing. It really works and with practice your lats will drive any weight off of your chest you would normally have been stuck with. Since powerlifters train their backs, only the lifters who strictly bench need to do special back exercises. I recommend doing lat pull downs and cable seated rows for building the muscles necessary for the drive part of the bench press. Those of you with strong backs need only to work the correct form, getting used to driving with the back."
  • "The push is that part of the lift between the drive and the lockout. Momentum is obtained from the lats in the drive, and then the front deltoids must take control. Front deltoids will move the weight, so train them as a separate body part. Steep incline presses will isolate the front delt if the bar is kept in close to your face and driven back towards the uprights. Seated dumbbell presses are not only great for the delts, but also one of my favorite exercises. This is performed seated straight up driving the weight with palms forward 3 sets of 5 reps on both of these exercises is plenty. Also only train them once a week. I have trained this way for three years, each body part once a week and made maximum gains on every cycle. This type of training also keeps injury to a minimum."
  • "Now we come to one of the most frustrating parts of the bench press, the lockout.  I have seen many lifters miss what appeared to be an easy lift, right at the top. There are two reasons for missing a lift at lockout; fatigue, which can cause bad form, or not enough tricep strength. If your gym does not have a dip bar, tell the owner to get one. Weighted dips are the best exercise for lockout power available. Close grip benching puts too much strain on the wrists and hinders complete tricep movement. Doing weighted dips with heavy weight, however, will not guarantee a powerful lockout. Remember the other reason I stated for missing a lockout? Fatigue. I had pushed 3 sets of 3 reps with 285lbs in the weighted dips in training, yet I was having a lockout problem. After a lot of thought I realized my problem was not strength, but tricep fatigue. My triceps were pumping too fast. To correct this problem I dropped the weight on the bench after doing negatives, down to 405 and did reps until failure. By the time I could perform 10 easy reps, my sticking point was gone. Now, I am not saying you should drop to 405, but 80% of your maximum lift is a good place to start. For example the 400lb bench presser would start with 320 to 325ls and try that for a week or two."(Rick Weil Bench Press Routine)
Quite frankly, I don't know if that's a reprint from Weil's book, and article he one wrote for another publication, or something he did for Critical Bench, but it's informative as hell and a great primer for troubleshooting a piss-poor bench.  For that reason, I started off this post with the mustachioed one.  Now, onto a broad who could likely whip you silly and fuck you stupid.

Outbenches you, even in LA Gear hightops.
Jennifer Thompson
This broad hit 300 raw a couple of months ago in the hyper-critical USAPL, so you know there was a motherfucker out there with a micrometer and someone measuring the weight on the bar to the nanogram.  After she lifted, she was polygraphed, strip-searched, beaten with reeds, polygraphed again, and then piss-tested for everything short of protein content.  I'm sure even after all of that they chased her around screaming "liar!" at her and pelting her with rotten vegetables until her blood tests came back negative.  Those motherfuckers are as unfun as they are men-out-of-time, since they would have been far more at home in early 20t Century Europe, when being a fascist made you cooler than Rob Van Winkle in "Cool As Ice".  In any event, you know Thompson's lift is legit if it happened in a USAPL meet, and she claims to have hit 315 in a less-jackbooted meet at some point.

Thompson's approach is completely unique, from what I've seen.  Instead of alternating speed and heavy days, she's got alternate speed and heavy weeks.  According to Jennifer,  "My heavy week involves static holds and heavy set work. My speed week uses bands and I work on my single max lifts. When I have a long period between competitions I do a 12 week workout that starts with exercises at 10 reps and works it way down to 5 reps. I use this to build up my base strength."(SPL)  Interestingly, the weight isn't as important as the speed of the lift for Thompson, and she will "drop 10 to 15 pounds on that exercise and work on the speed of the lift" if she's not improving from workout to workout.(Ibid)

Her overall split looks like this:
Day 1: Chest
Day 2: Off
Day 3: Back, Biceps, and Calves
Day 4: Off
Day 5: Shoulders and Triceps 
Day 6: Off
Day 7: Legs                                                  
Day 8: Off
*Abs are done as a warm-up on workout days.
(8-12 weeks on, then 1 week off. When restarting she simply lowers the weights and starts over.)(Thompson)
When was the last time you hit double bodyweight on your second attempt?

Bench Singles (1 rep strict bench singles): 3 singles with 65%, 75%, and 85% of max
Increase one of your singles every lift if you get all 3
Bench (with bands or chains): 3 sets of 5
Set up the bands or chains to add resistance to the top of the lift to increase your speed through the sticking point.
Incline Bench: 2 sets of 5
Decline Bench: 2 sets of 5
Speed Bench Presses: 2 sets of 5
Strict (long paused explosive rep) Flyes: 2 sets of 8
Stabilizer Push-ups (Push-ups on a stabilizer ball or board): 2 sets to failure

Shoulders and Tris
Military Press: 3 sets of 5
Upright Rows: 2 sets of 8
Side Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 8
Dumbbell Shoulder Presses: 2 sets of 8
Offload Bench Presses: 3 sets of 5 (Attach bands above the bar so that weight is taken off the bar at the bottom to help increase your transition into your triceps)
Closegrip Bench: 2 sets of 8
Tricep Extensions: 2 sets of 8
Pushdowns: 2 sets of 8

Heavy Hold (Unlocked bench press hold for 15 seconds) Bench: 3 sets of 5
Incline Bench: 2 sets of 5
Decline Bench: 2 sets of 5
Negatives: 2 sets of 2
Dumbbell Stabilizer Presses (Dumbbell presses while lying on a large stabilizer ball): 2 sets of 8

Shoulders and Tris
Heavy Hold (Unlocked military press hold for 15 seconds) Military Press: 2 sets of 5
Upright Rows: 2 sets of 8
Back Lateral Raises: 2 sets of 8
Dumbbell Shoulder Presses: 2 sets of 8
Heavy Lockouts (Bench press last 5-7 inches of lift): 3 sets of 5
JM Presses: 2 sets of 8
Weighted Dips: 2 sets of 8
Single-arm Pushdowns: 2 sets of 8

Ted Arcidi
Certainly not the most svelte motherfucker on this list, Arcidi's been credited with being one of the greatest bench pressers in history.  The records he set in the 275 and 308 weight classes have stood the test of time, and are at this point almost 30 years old.  Sure, Jeremy Hoornstra beat Arcidi's 275 record, but bear in mind that Arcidi hit 650 at 275 and 666 at 308 in full meets, which have been known to be a bit more taxing than a leisurely bench-only meet.  Arcidi's methods will likely look somewhat familiar to anyone who's done a periodized routine, although his rep scheme differs a bit, and one of his bench days per week was a simple 5 rep scheme and his volume would make most internet gurus start checking the blood pressure and cortisol levels of his family and friends for signs of second-hand overtraining.  Additionally, although Arcidi was not a bodybuilder, he did rock abs at over 300 lbs, and went on to work in the WWE and WCWW and was Triple H and Chyna's strength coaches long before DeFranco erroneously got all the credit for Triple H's physique.

12 Week Cycle
Weeks 1-3: 3 x 6
Weeks 4-6: 3 x 5
Weeks 7-9: 3 x 3
Weeks 10-11: combine sets of 3 and two reps
Week 12: meet day; open with a bench that you have done for at least four reps

Bench Press: 3 x 5/405-420
Behind-the-Neck Press: 3 x 5/260-300
Skull Crushers: 2 x 6/340-350
Standing Barbell Curls: 3 x 6/160-195
Lat Pulldowns: 3-4 x 10/240

Bench Press: follow 12-week cycle
Behind-the-Neck Press: 3 x 6/225
Skull Crushers: 2 x 6/340-350
Standing Barbell Curls: 3 x 6/160-195
Lat Pulldowns: 3-4 x 10/240
(Do all heavy bench press sets with maximum poundages. Occasionally, do some forced reps. Rest for 5-6 minutes between bench press sets and 2 to 3 minutes between assistance work sets. Perform the last heavy workout ten days before the scheduled meet. Peak for only one or two competitions a year.)

Squats: Your choice of sets and reps
Deadlifts: Your choice of sets and reps
Behind The Neck Press: 2 x 3/335-365

Jeremy Hoornstra
If there was ever a powerlifter who looked to be both good-looking enough and passably friendly to bang your girlfriend backstage while you were lifting at a meet, it's this motherfucker.  Hoornstra broke Mike McDonald's 33 year old raw bench record at 242 with 661 press last month after nipping at its heels for a bit, and looks to have a long career of putting the record at 242 insanely out of everyone's reach ahead of him.  Hoornstra competes in both bodybuilding and powerlifting, and sports arms big enough to make you consider heaving yourself off a fucking cliff.  Don't believe me?  Check out this pic, wherein he makes Sam Byrd look like a guy who did some pushups once.

Amusingly, Hoornstra's bench press routine is EXACTLY what you'd expect a bodybuilder's bench press routine.  This is probably why half of us are getting out-benched by alleged bodybuilders on a regular basis.  Surprisingly, it's not done on International Bench Press Day (Monday), nor is it followed by a bit of biceps, just to get a pump on before the club.  Instead, Hoornstra's split is a two a day schedule that looks like this:

Monday - Back, cardio (night)
Tuesday - Chest, Traps and Forearms (night)
Wednesday - Bi's, cardio (night)
Thursday - Shoulders, calves and abs (night)
Friday - Tri's, cardio (night)
Saturday - Legs

Biceps got their own day!  I bet you fuckers didn't see that one coming.  No stranger to volume, Hoornstra's throwing around a lot of weight for a shitload of reps with a variety of angles when he hits bench day, and rests no more than three minutes between sets.  A typical workout looks something like this, but according to Hoornstra it varies greatly with his mood and enthusiasm:
I wouldn't mind getting my liftoff from motherfucking Captain Kirk.

Flat Bench Press
225 x 15
315 x 10
405 x 10
495 x 8
585 x 3
635 x 2
405 to failure

Incline Bench Press
315 x 10
405 x 8
495 x 5
495 x 5

Incline Dumbbell Fly's
140's to failure for 3 sets (highest dumbbells the gym has)

Flat Cable Fly's
Weight stack for 10 reps, 3 sets

Hammer Strength Chest Press
6 - 45's each side to failure, 2 sets

If you thought that shit ran the gamut, that's because it did.  I just covered four world record holders in the bench, and they had no common denomonator in their programs beyond the inclusion of the bench press.  Telling, right?  If you remain unconvinced that you're going to have to find your own path to Valhalla via the bench press, I've got another post coming up soon detailing the workouts of powerlifting legend Ed Coan, powerlifter-turned-Ms. Olympia-runner-up Bev Francis (holy shit her volume was off the charts), current multiple record holder Scott Mendelson, bodybuilder Eddie Robinson, and general freak of fucking nature Ken Lain.

Go bench, because somewhere a tiny blond haired chick is warming up with your work weight.

     Powerliftinghub.  Rick Weil.  http://powerliftinghub.com/Lifters.html
     SPL.  Jennifer Thompson Talks With Seriouspowerlifting.  http://www.seriouspowerlifting.com/2927/womens-interviews/jennifer-thompson-talks-with-seriouspowerlifting
     Rick Weil Bench Press Routine.  http://www.criticalbench.com/bench-press-routine.htm
     Ted Arcidi's Bench Press Routine.  Reprinted from Powerlifting USA.  http://www.angelfire.com/ab/bigmuscle2/arcidi.html 
     Weil, Rick.  Forum Post on Bodybuilding.com. http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=113787111&page=1
     Tatar, Ben.  132 Pounds of Power: A Critical Bench Exclusive Interview With World Record Holder Jennifer Thompson. Critical Bench.  http://www.criticalbench.com/jenniferthompson.htm
     Tatar, Ben.  Interview with Bench Press Record Holder Jeremy Hoornstra.  Critical Bench.  5/31/12.  http://www.criticalbench.com/Jeremy-Hoornstra.htm
     Thompson, Jennifer.  http://www.132poundsofpower.com/speed_heavy_workout.htm


  1. My body is ready.

  2. This all seems very Westside, given the bands and stuff, which is obviously the antithesis of your whole philosophy. If I want to pick my bench up then I'm gonna bench more often, which I'm doing now, and what would you know? It's getting better.

  3. Nice article. I wonder what would happen if Hoornstra adapted a more common powerlifting routine. Obviously he has found what works for him, but I'm just curious what would happen with that ridiculous base of strength if he focused solely on powerlifting.

    Anyway, the real reason I'm commenting is because I was watching your videos on one of your recent deadlift articles and noticed that you lift at my girlfriend's gym, which is about 10 minutes from where I live.

    1. Please don't have sex with her.
    2. I want to lift with you at some point if that's at all possible.

    1. It's highly unlikely that I've even spokento your girl, since I generally avoid southern broads like the plague. You should be safe there. If you want to grab a lift, I'm in the gym from 9-930 AM at least MWF, and then from 730 or 8 through 9ish MTTH. On the weekends it's usually late afternoon, so you're more likely to catch me during the week.

    2. I'm just fuckin with you about her. I'm sure you like to get in and out of there without any bullshit.

      I'm graduating from UA in August, so I won't be there during the week at all, or on weekends other than sporadically, until then. I'll get in touch with you again around then.

  4. This is some good shit. It's a lot to think about, but the basic takeaway is: I have been a complete and total Miss Nancy when it comes to training in general, and I should start working upper body like my name is Temujin and the bar is the motherfucker who stole my girl.

    So I'm having a thought here. I remembered your "thirty minutes of deadlifting insanity" workout, and I thought to myself, "could I apply that to squat and bench?" I haven't decided to do it yet, but something I'd like to try sometime is to absolutely flog the three big lifts for thirty minutes on each of their respective days. This seems like it would be a pretty sweet deal, since it would get a lot of volume in, a lot of heavy singles in, give me a chance to experiment with different form (especially on bench), and still leave me with a good long time to get in some more volume on assistance lifts, especially on bench day... assuming I'm not demolished from 30 minutes of as many singles as possible.

    As usual, the takeaway is "experiment, do things that conventional wisdom says are crazy, and have some fun." I'll experiment with some of the stuff from this and others, and see what happens.

    Just to pile on with examples of what the greats have done, here's what Ricky Dale Crain did: http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2011/07/rickey-dale-crain-terry-todd.html His bench wasn't as huge as his squat or deadlift, and was probably his weakest lift, but the tenacity and volume with which he attacked it is an example worth following. I count twenty sets on his bench days: ten sets of bench press working up to heavy singles with some back-off triples thrown in, a set of paused bench press, two sets of close grip bench press, four sets of military press, and three sets of chins. I don't think I've done that many sets of pushing lifts in three weeks. And Crain had bench day twice a week! Food for thought.

    1. A 440 bench at 165 is hard to describe as "weakest", I think. Dude was an all around badass at powerlifting. Shame about the diddling, though.

    2. This is what I get for not looking up his bench PRs. 440 at 165 is tremendous; it would have been more accurate to say "bench was Crain's lowest competition lift and the one he had to work the hardest at." Thanks for setting me straight. And yeah, damn shame about that.

  5. I want to bang Jennifer Thompson

  6. am i right if i notice j thompson has long arms, shorter torso, longer legs? uses not much arch and wide grip and not tucks the elbows much?
    this seems to work great for her. is there a difference between a woman and a men for benching? all 'gurus' except maybe louie, will tell you it will ruin your shoulders benching like that...

    greetz s (sorry for my english)

    1. The difference is when you are a woman benching can make your tits look bigger by getting them to stick out more, but when you are a man it usually makes your tits look smaller by stretching out what little breast tissue you have. Hope this helps.

    2. Hahahaha. Yeah, she definitely defies convention with her form. In one interview I read, she named a couple of other people she respected for their elbow flare, which I found amusing.

  7. Great articles as usual. Not my reason for posting, I want you and Paul to have this guy on a Chaos & Bang. God it would be hilarious

    1. He probably wrote that article to get web hits, because that article is piss awful poo. It wants me to stab the author with a rusty screwdriver.

      Epic blog Jamie. Appreciate it.

    2. We'll get that covered for you in the next CnB. The one I just posted was from last week.

  8. i see that guy in the picture deadlifting like 495 i deadlift 485 is that any good? i suck at benching as well and i took it to heart to be better at it just for the chicks. i do trapbar deadlift singles like 20 sets of 1 @ 455. i have a video where i do a few trapbar deads.

    thanks for getting me fired up about benching too. i have been reading for a while.

    1. Depends on your bodyweight and how long you've been training. I broke 500 for the first time at around 155-160 in college. Unless you're at or below 148, you're not anywhere near a top 50 lifter with current rankings.

  9. yea i weigh 249... but i only train at home for like 6 years now. i reallyy hate the gym. im trying to slim down too. but thanks for the motivating texts and pics they really help.

  10. I'll bet you won't guess which muscle in your body is the muscle that gets rid of joint and back pains, anxiety and burns fat.

    If this "secret" super powerful primal muscle is healthy, you are healthy.