17 June 2012

Stop Bitching And Start Benching #4- My Two Cents

As I stated more than once over the preceding three blogs, there are only a couple of consistent features to the greats' bench routines:
  1. They all benched at least twice a week
  2. They all used moderately-high to high volume
  3. They all utilized fairly low reps at least part of the time.
For regular readers of this blog, these features shouldn't be terribly revelatory.  With a few minor exceptions, the greatest lifters in history have all practiced their craft frequently, heavily, and enthusiastically.  As such, it would stand to reason that one would have to do the same to obtain a huge bench.  I discovered this myself over the last year through trial and error, and quite frankly regret ever abandoning the bench in the first place.  Had I not done so, I would almost assuredly be benching over 400 now, rather than simply flirting with 400 like a sorostitute with a fratboy while waiting to see what car manufacturer is emblazoned on his key fob.  I have, however, made great strides in the bench press in the last year and continue to do so, owing in no small part to the following changes to my workouts.
"A BMW?  Really?  What series?  Well then, allow me to whore it up!"

Paused Benching.  There is perhaps no change I've made in the last year or so that has had greater effect on my bench press than my conversion to 100% paused benching.  My conversion occurred, oddly enough, as a result of my episodic incline reverse grip bench press fetish.  As I mentioned in my post on the exercise, I was forced to do it from the bottom position because I never have a spotter.  Though dangerous, probably ill-considered, and definitely irresponsible, I got my bottom-position reverse grip incline up to 330, which was impressive considering that at the time I did it, I'd not benched that much on the flat bench in competition.  After making an ass of myself in two consecutive meets on the bench, I resolved to apply myself to to an effort to prevent my parents from committing seppuku when seeing my bench press numbers.  There are, after all, three lifts in powerlifting, and my obsessive focus on a single lift seemed to be doing me little good in terms of snatching the world record total.  I began flat benching with a 2 second pause on every rep at the bottom, and my lifts began to increase.  When I increased the pause at the lockout as well, my max bench increased further still.  Though this may not hold for non-competition benchers, I think it bears in mind that one should practice how one intends to play, ego be damned.  Thus, if you intend to compete in powerlifting, put your ego aside (and holy shit, that's the most herculean effort one will probably make in increasing one's bench) and abandon touch and go bench presses for (at the very least) the first repetition of each set.
Ryan Kennelly says "Fuck touch and go bench press" and "I hate jail".

Increased Frequency.  Certainly, practicing the lift at all has a massive impact.  In my first year of lifting, I benched perhaps three times a week, and did weighted dips at least that often.  I was consumed with increasing my bench at all costs, and made massive gains, going from >135 to 285 between my sophomore and the end of my junior years in high school.  From there, my bench fluctuated up and down but hovered around 300 for over a decade.  My bodyweight increased, but my bench didn't.  At the time, I was still rocking a bodypart split like my name was Joe Weider, and I suffered the consequences.  After a while, I abandoned the bench altogether for concentration on the lifts that actually moved, going back to the bench only in times of boredom or necessity (like for a meet).  For perhaps three years I rarely benched at all, and my bench press didn't backslide all that much due to ancillary growth in other areas, but it didn't increase either.  Thus, as I found it necessary to bench press for competitions, I discovered something- the more I did it, the better I got.  That's not to say one should bench every day and expect to rival Scot Mendelson in a year.  It did work for Bev Francis, however, and all of us likely know some beach-muscle laden freaks in our respective gyms with wildly disproportionate benches who obtained them with hyper-frequent benching.  Thus, increased frequency bears investigation.

As seems to be most common, I generally bench twice a week, with one workout consisting of extremely heavy triples, doubles, and singles, followed generally by a touch-and-go death set, and a second workout consisting of sets of 5 and 3.  In the second workout I focus on explosiveness, whereas on the first I focus on simply moving the most weight possible.

At the very least, you should consider twice a week benching.  I have not decided if the benefit of twice a week benching comes from improved form (as Ken Fantano would insist), comfort with the lift, increased strength from the frequency, or a combination thereof, but the why does not matter nearly as much as the what.  If we learn nothing from history, we are doomed to repeat it, and there's plenty of shitheads throughout history with shitty benches who ignored the methods of the greats.  Let us not repeat their inexcusable mistake, shall we?
I have a very good reason for posting this, but I've forgotten what it is.

Greater Shoulder Strength.  This cannot be undersold.  Not only does increased shoulder strength confer awesome fucking shoulders, but it improves your bench.  I'll allow my vanity to take over for a second and I'll impart a bit of what I've learned about the human body over years of seeing jacked people in the gym- if you've got striated, vascular shoulders, the rest of your body could look like dogshit and people will still think you look phenomenal.  I've been mocked by a variety of chicks in the past for my obsession with my shoulder striations, but they know as well as I that they give the impression of massive strength (in addition to looking cool as fuck).
As Dmitry demonstrated, badass shoulders look awesome.  Ripped abs don't hurt either.

Vanity aside, increasing shoulder strength will always, in my opinion, lead to increased bench strength, though the obverse is definitely not true.  there are three exercises I utilize at a minimum of four times a week to constantly improve my shoulder strength:
  • Klokov Press: Known over the years as behind the neck snatch grip strict press, or somesuch unweildy nonsense, Paul from Lift-Run-Bang and I have taken to calling them Klokov Presses in honor of the Russian monster himself.  There's a video I've posted before of Klokov doing this press, and it's done more to popularize the movement than any other mention or example in history.  Klokov's a fucking beast, the lift is a bitch, and you will get stronger doing it.  
  • Military Press: I am not referring to the colloquial version of this press, but instead the real fucking deal, which I've outlined here.  Omit these at your peril.
  • Behind the Neck Push Press:  Also known as behind the neck push jerk, or on Reddit and Bodybuilding.com as "the exercise guaranteed to paralyze you", this exercise is a man-maker.  Over the last year I've hit 345 a couple of times, which while not incredibly impressive to some, impresses the balls off me.  I've hurt myself on these in weird little ways at least five times in four years, and still include them weekly because they work.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained, motherfuckers, and you're not going to kill yourself doing them, though you are guaranteed to get a horrible crick in your neck from time to time from a bad descent.  It's the price of doing business, and anyone who avoids them will pay the price of having a shit overhead.  Be sure to laugh at them when you put their max bench over your head and then warm up with the same weight on bench.
There is no reason on Earth, in my opinion, to do lateral or front raises, unless you just hate the shit out of your rotator cuffs and wish to hasten their demise.  Face pulls and rear delt machine lateral on the pec deck machine are worth doing on a regular basis, however, and I include them in my light morning workouts a couple of times a week for high reps (12-20 reps).  That's right- high reps.  My morning workouts are about flushing blood into my muscles, getting in a bit of extra volume, and filling in gaps.  I'm not going to claim I need to have speed prescribed to me, but I get bored as fuck after about 75 minutes in the gym, so I like to break up my workouts into two sessions of 15-30 minutes and 45-75 minutes. That way, I manage to dot all my i's and cross all of my proverbial t's without approaching a set of weighted crunches like a trial of Hercules rather than the bullshit, fuck-around set that it is.

Though you'll see in the foregoing posts that some of the epic benchers in history disagree with me about laterals, the certainly do not about shoulder strength.  Thus, make increasing your shoulder strength a priority if you want your bench to make big jumps.

Kara Bohigian demonstrating the weirdest fucking bench form you're likely to see.

Find Your Best Form.  This is the hardest part, and the part with which I cannot help you.  No one can, really, other than yourself.  If you look at the first post in this series, you'll see no two great benchers have the same form.  Jen Thompson has lauded other benchers in interviews for their elbow flare, much to Louie Simmons' apparent consternation.  You can rest assured for each accepted bench form platitude you uncover, you'll find several amazing benchers that not only violate the precepts set forth, but do so like they're gang raping the broad in Last House on the Left after making her piss her pants.  On a wholly unrelated note, the actress in the original actually pisses her pants in that scene, making it ten thousands times as hot as it already was.  Thus, pretend you're Wes Craven- you have no budget for special effects, and are going to have to figure out how to make it happen by your motherfucking self.  Though specific form tips generally don't apply across the board, certain methods do seem to apply across the board:
  • Stay tight.  During my last meet I texted with Paul from Lift-Run-Bang quite a bit, and utterly ignored his advice in this regard.  on my second attempt, which was light, I missed the lift because I laid down on the bench like I was about to take a fucking nap.  That was a mistake.  Since then, I've set up and performed every single bench press exactly the same way- tight setup, shoulder blades retracted, and fully tensed.  Because of this, I've found that I perform much less erratically on the bench, and feel stronger on every heavy attempt.
  • Drive with your legs.  You'll read a lot of bullshit about proper placement of your feet.  It's all nonsense- you'll figure it out with trial and error, and the occasional strained thigh muscle.  That's right, if you drive correctly with your legs, they actually get that involved.  Dig in with your feet and try to push the floor away from you when you're pressing the bar upward.  You'll get a transfer of power, a veritable shockwave as Ken Fantano described it, and that will help move the bar.
  • Grip the fuck out of the bar.  I've never gotten anything out of trying to "snap" the bar in half, as Westside guys seem to claim to attempt.  I have noticed, however, that if you grip the shit out of the bar, it will help you maintain tightness in your upper body.
Fill In The Blanks.  Whether it's face pulls, which appear to be the darling of every shitty lifter on the planet, or something else you've identified as needing extra attention, most of you are going to need to do more accessory work that you'd like to think to eliminate sticking points.  In my previous entry about Rick Weil, I included his prescriptions for failed bench presses at certain points in the lift.  Other lifters, like Bill Kazmeier, for instance, believe that hammer curls are essential for a great bench press, while I realized that my pectoral development was lacking and started banging out high rep sets of cable crossovers to rectify the issue.  I do think that frequent, high-rep work on supporting muscle groups are a good idea to strengthen tendons and increase blood flow to those regions, so you might want to consider some high repetition sets of rope pushdowns to flush out your triceps, among other things.  

Are any of the above a panacea for an ailing bench press?  Certainly not, but the above recommendations can certainly get you back on the path towards a respectable bench press.  There's very little that's universal about weightlifting, but the above seems to be pretty standard across every good bencher's routine and technique.  Thus, it's time to stop fucking about, sack the fuck up, and start benching hard and heavy if you want to get respectable at that lift.


  1. Do you overhead press and bench on the same days?

    1. Sometimes. I overhead press in some form almost every day, and often twice a day.

    2. The least i can say about that, is that it inspires me to work harder..

    3. That´s impressive, considering you are also squatting a lot.
      How´s a week of training looking like most times?

  2. jamie,
    posted this to Paul, he is gonna try it next week to see how many he can do it.
    any idea on how many you´ve got?

    My gym is gonna do an event in the upcoming weeks, consisting of a small meet and some challenges.
    One of the challenges is: most reps on bench press with 95lbs.
    Just out of curiosity, do you have any idea of how many you could get??

    1. I have no idea. My limiting factor would be boredom, I think.

  3. Man I fucking loved that film, too much to watch the remake. I watched an advert for it and it looks like some kind of family-values thing, and then the daughter survives at the end? That's totally missed the point of the original, where everyone died except the old couple who didn't have so much of a life left anyway. The film even had a theme tune with the line "And the road leads to nowhere". Well it could lead fucking anywhere now because the good guys are still alive.

    From IMDB on Lucy Grantham:
    Claimed in an interview that for the "piss your pants" scene in Last House On The Left (1972) where she was forced to urinate in her jeans by the film's villain that she really did naturally urinate into her own jeans. She described it as "a very powerful and personal scene." However, this contradicts David Szulkin's book on the making of the film, which states that a wet makeup sponge was concealed in her jeans.
    Although there seems little reason to trust Szulkin, his description seems more likely to me than it being "a very powerful and personal scene" where you piss yourself infront of some coworkers rather than just a mildly embarassing one.

    1. There was a making of in the version I watched where I think the actress or Wes Craven claimed she pissed herself.

      The sequel wasn't the original, but it was still pretty fucking awesome.

  4. Awesome series of articles.

    Have something which would be hilarious for you to rip to shreds in Chaos & Bang:


    Responses to his videoblog include Layne Norton ripping him.

    Thanks for the awesome work, your basically becoming the sole place to get no BS strength training information at this stage.

  5. Dude. You are shaming the shit out of me with this bench series. I don't know what my problem is, I'm @185, bench 265 and OHP 220. Help?

    1. You could start by using the suggestions I made above, haha.

    2. Give up, try a different hobby? You suck.

  6. There must be some people in your gym that only see your morning workouts and thus assume this huge ripped guy got that way purely by fucking around doing face pulls and weighted crunches.

    That's awesome.

    1. Ok, there's plenty of cock sucking going on in the comments section lately, but you win the 'Cock Sucker of the Day' award. Well done!

  7. Funny mentioning straining a thigh, I was trying heavy paused benches, and drove the last rep off my chest when right before the lockout my glute cramped. All I could think about was not dropping the weight on my face so I wouldn't wind up on a chaos and bang when you were talking about retards who killed themselves in the gym.

  8. Doesn't really pertain to this particular post,but quick question. I've decided to focus on rep strength during my summer cut phase and have adapted your DL routine (slightly modified). I'm pulling AMRAP of 425 in 20 min every Friday. Last Friday I pulled 19 but afterward my jaw and neck have been pretty sore and stiff, from excessive straining I presume. Have you ever dealt with anything like that and if so how did you go about training around/ through it? Thanks!

    1. I've never had a problem like that. I know some lifters use a mouthguard when they train- that might do the trick.

  9. Hi Jamie,
    Your blog is one of a kind. A lot of information and no BS approach. It has really transformed my mindset and the way I lift. Question for you: What do you think about Boris Sheiko's training programs? They involve a lot of volume and bench pressing every training. It seems to comply with your methods. Keep posting forever, please! :]

    1. I'm not a fan of cookie cutter programs, but you could do worse than Sheiko, certainly.

  10. Jamie, Please point me in the direction if you have talked about this before, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on training and Soreness.

    Obviously you are a guy who likes to train frequently, and I am coming around to that style myself, so I was wondering if you intentionally tried to AVOID soreness to allow training with intensity frequently, or embraced it as a sign of a productive workout.

    I find that after a particularly grueling squat session I can be quite sore which inhibits maximum performance on later days training. Is this just another case of "man the fuck up and train"? I find little to no relief in the "standard" recommendations like foam rolling, stretching, baths, massages, etc...

    This might make a good Chaos and Bang segment, I'd love to hear Paul talk about it too.

  11. Actually, I found most of the info I wanted in your book, but would still like to hear you and Paul talk about it in depth on the CnB Show

  12. Would this be a good bench press program set up?

    Day 1: flat bench 3x3-5
    Weighted dips work up to top set of 10 (150 for me )
    weighted pull ups 3x12
    upright rows 3x8

    DAy 3: Flat bench 8x3
    Military press 3x5
    Close grip bench 3x5
    Db Rows 3x6-8

    DAy 5: Falt bench 3x8-10
    tricep lock outs 3x5
    CAble rows 3x10
    Barbell curls work up to max set of 8 to 10
    Hammer curls 3x10-12

    DAys 2 and 4 will consist of legs calves and abs

    Does this seem like a good program set up?