Originally Written by Silverback
My bench press has never been my best lift. I have had to fight for every gain that I have gotten on it. My bench has waved over the years, sometimes it is good, like @425 paused, and sometimes it is bad like @345. I remember maxing at 175lbs. in 1985. So, my bench wasnít good from the start. In contrast, I could deadlift over 300lbs. at the time without even training it.
As I said, I am not a natural bencher. If you arenít, you may be able to benefit from the following. If you are a natural bencher, this article will mean little to you. One of my former training partners at eighteen years old was benching 500lbs. At thirty-seven years of age, he was benching 500lbs. At forty-one years old, he is only benching 430 due to injuries. While he is stronger than me still, I donít think he knows much about bench pressing. Yet, many seek his advice due to his natural strength. I kind of chuckle about it. It seems to me you want to ask the guy who actually added weight to his press over time and not the guy who hasnít gained, and in fact, has lost over the last 20 years. To each their own howeverÖ.
I want to share some thoughts on bench training that I have learned about myself.
1) When I trained for higher reps, I didnít necessarily get stronger on the top end. There was a time where I could do sets of 15@315 but I had trouble with 365 for a single. However, I looked bigger.
2) When I trained for lower reps, I got stronger on the top end but I also wasnít as big. I remember struggling with 6@315, yet being able to bench 405 pretty easily.
3) Band work is hit and miss. Reverse band work killed my bench progress and I am now just recovering from it. It detrained the exact spot that I needed to strengthen. As my triceps got stronger, my shoulders got weaker clear to the point that I had a hard time resisting 405 on the way down. Regular band work was effective on my speed days; however, I want to add one caveat to that. Band work also locks you in like a machine and gives you an unnatural groove. It is unnatural in one way, it locks you into a path of movement allowing you to accelerate the bar in a way that you may not be able to do without the bands. For this reason, I think it is imperative that you do work with chains too if you are trying to overload the completion of the movement. Chains give you a similar kind of overload, yet they donít lock you into the groove. Ultimately this will strengthen your stabilizers more due to the balance required to complete the lift with the chains.
4) Form is everything. You have to learn to bench properly. I think the articles on Elitefts are very good about spreading the bar, tucking the elbows, lowering it with your lats, and not allowing the bar to drift towards your head on the ascent.
5) In order to become stronger on the bench, you must address your weaknesses in the lift. Depending upon where you fail, you need to find and use an exercise that works for you. I donít fail at the chest, usually I fail at about four inches off or in the last six inches. Lifts that work for me have been decline close grip barbell bench press, high incline close grip barbell bench press, 3 board presses, dumbell presses on various angles but with the elbows in or tucked at the sides usually for time or high reps, dips, and close grip bench presses. Lifts that didnít work for me include floor presses, very heavy lockouts in the last five inches of the movement, bench presses with a lot of band tension, reverse band presses, and any Hammer strength equipment.
6) Against the current training grain, I have been pausing all of my reps on one day a week and I know that has made a big difference in my overall strength gains. On my way up on one day a week, if I am pyramiding, I pause all of my reps. On my way down, I donít always pause them. On speed days, I pause some of them and not others.
7) Against the current training grain, I have also found that in order to improve your bench you need to bench regularly. You can vary hand placements for enough variation. Just rotating close grip and normal grip every two weeks will keep you progressing on your heavy day. I think many trainees in search of a bigger bench complicate things too much. You have to work hard, figure out where your bench is weak, and make that weakness a strong point. This doesnít make it fun, as your ego takes a bashing while you address these weakpoints. But in the long run the benefit is great.
8) I think rest-pause training is a great way to improve your bench strength. This is no longer done by trainees in any real sense but on my down sets I have been doing it to get the required number of reps on my latter sets. I have a few trainees on a special program right now and they can all testify to the benefits of rest-pausing down sets. Texas Traps and FladdenMan to name two. Traps's bench is through the roof.
9) Stress affects my upper body lifts more than my lower body lifts. I can have a stressful week and still have a great deadlift workout. Yet, if I have a bad, stressful week, my upper body lifts normally go down. Donít ask me why. The same can be said for training on gear. My upper body gets the biggest bump and consequently it loses the most strength post cycle. Given that I have been clean for quite a while now, I am most proud of my lifts now as they donít bounce around too much unless I am stressed too much. I have been taking a joint compound and my shoulders are no longer grinding. I am a big believer in glucosamine, etc..now.
10) Back training is imperative for a big bench. The stronger my back is, the better my bench press is. I can row 315 in clean form for reps and cheat 405 in decent form. T-bars for five plates for reps with different handles have helped as well. Iíve found that rows benefit my bench press more than various kinds of pullups and chinups. Low pulley cable rows are, in my opinion, the best back exercise there is for improving your bench press. You can vary hand positions and bars to strengthen your lats and upper back. For example, a wide overhand grip, elbows high, pulled to the nipples for a few sets followed by V-Handle, elbows tucked into the lower abs for a few sets.
11) Lastly, the importance of post-workout nutrition cannot be overstated. If you have blasted your body, it needs the nutrients to recover. I am a firm believer in glutamine peptides, digestive enzymes, alpha lipoic acid, 5 grams of BCAAís and taurine PWO along with 50-75 grams of whey protein and 75-100 grams of dextrose.
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