|By: Big Jeff Pearce|
You know the conversation, “Oh, you workout? How much do you bench press?” It’s a conversation that pops up all too often; people find out that you workout and all of a sudden they have to know how much you bench. It’s a barometer of strength; the common man’s measuring stick of might. Inevitably, the person that asks you will always follow up with a smug grin and “Oh, I have a friend that can lift X amount more than you.” The reason I have chosen to pen this article about bench strength is that I want you to be that friend that can lift X amount more than someone else.
I’m not going to sit here and toot my own horn about my bench press; it’s sophomoric. But, as a great philosopher once said, “Know thy self.” I know that I’m strong and can bench a lot of weight. I have never taken any steroids or used any other P.E.D. It’s a personal choice I made and I don’t hate on anyone for their personal choices. But, having walked the path I have has given me an insight into bench press training that I don’t think that I could have found otherwise. What I am going to do is share with you some of the key observations I have made while in the asylum that most call a gym.
#1 – Big Bench Relies on Eating Big, Supplementing Big & Sleeping Big
This is by far the biggest, most fundamental point I want to strike home to you today. You need enough protein, carbs and fats to get strong. I like to use this example, since it is uniquely Torontonian. When the CN Tower was built, the builders needed the raw materials in order to build one of the tallest structures in the world. How can you build an enormous bench if you don’t have the raw materials to build the muscle to support it? Short answer, you can’t. And, you can’t just go out there and get the crappiest most calorie dense food you can find. I’m talking about clean food: chicken, rice, steak, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, fish etc.
I’m not going to get into exact macronutrient calculations or percentages. Everyone has their own opinion; go out there, do the work/research and come to your own conclusions. Just remember, you’ll need to go into a caloric surplus.
Supplementing big? I’m talking about covering all your nutritional basics. I’m talking about getting a GREAT multi-vitamin, not a bargain one-a-day at the local drug store. I’m talking about getting QUALITY Omega-3s/Vitamin D, PURE creatine monohydrate and CLEAN protein powder.
When I talk about sleeping big, I am talking about recovery. You can’t red line your body and expect it to grow and get stronger. Get your sleep, there are more studies than I can shake a barbell at that will reiterate my point. If you have trouble sleeping, have obstructive sleep apnea or any other sleep malady that could be seriously robbing you of strength gains. Go to a sleep clinic and get checked out, they could completely change not only your recovery but your overall alertness during the day.
#2 – Keep Your Ego In Check, Warm-up, Test Yourself & Have A Plan
I’ve written about keeping your ego in check before, you can find that article here. Pacing yourself, knowing your limitations and pushing past them is one thing. Being reckless and throwing a bunch of weight on a bar that you know you can’t lift is just plain dangerous. The other day, I saw some wild haired youngster throwing 5 plates a side on the bench and seriously doing inch reps. Ah, the hubris of youth. Warm-up with lighter weight, test your ability to go to higher reps and really remember the movement before you go throwing on your big weight.
All that being said, don’t be afraid to test your realistic one rep max. Get a spotter, get in a rack, be safe and go for it. If you don’t get it the first time, you just might get it next week, or the week after. Just don’t be that guy I mentioned earlier, he isn’t going anywhere fast (I know all about the cheat reps, relax.). What I would suggest is to make planned progressions weekly in increments of whatever poundage you are comfortable with. Do this over a pre-defined time period (12 weeks or whatever you deem necessary), de-load for a week or two and get back at it.
#3 – Compete Only Against Yourself & Compare Your Form To The Strongest Men In Benching
At the end of the day, if Jimmy Tight Shirt can bench more than you, so be it. You can always improve yourself. Week in and week out, you compete against yourself. This ties in with my previous point about ego lifting and having a plan. Don’t look at the bench beside you, don’t make excuses for why that guy is stronger; just shut up and get stronger. Don’t waste your time hating on someone else or being jealous. Spend your time getting stronger.
Some people that you should pay attention to are located on the all too convenient and awesome, YouTube. Hop on there and examine the form of the best guys in the world. Chances are, they’re doing something right. Remember though, some of these guys wear bench shirts (assistive lifting devices) and are not lifting raw like you do in the gym. Pay attention to the raw lifters. Watch their form, make notes and copy it. Here’s a hint: A lot of these lifters keep their upper arms at about a 45 degree angle to their torso, not a 90 degree angle like some bodybuilders do. Think about how football players push opposing players, they don’t put their upper arm at a 90 degree angle to their torso, do they?
#4 – Get Dumb & Use Dumbbells
When you train chest, get dumb and use dumbbells. One of the most important things to getting a big bench is being able to lift big dumbbells. The rules all still apply. Train your bench first, then train your dumbbell lifts. Or mix it up, reverse it. Just don’t ignore them. For every gain you make on a dumbbell lift, it will undoubtedly show up in your bench press.
Don’t be afraid to make use of other things like machines, bands, chains and other training devices that can help you bump up your bench press. Remember though, some of these devices are for advanced lifters. If you have just started your second week at the gym, leave the bands alone and work on your basics.
#5 – Don’t Forget About The Little Guys & Space Out
This point has a two-fold meaning. First of all, don’t forget about the little helpful muscles in your shoulders. Unhealthy shoulders will get you an unhealthy bench press. If you already have shoulder problems, like I said earlier “Know Thy Self”; recognize your personal limitations and seek medical help. If they’re already healthy, keep them that way. Look up rotator cuff exercises and do not neglect the little guys in there. Keep them healthy and you’ll get a lot more mileage out of those shoulders of yours.
The second meaning of this point is that if you have learned through experience and you see a guy/gal struggling to get their bench up, be a good Samaritan and offer some friendly advice. If they don’t want to take it, so be it. But knowledge is something you should pass along, so help out those younger benchers in the gym, prevent them from getting hurt and walk them through the exercise.
Space out your front deltoid work. This is fairly rudimentary. If you are training shoulders on a Monday, don’t train chest on the Tuesday. Space it out, give yourself time to recover. Training chest properly requires a fully rested front deltoid, so don’t over train that area.
I hope that the grand standing on bench pressing that I have just done will help you pack weight on the bar. I understand that some of what I have espoused are basics known to many. The problem is that many do not follow the basics they already know and seek the one secret to success. I’ve been guilty of it and chances are, so have you. The secret is to realize that getting a big bench is not the result of one particular supplement or trick but a result of many factors being practiced in the best way possible. That’s it for now Strong-Athletes. And remember: Don’t Make Excuses, Make Muscles!
Jeff Pearce, Editor-In-Chief
Big Jeffrey Pearce, is a physical culture writer, editor, personal trainer, and a lifetime natural bodybuilder from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been bodybuilding and strength training since he was 16 years old and remains a dedicated gym rat to this day. Big Jeff is one of the strongest athletes you will ever meet, routinely bench pressing 500lbs and tossing up 150lb dumbbells for reps in a typical workout. An honors graduate from the University of Toronto, Jeff’s brains also match his brawn. Jeff has a passion for writing and has been in featured in Muscular Development. Jeff also coaches high school kids on the benefits of strength training and nutrition. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @J_J_Pearce.