Friday, October 15, 2010

Raw Powerlifting - Bench Press

Obviously after the squat you have the American lift.  The bench press.  I call it the American lift because American's seem to be obsessed with it, compared to other countries, where big squats and pulls are more revered.  

Same as the squat, I am going to assume you have ironed out technical problems in your bench.  If not, do that first obviously.  

The cycle for the bench is going to look the same as the squat for the most part.  That's because from a physiological standpoint both the bench and squat take advantage of the myotatic reflex.  This is why squatting and benching rep numbers, generally do pretty well in terms of 1RM calculators.  It's also why you can run similar cycles for both in terms of numbers.  

With that said, there are some differences, obviously.  I think the squat builds itself just fine.  I think the bench, for a lot of guys, needs some extra work.  How much extra is really up to you to find out.  I personally can do some incline and some shoulders after bench and do really well with that.  I know other guys who need a lot of volume on bench and in their assistance work, and I know guys who bench a buttload, and just do bench only.

So how do you find out how much extra you need?

This may sound strange, but I have personally found for the most part that beginners and advanced guys need a similar amount.  At first people may want to balk at that, but they need the same amount for two different reasons.  

You take a beginner and put him on bench and incline, and he'll do really well with just that.  That's because he can do some volume and just learning the lifts, he makes great progress.  Learning the lifts is enough.

Once a guy has been lifting for a long while, and establishes a good base level of strength, he will get to a point where stagnation and plateaus become very common, and are very frustrating,  What I have found in these cases is that focusing on basic progression and few exercises isn't always the best solution.  I take guys like this and have them train a little more like bodybuilders, put some mass on them, and without fail I see their lifts start to move again.  That guy that has been neglecting shoulder work from different angles, flyes, bicep work, so forth and so on, gets a bump from strengthening all of those neglected areas.  And over the next few years of working hard on this, their strength moves up another level.  At this point a lot of guys find they do really well again, by dropping back to just a couple of movements and focusing on the basics again with progression.  This is because an advanced guy can focus better than a new or intermediate guy, and because of the weights he's moving, recovery becomes a factor.  Most really strong guys don't use a ton of volume.  If you look across the board at the strongest guys, most of them pyramid up to 1 top set, then might do some back offs.  Sure there are exceptions like Brian Siders, but you know what I say about exceptions......

So with that said, I also see a lot of skinny, weak-ass dudes who do flyes and curls and pushdowns and shit from day 1 and yet they are skinny and weak.  Those guys missed the boat.  Start off with the basics, and when you're in the 300 bench, 400 squat, 500 dead range, add in some things to improve strength in other movement planes.  

So now that that is all out there, let's look at the cycle.......

Training Max = 93% of Real Max

Week 1 - 80% x 1, 70%xmax reps
Week 2 - 85% x 1, 75%xmax reps
Week 3 - 90% x 1, 80%xmax reps
Week 4 - 93% x 1, 85%xmax reps
Week 5 - 95% x 1, 85%xmax reps
Week 6 - 98% x 1, 90%xmax reps
Week 7 - 100% x 3 
Week 8 - Deload - 70% x 5
Week 9 - Meet, 100% x 1, 110% x 1 - third attempt go nuts

Same as the squat, the 100% in week 7 is really 93% of what you are shooting for on your second attempt at the meet.  On the set for max reps just go to failure or a rep shy of it.  

Now here comes the questions about what to do after.  Reference the beginning of the article.  Personally if I had to give a cookie cutter answer, I would say to do 1-2 sets of incline press or military press for 8-12 reps just shy of failure, then do some seated db press or side laterals not too heavy with moderate reps.  If you want to do some tricep work after that, do something elbow friendly.  Rope pushdowns seem to fit this description fairly well.

That's it.  If you really want to up your bench, gain 10 pounds.  Bodyweight gain really makes the bench take off for the majority of people.  Guys with t-rex arms are usually great pressers.  If you have long ass gorilla arms I suggest you focus on pec and delt work more than most guys.  If you're the t-rex guy, you can probably get away with just benching a lot.  

The "do upperback work to increase your bench" stuff has gotten retarded.  Yes, you need to do upperback work but doing a shit ton of upperback work is not going to be the difference in you having a moderate bench and a great bench.  Your chest, delts, and triceps still are the prime movers in benching.  Work those.  A big reason for the lat and upperback work for benching is because of bench shirts.  Guys that talking about having to "pull the bar down" with their lats are guys wearing shirts.  I've never had a problem getting even an empty bar to touch my chest.  Gravity seems to bring it right down just fine.  Don't train like an equipped guy if you are raw by the way.  Train your chest, shoulders, and triceps for benching.  Not your back.  Lifting has gotten weird over the years with this kind of nonsensical bullshit.  

Deadlift is next.......     


  1. Awesome as always Paul!

    I like your advice on pyramid up the weight to a top set, then a few back off sets being the best bet for building base strength. I work with a group of high school football players in their off season trying to build up their strength and conditioning. Their coach told them to use a westside template or 5/3/1 template. the problem is the boys aren't in the 300 bench, 400 squat, 500 deadlift range yet, so I have them doing something similar to the pyramid you suggested with some low volume assistance. I told them to give me a year (preferably longer) and then start training using those other methods

  2. I have always found that the back off sets are the best form of assistance work you can do. Builds strength and lets you do more volume on the main lift. Hard combination to beat.

  3. Great article (again). For those with healthy shoulders, I would cast my vote this mid-term season for crazy heavy weighted dips. Sends the bench numbers up, cures cancer, etc...

  4. Actually the bench press is not the american lift anymore, its the world lift now... i'm from Brazil and its the same thing here, if one asks "how much do you lift?" this means "how much do you bench".

  5. Paul,

    Excellent article per usual. Would you reccomend someone who is training to get stronger in the big 3 to cycle this program year round or only use this for meets?

  6. You could cycle it year round if that was what you wanted to do. However for me personally, I like to cruise a lot when I am not training for a meet. After 21 years I just don't want to train in such a focused manner all the time. It's not a lazy issue, it's a mental break issue.

    If you are at a place where you are really chasing the big 3 then yes, use cycle after cycle. I would say just take a week off after doing a meet, either for real or just one in the gym. Then start over and up the max just slightly.

  7. Paul,

    Would you up the max by 110% after each cycle?

  8. Remember this is a peaking cycle. The point of it is to ramp up to something you can realistically hit over 9 weeks.

    So it would really depend on where you are at, and what you are doing. If you are an intermediate guy then maybe you can. I couldn't add 110% to the end of each cycle over and over again.

    I am going to write about this very thing today actually.

  9. Anti bullshit and straight to the point as always, I fucking love it.

    I don't know where the upper back for bench stuff has come from lately but it's gotten way out of hand online. It's important but not that important.

    Any thoughts on a second tricep/back assistance day with close grip as a primary movement? I've been doing this for the past 8 weeks or so using a simple 10/11/12/inc weight rep progression and it's been working great.

  10. I actually do close grip bench as my "bench". But yeah close grips after regular bench are great assistance.

  11. Paul,

    After reading some of the above posts about using this cycle year round. Wouldn't it be better to take 90% of your max for your first cycle and just add something like 5-10 lbs. on your bench and 10-20 lbs. on your squat/deadlift for subsequent cycles?

  12. Yeah it would be lower for sure. Hit a solid single at the end. Again, I don't train that way when I'm not prepping for a comp so it's hard for me to say. I don't beat myself to shit anymore when I'm not preparing for a meet.

    You could definitely plug in 90% and run with it and it should/could work really well.

  13. i guess that the do back for a bigger bench is because having big traps and a wide back makes benching have like a good base

  14. This has been overstated. You need to do back work to keep things in balance. however building a big back is not going to improve your bench anymore than building bigger stronger calves will improve your squat and deadlift. Both play a role in stability however neither are prime movers in the lift. If you want to bench more, bench more and get your chest/shoulders/triceps stronger. Do back work to keep things in balance.

  15. Paul,

    Do you recommend training each lift 1x per week?

    -Rick Hussey

  16. That's what I do Rick and have for a while. I've gone through periods where I squatted 2 or 3 times a week and benched twice. But I find once I am nearing top weights for me, doing each lift once per week is about all I can handle mentally.

    BTW love what you do up there at B.I.G. Awesome stuff.

  17. Sorry to disappoint. I am not 'The' Rick Hussey....just some schlub from the NorthEast. However, I do enjoy your articles and postings. This is the info that every unequipped lifter wants, but it's very hard to find. When is your deadlift write-up coming out?

  18. Well that's ok, you're special too. ;-)

    Backed up on some other projects right now but the dealift one should be out by this weekend.

  19. Thanks Paul. Would an intermediate lifter potentially require more volume / frequency? What changes would you make to the cycles you are posting for such a lifter?

    I would not say that I am not handling top weights for me yet.


  20. Probably just more assistance work with stuff like incline, db bench, dips, etc. with more volume. So 4-5 sets of incline then 4-5 sets of dips. Something like that.

  21. What do you mean by max reps? A rep short of failure?


  22. For push ups? No just go all out. All you can do.

  23. Paul - I'm getting ready to start your 9 week program. Yesterday I had a chance to meet with a trainer who competes in RAW powerlifting @ 220 lb. class and he trains 12-13 other lifters. He gave me the "look over" and said my shoulders need work and that is probably what is holding me under 300 lbs. on the bench. He said your Raw bench program looks good. He also said that he's gotten really good results from a "volume" high rep/low rep scheme like this:
    Week 1 - 6 sets of 3 reps @ 85%
    Week 2 - 4 sets of 10 @ 78, 75, 72, 69%
    Week 3 - 7 sets of 2 reps @ 90%
    Week 4 - 4 sets of 10 @ 78, 75, 72, 69%
    Week 5 - Work up to 1Rm max
    All workouts followed by shoulder & tricep assistance. Increase calculated 1RM weight based on Week 5 performance.
    He said this program guarantees to keep CNS from burning out and let's lifters gauge their improvement every 5 weeks. He also said he likes v-bar pushdown and rope pushdowns for tricep work instead of skulls & close grip bench to avoid elbow problems.
    Whaddya think of this workout?

  24. 1 - There is no such thing as CNS burnout.

    2 - Program looks fine. At least there is some form of progression. That's really all that matters.

  25. My last 2 competition attempts at 400 I just couldnt lock out at the top, I was as close as you can get without making it...So, Ive decided to try a little wider grip and really push mt tricep training. For benching Im using about 60% of my max for some wide grip pauses, then doing some medium grip presses in the power rack with the pins set 2 holes down from the top and then Im doing close grip ladder pushups, followed by tricep assistance work. What do you think?...Ted

  26. I think generally when a raw guy has a lock out problem if he widens out the grip, as you are talking about, it will fix itself. However, the close grip will save your shoulders a lot longer so pick your battles.

  27. Say if got a 300 is your 93% and u do 240x1 at 80% how you go about it with jumps or a sampleasure of warm ups and sets and reps

  28. If your bench is 300 after 93% and when you do 240x1 at 80% when you warm up and pyramid sets how would you go about it say this is just a sample but curious how you do warm up and working sets till you got to your set for that week

  29. If you bench 300 is your 93% first set is 240x1 at 80% if so how would you go about warm ups and how would u set up your reps and sets like, this is a example