10 Keys to a Big Bench Press (Part 1)

I’m PSYCHED to release Bench Like A Beast to the world on September 19! To hold you over til the release, here’s a little excerpt from one of the opening sections:

10 Keys to a Big Bench Press

This book is as much about training philosophy as it is a training program. There are a handful of principles that this book sets out to pound into your head in order to make you a better bench presser and lifter overall. These are the prerequisites for success; none of the sets and reps matter until you get these 10 things under control. Adhere by these principles and you’ll set yourself up for a lifetime of successful training.

#1: Bench with Pristine Technique

As mentioned earlier, most people suck at bench pressing. They use terrible technique so they don’t get stronger. And if they somehow manage to get stronger, their overall strength potential has a low ceiling. At best, they hit a massive plateau (kind of like mine when I was chasing a 315 bench), and at worst, they get hurt.

Don’t let this happen to you. Be a student of the bench press. Read the “How to Bench Press” section of this book over and over to the point where you have it memorized. Then, go put it into action. Knowledge without action is useless, so don’t be that pencil neck weenie who knows everything about lifting (and tells everyone on the internet about it) but can’t fill out a medium V-neck t-shirt.

Dissect your technique from head to toe and practice perfect form every time you bench. Film yourself benching, identify technique errors and correct them relentlessly. This program specifically prescribes bench press variations to correct common mistakes and dial in perfect form.

#2: Bench Frequently

Bodybuilding magazines and websites are largely responsible for the popularity of body part splits, which involve training a single muscle group every seven days. So you’ve got a chest day, an arms day, a legs day, a shoulders day, etc. You do a ton of exercises for a ton of sets and reps to completely smash the muscle into oblivion. You end up so sore and fatigued that you really can’t work that muscle more often. And just about everyone bench presses on chest day, so people usually bench once a week.

But riddle me this: Say you wanted to play guitar like Jimi Hendrix. What would you do (besides take a lot of psychedelic drugs… just kidding, don’t do that)? Well, you’d sit down every day, probably for a couple hours a day, and play. You’d practice all the time, starting slow and honing your technique until you got better and could handle more difficult techniques and complex songs. You wouldn’t only play guitar once a week if you wanted to get any good. So then, if you wanted to get good at bench pressing, why on earth would you only bench once a week?

Therein lies perhaps the biggest mistake that people make when trying to increase their bench press – they only bench once a week. You can’t possibly groove technique by lifting that infrequently.

While you can’t bench press EVERY day (because your body would struggle to recover), you MUST bench press frequently to go from a novice to intermediate or intermediate to advanced. Three days per week seems to be the magic number for most lifters, hence the frequency of the bench press in this program. Any less than that and you won’t get enough practice, any more than that and you’ll wear yourself out.

#3: Prioritize the Bench Press

Jim Wendler often says, “You can’t ride two horses with one ass.” In the case of lifting weights, it’s tough to make exceptional strength gains in multiple exercises at the same time. Sure, if you’re a beginner, you can boost your squat, bench press and deadlift all at once, but the stronger you get, the harder this is to do.

If you’re reading this book, it’s because you want to improve your bench press as safely and efficiently as possible. To do that, you need to come to terms with backing off your other lifts and physical pursuits for 10 weeks. That means not pushing the squat and deadlift quite as hard, not running dozens of miles per week and not killing yourself with high-intensity fat loss workouts.

There will be time for those things later, but for the next 10 weeks, you’re going to prioritize the bench press. Imagine your body as a bucket and your training stress as water. You can’t just keep pouring water in the bucket or it will overflow (i.e. you’ll over-train). You have to make more room in the bucket by pouring some water out (i.e. remove training stress like heavy lower body lifts and cardio workouts). Be patient and stay focused on the task at hand.

#4: Submaximal Training

You’ve seen it countless times (and maybe even done it yourself). Some guy loads up the bar, gets on the bench and does rep after rep until he can’t go any more. Then, more plates get slapped on the bar and the reps get worse and worse. Eventually, not a single rep is completed unless the bencher’s spotter is using all his might to pull the bar off his chest. It’s like trying to learn to drive a racecar by going 200 miles per hour on the first lap, then crashing into a wall at full and speed and continuing to drive even though your car is totaled, your engine is smoking and your wheels are spinning on the fast track to nowhere.

Most people wouldn’t dare go to failure or do forced reps on squats or deadlifts. Too dangerous, right? Yet tons of people let their spotter get a killer trap workout during forced bench press reps.

Remember: strength is a skill. If you train the bench too close to failure, your form goes out the window and your technique suffers. You’re no longer training the skill – you’re just stressing the muscles and connective tissue. There’s a reason gymnasts, Olympic weightlifters, sprinters and other amazing athletes can train every single day – they use perfect technique all the time and never go to failure.

This program generally follows this rule: leave at least two reps in the tank when benching. Finish every set with perfect form and never attempt a rep that you couldn’t finish yourself. You generally do a ton of work between 60-80 percent of your 1-rep max (1RM), which works wonders for building strength and keeps you far away from failure. Save the flirtation with failure for less-strenuous accessory exercises like dumbbell bench presses and triceps pushdowns.

#5: Move the Bar FAST

Every great bencher shares a common trait: they move the bar violently fast. And even if the bar isn’t moving quickly (and it won’t when you’re lifting weight that’s heavy for you), it’s the intent to move the bar as fast as humanly possible that matters.

Many lifters fall into one of two traps:

• Pressing light weights in a slow, controlled manner, trying to work the “inner, outer, upper pecs” so they can look more ripped than their buddies in their douchebag Snapchat selfies.
• Using heavy weight all the time so the bar always moves slowly and they never have the chance to develop great bar speed.

The point of the bench press isn’t to build bigger pecs; there are better exercises for that (we’ll cover that later in the program). And the point isn’t to always lift so heavy that every rep is a death grind that could potentially end in a crushed larynx. The point is to move the bar as fast as possible so once the weight gets heavy, the bar doesn’t staple itself to your chest.

Slow and steady wins the race, but it doesn’t build a huge bench press. By using the submaximal weights assigned in this program, you’ll learn to be explosive and powerful with every rep so that when it comes time to test your new 1RM, you’ll blast through your sticking points with ease.

Stay tuned, I’ll reveal the next five keys tomorrow! Until then, head over to BenchLikeABeast.com for more details on the upcoming release.

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