10 Keys to a Big Bench Press (Part 2)

Here’s part 2 of the “10 Keys to a Big Bench Press” chapter from Bench Like A Beast. You can read part 1 here. It’s just a quick bite of over 90 pages of content from the book. Enjoy!

10 Keys to a Big Bench Press (Continued)

#6: Follow a Medium/Low/High Schedule

No matter how tough you think you are, you can’t train balls-to-the-wall every day. The “go big or go home” mentality is a fast track to burnout and, as mentioned in the previous point, is one of the main reasons why so many people suck at benching. Rather than maxing out or training to failure every workout, you must stagger your intensity so some days are hard, some are easy and some are in between.

The High/Low approach to training was popularized by the late great sprint coach Charlie Francis to train some of the greatest sprinters in the world while preventing stagnation and injury. The Bench Like A Beast program follows a medium/low/high schedule that focuses on different training volume and intensity each workout. You’ll train the bench press three days per week:

• Day 1: Medium Intensity/Medium Volume: The weights are moderately heavy for a moderate number of reps to hone your technique.

• Day 2: Low Intensity/High Volume: The weights are light, but you’re doing a lot of reps so you build tons of muscle.

• Day 3: High Intensity/Low Volume: The weights are heavy and the reps are low so you build confidence with big weights.

This approach allows you to do the three important things: improve technique, build muscle and get comfortable with heavy weight in your hands. You can’t do all three if you’re going as hard and heavy as possible every workout.

#7: Build a Savage Mindset

Every world-class powerlifter I’ve talked to has emphasized the importance of the mental side of lifting. Sure, you need tremendous physical strength to excel, but what goes on between your ears unlocks the true potential of the muscles below them.

You must develop a killer instinct to crush big weights, but also ignore the temptation of becoming an overly emotional lifter who needs to “psych up” for every workout. Confident, calm and collected beats angry, loud and crazy when it comes to long-term strength development.

Janae Kroczaleski, who’s reached world-class status in both powerlifting and bodybuilding, uses visualization to mentally prepare for big lifts. “I always do the lift first in my mind,” she said in an interview with T-Nation. “It’s not something I just do for the hell of it. I’ve analyzed this. I’ve put a lot of work into the psychology.”

Adam Pine, a world-record holding deadlifter with an all-time best of 760 pounds, emphasizes staying calm in training and avoiding missed reps. “Developing confidence doesn’t happen automatically, or accidentally,” Pine said in an article for Juggernaut Training Systems. “It’s developed through habits you’ve formed in your training and daily life.”

One way to employ a confident and intelligently aggressive mindset is to combine keys #4, #5 and #6 outlined above. By always using submaximal weights and moving the bar quickly, you build confidence and avoid the negative feedback associated with failed reps. And by following a medium/low/high schedule, you avoid the mental burnout of using psych-up techniques like crushing caffeine, sniffing smelling salts and getting slapped in the face by your workout buddies.

If you follow this program to a “T”, you’ll not only build tremendous physical strength, but also the mental strength to handle a new PR when the time comes to test it.

#8: Maintain Your Shoulder Health

The bench press is often vilified as an exercise that’s bad for your shoulders. This is only true if 1) your technique sucks and 2) you don’t do any maintenance work to take care of your shoulders. Fortunately, this program emphasizes both those things. And after three years of working with hundreds of professional baseball players at Cressey Sports Performance, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to keep shoulders healthy. From simple rotator cuff tendonitis to full-blown labral tears, I’ve seen how devastating shoulder injuries can be and I know the do’s and don’ts of picking exercises to maximize shoulder health and recovery.

First and foremost, proper bench press technique maximizes strength AND keeps your shoulders healthy. Again, study the “How to Bench Press” section as if you were studying for a final exam that determined if you graduate or not. Don’t be like Van Wilder and avoid graduation – he sucked at benching (just a guess, anyway).

Aside from lifting technique, you MUST perform daily exercises to improve posture and maintain shoulder health. This includes:

• Foam rolling

• Stretching and mobility drills

• Muscle activation exercises

• Performing OTHER lifting exercises with proper technique

The warm-ups and lifting exercises in this program were hand-selected to ensure that you can keep a healthy set of shoulders while building a monstrous bench press. Plus, during the beta testing period of this program, I specially selected testers with a history of shoulder injuries. Every single one of those lifters completed the program, set personal records and had zero issues with shoulder pain. So much for the bench press being a shoulder-wrecker, huh?

#9: Pick the Right Assistance Exercises

There’s more to building a big bench than just benching. Sure, specificity is huge (see key #3), but if you’re struggling with technique or you’re a skinny runt with no muscle mass, you’ll need some other exercises to help boost your bench.

Technique is the first limiting factor in bench press strength. Everyone’s got a “sticking point” where the bar starts to slow down or your form starts to falter. For some people it’s about halfway up. For others, it’s right off the chest and for some it’s just before lockout. No matter where you stall, there are specific assistance exercises that will target your weaknesses and help shatter your sticking points.

The next limiting factor is the amount of muscle you have. As Dave Tate says, “You can’t flex bone.” No matter how perfect your technique is, eventually your strength gains will slow down unless you gain weight and add muscle. You’ll need the right exercises and the proper number of sets and reps to build muscle in your chest, triceps, shoulders and upper back. So if you’ve got the physique of Justin Bieber, chances are you won’t be benching 315 until you pack on some pounds (and get some better tattoos).

The Bench Like A Beast program focuses on exercises that do one of three things:

• Directly improves the technique of your bench press

• Adds size to specific muscles involved in the bench press

• Builds strength, size and motor control in muscles that keep your shoulders healthy

If an exercise doesn’t do at least one of these three things, it’s a waste of time and it’s not in this program. No fluff here, just tried-and-true exercises handpicked specifically to build a bigger bench.

#10: Follow a Great Plan and STICK TO IT

As the saying goes, “If you fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” You need a solid plan to follow if you want to make exceptional progress in the bench press, or any lift for that matter. If you show up to the gym and fart around aimlessly without a plan (like most people do), prepare to make little to no progress.

The Bench Like A Beast program lays out the exact methods I’ve used with dozens of lifters to add up to 40 pounds to their bench press in 10 weeks. If you follow this plan to a “T”, you will get stronger. However, many lifters don’t possess the discipline or attention span to stick with a program that long. They hop from program to program, jumping ship every time they don’t set a new personal record after three weeks.

That’s not how strength training works. It takes a few weeks for your brain and your muscles to get on the same page with a new exercise or new technique (these are called “neurological adaptations” and most rapid strength gains can be attributed to this). It takes even longer – about eight weeks or more – to actually see increases in muscle size. Patience is the name of the game when it comes to getting jacked and brutally strong.

So if you’ve got the mental fortitude to train hard and stick to the program for 10 weeks, you’ll see tremendous progress. But if you deviate from the plan by tweaking the workouts because you’re “bored” or don’t like the exercises, then don’t expect to see results.

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