Thursday, July 30, 2009

Train the Rear

     When I was younger, I always enjoyed writing fiction.
     The following post—perhaps the first in a series—combines my love of storytelling and power training articles.  The characters—Puddin' and myself—are real people (okay, you knew that I was real, but you might not have been so sure about Puddin') and the following is—more or less—a true story.

Train the Rear

A Size/Strength Program for  Massive Lats, Traps, Lower Back and Hamstrings


(A.K.A: The Puddin’ Power Chronicles, Volume One)


     Just for the hell of it, my workout partner Puddin’ and I decided to go to the local bodybuilding show.  Puddin’ wanted to check out all the girls—the “hoes” in his vocabulary—whose boyfriends would be on stage posing.  “Easier for the pickins,” is what he said.  I wanted to see if there would be any physiques that had been built with some serious power training instead of all the light, high-rep pumping crap that’s so popular among bodybuilders.

     Puddin’ left the show a happy man.  He got the phone numbers of a couple of girls whose boyfriends took home a trophy.  I left the thing disappointed—though far from surprised.  A few of the contestants actually had good development from the front, but not a single one of the sumbitches looked good from the rear.  Oh, a few of them had lats, but none of them had anything approaching stellar trap, mid-back, lower back, hip, or hamstring development.  In other words, the muscle groups that matter.

Why the Rear?

     What’s so important about the rear of the body, ya’ ask?  It doesn’t matter what your goals are, you must train the rear.  Nothing looks worse than a bodybuilder with big arms, a big chest, and good quadriceps development who doesn’t have the back development to match.  If you have a good chest, then it’s equally important to have good lats and a good mid-back.  If you have large biceps, then it’s equally important to have good triceps.  And if you have good quads, then it’s equally important to have well-developed hips and hamstrings.

     Do you want to be strong?  You’ll never get anywhere without training the rear of the body.  Want a big bench?  Then you better train the dog-mess out of your triceps and lats.  Want a big deadlift or power clean?  You’ll never get anywhere without strong traps, lower back, hips, or hamstrings.  And what about the squat?  My quads won’t cut it, you ask?  Louie Simmons once wrote that the only muscles on the front of your body that you use when you squat were your abdominals (no doubt a lot of bodybuilders are shaking their heads about now).  Was he correct?  You bet.  In fact, the same muscles that you squat with, you deadlift with.  Your lower and mid-back, hips, and hamstrings better be strong or you can forget about it.

Okay, Sloan, You’ve Convinced Me.  Now What?

     The Monday after the bodybuilding show, Puddin’ and I decided to go to the Power South gym to train.  Most of the time we train in my garage, where we don’t have bozos at Power South bothering us or the manager of the gym looking at us funny when we use the squat rack to actually squat in.  Every so often, however, we like it for a change of pace.

     On this Monday, we were due for some heavy benches and deads.  I needed to work on my weak point on the bench press (which is mid-range), so I hit board presses, working up to a double with 375.  Puddin’ has a problem with the start of his bench, so he decided to work bottom-position bench presses.  He managed 400 for a double.

     Benches over, it was time for the fun stuff.  We both hit the deadlifts with ferocity.  And we both managed 500 for a triple.  As we were mid-way through our sets, I noticed a couple of bodybuilders—no less wailing away on the utterly useless pec-deck machine—watching us.  They looked familiar.  By the time we made it over to seated good mornings, they decided to come over and talk to us.

     “Hey, ya’ll are a couple of them butt-wipes from the show the other night,” Puddin’ said.  He wasn’t popular with the bodybuilding crowd.

     The two guys didn’t know what to say.  Maybe they thought Puddin’ was going to eat them for dinner, along with his nightly T-bone steaks, loaded baked potato, and six-pack of (holy) Budweisers.

     “What’s up?” I asked.

     “We were watching earlier and wanted to know how you both developed such thick backs and hamstrings,” one of them said.  I guess he was the appointed leader of the two.  The other, younger fella just stood there, staring at the ground.  He might have been afraid Puddin’ wanted to use him for a punching bag.

     Puddin’ said,” Ya’ seen us deadliftin’, didn’t ya’?”  The leader nodded.  “Well, there ya’ go.”

     “I hate to be a nuisance, but do you think you could give us more details?”

     Puddin’ looked like he was ready to spit some Copenhagen on the guy—it was a good thing he didn’t have any in his mouth at the time.  “Tell ya’ what,” I said.  “Let us finish our workout, and then I’ll see if I can’t give you some tips for bringing up the rear of your physique.  Deal?”


     Puddin’ and I finished our good mornings, then hit traps via some heavy shrugs.  When we were done, Puddin’ decided to take a shower while I talked to the bodybuilders.  He winked at me and said, “I think I seen one of them puss’s girlfriends hittin’ the shower, too.  I might take a peek in the gals’ side, and if there ain’t no one else in there, I might just join her.”  He grinned one of his big shit-eatin’ grins after he said it, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

     Once I reached the bodybuilders (they were “pumping” and “toning” on the cable crossover), I asked, “So, what do ya’ll want to know?”

     “We’d like to know what you and that big guy do for a routine,” the leader said.  “That way, we can start the same program on back day.”

     “Whoa,” I said.  “It ain’t quite so simple.  First off, we don’t follow a routine that’s probably anywhere close to what you guys do.”

     “Whadda you mean?” the second guy asked.  It was the first time he had spoken.

     “Well, Puddin’ and me don’t split our workout sessions.  We train everything at once.  Now, if ya’ll aren’t going to do that, then that at least means you need to train the entire rear of your body in one session.”

     “That’s what we do,” he replied, slightly defensive.

     “Not exactly,” I said.  “I mean, do you squat on the same day that you deadlift on?”

     “Uh, we don’t do either one of those exercises, to be honest,” the first guy said.  He looked sheepish when he said it, like a kid that’d been caught with his hand in the candy jar.

     “This’s what I’m going to do.  You two finish your workout.  I’ll go to the front desk and see if I can’t get that cute gal working at the counter to give me a pen and some paper.  That done, I’ll map out a program for you.  But you better as hell follow it.”

     “We will,” they assured simultaneously.

     I went to the front desk, quickly managed to wrangle up a pen and a spiral notebook.  Within twenty minutes, I had an entire four weeks of training mapped out.  When I was done, the bodybuilders came walking out.  They winked at the desk girl and tried to flex their pecs a few times.  I’m fairly sure none of it impressed her.

     “Here ya’ go,” I said, handing over the notebook.  “Check it out.”

The Train the Rear Program

     What follows is a program that’s just like the one I mapped out for the bodybuilders.  It’ll not only add size and thickness to the rear of your body—from the bottom of your hamstrings to the top of your traps—it will also make you one strong sumbitch (as we like to say in Alabama).

     This is a three-days-a-week program.  Therefore, you have a couple of options when it comes to the rest of your body.  You can either train the front of your body on the same days as this program—at the end of the workout or during another session—or you can train the front of your body two-days-a-week on another day.  The second option is probably the best if the rear of your body is really lagging.  If you perform this program on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, then train the front of your body on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

     Here it is:

Week One

Day One

1.    Squats—5 sets of 5 reps, 1 down set of 8 reps.  Work up over five progressively heavier sets.  Make sure that the jumps in weight are harmonious.  In other words, if your goal on your 5th set is to squat 405 pounds, then your jumps might look like this: 135, 225, 315, 360, then 405.  After your last set, drop down to the weight you used for your 3rd set and crank out 8 repetitions.

2.    Power Cleans—5 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same format as with the squats, omitting the down set.

3.    Wide-grip Chins—5 sets of 8 reps.  Unlike the prior exercises, these should be straight sets, using the same weight (even if it’s just your bodyweight) on all 5 sets.

Day Two

1.    Olympic-style Pause Squats—5 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same format as with the squats on day one, omitting the down set.  Make sure that you work up to a final set that is no more than 80% of the weight used on your final set of regular squats on the first day.

2.    Good Mornings—4 sets of 8 reps.  Use progressively heavier sets, and make sure that you use strict form.  When done consistently, however, this exercise will work wonders in boosting both your squat and your deadlift.

Day Three

1.    Squats—5 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same form and technique used on Day One.  This time, however, you are only going to work up to 90% of the weight used for Day One, and you aren’t going to include a down set.  For our hypothetical 405-lb. squatter, the jumps in weight would look like this: 135, 225, 315, and 360 for 2 sets.

2.    Power Snatches—5 sets of 5 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  Make sure all sets have speed, however.  Stop adding weight whenever your speed begins to degrade.

3.    Bent-arm Barbell Pullovers—3 sets of 12 reps.  Use the same weight on all 3 sets, and use a weight that takes you several reps shy of failure on all sets.

Week Two

Day One

1.    Squats—5 sets of 3 reps, 1 down set of 8 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets, hitting a maximum triple on your final set.  Take equal jumps in weight similar to the previous week.  On the down set of 8 reps, try adding ten to twenty pounds from last week.

2.    Deadlifts—5 sets of 3 reps.  Perform these using a conventional form (as opposed to sumo-style).  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.

3.    One-arm Dumbbell Rows—4 sets of 8 reps (each arm).  Use strict form on all sets.  You should also approach failure on the last couple of sets.

Day Two

1.    Overhead Squats—5 sets of 3 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  The last set should be tough, but make sure you use a weight where you know you will get all 3 reps.

2.    Rounded-back Good Mornings—4 sets of 8 reps.  Use progressively heavier sets.  Keep you back rounded throughout except for at the top of the lift, when the barbell is resting across your shoulders.

Day Three

1.    Bottom-position Squats—5 sets of 3 reps, 1 down set of 5 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  Make sure you rest on the pins briefly at the bottom of each repetition.  For the down set, attempt the same weight you use for 8 reps on regular squats on Day One.

2.    Deadlift Shrugs—5 sets of 3 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  Make sure you shrug your shoulders at the top of each repetition, attempting to touch your traps to your ears.

3.    Cross-bench Dumbbell Pullovers—5 sets of 5 reps.  Use the same weight on all sets, and a weight that’s heavy enough to make you work very hard on every set.

Week Three

Day One

1.    Squats—4 sets of 10 reps.  Work up over 4 progressively heavier sets.  Try a personal record for 10 reps on the last set.

2.    Good Morning Squats—3 sets of 7 reps.  Perform 3 progressively heavier sets.  You should be fairly well warmed-up from all the reps on the squats, the reason for the fewer sets.  As for form, bend over at the waist—the same as with conventional good mornings—and once your upper body is parallel to the floor, squat as deep as possible.

3.    Close-grip Chins—3 sets of maximum reps.  Use only your bodyweight on all sets.  Perform as many reps as possible.

Day Two

1.    Wide-stance, Low-bar Squats—4 sets of 8 reps.  Use as wide a stance as is possible, making it very hard for you to even reach parallel.  Perform 1 warm-up set.  The other 3 sets should be all performed with the same weight—a good rule would be the weight you used for your 2nd set of squats on Day One.

2.    Seated Good Mornings—3 sets of 12 reps.  Use the same weight on all 3 sets.

Day Three

1.    Olympic-style Pause Squats—4 sets of 10 reps.  Work up over 4 progressively heavier sets.

2.    Drop Snatches—4 sets of 8 reps.  Use the same weight on all 4 sets.  This exercise is sometime referred to as a “drop squat.”  Set up with the same stance and bar placement you use for your regular squats, except take your grip out wide (same grip you would snatch with).  As you squat down, drive the bar overhead at the same time.  This simultaneous squatting and pressing will take a little time to get used to, but this is still a great exercise.

3.    Bent-arm Barbell Pullovers—2 sets of 20 reps.  Each set should be tough, but neither of them should be taken to failure.

Week Four

Day One

1.    Squats—5 to 8 singles, 3 sets of 3 reps.  Work up over 5 to 8 progressively heavier singles.  The last single should be all-out.  The number of sets will depend on your strength level.  Someone squatting 300 to 400 pounds, for instance, would only need 5 sets.  Someone squatting more than 500 pounds will need upward of 8 sets.  After the singles, drop down fifty to one hundred pounds (this will once again depend on your strength level) and perform 3 sets of 3 reps with the weight.

2.    Deadlifts—5 to 8 singles.  Work up over 5 to 8 progressively heavier singles, using the same system as the squats.  No down sets.

Day Two

1.    Squats—5 sets of 2 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  The last double should be about 70% of the last single from Day One.

2.    Power Cleans—5 sets of 2 reps.  Work up over 5 progressively heavier sets.  Try to maintain speed on all sets.

Day Three

1.    Bottom-position Squats—5 to 8 singles.  Work up over 5 to 8 progressively heavier singles.  Most lifters will need only 5 sets because of the nature of the exercise—it’s tough.

2.    Deadlifts Off Blocks—5 singles.  Use only 5 progressively heavier singles, even if you are a 500-plus deadlifter.  If you don’t have access to blocks, simply stack two pairs of two 45-pound plates on top of each other.  Space the plates out however wide (or narrow) your stance is.

Here are a few pointers for getting the most out of the program:

1.    Once you are finished with the 4th week, you can either start the program over using the same exercises, or you can change exercises.  If you change exercises, make sure you substitute “heavy” exercises for other “heavy” exercises, “light” exercises for other “light” exercises, and “medium” exercises for other “medium” exercises.

2.    Eat plenty of food while on the program.  If you need to gain weight, then make sure you are consuming plenty of protein, carbs, and fat.

3.    Get plenty of sleep.

4.    If you are an advanced lifter, don’t be afraid to add extra workouts on your days off.  Either do some GPP work, or perform some bodyweight only conditioning programs.


     After quickly scanning over my workout, both of the bodybuilders gave me rather dubious looks.  “Hey,” I said, “you asked for my advice, and now you have it.  And that’s a lot more than I usually do for folks.”

     “But, I’m not going to get much of a pump training like this,” the more withdrawn of the two said.

     “You never said anything about wanting a pump,” I replied.  “You asked for a program to beef up your backs.  That’s what you got.”

     “But we usually just train things once a week…” the first guy started to say.  I knew he had a lot more opinions he wanted to voice, but I cut him off before he could get to them.

     “Just do it,” I said.  “Forget about the hows and the whys, and do the damn thing.  Me and Puddin’ll be back in this place in another month or two.  Stick with the program until then, and then come complain about your lack of a pump or how often you had to train.  I bet—if you actually stick with the blasted thing—you won’t have a single complaint.”

     They looked at each other, then finally nodded.  “We’ll try it.”

     “Good,” I said.  I didn’t have anything else to talk to them about, so I decided to talk to the girl at the desk.  She was looking cuter by the minute.

     I was still talking to her when Puddin’ walked out.  He was combing through his wet hair, and still grinning big as ever.  “D’ya give them suckwads a program?”


     “Think they’ll follow it?”

     I shrugged.  “Dunno.  But if they do, they’ll thank me later on.  They probably never worked their backs that hard in their lives.”

     “I know one thing.”

     “What’s that?” I asked.

     “That short one’s girlfriend never had a back workout like the one I just gave her.  I had her twisted and contorted ever which a way.”

     “You gotta be kiddin’, right?”

     “Do I ever kid?”

     I didn’t know if Puddin’ was joking or not.  But the one thing I do know is he has better back development then most of the rest of Alabama combined.  Do you have great back development?  If not, it’s time to start training the rear.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rut Busters

Rut Busters

Tips and Techniques for Bustin’ Your Sorry Lifts Out of a Plateau


     This article is going to be broken into 3 parts—the bench press, the squat, and the deadlift.  Let’s get right to most everyone’s favorite lift: the bench press.

Bench Bustin’

Tip #1— Do something other than flat bench presses.  I had to include this tip first, because too much bench pressing has to be one of the worst weightlifting sins under America’s sun.  If you’ve been bench pressing at every upper-body workout, and your bench press isn’t going anywhere, then give it a break and switch over to something else.  Don’t switch over to just dumbbells or varying degrees of inclines or declines, either.  Try some bottom-position benches, floor presses, board presses, carpet presses, or rack-lockouts to get that damn lift moving again.

Tip #2—Speed it up.  Of all the innovations to come to the surface over the last couple decades, I would say that none of them are as important as speed work—moving the bar as fast as possible through both the concentric and the eccentric portion of the movement.  And I think the exercise that it helps the most would be the bench press.  I also think that the best set/rep range is what the Westside Barbell Club always recommends: 9-12 sets of 3 reps with approximately 60% of your maximum weight.

Tip #3—Get some thick ‘uns.  No, I’m not talking about hooking up with big women.  I’m talking about using thick-handled barbells or dumbbells.  I first tried these when I read the book “Dinosaur Training,” and have made them a staple of my training ever since.  Try a few weeks of thick-handled bench presses, bottom-position benches, rack lockouts, or dumbbell benches, and when you go back to regular-style bench work, you should notice a definite improvement in the weight you’re lifting.

Tip #4—Do the dumbbells.  This is one area where I believe a lot of powerlifters and other strength athletes could actually take a cue from the bodybuilders.  Many bodybuilders have no problem with devoting entire workouts to dumbbell work, while you hardly ever see a powerlifter use them for anything but assistance work.  I think the reason for this is the increase use of “gear” among powerlifters.  Dumbbells help you “blast” the bottom of your bench press, and that’s really not a problem if you wear double or triple ply bench shirts.  There was a time, however, when the greatest bench pressers relied a lot on dumbbells.  Pat Casey—who gets my vote as the greatest bench presser of all time—used to rep out with 200 pound dumbbells, and that was in the ‘60s.  If they were good enough for Casey, they’re good enough for all of us.

Tip #5—It ain’t all chest.  The chest is important when you bench, but I think many folks forget that the triceps are equally important, and the lats are right behind them.  If you’re an aspiring big bencher, there’s no such thing as too much tri work.  What type of triceps work should you be doing?  Here’s a list of fantastic exercises:

·      Floor presses using various grips

·      Rack lockouts using various pin heights

·      Close-grip bottom-position bench presses

·      Heavy Lying Tricep Extensions in the 2 to 5 rep range

·      Weighted Partial Dips

·      Board Presses using different board heights

Hit your tris hard twice per week, and many of your benching woes will soon be a thing of the past.

     As important as it is to use quite a few triceps exercises, I think it’s equally important to utilize a huge amount of lat work.  Pulldowns, chins, bent-over rows, chest-supported rows, and dumbbell rows are all excellent examples.

Deadlift Bustin’

Tip #1—Hit the squats.  Without a doubt, one of the best things you can do for your deadlift is to squat more.  My deadlift has always been the highest when I was hitting the squats with regularity.  The two best ways to squat for a big deadlift would have to be close-stance, high-bar squats, and wide-stance box squats.  The close-stance squats hit the lower back hard, and the box squats really work your glute/hamstring tie-ins.

Tip #2—Don’t deadlift heavy.  The deadlift, unlike the squat and bench press, is a pure power movement.  You really don’t need to ever deadlift heavy in order to bring up your numbers in the lift.  What you do need to do is work the hell out of the muscles that you use in the deadlift.  As far as directly training the deadlift goes, I advise to hardly ever work up to more than 70% of your one-rep max.  Maxxing out on the lift every 8 weeks should be enough.

Tip #3—Do a lot of other type of deadlifts.  If you were wondering while reading tip #2 how you were going to deadlift maximum weights without, well, deadlifting maximum weights, then here’s your answer.  You need to train a lot of other type of deadlifts heavy.  Rack deadlifts from various heights, deads while standing on a box, snatch-grip deadlifts, Romanian deads, and stiff-legged Deadlifts are all good alternatives.

Squat Bustin’

Tip #1—Squat a lot.  Unlike the almighty deadlift, I believe that the more you squat, the better and stronger you get at it.  As a Russian strength coach once said, “If you want to squat more, you’ve got to squat more.”  Three days a week is optimal for bringing up the numbers on this lift.  Start out with a heavy/light/medium program.  Go all-out on Mondays, use 80% of Monday’s weight on Wednesdays, and use 90% on Fridays.  After several weeks of that, head to and give the “Nitro Squat Program” a try or the “Volumes of Strength” routine.  Both of them make good use of the Russian axiom.

Tip #2—Get bent over.  As Dave Tate would like to tell us, you can’t just squat and expect to get stronger at it.  You need to include some other exercises that work your core, especially your lower back.  Good mornings—and its different variations—are the best things you can do to improve your lower back strength for more squatting power.  Here are some of the varieties:

·      Arched back good mornings

·      Rounded back good mornings

·      Good morning squats

·      Seated good mornings on a bench

·      Seated good mornings on the floor

·      Bottom-position good mornings performed in the power rack with the pins set about waist height

Tip #3—Work them abs.  Louie Simmons once remarked that “the only muscles you use on the front of your body when you squat are your abs.”  I think that got quite a few lifters upset, especially considering how sore their quads are some days after heavy squat sessions.  But, he definitely had a point.  Your abs are very important if you want to break your squat out of the rut it’s in.  By the way, crunches and any other partial movements won’t cut it.  Sit-ups on the floor, steep incline sit-ups, weighted sit-ups, medicine ball throws, and hanging leg raises are all excellent choices.

Tip #4—Accommodate it.  You read, see, and hear about a lot of lifters using accommodating resistance (bands and chains) for their bench press, but how come you don’t see it much for squats?  The answer probably has something to do about the popularity of the bench press compared to the squat.  Well, that’s too bad, because bands and/or chains are one of the best things you can do for a bout of squat rut bustin’.  You can use them for box squats, Olympic-style squats, speed squats, and jump squats.  You name it and they’re good for it.

Tip #5—Get under it.  A lot of powerlifters and a lot of powerlifting clubs have their favorite exercise for building a big squat—take box squats at the Westside Barbell Club, for example.  I have mine, however, and it’s the bottom-position squat.  After several weeks of frequent training on the bottom-position, you’ll have no problem doing regular full squats.  In fact, if you’re like me, you’ll have at least a one hundred pound carryover.  So, get under the bar, and start putting up some big numbers.


     I hope these tips and techniques have given you some good ideas for busting whatever lift has been ailing you out of its rut.  I’m positive that if you apply them, you’ll see results.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Power Rack Training for Beginning and Intermediate Lifters

Power Rack Training for Beginning and Intermediate Lifters

     Recently, I have received quite a few e-mails from folks wanting specialized routines for training.  Most of these e-mails are from lifters that are specifically after strength and power, but also want the muscle mass to go with it.  In addition, a lot of these lifters train in their garage or at home and only have access to a power rack, a bench, and a few hundred pounds of Olympic weights.

     I happen to train in my garage—where I have a power rack, a Forza bench, and a deadlifting platform (not to mention 1200 pounds of free weights)—so I’m well aware of the fact that you can build plenty of strength, power, and muscle by training at home.  (In fact, I’ve made better gains at home than I ever made when going to the gym.)

     What follows is a program that’s perfect for home training in a power rack.  It allows the lifter to train at home by him/herself without needing a spotter—although a spotter can definitely be useful at times.  It is also just the type of program that will produce a lot of muscle gains and plenty of strength gains, giving you (who e-mailed me) the kind of program you’ve been asking about.

     This program can be used by either powerlifters or bodybuilders.  About the only lifters that wouldn’t want to use it are those of you who are powerlifters that don’t want to move up a weight class.  Programs like the one that follows are very effective, but they also have the side effect of causing the lifter to gain a good deal of weight, especially if you’re eating everything in sight (as a lot of powerlifters and bodybuilders are apt to do).

     I’ve wasted enough time with words.  Let’s get right to the program:

Day One (Monday)

Bottom Position Squats: 7-8 sets of 5 reps.  The first two to three sets should be warm-ups.  The number of warm-ups you do will depend on your strength level.  After that, I want you to perform 5 sets of 5 reps with the same weight.  Use a poundage where you can probably get 7-9 reps before reaching failure.  Use this weight for all 5 sets of 5 reps.

Bottom Position Bench Presses: Work up to a heavy single (about 90-95% of your one-rep maximum) using the “19-21 rep” rule.  Okay, many of you are shaking your heads, wondering what in the world the “19-21 rep” rule is.  It’s a “rule” that big Jim Williams came up with back in the ‘60s and ‘70s when he was closing in on 700 pounds in the bench press—wearing nothing but a T-shirt.  Basically, when working up to a heavy single, you never do more than 19-21 reps on that one exercise.  Let’s say you are going to work up to a single with 315 on your bench press.  Your sets might look like this:








     That would be all that you would do on bottom-position bench presses for the day.

1/4 Rack Squats: Work up to a heavy triple.  Set the pins in the power rack so that you are only doing the last 1/4 of the squat.  It should take you between 5 and 8 sets to reach your maximum for 3 repetitions.

Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 5 repetitions.  If you need it, then also perform another warm-up set.  Many of you will be plenty warmed up, so there will be no need.  Use the same weight on all 5 of your sets.

Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1 repetitions.  Set the Olympic bar in the power rack so that you can pick it up with it about knee level.  Perform 1 or 2 warm-up sets and then put a weight on the bar that is about 70% of your one-rep maximum and perform 5 reps.  Add a little weight and do 4 repetitions.  Repeat until you reach a heavy single that is about 95% of your one-rep maximum.

Steep Incline Sit-ups: 3 to 5 sets of 20 reps.

Day Two (Wednesday)

Deadlifts: Work up to a heavy single using the 19-21 rep rule.  Use the same technique on these that you did on bench presses on the first day.  A hypothetical set/rep scheme might look like this:








Rack Presses: Work up to a heavy triple.  Set the pins in the power rack so that you will be doing the last half of the bench press.  Work up to a triple via 5-8 sets.

Rack Pulls:  5-8 sets of 3 reps.  Set the pins in the power rack so that you will be starting a few inches below knee level.  Perform 2 to 4 warm-up sets before doing 3 heavy sets of 3 repetitions.

Bottom Position Close Grip Bench Presses: 5-8 sets of 3 reps.  Do these with your thumbs almost touching the smooth on the Olympic bar.

Hanging Leg Raises: 3 to 5 sets of 20 reps.

Day Three (Friday)

Squats (pausing on pins): Work up to a max set of 5 or 3 repetitions.  To perform this exercise, set the pins in the rack at the same height you used on Monday for bottom position squats.  When you squat down, pause on the pins for a second or two before squatting back up.  You should be performing between 4 and 8 sets, depending on your level of experience.

Bench Presses (pausing on pins): 5 sets of 5/4/3/2/1.  Perform these the same manner as the squats.  Use the set/rep sequence that you used for barbell curls on Monday.

Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 5 reps.

1/4 Rack Squats: Work up to a single using the “19-21 rep” rule.  Your final set shouldn’t be all-out.  In fact, it should be just a little heavier than what you used for your final set of 3 on Monday’s rack squats.

Steep Incline Sit-ups: 3 to 5 sets of 20 reps.

Final Thoughts

     Stick with this program for at least 8 weeks.  During this time, make sure you are eating adequately and getting enough sleep each night.  This program may look easy, but it’s deceptive.  It’s a lot harder to perform than it looks.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Breaking Down the Bench Press Barrier

     The other day I got an e-mail from someone who was having problems downloading the articles on my website.  (Which I really don't use any more, to be honest.  If you want updates you'll find them here on my blog.)  So, I thought I would start transferring some of those articles over to this blog.
     Since (almost) every gym rat's favorite exercise is the bench press, I thought the first of those articles that I would add is my "Breaking Down the Bench Press Barrier" article.  A lot of the tips offered in the article don't just work for the bench press, however.  They work for other lifts and for just making you one big, strong mo-fo.

Breaking Down The Bench Barrier

Tips For Gaining As Much As Fifty Pounds On Your Bench Press


     The bench press.  It's the lift that everyone loves to train.  It's also the lift that most people plateau on the fastest.  Why's that?  Despite the fact that the majority of American lifters are obsessed with benching more, they're not obsessed with learning how to bench more.  Therein lies the problem.

     There's a lot more to bench pressing than just getting under the bar and pushing to failure at every workout, trying to add more pounds to the bar whenever possible.  While that strategy works for the beginner, it does nothing for the seasoned lifter who has been bench pressing for years with little to no break.

     The majority of bodybuilders, powerlifters, or other strength athletes in this country have probably been using this progressive overload system of training on their bench press for many years.  They have developed such an overtrained movement pattern that there is no way in hell they will ever make any more progress on their bench press.  Well, it's time to change all of that.


     For months I was stuck at a bench press of 315 pounds.  While that's not terrible for a guy weighing 175, it's not anywhere near where I wanted to be, or knew that I could accomplish.  However, after using many of the tips that I will outline in this article, I was able to bench press 355 pounds within 8 weeks.  That's a 40 pound increase and more than a double-bodyweight bench press.

      So, what are these tips that will take your bench press to new heights.  Read and discover them for yourself.  Use them and I can guarantee that you will add at least 30 pounds to your bench press within a couple of months, though 40 or 50  pounds may be even more likely.

KEY NO.1: TRAIN WITH HEAVY TRIPLES, DOUBLES, AND SINGLES ON A REGULAR BASIS.  A lot of gym-goers want to get stronger but they go about it in totally the wrong manner, performing too many sets with way too light of a weight.  Heavy, heavy pressing exercises (though it doesn't have to be on the bench press) are the secrets to building a truly massive bench.

     A lot of lifters hear this and immediately start on a heavy bench pressing regimen, working up to a single in every workout.  They get great results for a couple of weeks and then are surprised when their bench press not only stalls, but starts to regress.  The problem?  They overtrained their movement pattern and their body no longer had the coordination to complete such a heavy lift.

     The key to using massive weights week after week lies in variation.  If you change your core exercise every two to three weeks, then you can perform max triples, doubles and singles every single week and achieve some good results.

     What am I talking about here?  After maxxing out on regular bench presses for a couple of weeks, you could perform two weeks of rack lock-outs, followed by two weeks of floor presses, followed by two weeks of bottom-position bench presses performed in the rack, followed by two weeks of incline presses, and so on and so forth until you started the cycle all over again after eight to twelve weeks.  At that time, you could test your new one-rep maximum.

KEY NO.2:  INJECT DYNAMIC SESSIONS INTO YOUR TRAINING. When you read a powerlifting authority write about dynamic strength, they are referring to explosive, or speed, strength.  You build this strength through numerous sets of low reps (2 to 3-no more) with a weight that's around 50 to 60% of your one rep maximum.

     Dynamic work is absolutely vital for developing explosion off of your chest that can carry through to lockout when you have to handle a maximum single attempt.

     Speed work became popular among powerlifters when the great powerlifting coach Louie Simmons introduced his Westside Barbell way of training.  At the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus Ohio, Simmons has trained 3 out of the all-time 12 world record holders in the bench press.  In addition, 18 of his lifters bench more than 550 pounds.  Two of these lifters are 198s and over 40 years old.  Simmons, who is 56, has benched more than 600 pounds himself.  Training once a week for speed and a second day a week with super-heavy weights is the key to Westside's success.

     Like I was saying, you train your speed day using multiple sets of low reps with 50-60% of your one-rep maximum.  I have found that 10 to 12 sets of 3 reps with 60% seems to work best.  Simmons recommends 50% of a one-rep maximum if the max was performed with a shirt.

     On the speed day, train fast.  Take no more than a minute of rest in between each set.  This will increase growth-hormone production, which aids in hypertrophy if you're looking to gain muscle or move up another weight class.  Also, don't be tempted to increase reps on any of your sets.  Do this and bar speed slows down too much to build enough explosion off your chest.

KEY NO.3: TRAIN THE TRICEPS HARD.  When it comes to bench pressing, triceps strength is equally as important as chest strength.  You can not do too much tricep training if you're an aspiring mega-bench presser.

     The key in developing strong triceps for bench pressing is to forget about the "sculpting" movements generally used for bodybuilding.  Cable work and kickbacks just aren't going to cut it here.  You need lifts that mimic the bench press and focus on the long head of the triceps muscle.

     Here's a list of some great triceps exercises for getting that big bench and a brief overview of how to perform them.

-Close Grip Bench.  Performed as the name implies.  A lot of lifters use too close of a grip however.  Just inside shoulder width is as narrow as you want to go.

-J.M. Press.  Named after J.M. Blakely, one of the strongest benchers in the world and a member of the Westside Barbell Club.  Take a close-grip, lower to about fist-height above your throat and then press back up.  This pressing movement takes the delts out of the lift and really hammers the tris.

-California Press.  A personal favorite of mine.  Start the lift as if you were performing a close-grip bench.  As the lift reaches the midpoint on the descent, start to bring the bar back toward your neck.  Continue as if you were performing a lying triceps extension.  Perform the ascent in the same manner.  This combo skull crusher/ close-grip bench press is a real killer.

-Midrange Close Grip Partials.  Set the pins in the power rack about five to six inches above your chest and press to lockout.  This takes some of the stress off of your delts when going for a max single, allowing you to use a closer grip than usual (and heavier weights).

-Close Grip Floor Press. Performed in the same manner as the above exercise except executed while lying on the floor.

-Reverse Grip Dumbbell Presses.  Perform these on a flat bench with your palms facing toward your face.  Get a good stretch with the dumbbells lowered to your upper abdominal area.

-Lying Dumbbell Extensions.  Most lifters perform this exercise with a barbell, but it is more effective when dumbbells are used.

     Remember, even if you are a powerlifter who uses a bench press shirt, the shirt offers no assistance from about mid-point on.  The lift will always be "raw" at the top and strong triceps are needed to complete the movement to full extension.

KEY NO.4: BLAST THE BACK.  After triceps, it's important to have strong lats and a strong upper back.  A lot of benchers mistakenly believe that delts are more important than lats but they're not (we'll get to that later when we discuss proper execution of the bench press).

     All of your great bench pressers did lots of lat work, including Simmons, Ed Coan, Chris Confessore, and old-timers like Pat Casey and Jim Williams.  Simmons, in fact, has many of his members train their lats up to 4 times-per-week.  That's a lot of back work but it pays off in the form of big benches, not to mention strong squats and deadlifts.

     When picking lat and upper back exercises, the barbell and dumbbell movements are still the best despite a large influx of machines for these muscle groups.  Barbell rows (with various grips), dumbbell rows, chins, pulldowns, pullovers, shrugs, and heavy, one-arm deadlifts are all great exercises for beefing and strengthening up the back.

     Keep this in mind.  Strong lats will really help you to rebound the bar off your chest, creating power that can carry through to lockout.

KEY NO.5:  WORK THE ROTATOR CUFF MUSCLES OF THE SHOULDER.  One very effective way to increase your bench press is by strengthening your rotator cuff muscles.  I've known lifters to add as much as twenty pounds to their bench just by working the rotators on a regular basis for several weeks.

     You need to work these muscles a couple of times each week with specific exercise and light weights.  Let's take a look at a few exercises.

-Cuban Presses.  Grab a pair of dumbbells.  Pull them up as if you were performing an upright row.  When your upper arms are parallel to the ground, rotate your hands upward until your fists point straight up to the ceiling and then press overhead.  Lower down in traditional pressing fashion, not in the manner in which you performed the ascent.

-Flat Bench Cuban Presses.  Lie down on a flat bench with the dumbbells held above your hips, palms facing down.  Execute an upright row.  As your upper arms reach parallel, rotate your arms until your hands face toward the ceiling and then press up in bench press fashion.  Lower the dumbbells back down as if you were performing a lying front raise.

-Floor Rotations.  Lie flat down on the floor with either dumbbells or a barbell as if you were going to execute a floor press.  With your elbows locked into position, rotate your arms backwards until the back of your hand touches the floor.

-Shoulder Horn Rotations.  If you have access to one, a shoulder horn is a great way to train the rotator cuffs.  The shoulder horn locks your arms into place and isolates the rotators for some direct work.

KEY NO.6: UTILIZE THE MOST EFFICIENT TECHNIQUE.  Many lifters, who have been benching incorrectly or with a form not suited to their body type, can increase their bench press by 20 to 30 pounds just by working on technique.  In the next few paragraphs we'll discuss how important proper form is for getting the most out of the bench press.

     First, let's talk about grip width.  Far too many benchers lift with too close of a grip.  It may take a little time getting adjusted to, but the wider the grip, the better.  Why?  It's simple biomechanics.  When you widen your grip, the bar has to travel a shorter distance to lockout.  The shorter the bar has to travel, the more weight you can handle.

     Don't expect to make a huge jump in weight the first time your try a wide grip, especially if you've been benching fairly narrow.  It has a different feel to it and really stresses the outer pectorals and shoulders.  Take time over several weeks to widen it out.

    The next way in which you can enhance the poundages you use is through the practice of arching.  Some benchers have been able to take six to seven inches off their stroke just by arching their back.  This also takes time to work into your training regimen.  Also, keep in mind that if you're a competitive powerlifter your hips and buttocks can never leave the bench, so you will only be able to arch as much as your flexibility will allow.

     When you practice your arch, reserve it for your heavy doubles and singles.  Forget about it during the speed work.

     Now, let's talk actual exercise execution.  First off, try to lower the bar using your lats and not your arms.  This saves chest and arm strength for the positive portion of the lift.  It also allows for a greater rebound off of your chest as well.

     Louie Simmons has said that without proper lat involvement, the bar will not be placed on the chest correctly.  If the bar lands too high on your chest, then your triceps are used too much.  Too low on the chest and the delts are involved in the lift more than needed, which places undue stress on the rotator cuffs.

     The most common misconception about exercise technique has to do with the concentric, or positive, portion of the lift.  Too many lifters are under the impression that the bar should travel in a path back toward the head.  This is incorrect, not to mention dangerous for your delts (and one of the main culprits for rotator cuff injuries).

     The path of the bar should be a completely straight line.  This uses the muscles of the chest, triceps, lats, and delts equally.  Also, remember that the shortest distance between two paths is a straight line.  And the shorter the distance, the more weight that can be used.

KEY NO.7: ADD EXTRA WORKOUTS.  This one's not an absolute necessity, but is a key to the success of many big-time bench pressers.  Westside Barbell Club believes it is essential for an advanced lifter's success.  The countries from the former Soviet Empire, primarily Russia and the Ukraine, swear by additional workouts and they absolutely dominate the world powerlifting scene.

     Let's say that you perform two major workouts a week for your bench on Monday and Thursday.  One should be for developing speed and working on power.  The other should be used for the development of pure strength (i.e.: heavy triples, doubles, or singles).  In addition to these two workouts, start by adding one more workout on, say, Saturday.  You should do no pressing movements with a barbell on this workout.  Instead, work on a variety of exercises to work your triceps, shoulders, or lats.  After several months, you could add another workout.  This next one would probably be best the day after your speed session or, if you work out in the morning time, it could be that evening.

     Make sure that your extra workouts are quite short and not ultra-intense.  Where your regular sessions should last no more than an hour (45 minutes is best) your extra workouts should only last about twenty minutes.  Pick two to three exercises, work them fairly hard but nothing to failure, and then stop the session.

KEY NO.8: TRAIN WITH A PARTNER.  I really believe this is one of the most important keys to a lifter's success.  Of course, you have to have a really good  training partner for this to be important.  You need a training partner to help you push yourself beyond your normal physical capabilities.  You also need one that will help you to tweak your form and point out the weak areas in your bench press.

     You and your training partner should always be out to "do in" the other one.  No respect when training together.  Leave that stuff outside the gym.

     On your "light" days, train fast, always trying to beat one another with short rest periods.  On your heavy days, see who can do the most reps with the big weights, or go back and forth with heavy singles until one of you beats the other one with a higher weight.

     One more thing.  No excuses.  If you have a training partner who ever has an excuse for why he can't do an exercise, or can't train heavy on a certain day then get rid of him.  That type of environment will only bring your bench press down.  Negativity breeds negativity.


   Give the above tips an honest try.  Like I said, I can guarantee that you'll add at least 30 pounds to the bench press within a couple of months.

  Stay positive and always believe in your ability to bench more and more weight.  Do that and the bench pressing sky is your only limit.