Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hybrid Full Body Workouts

     In the second part of this series, I’m going to discuss what a full-body system of workouts should look like using my “hybrid” system of training.
     First things first, I should have written this piece before my prior piece on chest training.  But, you see, that’s the thing with writing most of these blog posts.  Unlike my articles, which I take my time to write by working out the article in my mind for a few days, then writing a first draft, then writing at least two more drafts before sending it to press, I don’t do anything of the sort with most of my blog posts.  I more or less crank them out in a blinding fit of “inspiration” (or something similar), and then post them without any rewrites or reviews.  And, I must admit, that I think it works for the most part.  But there are hitches in the road, so to speak.  For one, I do things such as write a piece on bodypart-specific training first instead of a piece on full-body workouts.  For another, sometimes the logic in my workouts is not completely thought-out.  If I’m doing a series of articles, it may take a few more posts before I get the logic just the way I want it.[1]
     That’s really nothing more than a long-winded way of saying that the article you are currently reading should have been the first in this series.  I’ve always been a fan of full-body workouts (anyone who has read more than two of any of my articles or posts should know that).  And I’m a “fan” of full-body workouts for one reason and one reason only: they work, and they “work” faster than split workouts for the majority of trainees.  (And by “work”, I mean that they build muscle quicker than split workouts, especially for the bodybuilder whose sole concern is seeing how big he can get.)
     But that’s not to say that I dislike split workout programs.  I don’t.  There comes a time in every lifter’s life when split workouts are probably the better option.  For instance, if you are already very large and massive, and you just need to “refine” your physique, then you simply cannot go wrong with split workouts.  (This is the method, by the way, that a lot of “old time” bodybuilders used.  During the offseason they would train with one or two exercises per bodypart at each workout sessions, using full-body workouts the majority of the time, then, when it came time for competition, they would switch over to split workouts and multiple exercises per bodypart.)  But that’s not the only time that split workouts should be performed.  Sometimes, they are wonderful for a change of pace.  They are also good for bodybuilders who have plenty of time to train and/or enjoy training very frequently and/or get great results out of “pump” training.
     Another thing to keep in mind is that effective full-body workouts and effective split workouts produce results via different mechanisms.  (I’m not going to get into all of those mechanisms here – I’ll save that for another post.  It’ll just have to suffice to say – for the sake of this article – that the “pros” of building muscle through full-body workouts are not the “pros” of building muscle through split sessions.  You can’t compare apples to oranges.  You must compare apples to apples.)
     The first part of this series – Hybrid Chest Training – was really an introduction into hybrid split-training.  I laid out all of the details as to what kind of training you need to do when using the hybrid system with split workouts, then I outlined a few weeks of chest training as an example.
My 14 year old son Matthew doing farmer's walks with 80lb dumbbells
     Now, let’s go where we should have gone to begin with, and lay out the details of a hybrid system for full-body workouts.  First off, the majority of your workouts should follow these principles:
·         Train as frequently as possible while being as fresh as possible.  For the sake of simplicity, it’s probably best to train 3 days per week (at least, at first), and so you need to do just enough work so that you will be able to train again in 48 hours.
·         Most of the sessions should involve around 35 to 50 reps per muscle group using a low to moderate amount of sets and a moderate amount of repetitions.  5 sets of 10 reps is a good system, for instance, for anyone training with full-body workouts whose only real goal is pure, unadulterated muscle mass.  5 sets of 8 reps, 6 sets of 6 reps, and 8 sets of 5 reps are also all good options.
·         The majority of the training sessions should not involve training to the point of momentary muscular failure.  If you are going to use intensity techniques, these should be reserved for the end of the workout.
·         Most of the reps on most of the sets should be “power” reps.  Think of Fred Hatfield’s “compensatory acceleration training” and you get the point.  Each rep should be as “explosive” as possible.  (See the previous post for an in depth discussion of just why this is the case.)
     At least some of the workouts should involve the following forms of training:
·         “Strongman” training.  This doesn’t have to be complex.  It simply means that some training days should focus on stuff such as farmer’s walks, tire flipping, sled dragging, sandbag training, and/or the prowler.
·         Explosive training, also known as the “dynamic effort” method.  These training days are set aside exclusively for speed.  Multiple sets of low reps using only 50-60% of a one-rep maximum should be used.
·         Maximal effort training.  These workouts focus on working up to a maximum triple, double, or single on one or more lifts.
·         Multiple sets of low reps.  This should be the second most-often used form of training.  These workouts should consist of multiple sets (15 to 20) of low reps (5 or lower).
     Here is an example training template for three weeks of workouts:
Week One:
Monday (typical):
1.    Squats: 6 sets of 6 reps
2.    Bench Presses: 5 sets of 10 reps
3.    Deadlifts: 5 sets of 8 reps
4.    Overhead Presses: 6 sets of 6 reps
5.    Barbell Curls: 5 sets of 10 reps
Wednesday (dynamic effort):
1.    Box Squats: 10 sets of 2 reps
2.    Dumbbell Bench Presses: 12 sets of 3 reps
3.    Chins: 10 sets of 2 reps
Friday (typical):
1.    Walking Lunges: 5 sets of 10 reps
2.    Wide Grip Dips: 5 sets of 10 reps
3.    One Arm Dumbbell Rows: 5 sets of 10 reps (each arm)
4.    One Arm Dumbbell Overhead Presses: 5 sets of 10 reps (each arm)
5.    Dumbbell Curls: 4 sets of 10 reps (each arm)
Week Two:
Monday (multiple sets of low reps):
1.    Deadlifts: 15 sets of 3 reps
2.    Bottom Position Bench Presses: 15 sets of 5 reps
Wednesday (typical):
1.    Front Squats: 6 sets of 6 reps
2.    Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 6 sets of 6 reps
3.    Wide Grip Chins: 6 sets of 6 reps
4.    Behind-the-Neck Presses: 6 sets of 6 reps
5.    Barbell Curls: 6 sets of 6 reps
Friday (strongman):
1.    Farmer’s Walks: 3 sets for distance
2.    Sled Drag: 3 sets for distance
3.    Power Holds: 4 sets for time
Week Three:
Monday (typical):
1.    Sissy Squats: 5 sets of 10 reps
2.    Incline Dumbbell Presses: 6 sets of 8 reps
3.    Snatch-Grip Deadlifts: 5 sets of 10 reps
4.    Side Lateral Raises: 5 sets of 10 reps
5.    Preacher Curls: 5 sets of 10 reps
Wednesday (maximal effort):
1.    Bottom Position Bench Presses: Work up to a maximum single
2.    Bottom Position Squats: Work up to a maximum single
3.    Deficit Deadlifts: Work up to a maximum double
Friday (typical):
1.    Squats: 8 sets of 5 reps
2.    Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 8 sets of 5 reps
3.    Close Grip Chins: 8 sets of 5 reps
4.    Bradford Presses: 8 sets of 5 reps
5.    Barbell Curls: 8 sets of 5 reps
     If you are new to training, then you should probably stick with this kind of program for a minimum of 6 months before you even think about switching over to a split program.  If you already doing split programs, getting good results, but want to incorporate these hybrid ideas into your workouts (both split and full-body), then you are left with a couple of options.  You could do predominately full-body workouts or predominately split workouts, occasionally throwing in the opposite every two weeks or so, or you could perform three weeks of full-body workouts followed by three weeks of split workouts, and so on.
     In the next installment, we’ll get back to what was going to be the original “part two”: hybrid leg training.

[1] The exception is when I post previous-written articles, or entire series that I had already written, such as my “Ultimate Strength and Power” series, which was originally intended to be a book.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hybrid Chest Training

     This is a first of a series of articles that will focus on what I call “hybrid training.”  Unlike some – but not all of the material – on this blog, this series will focus on specifically on bodybuilding.  And by “bodybuilding,” I simply mean the kind of training that I believe most guys (and gals) are interested in: building shapely muscle, adding muscle mass, keeping their bodyfat relatively low.  I other words: looking good.

Hybrid Chest Training
Bodybuilding for the 21st Century and Beyond
     “Hybrid - a composite of mixed origin.  Complex, composite - a conceptual whole made up of complicated and related parts.”
     There was a time when bodybuilders trained in one, and only one, fashion.  Of course, in the early days – the “Golden Age” if you will, the age of Steve Reeves, the age of the original “Muscle Beach”, the age when bodybuilders engaged in “physical development” – this wasn’t the case.  In those days, the men who roamed the sands of southern California consumed their days not just with pumping ponderous amount of iron, but with increasing their flexibility and their agility, and with building muscles that (as they say now) were “functional.”  But that early “hybrid-ism” gave way to the ‘70s, the ‘80s, and the ‘90s – and with each increasing decade, bodybuilders focused more and more on “specificity”.  They realized that if they focused all of their attention on training in the gym – training that was performed predominately with cables, pulleys, machines, and other fixed planes of motion – and if they did little outside of the gym other than consume enormous quantities of “good” protein and carbs, take boatloads of anabolic steroids, and then “relax” as much as possible, that they would build heaping amounts of muscle mass.
     Enter the 21st century: Things began to change.
     “Functional” training – though the people who uttered it only vaguely knew what the hell it was – became the vogue thing.
     The strength sports – powerlifting and strongman – gave way to Crossfit and MMA.  (And the four seemed to have formed a sort of uneasy, sometimes unknowing, alliance.  The kind of trainees who enjoy engaging in any one of these sports probably have the kind of psyche that would also enjoy any of the others.)
     And in the midst of all of this, bodybuilders began to realize something: If they engaged in some form of training other than just bodybuilding – be it Crossfit, Westside-style powerlifting, or “strongman” style training – their bodybuilding workouts became all the more effective.  Many bodybuilders of today – whether they call themselves this or not, or whether they even know it or not – are now “hybrid” bodybuilders.
Hybrid Training Outlined
     The “style” of training I’m going to recommend in this series may not (and sometimes it may) be the kind of training that most of these “hybrid” trainees perform, but it is the kind of training that I believe to be the most effective for building muscle, for burning bodyfat; in short, for looking good naked!
     First, we are going to take a look at the kind of training that needs to be performed on a steady basis for these workouts to be effective.
     The lifter who wants to build the most amount of (shapely) muscle in the shortest amount of time needs to do adhere to these following integral factors:

1.     The bodybuilder needs to train as frequently as possible while being as fresh as possible.  This means that a fine line must be walked between overtraining and undertraining.  This means also training each muscle group every 72 to 96 hours, although sometimes it could mean training every 48 hours, and sometimes it could mean waiting more than 96 hours before training again (especially if the bodybuilder has put him/herself in a purposeful state of overtraining).

2.    The bodybuilder needs to get a good “pump” in the majority of his/her workouts.

3.    The bodybuilder needs to average around 100 reps per muscle group.  These 100 reps should be achieved by performing a moderate to high number of sets with a moderate number of repetitions.  10 sets of 10 reps is the most obvious choice (the math’s certainly the easiest).  Personally, I would prefer if the bodybuilder perform 12 sets of 8 reps or 16 sets of 6 reps.  In other words, I don’t think you can go wrong with 12 to 16 sets of 6 to 8 reps per bodypart.
4.    This form of training should not be concerned with training to the point of “momentary muscular failure” or with various forms of “intensity techniques.”  That sort of training should be used sparingly.
5.    The bodybuilder should – instead of using intensity techniques – focus on making each set of each rep as explosive as possible.  (We’ll get to this in more detail a little later).
6.    The bodybuilder needs to pick exercises that work more than just one bodypart at a time.  The more the body “moves through space” during an exercise, the more productive that particular exercise is.
7.    In addition to these “bang-for-your-buck” exercises, the ‘builder also needs to make sure that he/she is squatting, deadlifting (in all of its various ‘guises), and overhead pressing on a regular basis.
     Okay, if that’s what you should be doing the majority of the training time, the hybrid bodybuilder using my system also needs to do workouts that focus on the following factors:

  1. 1.    “Strongman” training.  This doesn’t have to be complex.  It simply means that some training days should focus on stuff such as farmer’s walks, tire flipping, sled dragging, sandbag training, and/or the prowler.
  2. 2.    Explosive training, also known as the “dynamic effort” method.  These training days are set aside exclusively for speed.  Multiple sets of low reps using only 50-60% of a one-rep maximum should be used.
  3. 3.    Maximal effort training.  These workouts focus on working up to a maximum triple, double, or single on one or more lifts.

  1. 4.    Multiple sets of low reps.  This should be the second most-often used form of training (after the 12 to 16 sets of 6 to 8 reps workouts).  These workouts should consist of multiple sets (15 to 20) of low reps (5 or lower).
     The remainder of this piece will focus on what several weeks of chest workouts might look like when training hybrid-style, but first I want to go into a little more detail about speed training, or why you should at least attempt to move a weight as fast as possible throughout each and every rep.  (Fred Hatfield coined the term “compensatory acceleration training” or C.A.T., for short.)
     I could attempt to explain this myself – something I’ve done in other articles in the past – but for this article, I want you to read the words of Scott Abel (one of the best trainers in the world when it comes to putting muscle mass on people and making them look good).  He’s a firm believer in moving the weight as fast as possible.  Here, he explains his reasons:
“Alan Cosgrove once said that although methods are many, principles are few. What an insightful statement. What I see, however, is that these "methods” are so varied that they're violating key fundamental principles.
The result is that you the trainee aren't getting results from your gym time by following questionable methods that fly in the face of real world principles.
This is the frustrating thing for me. I train people in the real world. I'm not sure what's being taught at certification courses these days, but what is interpreted as "principles" is faulty at best. In this article I want to use a real world example for those of you training to gain size, muscle, and thickness, and have the mistaken belief that this is accomplished with "max weights." This is another term I have trouble with as it's quite misleading as we will see.
The other day I received an E-mail from a client, who sounded a little confused. It seems that a so-called "personal trainer" walked by while my client was training, and offered this brilliant advice: "You should lighten the load substantially, and do 4-4-1 tempo, to get more out of the set!"
Say what? My client was confused because I had advised to lift explosively, regardless of rep range. So who was right?
Let's take a look. If I lift 100 pounds for 5 reps, and you lift 100 pounds for 5 reps; I do 5 reps in about 5 seconds, you use the tempo above and take about 30 seconds to lift it. We both performed the same amount of work. But here's a question for you: whose set required more power? Whose set placed a higher metabolic demand on his body? The answer should be obvious. My set, of course.
Power, folks, is a rudimentary principle expressed in many ways, but is essential to training for size, strength, thickness, etc. The simple basic premise is that it takes more power to move a weight in one second than it does to move it in two seconds. Over the course of a workout this is seen as an expression of more work in the same amount of time, or the same amount of work in less time. These are all expressions of the principle of power. You'll notice, of course, that the "method" of tempo suggested above by the moron "personal trainer" violates this principle.
Next question. In the above example which one of us achieved the most overload? The answer is that it's a trick question. If that 100 pounds is a weight we are used to performing, then neither of us achieved overload for that set. Therefore, the advice of lightening a load you can already do explosively and take 4 times as long to do it, is faulty logic that does not follow basic principles. It means negating max load, and therefore negating the overload principle in general. This is just one example of "methods" being not only many, but also mistaken.
Now if you follow this so far, then you may be thinking that maximum load is therefore the way to abide by the Overload Principle. Well yes, but only if you understand max load. I want you to read the next sentence a few times and let it sink in before we continue.
Max load is not the same thing as max weight.
Why don't most people get this? I blame the industry for detailing external cues as the be all and end all of performance. How much you "can" lift is not the deciding factor. The deciding factor is how much stress a muscle endures as overload.[1]
Chest Training Hybrid-Style
     Here are several weeks of workouts the focus on my version of hybrid training.  Keep in mind – as with all of my programs – these are not to set in stone.  These are examples of what your training should look like over the course of several weeks.
Week One:
Monday (Typical):
1.    Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 5 sets of 6 reps
2.    Flat Barbell Bench Presses (wide grip): 4 sets of 6 reps
3.    Wide Grip Dips: 4 sets of 8 reps
4.    Incline Dumbbell Flyes: 3 sets of 8 reps
Thursday (Typical):
1.    Flat Bench Flyes: 4 sets of 8 reps
2.    Cable Crossovers: 4 sets of 8 reps
3.    Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 8 sets of 6 reps
Week Two:
Monday (Dynamic):
1.    Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses: 12 sets of 3 reps (use approximately 60% of your one-rep maximum)
Wednesday (Typical):
1.    One-Arm Incline Dumbbell Bench Presses: 4 sets of 8 reps (each arm)
2.    Bench Presses to the Neck: 4 sets of 8 reps
3.    Gironda Dips: 3 sets of 10 reps
Sunday (Multiple Sets of Low Reps):
1.    Bottom-Position Bench Presses: 15 sets of 3 reps (using 85-90% of your one-rep maximum)
2.    Incline Barbell Bench Presses: 10 sets of 3 reps (using 85-90% of your one-rep maximum
Week Three
Wednesday (Maximal Effort):
1.    Flat Barbell Bench Presses (medium grip): Work up over progressively heavier doubles to a maximum double.
Saturday (Typical):
1.    Feet-Elevated Push Ups: 10 sets of 10 reps
     At this point, you could actually repeat this whole series of workouts beginning with the next time you trained chest.  Or you could, of course, elect to do a few weeks of something completely different.
     Also, one thing that we didn’t get around to in this article was “strongman” training.  In the next installment, we’ll discuss hybrid-style leg training, which can make for some even more innovative – and even slightly off-the-wall – workout sessions.

[1] “Max Load Training in the Real World” by Scott Abel, in the online magazine T-Nation.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Building a Bigger Bench

     The following article is a revision of one that I wrote a few years ago for Planet Muscle Magazine.  It covers several different styles of training for the bench press—styles, of course, that also could be used on the other powerlifts.
     This article is good for anyone who is not well acquainted with the major styles of training amongst powerlifters.  It's also a good lead-in article for a series I want to do on "hybrid" training, which is discussed in brief at the end of this article.

Building a Bigger Bench
Analyzing the Various Training Methods for Increasing your Bench Press

     For many years, powerlifters and strength coaches have used a variety of training methods for achieving a bigger bench press.  This article will analyze some of the more popular methods so that you can best decide which method suits your needs and your desires.
     Many of you who don’t keep up with the trends in powerlifting will probably be surprised by some of the ideas presented here.  They might seem new and innovative—or perhaps just fly in the face of what you considered to be accepted training practices.
Bodybuilding-Style Bench Workouts
     This is the one method that’s not going to be new to your average lifter.  By bodybuilding-style workouts, I’m referring to sessions that rely on a lot of volume—a wide range of repetition patterns and several different exercises for each muscle group being trained.  Although this is not the typical kind of workout used by a lot of powerlifters, some well-known powerlifters have achieved great results with it.  In the ‘80s and ‘90s, guys like Ted Arcidi—who called his style of lifting “power bodybuilding”—Chris Confessore, and Anthony Clark all trained in this manner.  All three of these lifters did a lot of bodybuilding-style work other than just bench pressing to build their upper body mass.
     Now, to be honest, I doubt that any powerlifters outside of the U.S. and Canada would ever use such routines for building bench press power (the Russians would absolutely scoff at this kind of training), but you can’t argue with the results achieved by Arcidi, Confessore, Clark, Pellechia, et al.
     So, just what would a session look like using this approach?  Below is an example routine:
Day One
Bench Presses—1x15, 1x10, 1x6, 1x4, 3x2 (including one or two forced reps on the last set)
Incline Bench Presses—3x10
Wide-Grip Dips—3x10
Day Two (at least three days after the first session)
Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses—1x15, 1x10, 1x6, 1x4, 2x2
Bench Press Lockouts—1x5, 1x3, 1x2
2-Board Bench Presses—1x10, 1x8, 1x6, 1x4
Bench Presses—3x20
     In addition to performing these exercises, you would also need to perform some work for your triceps, your front delts, and your lat muscles—all muscles that aid greatly in moving up big numbers on your bench press.
     Is this a good routine for packing pounds on to your bench?  That depends on how you look at it.  This approach has both pros and cons.
     The pros: This kind of routine, besides promoting strength, also builds muscle mass.  For guys looking to gain weight—all you bodybuilders out there—that’s a definite plus.  It will give the lifter a good pump—another thing that a lot of bodybuilders crave.  And it will also add some weight to the bar.
     The cons: The first con is the same as the first pro.  This routine probably works better for hypertrophy than it does strength.  For powerlifters trying to stay in their weight class, that’s not good.  Even though a pump feels good—and can be a contributing factor to gaining muscle—it’s not a reliable indicator that you will be stronger at your next workout.  Most bodybuilding workouts will only make you as strong as you look, not stronger.  Explosively strong lightweight powerlifters who bench press three times their bodyweight definitely don’t use this type of routine.  It doesn’t develop truly explosive power or aid in building neural strength as much as other methods.  Luckily, there are other methods...
Traditional Powerlifting Cycle
     Despite the advent of other methods of serious strength training—which we’ll get too shortly—this is still one of the popular methods for building a big bench press.  Ed Coan—arguably the greatest powerlifter of all time—used it to total more than 2400 pounds.  His record might still be the highest ever if it wasn’t for all of the powerlfting “equipment”—double-ply and triple-ply bench press shirts and squat suits—that have become popular in recent years.
     This method works by “cycling” weights.  With cycling, you simply add weight and decrease reps on a weekly or every-other-week basis until you have worked up to a new one-rep maximum.  Below, for example, is a 12-week cycle recommended by Ed Coan for a lifter who bench presses 270 and wants to increase that to 300:
Week 1 – 190x2x10
Week 2 – 190x2x10
Week 3 – 200x2x8
Week 4 – 210x2x8
Week 5 – 220x2x5
Week 6 – 230x2x5
Week 7 – 240x2x5
Week 8 – 250x2x3
Week 9 – 260x2x3
Week 10 – 270x2x2
Week 11 – 280x2x2
Week 12 – 300x1
     Coan recommends performing this “heavy” bench session once per week followed by a second, lighter session a couple of days later.  In addition to flat bench presses, he also does 2 sets of close-grip and 2 sets of incline bench presses.
     This isn’t the only way to employ cycles.  Many powerlifters prefer to start with much heavier weights.  For instance, you might begin a cycle with sets of 5, followed by a couple of weeks of triples, then a couple weeks of doubles, and then hit your heavy singles.
     The benefit of this kind of program is that it coaxes your body into using heavier and heavier weights week by week.  For bodybuilders, it also provides several weeks of “hypertrophy” work, but also offers some neural benefits toward the end of the cycle.
     So, what are the drawbacks?  Like the bodybuilding workout, it doesn’t focus enough on explosive strength and is probably geared more toward a “chest bench presser” as opposed to a “triceps and shoulder lifter” because of all the direct bench press work.
Westside Barbell Club Training
     When Westside Barbell Club—and their owner Louie Simmons—burst on the scene, it wasn’t long before bodybuilding-style workouts and traditional powerlifting cycles were almost a thing of the past.  If there’s a guru of bench pressing—not to mention powerlifting in general—it has to be Louie Simmons.  Simmons, and a lot of his lifters who learned from him, have employed some innovative ideas, and his methods are well loved by many lifters.
     Simmons always has his trainees bench-press twice a week.  The first session—typically on a Sunday—he calls a “dynamic” workout.  This workout is for developing speed in the movement.  A Westside lifter will typically perform 8 to 10 sets of 3 reps on the bench press with 60% of his one-rep maximum.  The lifter performs all reps as explosively as possible with about 45 seconds’ rest between sets.  After the speed work, the lifter trains triceps, delts, and then lats, usually in that order.
     Two days later is the “maximum effort” workout, when the trainee works up to a one-rep or three-rep maximum on a designated chest exercise, but never on flat bench presses.  He/she will rotate this exercise every one to three weeks—depending on how advanced the lifter is—and replaces it with another bench-press building exercise.  Simmons likes to use exercises such as board presses (from various board heights), floor presses, wide-grip benches for a 6-rep maximum, close-grip incline presses, and a few others for the maximum effort day.  After the heavy exercise, the bencher once again does four or five exercises for triceps, delts, lats, and upper back.
     If you’re at all confused, here’s an example of a typical Westside workout:
Bench Presses: 10 sets of 3 reps with 60% of one-rep maximum
Lying Barbell Extensions: 4 sets of 10 reps
Overhead Presses: 4 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Chest-Supported Rows: 4 to 5 sets of 8 to 10 reps
Barbell Curls: 4 to 5 sets
Floor Presses, Board Presses, Rack Lockouts, Close-Grip Inclines, Seated Presses, or Decline Presses: Work up to one or two maximum singles.
Follow this with the same amount of assistance work as the Sunday workout, except use a heavier rep range (sets of 5 to 6 reps).
     Westside Barbell has a few other interesting ideas about building bench press strength.  Here’s a brief overview:
  • No off-season
  • Does not believe in taking layoffs
  • Does not believe in periodizing workouts (traditional powerlifting cycle)
  • Does not believe that bodybuilding workouts build strength.  In fact, Simmons once commented that: “bodybuilding magazines ruined strength training in America.”
  • Believes in using chains and bands, which are added—in most cases—to the end of the barbell to increase resistance at the top of the movement
  • Does not believe in taking sets to muscular failure, always stopping one or two reps short
     There are many of “pros” with this kind of training.  I think the main one is that it focuses on the bench presser’s weak points, which—if he hasn’t trained this way before—have to be bar speed and triceps strength.  The variety also keeps the powerlifter from going stale.  Maxing out on a weekly basis just feels really good to be honest (especially for those of us who love heavy training).
     The cons?  Probably the main disadvantage is a lack of direct bench press work—which could be detrimental for a lot of guys come meet time.  This program also involves a lot of volume, especially when you apply the Westside approach to squatting and deadlifting too.  Drug-free lifters might need a break after six weeks of hard training on the program.  I doubt natural lifters can maintain this kind of volume without a layoff.
Russian Style Routines
     For years, powerlifters from Russia—and other countries from the former Soviet empire—absolutely dominated international competitions.  And for years, those of us in the Americas discounted their training techniques.  In the West, it was believed that Russian-style routines only worked for lifters who were on a lot of steroids or were very genetically gifted—or both.  But that was a mistake, as many American powerlifters—and bench pressers—are now discovering.
     First, let me briefly outline the kind of training Russian benchers perform, then I’ll lay out a sample routine which will give you an even better idea into how the Russians train their bench press.
     Here are the general tenets of this kind of training:
  • Russian strength coaches believe in something called synaptic facilitation, often called “greasing the groove” in the West.  This refers to the body’s ability to improve at bench pressing by bench pressing more frequently.
  • They believe in training more than one of the major lifts at each session.  In other words, even though you want to improve your bench press, you also need to be doing some type of squatting or some type of deadlifting at each workout.
  • Russians train the bench press more frequently and with more volume than squats or deadlifts.  They do this because they believe smaller muscles need more frequent—and more voluminous—workouts.  While many Russians train their squats and deadlifts just two to three times each week, many advanced powerlifters train their bench presses up to eight times each week.
  • They perform a limited number of exercises at each workout.  “If you want to bench more, you need to bench more,” is a common saying.
  • They tend to keep their reps low no matter the amount of weight being lifted. Most Russian programs are based around keeping reps between one and five on the three major lifts.  Bench pressers who keep their reps this low, even on warm-up sets, are able to recover from their workouts quicker.  This allows the lifter to make better use of frequent workouts and synaptic facilitation.
  • As Russians increase weight, they decrease reps and increase sets.  Here is a typical set/rep scheme on the bench press:
     The following is a typical bench press-specialization program for a beginning strength athlete:
Day One
1.  Bench Presses—50% of one-rep maximumx5repsx1set, 60%x4repsx2sets, 70%x3repsx2sets, 80%x3repsx3sets, 90%x1repx4sets
2.  Squats—50%x5repsx1set, 60%x4repsx2sets, 70%x3repsx2sets, 80%x3repsx3sets, 85%x1repx4sets
3.  Bench Presses—50%x5repsx1set, 60%x5repsx1set, 70%x5repsx1set
4.  Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses—10repsx5sets
5.  Standing Good Mornings—10repsx3sets

Day Two

3.    Deadlifts— 50%x5repsx1set, 60%x4repsx2sets, 70%x3repsx2sets, 80%x3repsx5sets
4.    Bench Presses—50%x5repsx1set, 60%x5repsx1set, 70%x4repsx2sets, 80%x3repsx3sets, 70%x5repsx2sets, 60%x8repsx1set, 50%x10repsx1set
5.    Flat Dumbbell Bench Presses—10repsx5sets
6.    Weighted Sit-Ups—10repsx3sets

Day Three

1.    Squats—50%x5repsx1set, 60%x4repsx2sets, 70%x3repsx4sets
2.    Bench Presses—50%x5repsx1set, 60%x4repsx2sets, 70%x3repsx3sets, 80%x1repx3sets
3.    Dips—10repsx4sets
4.    Seated Good Mornings—10repsx3sets
     This kind of training is best done by “high-volume lifters”—those of you who thrive on a lot of volume in your training.  And the only way you’ll know if you’re a “high-volume” type is by doing the training.  This kind of training is also best done by those lifters who are genetically predisposed at bench pressing.  For instance, I have never gotten very good results out of this kind of training—at least for my bench press.  This kind of training works for my squat and deadlift because I’m “built” for those lifts, but it does very little to increase the strength on my bench press.
German Volume Training
     One form of training that is not very popular among powerlifters is what strength coach Charles Poliquin—who coined the term—calls German volume training.  Despite its lack of popularity—at least as an aid to building strength—German volume training is very good at eliciting strength gains when used in the proper manner.  (Note: To be honest, this form of training is nothing new.  A lot of bodybuilders and strength athletes from the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s used it; it was usually referred to as the “10 sets method”.)
     Poliquin dubbed the system “German volume training” because it’s a form of training that German weightlifters used during the offseason.
     With this method of bench press training, you perform nothing but the bench press as your core lift, but you do it for 10 sets of 5, 4, or 3 reps.  Here’s how you use the method: For your first workout pick a weight that you would normally use for 10 repetitions and do 10 sets of 5 reps with that weight, resting only about a minute between sets.  Five days later, increase the weight by approximately 5% and perform 10 sets of 4.  At the next workout, add another 5% to the bar and perform 10 sets of 3.  At the following workout, go back to the weight you used for 10 sets of 4, and perform 10 sets of 5 reps, beginning the process over again for another 3 weeks.
     Pros and cons of this training?  Actually, I think it’s a pretty good system—better than it gets credit for, and on par with the other workouts in this article.  It allows you to build good neural strength on the bench press, and promotes a little growth as well (which could be a drawback for powerlifters trying to stay in a weight class).  Also, the volume is not so great that you can’t do work for your shoulders and triceps in a separate workout.  The primary disadvantage that I see—and I’m sure that Louie Simmons would be quick to point this out—is that you’re training very heavy on the same movement for several weeks.  And for many, this non-stop heavy training can “unteach” explosiveness, so change your routine after six weeks on the system if you choose to use it.
Hybrid Training Programs
     To be honest, while many powerlifters claim to use these methods, a lot of them use their own hybrids of the different systems.
     One of the more popular hybrids over the years has been to combine Westside’s use of a “speed day” with another, more traditional bench day.  For instance, instead of using the max-effort day as Westside does, you would replace with a bodybuilding-style bench workout or inject a traditional bench press style.
     Another popular hybrid is one used by the “Metal Militia” powerlifting club.  In another twist, they essentially perform two max-effort workouts, and eliminate a speed day.
     Many lifters today seem to be performing their own Russian-style workout hybrids, where they add a different exercise than the bench press on one of the training days, and/or add more assistance work (ala Westside) to some of the sessions.
     I wouldn’t advise trying to design your own routine if you’re new to the world of power bench pressing, but it’s not a bad idea for the experienced lifter who knows his/her body well—in fact, it might be the key to continued progress.
The Sum of All Things Benching
     I hope this article has given you a better grasp of the methods used to increase one’s bench press in today’s power training community.  And if you’re really serious about boosting your bench press, just delve into one of these training programs.  You—and your bench press—will be glad that you did.