Top 10 World Record Bench Tips
By Brian Schwab

A few of my bench press records are as follows:
1st Bench America 148 lb. Champion 445 @ 148 on 7/3/03
3 Consecutive 148 lb. WPO Bench World Records:
· 501.5 on 3/5/04
· 503.8 on 10/8/04
· 507 on 10/29/05

APA Florida State Record of 475 @ 165 on 5/28/05
APF Florida State Record of 473.7 @ 165 on 6/18/05
APF American Record of 512.5 @ 165 on 8/5/05
Here are my top 10 bench tips to help you set a new P.R.
Perform a gradual cardio, shoulder and triceps warm up
It seems that as I age my body takes longer and longer to warm up. By increasing body temperature with a minimum of a 5 to 10 minute cardio warm up, the nervous system becomes more prepared for the task ahead. By performing more isolated warm-ups with shoulder rotation, which I will detail next, as well as mini-band pushdowns the joints are more prepared to help prevent injury during bench training.
Strengthen your rotator cuffs to prevent injury
Like most powerlifters, I often have at least one nagging pain somewhere. My right shoulder has bothered me for years. I know that the pain is coming from my rotator cuff, specifically my infraspinatus. In order to prevent further damage I perform internal and external shoulder rotation either with elastic tubing or dumbbells for 2 sets of 12-15 reps during every bench workout. I usually do these between my bench warm up sets.
Work on proper technique every time you bench
The process I follow every time I lie on the bench is to:
Grab the bar with an underhand grip.
Pull your eyes to the bar and force your shoulders back towards your feet as you lie down. I stay on my toes.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and grab the bar to legal competition width.
I choose to take a breath when the bar is lifted off and again before I lower it.
Fill your belly with air and tuck your elbows all the way into your sides.
Lift your head and watch the bar as you take it to the natural angle that your arms follow with your elbows tucked.
After touching, focus on pressing the bar straight up.
Flare your elbows about halfway up and push at a slight angle towards your head.
4. Focus on speed and lockout strength on DE day

I follow the basic Westside template on speed day but opt to only perform 6 sets and only add accommodating resistance on the last 3. I have also chosen to only use chains, since the bands seemed to place too much stress on my shoulder joint.
Never perform a un-shirted bench max through a full range of motion
In 1996, when I first began powerlifting, I was performing a heavy full ROM set with around 300 lbs. On the eccentric portion of my third rep I heard and felt an indescribable sensation of ripping and discomfort on my left side. It was my pec tearing. Luckily it was only a partial tear which took about 6 months to recover from. I still have a chunk of scar tissue there. I have no desire to put myself in the position for this to happen again. So, who are you kidding? If you compete with a shirt, then you need to train with it. Prove yourself in a meet, not to your buddies in the gym. I don't know how much I max raw and I don't care. Those aren't the conditions under which I compete.
6. Train through the entire bench range of motion on ME day

I realize this doesn’t follow the traditional Westside template and I’m not recommending for you to bench heavy all the way to your chest in any workout. That would go against my last tip. What I recommend is performing an exercise for the mid-range, lock-out, and lower portion of the bench during every max workout. I opt for board presses as the primary, followed by lock-outs/pin-presses, and either decline or floor presses last, in that order. I alternate between dumbbells and the bar on floor press to maintain balance between each side.
Perform at least 1 raw set on your primary exercise on ME day
Although I perform 1 to 2 sets of shirted board work each week the vast majority of bench training is done without the use of one. In order to bench more, you need to become stronger, not just rely on your shirt. The first max effort board set is without a shirt, followed by 2 shirted, the rest of the work is done raw.
Only perform 1 board and full reps right before a meet
The only time I go through a full ROM in my bench shirt is 3 weeks before a meet. I know how much it takes to touch in each shirt depending on how much I weigh and the position of the collar. After this is realized it is unnecessary to touch in your shirt on a regular basis. Three weeks before a meet I perform singles through a full ROM, followed by 1 board, then 2. Two weeks out I perform singles onto 1, 2, and then 3 boards. This way I can work with my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd attempts and feel more confident with the weight.
Strengthen your upper posterior chain
Having a strong upper back and triceps is essential for stronger benching. Your back and triceps are the muscles involved in supporting the weight throughout the entire motion. Although the function of the latissimus dorsi is primarily to adduct (bring in) the arms at the shoulder joint, they are also necessary for supporting the triceps. I recommend at least 2 exercises for 2 to 3 heavy sets of 5-8 reps per week to strengthen your lats. I prefer a variation of a pulldown or pull-up and a rowing motion performed on DE squat day. The lock-out strength of the triceps is trained on DE bench day through 4 board presses, reverse band presses, DB and cable extensions as well as on ME day through board presses and lock-outs.

Train with your shirt weekly
It literally took me an entire year to get used to the groove of a denim shirt. Each shirt you use will have a different groove which will vary depending on how low you adjust the collar. Myself and the Orlando Barbell team train with our shirts for at least 2 sets onto boards each week. We start with 4 board and reduce by one board each week down to 2 until 3 weeks out from the meet, as previously mentioned. By training with the shirt each week you will not only be able to handle heavier weights, you will also learn the groove of your shirt.
I hope my tips will help to take your bench to new levels. Check my training logs for more insight on my training methods. Good luck and never give up!
Brian Schwab, BS, CSCS

Upper Back for the Bench
By Jim Wendler

Several years ago, in order to fully immerse myself into powerlifting, I changed my eating habits (from semi-****ty to all-out crappy), bought a truck load of Chuck Taylor’s (a fashion no-no, even for someone with such a laissez faire attitude towards fashion as I), and began my quest to become one of the most physically unappealing males world wide. It was a fun but difficult road. As John Stafford once said, “We work so hard to be so ugly.” Anyway, on the road to immersion I, like many of you have done, printed out Louie’s articles and engrossed myself in them. I had copies of his articles in my backpack, in my bathroom and next to my bed. I should point out that I was in college at the time, hence the backpack. After re-reading Lou’s article about 1000’s times, one of the things that I noticed was how important the upper back is for bench pressing. I was never a big bench presser, so when this knowledge was bestowed upon me, I was a little taken aback. Isn’t the bench all pecs, shoulders and triceps?
From all the years of deadlifting and doing Olympic movements, I had accumulated an impressive set of traps. I thought that this is all I needed to do to build the upper back for pressing. I eventually found out that this is not the case. Many of the movements below, unlike the deadlift and Olympic lifts are done so that the end position mimics the feel of how your upper back is when you bench press.

So why do you want to build a strong, thick upper back? There are a couple of reasons:
Stability – I define this as being able to take a maximum weight off and NOT get flattened. You need to be strong and thick enough to maintain a good arch in your upper back to maintain the correct pressing position. If you take the weight off and immediately flatten out, you are in for a long day.
Structural Integrity – Since the majority of us have done much more pressing than pulling and have a huge imbalance, making the upper back a priority will hopefully lead to fewer injuries.
I have classified upper back exercises into two categories; direct and indirect. I only do this to make things a little bit easier. Now the direct exercises, while not isolation exercises, are more directed towards the upper back. The indirect exercises target the lats and the upper back. There are two laws that I adhere to when training with these two kinds of movements:
With direct upper back exercises, volume is king
Train your indirect upper back exercises heavy.
So what do I mean by high volume? This is open for interpretation, but for me, it’s generally 4-5 sets of 10-20 reps. I like to perform 1-2 exercises from each category a week. For the heavier movements, 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps seem to work well.
Direct Upper Back Exercises
Face Pulls – This is one of the most popular upper back exercises. It works well and is easy to do. The face pull can be done with just about any kind of rope, triceps strap, straight bar…it really doesn’t matter. Just pull something to your face.

Seated DB Cleans – Next to the JM Press, this exercise is probably the most asked about. This has replaced the long lost (and let’s keep it that way, people) Paul Dicks Press in the category of, “Most likely to interpret wrong” category. The word “clean” does not make this movement an Olympic or explosive movement. Think about doing an external rotation but starting the movement with arms straight and down to the sides. This is usually done as one fluid motion, not broken up into stages.

Rear Laterals – This is simple enough. You can do these with dumbbells, holding on to plates or by using a cable machine. I like to use two different hand positions: thumbs pointed towards the front (this is what is most commonly used) and thumbs pointed at each other. The latter is a little bit harder. Which one is better? Neither, they are just different. This is a good way of adding some variety in a fairly dull movement.

Standing Cable Cleans – This is exactly like the seated DB clean, only that you use a cable and a single D attachment. Start by holding the handle, performing an upright row, and finishing in an external rotation.
Band Pullaparts – Another very simple movement done with the aid of Jump Stretch bands. Usually a mini or light band is used. Give it a tug and hold it for a few seconds. You can move your grip in/out for more/less tension. You can also pull from various angles; you can raise or lower your arms for a different feel. I like to keep my arms straight throughout the entire movement. I also think this movement will help you realize how tight your upper back needs to be during a squat or bench press.

Rear Delt Machine – This one is pretty easy because it’s a machine. This makes it fairly hard to screw up.
High DB Rows – These are best done while lying on a bench. This is very similar to a chest supported row, but you simply pull the dumbbells to a higher position. Lie down on an incline bench, grab two dumbbells and with your elbows out, pull the dumbbells to your face or slightly lower.

Muscle Snatch – I think this is a great exercise and I should probably do it more often, but somehow, the ease of the face pull always beckons to me. To do this exercise, grab the bar with a wide grip. What’s wide? To start with, try putting your index fingers on the rings of the power bar. You can go narrower or wider as you see fit. With no leg drive, begin by doing an upright row. Make sure you keep your elbows higher than the bar. Once the bar reaches (approximately) your chin, being rotating your shoulders until the bar is overhead with your arms locked out. Your final position should be the same as a snatch: arms overhead and fully locked out. This does not (and really cannot) be done with heavy weights.
Indirect Upper Back Exercises
Chest Supported Rows – This is one of the best lat and upper back exercises you can do. Plus, there is little lower back stress.
DB Rows – Just pick up any bodybuilding magazine for pics of this exercise. You can do these with several different hand/elbow positions. For example, you can have your elbow tucked or straight out to the side. You can bring the dumbbell high to your upper pec area, or you can tuck your elbow and bring it lower. The farther your elbow is out (generally) the less weight that you will do. What you can do is do a few lighter sets with your elbow out and as the weight becomes heavier, tuck it in.
Bent Over Rows – This is a staple of any lat/upper back workout. This exercise has been described to death, so I don’t think there is much need for me to do it. Like the dumbbell row, you can vary where you pull the bar; high up on the chest (elbows out) or brought low to your stomach (elbows tucked).

Pull-ups/ Chin-ups – This exercise is a favorite of mine and one of the best overall upper body exercises one can do. Even if you cannot do 8-10 reps, multiple sets of low reps (2-4) work very well. When I first began doing these, I would perform 6 sets, all with different grips. Each set consisted of 3 reps with about 30 seconds rest between sets. I would do this two times through with about 2-3 minutes rest between groups. The 6 grips that I did were:
Wide grip pronated
Medium grip pronated
Narrow grip pronated
Narrow grip supinated
Medium grip supinated
Neutral grip (palms facing)
I hope that this article introduced you to some new movements or reinforced the idea of how important the upper back is to your training. If anyone has any more great exercises for the upper back, please let us know. I’m always looking for some variety.

Progression of the Bench: Technique and Set Up

By Mike Strom

In the hope that it will make the road to progress a bit shorter for others, I’d like to share my experience in training and bench press competitions with an article series. A little background information first…I’ve been competing in the bench press for eight years. Ever since I was eight years old and received my first weight set—you know, the old plastic-coated concrete on an aluminum bar and a bench with uprights you can barely fit your head between—I’ve been obsessed with strength and physical performance. I started out trying to get bigger, stronger, and faster for baseball, football, and other sports. But somewhere along the line, I started to enjoy training more than I enjoyed participating in the other sports. So naturally once I found out I could compete in the lifts that I trained, I couldn’t wait to get into a meet.
This finally happened shortly after graduating from high school when I was 18 years old and about 165 lbs. In that contest, I managed to press 240 lbs and thought I was doing pretty well. Just short of eight years later, I made my first 600 lb bench weighing 190 lbs. So, what the hell happened that put 360 lbs on my bench in that time frame? I feel there are six main components that contributed to this improvement—technique, training, equipment, training partners, body weight, and mind-set. In part 1 of this article series, I will focus on bench press technique.

Technique can’t be emphasized enough. As an example, a football player practices a given play over and over to make sure the execution is flawless, and this must be done with all the plays in the playbook. Yet, I routinely go to meets and talk to lifters who put virtually no effort into learning and perfecting their technique. In powerlifting and even more so in bench only competitions, we need to take advantage of the fact that we have relatively few things to learn to excel in our sport.
Some key points to consider in your bench press technique are arching the back, tucking the shoulders, controlling the angle of your elbows to your body, generating leg drive without raising the hips, learning to focus on your triceps immediately from the word “press,” and developing a set-up that takes all of these things into account so that you automatically prepare yourself to bench once you take the lift off.
Arch is obviously important as a method for shortening the range of motion. However, I believe it is also an important way to keep your entire body tight so that no strength is wasted. As an analogy, think of the difference between running in the sand and on a track. As the sand moves beneath your feet, it is dispersing some of the force you’re applying to the ground, making it difficult to gain speed. On the other hand, a solid track surface allows you to channel all of your force production into sprinting forward. As you can see, it is vital to have a very tight set-up.
This tightness also comes from your leg drive, and the key component to taking advantage of your leg drive is proper foot placement. I don’t believe there is one ideal foot placement for everyone so you’ll need to experiment a bit with this. But remember, you want to find something that will allow you to push into the floor with your feet without allowing you to raise your butt off the bench. For me, this means having an extremely wide foot placement somewhat to the rear and about even with my hips.
Arch and foot placement are two of the three parts of your set-up that will establish this tight body position. The third, and probably most difficult to explain in writing, is tucking the shoulders, or having upper back tightness. Most people want to shrug their shoulders, which causes the barbell to move more toward the face. This will lead to a high bar placement on the chest, meaning you won’t be taking advantage of the short range of motion available by arching. This can also lead to misgrooving in your shirt, which will often end with the bar being flung back at your face. To say the least, this would be an “unsuccessful” attempt.
To properly “tuck” the shoulders, you need to actually focus on three separate things. First, simply retract the shoulder blades. Second, squeeze the lats. This is what will keep the bar path low. And third, tighten the traps but not so much that you truly “shrug” the shoulders up. Elbow angle works along with lat contraction (properly tucking the shoulders) to create the proper bar path as well as to help place the focus on your triceps. Squeezing the lats will usually automatically lead to proper elbow angle, but it may also help to think of rotating your ulna inward (bring your “funny bone” towards your sides).
Learning to focus on your triceps is actually something that comes more from proper training protocol than from technique, but it is important to mentally focus on firing your triceps immediately when you begin to press the bar up. By focusing on your triceps initially, they will already be “engaged” when it’s time to lock out the bar. If this isn’t done, there will be a slight stall in the transition between the initial press and the lockout portion of the lift. Many lifts fail at this point. This is also a reason to include speed work in your program, but that will be discussed in a later article.
Finally, you will need to develop a set-up that takes all of these factors into account. This really needs to be done through trial and error on your part along with the assistance of training partners, ideally those who are more advanced and/or experienced in competition than yourself. I’m sure you’ve noticed at a meet the many different ways that lifters will set up to bench. The key is to find something that is comfortable and easy to execute for you so that you can focus on the lift at hand rather than an overly complicated set-up.

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