Maximal Effort Benching
Westside has had multiple men hold all bench world records.
A large part is the max effort workouts. There are too many available for you to use all the max effort workouts, so you must choose what works best for you. Everyone is different biomechanically. This means the length of arms and the dimensions of the chest and shoulders, as well as how flexible your spine is for arching.
Ask questions such as “Should you raise your head or keep it on the bench?” The max effort method is proven by science, the greatest method for increasing strength. You can learn more in Science and Practice of Strength Training by V. M. Zatsiorsky.
George Halbert said there are builders and testers. This means use some special workouts to raise your strength and others to test your strength. For me, it was the JM press, steep incline, close grip. These were my testers as to how much I could bench. Tricep extensions, heavy pushups, and upper back work were the builders. This is something you must learn on your own.
Here is a list of max effort workouts to rotate:
- Board press (close or wide grip)
The Culver City Westside used board or rubber mats in the 1960s and it works today just as it did back then. Jesse Kellum advised me to start using boards again in the early 1990s. It works for building a raw bench and helped Pat Casey make the first 600 pound around 1970. It helped our Doug Heath break the
It helped our Doug Heath break the 400 pound barrier at 132 pounds to become Westside’s first world record bencher. Westside Columbus, Ohio, originally started with one through three. But George Halbert found the tool to detect your tricep strength: a four and five board. It would isolate the triceps due to the force posture relationship.
At the top of the lift, the triceps must do most of the work. For a test, many could not do as much weight on four boards as they could on three boards. For many, without a heave, even weight could be locked out on five boards. Boards served mostly as testers.
- Rack press (close or wide grip)
Rack presses are somewhat like board presses, but you can not heave the weight. Nobody action here as only arms, back, and shoulders are primarily doing all of the work. Basically, three positions are used: at chest, at midpoint, and at lockout. One can press off pins concentrically or lower the bar to a pin, pause, and then press to completion. Do not bounce off the pin, always pause before pressing.
- Chain press (close or wide grip)
Westside made chain and band pressing commonplace in the world of strength training. Chain and band pressing are referred to as combinations of resistance methods. More can be found in Supertraining on page 409.
For chain pressing, it requires first a light set of chains ¼-inch around five feet long. It is connected to the bar sleeve and set at a position to run ⅝-inch or ¾-inch chain through, looking like an upside down horseshoe. Approximately one-third of both ends of the chain will rest on the floor before unracking the barbell. Pile chain upon chain when adding
Approximately one-third of both ends of the chain will rest on the floor before unracking the barbell. Pile chain upon chain when adding chain for resistance. One chain up to five sets is used. Up to three sets of chains are used for speed work, while four or five sets are used for max-effort. This is around 200 pounds of chain at lockout.
- Band press (close or wide grip)
For more information, see Supertraining page 409. Bands are very precise for tension when attaching them the same way. Westside hooks its bands around four by fours when benching.
You can use a set of mini bands at 85 pounds at lockout. Monsters are 125 pounds. Light bands when doubled around the barbell are 200 pounds for the very strong; 600 pounds raw and up.
- Chains plus bands (close or wide grip)
Westside uses combinations of chains and bands. To perform with chain weight, choke the band to release tension at the bottom of the bench, but as you lockout the bands now engage tension. This system calls for many combinations with different amounts of chains, plus using different strengths of bands, for example mini-monster-light bands. The same system can be used with bands. For example, bench with monsters and choke a light band for extra lockout work.
- Incline/decline (close or wide grip)
When benching, one moves in different angles. Years ago many powerlifters trained on mild inclines and declines and seldom used a flat bench—Doug Heath and Gary Drago, two powerlifters, for example. Westside uses both for its bench training. Close and wide grip are used along with at least two settings on the incline or decline.
- Dumbbell training
If you want a strong bench, you must use dumbbells in your training. Dumbbells are always used after speed benching for two or three and sometimes four sets with a moderate weight for sets of 15 to 20 reps. This advice came from the former East German field events training for throwing.
All four angles were exercised: flat, incline, decline, and seated. I have never known a super strong bencher who did not use dumbbells. For max effort day, about every three or four weeks, do an extreme dumbbell workout. One of Westside’s favorites is one weight after a warmup for three sets for a single set or a three set rep record.
My weights were 155 pounds, 125 pounds, and 100 pounds. My records were 155 for 13 to 11 and nine reps; 125 for 23 to 21 and 19 reps. Fred Bolt made 34 with 100 pounds at 185 bodyweight. Compared to the big bencher at Westside, these numbers were very meager. Use decline, incline, flat, and seated. Dumbbell presses can be done with one arm at a time or alternating arms.
After one style for max weight and reps, choose a second angle and go all out again. When doing high rep, heavy weight dumbbells you must take much longer rest intervals. I would have to take up to six minutes in between sets.
- a. Bar dips
Other substitutes are bar dips with and without weight around the waist. Depending on how you hold your body position is how it works the body. Be careful of the distance between you and the bar as it is easy to hurt yourself. Place a box under your feet and do heavy dip lockouts. George Halbert and Kenny Patterson used dip lockouts and both raw benched 625 pounds.
- b. Bar push ups (close and wide grip)
Do pushups while gripping a bar lying in the bottom of a power rack, feet on the floor or elevated. After using just bodyweight, have someone place a plate on the upper back and do sets of reps or try all time records. When a 100-pound plate is not hard, have a training partner sit on your shoulders facing forwards while holding onto the power rack for balance. Keep feet held straight out in front.
If you are lucky, like at Westside, the person sitting on your shoulders can range from 120 pounds and up. This was one of my favorite exercises for the bench. With my feet on the floor with the bar six inches off the floor, I made 58 repetitions with 100 pounds on my back, to bench 515 pounds raw at 208 bodyweight. My training partner Garry Sanger at 202 bodyweight made 53 reps with a 500 pound raw bench. Larry Pacifico would do handstand push ups for his world record benching.
- Floor press (close or wide grip)
This is a test of our bench when the arms are on the floor. It is everyone’s sticking point regardless of arm length. The floor press is done 10 days out of the contest. If we break our records, we break our records in the meet. For training you can use chains or bands. Also, floor press off the power rack pins for more variety.
Westside is always introducing new ways to train, but this covers most of the bench training. The only way to know how Westside trains is to train at Westside. We have many visitors that come from all over the world. Anyone can visit Westside by just calling or emailing to make sure we are training or to see if we are out of town at a meet.