Rack Work for the Bench
Bill West’s Westside Barbell Club was years ahead of everyone for strength in the late 1960s. Pat Casey used the power rack to become the first 600-pound bencher. He also used rack lockout for an 800-pound squat. Pat was the first man to do it along with a 2,000-pound total.
Lifters have sticking points at different points of their bench. The floor press will show you where your sticking point is when you lie on the floor with your triceps resting on the floor with a barbell in your hands. It will determine your sticking point.
But, any part of the bench can be trained by placing a set of pins in your rack. I had no training partner in the early 1970s and used the power rack almost all the time. For the positions just off the chest, two-inches off the chest and midpoint, I would lower the bar to the pins, relax my arms, and then press to lockout. I would start with the maximum, wide grip for sets of a max. Then, I would start over with an index finger touching the smooth part of the bar.
No back arch and no body heave. This can be a major problem while benching off boards. You must keep records for each pin and for both grips. Pressing off pins from a dead start eliminates any momentum, which means no cheating.
By using three or four pin settings, you will hit all angles of the bench press. Always press up in a straight line or somewhat toward the feet. This is the shortest path to lockout and is the safest method. Culver City Westside lifter Bill Thurber and the famous Jim Williams, who made 675 in the 1972 Worlds, also pressed in the same fashion. Williams and the West gang were my main mentors, but it’s ironic that East German throwers also benched in this manner.
I found instant progress from doing high pin lockouts. Pressing off pins at a level where I would take the bar out of a regular bench or maybe one or two inches below. This called for just pressing on the pins concentrically first.
Today, with lifters using bench shirts that can give you 300 pounds and more, there is no weight used between their raw max and a shirt max. But, by doing high pin lockouts that can change. When I was 50 years old no one had benched 550 pounds. I had a 500-pound raw bench and could lockout 600 pounds on a high pin. The shirt in about 2000 gave you about 100 pounds. The power rack made it possible to officially bench 600 pounds at 253.
By doing rack lockouts in my training, I am sure rack lockouts will build your bench but wait … there’s more.
Long before bench shirts, you had to be strong to be a Top 10 Bencher. Powerlifting and Bodybuilding were very close, not totally separated like today. Many Bodybuilders were great Benchers. Pat Neve and Steve Crandall were bench record holders along with Bill Seno.
A massive Body Builder named Chuck Sipes was a Top IFBB Bodybuilder and a monster Bench Presser. What was his secret? You guessed it. He used a form of rack pressing with long holds—first with arms locked, and then with arms bent slightly.
Chuck would gauge his progress by holding weight for time; roughly from five seconds to 20 seconds. When he could hold a weight for 20 seconds he would add weight and start the process over. Chuck used this support workout to gain size. Normally four sets of five seconds to 20 seconds were done.
The rest intervals were by feel, but fast, never fully recovering to induce motor units into play. The heavy supports were done twice a week along with close-to-maximum flat benches. On other days, Chuck would do mainly regular bench and Friday lots of incline wide grips. Dumbbell inclines were done slowly with pullovers using lightweight and deep breaths along with skipping for one minute for expanding the chest.
Chuck had a favorite triceps exercise for amazing strength as well as size, which was a power rack French press. First, he would set a set of pins, Then, he would start at the top of his head with a predetermined weight for five to eight reps per set up to 20 to 80 total reps. As you do this, over time, lower the pin one or two inches and work up to sets with five to eight reps and lower the pins when possible for more range of motion.
Always relax on the pin between reps. It’s a real power builder. Along with the bench lockouts, seated press and incline press, French presses were popular with the Culver City Westside Barbell and are still popular today with the six men at Columbus, Ohio, Westside Barbell, who hold or have held world records in the bench. Dave Hoff has the largest full meet bench press at 1,005 pounds.
Isometrics are very productive for the bench. Westside uses the Hoffman method. First, set a set of pins in the power rack. Next, position a second set of pins at the angle you wish to build. Push barbell from lower pin up against the higher set of pins and hold the barbell against the pins for two to six seconds. Four or five sets work well. Three positions can be done in one workout. This will build maximum strength where you need it—at your sticking point.
If you want to build explosive strength, press off a lower pin into a much higher pin as explosively as possible. Use zero stretch reflex. Let the bar rest off pins for a few seconds then blast off pins to lockout. Because the barbell weight is in the 30 to 40 percent range, six to eight reps can be done per set. Our testing at Westside has found that 48 total reps work best for explosive power. The rest interval between sets should be from two minutes to three minutes. Remember fast twitch fiber recovers slowly.
I hope Westside training can make you a world record holder.
Yarnell, Dave. 2011. Forgotten Secrets of the Culver City Westside Barbell Club Revealed
Simmons, Louie, 2007. Westside Book of Methods