I am often asked how to get a big raw bench. I was a Top 8 bencher in 1980 with a 480lb lift at 220, without a shirt. There were no bench shirts until around 1984. I was Top 6 in 2002 with a 575lb lift at 220 in a shirt. If I could make a Top 10 bench for 32 years, so can you- here’s how.
In 1971, I had a 340lb raw bench. Larry Pacifico said I had to raise my bench if I was going to win a national title. Not long after, I met Bill Seno; he was a bodybuilder/powerlifter, which was common in the 1970’s. Bill was a bench record holder as well. He used a close grip style, with his massive size. Bill told me to bench ultra wide (illegal grip), one inch outside of the rings. He recommended that I do a six rep max week after week, until I could go no further. At that point, he said to go eight reps until I could no longer make progress, then on to ten reps, and again to failure. At that point, he recommended returning to sixes, and repeating the cycle- going for a new record with six reps, then eight, and so on.
Did it work? It took my 340lb bench at 172lb body weight, to a 515lb bench at 212lb body weight. Warm up a lot, and make smart jumps. A 3-week wave at one weight worked best for me. Thanks, Bill.
If you are going to bench big raw, you need to get bigger. My version was to do a top set of three at one weight. My best was 13, 11, and 9 reps with 155lbs, 23, 21, and 19 reps with 125lbs, and 29, 24, and 20 reps with 100lbs. You will need about six minutes between each set to fully recover. Use one bar weight per workout. I used a flat bench, but I kept records on all floor angles- flat, seated, incline, and decline.
A lot of my bench training came from East German shot putters. They would do four sets of a moderate weight every other day, always alternating angles. Today, we do two sets after speed or a max effort workout. This keeps us from overtraining one muscle group that would otherwise result in a muscle imbalance.
Pat Casey was an original Westsider, and was big on dumbbells- just like Jim Williams, who made a 675 raw bench in 1972. Incidentally, Pat was the first 600lb bencher (officially), and also held the world record in the squat (as did Mr. Williams). Larry Pacifico also told me and anyone who would listen, to train the triceps like crazy. He thought 75% of your bench came from the triceps, and I later found this to be true.
So how does Westside train their triceps? Every way possible.
First, you can do laying extensions with a straight or EZ curl bar, in many different varieties: bar to forehead, bar to nose, bar touching, and bar to throat. The throat is the most demanding on the elbows, but very effective. A total of 50-70 reps is standard with heavy weight.
A J.M. press is a 75% extension, and 25% bench. To perform, lay flat and lower the bar straight down over the upper chest, using a close grip. Then roll the bar back toward the throat while raising the elbows upward, and press up.
You can also do dumbbell extensions, lowering then to the upper chest, as the elbows stay out to the sides. An incline works best for these. You can also do dumbbell rollbacks on a flat bench, lowering the dumbbells to touch the shoulders, rolling back to the rear as far as possible and pressing back through to the top. We will do 60-80 total reps of these movements.
In addition to the tricep work, you will need to add in upper back, rear and side delt work, and hammer curls.
Use one day for explosive power; this will be 40-50% of your 1RM + 25% tension at the top with either chain or bands. To reduce bar deceleration after speed benching, do the high rep dumbbell presses, then extensions.
On max effort day, rotate the bar exercise each week. Rack press on two different height pins, board press to a 4 and 3-board, a 3 and 2- board, or a 2 and 1-board. Floor press, incline, and decline press should also be rotated in. Follow a 1RM with a top set of 6, 8, or 10 reps for added muscle mass.
When pressing, press the bar straight up, not over your face.
Follow the two day system, 72-hours apart for optimal recovery, and watch your bench soar.