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How I Benched 400

How I Benched 400


I'm absolutely thrilled to be writing this article. The fact is I've been waiting a very long time to write it.

On October 21, 2012, I bench pressed 182.5 kg (402 pounds) for the first time in my life (either in the gym or in a competition) at a competition in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Before I continue, let me be very clear that as a powerlifter, a 400-pound bench isn't one for the record books. According to my own lifter classification system, it isn't even a Master level lift, let alone an Elite one.

Furthermore, I placed sixth at my competition – not even worthy of a medal.

However, I'm still very proud of that lift. I'm proud because to reach that level of strength – for me – was hard.

When I was 19 years old I was benching 300 pounds and I thought that I'd hit 400 in just a few years, tops. But 15 years later, when my bench was no higher than 350, I was beginning to think I might never see 400.

But the aim of this article isn't to brag about something I did, but to share with you how I did it – so you can hopefully do the same.

What follows is my exact training routine that I used to hit my goal.


First a Little History...

How I Benched 400


Listed below are my best competition bench presses by year, including bodyweight, for the last seven years. I'd lifted in many meets before that but was wearing the old bench shirts from the 90's (Inzer single-ply), which made it difficult to draw comparisons with my raw bench press.

However, even in a shirt I was never able to get my bench over 400 pounds.

Date Bench Failed Attempt Body Weight
2006 330 340 198
3/2007 325 340 198
4/2007 335 340 198
7/2007 340 345 198
3/2008 325 345 206
6/2008 336 347 212
2/2009 355 370 215
11/2009 342 198
11/2010 308 176
2/2011 347.5 193
10/2011 380 391 214
6/2012 386 402 218
10/2012 402 408 219

I know what you're thinking. That's one hell of a plateau. I should mention that this training rut was not through lack of effort. It's an unusual year if I don't train pretty hard at least 48 weeks out of the year, often more than that.

Still, my best-laid plans simply weren't working. Something needed to change, and what finally worked for me was a threefold approach:

  • Benching more frequently (three times a week instead of once or twice)
  • Performing more singles
  • Gaining bodyweight

My best competition bench at the start of the program was 386 pounds, but in all honesty I couldn't bench that at the beginning of this plan.

I would guess that my max at the time was about 370, no more than 375, so I had my work cut out for me, but first I had to determine how long the prep would be.

The last time I'd followed this routine I did it for 10 weeks. That felt a little too long, so I decided to follow this program for six weeks, plus one pre-competition week. I wanted to err on the side of being fresh versus too fatigued and/or dealing with a nagging injury.


The Plan

I started every upper body day the same way. I'd perform the following stretches (see video below) in this exact order. This would take no more than 10 minutes in total to complete.

  • Double chest stretch using band, hands below shoulders
  • Double chest stretch using band, hands above shoulders
  • Double lat stretch using band
  • Shoulder dislocations, ≈15 reps, moving hands in every 5 reps or so
  • Military press + overhead shrug, 115 pounds x 5 for 2 sets

I paused on every rep on the bench press and the board press, every workout. I didn't miss one scheduled rep during the entire program, which is something I'm pleased with.

While performing this workout I also followed an intense barbell-curling program (although not super high volume) as I was competing in a strict curl competition as well. On Tuesdays, I'd also do an easy leg day.

I didn't perform any regular cardio or conditioning during this phase – which isn't ideal for the long term – but the focus for these 7 weeks was to accomplish the goal of benching 400.

The Program

Here's the program, which some might recognize from the 8 Weeks to a Super Bench article I wrote with Coach Thibaudeau.

I've included every rep and weight, with warm-ups in .

Monday


Workout 1

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Single Cluster Bench*
315 x 8

325 x 8

335 x 8

345 x 8

355 x 8

365 x 8
Close-Grip Decline 135 x 5
185 x 5
225 x 5
255 x 5
205 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 5
225 x 5
270 x 5
205 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 5
235 x 5
280 x 5
215 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 5
235 x 5
290 x 5
225 x 5
135 x 5
185 x 5
235 x 5
300 x 5
235 x 5
135 x 5
205 x 5
255 x 5
310 x 5
245 x 5
Multiple Cluster Bench** 295 x 3
295 x 3
295 x 3
295 x 3
295 x 3
302 x 3
302 x 3
302 x 3
302 x 3
302 x 3
310 x 3
310 x 3
310 x 3
310 x 3
310 x 3
317 x 3
317 x 3
317 x 3
317 x 3
317 x 3
325 x 3
325 x 3
325 x 3
325 x 3
325 x 3
332 x 3
332 x 3
332 x 3
332 x 3
332 x 3
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder
Press with Negative
25 x 5
35 x 5
45 x 5
55 x 5
40 x 5
30 x 5
40 x 5
50 x 5
60 x 5
45 x 5
35 x 5
45 x 5
55 x 5
55 x 5
50 x 5
35 x 5
45 x 5
55 x 5
65 x 5
50 x 5
40 x 5
50 x 5
60 x 5
70 x 5
55 x 5
40 x 5
50 x 5
60 x 5
70 x 5
55 x 5

Workout 2

5 hours after finishing first workout; two meals consumed in that time frame:

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Drop Set Bench
(3 sets)
335 x 1
305 x 1
275 x 1
245 x 1
347 x 1
317 x 1
287 x 1
257 x 1
360 x 1
330 x 1
300 x 1
270 x 1
372 x 1
342 x 1
312 x 1
282 x 1
385 x 1
355 x 1
325 x 1
295 x 1
397 x 1
367 x 1
337 x 1
307 x 1
Rope Triceps Pushdown
(5 sets light)
4.5 x 8
4.5 x 8
5.5 x 8
5.5 x 8
6.5 x 8
40 x 8
40 x 8
40 x 8
50 x 8
50 x 8
45 x 8
40 x 8
40 x 8
45 x 8
45 x 8
35 x 8
40 x 8
40 x 8
45 x 8
45 x 8
50 x 8
35 x 8
DNR* 40 x 8
40 x 8
50 x 8
50 x 8
55 x 8
45 x 8

Wednesday

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Dead Hang Bench
(Weeks 1-2)

2-Board Press
(Weeks 3-6)
45 x 5
135 x 3
185 x 3225 x 3
265 x 3
295 x 3
325 x 3
275 x 3
45 x 5
135 x 3
185 x 3
225 x 3255 x 3
285 x 3
315 x 3
335 x 3
275 x 3
135 x 3
205 x 3
275 x 3
315 x 3345 x 3
295 x 3
45 x 5
135 x 3
205 x 3
275 x 3325 x 3
357 x 3
295 x 3
45 x 5
135 x 3
205 x 3
275 x 3325 x 3
370 x 3
305 x 3
45 x 5
135 x 3
205 x 3
275 x 3
335 x 3382 x 3
315 x 3
Paused Speed Bench
8-12 x 3

205 x 3 a
205 x 3 b
205 x 3 c
3 rounds

205 x 3 a
205 x 3 b
205 x 3 c
3 rounds
205 x 3
Add chains
205+1 x 3
205+2 x 2
205+3 x 1
205 x 3
Add chains
205+1 x 3
205+2 x 2
205+3 x 1
225 x 3 a
225 x 3 b
225 x 3 c
3 rounds
225 x 3 a
225 x 3 b
225 x 3 c
4 rounds

a = b =c =

Chains + 1 = Chains + 2 =Chains + 3 =

Friday

Exercise Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Bench Press Negatives 350 x 3
350 x 3
350 x 3
350 x 3
365 x 3
365 x 3
365 x 3
365 x 3
380 x 3
380 x 3
380 x 3
380 x 3
395 x 3
395 x 3
395 x 3
395 x 3
410 x 3
410 x 3
410 x 3
410 x 3
425 x 2
425 x 2
425 x 2
Hanging High Rack Press 135 x 3
225 x 3
275 x 3
315 x 3
355 x 3
295 x 3
135 x 3
215 x 3
275 x 3
330 x 3
370 x 3
315 x 3
185 x 3
255 x 3
315 x 3
350 x 3
385 x 3
325 x 3
185 x 3
255 x 3
315 x 3
360 x 3
400 x 3
335 x 3
185 x 3
275 x 3
325 x 3
370 x 3
415 x 3
345 x 3
185 x 3
275 x 3
325 x 3
375 x 3
430 x 3
350 x 3


A Quick Refresher


  • A cluster bench means performing 1 rep, resting 10-30 seconds, and repeating.
  • I replaced the dead hang bench with the 2-board press after two weeks as I felt the dead hang bench was beating me up.
  • The negatives are performed with a 4-6 count. On the last rep of bench negatives I like to go longer and shoot for a 10+ count to establish full control and confidence.
  • As you can see I did the same thing each week, but each week it got heavier. I generally went up between 5-15 pounds per week, depending on how I felt.

This is a brutal bench program – after the first week or so you feel pretty banged up – but then you get used to it. And the more you run this program, the most used to it you get.


Supplementation

How I Benched 400


The Anaconda™ Muscle Loading Protocol™ played a big part in getting me through the workouts. I would take 2 scoops of Surge® Workout Fuel and 1 scoop of Anaconda with each bench workout, and I'm convinced it helped me finally bust my plateau.

Taking fish oil, particularly during the last several weeks, helped prevent some of the nagging elbow and shoulder issues you get when you bench heavy regularly.


Tapering

My last heavy workout was the Friday workout of week 6. I lifted twice the week of the competition, on Monday and Wednesday. Those days went as follows:

Monday

Bench Press: (scheduled last warm-up attempt)
Close-Grip Decline: Dumbbell Shoulder Press with Negative:

Wednesday

Bench Press:Speed Bench: (not pressing with max speed; just explosive)


The Meet

Thursday we flew to Vegas. Friday I coached a teammate that was doing the full meet, and on Saturday the focus was on making weight. Sunday it was go time – I lifted while coaching my teammates (as a team we made 33 out of 38 attempts, including setting two Open Federation records, another thing I'm proud of).

I brought my own bands with me so I could perform the same upper body warm-up as described above, including the military press plus shrug. I also iced my stomach as suggested in the original article for two minutes after my last warm-up attempt.

Warm-up Attempts:

First Attempt:Second Attempt: 402 madeThird Attempt:

402 baby. That, my friends, is a huge milestone for me – and a new PR!


Wrap-Up

I know my bench isn't great – I'd say it's my weakest competitive lift. But I'm proud of the fact that I didn't throw in the towel, even though I was stuck in a rut for several years. I'm also proud that I was open-minded enough to try some different approaches.

Because no matter how brilliant or idiotic the theory, no matter how eloquent or simplistic the rationale, the platform is the great equalizer – and there's no way to bullshit results. The weight either goes up or it doesn't. How you're going to get it up is up to you.



PUBLISHED