Last week I was right in the middle of watching one of my all time favorite movies, Mad Max, when the phone rang. It was a lifter who’d attended one of my seminars and he wanted to update me on his progress. I figured I’d only be on the phone a few minutes and then I could get back to Max, Night Rider, and Toe Cutter.

This lifter attended one of my January seminars and in the last week of March he’d benched 450 for the first time, a forty pound increase in eight weeks! At the seminar, I’d changed his bench technique, explained how to cycle his training, and taught him how to bring up his weak point, in this case his triceps strength. Then I showed him some special exercises to help him get on his way. But I never guessed he’d put forty pounds on in such a short period of time. Strength training isn’t that easy!

He said he was now looking forward to a 500 pound bench. I agreed he could do it, but needed to know more if I was going to help take him to the next level. I asked him how he was going to train for it. I was floored when he said he was going to try a new bench routine he’d discovered in a popular bodybuilding magazine! I was about to flip! That’s when I realized Mad Max was going to have to wait.

He went on to explain the routine. He told me this magic program would increase his bench by forty pounds in six weeks. Now, I’m thinking he’d just added forty pounds in eight weeks by changing technique and bringing up a weak point, so what was this program going to provide beyond that?

Then he told me that not only will this new program put on forty pounds in six weeks, but it’ll continue to do it every time he goes through it! I spent the next half hour getting this guy back on track. But I have to admit that I was somewhat hooked by the idea. I had to know what this program was. I could use forty pounds on my bench every six weeks. Could this program be "the secret weapon" I’d been waiting for?

So off to the newsstand I went. All I could think about was forty pounds on my bench in six weeks! I almost got a speeding ticket trying to get to the newsstand. Then I found myself in front of the magazine rack and there it was: the Holy Grail of bench pressing. I grabbed it, purchased it, drove home like Mad Max himself and ripped off the plastic wrap. (They must’ve put that stuff on there to protect all the secrets from being leaked!)

I began reading and reality quickly set in. This program was one of the worst I’d ever seen! It was a take on progressive overload using high reps and training to failure. There was no triceps work or discussion of training weak points. I kept reading about how you need to push the bar back toward your head in a "J" pattern, lower the bar slowly, and exhale forcefully at the midpoint of the lift. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It was true that this program stated it would put forty pounds on your bench in six weeks, but there was no mention of who had actually done it or what the author himself benches. I felt like the kid from A Christmas Story. He gets all excited to get the secret decoder to only find out he got screwed with an advertisement. I got screwed into buying a magazine that would be put to better use in my bathroom.

Now that I think about it, forty pounds every six weeks would put 280 pounds on a bench in one year, or 560 in two. I know people who’ve been trying a variet of techniques over a period of four years in search of five pounds. Things aren’t as easy as many make it. It’s very easy to write about getting a big bench but as soon as you lay on the bench and start pressing, reality will smack you in the face!

To bench big weights, you have to have a plan. This plan must consist of several things. You first must know how to bench. (See my Bench Press 600 Pounds article.) Then you must have a basic understanding of how to structure and cycle your training. (See my Periodization Bible article, part two). Finally, you have to put it into action. This article is about putting it into action.

When I first thought about this article, I kept trying to figure out how I could write a program that would work for everyone. I went round and round with this. You see, I could write a general program that would work for everyone, but it wouldn’t work that good. As a matter of fact, it would suck. The gains would be limited and small. The reason for this is that everyone is different and has different weak points and leverages.

So I ruled that out.

Then it hit me: why not write a program for T-Man. So I contacted TC about the profile of "The T-mag Guy." He told me he was 6 foot 4, 375 pounds with 2.8% bodyfat and an 875 pound bench. Well, at this point I realized there was no way I could help this guy out. He’s been to places I have yet to see. Then I decided to write for the average T-mag reader. This way I could hit 50% to 70% of the audience and the others could learn from the structure. So I contacted TC for the inside scoop on the prototypical T-mag reader. Here’s what we came up with:


The Profile

28
5’10"
200
285
225
90 x 12
165 x 10
Bottom
31-inch sleeve
4
6 months
Bodybuilding (each muscle group trained once per week, 8 sets per body part, slow tempo)
Drug Free
Training in commercial gym with chains and bands.


Summary of Profile

The profile above isn’t too bad; this lifter is fairly balanced. But while there’s a good degree of muscle balance, the lifter is weak all over. A 285 bench at 200 pounds isn’t a good bench press, but it can get a lot better. This lifter has a sticking point off his chest which can either be caused from lat strength or, as I feel in this case, bar speed.

This guy has been training with slow tempos which will cause him to lift slow. A slow lifter is never going to be a big bencher. George Halbert, one of our very best benchers (683 pound bench at 198 pounds bodyweight), isn’t the biggest guy in the world, but he’s the fastest presser in the whole gym. When coaches come to visit, the one thing they all are amazed with is George’s barbell speed. If you train slow, you’ll bench low!

The profiled lifter also has a very low work capacity. Training a muscle one time per week with eight sets is far too low. I’d go as far as to say this lifter is out of shape. His GPP (general physical preparedness) needs to be brought up drastically. It’s no wonder people get so sore from training each muscle only one time per week!


The Program

This program is designed to increase your bench press and will consist of two workouts per week, one for maximal effort and the other for dynamic effort. You may want to review my "Periodization Bible" articles here at T-mag before beginning this program.

Intensity: For the actual bench press, the intensity (percentage) is based upon your best one-rep max without the use of a bench shirt. For the rest of the movements, base the intensity on the number of reps. You should reach the desired number of reps with one or two reps left in you.

Volume: My advice to most lifters is to go with the best volume you feel you need. When I write a program, it’s not always that easy to leave the volume up to the lifter because I haven’t researched the training history and have no idea of how well the lifter knows his own body. For an advanced lifter, I can tell him go by feel or stay with the rep ranges that work best for him and have no worries as far as how the program will progress.

For our profiled lifter, I’ve had to set the volume parameters very specific to avoid overtraining while still increasing work capacity. An advanced lifter will know when to push the volume up and when to let it come back down; a not-so-advanced lifter will have no idea and just keep banging away. Then he’ll wonder what happened when his training goes stale. This program has a set pattern of volume to optimize the best training parameters.


Other Notes:

Keep 72 hours between days one and two.

Do not add in a bunch of unnecessary work.

All tempos are moderate to fast.

Rest 1 to 2 minutes between sets unless otherwise noted. Go on what you feel you need.

Workouts should never exceed one hour in length.

Your lats, legs, biceps and other body parts should be trained on another day or a later workout.


First, I’ll give you the overall program, then below I’ll go over each exercise in detail.


Week 1

Large volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Ultra Wides: Work up to one heavy set of 6 reps, rest a few minutes and try to repeat it.

Barbell Extensions: Warm up, then 6 sets of 8 reps with 30 seconds rest between sets, using the same weight for all 6 sets.

Close Grip Pushdowns: 4 sets of 10 reps using the same weight

Front Plate Raise: 3 sets of 20 reps using the same weight

Dumbbell Cleans: 3 sets 10 reps using the same weight


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Chains* (3 grips): 55% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps. Make sure sets are performed with compensatory acceleration i.e. lift the weight as fast as possible off your chest, really accelerating that bar. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Bench Press (medium grip): 2 sets of 20 reps

Elbows Out Extensions: Warm up then 4 sets of 8 reps, using the same weight for all 4 sets

Face Pulls: 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight

Side Dumbbell Raises: 3 sets of 12 reps using the same weight

* If you don’t want to use bands or chains then you’ll want to train the bench at 60% of your one rep max without a bench shirt.


Week 2

Medium Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Floor Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one-rep max. This movement should be performed with a medium grip (pinky on the rings).

Barbell Extensions on the Floor: Warm up to 2 sets of 5, then increase weight to 2 sets of 3 reps.

Close Grip Pushdowns: 3 sets of 6 reps using the same weight

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises: 3 sets of 6 reps using the same weight


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Chains (3 grips): 55% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps, again using compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Bench Press (medium grip): Work up to 1 heavy set of 3 reps; leave the chain on the bar for your sets.

JM Press: Work up to 2 sets of 5 reps

4) Face Pulls: 5 sets of 6 reps using the same weight.


Week 3

Large Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Floor Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one-rep max. This movement should be performed with a medium grip (pinky on the rings). Try to break last week’s record by 5 pounds. If you do this easily then try to break it again with a bigger weight.

Barbell Extensions on the Floor: Warm up, then work up to 4 sets of 5 reps in a progressive fashion.

Reverse Grip Pushdowns: 3 sets of 10 reps using the same weight.

Rear Delt Dumbbell Raises: 3 sets of 8 reps using the same weight.

Dumbbell Cleans: 4 sets of 10 reps using the same weight.


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Chains (3 grips): 55% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps. Make sure sets are performed with compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Bench Press: 2 sets of 20 reps with 45% of 1RM. Keep the chains on the bar.

Elbows Out Extensions: 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight.

Front Plate Raises: 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight

Face Pulls: 5 sets of 8 reps using the same weight.


Week 4

Small Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

3 Board Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one-rep max. Again, perform this movement with a medium grip (pinky on the rings) or close grip (one finger on the smooth part of the bar).

Barbell Extensions on the Floor: Work up to 3 sets of 3 in progressive fashion.


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Band (3 grips): 50% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps. Make sure sets are performed with compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

0.5 Close Grip Bench Press: Work up to 3 sets of 3 reps in a progressive fashion.


Week 5

Large Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Dumbbell Press: Warm up 2 or 3 sets of 15-20 reps using the same weight. These sets should be taken to the point of failure. Rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets.

JM Press: 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight

Reverse Grip Pushdowns: 4 sets of 12 using the same weight

Face Pulls: 5 sets of 8 using the same weight


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Band (3 grips): 50% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps using compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Barbell Extensions with Band: Work up to 2 sets of 5 reps and then 2 sets of 3 reps in a progressive fashion.

Side Raise: 3 sets of 10 reps using the same weight

Front Plate Raises: 3 sets of 8 reps using the same weight

Dumbbell Cleans: 3 sets of 12 reps using the same weight


Week 6

Medium-Large Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

3 Board Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one-rep max. This movement should be performed with a medium grip (pinky on the rings) or close grip (one finger on the smooth part of the bar).

JM Press: Work up to 3 sets of 3 reps in a progressive fashion.

Elbows Out Extensions: 3 sets of 6 reps using the same weight

Face Pulls: 3 sets of 6 reps using the same weight


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Band (3 grips): 50% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps, again using compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Barbell Extensions: Warm up to 4 sets of 5 reps in a progressive fashion.

Side Raises: 3 sets of 8 reps using the same weight

Dumbbell Cleans: 3 sets of 8 reps using the same weight


Week 7

Medium Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Floor Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one rep max. This movement should be performed with a medium grip (pinky on the rings). Again you’re going to try to break last week’s record by 5 pounds. If you do this easily then try to break it again with a bigger weight.

Barbell Extensions: Warm up to 4 sets of 6 reps using the same weight.

Reverse Grip Pushdowns: 3 sets of 10 using the same weight

Dumbbell Cleans: 3 sets of 8 reps using the same weight


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

Bench Press with Chain (3 grips): 55% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps using compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

Bench Press (close): Work up to 3 sets of 3 in a progressive fashion.

Dumbbell Extensions on the Floor: 4 sets of 6 reps using the same weight.

Face Pulls: 4 sets of 8 reps using the same weight.


Week 8

Small Volume

Day 1 — Maximal effort day

Close Grip Incline Press: Start with the bar and warm up using 25-50 pound jumps until you reach a one-rep max. This movement should be performed with a medium grip (pinky on the rings).

5 Board Presses: 3 sets of 3 using the same weight.


Day 2 — Dynamic effort day

1) Bench Press with Chains (3 grips): 55% of 1RM without bench shirt. Total: 8 sets of 3 reps with compensatory acceleration. Rest 45 seconds between sets.

2) Dumbbell Extensions on the Floor: 5 sets of 6 reps using the same weight.


Week 9

Day 1 — Maximal day

Dumbbell Extensions: 4 sets of 10 reps using the same weight

Close Grip Push Downs: 2 sets of 20 reps using the same weight.


Day 2 — Dynamic day

Test bench press after a few speed sets. Warm up the same way you would with your speed sets. Perform two or three speed sets then start working up to a new one-rep max. As you work up, keep the reps to no more than three and drop to singles as soon as three begins to feel moderately heavy. Make sure to explode through all the weights. First try to beat your old record by 5 pounds, then you can go for broke.


Exercise Descriptions

This exercise is designed to isolate the medial and outer heads of the triceps. Begin this movement by lying with your back on a bench. Take a medium to close grip on a barbell. Unrack the weight and extend your arms directly above your upper chest. Lower the barbell toward your chin while keeping your upper arms motionless and your elbows turned inward. Reverse the direction by using your triceps to extend your arms to the starting position. Do not let your elbows flare out during the exercise.

This movement is best performed keeping the bar away from the forehead. By keeping it closer to the chin we’re isolating those muscles that are more involved with pressing.

Same as above but with a band.

Same as barbell extensions, but performed on the floor. Performing this movement on the floor takes the legs out of the movement, thus putting more stress on the pressing muscles.

The bench press should be performed with the shoulder blades pulled together and driven into the bench. The elbows should be in a tucked position. The bar should hit you in the lower chest area. It must be pushed in a straight line, not back over the face.

Lay on the bench with your shoulder blades pulled together and pressed firmly into the bench. Grab the bar with a close grip; for this program you’ll want one finger on the smooth part of the bar. Begin the exercise by unracking the bar and lowering it with your elbows in a tucked position. Lower the bar to your lower chest. Keeping your elbows in a tucked position, press the bar back to the starting position.


This is your standard close grip bench press. Grab the bar with a grip one or two fingers away from the smooth part of the bar. Use good bench technique as described with the regular bench press and lower the bar to your lower chest.


There are many ways to perform this exercise, but for this program we’ll use a standard straight bar. Begin the exercise with your knees slightly bent, back arched and erect with your feet shoulder width apart. You’ll also want to keep your ears aligned with your shoulders throughout the movement.

Grab the bar with your hands about six inches apart. Pull the bar down to a position where the elbows are tucked against the torso. This is the starting position. Keeping the elbows in a tucked position, press the bar down toward your thighs until your arms are fully extended. After a slight pause return to the starting position.


This exercise is designed to isolate the posterior deltoids and upper back. To begin, grab a pair of dumbbells and sit on the edge of a bench. Start the movement by pulling your shoulder blades up and back while at the same time cleaning the dumbbells up to a 90% flexion of the elbows.


Most people do dumbbell pressing the wrong way for the development of a big bench. You want to make sure you keep your palms facing each other throughout the entire movement. We want to learn to press from the lats with the elbows tucked. When you perform dumbbell presses with your palms forward, your elbows will turn out. Keep your palms in.

You also want to do the presses in a ballistic fashion. Let the bells fall with a fast decent, then rebound them back to the top as fast as possible.

This exercise is designed to isolate the lower heads of the inner and outer triceps. Begin by lying on a flat bench on your back. Grab two dumbbells and press them to an extended arm position with palms facing each other. Keeping the upper arm stationary, lower the dumbbell until the ends of the dumbbells hit your shoulders. At this point roll your upper arm back to stretch the triceps, then press and extend the arms back to the starting position.


This is one of the best movements for the lower part of the triceps. If you ever get a chance to see a great bencher, look at the mass around the lower upper arm, right above the elbow. This is where the big benches come from, not the upper part of the tricep.

The elbows out extension is designed to bring this area up to par. To perform the movement, press the dumbbells to the starting position above your chest. You want to keep the butts of the bells together as you lower them to your chest, keeping the elbows out. Pause on your chest for a second then press and extend the bells back to the starting position making sure to keep the butts together. This movement can be performed on a flat bench or incline.


This exercise is designed to work the muscles of the upper back and posterior deltoids with the use of a lat pulldown machine and a straight bar or leather tricep strap. Stand in front of the pulldown machine with your hands spaced on the bar wider than shoulder width. Stand back and pull the bar to your face while keeping your elbows flared out. Try to contract the muscles of your upper back for a couple of seconds before returning to the starting position.


Same as the 3 board press except now you’ll be using, you guessed it, five boards. This movement is a great tricep and lockout builder. You want to make sure to press the bar away from your head, i.e., towards the feet.

This is a special max effort exercise designed to help strengthen the midpoint of the bench press. It’s also very effective for increasing triceps strength. This exercise is performed exactly the same as the bench press except you lay on the ground instead of on a bench. Make sure to pause in the bottom of the movement before the accent. This exercise has been used with much success at Westside Barbell Club for the past seven years. Use a medium grip for this movement (pinky on the rings).

This exercise is designed to isolate the anterior heads of the delts. Grab one weight plate with one hand on each side of the plate. In a standing or seated position raise the plate up in front of you until you can see through the hole. Pause for one second, then lower under control. Make sure to keep your body in a rigid position so you won’t cheat the weight up by using body momentum.


This exercise is like a close grip bench press mixed with a triceps extension. Start the exercise the same way you would a close grip bench press except make sure the bar is set in a direct line above the upper pecs. If you were to run a plum line from the bar down to the upper pecs, this would be the path the bar is going to follow. Lower the bar down this line until you reach about halfway down. At this point let the bar roll back about one inch, then press the bar back up.


This is a very basic exercise designed to target the posterior deltoids. To perform this exercise grab two dumbbells and bend at the waist keeping the knees slightly bent and the back flat. Your arms will be hanging straight down from your upper chest. Turn your hands so your palms are facing your feet. Your thumbs should be facing each other.

Raise the dumbbell in an arced direction so your hands end up being slightly above shoulder level. The weights must be rising directly out to the sides for this movement to be done effectively. You can do this from a standing or seated position.

We use this exercise to help balance the shoulder complex. The rear delts and external rotators are needed to help stabilize the joint, especially with the great number of pressing exercises you’ll be doing.


This exercise is designed to isolate the medial and outer heads of the triceps. Use the same form you do on regular pushdowns, but grab the bar with a reverse (palms up) grip, spacing your hands about ten inches apart.

This exercise is designed to isolate the medial heads of the delts. Grab two dumbbells, stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and keep your back arched and abdominals tight. Your ears, shoulders and hips should stay in alignment. With your palms facing each other, arms bent at a five degree angle and the dumbbells four inches in front of you, raise the dumbbells up and out to the sides. When you reach shoulder level, lower to the starting position.


This is a special max effort exercise designed to help strengthen the lockout of the bench press. It’s also very effective in increasing triceps strength. This exercise is performed exactly the same as the bench press except you pause the barbell on a board that’s placed on your chest. The board for this workout will be three "2 x 6" boards about twelve inches in length. Make sure to pause the bar on the boards before the ascent.


The ultra wide bench press is performed the same as the regular bench press except you’ll use an ultra wide grip. This grip would be equal to putting your forefinger on the rings.


Same as close grip pushdowns, but grab the bar with your hands about 30 inches apart.


This is the same as the close grip bench press but you’ll only bring the bar halfway down, then pause for half a second and press back up.


Final Comments

I was very reluctant to write a training program for a client or athlete I really know nothing about, although I think we’ve developed a good one here for the typical T-mag reader. Make sure to use this as a template to complement your training.

You see, most people are silently looking to be led. If you’re one of these people you’ll never be better than the leader. Most people would rather have it this way because they can always place the blame on someone else for their misfortunes or lack of progress. The weak leaders also want this because it makes them out to be experts and they don’t want you to end up better than them.

I want anyone who reads this to someday become a better bencher than myself. This is the mark of a good coach. This can only happen if I teach you how to teach yourself. Pay attention to the variables of the program and try to determine what works best for you. This will be the key to your continued success.


This training program is designed to fit the profile we created, not your typical competitive powerlifter. For more information of training the competitive powerlifter, see our web site at www.elitefts.com. The best video we carry in regards to the movements listed in this article is the Bench Press Video by Louie Simmons.


Additional Notes:

200-300 bench: 20 pounds of chain weight at top
301-400 bench: 40 pounds of chain weight at top
401-500 bench: 60 pounds of chain weight at top
501-600 bench: 80 pounds of chain weight at top
601-700 bench: 100 pounds of chain weight at top

For more information on how to attach the chains, see the Accommodating Resistance article. To order chains, contact Toppers at TopperSupply.com

200-300 bench: 40 pounds of band tension at the top and 20 at the bottom
301-400 bench: 60 pounds of band tension at the top and 30 at the bottom
401-500 bench: 90 pounds of band tension at the top and 45 at the bottom
501-600 bench: 90 pounds of band tension at the top and 45 at the bottom

To order bands contact Jump Stretch Inc. at 800-344-3539