Big Bench

Part 1 of an 8-week cycle to max out

Everybody wants a bigger bench press! There is no hiding this fact when you go to the gym on a Monday—which is unofficially the National Bench Day! After a weekend of rest, most guys are anxious to get under the bar and push themselves to the max. I share your enthusiasm. When I first started working out, I wanted to bench more and more weight with each weekly workout. After several years of progression following routines I read about, I began to develop techniques to help me reach new levels of strength and power. I eventually paired up with Jim Parrish, one of the brightest minds in the strength world, and have been able to set numerous world bench press records as a result. Now, I’d like to let you in on a few of my secret tips to help you also press more weight than ever.

The secret to a strong bench is to focus on the bench press. Simple as that. On my bench day I focus on the flat bench only—no incline or decline, no dumbbell work. That’s not to say assistance work isn’t important, but it should be viewed only as that: to assist in the development of the bench press.

The key to being strong is to focus on improving your central nervous system (CNS) response. If you keep your CNS fresh and avoid taxing your neural response, you will take your strength to a much higher level, and you will maintain that strength over the long haul.

Two of the most common ways a lifter will tax his CNS is always benching in the one- to three-rep range and overtraining on a regular basis. Every time you do a workout with sets consisting of 1–3 reps, a powerful neural response is required to focus the maximal muscular contraction in performance of the heavy set. But this maximal effort is diminished with each successive set and quickly leads to overtraining—not to mention possible strain or injury to your shoulder joints and connective tissue.

In order to avoid neural overtraining, you must reset your nervous system. So, if you should compete in a bench or power meet or have a few workouts consisting of sets of 1–3 reps, your next several workouts afterward should be your normal training range, consisting of sets at 8–10 reps each.

The biggest mistake lifters make is that they don’t change up their routine on a regular regular and calculated basis. In order to keep my CNS fresh and constantly adapting—and my muscles growing ever stronger—I do a lot of training with bands. Jim has had me using bands from ironwoodyftness.com for many years.

I rotate through different strength bands every time I train. Each band has a different tension, which also forces me to change the bar weights every week. This accomplishes three important benefits: First, the neural input is vastly increased because of the proprioceptive stimulation, whereby the bands force your muscles to work harder to press straight upward. Second, by changing the weights regularly, I am able to generate maximal pressing force without benching maximal weights every workout. Finally, constantly pushing against the resistance of the bands causes my tendons and ligaments to get stronger, too, which helps increase benching force and prevents against injury. You can significantly increase your strength without gaining excessive muscle or mass (including fat) just by increasing the strength of your tendons and ligaments.

To build a massive bench press max, the first thing you need to do is to order a starter set of bands from ironwoodyftness.com. You will also need to create a few thicknesses of boards to help limit range of motion. Once you get these in your hands, take a week or two to back of your current program and do some high-rep sets to reset your training form and neural response. - FLEX

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