I’m often asked how to get a big raw bench. I was a top eight bencher in 1980 with a 480 pound lift at 220 without a shirt. There were no bench shirts until around 1984. Using a shirt, I was in the top six in 2002 with a 575 pound lift. If I could make a top 10 bench for 32 years, imagine what you can do.
In 1971, I had a 340 pound raw bench. Not long after, I met Bill Seno, a bodybuilder and a powerlifter, a common combination in the ’70s. Bill was a bench-press record holder with massive size and using a close grip style. 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 no longer make progress, then an eight rep max, and then a 10 rep max, with each successive increase until I could no longer make progress. 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 340 pound bench, at 172 pounds body weight, to a 515 pound bench at 212 pounds body weight. I warmed up a lot and made smart jumps. A three week wave at one weight worked best for me. Thanks, Bill.
If you’re 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 nine reps with 155 pounds, 23, 21, and 19 reps with 125 pounds, and 29, 24, and 20 reps with 100 pounds. You’ll need about six minutes between each set to fully recover. Use one bar weight per workout.
Pat Casey, of the original California Westside Barbell Club, was big on using dumbbells, as was Jim Williams, who made a 675 pound raw bench in 1972. Incidentally, Pat was (officially) the first 600 pound bencher and also held the world record in the squat (as did Mr. Williams). Larry Pacifico also told me (and anyone else who’d listen), to train the triceps like crazy. He thought 75% of bench strength came from the triceps, and I later found this to be true.
So how does Westside train triceps? Every way possible.
First, you can do lying triceps extensions, with a straight or EZ-curl bar, in a variety of positions: bar to forehead, bar to nose, bar touching, and bar to throat. The throat is the most demanding on the elbows, but very ef ective. 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, then press up.
You can also do dumbbell extensions, lowering them 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 then pressing back through to the top. Westside does 60–80 total reps of these movements.
In addition to the triceps work, you’ll need to include upperback training, rear and side delt work, and hammer curls.
MORE RAW TIPS
■ Use one dynamic effort (speed) day to develop 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.
■ Use a second max-effort day to develop absolute strength. Rotate the bar exercise each week. Rack press on two different height pins, board press to a four and threeboard, a three and two-board, or a two and one board. Floor, incline, and decline presses should also be rotated in. Follow a 1RM with a top set of six, eight, or 10 reps for added muscle mass.
■ When pressing, press the bar straight up not over your face.
■ Follow this two-day dynamic effort and max-effort training system, 72 hours apart for optimal recovery, and watch your bench soar.
For more information please visit westside-barbell.com and westsideperformancenutrition.com .