There are two fundamental forms of strength: 1. Dynamic (speed) strength and 2. Maximum (absolute) strength. You must train both forms to optimize your overall strength. Westside’s weekly training cycle consists of four training days. For both the bench press and the squat/deadlift, we have a “dynamic effort” training day and a “maximum effort” training day. The objective of the dynamic method is to maximize your rate of force development (RFD). On dynamic-effort day, you’ll lift sub-maximal weights at maximal velocity.
We’ll use the dynamic bench press to illustrate the dynamic method. Warm up, then load the barbell with approximately 40% of your best one-rep maximum (1RM) raw bench. Attach either bands or chain weight to the bar to create “accommodating resistance” (i.e., to accommodate the resistance according to your individual strength curve and force velocity curve). Accommodating resistance reduces bar deceleration, so by definition it increases your RFD. Adjust the band tension or chain weight so that you add about 30% more resistance at the lockout of your bench press. This enables you to move the bar very explosively off your chest. As you continue to press concentrically, move the bar at a speed between 0.8 meters per second to 0.9 meters per second for optimal results.
Lower the bar as fast as possible to create an “over-speed eccentric effect.” This effect is best achieved with band resistance (chains, unlike bands, don’t pull the barbell downward) and causes kinetic energy to be accrued during the eccentric phase. During the eccentric-to-concentric transition, this kinetic energy in turn causes the sudden release of elastic energy stored in the tendons and soft tissues of your body. Slow eccentric work is only effective at producing muscle soreness and larger muscles. Thus, lowering the bar slowly and doing pause reps is a bad idea for any lifter trying to stay within a certain weight class.
Do nine sets of three reps on speed bench day. This allows you to do three sets at each of three different grip spacings (narrow, medium, and wide). Rapidly lower the bar in a straight line to a point near your sternum and press the bar in a straight line somewhat toward your feet—a straight line is still the shortest distance between two points. Keep your elbows tucked in to prevent your shoulders from externally rotating and to minimize the threat of injury. The triceps fire first, so they must be the strongest muscle group. The lat and upper back muscles fire next and thus require diligent training, too. The pectorals must be trained, of course, but the chest is the least important muscle group for the Westside style of benching.
After you complete your speed benches, train your triceps, delts, upper back, and lats as hard as possible. Try using one of the following training options to warm up for your triceps work: (1) two sets of dumbbell presses for two fairly easy sets of 15 reps, (2) one set of close-grip bench presses and one set of wide-grip benches for 15 moderately difficult reps each, or (3) two sets of high-rep pushups (not quite to failure). Rotate among these three options to prevent accommodation and boredom.
Now do triceps extensions, dumbbell rollbacks, and any other triceps exercise that works for you. After thoroughly taxing your triceps, move on to your lat and upper back training. Alternate among low pulls, chest supported rows, pulldowns, chinups, and pullups. After lats, do a few shoulder exercises, then a few sets of hammer curls and you’re done. Remember, “everything works, but nothing works forever.” You’ll stop progressing if you do the same (or even similar) workouts every week.
Does Westside’s dynamic-effort bench press program really work? Westside has 33 lifters who’ve benched more than 700 pounds, 10 who’ve benched more than 800 pounds, and two who’ve benched more than 900 pounds (the last two also squat 1,200 pounds and deadlift 800 pounds). You better believe it works!
There is a virtually endless list of exercises from which you can select your ancillary movements. Check out Westside’s ever-growing archive of training-related articles, blogs, and videos at westside-barbell.com.
If you’re confused or uncertain about any aspect of Westside training, the website will provide you with the knowledge that will set you straight. Moreover, in the near future, I will devote a “Westside Rules” column to the task of choosing ancillary movements and the application of accommodating resistance to these movements.
We’ll discuss maximum effort training in the next issue.