How to Add Up To 50
Pounds To Your Max
Bench Press In
Just 6 Weeks!
By Shawn Phillips
A Few Pointers about the Bench Press in General
In my previous bench-press workout, I wrote a few paragraphs praising the bench press and tried to find some sort of common theme among bench pressers. I don't know if I succeeded, but in retrospect, I wouldn't do it again. We bench press because, next to the squat, it's the most fundamental weight training movement there is. If you had only 15 minutes to train your upper body, you'd do the bench press and maybe some chin-ups. Trying to explain why we like to bench press is like trying to explain why we like sex. So, rather than waste time philosophizing, I decided to spend more time instructing.
First of all, there seems to be an endless debate about what the proper bench-press grip is. There's a wide grip school, a medium-grip school, and an in-between grip school. For our purposes here, I want you to try a little test that will help determine the best bench-press grip for you, not Tom, Dick, or Harry. Get on the floor, and without thinking about it, assume your natural push-up position. Have someone measure the distance between your two forefingers. That's probably your optimum bench-press grip. Remember it, and use it during this program.
This may seem simple and unscientific, but the body will almost always assume the position that gives it the best mechanical advantage. Trust your body.
Here's another tip: most people bench press straight up and down, like some flesh-and-blood piston. However, if you were to look at slow-motion films of just about every major powerlifter in the world, you'd notice that they don't push the bar straight up and down. Instead, they push the bar up and slightly at an angle towards the head. This motion is called the J-lift. Use it.
And, my last suggestion regarding technique concerns arching the back-don't do it. True, it will almost always improve your bench-press poundage, but the advantage is entirely artificial. When you arch your back, you reduce the distance between your chest and the bar. Doing it will not accelerate muscle growth or increase strength.
I should also mention, briefly, the importance of doing proper warm-ups before doing any of the workouts in this program. This workout involves using very heavy poundages. In other words, it can be very intense, and if you're not careful, it can cause injuries to muscles that haven't been properly warmed up. Try warming up this way: start with the bar. Bench-press it five or six times, using a slow, regular tempo. Get up right away, and throw some weight on it. Do about four or five more reps. Keep adding weight and doing low-rep warm-up sets of about four or five reps-doing a higher number of warm-up reps can produce lactic acid and fatigue you before you even start your regular work sets. You don't need to wait long between warm-up sets, either. Just do another set in the time it takes you to get up, add more weight, and get back on the bench.
Do about four of these warm-up sets, and then rest about three minutes before starting your work sets.
My final piece of general advice regards failure. I talked about it during the first bench-press workout report, but I believe it's very, very important and can't be overemphasized. It seems self-explanatory, but there's more to failure than just stopping when the weight feels too heavy. Complete failure comes only when you've tapped into your hidden reserve of will and strength-and it may come a rep or two after your muscles tell you it's time to pack up and go home. A strong mind will always beat the body, no matter how strong the body is. Going to true, total failure is a great way to stimulate muscle growth.
How much progress you make during this program involves a lot of things you can't control, like muscle length, number of fast-twitch fibers, neural efficiency, and all the things that fall under the category of genetics.
However, there are a lot of things you can control. As I pointed out in the previous edition of this workout, muscle cells don't live in a vacuum—they're a part of you and share in whatever mistreatment you subject yourself to. If you party every night, continually do shooters of Jagermeister like it's New Year's Eve, 1999, and in general, abuse your body, your muscles aren't going to be able to respond properly, no matter how advanced a program you undertake. Muscle is hard enough to develop. Don't make things worse by not eating properly, not getting enough sleep, or abusing your body in general.
Consistency is also vital. There are plenty of reasons not to train, so only when you make training your number one priority will you be able to make progress. I'm not saying give up every semblance of a normal life, but just say to yourself, "Training, at least for this period of time in my life, is the most important thing." This will give you enormous willpower and allow you to rearrange your lifestyle, so you can hit the gym. And it's not like I'm asking you to go to the gym every day: this workout, when followed to a "T." will put you in the gym only four days a week, for an hour at a time. Piece of cake.
Even though this is a program designed to improve your bench press, it certainly doesn't neglect the rest of your body. After all, bodybuilding is all about balance, and a program devoted entirely to the bench press at the exclusion of other body parts would be ridiculous.
This program accounts for all body parts, but it does require you to make some modifications to the way you normally train. First of all, the program is essentially based on a "push-pull" philosophy. For instance, you'll work all the muscles that push, like chest, shoulders, and triceps, together on the same day. Conversely, you'll work biceps and back—muscles that "pull"—together on the same day. The reason for this split is plain old American common sense. It allows more time for the "types" of muscle to recuperate between workouts. Say, for instance, you worked biceps and shoulders together, in effect you're mixing a "push" muscle and a "pull" muscle. The next workout would probably group chest, triceps, and back, again mixing pull and push muscles. You'd be using some of the same muscles two workouts in a row! After all, a chest workout involves shoulders, too, and a back workout involves biceps, regardless of how well you "isolate" a muscle group. Hence, my push-pull split: it gives you more recovery time.
As far as legs, I've placed them with the "pull" or back and biceps workout, simply because that workout's shorter. One additional note on legs, though. You'll work them only once a week. That's right, once a week. Now, I know some of you squataholics are feeling the icy embrace of panic right now, but trust me, you won't atrophy during this seven-week program — you'll grow!
Why have I given you only one leg workout a week? Well, the legs are made up of such large muscle groups that working them is so taxing on the body that it may actually take away from gains you might make in your bench press. Make no mistake about it, this workout, although it involves a low volume of work, is extremely intense!
Many of you employ very different workout schemes, perhaps working each body part three times a week or maybe only once a week. If either situation is the case with you, this workout will take some getting used to. In most workout programs, you trash a muscle completely and then let it rest. Generally, very little thought is given to the amount of time between workouts. However, the more frequently you perform a lift, the smaller the increases in resistance, and the more likely your body can adapt to come back stronger each time. This bench program is based on small incremental increases in weight. Instead of trying to slap on an additional ten pounds each workout, you'll add weight gradually, making for a smoother, more realistic (and ultimately more effective) increase in poundages and strength.
The original program provided a series of two-day split options for training. I'm now much less inclined to give you a choice. i now know what works best for this program—it's a modified two-day split where, as I mentioned, you train legs only once a week, and your bench is done on Mondays and Fridays (see the chart on the next page).
You may be bellyaching that my split doesn't fit your schedule, but look at it this way: if your doctor told you to take your medication at such and such a time, you couldn't very well tell him that it doesn't fit your work or social schedule. He'd shrug his shoulders and ask you if your will was made out. Similarly, I've determined that this is the optimal training split, and if you want to "cure" your bench press, you'll find a way to do it.
An Overview of the Workout
As you read more about this workout, you'll realize it's basic yet advanced. You'll be doing basic, compound-type movements for all the other body parts. Now, this doesn't mean you'll be doing single reps for shoulders, biceps, back, or triceps, though. Instead, you'll be doing sets of six to eight.
It's very, very important that you try to keep the workload for these body parts down to the amount indicated in the tables. It's better that these body parts are a little undertrained than overtrained. Don't worry, though, you won't lose any size, and chances are, these muscles will respond with new spurts of growth once you begin training them "normally" again.
Your chest workout, however, will be completely different. At times, you'll be doing sets of one, two, or three reps. During other chest workouts in the program, you may be doing sets of four, five, or six. Most of you have probably never done sets of fewer than four reps, thinking that those kinds of sets are only for short, bald-headed guys in rubber suits who compete in powerlifting contests. Well, it's important to do some occasional low-rep training because that's the rep range that leads to the greatest increases in strength. And, the stronger you get, the more motor units you can recruit. And, if you can recruit more motor units, you're more likely to provoke those muscle cells into growing.
Others might take a look at the low number of reps and think to themselves, Wow, I need to work out more intensely to grow. Those sets of one, two, or three might be fine for Shawn, but I need intensity. Well, I've got news for you. Intensity is working with a weight that's close to your one-rep maximum. The closer your working poundage is to your one-rep max (1 RM), the more intense your workout. Remember, we're talking about motor-unit recruitment here. You may not get an awesome pump from low-rep sets, but you'll get stronger, and your bench press will go up by leaps and bounds.
I've already mentioned that you'll be working legs only once a week during this program. You'll also have to cut down on the amount of shoulder work you do. For instance, this workout doesn't include any overhead shoulder presses. With age comes wisdom, and I'm smart enough to know that these types of exercises have a high risk-to-benefit ratio. And, with this type of intense workout, the front delts don't need any added stress.
You'll work shoulders on Monday and Friday. The first shoulder workout of the week will involve dumbbell side raises. The second shoulder workout is really a rotator-cuff workout. I can't stress how important it is to have strong, healthy shoulders when doing this type of strength-gaining phase, and this is exactly what a strong rotator cuff will help ensure. Don't wait until you're in rehab- prevent injuries now! (For more information on exercises for the rotator cuff, refer to Charles Poliquin's article "Serious Advice on a Humerus Subject," in the January 1997 issue of Muscle Media 2000.)
Another important consideration is the actual amount of time the workout should take. Expert after expert and research paper after research paper has pointed to the fact that workouts of this type shouldn't take longer than an hour. The two- or three-hour workouts of the past are to be avoided like the plague. It's almost universally accepted that cortisol levels may climb, testosterone levels may fall, and you could end up "overtrained" if you regularly work out intensely for longer than an hour.
Additionally, you need to rest at least three minutes between sets on major lifts like the bench press and squats. For all other movements, rest two minutes between sets. I find that a stopwatch is an invaluable aid. Get one.
|Bench Press (Workouts #1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13)|
|Dumbbell Bench-Press - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Dumbbell Side Raise - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Lying Triceps Extension - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Rotator-Cuff Exercise - 3 sets of 12-15 reps|
|Bench Press (Workouts #2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14)|
|Weighted Dips - 3 sets of 6 reps|
|Squat - 3 sets of 6 reps|
|Leg Press - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Leg Curl - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Reverse-Grip Pulldowns - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|One-Arm Dumbbell Rows - 3 sets of 8 reps|
|Incline Dumbbell Curls - 3 sets of 8 reps|
The Chest Workout Nuts and Bolts
By now, you know how to bench properly (if you didn't know already), you know what split I recommend, and you know my "hard and fast" rules. It's now time to figure out your initial workout poundages and how to use the charts included. (Don't worry, it looks complicated, but it's not.)
Step 1: Determining your one-rep max
Granted, I used a computer to generate the charts in this workout program, but you won't need a computer or a calculator to complete the program. You will, however, need to supply one crucial bit of data, and that's your 1 RM. I can't stress how important this piece of info is, but suffice it to say, it's the backbone of the program. If you just guess your 1 RM, you might as well forget it. This program is based on precise mathematical formulas, and if you try to guess your 1 RM or don't do the test to determine 1RM properly, you'll get mediocre results.
To determine your 1RM properly, you should refrain from training chest, shoulders, or triceps 48 hours prior to testing. You should also perform the test before you start your normal workout. No use trying to determine how strong you are in a particular lift if you've just finished an incredibly grueling workout, regardless of what body part is involved. You should also warm up properly and make sure you've got a conscientious spotter handy in case your 1RM is less than the weight you've piled on the bar.
Here's how to determine your 1RM:
1. Warm up with a light weight for four to five reps. (Doing too many warm-up reps might generate too much lactic acid and screw up your 1 1RM.) Repeat twice.
2. Rest two minutes after your final warm-up set.
3. Increase the weight to one you can handle for eight reps.
4. Rest three minutes.
5. Increase the weight to one you can handle for three to four reps.
6. Rest three minutes.
7. Add weight, and attempt to lift the weight once.
8. If you failed, rest three minutes, reduce the weight, and try again. If you succeeded in lifting the weight, rest three minutes, add some weight, and try again. Repeat steps six and seven until you fail at lifting the weight.
Plugging your 1RM into the Progression Table on Pages 9-10.
Take a look at the Progression Table on pages 9-10. Once I point out a few things, you'll see that it's really very easy. For the time being, pay attention only to the column on the far left marked "1 RM." Find the number in that far left column that corresponds to the 1 RM you've already determined by completing Step 1. Let's assume your 1 RM was 280 lbs. Find the number 280 in that 1 RM column, and look at the first three numbers to the immediate right of your 1RM. In this case, the numbers are 220, 235, and 245. These are the workout poundages you'll use for your first bench-press workout, and if you look at the top of that same column, you'll see that those three poundages are grouped in column number "1." That "1" corresponds to your first workout. Right underneath that column head are the letters A, B. and C. (We'll get into these later— suffice it to say, they're just there to make it easier to find the appropriate columns.) See 'em? Now look under that A, B. and C; you'll see the numbers 6, 5, and 4. These numbers correspond to the number of reps you'll be doing in Bench-Press Workout #1.
To summarize, your 1 RM of 280 Ibs indicates that in Bench-Press Workout #1, you'll be using 220 lbs, 235 lbs, and 245 lbs in your work sets.
For those of you who tried the earlier version of this program, you'll notice a few improvements. For one, the Progression Table is set up in five-pound increments instead of ten. This is all part of making a "smoother" progression. Also, under each workout, there are three columns: A, B. and C. These columns correspond to the columns of the form so that it's very simple to transfer the information into the right place (A to the A box, B to the B box, etc.). And, lastly, there are no longer sets of eight reps—I've discovered lower reps work even better.Step 3
Recording Your Numbers on the Workout Sheet on the Back Cover.
Flip to the Workout Sheet on the back cover. Remember the number of reps and poundages we just read off the Progression Table? Write them down, along with the date, in the boxes that correspond to Workout #1. In the case of our example, you'd write 220 Ibs in the rectangular box marked "A" on the Workout Sheet. And, accordingly, you'd write 235 lbs under "B" and 245 lbs under "C"
Some of you more anal types will want to fill in all the boxes on the Workout Sheet right away... Don't. I'll explain why later.
Although there are three rectangular boxes—marked A, B. and C—that doesn't mean you'll be doing only three sets. Take a look at Box A next to Workout #1: it says you'll be doing one set of six reps. Fine and dandy. However, look at Box B: it says two sets of five reps. Accordingly, Box C says two sets of four reps. All total, you'll be doing five sets of bench during Workout #1. The exact number of reps and sets varies slightly from workout to workout, but your Workout Sheet will let you know how many you need to do for each training session.
By now, you're probably wondering when the heck you're actually going to work out. Well, that time is now. Do your chest workout using the poundages from the table. ALWAYS DO THE LAST SET TO COMPLETE FAILURE. Afterwards, finish working your chest, shoulders, and triceps as outlined in Table 1.
Once you complete the chest, shoulder, and triceps workout, rest a day or two, and then work back, biceps, and possibly legs, if it's leg day. Chest Workout #2 will take place on Friday of that first week, and we'll go back to the Progression Table to figure out your workout poundages.
Find your 1 RM on the right of the Progression Table again. This time, trace along the columns until you get to Workout #2. You'll note that the weights are heavier this time. Don't worry, l expect you to get stronger fast but not this fast. The poundages are significantly heavier because you'll be doing fewer reps. If you look at the top of the page, in column number "2," you'll see that you'll be doing sets of three reps, two reps, and a set marked "Neg." Go ahead and write those poundages in the boxes marked A, B, and C. In the case of our example 1RM, these poundages will be 240 Ibs, 260 Ibs, and 285 Ibs.
If you're paying attention, you'll have noticed that the weight used for the third set—the set marked "Neg"--is more than your 1 RM max. Hey, what are you trying to do, Shawn? Crush my chest? Actually, negative sets are used throughout the program. The use of negatives can really speed up strength development if not overused. Typically, people are capable of handling up to 20% more weight on the negative (eccentric) portion of a lift as opposed to the positive portion (concentric).
You'll do your negative set after your first four "normal" work sets of bench press. Then, you'll need to find a spotter who'll help you do your negative set. After you find one, load the bar with the weight specified in the Progression Table. Grip the bar as you normally would for a set, and then have your partner help you unrack the weight. Unlock your elbows, and slowly lower the weight, resisting it all the way. Then, press the weight up with help from your spotter, and rack the weight.
Now, work your triceps and shoulders as indicated in Table 1.
Step 4The Failure Test.
This program wouldn't be all that sophisticated (nor effective) if there weren't some way to gauge your progress and make adjustments accordingly. That's why there's a "Failure Test" included in Workouts #5, 7, 9, and 11. Remember when I told you not to fill out the numbers on the Workout Sheet ahead of time? Well, that's because of the Failure Test.
(Those of you who are familiar with the earlier version of the program will be relieved to know that the old Failure Test is gone, relegated to the Arthur Jones Museum of Outdated Training Notions. There's still a Failure Test, but it's much, much easier to do, and there's no confounding Failure Table to make things more complicated.)
Flip to the Progression Table once more. Take a look at the top row—the one where it lists the number of the workout with the letters A, B, and C underneath. Note that there's an "F" under the letter C of Workouts #5, 7, 9, and 11. That "F" stands for failure, and during the third set of the workouts listed, you'll need to do a Failure Test to determine your progress up to that point. If you "pass" the test, you'll need to move up one five-pound increment on the Progression Table. If you "fail" the test, you'll need to move back one five-pound increment. If you just get an average "grade," you stay on course because you're right on track.
Let me give you an example using our 280-lb 1 RM scenario again. Let's say it's Workout #5, and you're about to do your failure set. The Progression Table says you're supposed to load 255 Ibs on the bar. Now, do as many reps as you can, with good form, of course. If you did only one rep (or couldn't lift it at all), you'll need to drop one five-pound increment on the Progression Table. In other words, on your next chest workout, you'll simply use 275 Ibs as your 1 RM instead of 280 on Workout #6.
If you do between 2 and 4 reps with 255 Ibs, you'll continue using the increments and poundages listed for a 280-lb 1RM.
And, finally, if you do 5 or more reps with 255 Ibs, you're moving too fast, and you'll need to start using the increments and poundages listed for a 285-lb 1 RM when you get to Workout #6.
You'll be required to do these tests several times during the remainder of the program. This important feature allows you to progress at your own pace!
Here's a point-by-point rehash of what I just explained regarding the Failure Test:
1. During the third set of Workouts #5, 7, 9, and 11, you'll be required to do a Failure Test to evaluate your progress.
2. Set up the bench-press bar with the weight listed on the Progression Table for your Failure Test.
3. Using good form, do as many reps as you can.
4. If you do one rep or can't lift the bar at all, you'll need to go back one five-pound increment on the Progression Table. The new 1RM will be used to calculate subsequent workouts, until, of course, you get to the next Failure Test when you'll check your progress again.
5. If you do between two and four reps, continue using the same 1 RM you've been using to calculate the poundages you use for subsequent workouts, until, of course, you get to the next Failure Test when you'll check your progress again.
6. If you do five or more reps, you'll need to go up one five-pound increment on the Progression Table. The new 1RM will be used to calculate subsequent workouts, until, of course, you get to the next Failure Test when you'll check your progress again.
A Few More Words on the Nuts and Bolts
This program takes 50 days. When you think about it, this is a very short time. We're talking about 7 weeks or 14 chest workouts between you and new, previously unrealized power!
For those of you who haven't done this program before, it may seem a bit overwhelming. After all, many of you, if you've ever done a chest program before, probably borrowed it from some pro bodybuilder's routine outlined in some other magazine. In other words, the workout probably instructed you to do 20 sets of bench press using 400 Ibs or some other totally absurd recommendation. This is a workout that's about as personalized as you'll ever get, and it's not one based on science fiction. Instead, it's based on science fact. Spend a little time studying the program, put it to use, and I guarantee you'll get great results—more strength and size!
Hey, building a great body is just as much mental effort as it is physical!
Now, let's look at the steps one more time:
1. Determine your one-rep max (1RM).
2. Find your 1RM in the far left-hand column of the Progression Table on pages 9-10.
3. Trace your finger across the table to the right from your 1 RM to the column under the appropriate workout number.
4. Fill in the weights listed in the Workout Sheet, matching the workout number and repetition subheads.
5. Find the weights for the next workout and fill them in one workout at a time.
6. Use the Failure Test as indicated by the Progression Table and the Workout Sheet to chart your progress and determine new 1RM's as needed.
I Finished the Program... What Now?
Okay, 50 days are up. If you've followed the program as detailed, you've probably added about 50 Ibs (maybe more, maybe a bit less) to your bench press. As I mentioned earlier, your gut response might be to say, "Hey, let's do it again!. This is a strength- and mass-building program, not your honeymoon night. Many bench pressers who completed the earlier version of this program decided to do the program again, immediately after finishing it for the first time. I guess their reasoning was that if they could add 40 Ibs in 6 weeks, they could add 80 in 12 weeks or 120 in 18! Hell, let's do it all year long and add 346 Ibs to our bench presses! Sorry, it doesn't work that way.
Take at least three weeks between the end of this program and starting it over again. Doing the workout back to back with a second 50-day program wouldn't be very effective and could very well cause you to lose strength.
After you complete the 7-week program, I recommend not training with more than 80% of your 1 RM for 3 weeks. The best recommendation I can make, and what I always do, is move into a growth phase of training. Now that you've reached a new level of strength, it's time to solidify your new strength by building the foundation to support it. A growth phase of moderate intensity (eight to ten rep range) for about six week is perfect. With your new strength, you should be able to handle more weight at eight reps than ever before. And after a good growth spurt, you'll be ready to try this program again soon enough. For example, after I recently completed this program, I took three week and just did moderate to light dumbbell-pressing workouts. But, I'll soon be ready to start the program again and boost my strength even more!
I really believe this is the best program of its type anywhere. I'm certain this program will bring you to a new level of strength you didn't think possible, as well as help you add new mass to your pees, delts, and tris! Now, the ball's in your court—put this program to use, and let me know how much new strength and size you gain!