Article written by Josh Mac
Before I begin, please read this in the voice of Tyler Durden from Fight Club when he’s eating the apple on the phone. You’re welcome, now you can’t unhear it. Now then, who would like to bench more? 7/10 hands usually go up when a presenter asks this type of question at a time share presentation. The only difference here is that instead of going home with a set of brand new kitchen knives and a novelty wine bottle stopper, you’re going to forge divine pecs, tris, and lats of peace: the holy trinity.
I’m not going to write crap like “this is the best way to…” or “studies show that …” because there isn’t one universal “best way” and I clearly do not read studies. I can’t even remember if it’s safe to eat all of the egg yoke now or not.
What this article will explain is how I found a way to blow up my RAW bench and swell up my chestnuts. The scientific studies that I conducted on myself consist of observing my YouTube video titles. These titles from 6 months ago entitled “Bench Max:” are drastically less ferocious than the ones I’ve uploaded in the last 3 weeks. Science (still in Tyler’s voice please.)
“Bands a make her dan”
Thanks Juicy J. The entire process came about because of my frustration with bench templates that looked great on paper to the eye, but felt like garbage to my torso. Heavy bands and chains LOOK awesome, and WORK great for some fellas. For me though, they were just another expense to my wallet and my gainz weren’t justifying them. I liked the challenge of locking out 3000 pounds at the top, but my chest was bored with benching 135 for triples all of the time. That’s exaggerated I know, and I varied straight weight to band tension ratio week to week; but I was still weak, week to week. Bands and chains do have a place though, as I’ll explain that a little later.
Yes, that was intentional, they’re boring. I was excited to start board pressing until I found out that we can’t use them at the meet. Some programs called for “Max Effort 3 board” or “heavy triples to a one board.” I even saw a guy boasting that he does 1 rep max board presses with a buffalo bar. I swear, you can’t make this sh*t up. Well that’s great and all but I’m a raw guy and a simpleton at that. I don’t want to have to subtract the drop of the camber from the width of the boards to get a ROM distance PR. Board presses have their place though, usually on the chest of a guy in a canvas straight jacket surrounded by 8 men and a flip cam. I don’t discount their effectiveness as an accessory, but they were quarters holding up dollars when they were my main raw work for the day.
Max effort work was great for a while, until it wasn’t. I saw decent gains on bench for a little while hitting heavy doubles and singles, but then my joints revolted. When the weight got heavy, my form changed a little. When I did raw max effort style training weekly, my body started accepting the new form as normal. I slowly learned to bench heavier weight like crap. Aside from the terrible new motor pattern I was forcing myself to learn, I now had shoulder problems! This was great news for my doctor, who just loved to see me. X-rays and MRI’s showed the problems, bursitis and degenerative joint disease. Nothing a few shots couldn’t fix temporarily, but if I was going to avoid surgery I was going to need to change how I was benching.
* Greasing the groove: This meant reinforcing the most advantageous and efficient bar path on every rep and every set. Although this is the intention on just about all bench programs, I couldn’t do it their way. I had to find a way to program sets and reps that all looked very similar week to week. That meant that although the weight and volume were different weekly, the bar path, speed, and lockout all look and feel strikingly similar on video and in person.
More accessory work: With heavy emphasis (not weight) on shoulder health. That meant lot of rotator cuff work, stretching and building up the REAR delts. Please welcome back to the conversation: bands. I started doing band pull a parts in many varieties, overhand, underhand, angled (put a long band around a pole or rack and take a step back,) paused, to failure, high reps, low reps etc. Rear delt work has helped protect my shoulder joints and reduce pain, as well as make my back in the mirror selfies look fantastical!
Lat work was also very important. T-bar rows, lat pull downs and PAUSED dumbbell rows were the key to building these bat wings. On the bench, lats can be thought of as the brake, controlling the speed of the bar on its way down and the force that keeps your elbows tucked at the bottom. Aside from the lats key role in all of the powerlifts, it’s just cool to look like a rabid flying squirrel while I’m waiting to be seated at Applebees.
Variety: Changing the rep and set scheme weekly not only allowed me to build upon the previous weeks work, but kept training fresh and exciting. Rep scheme changes are great, but they have to make sense. If each change in volume and weight aren’t leading you forward, then you may feel like you’re spinning your wheels. Most good programs take advantage of this, so I needed to take care to make sure that I wasn’t just pulling numbers out of my ass.
The Program: Volume based, undulating and tapering, this program starts off with bread and butter work and ends leaving you ready to punch gravity right in the choppers. My training partners affectionately named it RBBP, Red Bearded Bastardized Periodization, and it stuck. I wanted to shy away from percentages since that’s where the majority of the confusion begins for people. Is it 80% of 100% or 80% of 90%? Well I was wearing wraps, so is it 90% of THAT max? That’s annoying.
So forgetting percentages, I based it on reps. I began the program based solely on the amount of weight that I could complete for 5 sets of 5 reps with, cleanly and without compromising form to “get the last few.” I now had my base number.
Week 1 objective: Find your base number.
The following 8 training weeks will add weight to your base number. You will never do a working set on bench day with less than your base number again, so make sure you chose wisely. If your ego had a vote, you may be in trouble in the coming weeks. It’s better to err on the side of light, so go back and remember how that 5thset really went.
The next week, I took my base number and added weight to it, added a set and dropped a rep. What was 25 total reps last week with the base weight, is now 24 total reps this week with 10-15#’s more. That’s progress.
Week 2: 6×4 @ (base number + 10-15’s)
Now, let’s get a little heavy. Remember, these reps should be looking similar because they’re all coming just short of form breaking fatigue. The last rep on a set in week 1 should look similar to the last rep of a set in week 3 or 4 or 5 and so on.
Week 3: 5×3@ (base number + 15-20#’s)
After the first 3 week wave, I restarted the volume of reps at 5, added weight and reduced the sets.
Week 4: 4×5@ (base number + 5-10#’s)
And so on.
Week 5:4×4@ (base number + 15-20#’s)
Week 6: 3×3@ (base number + 20-25#’s)
Week 7: 3×5@ (base number + 15-20#’s)
Week 8: 3×4@ (base number + 20-25#’s)
Now we’re getting close to the end. My bench was skyrocketing at this point. As I was coming up to a meet, I wanted to switch gears and make the bulk of the work heavier, so enter the dreaded double.
Week 9:4×2@ (base number + 40-50#’s)
Week 10: Meet/test
I added one set of AMRAP (as many reps as possible) short of failure to weeks 1, 4, and 7 with the original base number to gauge progress and add volume. I also did a bench accessory day which was made up of overhead and push/presses as the bulk of the work, incline bench, tricep and lat work done afterward. I wasn’t overly concerned with accessory volume or sets since it’s just work. It can vary from week to week without much consequence since the main bench volume is the engine that is driving progress.
To avoid hitting the wall, each cycle also uses overlapping numbers. When I start a new cycle, I start week 1 of the new cycle with the weight from week 4 of the previous cycle. Same weight, same rep scheme, but more sets. The increase of work capacity keeps the strength gains on tap and keeps your torso on track to be confused with a tank.
Bench progress is strength progress, period. When your upper body is strong, YOU are strong. When your arms are stronger, the log is easier to press. When your lats are stronger, loading sandbags, kegs or stones is easier. You may never be a beautiful or unique snowflake, but at least you’ll be a strong one with a bad ass bench.
“The red bearded bastard”
Occupation: Locomotive Engineer
Class: 275-308 Raw
About: Full time railroad and family man, part time lifting nomad. I train out of Raleigh Barbell under coach Jackson Williams. I’ve competed in the APA and IPA, as well as a non-sanctioned charity push/pull called the RAW POWER BLAST in Johnston County, NC.