That guy bench pressing 325 pounds in the picture? That’s me. I competed in a local raw bench press competition in February 2012, weighing in at an skeletal 149 pounds (I had 4% body fat, to give you an idea of how dense I was). And I pressed 325lbs. And I won best overall.
I used to think that a 225lb bench press (two plate bench press) was simply not in my cards. Then I did it. I never saw myself benching 275lb (two and a half plates). Then I did that. 3 plates? Never in a million years, I’m just too small.
Yep, I did that too.
Just recently, I increased my bench press to 375lbs in a push/pull competition, and this April (2016), I plan to set the Raw Collegiate National bench press record in the 83kg weight class.
So how was I able to reach these goals? How was I able to increase my bench press year after year, even after many have told me that I have reached my peak? Really, I can break it down to three simple, almost common sense reasons:
1) Attack your weak points
Plateaus happened. The weight would stall for months at a time, and as the weight got heavier, the chance for stalling got greater. So what do you do? Break down the lift, and find out where it falls apart.
I’ll be writing a much more in depth post on overcoming “sticking points” in the bench press, because I feel that I’ve overcome a great deal of them myself. By lifting smart, and changing some variables, you can make the lift temporarily harder in order to make the lift easier down the road. Let me explain.
If you find that, no matter how hard you try, you always fail the lift right off the chest (as most raw lifters do), it means you need to strengthen your pecs. Do this by pausing for 3 seconds instead of 1 second, or by incorporating key accessories into your routine, like dumbbell presses and pec flyes.
Have trouble locking out? Strengthen your triceps! Make the top half of the lift harder by overloading using boards or Mark Bell’s Slingshot. Hammer them with extra tricep isolation exercises! Break them down to create the strongest triceps imaginable.
2) Increase your lifting frequency
If you’re serious about strengthening a certain lift, you need to put the time into it. I used to bench once a week, following the horribly low volume program of 5/3/1. It just wasn’t enough, and for years, my bench hovered around 315-335lbs. When I started benching twice a week, my bench press responded favorably, and jumped to 340lbs, then 350lbs. Now, my bench press has grown to be within pounds of 405lbs, my next big milestone. And I know that, given time, it will fall.
3) Fuel your body
I ate more. More chicken, more beef, more proteins and potatoes. More greens and more oats. When I got to college, suddenly I wasn’t bound to having one dinner. I could eat when my body told me I was hungry.
And my body rewarded me for this. As I took in more protein, and more healthy carbohydrates, my body repaired itself more effectively, and I had more energy in the gym. I would tear down my muscles to the point where I couldn’t even take my shirt off following a workout, and my body would get to work building stronger muscle in its place, because now it had the nutrients to do so.
Fueling your body doesn’t stop at food though. You need to provide your body adequate sleep, so that it can properly utilize those nutrients you’ve given it, and fully repair your body. Sleep is an amazing, and mysterious, part of the day, and it is when you are sleeping that your body does its best to repair itself.
So eat, eat, eat, but also, sleep!