Five Game-Changing Strategies to a World-Class Bench Press II

November 15, 2016 7:24 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

By: Josh Bryant


James has put 100 pounds on his deadlift in the last six months


This past week my client, James Strickland, bench pressed 612 pounds officially Raw at a 273-pound bodyweight. Not only is this one of the best bench presses of all-time but a 34-pound personal record.
I am going to share with you five tips that helped James go from one of the best bench pressers in Texas to one of the best in the world in six short months.
1) Focus
James ain’t scared; if he was not a God-fearing family man, I bet for “kicks” he would run around Irish Bars in South Boston and yell, “St. Patrick was an Englishman!”
Previously, any error James had made was to the side of aggression. Bordering on belligerence is partly what made James great; however, this truculence, at times, led him into Internet challenges and instead of focusing on the end game on the platform, he would get caught in side shows.
James no longer participates in these charades; if you want to dethrone King James it will be on the platform—not in the gym, a chat room or an arm-wrestling match at a truck stop.


James has tied Doug Young’s all-time Texas Raw Bench Press Record at 275
Application Point
To be your best you must operate in the zone; this is the mental state which you are fully immersed in an activity– it is a place of intentional, energized focus, full immersion, and enjoyment in the process of what you are doing. In training, the zone is characterized by complete absorption in training.
No social media updates, no showing off for the disco bunny on the stair master—stay focused. When I was training at public gyms I never viewed other people as good or as the enemy, they were soulless silhouettes, like the trees outside.
God made you in his image, you have a built-in automatic servo mechanism inside you—it will take over and serve you when you are in the zone. All masters operate in the zone!

jhs mindset cover
Learn more and how to operate in the zone.

2) Dip More
Parallel bar dips, the aesthetic crowd say are too rough on the shoulders, poodle-dick personal trainers claim they are too hard for clients and quasi-intellectual strength coaches dispute their functionality and, at best, go the PT Barnum route and opt for rings.
In May, James struggled doing dips with 145 pounds, his last heavy week of training he banged two sets of five with 250 additional pounds, which he rated at an RPE 8 (meaning he had 2-3 reps left in the tank).
Dips, like the bench press, work the anterior deltoids, triceps and chest. However, the anecdotes of many old-head powerbuilders tout their superiority to the bench press for building the chest and lab research confirmed by scientist Per Tesch in the iconic book, Target Bodybuilding, showed with MRI, that dips are superior to close-grip bench presses for developing all three heads of the triceps
Dip bars over the past 75 years have been common place in prison yards, YMCAs and other places where the emphasis on “go” supersedes “show”.
Dips have helped construct the most imposing Jailhouse physiques of all-time like Jim Williams, Tookie Williams, Craig Munson and Michael Christian. On the other side the law, Brooklyn cop, Marvin Eder, dipped 434 pounds over his bodyweight in the early 1950s and became the first man under 200 pounds to bench over 500, before drugs and bench shirts.
On the more mainstream side of things, from Pat Casey, the first man to bench press 600 pounds, to the greatest bench presser of all-time, Jeremy Hoornstra, dips have played a significant role in their bench press success—they have in a majority of huge raw bench presses.

Al Davis doing dips with 340 pounds (Go to 1:30).
Application Point
For some folks with shoulder and/or elbow problems, as in the case of master’s bench press kingpin, Al Davis, dips can allow you to train around these issues pain free. To minimize any chances of injury take the following steps:
-No dive bombing, CONTROL THE DESCENT!
-Lower yourself until upper arm is parallel to the floor, no lower
-Keep shoulder blades pinched together like a bench press
-Use a V-handle if available
-Master your bodyweight before slowly adding weight
-Use bars, not rings
-Avoid sets to failure

3) Training Paused Reps
I first saw James bench press at Sean Katterle’s Hardcore Powerlifting meet in July of 2015. James bench pressed 495 x 2 reps touch and go for his last warm-up, bordering on Jeremy Hoornstra speed. I was positive he would bench well over 600. If the meet was in Vegas with a betting line, I would have been out a hell of a lot of dead presidents!
He barely hit a 550 that looked as slow as a month of Mondays.
Something was WAY OFF—I knew this power could be harnessed and directed into a 600 + pound raw bench press. By implementing paused reps, now it has.
Application Point
There is a place for speed reps, there can even be a place for deadlifts with straps, but remember, you have to practice how you play—this is The Principle of Specificity, a granddaddy law. If you disobey the law you go to jail; James was in the jail of no bench press gains.
Do you want to avoid jail and hit your best lifts on the platform?
Then you must practice how you compete by pausing reps in training.
At my best I could do a paused bench press with more weight than touch and go, it was second nature.

The most comprehensive guide available on specific bench press training.
4) Increase Upper Back Training Volume/Frequency
Last meet, a 589-pound bench press beat James like a rented mule. I am not one of these people that think that a strong upper back is the most important component to a big bench press. But a big, strong upper back gives you a nice, robust shelf to bench press off of and even provide a little spring on the press up. Looking at all of James numbers, his upper back was proportionally weak compared to the opposing muscles on the front side of the body.

Application Point
James trains his upper back three days a week. I have found, purely by anecdotal observation, the upper back responds very well to high frequency/high volume training, regardless of what type of gainer you are. James did a minimum of 25 sets of upper back work per week, sometimes many more. The lower back does NOT recover quickly so to increase upper back training frequency use things like pull-up variations, lat pull downs and keep rows chest-supported.
5) Off-Season
I was 10 feet away from Benedikt Magnusson when he set the world record in the deadlift in 2011 with an earth-shattering 1015, beating Andy Bolton’s suited record raw!
After the meet, Benedict talked about how so many Americans go heavy with no letup ever and do way less at meets. This should never happen, with the exception of extreme weight cuts.
Benedict talked about doing lighter weights to build hypertrophy, bring up weaknesses and give the body and the CNS a break from the heavy pig iron.
My mentor Ed Coan taught me the same thing—virtually anyone who is the game for any amount of time preaches a similar doctrine.
Application Point
For two of the last six months we targeted James’ upper back and triceps with various accessory movements, while lowering the weight in the bench press and increasing the reps.
The result was a 612 bench press!
You have to give yourself a break from the heavy weight sometimes—plus, you need to take time to correct structural imbalances. If you have a weakness and you only train core lifts you will develop compensatory movement patterns, and that limiting factor will continue to limit you and possibly cause injury.
Final Thoughts
Besides going from a great bench presser to a world class one, James has increased his squat and deadlift by approximately 100 pounds each in the last six months.
Look out for a 650-pound bench press and a 2000-pound total in sleeves.
In the words of Old Blues Eyes, Frank Sinatra, “the best is yet to come.”

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