Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thoughts on Bench Pressing, Training Frequency, Etc...

The bench press is the measure of a man's strength in the western world, thanks namely to Arnold and the bodybuilding revolution of the seventies. Before that, the overhead press was considered to be the standard test of upper body power. Overhead pressing doesn't give you big man boobies, however, and despite the drawbacks of the bench press (it has a well-earned reputation as a shoulder destroyer), it's here to stay. For anyone thinking about competing in powerlifting, you're going to have to train your bench, even if you hate it. Hate is probably too strong a word to describe how I feel about the bench press. I don't possess great leverages for it (I'm 5' 9" with a 6' 3" wingspan), and my bench has increased a whopping forty pounds in the last two and a half years, while my squat and deadlift have both went up a lot more. That's to be expected--less muscle mass is involved in the bench compared to those lifts, yet being a 198 lbs man with a sub 300 lbs bench press is nothing to be proud of. I hit 290 touch and go back in March, and since then I haven't been able to press more. So despite what I wrote about programs back in September, I decided to give an old Anthony Ditillo routine a shot. It's a three times a week program, focusing on heavy, light, and medium volume days, and if you're interested, you can find it here. The claims of increasing your bench by 30 lbs in six weeks are hyperbolic, to be sure, yet I'm currently in week five and I'm about to press my old max (290) for five singles. Increased frequency seems to work really well for the upper body, though I have done something strange to my right shoulder. Try pressing more if your presses aren't going up. Once and week and twice a week won't cut it.

I've had the opposite mentality regarding the squat recently. Ever since squatting one-hundred days, I've taken a lower frequency approach to my squat. Right now, I squat on Thursday and Saturday. Last Thursday's workout was this, which is pretty typical:

315 add weightlifting belt
365 paused squat (paused at the bottom for one or two seconds), personal record

Basically, I pyramid up to a heavy single, something that is usually a personal record. Sometimes I'll do a paused squat if I don't want to attempt a new one-rep max. Then I do back off sets until I feel like I've done enough. I've actually hit a PR five straight weeks utilizing this approach.

On Saturday I do a lighter workout, usually composed of sets of five. This was last Saturday:

330*5 personal record

The first three sets of five are warm up sets, then I go for a five rep personal record, then I finish with a heavy back off set. I've been using the high bar squat exclusively lately, because I think it's the best way to squat due to its greater range of motion and increased leg involvement (I always feel like the low bar squat is mostly hips and ass, whereas the high bar is ass and legs). My best high bar squat is 385 lbs, achieved just two weeks ago, while my best low bar is 410, done about a month ago. The high bar will increase the low bar. There's no doubt about that.

I really believe that squatting everyday helped improve my form and set me up for improvement using lesser training volumes. A period of high frequency, high intensity training followed by a period of lower volume, but still high intensity training works very well. Try it and see if your lifts don't go up.

Let's conclude this article with a picture of Paul Anderson squatting a pair of giant metal wheels, because it is awesome.

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