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Powerlifting Bench Press Techniques
by: Carl Smith
I would like to address two main training methods developed by two of strength sports more outspoken authorities. A combined training program from both can give strong and lasting results while maintaining a high level of motivation. Louie’s quest is for maximum explosive strength for powerlifting while Mike’s is for size via strength. Weightlifting has it’s agreed training specifics and technique. Unfortunately, powerlifting has still not gained it’s equal place. This is due to various reasons, many of which the powerlifting scene has to blame itself. Right up to the highest level of the world championships the majority of lifters have ugly technique. There are many self proclaimed coaches and printed profiles of high level lifters with their training programs. Almost any program will build an inexperienced lifter to a certain degree. But habits, grooves and technique must be built in especially these lifters. This is where I wish to thank Louie for his selfless time and effort in giving powerlifting it’s self worth and integrity. A “Simmons” lifter can be recognised on platform.
Mike’s program of “Heavy Duty“ training is also not exactly mainstream bodybuilding training. But it is based on physiological and scientific facts. You ask: What does Mentzer have to do with Simmons? To answer this you should understand the three main streams of lifting and their goals. Weightlifting concerns itself with explosive concentric strength. There are long hours of training spent learning grooves and leverages. Bodybuilding's quest is the acquirement of shaped and defined body muscle mass. Most bodybuilders aren’t really that strong. Top notch bodybuilders have, however, learned to develop all muscle fibre and can be very strong. Powerlifters must learn from both camps. The lifts must be explosive. Explosive strength is not learned from sets of 10 reps. Louie has put in his homework studying the Bulgarian and Russian training methods. He has adapted them to the powerlifts. Multiple sets of 1-3 reps in certain percentage ranges have proven, as with weightlifters, to provide the best results. A maximum lift cannot be calculated from your best set of 3, 5 or 8. Muscle fibres simply don’t work that way. Train with 8 reps and you’re training muscle fibre that is not responsible for the single max. Louie writes articles on a regular basis addressing this training. At the same time powerlifters need more body mass than weightlifters to support the loads from the three lifts.
Two of the three powerlifts involve eccentric strength which also leads to more mass. This is where Louie meets Mike. While the three powerlifts are trained submaximally the assistance work must be worked to the max. Either a max single or max set of 6-10 reps. The body grows and the mind pushes the barrier back with absolute loads. This means the body must expand this load. This is done with either using more weight for the same previous rep count or the same weight for more reps. By pushing yourself to the max in one set you would not be able to do duplicate the load in a second set. This is where lifters usually do their 5 sets of 8 reps. You’ll get pumped but the body is working below it’s threshold and very little new growth is possible. A second set would send you into overtraining and within three weeks the body would respond by getting weaker, eating itself and losing mass. Unfortunately, this is offset in many cases by the use of long courses of steroids. This reverses the catabolic effects of such training. But the lifter has to come off this course (hopefully) sometime. Then it’s crash time taking you back to or lower than block one as well as a psychological down. Not to mention the destructive health effects of such abuse. This is another great advantage of “Heavy Duty” training. One set of all-out exertion and then resting provides the muscles with optimum impulse without overtraining. The growth achieved can be quite surprising.
To put it into practical terms: Training begins with either the powerlift or a replacement exercise of that lift. For instance; deadlifts can be replaced with low box squats, rack deadlifts or deadlifts standing on different height boards. Squats are mostly done off the box. Benches are taken with three different closer grips than that used in competition. The lifts are trained at a submaximal percentage using sets of 1-3 reps for approximately 10 sets with rests between 30-90 seconds. These are followed by an average of four assistance exercises using the “Heavy Duty” system. These assistance exercises are peaked and then changed every three weeks. The reason being the body will peak after three weeks and burnout will occur if you attempt to peak the exercise further. You must develop an array of assistance exercises as well as always work on technique. A workout log book is a must to follow the increasing workload. Exercises and weights are recorded and referenced when you return to a certain exercise. You will be astonished at the amount of gains made. And these gains are solid and continual. The body will respond with this combined method with additional mass and better condition. The mass gained will be lasting and dense by training all muscle fibres. Training lasts approximately 45 minutes. There is no need to spend 2 hours or more in the gym. Training is done 3 days per week with an additional bench assistance day lasting only 20-30 minutes.
Training is best combined with a nutritional program that supports the needs and expenditures of such exertion. This, however, entails another article.
I am not attempting to speak for Louie. He does not train using “Heavy Duty”. He smiles when lifters offer variations of his method. I do not consider, however, this training method a “variation” as his program, along with his assistance exercises, is followed. The changes I offer concern only the set / rep scheme.
This method is also practical. The intensity learned by taking a set to failure can be translated to the platform where maximal effort is required. Speaking of failure: Try not to fail in the set. Take the reps to just that barrier. Failure results in the muscles releasing their tension and petering out. Tension should be retained. Progressive overload is the key.