Ask The Strong Guy

In this first installment of a biweekly column, powerlifter Mark Bell answers your questions about picking very heavy objects up off the floor and rack.


Yo, my bench REALLY sucks, and I'm struggling to make progress. I saw a video of one of your guys, Stan Efferding, benching 600-plus pounds. That got me all fired up! Help me out, brah; I need to get my stats up!

Mark: The fastest route to big gains is to correct your form and work on improving it. I know coaches who can show people how to cut a tenth of a second off their 40-yard dash simply by having them change their setup at the starting line.

When you lift with good form and "set up" properly, the same dramatic results can be seen in powerlifting.

When I go out and teach Crossfit Powerlifting certs, it's not uncommon to see athletes hit a personal record minutes after being taught how to do the movement the right way.

Just a few simple changes in technique and, wham, they're lifting 25 pounds more than they ever have before. Just like that!

The main thing is, most people don't know how to get tight. Stan Efferding slapped 50 pounds on his bench and nearly 200 pounds on his total in six weeks with Super Training.

Here are a few things I did with Stan that can help you reach your own PR:

  1. Pin back those shoulder blades. Try to pinch them together while pulling your chest up. Pull your shoulders down toward your hips while arching your middle and lower back. This will help create stability and shorten how far you press. Imagine trying to make your flat bench look like a decline bench.
  2. Keep those wrists straight! Trying to crush the barbell in your hands will giving you better leverage to press. Get your legs under you by positioning them where they feel strong and stable. Then push/flex your quads like you're trying to lift your body off the bench.
  3. Your legs will be tight throughout the entire movement. Some end up only flexing their legs when they press. That's when your ass comes off the bench and you look like you're having a seizure on the bench.
  4. As you begin to lower the weight, start tucking your elbows in to your sides. This will have you pressing with better leverages and reduce stress on your shoulders. Don't tuck your elbows in to your sides too much at the start - only as you're lowering the bar.
  5. RELATED VIDEO Bench Press
    Watch The Video - 12:48

  6. Bench off your nipples. Nah, they won't get chaffed ... they may get hard though! Take the weight out of the rack and let it "drift" toward your sternum before starting your descent. The barbell should be even with your lower pecs/nipples before you begin lowering. When the bar touches your T-shirt, it should be a little lower than your nips.
  7. Push the barbell away from you by flexing your lats. You know that lat spread you hit every morning after logging on to Come on, dude: Don't lie! You know you flex every morning before and after your shower. (After the shower is the best because the heat from the water gets the veins cranking, although staring down some serious shrinkage is a tough way to start your day.) Anyway! When you flex your lats like you would when hitting your lat spread-that's how you need to flex your lats out of the bottom position of the bench press.
  8. Barbell Bench Press - Medium Grip

  9. When it's time to press the weight, push it up with everything you got. Simple enough, right? Don't lose sight of this. You now have a lot to remember, but above all else, being strong has a lot to do with showing up and working your ass off.
  10. Drive your head into the bench to finish off the press.
  11. Lastly, change stuff up a bunch. Don't do regular benches every week. Try partial-range-of-motion presses out of a rack, where it's about half the distance of a regular bench. Try benching with a 2-second pause on the chest. Try benching off a phone book or some boards. Throw in some close-grip work. Rotate a few exercises around from one week to the next and watch your numbers take off.
  12. Most important, get yourself tight!