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Powerlifter Ben Graves Interview: Arguably The World's Best Raw Bencher!

I am proud to introduce to all of the readers arguably the best raw bencher in the world, and certainly the most consistent, Ben Graves. Get the inside story on how he got started, how he trains and more. Check it out!

Attending meets in the mid south region, you have probably seen this guy. He doesn't say a whole lot, is super muscular and consistently has a raw bench that increases at a rapid rate.

I am proud to introduce to all of the readers arguably the best raw bencher in the world, and certainly the most consistent, Ben Graves. If you have ever seen him bench press, you can attest to the fact that Ben's raw strength and explosive power is unparalleled. Ben has officially bench pressed 615 lbs raw, with a close miss at 630, and has bench pressed over 600 four separate times in competition.

Ben Graves Benching Some Serious Weight.
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Ben Graves Benching Some Serious Weight.

[ Josh Bryant ] Ben, congratulations on officially benching press 600 lbs raw in four separate meets, holding the APA World Record Raw and being the first person to crack 600 raw in the "Blue Grass" State! Thanks for the interview opportunity. Introduce yourself to the readers.

    [ Ben Graves ] My name is Ben Graves. I live in Franklin, Kentucky. I am 30 years old, 6 foot and 305 pounds. My occupation is Gym Manager and personal trainer. I compete mainly in bench press only meets.

[ JB ] How did you get started in powerlifting?

    [ BG ] I have been weight training since I was 14 years old. In '03 I was training with a couple of friends using a five day split bodybuilding type workout and got decently strong. So, I figured why not give this a shot and see what happens.

Why Powerlifting (And Not Bodybuilding)?
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Why Powerlifting (And Not Bodybuilding)?
Described simply, powerlifting is training to maximize one's strength in the squat, bench press and deadlift with the end goal to achieve a personal record.
Victor Calia

[ JB ] How long have you been competing? Have you competed in anything besides bench press meets?

    [ BG ] I did my first APA push/pull in 2004. I think I ended up with a 530 pound raw bench and a 630 pound raw deadlift at around 265 pounds of body weight. Yeah, I tied for first place at 2007 Texas Strongest Man (Atlantis format). I also won a North American Strongman Society Gold Level meet in Illinois in January of '08.

[ JB ] As a strength athlete, what is your proudest accomplishment?

    [ BG ] Without a doubt my 615 pound raw bench press at 297 pounds. The bench press has always been my favorite lift.

[ JB ] What are your best lifts in the gym and in competition?

    [ BG ] My best lifts are a 315 pound close-grip bench for 27 reps. I was just goofing around with some guys and tried it. Also, a 365-pound push press for two reps. I also did 405 pound front squats for three reps. I also placed a 410 pound atlas stone on a five-foot platform. Competition would be a 615-pound raw bench and a 735-trap bar deadlift.

Trap Bar VS Straight.
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Trap Bar VS Straight.
What is the real differnce when it comes to using trap bar for deads and straight bar? I used to use trap then my lifting partner said straight was better.
Started By:

[ JB ] Have you always been strong?

    [ BG ] No, I was a skinny teenager. I didn't gain any real weight until my early twenties. I just stayed consistent and didn't give up. At my first training session with you, all I could bench was like 480 pounds, in January of 2006. Even that was after 13 years of training.

[ JB ] As a strength athlete, you are well aware of the heroes in the game that have come before you. Who has inspired you along your journey?

    [ BG ] I am inspired by many lifters of the late 70's and early 80's: Arcidi, Kaz, and Doug Young. As far as recent lifters, I like to watch Kennelly, of course. I also like the other lifts such as the Atlantis format; I thought that was really cool. Josh Bryant's 445-pound overhead press was insane.

[ JB ] You have always lifted raw, what is your reason for this? Has it ever crossed your mind to wear a bench press shirt and see what you can do?

    [ BG ] Honestly, it feels natural to me and I have a decent raw bench, therefore, I really don't have a reason to shirt up. I have never even put on a shirt, and I don't have any plans to anytime soon.

What Does It Mean To Bench Raw?
Bench raw requires lifting without the use of supportive clothing like a bench shirt. A bench shirt is a stiff supportive shirt, used to improve performance in the bench press, most often in powerlifting competitions. The only supportive equipment allowed by the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation for bench press is a leather belt.

[ JB ] What do you attribute to such rapid strength gains? You went from a slightly above average bench presser to arguably the best raw bench presser in the United States?

    [ BG ] The gains are definitely from consistent training and sticking to our game plan. I don't miss meals and I don't miss training, everything else has to wait. If you're going to reach your potential, you can't halfway do something.

[ JB ] Tell us about your training and how you prepare for competitions?

    [ BG ] My training is old school powerlifting, with some newer twists. I don't use boards or chains, but I use jump stretch bands occasionally. Using the full range of motion with bands has great transference to a raw bench press. I like the JM press and the overhead work.

    Sometimes, we do concentric bench presses from a rack starting directly on my chest. I train speed quite a bit, that's why I can drive explosively through sticking points. I do not train speed how Westside traditionally does. I train all three lifts every week, split up into four days.

    I train squats and the deadlift with the same intensity as the bench work. I think this has helped me tremendously. Josh Bryant is my trainer; he sends me my workouts weekly and we correspond frequently by e-mail and phone. His Web site is


LiftRite Video Guide: The Deadlift

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[ LiftRite Video Guide ]

[ JB ] Does your training differ preparing for competition from the off-season?

    [ BG ] Oh yeah. Off-season training has a ton of volume. As a meet approaches, the weight gets heavy. Sometimes, he has me do overload work, but he always factors in de-load training sessions. This keeps my central nervous system fresh and minimizes aches and pains.

    I'm not a big fan of off-season work. I have to do a lot of reps! Ha, ha, ha! I know it has its place in the scheme of things but I would much rather train for a meet. Josh follows a periodization model, but the conjugate method is used throughout the program. We never get away from the core lift.

[ JB ] Do you have training partners?

    [ BG ] I haven't had a training partner in over two years. I really don't have a great environment to train in; I train in a commercial gym. I always have to find a spotter and I have to listen to pop music. I would love to relocate somewhere else to be able to train in a more suitable atmosphere, perhaps to Metro Flex Gym in Arlington, Texas. This would be more beneficial to me now more than ever.

Metroflex Gym - Arlington, Texas.
Metroflex also houses IFBB pros like Ronnie Coleman, and Branch Warren along with dozens of other top-level pro bodybuilders, powerlifters, football players, fitness athletes and UFC fighters.
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[ JB ] Do you follow a specialized diet or take any supplements?

[ JB ] Anyone that has seen you in person can attest to the fact of your presence. You have the classically strong look, unlike many elite shirted bench pressers. What do you attribute this to?

    [ BG ] I attribute that to never using equipment. Having never used a shirt, I have a good, strong base to work with. I can't hide behind weak power off my chest and a mediocre lock out; my muscles do all the work. I don't have weak body parts. Everything has to work together to get the lift. To build size, using high volume, heavy weights, a high protein diet are essential.

[ JB ] What does the future hold for Ben Graves? Do you have any goals or predictions you would like to share?

What Does The Future Hold For Ben Graves?
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What Does The Future Hold For Ben Graves?

    [ BG ] I want a 650 pound raw bench this year; I feel that is very obtainable. My long-term goal is to break the record, no doubt about it. Some guys benching raw today have made claims yet to be seen. I can back it up.

[ JB ] Thank you for this interview Ben, anything you'd like to add:

    [ BG ] I thank my family, friends and all of the support I have received throughout the powerlifting community. Thank you to Josh Bryant for taking me from average to world-class in less than two years.