Training The Bench Press

Most of the lifters that I've talked with on the internet and in person do not use drugs. Once they grasp the concepts behind this training, they undoubtedly make huge gains. The trick is not overtraining...

The training program explained here is one based on the principles of Westside Barbell. While Westside Barbell originated in Culver City, California, Louie Simmons has taken the attitude and innovative training techniques to Columbus, Ohio. I will attempt to explain the myths, method and the program. Let's examine some of the misconceptions of this type of training.

Misconceptions Of Training

First, Westside is not about chains and bands. Adding chains and bands does not automatically make a program stronger. Members of Westside Barbell trained for many years without the use of chains and bands and have always had impressive results.

They are merely a tool, and when used appropriately, can cause large increases in strength. The Westside method revolves combining the Dynamic, Max Effort and Repeated Effort Method, and coupling them together in a method called "conjugated periodization." Another common myth is that this type of training is only for those who used anabolic/androgenic drugs.

Most of the lifters that I've talked with on the internet and in person do not use drugs. Once they grasp the concepts behind this training, they undoubtedly make huge gains. The trick is not overtraining, which is common among drug-free lifters, and strengthening your weaknesses.

In fact, when one looks at a drug-free lifters' program, the volume and total number of exercises often exceeds a drugged lifter. The trick is knowing your own strength and stay within your workload and capacity.

Let's look at some of the science behind the training. Here is an excerpt from the article "HIT or Miss?" by Louie Simmons from the 1998 issue of Powerlifting USA.

"A. S. Prilepin suggested that to achieve the proper intensity, one should use the rep/set scheme shown in the table, to ensure the greatest development of speed and strength. He discovered that if 7 or more reps were performed at 70%, the bar speed slowed and power decreased.

The same holds true when using 80% or 90%; once one goes above the rep range shown, the bar slows, which translates to less power. Doing fewer or more lifts than Prilepin suggests will cause a decrease in training effect."

Number of Reps for Percent Training
Percent Reps Sets Optimal Total Range
55-65 3 6 24 18-30
70-75 3 6 18 12-24
80-85 2 4 15 10-20
90+ 1 2 7 4-10

These percentages and rep ranges are what the Westside program is based upon. Simmons has also used Vladimir Zatsiorsky, Mel Siff, and many other Soviet experts to help design the program.

If one wishes to gain strength, all three methods should be employed. Why limit yourself to just one method? By improving both speed and strength (combining the Maximal Effort and Dynamic Effort Method) it teaches the muscles to contract in the shortest amount of time.

The Repeated Effort Method is used to develop the necessary hypertrophy for leverage and muscle mass. This method is used with various auxiliary exercises but not with conventional exercises like the bench, squat and deadlift.

Max Effort Bench Press

Lifting maximal loads (at or above 90%) is "considered superior for improving both intramuscular and intermuscular coordination; the muscles and central nervous system (CNS) adapt only to the load placed upon them. This method should be used to bring forth the greatest strength increments." (Zatsiorsky 100)

The big drawback with handling weights at this percentage is that after three weeks the nervous system begins to weaken, and thus your strength diminishes. So how does one use the benefits of maximal effort training without the negative consequences? Switch exercises every 1 to 3 weeks.

This keeps the body fresh and the athlete is able to train this way year round. Another benefit of this training is that a sense of accomplishment and well being is maintained in the weight room. By keeping accurate records and encouraging the athletes to break them, athletes have proof of getting stronger every week.

There is no need to wait 12 weeks for proof of strength gains. This can do wonders for the morale of the team as well as increasing the emotional intensity in the weight room. A competition-like atmosphere is created and thus athletes are forced to respond in a positive manner.

Here is a sample Max Effort Exercise.

Exercise Sets Reps Weight
Floor Press 1 5 45
1 5 95
1 5 135
1 3 185
1 3 225
1 3 275
1 1 315
1 1 365
1 1 405
1 1 425
1 1 450

In the above example, 450 would be the lifters 1RM for the floor press. This number is to be recorded and broken. As you can see, the lifter makes small weight increases and begins with a general warm-up.

He will drop from three reps to one rep when he feels the weight getting heavier. The athlete will then keep increasing the weight until he reaches his 1RM. It is important to try and break records, but it is imperative that the athlete strain.

Max Effort Bench Press

The general loading parameters of Max Effort:

Intensity 90-100%
# of Exercises 1
Reps 1-3
Rest Interval 2-5 min
Frequency/Week 1
Weeks/Exercise 1-3

Dynamic Effort Method Bench Press

The Dynamic Effort Method is not used to develop maximal strength, but to increase force production and explosive strength. By training at 50-70% and using compensatory acceleration, the athlete will become more explosive.

Using compensatory acceleration (pushing as hard and as fast as one can during the concentric phase of the lift) allows the athlete to push maximally against sub-maximal weights. Thus an athlete that can bench press 300lbs. using 180lbs (60%) can produce 300 lbs. of force as long as he concentrates on accelerating the bar. The training of force development is imperative in order for an athlete to achieve his potential.

Here is a sample Dynamic Bench workout.*
* The athlete has a 450 lbs. bench press and trains at 50% of his max (225).

Exercise Sets Reps Weight Rest Interval
Bench Press 2 5 45 1 min
1 5 95 1 min
1 3 135 1 min
1 3 185 1 min
8 3 225 1 min

It should be noted that the percents could vary from 50-60% depending on the athlete. The more advanced the athlete, the lower the percentage and vice versa.

Two things that the coach must do to insure that the athlete is training at the right percentage:

  1. Monitor bar speed. Having an experienced coach watch the athlete is crucial. The athlete should also know that the weight shouldn't be heavy and should move explosively.

  2. Monitor Max Effort workouts. When the athlete fails to improve on the max effort day, it is usually the result of too high of a % on dynamic day. The coach should always error on the side of the lighter percentage

The athlete should use three different grips on dynamic day; all should be inside the rings.

The rest periods are crucial to the dynamic day. The goal is to fatigue the fast twitch muscle fibers and thus make them stronger. Also, the more they fatigue, the more fibers will be activated with each set. The rest times must be carefully monitored.

Parameters Of The Dynamic Effort Method

The parameters of the Dynamic Effort Method for the bench press:

Load (Intensity) 50-60%
# of Exercises 1
Sets 8
Reps 3
Frequency/Week 1
Rest Interval 1 min

Repetition Method Bench Press

The repetition method is "lifting a non-maximal load to failure." (Zatsiorsky 100) The repetition method is best for hypertrophy. According to Zatsiorsky, it is only the final lifts of the set that the maximal number of motor units is recruited.

The big drawback to this method is that when one trains to failure, it is difficult to recover. Also, because of the fatigue, the last reps are often done with poor form and thus injury can result. This program uses a modified form of the repetition method.

All supplementary and accessory lifts are done until a breakdown of form takes place or when an athlete perceives that he has only 1 or 2 reps left. It is important for the athlete to push himself, but to know his limits. The parameters of this method are broad and really depend on the individual lifter.

Generally though, the sets fall between 3-8 and the reps from 6 to 15. It is important to point out that these lifts should not take away from the overall program, but add to it.. By training to failure on every set, the effect of the program would be lost.

Parameters Of The Repetition Effort Method

Modified Repetition Method Parameters:

Load (Intensity) 60-80%
# of Exercises All supplementary and accessory lifts
Sets/Reps 3-8/6-15
Rest Interval 1-3 min
Frequency/Week All Workouts
Weeks/Exercise 1-5

The Basic Training Template

Day I

  • Dynamic Bench Press - 8 sets of 3 using three different grips.
  • Supplementary Exercise - Triceps training with high intensity, lower volume.
  • Accessory Movements - (triceps, delts, lats).
  • Prehab work - (upper back, rotators, extra pushdowns for elbows).

Day II

  • Max Effort Exercise - Work up to 1RM.
  • Supplementary Exercise - High volume triceps work.
  • Accessory Movements - (triceps, delts, lats).
  • Prehab Work - (see above).

Putting It Together

Here is a sample workout.

Day I (Dynamic Day) Day II (Max Effort Day)
Bench Press 8x3 @ 50-60% Floor Press To 1RM
5 Board Press 3-5x5 DB Triceps Extensions 7x8
Lat Rows 4x10 One Arm DB Row 4x8
Rear Laterals 3x15 DB Cuban Press 3x15

Printable Log - Day 1.

Printable Log - Day 2.

* Seated cable rows shown. For lat rows, use a hands facing downward grip.