The moments worth remembering in the weight room are mentally bookmarked in pounds. And if you thumb through that sweat-soaked scrapbook, you’ll find that most of the images take place at the bench. On one page, you see yourself as a teen grunting out your first good rep at 135. A few pages later, you’re taken back to the moment when you first slid two plates on each side of the bar and managed to get in a few reps. Turn to the back and you’ll find empty pages, ready to accept snaps of new accomplishments, new personal bests. And Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is just the guy to help you get there. One of the most sought-after coaches in the strength game, Bryant knows what it takes to bust through plateaus on the bench — if you’re willing to put in the work. Build these five tactics into your regimen to build a bench that commands nostalgia.
1 LEARN “CAT”
“CAT, or compensatory acceleration training, is lifting your submaximal weight with maximal force,” Bryant says. “By building explosive power in the bench press, you blast through sticking points. Lifting the weight with the intension of being explosive will make the weight feel lighter.” Need proof? Walk over to the dumbbell rack, pick up a 50-pound dumbbell quickly and then try it again slowly. The weight will feel lighter when picked up quickly. To train this way, try putting half your 10-rep max weight on the bar and press it up as quickly as possible for reps in the first set of your bench-press regimen.
2 USE THE DEAD BENCH
“A dead bench is done in a power rack with the pins set at chest level,” Bryant says, adding that the bar comes to a complete and deliberate rest on the bottom portion of each rep. “You will not be able to lift as much weight this way because of the absence of elasticlike energy stored on the negative portion of the lift. Because this lift is concentric (upward phase) only, you build tremendous starting strength.”
3 MORE SETS, FEWER REPS
“Let’s look at two scenarios: Workout A, you do eight sets of three reps, and in Workout B, you do three sets of eight reps,” Bryant posits. “In both workouts, you completed 24 repetitions. However, in Workout A, you had eight ‘first’ reps, and in Workout B, you only had three ‘first’ reps. Since you are training for a one-rep max, more heavy ‘first’ reps are important.”
4 BUILD STRONGER BIS AND TRIS
“Very few men with spaghetti arms bench huge weights,” Bryant says. “Obviously, the triceps are crucial to lock the weight out and can be built through close-grip bench [presses], board presses, extensions and a plethora of other exercises. However, the biceps help stabilize heavy weights, and strong forearms help you squeeze the bar tight. This will make the weight feel lighter in your hand. The old adage ‘Curls are for girls’ is not true when it comes to the bench press.”
“Your central nervous system cannot tell the difference between a real and an imagined experience,” Bryant says. “Set some time aside every day to visualize blasting maximal weights. Go to the gym, load your goal weight on the bar and stare at it — see yourself lifting it. The more vivid the experience, the more real it is. When you eventually attempt the weight, you will only be going through the motions because you have done it over and over in your head.”
Josh Bryant, MFS, CSCS, PES, is the owner of JoshStrength.com and co-author (with Brian Dobson) of the Elitefts.com best-selling ebook Metroflex Gym Powerbuilding Basics. He is a strength coach at Metroflex Gym in Arlington, Texas, and holds 12 world records in powerlifting.