Every single lifter that spends any time in the sport will come to different points when it seems as if no matter what they do, their lifts stall. I was no different. I had been benching over 500 lbs. unequipped for roughly three years, and had seen little if any progress. I had tried high rep, low rep, tempo reps, and anything else under the sun, and I was discouraged. Then I looked to my past, and the past of the sport for an answer.
I don’t know what happened in powerlifting that allowed lifters to excuse weak links in the body, but for years I was told that shoulders were just an accessory muscle, and that quads and biceps were unnecessary altogether. Really? I was confused by this belief, but like so many I bought into this belief as well. And before you mistake my point as gear bashing, let me explain, in the gear I was wearing I did keep improving without training these muscle groups, but when the gear came off? Well, that was another story. So I decided to add in Military Press to see if I could jump start my bench. What could it hurt? One of my idols Bill Kazmaier held multiple bench press world records, and was known to have one of the best overhead presses of all time. If it was good enough for Kaz it was good enough for me.
I looked at my training, and after my benches on Wednesday I was usually too spent to dedicate the effort to overheads, so where else could I look? I was just developing my split for the Cube Method, and I hated speed benching on Sundays. I never felt much benefit because I was a powerful, and fast bencher without speed days, so I decided to drop the speed work, and implement overhead work. This was in March of 2012, and I had just done 500 for a double, and 515 for a single. I knew if I was going to be competitive, at least to match my goals I needed to be nearing mid 500’s by the time my meet rolled around in June. Anyone that knows anything about lifting knows that that kind of progress is uncommon, so what was the plan?
Now that I had established Wednesdays were for benching, and Sundays were for overhead work I had to figure out how to blend the two into a harmonious duo for ultimate strength. Knowing that my bench day would be on the Cube Split:
I needed Sundays to compliment that split, but being that Sunday is my “bodybuilding day” I decided that any work was better than what my shoulders had been getting, so I began with a 3-5 sets of 8-10 reps scheme. I kept the weight light and manageable, using no less than 185, and no more than 255. These weights are not impressive to say the least, but my goal is not to be a great overhead presser, but a bench presser, keep that in your focus.
After three weeks, one wave on the Cube, I repeated my attempts of 500, in which I got 5 reps, and 515 in which I got 2 unassisted, and a 3rd where I needed just a tap to get it to lockout. I was sold. After the initial 3 week wave I felt that nothing less than 225 was worth my effort, and I occasionally went over 255, going 275, and 315 a time or two just to see if my shoulder strength was actually improving or if I was just getting better at reps. Truth was both. In three months time I went from a solid 515 for 1, to 540 in my first raw meet at the end of June. After that meet, I just slightly adjusted my overhead weights higher, and kept the reps the same, and the gains kept coming, and by the last week of October at the XPC Semi-Final, I benched 565, and the following weekend I bench 573 lbs. in California at Mark Bell’s Meet of the Century.
In all fairness I had benched 535 with a pause in the gym a few years back, so the capacity for strength was there, but 540, 565, and 573 were all new levels achieved just by focusing on shoulder strength. What this did for my bench was create a more stable upper body, and thicker “shelf” to set up on, and more overall power through the shoulders, and triceps. So if you have been hammering, and hammering away with little to no progress, maybe you should give your overhead press some attention… I guarantee you won’t get weaker putting in hard work.Brandon Lilly is very well traveled, Elite powerlifter. He has trained at Guerrilla Squad Barbell, Westside Barbell, Lexen Xtreme, and is now home at Berea Barbell. In his strength journey he has competed in bodybuilding, strongman, and powerlifting. Brandon is one of only 19 men to ever total over 2200 raw, having 2204 which ties him for 16th all time (826.5 squat, 573 bench, 804.5 Deadlift). He also amassed a 2530 total in Multi-Ply, and has best lifts of 1005 squat, 820 bench press, and 765 Deadlift. Brandon is the author of The Cube Method and is aiming to create a paradigm shift in the Powerlifting world. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter