Written by Jennifer Thompson
I have been powerlifting since 1999 and competed in the 132 pound weight class until two years ago, when the I.P.F. increased the class to 138 pounds. I have to keep a fairly clean diet in order to keep my weight close to 132 pounds. I normally walk around at a lean 135 pounds and then have to diet hard and sauna to make the 132 weight class. In order to maintain my strength in this weight class, I found it important to train close to that weight. You can find examples of athletes that drop 10-15 pounds the week before a competition then sauna and compete in a very dehydrated state. However, not many of them can maintain the strength they had in their training cycle for the meet.
In order to maintain a steady body weight, diet and exercise are obviously of importance. For most of my career, I have tried to keep a diet of 2 grams of carbs to every 1 gram of protein. While maintaining my protein at 1.5 g per pound of body weight. I keep a running list of what I have consumed throughout the day and total it at night. As I get closer to a competition, about three to four weeks out, I reduce the ratio to one to one. This very simple type of dieting allows me to still get the carbs I need for energy, but not enough to gain weight. It is also an easy diet to implement. After reading enough nutrition labels, you get a sense of the types of food to eat. These foods still allow for carbs, which reduces the need to binge eat and becomes more of a lifestyle than a “diet”.
The bench is something that I have been able to improve and maintain at a steady body weight throughout my fifteen years of powerlifting. I believe it is my best lift, mostly because I really love this exercise and work the hardest at it. However, I have been able to uncover techniques and training that allow me to continue to improve my max lifts. One of the workouts I implement, when I don’t have upcoming competitions, is what we call our “core strength” workout (attached below).
There is a time to work on your one rep max and there is a time to build up your core strength. Your core strength is your repetition strength. We start with reps of ten and work our way down to reps of five by the twelfth week. During this workout we hit the required lifts and max out reps on every third set. This workout builds muscle and strength each time we implement it. Plus it challenges you each workout session to improve your number of reps from the workout before.
After completing this twelve week cycle, we work on our one rep max. Our workouts focus on being explosive in our lifts. Explosive means moving the bar fast and powering the weight off your chest. We do this by alternating a heavy and a speed week. Many lifters incorporate such workouts, but often the speed of the lift is left out. In Physics, force equals mass times acceleration. If you can accelerate the weight off your chest, you will be able to create more power, thus lift more weight.
There are many places in the bench press where speed gives a huge advantage. The bench press has many aspects and not just the chest muscles are needed.
- A lifter needs flexibility to get an arch and raise your chest high so that most of the weight is on the top of the traps and eliminates the involvement of the delts. This raise puts you in more of a decline position, which is a stronger position with a shorter distance to push.
- You need to use leg drive to power the weight off of your chest in the correct direction. This drive with the legs allows the lifter to take a good jab at the weight off of the chest.
- Lat flare is needed to throw the weight off your chest with speed after it is brought to a pause.
- Holding your breath (I take a huge breath and then one more short one through my nose) is needed to increase internal pressure giving the explosive strength needed to drive the weight up.
Because all these little parts of the bench press are important to create speed, I incorporate exercises such as pull downs, pull ins, weighted pull ups, bicep curls, and tricep extensions, just to name a few. Many of these accessory exercises are overlooked in powerlifting when they can actually give you an edge in your lifts. I have often been told I workout more like a bodybuilder and less like a powerlifter. Having a balanced physique is important to me. I think this has also led to my improvements in the bench while staying at the same weight. We work not just the core powerlifting exercises, but many of the accessories.
By having a muscular build your body will burn more calories throughout the day. The process of breaking down muscles during a workout and then repairing them afterwards, burns calories. This process has also let me maintain a steady weight.
The supplement industry has changed drastically from when I began powerlifting in 1999. The science behind working out is studied to a greater extent and we know so much more about muscle development and maintaining strength. It is hard to get the amount of protein, caffeine, creatine, lipids and amino acids your body needs out of regular meals. Therefore, great supplements also help with maintaining weight and continue to grow strength. They help aid in having a vigorous workout, but then also helps repair and maintain muscle growth.
I make sure eat many small meals throughout the day in order maintain muscle growth and strength. My normal meal routine is similar to this one”: one 50 gram protein shake for breakfast with milk, a protein bar around 10:00, a high protein lunch (lunch meat, cheese or eggs), protein shake in midafternoon, a creatine/high caffeine drink before my workout, a post drink made of amino acids after workout (to help with repair), a high protein dinner and a greek yogurt before bed. You have to put in the right things into your body in order to get the most out of it.
In my many years of powerlifting, being able to maintain my weight and stay at the top of competition I have come to the conclusion that training has to be a lifestyle. Working out cannot be something you do in the gym and hour or two a day. It has to impact the way you live. The way you eat, the way you sleep, how you mentally prepare yourself and how hard you are willing to train.
Heavy Bench Press Workout:
15 second heavy hold (hold a really heavy weight at the top to develop static muscle strength)
3 sets of 5 reps bench press (make sure to increase weight each week once 3 sets of 5 is achieved)
2 sets of 5 incline press
2 sets of 5 decline press
2 sets of 5 upload presses (with rubber bands hanging from a squat rack)
2 sets of 8 dumbbell presses
2 sets of plyometric push ups (push ups off a board on top of a ball)
Speed Bench Press Workout
3 competition bench presses with commands (1st press is 85% of max, 2nd press is 95% of max and 3rd press is your max lift)
3 sets of 5 reps of flat bench press with rubber bands around bottom of the bench.
2 sets of 5 reps incline press
2 sets of 5 reps decline press
2 sets of 8 t-shirt presses (paused reps where the bar is touching t-shirt not your chest)
2 sets of plyometric push ups (push ups off a board on top of a ball)