Powerlifting

Narrow Your Thinking For A Bigger Bench Press


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Like most people when I started working my way from a casual gym-rat, to a competitive powerlifter I found a mass of information. I looked at all of these stories, and I looked at ideas that seemed to be repeated over, and over, and I found one of those “rules” was to bench with your hands as wide as legally (index finger covering the ring on the bar) possible to shorten the stroke, and maximize leverages. What if all that did was strain my pecs, make my shoulders ache, and actually make my leverage worse? Was I the only one that the “one size fits all model” didn’t apply to? I had to spin my wheels for years to find out.

I am the rare breed of lifter that is not really built to be great at any lift. I have short arms (typically good for benching), but from my shoulder to my elbow actually measures just slightly longer than from my elbow to my forearm. So, in a widened grip I had tremendous elbow flare, and had to touch extremely low to get any kind of stability. Guess what happened when I touched low? I had to unflare my arms, and I’d put tremendous stress on my upper pecs, suffering multiple micro tears over the years. I was always told “your pecs are just weak”. Well I managed to strength my pecs through loads of dumbbell work, but with a barbell near max weight it was always a gamble if they would hold up to the strain. I got tired of benching 500, getting hurt, falling back to 460, then building back up to only reinjur my pec. This cycle repeated itself until I looked back. I took notice of benchers in the 70’s and 80’s (specifically Doug Young), and I noticed that many had huge triceps, and fairly narrow grips with the forearms being at a 90 degree angle on the chest. For some reason the 90 degree rule just made sense for me, so I began trying it, and in no time I was hitting rep PR’s, and then ultimately maximum PR’s.

I learned to stop benching with just the pec muscles, and I actually began learning to lower the weight with my lats, and fire out of the bottom with my triceps, and finish at the top with my pecs, shoulders, and some triceps. I became obsessed with working my triceps, and pushing heavier weight, and the more strength I was able to build into my arms, the more I was able to drive into the bar. One other forgotten muscle group in the bench press is the bicep. Think about cushions the forearm as you lower the bar, bigger biceps give a bigger “cushion” which give you more to drive off of. So all this time I had been neglecting a very crucial muscle group for a big bench press. Show me a big bencher without massive arms, delts, and pecs…. I can’t think of too many. Just recently look at Eric Spoto, Scot Mendelson, Kyril Sarychev, Jeremy Hoornstra, and many others. They all carry the mass to move the weight. So I knew I had to get to work.

How could I set up my training to not only narrow my grip, but speed up my progress? Within the Cube Method rotation we dedicate our fourth day to overhead presses, but I needed to dedicate to close grip presses also, so what we did was on Wednesday our normal bench day, was to use our new “competition grip” (the 90 degree forearm position when the bar was on the chest), followed up by close grip work with higher reps (I take a thumb off the smooth position to save my wrists), and then on Sunday I would rotate my first movement as overheads, or heavy close grips. On weeks that I lead off with overheads, I would make my close grip work light and fast.

In the very first cycle we tried this rotation I saw my bench increase from a shaky 505 lbs. to 525 lbs. This was in 10 weeks. The next ten weeks I finalized with a competition and hit a pretty easy 540 lbs. Two more 10 week rounds, and two meets a week apart and I benched 565 lbs. and 573 lbs. in competition. So in 40 weeks of dedicated training I saw my bench dip below 500 lbs. for a bit, and then rise to 573 lbs. As I type this I have since hit 570 lbs. three times in my training, and being 3 weeks out from CAPO Nationals in Australia I expect to new PR’s even after an injury earlier this year. So before you become dogmatic in thinking there is only one “right” way to do things, realize the right way for others may spell disaster for you. Find what works for you, and commit to it. Believe in it. You may just surprise yourself with what happens.

10 Week Narrow Bench Cycle

Week 1

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 75%- 5 x 5 sets, Close Grip 65% 2 sets x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Overheads 60% 3 x 8, Close Grip 55% 6 sets x 3 reps

Week 2

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 85%- 4sets x 3 reps, Close Grip 70% 2 sets x Rest Pause 10 seconds rest w/2 rest sets

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Close Grips 80% x 5 sets x 1, Overheads 60% x 4 x 10

Week 3

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 65%- 10 x 2 sets, Close Grip 75% 2 sets x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Overheads 75% 3 x 5, Close Grip 65% 4 sets x 3 reps

Week 4

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 90%- 1 x 5 sets, Close Grip 70% 3 sets x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Close Grips 70% x 3 x 5-6 reps, Overheads 70% 3 x 5-6 reps

Week 5

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 75%- 6-8 x 5 sets, Close Grip 75% 3 sets x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Overheads 60% 3 x 8, Close Grip 55% 6 sets x 3 reps

Week 6

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 70%- 3 x 8 sets, Close Grip 80% 2 sets x 5

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Close Grips 80% 3 x 3 sets, Overheads 50% x 2 AMRAP

Week 7

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 95%- 1-2 x 2 sets, Close Grip 85% 2 sets x 2-4 reps

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Overheads 60% 3 x 8, Close Grip 55% 6 sets x 3 reps

Week 8

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 75%- 5 x 5 sets, Incline Close Grip 65% 2 sets x AMRAP (As many reps as possible)

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- Overheads 90% 1 x 2-3 sets, Close Grip 60% 5 sets x 4-6 reps

Week 9

Squats

Bench- 90 Degree Position 65%- 3 x 6 sets, No Close Grip Work

Deadlifts

Accessory Day- This day is extremely light

Week 10

Meet

*Note- Every single day of the training cycle the lats are hit either with Dumbbell Rows, Barbell Rows, Lat Pulldowns, Chest Supported Rows, or Seated Cable Rows. I prefer all lat work done to be heavy, and in the 6-10 rep range. Maximize each rep by squeezing the lats hard, and learn how to activate them for the bench. Also I do at least one exercise for traps as well. I prefer dumbbell shrugs, but others like upright rows, etc.

 

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 2612 total in Multi-Ply, and has best lifts of 1008 squat, 832 bench press, and 771 Deadlift. Brandon is the author of The Cube Method and is aiming to create a paradigm shift in the Powerlifting world.
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