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How To Increase Your Bench Press By 200%

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Stop wasting time in the gym. Powerlifter Christian Ampania shows you how to get your bench press as strong as hell!

It's time to get strong as hell!When I was younger, I was obsessed with getting big. And, being an instant gratification-loving American teen, I wanted to get big now. Also being a noob to training, I decided to hit up my old pal Google for the ‘best’ workout program (that is, the routine that would get me the results I was looking for the fastest).

My search turned up a few promising results. With hindsight, they were garbage. But then, with youthful enthusiasm, it was like striking gold. “This program looks pretty good…but so does that other one. Maybe I should combine them…” I thought to myself (it seemed like a good idea at the time).

In the beginning I jumped from routine to routine, gradually putting on muscle. But not enough. After months, I still wasn’t seeing the results I was after. I was following the programs, drinking my milk and getting plenty of rest.

And I still couldn’t even bench 135…which was more than slightly embarrassing since I looked like I should be able to bench at least 155. But there I was, whimpering about the strain-induced butt cramp I acquired while struggling to get just one more rep with all of 115lbs and wondering why I wasn’t improving.

My problem was that I didn’t know what I was doing. And if I kept following someone else’s workout routine, it would have stayed that way. I would have never learned to train myself, and I would have hit barriers in my training without knowing how to work around them.

You should know how to train yourself. With time and experimentation, you’ll find how to train yourself better than anyone else ever could. You’ll also find it to be incredibly simple. And training should be simple, especially when you’re a beginner. But don’t confuse ‘simple’ with ‘easy’, ‘cause they’re not the same.

I won’t get into routines or set and rep schemes. This article just outlines the very-basics. Let’s look at a table to simplify it further:

  • It's simple: Train heavy, compound movements. But is it easy? No. Especially not if you’re used to isolation lifts.
  • It's simple: Train with people who are stronger than you. But is it easy? Not necessarily.
  • It's simple: Train your weaknesses. But is it easy? Not if you expect to get anything out of it.
  • It's simple: Consistently consume more calories than you’re probably used to. But is it easy? Try it and see.

See the difference? It’s okay for training to be simple. It should be. Just don’t let it get easy, or you won’t get any stronger. Let’s go over the table a bit.

Train heavy, compound movements.

If you’re coming from a bodybuilding background, like I did, this one might take the most getting used to. But let’s face it—there’s nothing isolation movements can do that heavy, compound movements can’t do better. Even if all you want is bigger biceps.

Standing still as a board and robotically doing 25lb hammer curls after you’ve been training for 3 years isn’t going to get you any stronger or bigger. Actually, it’s the fastest way to stay the same. That’s what ‘going through the motions' is, right?

When I started training heavy compounds, my growth exploded. And I still didn’t even know what I was doing yet. Which makes the perfect segue into the next section of the table.

Isolations aren't nearly as effective as heavy, compound movements.

Train with people who are stronger than you.

You don’t get stronger by sitting on your butt and reading articles (and this one is no exception). They’re just tools.

So when I was 18, I got into contact with the owner of the local powerlifting gym. I learned more in a year at that gym, lifting with a team of people stronger than I was, than I would have learned in twice that time reading training articles and routines on the internet. And I got stronger while doing it.

For those of you who are into numbers, charts and tables, here’s another one that shows the value of training with people who are stronger than you. The ‘before’ column represents my stats before joining the powerlifting gym. And, of course, the ‘after’ column represents my stats at the time I left the gym.

Before and After Stats
 
  Before After Increase %
Bodyweight ~150 148-165 Varied
Squat 335 415 24%
Bench Press 215 300 40%
Deadlift 405 515 27%
3-Lift Total 955 1230 28%

Timeframe: 1 year - *I competed in both the 148lb and 165lb weight classes.

In one year, I saw a 28% increase in my total while staying at roughly the same bodyweight. It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t call the owner of that gym and ask about joining up.

Not to mention the camaraderie you’ll experience in places like that. Everybody is there for one reason: to get stronger. And they want you to get stronger, too. You push yourself and others and they do the same for you. It’s just you and your brothers and sisters versus the iron. How could it be any simpler?

I could have (and later did) seen even greater improvement when I finally committed to bumping up my calories. We’ll cover that more later. But, for now:

Train your weaknesses.

Nobody likes to do stuff they’re not good at, but as it’s said, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” And this applies to everything, not just lifting. A friend of mine who keeps a log on a bodybuilding forum has a signature that reads “Everything you want in life is just outside of your comfort zone.”

If that’s not good enough, try something a bit more relevant:

After my first month at the powerlifting gym (mentioned earlier), things started moving pretty quickly. My coach signed me up for a meet 3 days before it took place so I couldn’t back out. I ended up totaling 1,030lbs with a 350lb squat, 240lb bench and 440lb deadlift (that was an 8% increase in my total in just over a month). I was finally in the “1,000lb club” but wasn’t satisfied. My teammates, some of whom were/are seasoned pros, knew where I needed improvement and helped me train those deficiencies.

In my next meet a few months later, I totaled ~1,152lbs with a 402.5lb squat, 270lb bench and 479lb deadlift. That was an 11% increase from my first meet, and a 20% increase from when I joined the gym/team. I was making the kind of progress I had previously only dreamed about (I’d often had dreams of busting out deadlift sets of 405x20 in my back yard).

Why? Because I trained heavy, compound movements; I trained with people stronger than me; and I trained my weaknesses. And I could have gotten even stronger. I could have seen a 40% improvement instead of just 20%. But I didn’t. Because I wasn’t eating enough.

To get strong you must be willing to take your training home with you.

Consistently consume more calories than you’re probably used to.

Going from the 165lb weight class (where I started) to the 148lb weight class (where I did my last meet) wasn’t even part of my plan. It just happened that way because I was eating like a bird.

I wasn’t comfortable eating until it hurt, passing out and waking up the next morning to finish the plate of tacquitos I couldn’t quite fit in my gut the night before. In other words: I wasn’t willing to take my training home with me. You should be. Why? I’m glad you asked. How about another table to simplify things:

Best Raw Lifts: Before and After
 
  Before After Increase %
Bodyweight 150-160 175-180 ~16%
Squat 415 500 20%
Bench Press 275 315 15%
Deadlift 507 515 2%
3-Lift Total 1197 1330 11%

Timeframe: 3-4 months

*The drastic increase in my squat while my deadlift hardly increased was due to Smolov. For 4 months, I didn’t deadlift but was still able to pull 500x2 because I kept up my caloric intake.

That’s an 11% improvement on my total in 3-4 months. I gained 15lbs on my bench, and I hardly benched. I maintained my deadlift, maybe even increased it a little, and I didn’t deadlift. The reason? I ate. I ate like I had never eaten before. A 500lb squat never seemed like a possibility to me, but once I saw how close I was to it…I ate.

When I first started lifting, I was a scrawny 115lbs standing at 5’5”. My max bench was 105, and I never squatted or deadlifted. At my peak, before I decided to take a break, I was 180lbs at the same height.

I am, by no means, an exceptional athlete. I don’t take performance enhancers and I’m not a genetic god. Like I said, I started out as a scrawny 5’5” 115lber. But I increased my bench press by 200% by following the rules outlined in this article. And if I can do it, you can too.

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  • About The Author
    I started as a scrawny little introvert in high school. I was 5’4” and 115lbs. In 2008, I was ranked #3 in the US for the teen 148lb weight class.
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Comments (9)

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Subramanian M. Iyer
Posted Sat, 01/08/2011 - 03:47

Dear Christian

Does this mean i do only exercises like Squats, Bench Press, Deadlift, Bent Over Rows and Mllitary Press ?

Regards,

Subramanian

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Christian Ampania
Posted Sat, 01/08/2011 - 16:01

Those and variations of them are all good. For example: you don't have to limit yourself just to squats. You can also do box squats, front squats, wide stance squats, narrow stance squats etc.

For bench press, you can include variations like incline, decline and dumbell presses. When I took my bench from 300 to 315 during Smolov, I hardly did regular flat bench at all. I was doing flat dumbell presses, incline dumbell presses and seated dumbell shoulder presses. That, and I gained weight.

Same thing for deadlift. Sumo, conventional, from a deficit, rack/block pulls, etc.

Bent over rows are a GREAT movement if you do them right. And by that, I mean use a heavy weight. If you're using a 30lb dumbell for bent over rows and counting "1 mississippi...2 mississippi..." all throughout the eccentric and concentric phases of the lift, you won't get anything out of it.

Don't be afraid to grab something a bit heavier (within reason...don't grab a 100lb dumbell if you know the most you can handle right now is 60lbs) and cheat a little bit. Like you're starting a lawnmower. It helps engage the lats more than the old 'slow and controlled' route.

Who says you can't be fast and controlled?

I'm not a huge military press fan. But that just means I need to follow my own advice and train it more. When my military press went up, so did my bench. And training it seriously took my shoulders from being my weakest link (strength wise as well as aesthetically) to being one of my strongest assets.

Hope this helps!

Chris

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Christian Ampania
Posted Sat, 01/08/2011 - 15:51

You don't have to limit yourself to just those lifts, but those are the lifts you should be focusing on. You should also be doing some sort of core work (abs, obliques, lower back).

You can still do things like curls, lateral raises etc but they shouldn't be the focus of your training.

Don't 'save your energy' for these isolation lifts. Go all out on your heavy compounds and use isolation lifts as supplementary/accessory work.

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Paul
Posted Thu, 01/13/2011 - 00:07

Excellent article.

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billy clegg
Posted Sat, 02/12/2011 - 20:50

would like to move over to this kind of work out as i did power lifting a few years ago. but have knee's are a bit fiffy at the moment any idear's

regards

billy

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Christian Ampania
Posted Mon, 02/14/2011 - 14:09

Billy,

Can you go into a bit more detail about your knees? Did you injure them at some point, is it just wear and tear or what's going on with them?

I'm not a sports medicine expert, but I found this warmup ( http://www.elitefitness.com/forum/weight-training-weight-lifting/warm-up... ) to be incredibly helpful for me during the
Smolov squat cycle. I know it talks about warming up the hips, but sometimes things get so tight that it causes pain everywhere.

I'd also pick up a pair of knee sleeves if you don't have them already. APT makes some good ones that get the job done. ( http://www.prowriststraps.com/knee_support_knee_brace_knee_sleeve ) Looks like they're mostly out of stock at the moment, though. I used the red and black striped ones and they did a great job of keeping my knees warm. They don't give you any spring like knee wraps, but like I said they get the job done.

You can start off squatting to a high box if you know how to do box squats. If not, watch some of Westside Barbell's and Elitefts' videos on youtube. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue_GrU4mhqc and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t156u5VuBTw ). With iffy knees, I'd start off to a pretty high box. As you get more comfortable with it, you can slowly lower the box height until you're at a reasonable depth.

Hope this helps,

Chris

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Huppy
Posted Mon, 03/14/2011 - 07:27

excellant article, I can see similar patterns with my training, I found that i was naturally eating more and more and not realising it, but still not gaining fat but more dense muscle.

Thanks for the extra tips aswell, I have found working with stronger people helps alot and also they can push you harder and harder to there goals which are way beyond what I even thought about.

Cheers
Dave

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Salvador
Posted Sat, 10/20/2012 - 20:05

Great Advice. I ask a guy at the gym how could I put on some muscle. He toll me that same thing you are saying in this article.

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Dave UK
Posted Thu, 01/03/2013 - 13:03

Been bodybuilding on and off for years and now at the age of 43 just realised that I have been doing the wrong thing to build mass.Now just do cardio Hiit training and the three Big lifts and look better and feel better clean than I did in my 20s on gear.

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