Back as far as I can remember, the thought of bringing 405 down to my chest and bench pressing it seemed impossible. That was for guys who were superhuman, right? Of course.
I believe I was 11 the first time I read an old muscle magazine that talked about someone benching that much. It wasn't until later, when I started to take lifting beyond the “working out” mindset and shifted attention to “training”, that the goal of a 405 bench press started to seem even remotely possible.
405 is seen by many as the ultimate goal for squats and deadlift, and not just the bench press. By the way, it’s 405, not “4 plates.” God, I hate that term. It sounds like you’re loading the Hammer strength machine. It’s FOUR OH FIVE. “4 plates” is a light day at the buffet for me. More on that later.
At a relatively novice level of training, I was able to reach a deadlift of 405 fairly quickly. I probably would have recorded it on video and uploaded it to the internet, if camera phones and YouTube had existed. Back then I think we just TOLD people in person, or broke out the typewriter and mailed out a letter. I honestly don’t remember life before this crazy social media s***.
Deadlifting 405 was easy, but BENCHING 405? I couldn’t even fathom it. Well, not until the day that 225 finally went up.
If you still think 405 is out of reach, here are 6 steps to help you move closer. You might not reach a 405 bench press, but these steps will help you get stronger.
6 Steps to Help You Draw Closer to a 405 Bench Press
Step 1. Believe 405 is Possible
Accept in your mind that your goals are not impossible; only temporarily out of reach at the moment.
I remember that day. It was the same gym on a spring afternoon a few months after that deadlift. I had driven to the gym blasting Nine Inch Nails and drinking a protein shake on the way (I had no idea when to drink it.) My pre workout was Folgers drip coffee from the house, black (because I am a man.)
I arrived at the gym to find one of the only three benches open, so I hopped on it immediately. Bam, bar x 10! Bam, 95 x 5. BAM 135 x 5 and 185 for a double! I was on fire, these reps were moving fast.
But then I was interrupted. My sister-in-law’s (then) boyfriend spotted me and came over to wag his jaw. He was kind of a tool and talked too much, but I needed a break anyway.
He noticed that I was putting that coveted second plate on the bar, and commented: “Nice! 225? I need to start hitting bench again. I used to bench (blah blah blah exaggeration) but I can’t anymore because (blah blah blah, excuse).”
He finally shut up once I laid down on the thin vinyl bench pad and took my grip. But I could feel his eyes were upon me, but I also noticed more than HIS eyes. People were looking once 225 was loaded onto the bar. Well now I HAVE to get this, I thought.
So with a flat back, no leg drive, shuffling feet, flared elbows, an uneven lockout and a head filled of equal parts fear and doubt, I unracked and lowered 225. The cheap bar bounced off my chest like it was a trampoline and I somehow managed to grind it back up to where I started from. I felt like a legit boss, and it was this mentality that became the key to my future successes.
Step 2. Make a Plan of Action
The very first step I needed to take back then was believing that I could bench press 405. Now that I had that part down, the second step involved training to be STRONG enough to do it. That’s where I screwed up time and time again.
You see, up until this point I had come to the gym with one goal: to use the same weight for nearly the same amount of reps until I progressed slightly. Then I would add 5 pounds to the bar. This was NOT going to work forever, as I quickly found out.
(Picture: Author Josh Mac benching 400) Deadlifting 405 was easy, but BENCHING 405? I couldn’t even fathom it. Well, not until the day that 225 finally went up.
After my 225 pound milestone, 250 became my next logical goal. (Or so I thought) The following week I missed my 230 attempt. And the week after that, the same result. Uh-oh, I’d maxed out and hit a wall!
So what would I do now?
Naturally, I did what most noobs would do: I hit the magazine rack. I started reading about an up and coming bodybuilder named Jay Cutler. He’d know what to do!
Over the course of the next few months I learned from magazine routines. They taught me that I needed a training structure. I needed to perform a certain number of sets and reps each week. This wasn’t the best way to gain bench press strength, but it was better than what I had been doing.
This is also when I started to implement more accessory movements like dips, chins, dumbbell benches and inclines. You know, thing that would actually help improve my bench. Whoa! Wait a minute now. I was starting to think more like a powerlifter!
Over the course of the next few years, thanks to articles from guys like Louie Simmons and Dave Tate, I slowly learned to squat, bench and deadlift properly. I paid closer attention to my set-up on the bench. I paid attention to my feet, my grip, squeezing and USING my lats. After reading about these things online my bench press form started to click.
What a novel concept. When I paid more attention to my form my bench increased!
I also focused more on multiple sets of 3's and 5's. Before I knew it, I had smashed 275. I felt stronger, and I was well on my way to 300.
Step 3. Dominate Your Training
I followed many methods over the years, and enjoyed varying amounts of success with each of them. Once I finally was able to bench 300 for the first time, 315 became the next obvious goal.
After reaching 300 I became obsessed with being able to rep it. Same with 365. The feeling of momentum blasted me through barriers and sticking points. When my mind is hungry, I am insatiable. And on bench, I was ravenous.
Every training cycle added SOMETHING to my strength and numbers. Don’t believe the hype that people spread around the Internet about certain methods "not working for them." Some methods work better for one person than another, but they all work to some degree because they all put weight in your hands or on your back.
Dominate whatever method you use. Make the most of it.
Believe 405 is possible. Accept in your mind that your goals are not impossible; only temporarily out of reach at the moment.
Step 4. Stop Showboating and Train Smart
Wow, great advice right? No kidding. As cliché as this is, it’s important.
If you want to bench 225, 315 or 405, you probably won’t get there by missing that weight over and over again week in and week out. You’ll get it by spending a lot of time, effort, sets and reps with a lot less weight.
If your goal is 300 or 315, you’ll likely need to spend a lot of time benching in the 200’s. I know it’s tempting to add that third plate every week when your buddies are gassing you up and the girls are looking, but you aren’t training at that point, you’re showboating.
What's more important: absolute strength or Facebook likes? Swallow your pride and stick with your training sets. You'll be glad you did.
Step 5. Take Training Into Your Own Hands
Some people can get away with lower volume. They make quick gains. I was not one of these people. I needed more volume. So when I finally got close to my long time goal of 405 and stalled, I decided to start programming for myself.
This was also about the time I left the big box gym scene and joined a small powerlifting gym. I took training into my own hands and became accountable for my own results. If something wasn’t working, I tweaked it. If I felt that the volume of the day wasn’t enough, I added a little more. This can be done with any program. Don't be limited to sets and reps just because they're written that way.
I've learned a lot from trial and error over the years. I felt confident that I could fill in the gaps that other programs hadn’t emphasized so they could fit my needs. Taking my training into my own hands was much more productive than blaming the program that wasn’t working well anymore.
So I wrote a rough 10 week peaking program and immediately enjoyed a 20# meet PR at the end of it. Over the course of running it for a second cycle, I saw some flaws in it and changed the workloads around to keep the strength gains steady.
Rather than just ride out a cookie-cutter ebook program as it was written, I took control of my own training. After 20 weeks of performing bench press work that I had programmed for myself, I finally benched that 405.
Step 6. Expect to Get Out What You Put In
I used many methods to get to the fourth plate, not just my own. The common theme along the way was hard work and consistency. I didn’t miss a day of training. Not when I was sick, or had to work, or had prior engagements. I always found a way to train, and I always looked for a better WAY to train. If it meant getting up early and getting it in before dawn, or walking the city streets in a dangerous part of town after work to lift at 1 am, I did it.
But at the same time, I didn't step over dollars for pennies. The details of the day were less important than the fact that I was there and putting in the work. Bad training days happen, so do bad weeks.
But the most important thing to remember on bad days is to keep your attitude in check. Once that goes in the crapper, expect even more bad days to follow. Staying hungry and focused will see you through the training ruts that everyone gets stuck in from time to time.
Reaching your goals rarely has to do with a single day's work. It boils down to weeks and months and years of CONSISTENT work and dedication. This means everything from diet, sleep, recovery to stress levels. "4 plates" at the buffet was helpful around this time too.
I am too stubborn to give up on something that I want to achieve. It’s this mentality that currently drives me to train for a 500 pound bench.
This is the only magic method you need to reach your training goals: an insatiable hunger for results, and an iron clad constitution to expect nothing but the very best from yourself. You can do it, so go get it, even if it means that you have to conquer 230 pounds first.