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Raw Bench Pressing
Westside lifts in mostly gear meets. There is a lot to learn on how to use a bench shirt, but you must also raise your raw strength as well. Westside has had nine men capable of a 600-pound raw bench over the years. Many know about our “max-effort day” workouts, each week choosing a different barbell exercise. These seven examples show the range of exercises:
The list above can be altered with bands, chains and different angles. Also on max-effort day a complete workout can be done with dumbbells or weighted push-ups. The dumbbells are done on flat, seated, incline and decline benches. One workout would call for working up to a top weight, and performing three sets to failure. Pick one dumbbell weight, say 100, 125 or 155 pounds. Set a record for one set, plus the three-set total. Remember to test all four angles.
Before bench shirts, weighted push-ups played a large part of Westside’s bench press training. We set records with just bodyweight or with a 45-pound or a 100-pound plate held on the upper back. Later as our strength became greater a training partner would sit on our upper back for resistance. Training partners could be a female around 120 pounds or a 140-pound man for starters, moving to a lifter of 200, 220 or 275 pounds and even 300 pounds for reps.
To do push-ups, lay a bar in the bottom of the power rack. Now, place your hands on the bar just as if you were benching. To change angles, place your feet on the floor. Next raise your feet on a 12-inch 18-inch or a 24-inch box or even a 30-inch box. The higher the box the more it works like an incline press.
The higher the feet the more blood will run into the upper body. This is a great muscle builder similar to dumb bells. After the main exercises, go to tricep extensions with a barbell or curl bar. Dumbbell roll backs or elbows out extensions that Jim Williams made famous also are good. You can do upper back, lats, and side rear delts, but be careful not to over train the front delts.
Most know Westside for doing speed strength benching with roughly 50 percent bar weight plus 30 percent bend tension. Three grips are used in the same workout: three sets of three reps with the index finger touching the smooth part of the bar, three sets with a medium grip, and three sets with the little finger touching the ring on the bar. This adds up to 27 lifts. These lifts are for the development of a fast rate of force.
Westside had a second method to build muscle by doing much higher volume. The development for this method had its start in 1971 while I was lifting in a meet. I had a 340 raw bench at 172-pound bodyweight. This is where I met Bill Seno for the first time. Bill was massive.
He won several best chest awards in a Mr. America contest. Bill was also a record holder in the bench press, so I asked him if he could help my bench. I will never forget what happened next. He grabbed me by the arms, then the shoulders and said with your build you need to do a workout of six reps on each set, working up each week as to weight. That taxed me, but did not max me out with an illegal grip.
After nearing a plateau, I started over with eight reps per set for a few weeks. Then when I had nothing left, I started over with 10 reps per set until I maxed out, then I went back to the six reps and started over. I was a desperate man, because desperate men do desperate things.
During the meet I watched Bill bench close grip. I thought “Is he playing me or does he known what he is talking about?” Well, I took my raw bench to a 450 touch-and-go at 175 pounds. And by 1977 I made a 500 touch-and-go at a 197-pound body weight. I will always be grateful to Bill for those wide grips.
Also grateful to Larry P for telling me to work my triceps. I put the wide grip and the tricep work together and it worked. Larry told me to win at nationals I had to build a good bench to go along with me as well as a good squat and deadlift. He was right, because of those two men I made my first top 10 bench in 1980. It was 10 years of hard work, but Larry was right. I won my first national championship. It made it possible for me to make top 10 bench for 22 years at 54. I was sixth in the 220 weight class in 2002, and also made it possible for me to bench 505 when I was 63 at 217 body weight, and total 1883.
What’s more important is that six men from 132 to 308 have held all-time world records in the bench press as well as the women. We all can have more muscles that account for successful bench pressing. As you can see, there is more than one way to achieve greatness. There are a lot of you who think you know Westside, but as Rowdy Roddy Piper would say, “Just when you think you know all the answers, that’s when I change all the questions.”