of these exercises I have outlined
are taken directly from Louis Simmons of Westside Barbell. Some are
variations or hybrids of Louie's, while the main core is from
various sources I have accumulated in my 20-something years of
lifting. I will discuss numerous exercises because you must
experiment with these exercises in order to gain insight to what
works best for you.
For simplicity, I will describe each exercise to
the best of my ability. Sample these 9 exercises
and then add the ones you particularly like to
your bench program and watch your bench-press
Benching with Chains
First, you must purchase at least 2 sets of 5/8''
chain in 5ft. segments. Each 5ft. segment will
weigh 20lbs thus; there will be a total of 80lbs.
of chain. The chains are hung from the bar so
approximately 1/3 of the chain is resting on the
floor when the bar is racked. It will be necessary
to buy some lighter chain for the heavy chain to
be hung from. The chain offers variable resistance
by de-loading the weight in the eccentric phase
and loading weight during the concentric phase.
This is beneficial because, as the lifters
biomechanical advantage decreases, so does the
load. On the other hand, as the biomechanical
advantage increases at the top, so does the load.
This aids in bar speed and force development
while minimizing joint stress and muscle soreness.
Additionally, the chains force the stabilizers to
be worked to a greater degree. Chains are the
groundwork of my bench program.
This movement is named for J.M. Blakely of Columbus,
Ohio. This is an excellent Triceps builder. Usually
do this exercise after bench press, or using chains,
rubber bands or the floor press. To do the J.M.
Press, take a fairly narrow grip, about 18 inches,
and lower the bar to the lower pec or pec line.
While lowering the bar, squeeze the elbows in toward
the body and envision that you are bending the bar.
This will help keep you spring loaded. Lower the bar
to approximately 4-5 inches above the chest and hold
for a count or two. Explode the weight upward.
I recommend 3 sets of 3 reps pyramid up to 80% of
max for 3 reps.
Illegally Wide Benches
These are simply benches done with the grip outside
of the rings on an Olympic bar. Be careful with
this exercise because it does place great stress on
the shoulders. A positive is that they are useful
if you are slow off the chest because it aids
explosion at the bottom or start of the lift. I
generally focus on these the last 2-3 workouts
before a competition because I bench as wide as
allowable in a meet. Try for a P.R. each workout
on these. After a warm- up, I usually do only 1 set
of 5 reps on this exercise. Many times I use chain
with this exercise. As a rule, I believe what you
can do illegally for 5-reps, you can press 100lbs.
more for a single.
As the name implies, you will bench while lying on
the floor. Begin this exercise by lying on the floor
in the same manner as you lie on the bench. Lifting
partners will have to hand you the bar. Be sure to
start in an extended position. Lower the bar until
your arm touches the floor. Pause for a count and
explode the bar upward. This exercise is beneficial
for overcoming one's sticking point. Chains can be
draped over the sleeve for added resistance at the
top. What weight to use? I would start with 50% of
your max and then slowly work your way up to 90% of
your max. Do 3 sets of 2 reps.
First, you will have to purchase some 2" x 6"
boards. Make a set of 2, 3, and 4 boards glued
together. Boards represent sticking points. Oh,
and you need a partner to assist you. Your
partner will place the boards on your chest. Lower
the bar to the board and press the bar upward.
These are similar to performing Lock Out's in the
Power Rack. This exercise greatly affects the delts and pecs. Again, I would start with 50% of
your max and then slowly work your way up to 90%
like the floor press, and then use 90-95% of your
max each set. Do 3 sets of 1-reps.
You will need a partner or 2 for this exercise.
The attendants should help the lifter by handing
out the weight as if giving a liftoff. The lifter
should hold the weight in the extended or locked
position for 10 seconds. Eventually, you should
be able to hold 150-200lbs. more than your max
for 10 seconds. This is useful for a lifter to
feel heavy weight while alleviating the micro-trauma associated with an exercise with a full-range of movement. Very similar to doing heavy
walk outs with squats. 3 sets.
Benching with Rubber Bands
Speed. Developing speed, explosive power in the
bench press is what this is all about. First,
you must purchase 2 sets of bands. If you cannot
afford a pair, no problem usually most gyms
carry exercise band sin the aerobics room. Damn
that aerobics room is good for something other
then occupying space. The bands are attached to
the bar and then to the side of the bench. Make
sure they are tight and taught. Usually these
exercise bands come in different colors for
different tension levels, green (easy), red
(harder), ECT. Start with the green band working
your way up to the red and then using both the red
and green. Very colorful. The band offers variable
resistance by quickly de-loading the weight in
the eccentric phase and loading weight
during the concentric phase.
This is beneficial because, like the chains, as
your biomechanical advantage decreases, so does
the load. On the other hand, as the biomechanical
advantage increases at the top, so does the load.
Bands also make you stay very tight, or in laymen's
terms, you have to stay tense. You cannot get
relaxed while using bands they'll take you right
through the bench if you rest of one minute. This
aids in bar speed and force development while
minimizing joint stress and muscle soreness.
Again, like using chains, bands force the
stabilizers to be worked to a greater degree.
Bands are the foundation of my bench program.
Use about 65% of your max.
Swiss Ball Dumbbell Press
You will need to purchase a heavy-duty Swiss ball
for this exercise or hopefully your gym has one,
they can usually be found in the Aerobics room.
Lie on the Swiss ball with the shoulders and
upper torso on the ball and the hips and legs
off the ball placing your feet in the same
position as if you were on a bench doing presses.
Have 2 people simultaneously hand heavy dumbbells
to you. Start with the dumbbells at the top, and
then lower until the arms touch the ball.
With practice, the lifter can use the ball as
a spring-like mechanism to aid in the initial
phase of the pressing of dumbbells. This ballistic
action will allow heavier weight to be lifted as
well as additional reps to be performed. Do 1 set
timed for reps with as heavy dumbbells as possible.
Time for one set is 1 minute. Get a stopwatch or
have your partner watch the clock for you. This
repetition method will aid in muscular endurance.
Personally, I utilize these in developing my bench
program too, along with band work. Don't jump into
these with what you usually use on a flat bench,
remember the ball moves around, get used to it
first I started with 40-pound dumbbells. Within
three weeks you should have graduated to close to
max weight. I did 80-pounders for 1 minute 42
reps! Talk about a burn!
Do You Have the Guts? Now let's see if you got the guts to be different
in your gym. Guts you ask. Well, everyone wants
a bigger bench but most everyone is afraid to
drop their poundage's to achieve this level and
most I've talked to, outside of serious
competitors, everyone is afraid to back off even
for a few weeks. Then, I guess you can always
stay with the same weight and small chest and
toothpick arms while the rest of use enjoy the
fruits of being on the Westside.
Curtis Schultz is a contributing
writer for various health, bodybuilding, and
collegiate sports publications. Curtis has a
B.S. in Sports Administration and is a Level I
USWF Olympic Coach. He is a collegiate strength
coach who has worked with many high-level athletes
ranging from NFL stars to top-level bodybuilders.
Powerlifting State and Regional Champion in the 242 and 275
classes. He is also an AAU and USPF referee. Curtis was a three-year
Varsity football letter winner, All-greater Rochester Lineman in
high school, and then Junior College and University All-conference