Benching from the Bottom
By Mike Tuchscherer
If you’re a raw lifter, odds are that you have much more trouble with the bottom of your bench than any other part. When I say “the bottom”, I mean anywhere from chest level to 2 inches off the chest. I myself am not known for my benching power. I’d rather deadlift any day. I could give you the line about how that makes my advice more useful because I had to fight tooth-and-nail for what I know. And to some extent that’s true, but everyone works hard for knowledge. To me, it’s a lot more valuable if it translates to the real world in other people. While I’m not a great bencher myself (yet), I’ve coached several very good benchers – even an IPF world record holder. And these recommendations have helped lifters at all levels improve. That doesn’t mean it’s a magic bullet — just that this is worth paying attention to. So if you’re giving your spotter a trap workout anytime you take a heavy single, then here is some advice on how to get things back on track: Read more…
Pendulums swing to and fro. That’s what pendulums do. I see another pendulum swinging lately and this one has to do with exercise specificity. Not long ago, the pendulum was as far away from specificity as it gets. Lots of lifters and popular writers talked about what assistance exercises drove their lifts the most. In powerlifting, you had guys who never actually trained the contest lifts, yet did all manner of other lifts with varying degrees of non-specificity. I’ll admit that at one time I bought into this, but I’m happy to say I was impressionable at the time and have since grown out of it.
Contrast that with what we see growing in popularity over the last couple of years. There has been a resurgent popularity in the SAID principle (specific adaptation to imposed demands). By in large I would say this is a very good thing, but like all things it can be taken too far. Some lifters are even ahead of this current trend and train only in hyper-specific ways (for example, ONLY perform their contest lifts and perform them using extreme loads at all times). The pendulum is swinging in this direction more, so I expect this to grow even more in popularity before it stops.
IPF Masters World Champion and world record holder in the 83kg class (50 years old). Then comes back to set a PR in every lift and improve his total by 40kg at Raw Nationals a couple months later. What’s his secret?
When Laddie came to work with us at RTS back in February of 2015, he already had an extensive training history (since 1987). You can find out more about Laddie and his twin brother Troy – who is also a Masters World Champ and world record holder – on our Podcast. So our job at this point in Laddie’s career is to hone and peak rather than teach and develop. So with that unique position in mind, let’s discuss how we adapted Laddie’s training.
We used a similar training strategy for Laddie both in prep for his world-record-setting performance in Finland, and then again to exceed those marks a few months later at Raw Nationals. In June, his lifts were 220/170/245/635 (kilos of course). By October, he had improved beyond those marks to 230/180/265/675. That’s a 40kg (88 pounds) improvement on his (already world record) total in just over 3 months.
In the beginning of working with Laddie, we were simply looking to get established on a productive training regimen, so we opted for a 3-day-per-week training template. My thinking was that this provides a good starting point so we can avoid any potential recovery issues. If Laddie was recovering easily, we could just turn up the frequency. However if we started too high, there would be more steps in getting training stress back under control. When he responded quite well to this level of frequency, we kept it. This leaves another tool in our toolbox for later as well.
The driving force behind all of his strength development would be training of the competition lifts. The competition style squat, bench, and deadlift would be trained at least once per week, with more work targeting assistance and supplemental movements. Intensities for the contest lifts were kept fairly high. In the beginning of a training cycle, they would start about 80% and then gradually increase in waves up to 92-95%. The overall pattern of intensity was linear, but it came and went in waves.
All of Laddie’s training was done using an RPE system to auto-regulate the weight on the bar. This way, on good days he could use heavier weights. On bad days, he could reduce the weight to an appropriate level. His main lifts were trained by working up to an 8 RPE and repeating this load for multiple additional sets. The volumes I required from him were quite brutal, but recovery was managed via auto-regulation as well as the 3x frequency template (more on recovery later).
Laddie’s assistance work targeted the bottom of the squat and the bench – typical problem areas for raw powerlifters. We did very little assistance work for Laddie’s deadlift, which had a propensity to beat up his hips. For the squat, this meant lots of 2ct Pause Squats and Pin Squats. Laddie loved the pause squats saying, “I had never really done Pause Squats consistently. Pause Squats played a big role.” Well, maybe “loved” is the wrong word, but he definitely felt they made a big impact on his squatting performance. Squats with chains were done toward the end of his training cycles. For the bench, we used various pause lengths as well as pin pressing, touch-and-go benching, feet up bench, close grip benching, etc. Again, intensities stayed fairly high – there was less 80% stuff than for the main lift, but less 90%+ work too. RPE’s were again around 8 with lots of volume.
Supplemental movements were rotated and varied a lot more than other slots. For the lower body, lunges, SSB Squats, Good Mornings, more pause squats, and 303 Tempo squats were all included at various times for various periods. For the deadlift, lots of rows and some Stiff Leg Deadlifts were the bulk of the movement selections. When it came to benching it was Dips, DB Bench, and lots of close grip partial pressing (such as pin press and board press) to develop triceps strength. All movements were rotated regularly, but when trained, were done at a fairly high intensity (say 80% +/- 5%). RPE’s for these movements were typically higher (9 RPE) and volume was lower.
As we came into each peaking phase, the general intensity of all the work would rise just as you’d expect it to. But then we would also begin incorporating heavy-ish singles into his training. Some weeks it would be just x1 @8. Other weeks it would be x1 @8 and x1 @9. They were always followed by down sets afterward. This was done to provide a highly specific stimulus as we approached competition. It also helped Laddie hone his competition skills, practice commands, and in general focus on the coming contest.
When it comes to recovery, the volumes were managed in such a way that recovery was possible on most training weeks. But other weeks would be “high stress” weeks where we would intentionally do more volume than Laddie was able to tolerate. To balance this out, we planned deload weeks after every 3-4 week long training block. Laddie’s deadlift in particular seemed sensitive to this and needed some deloading. He is a sumo deadlifter, so all the volume that I required on the deadlift pushed his hips and adductors to the limit. As such, every three weeks or so, Laddie would skip sumo deadlifts, usually replacing them with conventional deadlifts. This allowed him to continue getting in some pulling practice without continuing to tax his hips and adductors.
Particularly when training for Raw Nationals, Laddie credits lots of his improved health and recovery to his daily stretching regimen. Every day (sometimes twice a day) he would stretch whatever seemed tight and sore for 15-30 minutes. Most times his focus seemed to be on the upper body – particularly chest and shoulders. Laddie told me, “This was the first time I was able to bench press with no shoulder pain at all. [Stretching] helped me with both [recovery and avoiding injuries]. This was the first time I had no major injuries.” This is huge – especially for a masters lifter!
As was mentioned earlier, the result of all this work that Laddie put in was a world-record setting performance at IPF Classic Worlds in Finland. Then only a few months later, he exceeded all of those marks by 40kg total at USAPL Raw Nationals in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
After Nationals, we’ve changed up Laddie’s training quite extensively in an effort to keep him healthy and strong. This short restoration phase will be followed up by more loading phases, but the strategy is ever-adapting. Future cycles should allow for better recovery and improved stress management so Laddie can continue to set World Records for years to come. Just like with all our lifters – Laddie’s training has been unique. The general principles are constant, but how they take shape into a training program is not.
|About the Author
Mike Tuchscherer is the owner and head coach at RTS. He has been powerlifting since 2001 and since has traveled all over the world for competitions. In 2009, he was the first man from USA powerlifting to win a gold medal at the World Games – the highest possible achievement in powerlifting. He has coached over a dozen competitors at the world championships, a score of national champions, and multiple world record holders.
I get lots of people coming on the site asking for a program check. Actually thoroughly checking a program is an involved process and it usually requires more information than the poster supplies. What’s more, it turns out that “is this a good program” is actually a bad question. Yes, there’s science and some hard rules when it comes to planning training. But there’s also a lot of art to it. So posting a program and asking if it’s good is kind of like posting a picture of a painting and asking for a critique. You can critique some stuff, but how you paint isn’t going to be the same way I paint. Read more…
Have you ever noticed that most of the top level lifters have the ability to grind out heavy weights? Of course that’s not universally true, but most of them can really struggle through a lift and still come out on top. However, there are lots of other lifters who can’t grind to save their life. For these folks, when the weight hits the sticking point, it’s not only like hitting a brick wall – it’s like bouncing off of it. They hit the sticking point and immediately fail the lift. Now if you read the title of this article, it will come as no surprise to you that the ability to grind is something we can develop in ourselves and our training partners. Read more…
While being relatively new to the sport of powerlifting, Mike Garozzo is not your typical newcomer. He has racked up an impressive total in a very short amount of time. This interview was done back in April 2015 and a lot has happened since then. Mike competed at the RPS Heatwave meet held in Long Island, NY on July 12th totaling 1675lbs raw without knee wraps at 198lbs bodyweight and later competed at the 2015 USAPL Raw Nationals in Scranton, PA placing 7th in the open division with a 1642lbs total. Here is a look at Mike’s progress over his brief career:
|1st meet:||Nov 2012: 390,240,500||1130 @ 181 total w/ wraps|
|2nd meet:||Nov 2013: 500,290,560||1350 @ 181 total w/ wraps|
|3rd meet:||July 2014: 535,325,640||1500 @ 181 total (no wraps)|
|4th meet:||Feb 2015: 540,341,678||1560 @ 181 total (no wraps)|
|RPS Heatwave:||July 2015: 620,355,700||1675 @ 198 total (no wraps)|
|2015 USAPL Raw Nationals:||Oct 2015: 611,353,678||1642 @ 204 total (no wraps)|
RTS: How did you get into powerlifting and eventually start working with Mike?
Mike Garozzo: I got into lifting through a weight loss contest at work. I used p90x and a strict diet to win it… by a lot. I’m right around 5’10” and my body gains and loses weight very easily. I went from a chubby 195 lbs to an extremely lean 152 lbs. Once that was over, I realized that I needed to build some muscle because I was tiny, but I had no real weight training experience to this point. I started researching and realized strength training was the way to go, at the time StrongLifts 5×5 caught my attention and I started with that. I started SL 5×5 in February 2012 and I started with Mike in December 2013. RTS and Mike were brought to my attention when someone posted on one of my training videos on YouTube about him. After reading everything on the RTS website I knew I wanted to work with Mike and give RTS a shot, I’ve never looked back since. Read more…