Press-centric Raw Bench Program

This program pulls several strands of thought together. You might call it a 5x5 / WSB hybrid with an old-school mentality. Or you might just chalk your paws and do it.

The exercises have been selected based on a list posted by Jim Wendler and Mike Miller on the Nazareth Barbell forums and a careful reading of what the elite benchers did before the modern bench shirt era took off: lots of full-range pressing to target the chest and delts. Dumbell work is also emphasised as Wendler states on the EliteFTS Bench Press Index DVD that they have found dumbell work to transfer well to the raw max. Lockout, high boards and loads of dedicated triceps work is key to a huge shirt bench, not a huge T-shirt bench. Speaking of triceps, if they are your weakness you should consider dropping the inclines or shoulder presses in favor of something like close-grip benches / dips.

The general structure follows JM Blakley's thought: pick a few exercises and work them until they grow stale. Blakley recommends shooting for 4 sets of 6 with the weight increased every time you get it, but I have opted for a more classic powerliftish 5 sets of 5. The 5x5 exercises come in pairs: switch to the second one when you can't get a 1-2 rep increase over the five sets two workouts in a row. When that goes stale the program is done. Simple.

The main problem with the Blakley protocol for me is that you lose touch with maximum weights. The heavy 90% of max sets he recommends for technique honing are simply not heavy enough. Furthermore, lifting max weights in training is where the fun, and hence, motivation, is. Thus, the program includes standard Westside Barbell maximum effort work. Pick one raw friendly exercise a week and work up to max single. It is imperative that you keep switching them weekly or every other week to keep the central nervous system from frying.

Last but not least, the program also includes standard Westside speed work. Unlike the standard Westside template where speed work is done first on dynamic effort day, this routine has it done after the maximum effort exercise. In Supertraining, Mel Siff points to Russian research which shows that "dynamic work with heavy weights (i.e. high tension with relatively few repetitions) elicits a positive after-effect in the central nervous system (CNS), which produces a general toning influence on the motor apparatus and an improvement in speed and strength" (pp. 163). Although speed training generally would precede strength training if done in the same session, Siff says that low repetition strength training can precede speed / speed-strength training to take advantage of the said after-effect of heavy loading (pp. 26). Incidentally, Blakley recommends doing speed work last. Consider this an experiment if you will.

Without further ado... actually, there is one more thing. How frequently you should do the workouts is not set in stone. It depends on how well you adapt to the heavy pressing and how well you recover from it. As a general guideline, space the workouts 3-4 days apart. Good luck! Don't forget to let me know if it was good for you too.

Max Effort Day

Max single
Bench, close-grip bench, low pin press, cambered bar, incline bench, floor press, reverse-grip bench, one board bench... whatever low range pressing exercise. Change weekly, skip every few weeks to give the central nervous system a break.

Speed bench 9 sets of 3
Alternate straight weight with chains, cycle grip on every set (wide, medium, close). Make sure you can complete a set in less than three seconds, if not you need to go lighter. Keep rest down to less than a minute between sets.

Dumbell bench / Suspended pushups with band around back 5 sets of 5
Switch to suspended pushups when the dumbell bench grows stale.

Dumbell flye 2-3 sets of 10
Don't laugh. Done to strengthen the pec-delt tie in.

Accessory work (back, rotator cuff, biceps)
Don't go overboard, a few sets with moderate weight should cut it.

Accessory Day

Incline bench / Incline dumbell bench 5 sets of 5
Switch to dumbells when the incline bench grows stale.

Seated dumbell press / Behind-the-neck press 5 sets of 5
Switch to behind-the-neck press when the dumbell press grows stale. Don't use back support on the presses.

Accessory work (back, rotator cuff, biceps)
Don't go overboard, a few sets with moderate weight should cut it.