Bodybuilding and powerlifting are not the mysterious, complicated, time consuming and expensive activities like many would have you believe. You can achieve miracles with only the very basic equipment, only a few hours of training each week, ordinary but nutritious food, and without needing to buy and food supplements (though using some quality supplements in the second half of each cycle may give you a nutritional boost at the right time.) The essence of our message is "basics, 'breviated and best," which is what this course for a big bench press is all about. Actually, "basics and 'breviated" is not only "best," it's the only way to go for most drug-free bodybuilders and lifters.
Getting substantially bigger and stronger is about progressive poundages--a bit more, a bit more again, and then a bit more again and again and again..., while always maintaining good exercise form. (Religiously keep written records of your workouts, to keep track of your poundages, reps, and sets.) The exercises that matter the most are the big, basic "building" exercises, i.e., the multi-joint "compound" exercises, not the little isolation exercises.
Conventional bodybuilding has mesmerized and distracted people with inordinate amounts of writing and attention being given to marginal, incidental or irrelevant concerns. Even powerlifters usually spend too much time on non-productive "assistance" exercises. All the attention in the world to the variety of different training modalities, different rep cadences, different set and rep schemes, "scientific" and "physiological" rationales, isolation or "detail" exercises, "new" exercises, supplement "discoveries," personalities, contests, videos, training camps and seminars count for absolutely nothing unless you are adding more and more iron to the bar, in good form, as the months and years go by. If you are not, then, like hundreds of thousands of others, you are just getting more and more knowledgeable about everything and anything except that which will actually make you grow bigger and stronger.
Once you are beyond the beginner stage of bodybuilding and powerlifting, the bedrock of progressive poundages is the cycling of training intensity. Always trying to add poundage to your limit working poundages is not the way to go. Instead, train in periods (cycles) where you cut back at the beginning of each cycle (to get a "running start") and take several weeks--adding 5 to 10 pounds per week to each exercise--until getting to within 5 to 10 pounds of the best poundages you were using before starting the new cycle, for whatever reps you are using. Then, get hold of a selection of little discs of varying small weights: half pound, one pound, 100 grams, 250 grams and 500 grams, or use improvised weights of light collars, large metal washers or even taping small pieces of iron onto bigger plates. Use these to notch up your exercise weights so slightly that you don't feel you are adding weight.
Take a further few weeks to get to your most recent best working poundages. Once there, keep adding a very small dose of iron to the bar every week. You can build strength for perhaps months at a time if you keep adding a tiny dose of iron each week. However, if you get impatient and try to keep adding 5 or more pounds a week, you "kill" the "gaining momentum" because you will be adding iron at a rate in excess of your body's ability to build strength. Slowly, steadily, surely and safely is the way to go. Once the poundage gains finally "dry up," end the cycle, layoff for 7 to 10 days, cut back your poundages, perhaps change something in your routine for the sake of change and variety, and then build up again. Each cycle should have you starting a little higher that did the previous one, and have you finishing at higher poundages that did the previous one. (There are many ways to cycle training intensity--extensive detail on it can be found in BRAWN.)
Part of the reality message we promote is believable measurements and lifts. Much fiction is presented as fact in the training world, including absurd measurement and lift claims by some of the most genetically gifted and "juiced" top achievers. For typical and drug-free bodybuilders, here are some reality-land measurements you should be looking at--a muscular and flexed 16 inch upper arm is very good, 17 inch is astonishing, and over 17 inch is fantastic. For a typical, drug-free powerlifter, a bench press of 300 to 320 pounds is very good, 340 to 360 is astonishing, and anything over 375 is fantastic. Those who can hit 400 pounds without bodybuilding drugs are supermen.
Following is one example of cycling intensity. Start by finding out how much weight you can lift for any given exercise for 5 times, no more, using absolute correct form. This is called your 5 rep max, or 5RM. Let's say for the benchpress this is 120 pounds. A 13 week cycle may look like the following (each set is done with five reps):
|Week #||Set #1||Set #2||Set #3,4 and 5|
|1||60 lbs||80 lbs||100 lbs|
|2||70 lbs||90 lbs||105 lbs|
|3||75 lbs||95 lbs||110 lbs|
|4||80 lbs||100 lbs||115 lbs|
|5||85 lbs||105 lbs||120 lbs|
|6||90 lbs||110 lbs||125 lbs|
|7||90 lbs||115 lbs||130 lbs|
|8||90 lbs||120 lbs||135 lbs|
|9||90 lbs||120 lbs||140 lbs|
|10||90 lbs||120 lbs||142 lbs|
|11||90 lbs||120 lbs||144 lbs|
|12||90 lbs||120 lbs||146 lbs|
|13||90 lbs||120 lbs||148 lbs|