Your Bench Speed Sucks

Your Speed Bench Sucks

Jeff Miller

            Dear powerlifters, ninety percent of your speed benches are lacking something.  SPEED.  We have all read the articles.  We have heard the recommendations from the top trainers and lifters in the world.  Dynamic bench work should be sixty percent of your one rep raw max. Twenty five years in powerlifting has taught me that this just doesn’t work for most people.  Watching social media videos of lifters doing their “speed work” might be the most frustrating part of my online experience.  Lifters grinding out their speed reps makes me want to tear out the long lost nonexistent hairs on my giant shaved dome. 

            So what percentage should you use? Through trial and error, we have found that thirty to forty percent is all the weight one will ever need.  For instance we had a lifter Dan Zahno who trained with 155 pounds on his speed bench, doing eight sets of triples.  Dan had been struggling to get a five hundred pound bench press for a long time.  I suggested he drop the weight to ninety five pounds.  Dan hit a five hundred pound bench soon after.  He then went on to press five hundred fifty five pounds in a single ply shirt drug free.  My wife Rae-Ann is the all-time world record holder in the single ply bench for a female with five hundred and twenty pounds.  Her dynamic work is done with eighty five pounds.  Yes.  Eighty five pounds.  So what does this mean?  Do they just lie on the bench and do these lighter weights lazily and easy?  Absolutely not.  Our speed work is done violently.  That’s the most accurate way I can describe it.  If you are going to punch someone, you don’t rear back and slowly aim your fist at them and casually brush it against their face.  You put your entire body into it, drive through your target and generate as much force as possible.  That is how we bench.  Are you aiming for a five hundred pound bench press?  Then you need to exert five hundred pounds of oomph onto the barbell or more.

            Do we just do the same reps, sets and exercises week after week? Not at all.  We mix up our speed bench by alternating sets of 3s and sets of fives.  Some weeks we take thirty second breaks between sets.  Other weeks we rack the bar to switch our grip then immediately unrack the bar without rest.  Dumbbells are another variation we use.  Sometimes we do dumbbells on a flat bench and sometimes on an incline.  Chains and bands can be a great tool in building speed and strength.  Lately I have been experimenting with different size bands wrapped around my back and doing my speed reps with just bands.  I have a spinal injury and this eliminates any weight bearing on my back.  I will let you know how it works over the long haul.  Our base sets, however are 3 waves of 3 sets of 3.  We start with a wide grip for three reps.  Rack the bar and switch to medium grip and immediately unrack it.  Do the set.  Rack it.  Switch to close grip and immediately unrack it.  Do the set and rack it.  So it’s three sets of three with three different grips with no rest.  Then we rest for a minute and do it again two more times. 

            Another part of our dynamic day that is a bit different is that we do a lot of high board bench presses and shoulder press variations.  For most lifters a heavy single or three sets of five to a four or five board are just the remedy to fix a staling bench press. Several different bars and grips can be used to keep your body guessing, to combat overuse injuries and boredom.  For us with very long arms we may have to use seven, six and five boards to do the trick.  You have to sometimes think outside the box of normal if you are built outside the box of normal.   Power presses, log presses, military presses, military lockouts, dumbbell military press and hammer strength shoulder presses are a staple of our dynamic diet.  I’m not a fan of strict presses as I believe power presses are a better choice to add explosion to your bench.  Teach yourself to lift slowly and you will stay slow.     

            Undoubtedly, there are going to be those who will rebut with some scientific jargon filled response as to why you should do sixty percent for speed work.  How studies done by X and Y University show that strict presses directly correlate to the transfer of blah to blah.  I don’t know about all that technical stuff.  I mean, I thought AMRAP was a low carb choice for lunch that crossfitters ate.  I do know I live in Bench Press City and am married to the Lady Mayor of said municipality.  I know that one hundred percent of people who I’ve had drop their speed rep weight get hurt less and see their bench press increase.  So you can look like a fool struggling with your “speed work” with a big wheel on each side of the bar when your max is one hundred eighty five.  Or you can sit over here with us at the cool kids table where we all know that you can’t make force if you don’t accelerate that mass. 

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