The Critical Bench Program Free Download .pdf
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Título: The Critical Bench Program 2.0
Autor: Mike Westerdal
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Table of Contents
A. About the Author
Following Your Program
High Intensity Training
Rest & Muscle Recovery
Training for Strength
Choosing Your Workout Days
Exercise Definitions – Bench Press Mechanics
Choosing Supplemental Exercises
Stretching & Warm Up On Chest Days
Speed of Movement
Rest Between Your Sets
Critical Points & Additional Information
Eating for Power
TNT – Tips n Tricks
F. Critical Support Group
**Always consult your physician before starting any exercise program.**
Believe it or not you have actually already completed one of the most important parts of
the Critical Bench Program. Give me a second to explain. By ordering this program you
have set a very specific goal for yourself and you have given yourself a timeline to work
with. Eleven weeks from the day you start this program you will have a new maximum
lift in the bench press.
The average increase is fifty pounds but ultimately this is going to be up to you. It is true
that genetics and other external factors may limit us in some way, but the majority of us
are limited by our determination and belief in ourselves. Don’t ask yourself if it’s
possible. It is very possible and is has been proven again and again. Instead ask yourself
if you’re willing to pay the price to reach this goal.
I mentioned that you had set a specific goal for yourself. This is much different than the
general goals that many of us usually set for ourselves. You may have said in the past
that you would like to increase your bench press. This would be a very vague goal,
because you weren’t specific in giving yourself a deadline or an amount of weight you
wanted to add to your bench. Another example would be a captain of a ship saying he
wanted to sail north. He would start of going north but would eventually get lost at sea
without knowing exactly where he wanted to go. This is not going to happen to you.
It is now time to take matters into your own hands, but first a little about me.
A. About the Author:
Mike Westerdal, BS, CPT
Mike Westerdal is the founder of CriticalBench.com.
He earned his BS from Central CT State University
and holds certification as a personal trainer with
the American Council on Exercise.
6”0 230 lbs
Westerdal also has experience coaching and playing professional football in Europe.
His articles are published throughout the Web and in numerous weight lifting magazines
including REPS! & Powerlifting USA.
Mike is an amateur powerlifter competing in the APF and APA federations. He resides in
sunny Clearwater, FL and currently trains at Tampa Barbell & Strength Camp. He is
married to his wonderful wife Courtney.
Bench Press Personal Records as of May 2010
Equipped competition bench: 630 pounds
Unequipped gym bench: 450 pounds
Raw Reps: 315 for 15 reps and 405 for 5 reps
II. Program Theory and Organization
This section outlines concepts and theories that were implemented in the creation of your
program. It is meant to give you a better understanding of its design. Many of you have
ordered this workout because you want to try a new regiment, not because you want to
read a book. In my opinion, you are more likely to follow recommendations when you
know the reasoning behind them. Therefore, it’s important for you to read this section
before jumping ahead to the training log.
The human body strives to reach a constant state of homeostasis. “A state of equilibrium
of the internal and external environment….State of consistency as to the body’s
chemical and or physical environment.”
Weight lifting disrupts the body’s homeostasis. The body’s response to this disruption is
growth. Once growth occurs a new disruption must occur in order to continue additional
growth. The changing of repetitions, weights, sets, and exercises in your program will
provide you with the necessary variety. Variety also creates excitement in your training
and tends to eliminate boredom.
B. Progressive Overloads:
Progressive Overloading can be defined as, “What ever you lift today, you want to do
more tomorrow.” This can be either more reps or more weight. Each week you will be
provided with increasing weights and reps to use during the bench press. For the other
exercises you will need to add either more reps or weight as the weeks go on.
C. High Intensity Training:
If you want to get stronger you must work hard. Hard work is not to be confused with
more work. Remember, it’s not how long you lift rather how hard you lift. The degree
of intensity exerted during each exercise will determine the degree of results. The higher
your intensity level, the better the results you’ll reap. Once you can no longer raise the
weight, a high level of intensity has been reached. A spotter may be used to help you
finish the repetition that leads to failure but may not be used to do an extra repetition.
At this point maximum muscular failure has occurred. Be competitive every time you
train, and try to improve on what you have done previously. Be sure to do those very
intense last reps. Arnold the “Governator” made a great point in his movie “Pumping
Iron”. He said that you grow during the last few reps that really burn. You need to
step out of your comfort zone.
D. Rest & Muscle Recovery:
Over-training is one of the biggest reasons for lack of growth. You know that you
are training too often if a weight you are lifting, continually feels heavier than
normal. Chances are you have not gotten weaker but rather could use an extra
days rest. Over-training is by far the biggest mistake made by natural weight
Muscles generally need at least 48 hours rest before they have recuperated.
When performing certain exercises you affect more than one muscle group
such as in the bench press. During the bench press, your shoulders, triceps,
back, and chest muscles are primarily involved.
Your program has been designed to space these days apart to make sure that
all of the muscles involved in the bench press have fully recuperated by your
next work out. For example; you will never lift triceps the day before chest,
because your triceps would not be able to help you with the bench press the
following day. As you know, strong triceps are critical to attaining a
monstrous bench press.
The order of the exercises you perform on a specific day is also important.
Compound exercises and mass building exercises should always be performed
prior to supplemental and specialization exercises. A compound exercise is
simply an exercise that involves more than one muscle.
You want to perform the exercises that provide the most growth when you are
fresh and concentrate on definition and cutting up later on in your routine.
Generally you’ll want to save any machines for the latter part of your workout and
perform the multi-joint free weight exercises at the beginning of your workout.
If you’re confused, don’t worry about it, we have it all set up for you. In other
words, it is not a good idea to lift smaller muscle groups prior to larger muscle
groups. Your program has you lifting each muscle group once per week on its
own day to avoid any of these occurrences.
D. Training for Strength:
When training for cardiovascular fitness with the goal of getting cut up or lean, high rep
sets are performed. However, when trying to acquire strength very low reps are used.
Your muscles need to be exposed to heavy weights to build mass and power. Most
people don’t lift this way, but most people aren’t trying to produce a powerful bench
press and gain lean muscle mass.
During your program your flat bench press sets will consist of low reps. It is tough to
keep doing this week after week, and has been adjusted periodically to make sure you
aren’t over-training or putting too much strain on your joints.
The Critical Bench Program is a Power Building program. It combines powerlifting and
bodybuilding techniques in one program to give you both strength and size. If you’re like
me you’ll agree that:
1) You shouldn’t look strong with big muscles without actually being strong.
2) You shouldn’t get strong at the expense of adding so much body fat people can’t even
tell you workout.
3) Using Power Building techniques we will look strong and be able to back it up!
III. Following Your Program
If you have been training intensely with low reps it is very important that you give your
body time to recover before starting another heavy lifting program. Likewise, if you
would like to perform this program again after completion you will need to give your
body a rest. One might think if I gained fifty pounds in ten weeks, than I can gain 100
pounds on my bench in 20 weeks.
Sorry but it doesn’t work that way. You will need to train lighter and differently for a
few weeks before attempting the program again. This program has been designed to add
an average of fifty pounds to your max. Beginners have been known to add much more.
Athletes that are lifting in the 500 pound range and up are happy to achieve any increase
at all. The stronger you get the slower the gains come.
The training logs are broken down into a ten-week training cycle. There are five days of
training with two days off per week. You have been provided with a full body workout.
It is absolutely mandatory that you follow your chest, shoulders, back and triceps
workouts exactly as written. However you can feel free to modify your legs, and bicep
training since they are not as important to your bench. Don’t skip them, they are relevant
so you can stay symmetrical and indirectly assist you in other lifts.
Each day you should complete every set for each exercise before moving on to the next
exercise. Your core lifts for each muscle group will remain the same from week to week
but you have been given the opportunity to select your own supplemental exercises
during certain phases of the program. You will choose these supplemental exercises from
a list we have provided.
A: Choosing Your Workout Days:
Your program has been divided into a seven-day period.
Day-1 begins with chest, followed by Day-2 Legs, Day-3 Back, Day-4 Shoulders,
Day-5 Arms, Day-6 Off, and finally Day-7 Off.
If you begin your program on a Monday then you will have Saturday and Sunday off. If
you would prefer to spend time at the gym during the weekend simply begin Day-1 of
your program on another day. For example, if you begin on a Wednesday, you will lift
for five days straight and then have Mondays and Tuesdays off. If you begin on a Friday,
you will have Wednesday and Thursday off.
Alternate Workout Split:
Over the years I have encountered athletes that prefer to use a four-day split. It is
recommended that you follow the five day split, but if this is not possible you may follow this split
Day-1 Chest, Day-2 Legs, Day-3 Off, Day-4 Shoulders/Back, Day-5 Arms, Day-6&7 Off
If you choose this split, follow the same exercises outlined in your training log. On Day-5 I
prefer that you lift triceps before biceps so they get hit hard when while they’re fresh. You can
also feel free to switch back and forth between biceps and triceps exercises.
550 Pound Bencher Mike Schwanke
B: Exercise Definitions:
Bench Press Mechanics:
Just like in any sport, technique is going to play a vital role. Practicing the instructions
below with lighter weight can help you add at least 10-15 lbs on your bench before you
even start the program.
It may take a little while to get used to, but once you learn the technique you’ll be able to
sore past your previous plateau. Correct alignment and body position can increase
leverage, give you a mechanical advantage, decrease the distance the bar has to travel,
and provide a strong foundation to press from. The bench press requires more than just
strong chest and triceps muscles. Many people fail to realize, if performed correctly,
every muscle from your calves to your arms can be utilized when performing a perfectly
legal bench press.
Ryan Celli pictured above
Positioning: To start the lift you want to make sure your eyes are lined up under the bar.
If you scoot back too far, you may hit the bench as you press the weight up. If you’re too
far forward you will have trouble balancing the weight before you lower it. This is a
complete waste of strength, which brings me to my next point.
Always, always, always have a spotter help you un-rack the weight if you have one
available. Did I mention you should have someone help you un-rack the weight so you
don’t waste energy? That’s right I mentioned it twice, because it’s important. Your butt,
and shoulder blades should always remain in contact with the bench. Never lift your butt
of the bench to press the weight.
The Grip: Your grip should be about shoulder width apart. If your grip is closer you
will be using more triceps and anterior deltoids. One way to determine your grip is to
assume a natural push up position and use this same spacing for the bar. According to
1000 lb equipped bench presser Ryan Kennelly, if you are 5’10 or taller you should line
your pointer finger up with the guide rings on an Olympic bar. If you are shorter than
5’10 you should line your pinkie or index finger up with the guide rings.
The wider your grip, the less distance the bar has to travel. So obviously you want to grip
as wide as possible. If you have been benching with a closer grip this will take some
getting used to, but will make a big difference in a few weeks.
IMPORTANT: Do not use a false grip! A false grip, “thumbless” or suicide grip is
when you don’t wrap your thumbs around the bar. All your fingers need to be on the
same side of the bar. Even very experienced lifters have hurt themselves with this grip
when the bar slips and comes crashing down on their sternum puncturing their lungs and
Now that you know where to grip the bar, you need develop a STRONG GRIP. It’s true
you can increase your bench press by improving upon your grip strength. Squeeze the
bar as tightly as you can. The harder you squeeze the bar, the more muscle fibers you
will recruit to help assist with you with the lift.
Don’t believe me? Try making a bicep muscle without closing your fist. Now make a
bicep muscle and squeeze your fist together and tell me you didn’t just contract harder.
The same goes for your bench. Keep your entire body tight.
If you would like more information on increasing your grip strength visit this page to
read about some cool pieces of equipment:
Do not bend your wrists. Keep your wrists straight. Not only does it help prevent injury,
but it also helps you transfer the power off your chest, deltoids, and arms directly through
the bar. Your wrists should look like the picture on the next page. If you would like to
use wraps to help you keep your wrists straight visit my friend Alan at
I like the 24-inch Convicts, but it’s just personal preference. Only use the wrist wraps
when you are doing 3 repetitions or less. The last thing you want to do is protect your
wrists so much that you make them weaker. They will help you grip harder as well so I
do recommend them for your heavier sets.
Figure 1: Correct wrist alignment
Arch Your Back: Having a good arch will shorten the distance the bar has to travel
between the chest pause and the lock-out. Arching your back will also give you better
balance and increased power because you are activating your primary and stabilizing
Most people can bench more with when doing a decline bench press, and arching your
back on the flat bench is the closest you can get to this angle when flat benching. If
arching your back doesn’t come naturally you can use a 2-4 inch thick PVC pipe or even
a foam roller. Place the pipe or roller under the small of your back to create the arch.
Look at the arch this lifter is demonstrating below! This is probably the biggest arch I
have ever seen and I don’t expect you to be able to do it without a lot of practice. The
judges are checking him out and his glutes, shoulders and head are all making contact
with the bench. This takes an extreme amount of flexibility but demonstrates the point.
This is a nice arch as well.
If you have virtually no arch, you need to gain flexibility. Jared Bachmeier pictured
below explained to me that you should start by getting a 3in. piece of PVC and just lye
down on it.
Be warned, it's not going to feel good. Now roll back and forth on it hitting a 6-8" spot in
your back that you want to bend. Try this a few times a week until it gets more
comfortable. After you can set up your arch and not touch the 3" piece move to a 4"
piece. Then repeat the steps. Once you are fairly comfortable and can arch over a 4" piece
you are on your way to acquiring some decent flexibility.
Feet Placement: You must remember to drive from your heels. Your feet should always
be touching the ground either with your heels or your toes on the floor. Most people have
their feet in line with their knees like pictured above. Feel free to try spreading your feet
out wider to see if it gives you more balance.
Cardinal sins include putting your feet up on the bench, straightening your legs, or letting
your feet barely brush the floor. The placement of your feet is going to help you keep
your balance, and it will be easier to maintain a nice arch in your back.
Digging Or Retracing Your Shoulder Blades: This is an often overlooked technique
that can make a big difference between being an average bench presser and a great bench
presser. When you are bench pressing you need to have a very stable base to press from.
This cannot be done if most of your shoulder blades are off the bench. We can’t change
the width of the bench, but we can change how we position ourselves.
When you retract your shoulder blades together you're creating a more stable, firmer
surface from which to bench press. It’s a more stable surface because more of your body
is in contact with the bench. The tightness of your upper back also contributes. As you
have probably figured out by now, the key to pressing big weight is to press the shortest
distance possible, and this technique helps shorten the distance the bar has to travel.
Figure 2: Try to make your shoulder blades touch
Figure 3: Picture on the left shows a typical flat back set up.
The picture on the right shows the correct retracted shoulder blade position.
Demonstrated by Lee Hayward author of Blast Your Bench
Tuck Your Elbows: Almost everyone you talk to says they want to increase their bench
press, but not everyone actually bench presses. The number one excuse I get, “I can’t
bench press because my shoulders hurt.” Its true bench pressing with bad form can cause
shoulder injuries but there is a way to alleviate this. I had the same issues myself and
thought my heavy benching days were over. That is until several years ago when I met
with a powerlifting coach and discovered this tip.
As you bench press, keep your elbows tucked in close to your body. By doing this the
path of the bar will change a bit. The bar will touch a little lower on your chest right
below your nipples. The fact you’re touching the bar lower on your chest will decrease
the pressure on your deltoids.
The further you are from your center the less leverage you have. When you tuck your
elbows and keep them from flaring out you transfer the load to your triceps taking
pressure off the shoulder complex.
Touching the bar lower and keeping your elbows in close will allow the bar to travel in a
straight line. We all know the fastest way from point A to point B is with a straight line.
Give this technique a try. You may drop in poundage the first few workouts, but you’ll
skyrocket past where you were in the past in record time.
Example Of Tucked Elbows
Notice in the photograph above (courtesy of SAS Digital Memories) the lifter has his
elbows tucked in nice and close to his sides. This forces him to touch the bar a little
lower on the chest, just below the nipples. You’ll also notice that his forearms are
perpendicular to the bar and perfectly straight for maximum leverage.
Example Of Flared Elbows
This is an example of a lifter that has flared elbows. It is not wrong to do this it just puts
more pressure on the shoulders. If you we were to follow the path of the bar I’d guess
that it would touch higher on the chest, probably at or above the nipples. Personally I
prefer the tucked elbows technique. (Photos courtesy of Brian Silk of SAS Digital
Flare Your Lats:
Surprisingly, there is another main muscle group involved
in the bench press. This muscle group is the lats which act
by pushing the arm toward the middle of the body. Strong
lats are important in the bottom or negative phase of the
bench-press movement. By increasing the strength of your
lats you can improve your bench press. By flaring the lats
out and "pushing" with them you will be able to move more
weight. Keep your lats flexed throughout the entire
Breathing: As a personal trainer I typically teach my clients to take a deep breath in
during the negative portion of the lift and tell them to exhale during the concentric part of
the exercise. When it comes to maximum effort work it’s another ball game. The rules
that apply to high rep training are thrown out the window.
Fill your stomach with air before you unrack the bar and hold that air until the lift is
completed. It may take practice, but try to fill your belly with air rather than your chest.
If you let you air out during a max lift attempt, your body will move making you
unstable. Holding your air keeps your entire body tight and gives you a stable base to
Some people actually prefer to take two airs. This means they take one breathe when
they unrack the bar. Then while holding the bar at lockout they exhale and take another
breath before starting to descend. Give both techniques a try and see which you prefer.
Execution: After your spotter gives you a lift off, the bar should be directly over the
bottom of your nipples or the region where your stomach meets your chest muscles.
There are many theories pertaining to the path the bar should travel. To stay in line with
my statement that we want the bar to travel the least distance, you should lower the bar in
a controlled manner and than press it in a STRAIGHT line back to the position you
Your forearm bone should be directly lined up under the bar as well for maximum power.
Lowering the bar too high on your chest will throw off your grove and put strain on your
shoulders. Pro Powerlifter Clint Smith below shows you the sweet spot to touch.
Now comes the most important part of the lift….The Drive.
The bar has just landed on the perfect spot on your chest and you’re ready to go. Squeeze
the bar, and drive your feet through the floor and explode with as much speed as possible.
Avoid This Common Mistake: You’ve spent a great deal of time getting your arch set
up, positioning your feet correctly and making sure you squeeze your shoulder blades
together. Don’t lose your set up during the hand off by reaching for the bar!
Stay nice and tight. Don’t overextend to un-rack the bar. Let the spotter assist you in
bringing the bar to your starting position. This is further explained in the Bench Press
Fundamentals Online DVD that came with your purchase.
If you don’t have a spotter or hand off person you’ll need to pay extra special attention to
Special Equipment: Special equipment is not needed to complete this program. I
wanted everyone to be able to use this program, not only those who have access to a
specialty equipment commonly found at barbell clubs.
However, if you are competing with a bench press shirt, I recommend you also train with
a bench press shirt. You can follow this program with or without a shirt although it
works best for raw or unequipped lifters. If you already own a set of Bench Press Bands
you can use these for your burnout sets, and you can use them to replace the workout for
If you do not have a spotter you can do rack lockouts for week 7 instead of Heavy
Negatives. Feel free to use wrist wraps for support.
I’m not a big believer in using weight belts. I feel that they shelter your lower back and
thus cause them to get weaker. That’s right they do protect you…protect you from
getting stronger. If you want to use a weight belt only use one for your heavier sets.
The same holds true for, straps. Obviously if you’re deadlifting 500 lbs you need straps,
but don’t use them for every back exercise. We need strong forearms and grip strength
for a big bench and the straps aren’t going to help you with that.
You’ve heard it before you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Show me a man with
strong hands and I’ll show you a STRONG man.
As mentioned earlier if you do not have two spotters to help you in week seven you can
use the same weight prescribed in your workout log to perform rack lockouts (See
below). This will help you strengthen your triceps for the last part of the press as well as
give you confidence handling heavier weight.
Flat Bench Lower 1/2 Reps:
Have you ever spotted someone that gets stuck at the bottom of a rep and then after you
give them a little help the rest of the rep is easy? This exercise helps you get by this
sticking point. Simply lower the weight then lift it a few inches off your chest and lower
again. This exercise is done with relatively light weight for higher reps on your week 5
Flat Bench Upper 1/2 Reps:
Just as some people get stuck at the bottom of the exercise, some people have trouble
locking out at the top. This is mainly due to the triceps, but this exercise helps you lock
out when you are using heavier weight. Simply lower the bar half way down and push it
upwards locking out at the top. Once again this exercise is done with lighter weight for
higher reps. During these exercises you can take quicker breaks between sets. If you
have boards you can use those to stop the weight half way down. A 3-board should do
the trick. If you don’t have boards, just stop the weight on your own.
You will need three spotters for this lift. One will stand behind the bar, and the other two
will stand on each end of the bar. Three spotters are necessary due to the fact that some
of your negative sets will be done at a much higher weight level than your one rep max.
All three people will help with the lift off, but the person behind the bar will be the main
stabilizer. He should keep his hands on the bar during the entire lift. You will lower the
weight down to your chest as slow as you possibly can. Exaggerate the motion. When
you get to about half way down you will simply be trying to stop the weight from falling.
Once it touches your chest, all three spotters will raise the bar up to your locked position.
Repeat until you can’t do anymore. Remember to take a new breathe before starting a
new rep. Negatives utilize the eccentric phase of lifting and have been known to punish
your muscles. Exposing your body to this heavy amount of weight will prepare you for
maxing out in Week 11. We are not doing this to create muscle soreness but rather to
shock your Central Nervous System and to get you mentally prepared to man handle
Just controlling a weight heavier than you’ve ever lifted makes other weights seem
lighter, and builds confidence. Don’t be discouraged if during your heaviest set you
only get two or three reps. It is essential to make sure you have stretched sufficiently
prior to performing any negative sets!!!