Interview With Bench Press Specialist Travis Bell As told to CriticalBench.com by Curt Dennis Jr. "The Brute" of Planetrage.com - June 2008
The Travis Bell Bench Press Odyssey Continues
Critical Bench: Hey, thanks for doing this interview, Travis, Please introduce yourself.
Absolutly! Glad you thought of me. I'm a 23 year old powerlifter, initially from Michigan but I am currently working on my Masters of Education degree in Dayton Ohio. I've lived in Ohio for the last two years year round, but this year was forced to come back to Michigan. I'm from a family of 5, who supports me whenever they can, but the distance sometimes makes that difficult. I have an awesome girlfriend of 2 ½ years who is always in my corner and comes to just about every meet. She's been super understanding, supporting and very excited about my lifting.
Critical Bench: How long have you been into powerlifting?
I've been powerlifting since I was 19.
Critical Bench: Tell us about your childhood and how you got into powerlifting?
I was always into weights. My dad lifted at home mostly when I was younger and when I was 12 I began to take an interest and lfited on my own. When I turned 16, I was given a gym membership and some training sessions at a local Powerhouse gym with a trainer who was an ex-bodybuilder. This started me down a path for the next 3 years on bodybuilding. I was actually not too bad at it, but soon just decided I didn't like the contest prep dieting. So, with a strong desire for competition, powerlifting was a natural choice. My bench actually was quite bad (in my book) for my size and weight. At the time I was 170lbs and really just focused on my bench for the time. For my first meet I wanted to just do bench and get a feel for it. I benched 320lbs raw and won my class at 181lbs. I was really trying to figure the shirts out, but was struggling a lot because at school I didn't have any guidance on how to use them properly. This was what initially drove me to Westside.
Critical Bench: Who did you look up to when you were coming up as a powerlifter?
Kirk Karwoski for one. I watched his 1000lb squat video and was just blown away by his intensity and drive! I'm still motivated by that video. Louie Simmons is obviously another one. All he had accomplished and all the lifters he coached was awe inspiring. Others would be Ryan Kennelly, Ed Coan and Chuck Vogelpohl.
Critical Bench: What would you say to a novice lifter or to a lifter who's just starting out in powerlifting?
Find some good coaching. Its priceless. Good training partners and good training equipment will speed up your progress. Learn as much as you possibly can.
Critical Bench: Do you have a favorite out of the three or is it all 3 lifts?
Haha yeah, the bench would be my favorite. Just something about laying down and grabbing that bar, holding massive amounts of weight in your hands, bringing it down to your chest and then squeezing with everything inside of you to get it back up to lockout.
Critical Bench: What are the challenges of coming up as a powerlifter?
Staying consistent in your training and diet. Being focused as well seems to be difficult some some guys. I've trained with guys who had endless potential, but just couldn't stay focused on the task and it caused them to fail.
Also for myself, keeping weight on has been difficult before. I'm 253lbs right now and I really need to stay right there. I work as a mechanic in the summer and it really becomes difficult to keep my weight on. This summer though, with the help of AtLarge Nutrition, this will be a goal that I'm going to reach with relative ease. This Chris and Daniel have been very good to me in helping me out with my diet and supplement regimen.
Critical Bench: Tell everyone here the difference between someone who wants to look "pretty" and someone who does what we do? The difference between a workout and a training session.
Well your whole structure is different. For myself, everything I do is geared towards a bigger bench. But for someone who's goal is hypertrophy, they may need to isolate different muscle groups a little more, do more reps and more variety in their exercise choices. For someone who wants to get stronger or competes in powerlifting, their focus will be more on the big 3 lifts.
Critical Bench: What would you tell a powerlifer if they are trying to get to the next level in the sport? Do you believe that powerlifters' have a lifestyle of their own?
To get to "the next level" it requires a different focus and dedication. I haven't changed anything that I've been doing to get to where I am, but I've stayed focused and committed. Really that's what "the next level" is. It consists of guys who have taken their lifting to extremely high levels of dedication. They are smart, focused and willing to do whatever it takes to be the best.
Travis Bell Max Effort Bench Workout at Westside
Critical Bench: How driven would people say you are about being a powerlifter? How does it effect you outside of the gym?
I'm very driven. When its time to hit the gym, nothing else matters. Nothing. I'm there to work on my bench. I will do whatever exercise, how every many reps, attempt any weight I need to to get just a little better. I'm not looking to break WRs every time I walk into a bench workout, I just want to be a little stronger each time. Patience is why I've just slowly built my strength up.
Outside of the gym, my faith in Christ and my family/girlfriend come first. Without those two things in my life, I'd fall apart and it would be meaningless. Family and friends are very aware of my dedication to powerlifting, but life doesn't revolve around me. There is a delicate balance to be reached between high dedication and obsession. I don't function well when I'm obsessed because I'm too focused on myself. I like it when I'm able to support others in the same way that they have supported me.
Critical Bench: What is it like training at Westside Barbell? How often do you train there?
Because of distance and the price of gas, I only train there twice a week. Wednsdays and Sundays. Training there is the highlight of my week. I love the comraderie and competition we have going on there. We all work together to help benefit each others strength level. Having Lou as a coach has been the best thing possible for my powerlifting. He has taught me more than I ever could have imagined and done more than just have me do a given workout. He helps me know why I do what I do, which in the long run makes me a better lifter.
Critical Bench: What are your workouts like? How are they setup?
My bench workouts are set up so that I'm always working up to a max single every week. I shoot for at least a 5lb PR on whatever given movement we are doing for that Wednesday. On my accessory days, I'll cycle them between heavy to light depending on how my body feels. Sometimes after handling super heavy weights for a long period of time my body feels a little burnt and I have to take it easier on the other days. Right now I lift 6 days a week.
Critical Bench: What would you suggest to someone on how to get stronger on all 3 lifts?
Well since I am technically a bench specialist, I can really only give my best advice on the bench. For getting your bench stronger its difficult to specify one single thing that works for everyone, but from my experience the most common things neglected are tricep strength and improper form. Many lifters would do much better if they worked on pinching their shoulder blades together real tight, arching so they set up on their upper back more, tucking their elbows more and bringing the bar down faster. That's a pretty generalized statement there though. Really, if someone wanted to get some of the best benching advice, take a look at the PL forum at WannaBeBig.com. We've got some of the biggest names in Pling posting there right now. Its probably one of the most helpful forums I've been on probably because of the huge pool of expert advice available on there.
Critical Bench: What drives you as a lifter?
I love competition. I compete with myself as well as others. What drives me is to just be a little stronger each time. A big drive of mine is to help other lifters though. It'd be ridiculous of me to keep all this information that Lou has showed me locked up and never share it. Besides Lou, I've learned from guys like George Halbert, Rob Luyando and Greg Panora. All of these guys (and others I haven't mentioned) have invested time and effort in sharing with me what they have learned. Would I be where I am today without them? Not a chance. The best thing I can do is use what I've learned to help others become better lifters. I find every bit as much of enjoyment in my own PRs as watching others I've helped hit PRs
Critical Bench: Was your training any different prior to your last meet?
Actually I haven't done a meet since Kenny Patterson's bench meet last July. I bombed at that meet. It was in the middle of the summer and I was really struggling with training partners (I wasn't able to train at Westside) being consistent and my weight just dropped off so my bench shirt didn't fit at all. So what I did was take awhile off and just work on my raw bench. I got back in the bench shirt as soon as I went back to Westside a few months ago and now I'm getting ready to bench as a guest lifter at the ProAm in August.
Critical Bench: Do you think using bench shirts/gear are cheating?
Nope. I love my double ply bench shirt haha!. Its really a lot of fun in my opinion to use that. I love the technique involved. It also really saves the shoulders a ton. I think it adds a different aspect to benching that I really enjoy. I don't think its really necessary or accurate to make correlations between raw and shirted benching because the two are different from each other both in training and execution.
Travis Bell Back & Shoulders Workout
Critical Bench: What is your view on training in equipment and learning them?
I actually train in my gear less than some of my fellow bench specialists. I train two weeks in and two weeks out of gear (meaning two weeks raw). I think that too frequently guys don't go to the chest. Some of the benchers out there are advanced enough that they don't need to go to the chest all the time, but for myself I've found hit PRs more consistently and am more confident in my shirted benching when I train off the chest more frequently. The groove even from a 1brd to the chest is a lot different. That said, you need to break in a shirt appropriately first. I'll usually slowly work a shirt down over about 3 or 4 weeks with boards so as to not break too many of the fibers.
Critical Bench: What do you think is the reason for all the big numbers as of late like Kennelly's 1070 and Frankl's freakish total or Hoornstra's raw strength? Has strength training evolved?
That's an interesting question. The gear these guys are using isn't brand new and other people are using the same gear but defiantly aren't hitting the same benches or totals that they are. Hoornstra in my opinion is one of the truest forms of the best genetics. My jaw drops every time I see him bench. Simply amazing. I guess strength training has evolved to the extent that we are realizing how to better train for a geared total. Ryan has really learned how to use shirts very very well. Guys are getting smarter in their training and with the increase in the use of the internet for exchange of training ideas as well as the huge increase in underground gyms, guys are able to train much harder and with much better advice. You really don't have to look too far around now to find a decent powerlifting gym. Except in northern Michigan it would seem haha. This area is pretty starved for powerlifting.
Critical Bench: Do you think the standards went up in the sport?
Given that I've only been in this sport for about 3+ years, I don't have the ability to comment on the overall development of powerlifting's standards. For the 3 years I have been in powerlifting I will say that I'm excited about how things are going right now. I'm really excited about how the UPA is developing as well as the things Lou is doing with the IPA.
Critical Bench: What is your nutrition like now?
My nutrition is pretty relaxed. I eat a lot of chicken and beef, as well as lots of complex carbs. Not necessarily a high carb diet, but not a low one either. I make sure I get lots of protein in which has been made easier with the support of AtLarge Nutrition. I eat between 5-7 times a day. With upcoming summer and the inevitable increased work, I may have to bump my caloric intake up a bit depending on how my weight responds.
Critical Bench: What changes are you going to have to make to go to the next level?
I've actually really figured out what works for my training very very well so for now I need to keep at it and just continue to bring up the intensity level. I need to make less mistakes In the shirt, even in training to ensure more made lifts and less wasted energy.
Critical Bench: Is there anyone you would like to thank right now?
Well Louie Simmons first and foremost. He's taught me everything I know. There is no possible way I'd be where I am without his training and guidance. Secondly is AtLarge Nutrition. I can't say enough about Chris and Daniel. They have been so wiling to help me out in my supplements in a huge way. I really appreciate how much they give back to the sport by sponsoring as many meets and lifters as they can. Along with WannaBeBig.com, they really have a super quality thing going for them as does powerlifting.