The Battle To Be The Bench King Compliments of Sean "Seanzilla" Katterle
An interview with 2003 Arnold Classic Benchpress Champion and official 800 pound benchpresser Ryan "Bench Monster" Kennelly
" I had one final attempt at the benchpress that day and the crowd knew what I was going for. The loaders piled on iron plate after iron plate, the stage was set, and the roar of the crowd built like a tidal wave careening onto the shoreline. I walked out onto the stage, almost in a trance, my eyes dilated and my pulse pounding in my ears. I set up on the bench and looked at the bar on the rack above me. The spotters handed the weight off to me, my hands squeezed the knurling, and I began the descent downwards, feeling the insane load dropping to my chest. The bar paused and I fully came to realize just how heavy this burden was. I could no longer hear the crowd and the world around me seemed to simply drift. "Press!" the judge commanded and every fiber in my body pushed against that weight. The bar came off my chest like a rocket, my muscles coursing with burning flames. My triceps and shoulders fired on all cylinders, forcing my arms to lockout and the lift was mine! I HAD JUST BENCHPRESSED 800.5 POUNDS! What was formerly thought of as impossible, had just been done." - Excerpt from The Kennelly Method.
It is almost unfathomable how many people on this planet practice the benchpress. Let's look at just the United States alone. There are 50 states in the union. In each state there is an average of at least 200 commercial gyms. It's conservative to say that each gym averages at least 200 members who benchpress on a regular basis. That means that there are over 2 million people in America who are currently training in the benchpress lift. Out of these 2,000,000 people (and the millions of lifters throughout history) how many have been able to benchpress 700 pounds or more? LESS THAN 30 have hit that hash mark. Out of this list of 700 pound benching superstars, how many have reached the 800 pound rung on the ladder? TWO. This interview is your chance to get benchpress training pointers from one of those two!
Seanzilla - Magazines these days are filled with advanced training routines that the pros use. A lot of these articles are inspiring and informative, but they aren't of a lot of use to the novice lifter who isn't yet physically prepared for those weight/set/rep schemes. Please outline a benchpress training program for a lifter who has a max benchpress of 225 pounds (Interviewer's note; a max benchpress is what you can bring down to your chest, pause, and then press up completely by yourself for one rep while keeping your butt planted firmly on the bench).
Kennelly - Start with benching once per week and start with 45% of 225 for 8 sets of 3 reps, going up 5% each week. Once you get to 75%, you will only do 4 sets of 3 reps. Then, when you've reach 85%, you will do just 2 sets of 3 reps. At your 100% max of 225 you will be able to do 1 set of 3 reps for sure and you will have a new 1 rep max of around 250. Whatever you can triple on the bench, you multiply it by 10%, and that's going to be within 10 pounds of your 1 rep max. With this basic training program, your assistance work will be rack lockouts, skull crushers, and close grip incline presses. With all of your assistance work sets perform sets of five reps, increasing the weight each set up to a heavy set of 5 reps (where you can barely get the fifth rep) and then quit. Always finish your benchpress workout with high rep tricep pushdowns for added muscle fatigue. Some optional shoulder work can be done on this day also such as front plate raises (or front dumbbell raises) for the front deltoids and side dumbbell laterals for your side deltoids. High reps should be employed when performing these shoulder exercises.
Seanzilla - The second half of the benchpress is the called the lockout by powerlifters. The triceps are the muscles that are primarily involved in this portion of the lift. What are your top three favorite triceps assistance lifts? Why? How many sets and reps for each lift?
Kennelly - I like close grip benching and rack lockouts. These will build serious strength in the triceps and shoulders and will quickly add pounds to your press. When training these, work up to a heavy set of 5 using close grips on all lifts. A close grip on a barbell is at least one complete hand width in from your competition grip.
Seanzilla - When you benchpress, do you ever rep to failure? Why or why not?
Kennelly - No I always do heavy triples in training using weights that I'm confident I'll get. But, if I'm out 4 weeks from contest, I will rep till failure on my heavy pressing exercises only. This gets my body primed for the big contest lift.
Seanzilla - A lot of lifters have been hearing about powerlifters using "bands, boards, and chains" in their training. Please explain the basic concepts behind using bands and chains in benchpress training.
Kennelly - Bands will teach you to build kinetic energy in the eccentric phase or lowering of the weight. The training bands will pull down on the bar and make you gather all that energy and use it to explode on the concentric phase. This is done by using the lats to lower the bar; by driving your upper inner triceps into your flexed lats, which saves your shoulders from taking the brunt of the lowering phase weight load. Also the bands will build extreme lockout power by the fact that the weight load will get heavier as the bar reaches lockout (the more the bands stretch, the more resistance they provide). Your muscles will begin to learn that they will have to work harder at the top of the lift too and that mind-muscle conditioning will pay off in pounds. The #1 brand of training bands are the bands sold by The Powerlifting Superstore and you can order them by calling 1(800)268-2248 or by logging on to www.monstermuscle.com.
Chains will build great speed in the benchpress. When you bring the bar to your chest, the chains will pile onto the floor and make the load lighter at the bottom. When you begin pressing, and the barbell comes off your chest, the chains (which are attached to the barbell) will come up off the floor adding to the level of weighted resistance. The lifter will learn to explode with great force trying to out race the chains off the floor. Once again, your body will become very responsive to this type of training and it will teach you to develop force velocity and tremendous speed throughout the lift. You can purchase chains and chain link connectors from your local construction supply store.
Boards will allow you to train your sticking points (a sticking point is the point in the press where you sometimes miss, or fail, in an attempt) in the benchpress. Board presses also build great tricep strength. You will be training at 3,6, and 8 inches off your chest (depending on how many boards you're using) and you'll come to a dead stop on the boards (taking the momentum out of the lift). This will build your benchpress at its weakest points (to overcome your sticking points) and it will train your lockout power. With the boards, you will be starting at a mid range point in the benchpress, and from a dead stop, and that will teach you to strengthen and overcome your sticking points in the pressing phase of the lift.
Seanzilla - In addition to flat bench work, how often do you train on a decline or incline bench?
Kennelly - The decline benchpress is a lift that's trained in the off season or when a meet is more than 8-10 weeks away. Incline benchpressing is performed as assistance work. On the incline press, I like working up to heavy triples, using a close grip, which strengthens the triceps.
Seanzilla - In my opinion, the power rack is one of the greatest gym equipment inventions ever. In what ways do you use a power rack in your benchpress training?
Kennelly - I only use the power rack for rack lockouts, training the top 4 inches of the press and no more than the top 8. To do this, I set up the flat bench inside the power rack, position the safety pins at the appropriate height, and then press off the pins, coming to a complete stop on the pins before pressing up for another rep. I use a close grip and I work up to 3-5 sets of five heavy reps.
Seanzilla - Who, other than yourself, do you see as the greatest benchpressers of all time? Why?
Kennelly - I think that the other two, in the top three benchers of all time, are Anthony Clark for showing us that an 800 pound benchpress is possible and Scot Mendelson for breaking the barrier into the unknown and beyond (Interviewer's note - Scot Mendelson benchpressed 821 pounds at the APF Senior Nationals just days before this interview and Kennelly was in attendance to cheer him on).
Seanzilla - What, in your opinion, are the most common training mistakes that you see lifters make?
Kennelly - I think that the most common mistakes are over training, under training, and maxing out on big lifts too often. Training the benchpress more than twice a week is definitely over training. Training the benchpress less than once per week is most likely under training. And, a lifter should only work up to a max bench 3-4 times per year at the most. The rest of the training year should be working with sub-maximal poundage in preparation for the next max attempt.
Seanzilla - Please tell us about benchshirts, how they work, what brand you use, and how to know which benchshirt is right for you.
Kennelly - The bench shirt, in simple terms, protects you from injury by keeping your upper body and shoulders tight and in proper from during the lift. Also, the workload is lighter at the bottom because of the way the shirt is made, or cut, giving more support out of the bottom of the lift. I use the Inzer double denim and the new Inzer ultimate denim, both with tremendous success. If you're looking to purchase a bench shirt, I strongly recommend choosing the brand Inzer, as they're by far the world leader.
Practice, practice, practice is the only way to determine if a particular benchshirt style is right for you. When you get a shirt from your supplier, after giving proper measurements, there willl be 95% chance this shirt will be right for you. Everyone has a different style of benching so you must find a shirt that is custom to the style you use; where you bring the bar to your chest or upper abs, and whether you know how to lower the bar using your lats like you would in a denim. If you don't use your lats to lower the bar, then a poly shirt would be your best bet. My advice would always be start with a poly benchshirt and then work your way up to a denim, only after your comfortable with it. I have a few different styles of Inzer shirts in my gym bag and I experiment with all of them. (Interviewer's note - benchpress shirts are very tight fitting "t-shirts" made from either polyester or denim material and they're crucial to a competitive benchpresser's shoulder joint and chest muscle health and longevity. To check out Inzer bench shirts online, log on to www.monstermuscle.com)
Seanzilla - What other gear do you recommend a lifter use when heavy training?
Kennelly - A recommend an Inzer heavy duty powerlifting lever belt and a pair of 36" Inzer Z Style wrist wraps. I recommend Inzer because, when you're training to be the best, you should be using the best products available.
Seanzilla - Describe which muscles are most used in benchpressing and their role in the benchpressing process.
Kennelly - Shoulders, pecs, lats, and triceps are the muscle groups primarily used in benchpressing. Lats are most important because they are first used when lowering the weight. Your upper back/lats are also where the all the weight is transferred. Your shoulders and pectorals are then employed at the bottom of the lift and then the triceps will be the muscles that press your arms (and the bar) into lockout position which finishes the lift. You must use the chest, shoulders ,and triceps equally (full force) when pressing the weight; these three muscle groups working together throughout the concentric part of the lift is how you should be pressing.
Seanzilla - What are your three favorite shoulder assistance lifts? How many sets and reps for each lift?
Kennelly - I like plate raises, side delt dumbbell raises, and upright rows. I do 4 sets of 6-8 reps on these exercises and that really puts a burn on my muscles!
Seanzilla - It's not a secret that powerlifters are totally hardcore! What's some of the craziest outta control stuff you've seen at a powerlifting contest or in a powerlifting gym?
Kennelly - I saw a guy miss his benchpress and then get up and head butt the weights, knocking himself out cold! And I also remember seeing a guy head butt the bar so hard before he squatted, that he split his head open. This didn't deter him from continuing with his attempt and blood ran down his face during the lift, which was crazy, but really intense!
Seanzilla - What other sports do you participate in or follow? Do you have any favorite athletes from these sports?
Kennelly - The only other sport I follow is no holds barred fighting. I'm a big Tank Abbott fan. This guy doesn't just fight for the money or the sport, he fights because he loves the aggression. He is truly a hardcore streetfighter and I respect him for his genuine toughness.
Seanzilla - Which federations do you compete in?
Kennelly - I compete in the World Powerlifting Organization, World Association of Benchpressers and Deadlifters, The American Powerlifting Federation, and the American Powerlifting Association. (Interviewer's Note - It's the World Powerlifting Organization that puts on the powerlifting competitions at the Arnold Classic and the GNC Show of Strength and these are must see competitions!)
Seanzilla - Who are some of the most interesting people that you've met in or around the sport of powerlifting?
Kennelly - Chuck Vogelpohl for his intensity. Scot Mendelson because we're the two top guys in the benchpress game and the close competition is part of what's pushing both of us to continue to break our own records. George Halbert, because he is a benchpress scientist and because he's benchpressed over 700 pounds at just over 200 pounds bodyweight. And, the fourth lifter that comes to mind is Becca "The Iron Maiden" Swanson, because she is the strongest woman powerlifter of all time (and, along with World Strongest Woman winner Jill Mills, one of the top two strongest women in history).
Seanzilla - Tell us about some of the hardcore techniques you've even done, or seen, in preparation for a max benchpress attempt.
Kennelly - Once, I snorted a bottle of nose torque (an ammonia based concoction) so hard that the rock salt in the bottle went up my nose, into the back of my throat, and I hacked it back out my mouth. I still remember the first time I saw Scot Mendelson getting slapped really hard in the face a bunch of times by his wife; wow, that was intense.
Seanzilla - What kind of music do you listen to when you're training?
Kennelly - Slayer, Old Metallica, Prong, Sepultura, AC/DC, and other loud heavy metal bands.
Seanzilla - Anyone that you'd like to thank or any personal messages that you'd like to share?
Kennelly - I'd like to thank Louie Simmons for turning my lifting career around and for giving me advice that really helped me to make it to the top. Scot Mendelson for aggressively competing against me, which pushes me to be stronger than ever. Wes Kampen and the rest of the Monster Muscle Magazine crew for doing such a great job promoting my sport. In addition, I'd like to say thank you to The Powerlifting Superstore and to Rick Brewer/House of Pain Ironwear for sponsoring me and helping me to reach my goals. I'd also like to thank Eclipse Sports Supplements for also sponsoring me and for providing me with top quality nutritional products. When I hit my record 800.5 pound benchpress and then won the Arnold Classic Benchpress Championship, I got a lot of offers from nutritional supplement companies. I had the luxury of choosing from some of the best and I chose Eclipse Sports Supplements because their products are awesome! And, finally, I'd like to thank all my friends and family who've believed in me and cheered me on to victory.
As for additional advice, I would like to say to all upcoming benchpressers; Never give up on your dreams. Break through plateaus in your training by simply changing exercises. Your body will get used to an exercise and your strength gains will slow or stop. By changing up your routine, you will keep the muscles shocked and, in turn, tremendous strength gains will occur and you'll break through your progress plateaus.
Finally, keep personal attacks off the internet and don't be an internet fraud. This is a sport where we get together, lift some serious weights, and then shoot the breeze and have a few beers and pizza. This is not high school and we are not fighting over women or multi-million dollar contracts. Powerlifting is a lifestyle, and a damn fun one at that! I did not get into this to bicker and fuss on the computer about other people, some whom I have never even seen in person. We should all support one another and keep this sport a respectable one so that others will follow in our footsteps. Stay Strong!!!!!!!!!
About Ryan Kennelly - Ryan Kennelly is the current Arnold Classic/WPO Benchpress Heavyweight Champion (The most respected benchpress title in the world). He was the first benchpresser to officially benchpress 800+ pounds (he benchpressed 800.5 pounds at the 2002 Monster Muscle.com WABDL North American Championships in Portland, Oregon and he won the 2003 Arnold Classic WPO Bench Bash for Cash with a benchpress of 766.1 pounds!) Ryan Kennelly has officially benchpressed 700+ pounds 23 times, that's more times than any other competition benchpresser in history. His personal website is www.benchmonster.com and, on his website, you can purchase his benchpress training book (The Kennelly Method), Ryan Kennelly Bench Monster lifting wear, and interact with other benchpressers (Including Ryan Kennelly himself!) via his internet forum. Ryan Kennelly will be returning to defend his title at the 2004 Arnold Classic WPO Bench Bash for Cash www.worldpowerlifting.org www.arnoldclassic.com
Featured Hard Copy Bench Press Book
The Kennelly Method - "Building a Monster Benchpress"
Ryan Kennelly is the strongest and most respected bench presser in the history of iron sports. He is the current all time record holder with a competition bench press of 800.5 pounds. He is also the current World Powerlifting Organization Heavyweight Bench Press Champion, winning that title at the 2003 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic Bench Bash competition. The Kennelly Method, is the definitive book on bench press training. It will take you through Mr. Kennelly's lifting technique, muscle building nutrition, and how to set up a training program for building a MONSTER BENCH PRESS!