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by John Kiefer
The Carb Nite Solution & Carb Back-Loading 1.0
I’m excited about this project. I’ve tried powerlifting protocols and classic bench-increasing strategies for most of my life. I remember at the end of every cycle hoping for what I considered the holy grail of maxes at the time, 315, triple wheels. I got under three plates several times only to experience the disappointment and embarrassment of my spotter struggling to pull it from my chest. It sucked. At a weight of 230 (kind of soft too), I never did better than 275. So I quit. I quit trying to get strong on the bench and focused on size. I didn’t even bench for almost a year. I was probably just like you, trying whatever new or exotic program I could find for size. At the time, Dorian Yates was the biggest, most impressive Mr. Olympia to date. Who else would I choose to emulate, even if he stood on the side of the ever-ridiculed Heavy Duty style of Mike Mentzer. I didn’t lie down on a bench for over a year. I’d been training with some great guys in college, Randy Boettner and Matt Hall (I hope you guys have found my site) and it was our last day in the gym. Matt was always testing his bench. He’d been moving up in weight steadily over the year and finally hit 275. He was tickled pink. What the hell, I figured, I’ll do a rep. I launched it off my chest. Matt wasn’t happy anymore. Sure, let’s throw another 10 on each side, was my next thought. Easy. Okay, triple wheels: I didn’t have anything to lose—315. Not a problem. I hit 330 that day. I still had gas in the tank and I probably could have hit 340 or so, but to be honest, I was scared because I’d never come close to handling that kind of weight. I weighed 230, not as soft but I’d added a lot of mass to my legs at the time. I had just become really damn strong on the bench press and hadn’t benched for over a year. Apparently, though, I was stupid because I instantly went back to trying to increase bench again the classic style. Another year down and I ended up at 365. Not bad, but not exciting. Then it was time for grad school. I wanted to do a bodybuilding, so I ditched the bench press once again. I didn’t even get under a solid bar unless it was decline press. The weights kept going up. After 4 months, I had to switch to incline press because the dumbbells at the gym only went up to 130s. Up and up and before I knew it, I hit 405—on incline bench press—for 6 reps. I was focused and I wasn’t going to screw up my gains. I didn’t even think about bench. But ego is the bane of anyone who trains seriously and it rears its head when the big guys throw around the big weights. I couldn’t resist. I benched with a couple buddies. Fear got the better of me again and I stopped shy of what was probably my true max…but not before I hit 495. At this time, I was 265 and around 10 to 12% body fat. After no bench, I sky-rocketed my bench press. Not long after prepping for that first show, tragedy struck. On a warm up set of decline press, I felt a pop. A big pop in my left pec. It was 365, but it felt like nothing until the pop. I finished the rep. As much as I tried denying it was anything serious, the blue and purple discoloration and swelling said otherwise.
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My pec tore partially, not completely, which was worse. My HMO at the time said I’d get full mobility so I didn’t need surgery and no amount of arguing made a difference. It didn’t get fixed and I stopped lifting. It took me years to get serious again and I’d been learning a lot more about training and diet. I looked like a slob from my desk job and decided to get back in shape. I used Carb Nite (I hadn’t yet invented CBL). But this time, I wanted a big bench again. I had trouble with 225, my torn pec hurt when I benched, but that wasn’t the worst pain I experienced. It was the embarrassment of being weak. So, of course, I was stupid and went down the standard path of strength on the bench and eventually worked up to 335. I stalled. I’d made it down to 220 (from the 240 I started at) but my bench seemed done. But I looked forward by remembering the past and implementing the future. I ditched bench again, going back to my old routines for guidance. I also started implementing the first principles of Shockwave Training. Within 8 weeks I was handing 385 for reps, but, to be honest, fear kept holding me back. When is my pec going to tear again, was all I could think while under the bar. All the pain was gone and I felt solid, but I still had that lingering fear. Then I took a trip to Jacksonville, Florida and trained with Team Samson for a day. I laid down to bench and they all commented that I benched horribly wrong. That was on a warm up set of 135. I got the same comments on 225, 275 and 315. At 335, no one said much. At 385, they looked a little puzzled. At 405, they simply said, you know, you’re pretty strong on the bench. With a torn pec and while continuing to diet down from 220 to 202, I ended with a bench press—an easy bench—of 405. Did I have more gas in the tank? Most likely: the 405 felt pretty easy, but once again, fear got the better of me and I stopped at 405. So, what I’m looking for, for you, is a jump of 20% on the bench with this program. That’s right, 20%. So, if you’re currently at a 315 bench, then 385 is just around the corner. I’ve gotten it a couple times with a couple guinea pigs and I think it’s time for a real-world test. I appreciate your willingness to forge a new path for strength on the bench press. If all goes well, I will use these same principles to create and test programs for Push-Press, Dead Lift and Squat. Let the games begin.
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The Bench Challenge is not a normal training protocol. I included pieces from the cutting edge of strength training research, CNS activation and consulted with experts like Vincent Dizenzo, Mark Bell, Monte Spicer and Matt Simpson-Weber. I wanted something revolutionary and not just pretty good. Although I originally planned for an 8 week cycle, after discussing the matters with other experts, I decided to extend the protocol to 12 weeks, to ensure the creation of a solid foundation and to design a program that can be used continuously for massive strength gains in the bench press. The twelve weeks are broken down into the following phases. Copyright © 2013
Hypertrophy Phase: Weeks 1 through 4
Although the training methodology activates maximum hypertrophic signals , I’m not trying to turn you into a total beast; rather, increase the size and strength of everything you need to bench from the neglected musculature like intercostals, abs, inner traps, brachioradialis and all the components we normally think of when benching like the pecs, shoulders and triceps. As these muscles develop and grow, they add the support structure necessary to push the big numbers.
CNS Amplication: Weeks 5 & 11
Anyone with a modicum of sense would agree that the most critical determination of maximum strength comes from the central nervous system (CNS). If the CNS is blown, then you lack the ability to push with full effectiveness. Rather than take weeks off, as coaches normally prescribe, you can actually trigger growth and strength gains while helping the CNS to recover and fire with greater intensity. I designed the CNS amplification phases to do just that.
Strength Phase: Weeks 6 through 10
At this point, it’s time to come around and master the movement that’s the hallmark of Monday night in gyms across the US, the bench press. This phase not only builds strength through the movement necessary to bench, but trains the nervous system for staggering efficiency for this one motion. We’re actually training the nervous system to fire with 100% intensity every time you lie down and wrap your hands around the cold steel bar.
Max Attempt: Week 12
Do I really need to explain? I didn’t think so.
Most of the exercises should be familiar. Some may not. Below is a list of the exercises that may not be familiar or ones that I want performed different than standard—i.e. I want you to do them correctly.
Single Arm DB Chest Press
Lie down on a flat bench with a single dumbbell. It shouldn’t be heavy. You’re going to get into the starting position with the DB for a press and place your free hand on the opposite pec (the pec that’s going to be doing the work). Press like normal, feeling for a full contraction in the inner portion of the pec near the sternum at the top of the movement. Move the DB in an arc from its farthest distance from the sternum when in the bottom of the movement to a position where the inner edge of the DB is directly above the sternum.
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Incline DB Press
In the bottom or stretched position, the DB should come as low as possible. If you’re using the big weights, the DB may bump your pec before you can get as deep as possible; press from this point. Move the DB in an arc as described above, touching the weights together at the top. Your elbows should be away from the torso—do not tuck them.
Bring the bar to the bottom of the sternum, tucking your elbows to do so if necessary. Draw your rib cage in for the entire rep. That doesn’t mean to actually exhale and hold your breath, but flex your core muscles to squeeze your rib cage like a tube of tooth paste. This may take some practice work during warm up. A good Olympic lifting coach can help with this technique (drawing in the rib cage while breathing) and if one’s not available, as much as it pains me to say this, you may want to consult a good yoga or pilates instructor * .
DB Flyes (bent arm with ext)
The ext stands for extension. The movement is demonstrated here by DH Athlete, Caroline Gick for the incline version. The extension achieved at the top by spreading your shoulder blades activates the pec minor.
Rev. Grip BB Row
Grab the bar with an underhand grip, hands about an inch outside of shoulder-width. Pull to the bellybutton. Again, squeeze the rib cage and pull the shoulder blades together.
I would give advice on how to find a good yoga or pilates instructor, but I’ve only ever met one.
I placed these here to help build the brachioradialus, which lend support and stability to the bench press in the bottom position. Demo
This movement is designed to help activate the muscular necessary to draw the scapula together and down, something you’ll need to learn for benching the big numbers. On a pulldown machine, you sit straight up and grab the long bar at a shoulders-width grip. Pull down on the bar by retracting your shoulder blades down. Do not bend your arms at the elbow and keep your spine straight, even the part that connects from your shoulders to your head. Demo
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Dragon Flags / Pike Ups
Not much consideration is ever given to the abdominal wall for benching the big numbers, but with an ab structure capable of supporting the strain on your intercostals, you’ll fail at the bottom almost every time. Dragon Flag Tutorial / Pike Up Demo
Dip down to below parallel before the turn around to push yourself back up. Tuck the elbows behind you so the stick as straight back as possible. The emphasis should be on the triceps, not the pecs. Demo
Dips (elbows wide)
When dipping, you want your elbows to flare out to the sides rather than keeping them tucked back as above for standard dips. The emphasis should be on the pecs.
Use a tight grip handle where the grips run parallel. Start pulling in the full upright position with your head back. This may sound odd, but pull from the chest. The rest of the movement is straight forward. Demo
Cable Tricep Pushdowns
Use a Y-shaped bar and stand close to the cable. The most important part of this move is the turnaround at the top, not pushing all the way through at the bottom.
Low Shoulder-Blade Pulley Rows
On a seated cable row, grab the handle you used for the Close-grip Pulldowns and sit almost upright, leaning back slightly. With your arms straight, internally rotate your elbows and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Your elbows should remain soft (not locked, but not bent much).
You should be on your knees and the cable should extend at an angle away from you. It should not be directly overhead. Curl your torso so that your elbows roll into your hips. See the diagram below. Copyright © 2013
Hmmmm…I could try to explain this one, but a demo from an attractive model might be better. Demonstrated here by DH Athlete, Mary Gines.
You should know how to bench by now…
Set Type Glossary
STD: Again, this doesn’t stand for Sexually Transmitted Disease, but is shorthand for “Standard”
which means controlled descent, turnaround and ascent.
RAMP: Start with light weight and increase the weight with every set. The first few should be easy WU: Shorthand for WU. Should be easy and performed with relatively fast speed unless otherwise
PSR: Partitioned Set Ramping. This is described in the Shockwave Ebook. Download here.
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DROP: Just like RAMP except backward. Ideally, if you do one set of 10 reps with 225, and the 10th
rep was a near grinder (as it should be), then you’ll need to drop weight in the next set if you want to hit 10 reps again (which you do, as the program prescribes).
Rep Type Glossary
SS: Super-slow repetition, with a 5 sec ascent and 3 sec descent. ELECT: Eccentric-Loading, Explosive ConTraction, which is described in the Shockwave Ebook.
LHF: Lower half of the movement. For a bench movement, that would be from the chest to half way
up before descending again.
PP: Pause-Press. Bring the weight into the bottom of the movement and “rest” it there for 2 seconds
NEG: A negative repetition is to descend as slowly as possible, resisting the force of the load. NEG
reps always come at the end of a different type of rep scheme. For example, you may be asked to perform 10 STD reps to exhaustion, then you would perform the NEG repetitions after being exhausted.
HOLD: Hold in the contracted position for 6 to 10 seconds before releasing. FAST: Move the weight through the range of motion rapidly but extremely controlled. This is only
possible with light weight. You should feel high force loads through the turnaround point.
EX: Explode. Push with all of your force. When done correctly on the bench press, the momentum of
the weight at the top should lift your back off of the bench.
ECC: A completely eccentric contraction. Spotters are critical in this case to lift the load from you.
You should only use the weight for a very controlled descent. These reps are prescribed in isolation and are not preceded by STD rep types or PP, unlike NEG reps.
MAX: Push like your life depends on it.
Rep Range Schema
As a non-standard program, the rep ranges can look a little strange. Look below for explanations of the various shemes. Copyright © 2013
Standard Schema, n:
Everyone is familiar with this pattern. The number of repetitions
to shoot for is n, as specified in the column. You should be within the range of 2 under or 1 over n; if not, make adjustments for your next set and workout. Example: 10 (you should get between 8 and 11 reps).
Strict Schema, n1, n2, n3, n4, …: If each set of an exercise has a very
specific rep goal, then that goal is specified exactly by n1, … Each set corresponds to the goal, so in the first set, do n1 reps and so on. Example: 6, 4, 3, 1 (this exercise will have 4 sets specified; do 6 reps for the 1st set at the specified load, 4 reps for the 2nd set, etc.)
This pattern simple means get as many reps as possible. If you go over 11, then
in most instances, you didn’t choose heavy enough weight or you weren’t as exhausted as you imagined. Example: AMAP (go till you fail)
PSR Schema, n1-n2-n3-n4-n5-…: This pattern is distinct to PSR sets. Each n is an
integer that represents the number of reps to perform for that partition. Even though the recommendation normally has the standard 5 partitions, remember that you may not be able to complete all partitions or may need to add one or two, depending on how well you chose your starting weight. Example: 4-3-3-3-3 (the first partition has 4 reps and each thereafter has 3)
Negative Schema, n + m: For rep types of NEG or HOLD, n represents the number of
repetitions to be performed in normal style, or as specified in the Rep Type column followed by m number of negative reps (as described above). Example: 10 + 3 (the first ten reps should bring you to exhaustion, then the spotter helps to assist with 3 negative repetitions)
Drop Schema, n + AMAP x m: Drop sets are essentially a form of reverse PSR,
where the first n reps bring the target muscle to exhaustion and the next two drops, done in rapid succession, are designed to get As Many As Possible reps and increase the lactic-acid threshold, hence, creating strength endurance. Example: 10 + AMAP x 2 (do ten reps to failure, drop weight, do as many reps as possible, drop weight and do a second attempt to get as many reps as possible)
Copyright © 2013 The bench protocol is designed to be inserted into your general programming once per week. Whatever day of the week you currently train chest, replace those sessions with the appropriate workout.
You should be utilizing CBL for this challenge. No other plans are recommended or supported.
The program requires knowledge of your current max bench so you can calculate the percentages needed for the program. If you don’t know your current max bench, I’ve set up a program that can give you an estimate based on some sub-max, for example, the amount of weight you can do for a maximum of 10 reps. And whether you need an estimate or you know, the tool will give you all the percentages needed for the program. Bench Calculator: H1-Rep Max Bench Calculator Also… Check out: The Carb Nite Solution And: Carb Back-Loading