Tag: bench press

Properly Program Your Assistance Lifts

When developing a proper strength program you need to have lifts that are classified as either main lifts or assistance lifts. Main lifts are what your program is focused around and what takes the most effort. For me and the majority of my clients these main lifts are; squat, deadlift, bench press, and overhead press. Choosing main lifts is relatively straight forward but assistance lifts are usually where people go wrong.

The most common mistake people make with assistance work is simply doing too much. They do too many sets or too many exercises trying to train each muscle individually. Just like the main lifts, assistance lifts should be large multi-joint movements that can be progressed over a long period of time. People also tend to put way too much emphasis on their assistance work, or as strength guru Jim Wendler says it “majoring in the minors.” Simply put, you do not want to work so hard on your assistance lifts that your main lifts suffer.

Assistance lifts should serve to:
1. Increase the main lifts
2. Build muscle mass
3. Provide balance and body symmetry
4. Strengthen weak areas

All of this can be accomplished with a few large assistance lifts each day. The way I like to build a program is to pair the main lift of the day with a corresponding assistance lift. Here is an example:

Main Lift Corresponding Assistance Lift
Squat Hinge Movement (Snatch-Grip Deadlift)
Deadlift Squat Movement (Front Squat)
Bench Press Horizontal Pull (Barbell Row)
Overhead Press Vertical Pull (Pull-ups)

If you pair the main lifts with a corresponding assistance lift all you have to do is fill any gaps in the program or work on weak areas. Generally on lower body days I will program abdominal work and on upper body days I will program some extra upper back and shoulder work.

It may seem too simple but if you are doing the right things there is no reason to have more than 2-3 assistance lifts on a given day of the program.

Here is a list of my favorite assistance exercises in no particular order:
1. Pull-ups/Chin-ups
You can and should use a variety of grips and hand widths when performing pull-ups. You can switch them up every week or even every set. It really doesn’t matter; just pull yourself up to a bar.

2. Dumb Bell Rows
These can be done for straight sets or in “Kroc Row” fashion where you do a couple warm-up sets then perform an all out set of high reps (my favorite way to do rows). These are great for back development as well as grip strength.

3. Barbell Rows
There are many different ways to do these but my preferred method is to let the bar rest on the floor between each rep so you’re pulling from a dead stop each time. When doing these be sure to keep your back level and flat. Use a grip that is the same width as your bench press grip.

4. Front Squats
These are great for building up your squat strength as well as quad size. Whether you use a “clean grip” or cross your arms like a body builder, the bar must be resting on your shoulders just behind your anterior deltoid muscle (weight is not held by your hands). Take a stance slightly narrower than when you back squat and drop your hips straight down until they are below your knees. Keep your elbows high and chest up.

5. Snatch-Grip Deadlift
These are performed exactly like a conventional deadlift only you are using a very wide grip (as you would in a snatch). Your grip should be wide enough that when you finish the movement the bar is at the crease of your hips. These are great for developing the posterior chain and upper back.

6. Close-Grip Bench
Grip the bar with your pointer fingers just inside the smooth part of the bar. Focus on keeping your elbows tucked close to your torso while lowering and pressing the weight. This is one of the premier lifts to improve your triceps strength and bench press.

7. Dips
Great for developing pressing strength and muscle mass. Dips are very straight forward, just be sure you are using a full range of motion. These can be done with bodyweight for high reps or with weight added for strength work.

If you have any questions about programming your assistance lifts please contact:

Powerlifting Meet Recap

For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of powerlifting, it is a sport in which competitor’s squat, bench press and deadlift as much weight of they can for one repetition (1-rep Max). Each athlete gets three attempts at each lift and chooses how much weight they will try to lift on each attempt. Placing is decided by taking the sum of all three lifts to get the athlete’s “total” and the athlete with the highest total in their respective weight class wins the event.


On October 12th I competed in my very first powerlifting meet. I’ve always enjoyed training for strength but after completing my collegiate track career I found I still had the desire to compete and have a real purpose behind my training. I’d been training with powerlifting principles for quite some time but hadn’t done any meets because I thought I needed to get much stronger before competing. That’s when my good friend and amazing amputee power lifter Ali McWeeny informed me that her team (Team Phoenix) would be hosting a local powerlifting meet and I decided to jump in.



The meet was four months away when I signed up so I had some solid time to prepare. I had been on the same basic plan for the past 6 months and was seeing constant strength gains so I decided not to stray from the program that was working for me.


My training includes four lifting days per week with one day dedicated to bench press, squat, deadlift and overhead press. I included an overhead press day because shoulder strength and stability is extremely important for bench press. The main lift is performed first each day using a rep-max method where I work up to one main set of as many repetitions as possible at varying intensities depending on the phase (usually 3-8 reps at 85-95% 1RM). The main lift is then followed by assistance exercises designed to; increase the main lift, build muscle mass, provide balance and reduce risk of injury.


As the meet approached I started implementing paused bench press and heavy singles after completing my main “rep-max” set.


Meet Prep:

Two weeks out from the meet marked the final countdown of my meet preparation. During this time I had my last hard workouts where I worked up to 105-110% of my training max on bench, squat and deadlift while backing off slightly on overhead press. I really focused on getting in the mindset of the meet and attacking the weight as I would in competition. While increasing the intensities of the main lifts I decreased the volume of the assistance lifts by 20-30% while maintaining the intensity.


One week out from the meet I started my official “deload” in order to recover fully for the meet. In a normal deload I will decrease volume and intensity significantly (40-60%) but in preparation for the meet I did a high intensity deload where performed singles at 90-100% of my training max on the main lifts but almost completely dropped assistance work. The meet was on a Saturday so I performed my high intensity deload on Monday and Tuesday, rested Wednesday, did a dynamic warm-up and short workout Thursday (just got a light sweat), and rested completely Friday. Many competitors have to cut weight before a meet in order to compete in a lower weight class but since I was in the 242-pound class and weighed a solid 235 lbs I didn’t need to worry about that.


Meet Day:

I had received all kinds of advice about my first meet day from fellow power lifters but the two most common pieces of advice were;

  1. Bring food
  2. Triple check that you have all your equipment (shoes, singlet, belt, deadlift socks)

So I showed up to the gym with a cooler full of food and my triple checked gym bag bright and early and proceeded to wait two hours for the meet to start.


During this time I met a ton of the other lifters and introduced myself to all the referees, spotters, plate loaders and administrators. Doing this really helped calm my nerves because I had no idea what to expect and these people were more than willing to help. I was amazed with how receptive and genuinely excited all these people were to hear that this was my first meet and I was taking the plunge into powerlifting. While many of them looked the part, these people were far from the screaming meatheads outsiders tend to associate with powerlifting. I had great conversations about training, the inner workings of a meet and the powerlifting community. I went from feeling like an isolated competitor to feeling that all these people were on my side and wanted to see me succeed.


With my nervousness subdued it was finally time to begin the competition. Coming from a track and field background I expected an excruciatingly long and tedious meet with ample time between each lifter but I was very mistaken. I could not have been more impressed with the efficiency in which the meet was run. As soon as a lifter completed a lift (or didn’t) workers sprung into action to load the bar with the next weight to be attempted, adjusted the rack height and cleaned excess chalk off the bar. To my shock, downtime between each lifter only lasted about 30 seconds, resulting in a meet of 40 lifters only lasting 3.5 hours (less than half the time I expected).


Meet Results:

Coming into my first meet my goal was to simply compete. I had numbers that I wanted to hit but had no real aspirations of winning or placing but to my surprise I ended up placing 2nd in my weight class (242 lbs).


  • Squat: 402.5 lbs
  • Bench: 298 lbs
  • Deadlift: 463 lbs

I attribute my relative success to being solid in all three lifts while others had one lift that was especially good at the cost of the other two lifts.



My biggest downfall of the meet was my performance in the bench press. The difference between benching in competition and what you normally see in the gym is that the bar has to come to a complete stop (pause) on the lifter’s chest before being lifted. This pause will significantly reduce the amount of weight a person can bench press and this technique requires a lot of practice. I know now that I did not practice this skill often or early enough in my meet preparation. Adding more paused bench press work will be the biggest change to my program for my next meet.


Overall my first meet was an incredibly positive experience and I encourage anyone who wants to add purpose to their training to consider powerlifting. The feeling of putting all those hours of training on the line in competition is an amazing feeling that will surely add fuel to your training fire.