Sam walked in to 202strong North Bethesda — Starbucks coffee (for me) in one hand, a piece of paper in the other. The piece of paper was the Berkshire Prep School varsity lacrosse strength and conditioning tests. He was headed there for school in the fall.
“Coach, I need to be able to bench my bodyweight 10 times in a row before I leave for prep school in September”.
September was 3 months away. “Ok”, I said, let’s see where you are at”.
We tested his bench press that day — a one-rep max of 155 pounds. Ten pounds LESS than his bodyweight.
We had some work to do.
There’s a great, albeit slightly intense, quote by famous Olympic Lifting coach John Broz that goes,
If your family was captured and you were told you needed to put 100 pounds onto your max squat within two months or your family would be executed, would you squat once per week? Something tells me that you’d start squatting every day.
If you think about it — and are familiar with how the body adapts, especially neurologically — this makes perfect sense. And not just for the squat, for any movement. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
However, things get a little more complex when you have other goals to consider — for example, when you’re a lacrosse player and need to keep up a high level of sport-specific conditioning, quickness, and skill. This was the case with Sam.
Besides maintaining (and improving) his base level of conditioning and athleticism, we had a couple other issues to consider/work around:
- Sam could only workout ~3x/week, about 60 minutes each session. He’s got a social life, lacrosse practice, and other commitments, so we had a cap on the “more is better” approach.
- Sam was leaving for the entire month of July on a camping trip (hence the 60 days and not 90 days). He also lost 10 pounds while he was away, which was another issue we had to contend with.
- Lacrosse players have notoriously tight shoulders, and Sam was no exception. Too much volume would become very problematic for his shoulder mechanics, and would lead to more soft tissue/maintenance work that we just didn’t have the time for.
So, with all that in mind, we set out to push up his bench press as fast as possible.
The plan was very simple — basically the same thing every workout.
It took ~15 , which was really all we could budget for time-wise considering we had other things to work on.
We broke the 15 minutes into 2 sections:
- Warm-up and work up to a daily 1RM
- Complete 10 reps at 135 pounds
1. Warm-up & Daily 1RM
Knowing the bench press challenges/exposes poor internal rotation (IR) of the shoulder, our only mobility was a partner shoulder internal rotation stretch.
We’d start with a set of 10 reps with the 45 pound bar, hit 2 minutes of the shoulder IR mobility, then hit 10 more reps of bench press with a 45 pound bar.
From here, the reps for Sam followed a rough structure of:
5 x 95
3 x 115
2 x 135
1 x 145
*1 x 155
*1 x 165
The 5th and 6th sets were always completely optional, and 100% based on how Sam’s technique looked.
This was key because, as the saying goes, “perfect practice makes perfect”. The last thing we wanted was Sam putting up sh*tty reps just for the sake of pushing weight.
On some days, Sam PR’d by 5 pounds. Some days he ended up 5-10 pounds less than his PR. On two occasions, he set 10 – 20 pound PR’s. Only on 2 or 3 occasions did Sam miss a lift.
But most of the time, Sam would hit his past PR and we would call it a day. The goal was never to take Sam to failure, just to get him moving heavy weight with great technique.
2. Complete 10 Reps
We wanted to push up Sam’s 1RM because, very logically, the stronger you are the easier it’ll be to crank out reps.
Based on common weight lifting conversion charts, 75% of your 1RM will equal a 10 RM.
So that means we needed to push Sam’s 1RM up to 220 pounds from 155 pounds.
On the flip side though, Sam still needed to be able to crank out 10 reps in a row of his bodyweight. While being able to lift 220 pounds would make this a reality, it makes sense to practice “for the test”.
This section was very simple as well:
Complete 10 reps of 85% of your max in as few sets as possible, leaving 1-2 reps in the tank each set.
We started at 135 pounds more out of convenience (Sam didn’t feel like stripping the 45’s off the bar).
We only increased the weight on this section when he was able to hit a set of 8 in a row. After that, we’d increase the weight to 85% of his current 1RM.
And that was the program. Seems to simple to be true, right? Well, the results kind of speak for itself.
After 60 days of work (with 30 days off in the middle), Sam bench pressed 205 pounds for a single rep at a bodyweight of 165 pounds.[I’m confident that if he didn’t have to take a month of in the middle, we would have easily hit our goal of 220 in just 60 days.]
And all it took was 15 minutes a day, 3 times per week for 60 days to add 50 pounds to Sam’s bench press.
Now to just quickly finish the story, Sam doesn’t have to actually take the test until this Spring. Our September deadline was because that’s when we wouldn’t be able to work together anymore and we both wanted to send him off to prep school already confident he could meet the bench press standard.
He hit his goal of 220 when he came home for break 2 month later in November.
Who’s This Program For?
There’s no such thing as a perfect program. There’s only the program that’s right for you and your current situation.
Would I recommend this program to everyone? Absolutely not.
Here’s who this program is for (all must apply):
- You need/want to get strong really fast
- You have a solid background — technique-wise — in the lift you choose OR you have a coach who’s going to stay on top of your technique at all times
- You have adequate flexibility and mobility
- You have other, more general goals besides strength, (i.e. CrossFit or a specific sport)
This program is NOT for:
- Olympic Weightlifters
This also isn’t a year-round program. If you meet this criteria, take 60 days to push up your strength in a particular lift, then hop back onto a structured program.
Strength is a skill. The more often you practice, the better you get, and over time you’ll reach your goals.
However, if you know how the body works, you can game the system to see dramatic results, very quickly.
At the end of the day it’s always better to work smart and hard, not just hard.