If you're looking for advice on how to increase your bench press max, you've probably found that there's no shortage of experts and theories to dig into, but when it comes to learning from the best, you can doesn't do much better than the teachings of a world record breaker. Bill Gillespie shocked the world in January when he lifted 1,129.9 pounds at the age of 62 and became the equipped bench press champion before triumphantly retiring from active competition, ending a 50-year journey of trial and error. which served as a big blue print for lifters of all abilities.
M&F sat down with Virginia's Man Mountain to figure out the dos and don'ts for beating the bank.
"Big Bill" got his first set of weights at 14, which sparked a passion for powerlifting that he later passed on to his son and fellow lifter, Cameron Gillespie. "I did push-ups, sit-ups, whatever I could do to get strong," says the record-breaker. "As soon as I was old enough to know there were muscles, and being strong, I wanted to be strong." It was a desire his mother used to great advantage, letting him do gardening and various household chores to build those muscles to keep going. That early hardcore training mentality has served him well as not only has Gillespie made a career out of strength, including a coaching role with the Seattle Seahawks, but he's now able to share his knowledge with all types of athletes as a strength coach for Sorinex.
t: Train to your maximum buoyancy during each session
"Speed training and strength training go hand-in-hand," says Gillespie. “When we get into the weight room, we get this bodybuilding confusion about what we're doing and we want to go and push the rep limits. So when we move the weight, we don't do it 6 times, we do it 10 or 12 times. Yes we can do it, and yes we might be able to, but the problem is the last few reps are so slow that you strain, sear your nervous system, and don't train for speed and blast. The secret to lifting big weights is that you can show off your strength in less time. The heavier the weight gets, the less time you have to show your strength.”
Gillespie says that practicing three times a week is the best point to make bench press progress. "Here's the biggest mistake people make," Gillespie shares. "If my max is 400 pounds and then suddenly I hit 450 for my max, everyone goes to 450 for their new max. This is the worst mistake one can make. I would go for 402.5 pounds. Because when
I'm making big gains at 400 pounds, I will continue to make big gains as my body adjusts to work capacity. What people do is put the cart before the horse. You want to focus on developing your work capacity by progressing slowly and changing the body, and that's when the big numbers will come.
Do: Develop your upper back
"Pull-ups are the key exercise," shares Gillespie, who was coached by Eddy Coan ( https://www.instagram.com/eddycoan/?hl=en ) and was impressed with Coan's own back development. "I looked at him and I saw his upper back and I was like, 'Wait a minute. I've seen guys bench press a lot with small arms and small chests, but all big lifters have big backs!”
Bill Gillespie practiced his pull-ups six times a week, but never went beyond 6 reps, lest he tire himself out before an exercise. "The more I did pull-ups, the more my bench went up," Gillespie shares.
t: Waste your energy in front of a big lift
Many champion lifters anticipate their lifts with a series of rituals to dial in and mentally focus. Some of these athletes have a war cry and others prefer to dance to get themselves in the zone. However, saving energy is more important to the record breaker than emotional outbursts.
"When people see me lifting, they think I'm not very focused because I don't get very emotional on the outside," says Gillespie. “But I've learned that the bench press is a very high-energy exercise and you have to be very careful with your energy levels. The mental focus comes from the discipline of preparation.”
Do: Concentrate on the big picture
The reality was that other factors were affecting Gillespie negatively than his genetics or the short portion of his day he spent on the bench. A relatable strain on his elevator was the 60 to 70 hours he worked at the day job. So when Gillespie was hired by Sorinex as a strength coach, he was able to focus more on his weightlifting and essentially the bigger picture of his lifestyle. “It gave me the opportunity to train, recover and Sorinex provided me with Thorne supplements. w, with the whole package, it started. By the time I was 59, my bench press had increased to 855, 900, and over 1,000 pounds. It was at this point that I realized that I had a chance if I got involved [at breaking the record]. I put everything I had into it and I hurt a lot, but I was determined even when everyone around me was telling me to stop.
t: See for yourself that champion lifters are "born gifted."
Courtesy of Bill Gillespie
If you're just starting out in any type of weightlifting but are feeling depressed that progress may be slow, don't convince yourself that master lifters are all born talented.
"You know what? I was incredibly weak. I wasn't good at the bench press," Gillespie shares. "I'm nowhere near the strongest guy I've ever trained with. When I was in ninth grade, I did 600 push ups a day, I worked out all the time, I was an all American shot putter so I should have been pretty strong. But I went to the first drug free Nationals in 1983 and I benched 341 pounds that day. I was bad bench press and just thought I was genetically weak to the upper body. I wasn't that gifted. At age 35, By Bank was stuck at around 450 pounds. I never thought I'd be that guy until about two years ago would, who would be on the bench with number 1 on the mountain.”
Do: Know your opponent
Bill Gillespie says understanding how the weight moves and practicing slight variations in your grips and positions is important to mastering the bench press. If you think your only opponent is yourself, give the barbell and plates you have to lift a little more credit.
Knowing the weight and becoming familiar with each load is essential to your preparation. "You know £1,000 never has a bad day," says Gillespie. "You can't do it reluctantly. If you do it reluctantly, you will get negative results. You have to find a way to go in there, be positive and enthusiastic and maximize that moment.”
t: Give up (but say your prayers!)
There's no doubt about it; failure sucks. But quitters never win, and winners never quit. "I've missed the world record on 20 different attempts in a row," says Gillespie. “I came to the meeting (on January 22) and was in an awkward situation the night before when it was snowing and I was driving down the highway. Someone didn't properly secure a ladder in their truck and it came out of the truck. I hit him, my front tire blew out and I had to spend 3 1/2 hours changing the tire in the dark and freezing rain with 800 pounds in the back of my truck... and the lug nuts were gone. I was exhausted, my arms were killing me and I figured there's no way I'm going to break that bench press record tomorrow, but I was like, 'You know what? It is what it is and I have to try.”
The next day, Gillespie went into the 365 Strong New Year Power Bash and missed his first try pretty badly. His second attempt also failed. But on the third try, he focused and prayed to God, thanking Him for the 50-year journey with the strength he has enjoyed to this day. Big Bill moved his grip out an eighth of an inch and brought the bar down a little quicker this time under the good lord's guidance, and with every ounce of energy and strength Gillespie had in his soul, the strongman knocked the bar over to the sky breaking the world record at 1,129.9 pounds.
As is the inevitable truth of world records, they were broken again in February when Jimmy Kolb pressed 1,320 pounds at the IPA Pennsylvania State Powerlifting Championships, but for Bill Gillespie that in no way diminishes the heart and fire he has shown on his most successful day of lifting . "Records are made to be broken, that's fine, but what they can't take away from me is that 50-year journey." This bench press legend serves as an inspiration for anyone looking to up their game.