by Terry Todd (1972)
Among the largest and most impressive of the muscles of the upper body are the pectorals, the deltoids, and the triceps. All three develop quickly, and all three are given a full and thorough workout by the bench press, far and away the most popular upper-body exercise among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness buffs and, of course, powerlifters. Whether its popularity derives from its wonderful developmental qualities, from the fact that it’s one of the physically easiest and most pleasant of exercises or, more likely, from both, it can be safely said that as long as there are barbells there will be bench presses.
This was not always the case. In the last part of the 19th centuries – surely the heyday of professional strongmen – the press on bench or supine press was almost nonexistent. Other than “belly toss” specialists such as the Russian George Lurich, who would lie on his back on the floor, hold a barbell in his hands, lower it and then “toss” it back up from his abdomen by pushing upward with his legs as his hips came more than a foot off the floor, virtually no one else ever did the lift. In a way, the bench press could then be said not to have be INVENTED yet. It was actually not until during and after World War II that the lift came well and truly into its own. Once benches were widely available and people got to experience the natural high that comes from the type of terminal pump that only the bench press can give you, however, there was no question that it was a lift whose time had come.
If I were to pick two men who had the most to do with spreading the word about the bench press, they would be Marvin Eder, the marvelously built 200-pounder, who was the strongest man of his weight in the world in the early and middle 1950s; and Doug Hepburn, the Canadian Superheavyweight World Olympic Lifting Champion, who was almost certainly the first man to legitimately bench press 500 pounds. Both of these men captured the imagination of the lifting world with their great strength and upper body size they are the giants on whose shoulders stood those of us who came later. Because of the great popularity of the lift, there was never any real question that it would be included once the powerlifts became organized. The current IPF rules for the performance of the lift are listed below.
1.) The lifter may elect to assume one of the following two positions on the bench, which must be maintained during the lift: (a) with head, trunk, and legs extended on the bench, knees locked, heels on a second bench: or (b) with head, trunk (including buttocks) extended on the bench, feet flat on the floor.
2.) The referee’s signal shall be given when the bar is absolutely motionless at the chest.
3.) After the referee’s signal, the bar is pressed vertically to straight arms’ length and held motionless for the referee’s signal to replace the bar.
4.) The width of the bench shall not be less than 25 cm. or more than 45 cm. The length shall not be less than 1 meter 22 cm. and shall be flat and level.
5.) The spacing of the hands shall not exceed 81 cm. measured between the forefingers.
6.) If the lifter’s costume and the bench top are not of a sufficient color contrast to enable the officials to detect a possible raising of the buttocks, the bench top shall be covered accordingly.
7.) In this lift the referees shall station themselves at the best points of vantage.
8.) For those lifters who elect to use position (b) and whose feet do not touch the floor, the platform may be built up to provide firm footing.
9.) A maximum of four and a minimum of two spotter-loaders shall be mandatory; however, the lifter may enlist one or more of the official spotter-loaders to assist him in removing the bar from the racks.
Causes for Disqualification in the Bench Press.
1.) During the uplifting, any change of the elected position.
2.) Any raising or shifting of the lifter’s head, shoulders, buttocks, or legs from the bench, or movement of the feet.
3.) Any heaving or bouncing of the bar from the chest.
4.) Allowing the bar to sink excessively into the lifter’s chest prior to the uplift.
5.) Any uneven extension of the arms.
6.) Stopping of the bar during the press proper.
7.) Any touching of the bar by the spotters, before the referee’s signal to replace the bar.
8.) Failure to wait for the referee’s signal.
9.) Touching against the uprights of the bench with the feet.
10.) Touching the shoulders against the uprights of the bench.
11.) Allowing the bar to touch the uprights of the bench during the lift.
Once upon a time there was a young athlete of unusual ability. He played football during high school and college and started every game he was well enough to start. But, like so many other young men, his knees just couldn’t stand the strain, and so his desire to play pro ball was sublimated as he eased into marriage and a career. The tight, rugged sinews of his playing days began to go slack as he lived the life of a middle-class American – eating too much, drinking too much, tubing it too much, and sitting too much on his fat aspirations. His weight grew to 240 pounds, and he was teased about his size by the men with whom he worked. And so, on a bet with these men, he began to diet, he began to lose and, in less than two months, he stepped on the scales of the local gym and weighed 178 pounds. That same day, to test his strength, he worked up in the bench press to a maximum single of 305 pounds. That was on January 26, 1973. Approximately eight months later, on October 1st, 1973, he came back to the gym, weighed in at 260 and worked up in the bench press to a high of 540 pounds. Yes – 540 pounds – a gain of 235 pounds in eight months. These truly incredible gains were made by Doug Young, a man who is now the 242-pound champion of the world.
In late 1973, I had been hearing rumors of Doug’s lifting from friends in Texas, and so on a trip to Austin over the holiday season, I arranged for him to come down from his home in Brownwood so I could see this wonder of nature for myself. Actually, I had met Doug years before while he was playing ball for Texas Tech, and I knew of his natural ability in the bench press. But I had never seen him train.
He came into the Texas Athletic Club on the day of our prearranged workout and he was quite a sight. He stands about 5 feet 11 inches, and he carries most of his 245 pounds from his waist up. Some men are broad, some are thick, but very few are both. Big Doug is one of the few. Dressed in tight Levi’s, a short-sleeved shirt, and cowboy boots, he looked strong enough to bulldog a buffalo.
The word had gotten around to all the local horses, and so we had a big bunch at the T.A.C. when Doug began to train. No one, however, except Ivan Putski, the Polish pro-wrestler, seemed very interested in benching that day; and we suspect Putski didn’t know, or care, what was on the bar. The rest of us, though, surely knew – and cared. Doug took 135 for 100 reps as a warmup and then went to singles with 225, 315, 405, 485, 505, and 520. He then dropped back to 405 for 8 repetitions and 315 for 15. Not bad, seeing as how he had just lost weight down from 260 in an effort to stay somewhere near the 242-pound class limit.
I had a fine time that day watching Doug and talking with the wonderful old rowdies down at the T.A.C., enough to make me want to hit the comeback trail. (If only it wouldn’t hit back.) During the course of that day’s lifting, I got some of the details of Doug’s meteoric gains in the bench press and in muscular bodyweight, and I want to begin with this information.
Doug kept records of his progress in the bench, and he breaks it down this way. During the first 42 workouts, he gained 42 pounds of bodyweight (hitting 220), and 160 pounds in the bench press (reaching 465). The next 42 workouts saw him adding 40 more pounds of bodyweight (to 260) and 75 pounds of bench pressing strength (to 540).
Throughout this eight month period, Doug concentrated almost entirely on the bench press and the upper body. His workouts were constant during the entire time. They consisted of the following exercises with the weights listed being the heaviest he handled during that period:
135 x 12
225 x 6
325 x 2
375 x 2
425 x 1
465 x 1
485 x 1
500 x 1
515 x 1
530 x 1
540 x 1
490 x 9
Williams Front Deltoid Raise.
50 pounds for 3 sets of 15.
175 pounds for 6 sets of 6.
Stiff-Arm Pulldowns on Lat Machine.
100 pounds for 6 sets of 6.
Flys with Cables.
50 pounds for 6 sets of 6.
One-Arm Concentration Curls.
55 pounds for 6 sets of 6.
One-Arm Rowing Motion.
110 pounds for 6 sets of 6.
Doug did this same workout three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) throughout this eight-month period, varying it only be going for heavy doubles in the bench instead of singles if he happened to be sore. The only leg and back work he did was four or five singles in the squat every ten days, and six or seven singles in the deadlift every 15 days. This concentrated upper-body work brought his arm measurement to 19.75 inches and his chest to a full 60 inches. That day, at 245, he said his chest had dropped to 55 inches. If the 60-inch measurement was accurately taken, it is the largest on record for a man of his weight.
In 1974 he continued to train, hoping to win the National Championships, but his plans were thwarted by the return to lifting of John Kuc, former World Superheavyweight Champion, who reduced to the 242-pound class and beat Doug out of first place with a spectacular 815 deadlift. At that point, a lesser man than Doug would have given up, gone home, popped the top on a cold Coors and retired in front of the TV set; but Doug simply went back to Texas, drew up a new routine, and decided that 1975 would be his year, John Kuc or no John Kuc. And so with an eye on the 1975 Nationals, Doug began to hit it working a little harder than before on his squat and deadlift but still concentrating on his old standby, the bench press.
The 1975 Nationals were held that year in York, Pennsylvania, and lifters from all over the country were staying at the Yorktowne, a fine old hotel in the downtown section. My wife and I had also booked a room there, mainly to visit with old friends, but also to be handy to the marvelous bounty of the Yorktowne’s Friday night seafood buffet. When we checked in I learned at the desk that Doug had arrived earlier in the afternoon, and so when we got to our room I called him and arranged to meet that evening to feast on the buffet and catch up on old times.
Jan and I got there first a made a run through the boiled shrimp and fresh crabmeat. We had just settled down at my preferred corner table to enjoy a long evening of good food when two things happened that made an impression on me – I don’t suppose I’ll ever forget them. The first thing that happened was that Doug Young walked a foot or two past the big double doors of the dining room and just stood there – his shoulders seeming to touch each doorjamb and his deeply tanned 22-inch neck slowly turning this way and that as he looked for us in the crowd. But the SECOND thing, the IMPORTANT thing, was that when Doug walked into the room the entire place grew quiet. Everyone, lifters and nonlifters, stopped talking, stopped eating, and simply stared at what they knew was one of he most astounding creatures on God’s earth. Doug was wearing tight Levi’s again, along with a cowboy shirt and a pair of handmade western boots, and let me tell you he was a showstopper.
Anyone who can take the minds of 200 people off of heaping platefuls of some of the best food in the world has got to really be something. And Doug is. I’ve seen most of the top bodybuilders of the last 20 years and all of the top lifters, but in casual street clothes the most impressive physical specimen of all – bar none – is the big studhorse from Texas who silenced that huge roomful of hungry people with the slim-hipped, bull-shouldered, dangerous-looking splendor of his awesome physical presence.
He had gotten thicker in the upper body, trimmer in the waist, and harder all over in the year since I’d seen him; and I could tell by the look on his face as he sat down at our table with a plateful of lobster that he came to York to win.
And win he did, easily outdistancing his nearest opponent and earning a spot on the U.S. team for the World Championships to be held that November in Birmingham, England. As the meet was the first time the World’s was being held outside the U.S., I decided to attend, and got to watch Doug fulfill the promise I knew he had when I wrote in an article in 1974:
Doug is a rarity – a naturally strong, competitive man who has the capacity to push himself toward a distant, financially unrewarding goal. Steve Stanko was such a man, as were John Davis, Gary Gubner, and Ken Patera. If Doug is able to avoid injuries and maintain his enthusiasm, he has the capacity to join the select ranks of those men listed above. He could well become the strongest man at his bodyweight in the world.
Doug was far better than the second-best man in the world in 195, and, he continued his dominance throughout 1976, defeating the overrated Jon Cole at the Nationals in Arlington, Texas. Cole came to Arlington and put out the word that he’d never been beaten and never planned to be. But after the squat was finished he was so far behind Doug that he was scared into starting too high in the bench press, and so he bombed out of the meet by failing to get credit for any of his three bench press attempts. Meanwhile, old Doug just waited backstage till all the commotion was over, then asked the loaders to add 50 pounds to what Cole failed with and went out and shoved it overhead with all the controlled fire of which a true champion is capable.
He went on to defend his World Championship in York, scoring a 2,000 pound total, easily outdistancing his opposition and tying 300-pound Don Reinhoudt in the bench press by making a powerful third attempt with 562.5 pounds. As this is being written, Doug has gone back to his usual training weight of 250 to 255 pounds after having gone to 275 in March of 1977 to take a crack at the world superheavyweight bench press record (the record is 610 pounds and is held by Wayne Bouvier, Jim Williams 675 having been made before world records became official). Unfortunately, Doug tore a pectoral muscle before the contest and was “only” able to bench a measly 600 pounds. Poor little thing.
The question is – now that we know the full extent of his strength – how did he get that way? Since that early spurt of strength described earlier in this chapter, Doug has consistently refined his bench press routines until now he has a program which seems to him ideal for his particular psycho-physiological makeup. When he is specializing on the bench press, which is most of the time, he uses the following sets, repetitions, and weights, and he does this program EVERY OTHER DAY: Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, etc.
Bench Press (32-inch grip).
135 x 10
225 x 8
315 x 6
405 x 2
455 x 2
500 x 2
550 x 2
570 x 1
Bench Press (22-inch grip)
405 x 10
Bench Press (36-inch grip)
380 x 10
225 x 6 for 4 sets
When Doug reaches the above poundages, he figures that he’s good for a 580 second attempt in competition. He feels that the above routine is excellent for reaching a maximum single in the bench press, but considers it a poor way to gain the sort of bulk and strength which is usually trained for in the off-season.
For maximum strength and bulk Doug recommends the following system, as he says it builds muscle and power without burning you out. He uses the program twice each week, with the following approximate poundages:
Bench Press (32-inch grip)
135 x 10
225 x 8
315 x 6
405 x 3
450 x 2
470 x 6 for 4 sets
On the last set he does as many reps as he can, adding 5 pounds to his basic workout weight for each repetition over 6. For example, if he got 8 reps on his last set with 470, he’d use 480 for his 4 heavy sets in the following workout.
225 x 6, 4 sets
Another Doug Young routine is the one he uses during the weeks before a contest when he plans to go for a big total (rather than just for a record bench press). During the first three weeks of this program he alternates the bulk and power routine listed above with the following sets, reps, and weights. He does each of these programs once per week.
Bench Press (32-inch grip)
225 x 8
315 x 6
405 x 2
455 x 2
500 x 2
530 x 3 for 5 sets
Bench Press (22-inch grip)
405 x 10
Bench Press (36-inch grip)
380 x 10
225 x 6, 4 sets
The above poundages are figured on the basis of a top weight in his alternate program of 4 heavy sets of 6 with 480 pounds. He attempts to keep his 5 sets of 3 about 50 pounds higher than his 4 sets of 6.
For his last five workouts before a big meet, he uses the 5 sets of 3 program for the first three sessions, and then cuts back on his reps so that in his final two workouts he does 5 heavy sets of 2 repetitions. These last two workouts would be done as follows:
Bench Press (32-inch grip)
135 x 10
225 x 8
315 x 6
405 x 2
455 x 2
500 x 2
550 x 2 for 5 sets
On this last set he would try to get 3 reps, or even 4 if possible.
This last training session would be on Tuesday or Wednesday if the contest was to be held on Saturday. During the time Doug is using this six-week cycle, he will also be doing his very limited workouts in the squat and deadlift. When I asked him how he trained now that he was “serious” about the total, he smiled and said, “Terry, I could BS you and give you a fancy squat and deadlift program, but you and I would both know it was a lie; so I’ll just give you the barebones truth. When I’m on my six-week pre-contest cycle I squat and deadlift only once each eight days, using a 5,4,3,2,1 program, with 25-pound jumps between sets.”
The following workouts are the ones he said were the best he’d ever made in training. His bodyweight was about 255 at the time.
225 x 10
425 x 5
525 x 5
600 x 5
625 x 4
650 x 3
675 x 2
700 x 1
Deadlift (no straps on these sets)
405 x 5
550 x 5
670 x 5
695 x 4
(With straps from here on up to save hands)
720 x 3
745 x 2
770 x 1
His all-time bests, both witnessed by dozens of people in a heavy workout one day at the Texas Athletic Club in Austin, are 715x2 in the squat, 755x4 (almost 5), and 805x1 in the deadlift. Those of us who know him realize that he hasn’t even begun realize his potential in the squat and deadlift, mainly because he trains them so infrequently. We all hope he’ll buckle down to a heavy schedule for a year or so one of these days and move the 242-pound records clear out of sight, though we realize that it might be impossible for him to keep his weight within the limit if he really worked hard on his hips, legs, and lower back. Perhaps we’ll have to wait until the 275-pound class is formally introduced before Doug shows us what he can do if he really tries.
As it is, Doug has all he can do to keep his weight within a reasonable distance of the 242-pound class limit. He carries no extra flesh, as a casual glance at the accompanying photos will reveal. He lives on a diet 90% of which consists of tuna fish, cottage cheese, and yogurt in order to keep his weight from creeping upward. The other 10% is made up of various kinds of meat and salads. He also takes liquid protein, but the only vitamin pills he takes are Vitamin C (1,000 mg. per day, hardly a large amount). He recommends that beginners pay strict attention to their diet and that they spend their first year or so specializing on 4 or 5 sets of midrange repetitions (4 to 6) in the three powerlifts.
Although Doug’s diet obviously influences his physique, a great deal of his unusually impressive appearance is the result of certain natural advantages, such as the previously mentioned narrow hips and his almost freakish shoulder-bone width. These advantages, plus rather trim joints and an obviously wonderful metabolism, account for much of the speed with which his body adapts – through muscle mass and strength – to the stress of his exercise program.
And possibly, just possibly, there is another reason for his phenomenal strength and muscular development, a reason which has to do with the way Doug does his bench presses. In all my years of watching people train and compete, I have never seen anyone do benches the way Doug does them. The difference between Doug and other benchers is the slowness with which he lowers the bar to his chest. Whether there is 60 pounds on the bar or 600, Doug lets it down slow, real slow, perhaps taking as long as five seconds from the top position until the bar touches his chest. You have to see it to believe it.
I’ve asked him about it several times and the reason he gives has nothing to do with bodybuilding, but with positioning. He says that in order to get a maximum explosion off the chest it’s necessary to have the bar in the perfect spot on the chest, and that there’s no better way to insure this exact position than to lower the bar gently into the absolute middle of this “power point. My hunch is that besides helping Doug in the performance of the lift either physically of psychologically or both, this extreme slowness has had more than a little to do with both his strength and his eye-popping, button-popping development. Recent strength research seems to indicate (not unanimously but in a majority of cases) that eccentric contraction (going backwards through the normal range of movement for a muscle, letting the bar down in the bench press rather than pushing it up, in other words) builds strength faster than either concentric or isometric contraction. Of course I may be wrong about this, but I somehow doubt it. He’s damn sure doing something right.
Many people who see Doug for the first time and who are familiar with the iron game wonder why he doesn’t go into bodybuilding since there is now a little money to be made by the top men. I asked Doug about this, and he said that although he had great respect for the leading bodybuilders, he had no plans to switch sports, adding the interesting comment that he thought the relationship between a bodybuilder and a lifter was very much the same as that between a quarterback and a linebacker in football. He went on to say that certain personality traits were characteristic of linebackers and that he considered himself more the linebacker (lifter) type than the quarterback (bodybuilder) type.
Doug does know his football, by the way. He was All-State and All-American in high school, and was on his way to college stardom when knee injuries ended his career. Even though he played only seven games in his best year in college, Doug still was only one vote away from winning the lineman of the year award in the Southwest Conference. His interest in the game is still keen, mainly because his older and bigger (6’2”, 275 lb.) brother Bob has played pro ball for 12 or 13 years now and in the past three years has developed into the strongest man – by far – in the game as a result of his off-season workouts with Doug. Of all the many men I have known in my life, Bob has the greatest natural gift of strength, but for years he played pro ball – almost always in the starting lineup – without the benefit of weight training. He gives Doug credit for rejuvenating his fading career, and he pays back the favor by being Doug’s main training partner in the off-season and his main supporter all year long.
Of course another of Doug’s main supporters is his beautiful, diminutive wife, Bev, who puts up with a lot to keep the big man happy. Doug and Bev have two fine boys – Payton, who is seven, and Brandon, who is five. Doug has a good job with the railroad and he also runs a heavy-duty lifting gym when he’s at home in Brownwood, mainly just to have a good place to train. One of Doug’s goals is to bench 600 as a 242-pounder, but his biggest hope is that the 275-pound class becomes official. It is as a 275-pounder that he feels he could realize his fullest potential, and I agree with him. He feels that after a year or two of adjusting to and training at the 275-pound limit he could reach a squat of 850, a bench press of 640 to 675, and a deadlift of 850. If anything, I think his predictions are conservative. I suspect he could deadlift 900 pounds at a bodyweight of 275 if he trained for it and if his hands would stand the strain. Eventually, he plans to let his bodyweight slide up to 300 or more for an assault on the bench press barrier of 700 pounds, a weight previously thought to be attainable only by bull gorillas, Kodiak bears, and Jim Williams.
Well, look out all you animals, yonder comes the studhorse.
"One's actions alone define whether one belongs to a good family or a bad family, valiant or arrogant, and disciplined or undisciplined." -Lord Rāma, Rāmāyaṇa