When I was a kid (I say “kid” because I’m old enough to have kids in their 20s), I used to bench press an insane amount of weight. Everyone asked, “How the f**k can you do that?” The first thought was always, “he’s juicing, he’s gotta be booting that shit in his ass.”
Obviously, they were accusing me of doing steroids. Now, before I get into my personal life, which is way longer than this blog could hold for the next two years, steroids could never be part of my life, never.
Use the Rage not Steroids
When I was growing up I had this insane rage problem – it was literally insane. Think of me stressed out and then the hulk appearing out of nowhere, without the whole green thing.
I suffered from a few brain disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and the granddaddy of them all, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, which happens to be pretty rare. I didn’t know what it was back then but I knew that whatever it was that made me rage, I didn’t want to encourage it. At all.
I was hearing every week that someone else at the gym or a friend of a friend went to jail for killing their girlfriend, that someone was in a bar fight or some other violent act. I already had enough problems with keeping my shit contained – I was not about to open up a can of worms that could have me killing someone. Long story short, no steroids for me.
So how the hell was I able to bang up 455 pounds for reps (about 10 on a good day), freshly out of jail weighing 205 pounds? You guessed it… jail food.
No, F**k Nuts… it wasn’t the jail food.
It was a trick that I learned from an article I read from one of my idols at the time… Bill Pearl (Who later I became friends with), and Frank Zane (at his bodybuilding boot camp). It’s called “negative” training. Negative training is a great way to add more intensity into your workouts by overloading the muscle groups in the exercises you are doing.
It was funny, when I came back from Frank Zane’s camp and started training this way, everyone thought I was an idiot. My cousin who owned the gym thought I’d lost my mind. He literally laughed at me and told me to shut the f**k up. At the time, he was Mr. New Jersey, and huge. I didn’t waver. I wanted to prove to everyone that they were the idiots, and eventually, they all were.
The “Pumping Iron” Mentality
Back then, there was a severe bodybuilding mentality at the North Jersey Health Club (NJHC). It was a bodybuilding gym built in the 1970s at the height of “Pumping Iron”. Most of the education on weight training came from magazines like Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness, Muscular Development and Muscle Digest. So whatever was in those magazines was gospel and practiced at NJHC.
I basically grew up at NJHC and wanted to be as big and as smart as my cousin Frank Giampa. Spending most of my time reading books on anatomy, and other books like Bill Pearl‘s 698 page “Keys to the Inner Universe” kept my mind occupied and my muscles working. It just so happened I went to jail for beating the shit out of some people I thought needed it. So when I was in, all I did was lift weights and read more books. I was released Christmas Eve of 1983 and came out smarter and stronger than anyone could have imagined. I remembered everything that Frank Zane taught me and put it into practice. Even though I think the 1980s was the most idiotic decade of the 20th Century, I still practice the same old-school technique to gain demonstrative strength on the bench, leg press and pull ups: NEGATIVES.
Now, before all you hyper vigilant freaks start going crazy with “negative” training, you need to realize how hard this is. Before I went to jail, I was benching 315 pounds. That’s a 45-pound bar and three 45 pound plates on each side for the mathematically adverse.
When I got out of jail, I was benching 375 pounds. Not bad for a kid who weighed 205 pounds, soaking wet.
So how did I get to benching 455 pounds for reps? Hold it, grasshopper… I’m the one telling the story… OK? Relax.
Stress the System
Everyone was trying to add weight to every set when they were bench pressing and failed miserably. Your body and muscles are made to react to stress. Reacting to stress is what our bodies do very well, especially our muscular system. If you stress your muscular system it will always overcome and adapt. So I listened to Frank Zane and Bill Pearl, reversing the bodybuilding mentality on every other chest day and only doing negatives.
The way I did it was to add 15 percent to my 12 rep max. What does that mean? I knew how much I could bench for 12 reps – Let’s say 375 pounds – which was true. I would take 431.25 pounds, put it on the bar and make sure my training partner could handle pulling that weight. He could. I would take it off the rack and lower it to my chest in 10 seconds. My training partner would count it out. He would help me lift it up, I would lower it again for 10 seconds, and again until I was exhausted. And then I would have to do just one more.
All of this was training in an eccentric way – no, you are not eccentric if you train this way. In negative training, you are training your muscles using eccentric contractions. If you haven’t noticed, your muscles can handle much more weight when lowering than raising.
But the secret to getting big numbers on the bench is getting your muscles to adapt to handling the weight. Once they do, it will be familiar and you will be able to add insane weight to your bench press.