The Road to 700 by Mike Miller (as told to Dave Tate)

TAGS: bench, powerlifting, Elitefts Info Pages, barbell, bench press

I began to seriously power lift in October of 1999. I had weight trained off and on since I was 15. From age 10-16 I spent my summers working on a farm. I attribute my strength foundation to the time I spent working on the farm. If you are interested in overall body strength I suggest you spend a couple of summers throwing hay bails and wrestling with livestock. My boss was a 6’4” 300lbs mountain name Luke Schoenenberger. He was not an overly defined man but was very thick and very strong. His hands were enormous and he had a grip like a vice.

I remember on one occasion he needed to get a piece of equipment from out of the corner of the barn and a small block Chevy engine was in the way. The tractor we would use to move large things such as this was on the other side of the farm. Luke bent over, grabbed the motor, picked it up about 10 inches off the ground and moved it. Luke was one of those guys who knew no limitations and when something had to get done he found a way to do it. He wasn’t strong because he wanted to be, he was strong out of necessity. I don’t know if he could bench 700lbs but I’m sure if it were on top of him and he needed to move it would have gotten done.

I spent a lot of time with this man and learned a lot about life. He taught me about determination and never giving up. In addition to being strong Luke was an accomplished mechanic, welder and carpenter. These are all the trades needed to be a farmer. From time to time I would pull my truck in the garage at the farm and do any necessary work on it. On one particular occasion I needed to replace the timing chain. On a 1975 Chevy there are quite a few parts that need to be removed in order to get to the timing chain. I had all the parts laid out neatly on a blanket so assembly would be easier. Luke came in the garage, saw what I was doing and flipped the blanket upside down sending the parts flying. He looked at me and said, “You’ll never be a good mechanic doing it that way; you need to know the motor.” Needless to say I was a little more than pissed off and had no interest in the lesson I was being taught. As time went on and I stopped worrying about how I would put it back together and spent time learning the parts of the motor. Once I learned how it worked I became a better mechanic.

I have applied the same principle toward powerlifting. When I began I spent a lot of wasted time looking for the magical set and rep combination, or the one piece of equipment that was so unique it would give me the advantage I needed. Let me save you a lot of trouble by letting you know that both do not exist. You simply need to spend time working out. Finding what works best for you will take time and it will change. An exercise that once yielded great results may become useless.

Equipment is equipment. I’m not saying don’t use the best equipment you can afford. Learn to deal with everything. When you go to a meet, the bench may be two inches higher or lower than you’re used to. You must adapt and make it work. When I first started to bench heavy I was a real high-maintenance pain in the ass. I needed to have 45lbs plates on the bar. 100lbs plates would not do. I only liked certain bars and benches. I don’t understand how my friends put up with me. But just like being a good mechanic and learning the motor, I learned the bench and I started to say the hell with it. When I go to a meet I no longer care what is on the radio, whether I’m inside or outside, or whether the bar is fat or skinny. I will make it work. When you get to a certain level it’s your mind that makes the lift. You need to put all the negative bullshit out of the way, lie down on the bench and get the job done.

My first meet was December of 1990 and I benched 430lbs. I was thrilled with this but I wanted to do a lot more, At this point in time my long-term goal was 500lbs. I figured that this was the best I could be. Was I wrong. During this time, I benched to nipple line and wore an Inzer double ply polyester bench shirt. I would bench every 7 days. I performed 3-4 warm-up sets, go to a certain percentage of my max and rep to failure. I would then put chains on the bar do 10 sets of 2 reps. I would do floor presses, inclines and back work. I made very few gains while on this system. The following June my bench went from 430 – 460. That’s 30lbs in 7 months, a 4.29lb per month gain. I knew something was wrong. I feel the chain and speed work was very beneficial, but going to failure every time was not allowing me to do enough volume. For example if you do 405lbs. to failure you may get 5- 6 reps. But if you do 5 or 6 sets of 3 at the same weight that’s 15 -18 reps. This is a substantial increase in volume. I also had a coach who thought 10lbs gains over 6months were great. He would say “Well, you got to 400 but 500 is a long way away.” If you have a coach like this run away.

I decided my program needed an overhaul. I had been reading Louie Simmons’ articles about bands, board presses and JM presses. I decided to implement some of Louie’s ideas into my training. My first bench day I would warm up to 65% of my one rep shirtless max, put on a set of green bands and do 10 sets of 2 reps. I would then pick two or three other exercises and that would be it. 3 days later I would come in and do board presses, supported bench with the bands hanging from the top of the rack and declines. Weight was kept relatively light on this day except for the supported bench; I would work up to a heavy triple. I also started doing quite a bit of assistance work which included pushdowns with bands, rolling extensions, JM presses, and close grip board presses. I bought a fat bar and started doing lockouts, another movement my coach advised against. I wasted a lot of time doing dips and kickbacks. It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized that they did more harm than good. The following December my bench went to 545. That equaled 85lbs in 6 months (14.1lbs per month).

By changing my workout, incorporating bands, changing my technique and listening to myself, I more than tripled my monthly gains. I also read everything I could get my hands on when it came to the bench. My coach and teammates thought I was nuts, but using the bands early on was one of the best things I could have done. In July of 2001, I decided to get away from my old gym and open my own place. At that point my best bench was 555. My training had dropped off for several months due to setting up the gym. I started to train hard again October of 2001. I bought a Karin’s double denim and thought I would give it a try, I spent a year trying to make this shirt work, I was at the verge of losing my mind and throwing the frigging thing out the window. I tried everything but could not make the weight touch. In June of 2002, I met Bill Crawford and Sebastian Burns. This is when my shirt problems were solved. Bill and Sebastian sat me down on a bench and showed me the technique that would take me to 700. In 15 minutes they showed me how to make 405 touch my chest. Previously I couldn’t even get to 600 touch. I started working out in the shirt all the time. I went up to Bill’s in July and started training Militia Style. There is no fancy equipment; an average bench with regular weights in the basement of the health club where he works. We did lots of volume mixed with lots of heavy weight and just when you think that it is time to quit, the real work begins. I had never worked out so hard in my life. While there in July, I pressed a PR of 585. In August I did 655, a 70lbs gain in a month. I knew that I was on to something here. I continued to follow Bill’s training advice and I worked out twice a week. On September 29th of 2002 I did 700 lbs for the first time. Bill keeps things real simple, just shut up and bench.

Luke and Bill are two people that have helped me think differently. I have taken their advice and incorporated it into my training as well as into my life. Take control of what you want to do and master it. You are only going to do this once. How you do it is up to you.

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