Bench Training with Ed Rectenwald

TAGS: rectenwald, criticism, dave, simmons, sport, youngs, westside, tate, bench, training

Coming up with new articles each month can be a challenging task and coming up with quality information can be even harder. After a couple hundred articles I find myself repeating myself time and time again. For a few years now I have been looking for a way to get information from friends of mine into written articles for EliteFTS.com. This has been a challenging task due to time constraints, training schedules, heavy work hours, and limited technology. However, and idea hit me the other day as I was looking through my email address book. I have hundreds of coaches, top powerlifters, and strength consultants’ emails. I have consulted with all of them over the years in regards to training or business development. I have even asked many of them to write some articles for the site and while they all have agreed they can’t seem to find the time to put it in print. This is now where I come in. I have contacted them all again with a new plan. I will write the articles. I just need them to give me the guts. Isn’t this what we all want anyhow? Within the first week, I have already had 5 of these “guts” emailed to me. While these articles will be authored by me, please keep in mind that all I am doing is placing some filler with the guts to make the articles more interesting. The real information is coming from the lifters, coaches and trainers. My primary focus of these articles will be powerlifters. My reason for this is very simple. I feel this is where the real gold is. This is 100% strength training in the trenches. I have lived my life in the trenches so this is where I feel the most at home. So here we go.

-Dave Tate

Ed Rectenwald

I asked Ed to write a general Bio so I could give our readers a better idea who Ed is.

My name is Ed Rectenwald. I am 34 years old and have been competing as a powerlifter since I was 16. I compete as a 242 in APF bench and full power meets and in the 220/242 class for the WPO bench meets. I live in Palm Beach, Florida and train at a gym called Southside Barbell Club that three of us (Bob Youngs, Doug Hollis, and I) started in 2000. We currently have 20 lifters in our gym. I have competed in two WPO meets in previous years and am currently training for the 2005 WPO Bench Bash for Cash. My goal is to compete at the Arnold. I have been competing for quite some time now, but don’t have much of a name for myself because my lifts have not been that big. The following are my best benches to date: 606@219, 628@240 and 635@245. After speaking with Ed and going over his emails, I have been able to determine what Ed feels are his keys to benching big weights.

Keep an open mind

Don’t be afraid to try new training techniques. After Bob Youngs moved from Columbus, Ohio to West Palm Beach, FL he was faced with a dilemma. Bob had trained at Westside Barbell for several years and found himself without any training partners. Bob took it upon himself to create his own home gym and try to start his own powerlifting group. It did not take long until Ed found out and Bob had one of his first training partners. When Bob left Westside he also took with him a very good understanding of the principles used by Louie Simmons. These principles were new to Ed, but he embraced the change and has been breaking records ever since. With a 500 bench at the time it would have been very easy for Ed to discredit Bob’s advice and keep doing the same type of training that got him to his 500 bench. Ed was wise enough to know that while he was getting stronger it was not as fast as he would like and needed to look at a better plan. Over the years Ed has taken this to heart and is in a constant process of trying to learn from everyone.

Embrace criticism from your training partners

When Ed first told me this I just about died. Bob can be one of the biggest assholes you have ever trained with. He means well and will do whatever it takes to help someone get stronger. In many cases this means finding ways to “light the fire” and get the guys to do what they need to do. As lifters we need to learn how to take this criticism for what it is and learn where are weaknesses are and make them our strengths. If you spend all your time arguing about who is right you miss the entire point. It does not matter who is right or wrong. What matters is someone is trying to tell you something than can make you better. This is one area Ed has really grown over the years. He has learned to embrace criticism and even looks forward to it because he has seen how it makes him stronger.

Respect the weight

Here is one that I feel most lifters overlook. You need to always remember and stay focused on what you are doing. Many injuries happen with submaximal weight, not maximal weight. Most of the time a lifter will lose focus on what he is doing. Many years ago I was once told to treat light weights like they are heavy and heavy weights like they are light. When I inquired about this I was told that it is the light weight that can sneak up on you. You must treat all weights with respect or they will eat you alive. When you are training with light weights make sure you take your time and set up right, get your body tight and focus your mind on the task at hand. There should be no difference when the weights get heavy. Just do the thing you are meant to do and never take your strength for granted. This is a gift you have worked hard to achieve, don’t let some puny ass submaximal weight be responsible for your next injury.

You must train smart

I will begin this section with a quote from Ed.

I believe training hard goes without saying. There was a quote JM Blakely wrote in a Powerlifting USA article about 5 years ago that I never forgot: “More is not better, only better is better”

You must know your body, your training style and your system of training. Make sure you have a plan that addresses your weak point while still building your strengths. You can’t half-ass a serious bench program. You need to know what you need to accomplish and how you will do it. The best way to train smart is to first discover what works best for you. You do this by trying many different things. Ed has used just about every program and movement out there to build his bench press and is always trying new stuff. This is the same philosophy that has made Westside Barbell what it is today. You need to look outside the box to see what others are doing. There are many times when the answer you are looking for is right in front of your face.

The second aspect of this topic is to know what your body can and can’t handle. The biggest opponent of benching big is overtraining. This will lead to a decline in performance and can set you up for injuries. You need to know when to bring it up and when to back it down. As stated above remember what the main goal is and work toward that. If your goal is to bench 600 in 14 weeks and you are getting beat up at the 12 week point, it may be a better idea to back it down for a week then see how much you can bench for a 1RM with your shirt on. Basically, use your head and trust your instincts.

Don’t rely completely on the gear

Do not rely on bench shirts and/or steroids to press the weight for you. Train to get strong. Louie once wrote that he had a triple ply denim bench shirt lying in the corner of the gym with a bottle of test on it and it has yet to bench anything. While this is a very simple statement it does stress a valuable point. We are now in the age of better shirts and easy access to steroids. Both can have a profound difference on your training. It is important to read the last sentence again.

Both can have a profound difference on YOUR TRAINING.

YOUR TRAINING is what determines the final outcome. You need to train to get stronger. Your raw bench press is still very important. Yes, you need to learn how to use your shirt but you need to get stronger. The final outcome is always based on your raw strength so take the time and make sure you are getting stronger. If you do not, you may make short term gains but they will come to a halt if you do not get stronger.

Ed’s triple threat

I asked Ed what the three most important aspects of his personal bench program were. Without a second thought he told me technique, back and triceps. These are the three main areas Ed places his focus. Ed has come to understand that you can’t fix everything at one time and need to place your focus in those areas that will yield the highest gain. These are the three main areas for Ed. Let look at each one in detail as explained to me by Ed.

  1. Technique – Ed has discovered that technique is a very important aspect to his bench training. If he takes his focus off this for any length of time his technique begins to slip. He makes sure to work his bench technique every week with every set and every rep. He never does a single rep without have one of his training partners making sure his form is locked in. When it does break his partner will make the necessary verbal commands to get Ed back on track. For all maximal weights his partners will actually talk him through the lift. The key to training bench press technique is by repetition. You have to hit the proper technique over and over to the point that is becomes automatic.
  2. Back – This is one of the biggest weaknesses that Ed seems to be working with at this time. He has found when his back it strong so is his set up and lock out. If he misses a beat with his back training his bench press takes a hike. I have found this to be true with many lifters. Ed makes sure to hit his back 2-4 times a week with various rowing and shrugging movements.
  3. Triceps – Ed has also found triceps training to be vital to his bench press. His sticking point tends to be just short of lockout. By adding in various lockout movements he has found he can drive through this sticking point and continue to beat personal records. He makes sure to always change up his lockout training to overcome any overtraining he may suffer.

Training style

Ed has trained many different ways and believes each had a part in increasing his bench. Westside training took his bench to the 500’s, Metal Militia training took his bench into the 600’s, and now he has been currently working with Matt Lamarque and his style of training to get ready for the 2005 WPO BB4$. Matt has been a great help with adjusting his training and fixing technique. The help and support from other lifters is one of the major reasons Ed stays in this sport. He states he would be nowhere near the lifter he is today without the advice and criticism he has received from other lifters.

Ed’s next meet

Ed starts his training program 15 weeks out and is currently training for the WPO BB4$ His training is as follows:

Sport specific technique training – According to Matt Lamarque, the lifter should work up to a weight and do 5 singles with full range movement and a loose shirt. Ed started with 65% of his max and has been increasing the weight 20 pounds each week. He must complete all 5 singles before he goes up in weight the following week. Ed follows the singles with some type of pressing movement (i.e. dumbbells or push ups), and then triceps work.

Bench assistance training - Includes back, upper back/traps, shoulders and forearm exercises. These movements change from session to session and are viewed as what they are “assistance”. The goal of these movements is to assist in the development of the bench press. While these movements are very important to the development of the whole, they are not the main workout. They are designed to assist the body to do what he intends it to do, bench press. The point Ed is trying to make is keep the main focus on the bench press and let the other stuff do what it is intended to do.

It was great speaking with Ed in regards to his bench press training. I have known Ed for many years and have seen him make outstanding progress while having to overcome some major set backs. PR’s have not come easy for him and he has learned a lot along the way. It was great to see his willingness to try to share what he has learned over the years and we all wish him the best of luck with his continued training.

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