Today I am interviewing one of my friends in the fitness industry: Mike Westerdal.
Mike Westerdal is a certified personal trainer and amateur powerlifter residing in sunny Clearwater, Florida. He enjoys being a contributing writer for REPS!, Iron Man, Powerlifting USA, and dozens of other publications.
Westerdal is the founder of Critical bench located at http://www.criticalbench.com. Mike’s fitness publishing company boasts being one of the Internet’s first strength training and muscle building Web sites online.
His most popular workout is the best selling Critical Bench Program 2.0 that has successfully helped over 17,238 clients increase their bench press by an average of fifty pounds in ten weeks. With this unique power-building approach you’re guaranteed to build all around size and strength.
So since I get so many people asking me how to increase their bench, I decided to get all of the secrets from my friend Mike, who is an expert on the subject as you can see from his records below:
Mike’s Bench Press Personal Records:
630 lbs equipped bench press in competition
452 lbs raw bench press
405 lbs for 5-reps
315 lbs for 15-reps
So without further ado, I will get started with this revealing interview.
[HR] How did you get started as a fitness author? Did you have any prior experience in the field of health and fitness?
[MW] On my college football team I had one of the strongest bench presses on the team. People would always ask me what they could do to get their bench up and I’d write up workouts and programs for teammates.
It’s funny, my fitness publishing company was first started during college as a school project. For one of my computer classes we had to put up a web site and I decided to make mine about bench pressing.
I self published the workout that had been successful for myself and teammates and decided to call it the Critical Bench Program. That went viral and opened a lot more doors for me to write for magazines like REPS!, Powerlifting USA and Iron Man.
During that time I also played football in Europe, got certified as a personal trainer and worked with clients one on one while I was continuing to grow my online business.
Today my site http://www.criticalbench.com is a fitness publishing company that helps experts share their knowledge and workout programs with people that are struggling to reach their fitness goals.
Although I love studying and learning I prefer hands on experience. I enjoy mixing things up and have tried everything from competing in powerlifting to running adventure races like the Tough Mudder.
Mike Westerdal’s Transformation
[HR] That is so funny Mike! That is pretty much how I started my website. It was my Senior project for Engineering School! This is all great stuff. Now shifting gears, a lot of my readers are dying to know how to increase their bench. Since you are an authority on this subject, what are the best tips you can give people for gaining strength and increasing their bench press?
[MW] You can probably utilize these two tips immediately to see some gains.
Big Bench Tip #1: Shorten the distance the bar travels. Move your fingers out an inch or two on the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and flare your lats to create a nice solid base to press from. Stick your chest out and pull your shoulders back.
Next you’ll want to arch your back so that your traps and butt are in contact with the bench and your feet are planted on the floor. You should be able to fit a foam roller under your lower back. Combine these three techniques and you’ve reduced the path the bar travels by 6-inches or more which should give you a nice boost in the weight you can move. This is not cheating; it’s legal in a powerlifting meet.
Big Bench Tip #2: Hold your air. Instead of taking a big breathe as you lower the weight and exhaling as you push the bar to clickout, I want you to hold your breath from start to finish. Why? By doing this you will stabilize your torso and create a more solid base to press from. Holding your air will help you keep the pressure tight.
[HR] Thanks for the great tips Mike. Now, do you have to follow a particular diet to gain strength and increase your bench press? Can you list any specific foods or nutrients needed?
[MW] Building muscle and strength requires a lot of energy to perform muscle-building exercises, plus the energy to build and repair the tissue itself.
Research has shown that to build muscle while maintaining cardiovascular fitness, serious weight lifters need 23.6 kcals/lb as a minimum.
With the entire craze about high protein diets many of us have neglected to realize how important carbohydrates are in training for strength. The predominant fuel for muscle-building exercise is carbohydrate. The more intense and the longer the duration of your workout, the more carbs your muscles need to store. If your muscles run out of stored fuel (carbs), fatigue will set in and your workout will suffer.
Most of us need to consume 500-600 carbohydrates a day to fuel our muscles. If you want to take this recommendation a step further consume 4 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
Don’t forget protein. I’m sure you didn’t. Protein is the basic building material for muscle tissue, and it is required in higher amounts in the diets of individuals performing strength-training exercise. What I’m about to tell you has been debated in the fitness industry but I guarantee you that if you talk to any powerlifter, strength athlete, or bodybuilder they will agree with me. Your body needs 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to build muscle.
Now you know how much of your food will come from carbs and protein. The rest of your daily calories should come from fat. To keep your heart healthy, make sure that unsaturated fats from coconut oil, dairy, nuts and seeds make up the greatest proportion of your fat intake.
To keep your body running efficiently, you should eat every 2-3 hours including prior to and after exercising. As a pre workout snack eat a 200-300 calorie combination of protein and carbohydrate. Do the same within 30 minutes after working out to prepare your muscles for the next time you workout and help them recover. You should be eating 6 meals a day to constantly repair and fuel growth.
[HR] What are the biggest mistakes you see powerlifters doing with their diets?
[MW] Guys training for strength sometimes take advantage of the fact that they are not being judged on looks but on performance so they’ll tend to eat too much junk food, sugar, fried foods and even candy. It’s common sense stuff but it can become part of the culture where “real men” don’t care what they look like only what they can lift. This is backwards thinking and not healthy.
On the other hand there are people that want to be lean and healthy but they get so much conflicting information they’re not sure who they should listen to.
Anyone can improve their overall strength and health by making these modifications.
– Don’t go on rapid result oriented diets that you can’t stick with long term. In order to avoid totally crashing after the diet you need to make smaller changes over time that you can live with and incorporate into your lifestyle.
– Drink more water and drink less soda, alcoholic beverages and fruit juices.
– Fat is not going to make you fat. You need fat to transport vitamins, keep your joints healthy, and reduce inflammation. I eat fat everyday and my cholesterol is fine. This leads to my next tip.
– Avoid trans-fats and hydrogenates oils. These are the real killers!
– Try to eat more raw foods like vegetables and fruits. The enzymes contained in these foods are essential to your vitality.
– Eat more whole foods and less processed foods. Eat foods the way God made them, not the foods that are heavily processed with fillers and preservatives.
– I know it’s expensive but consider eating organic foods. Wouldn’t you rather the animal you’re eating was vibrant and healthy during their lifetime rather than sick, sad and depressed while loaded up on anti-biotics and hormones?
– Sugar is a poison. Try your best to avoid it or make it a special treat.
– Cut back on grains. Cereal, pasta and bread should not be the foundation of your diet.
– Again be realist with yourself. Nobody is perfect so just get informed and make some better decisions. It’s okay to cheat from time to time. Do your best 90% of the time and you’ll be fine.
[HR] Interesting Mike. We have very similar recommendations as I advise all hardgainers to eat these kind of amounts of nutrients. What about supplements. Are supplements needed for increasing muscle, strength and bench press?
[MW] The word supplement means to “complete something or make up for a deficiency.” I want you to go back and read that again – and again, and then I want you to remember it. The problem with supplements today is that a lot of people have come to think of them as a primary source for vitamins and nutrients and even go so far as to believe the claims that they are going to be a magic bullet that helps them reach their muscle and strength goals.
What’s much more important than supplements is eating whole foods, your workouts, how you help your body recover. Supplements aren’t going to be effective until you’re already 90% of the way there. Bottom line without proper foundation supplements won’t help you much.
For those that are looking for that edge, here’s what I recommend.
1- Protein: This is the staple of the muscle building diet and is the only source of nutrition that has the building blocks – amino acids – to actually build muscle. The more intensely you train, and the more you weigh, the more protein you’ll need to maintain your muscle mass or add to it.
2- Multi-Vitamins: Just make sure they come from whole foods and aren’t synthetic.
3- Kre-Alkayn Creatine: Creatine Monohydrate has been proven through a decade of research to enahance strength, endurance, and subsequent athletic performance. The only disadvantage of traditional creatine is the short-term stability and the rapid conversion into the bi-product Creatinine when exposed to liquid.
Kre-Alkalyn which is buffered for maximum absorption and stability allowing the athlete to take far less of the product while experiencing greater results. Kre-Alkalyn is a great pick for strength and muscle.
This list may not be super sexy but it gets the job done if you’re on a tight budget or only want a bare boned supplement shopping list.
[HR] Amen to that Mike! Whole foods are the KEY to strength and muscle gains period! Now, going back to the bench press, what are the biggest mistakes people make when attempting to bench press more?
[MW] There are 5 mistakes that I can immediately think of.
Mistake 1: Overtraining
Let your central nervous system and your muscles recover and strengthen before hitting the bench again. One max effort training session per week is enough when training the bench.
Mistake 2: Pre-fatigue
Don’t do shoulders or triceps before a bench workout. You’re exhausting the primary movers you are going to need to bench. Don’t do cardio before a heavy bench workout and don’t deplete all your energy by doing way too many warm up sets. Save your energy for the heavier sets.
Mistake 3: Self Doubt
Get your head on straight. Get rid of all this self doubt and negativity. Don’t start a set by saying you’re going to “Try” or you “Hope” you’re going to get this rep. Your subconscious mind listens to everything you say so you might as well program it with positive encouraging visions rather than self destructing criticism. If you’re not confident, fake it. You have to picture yourself as a great bencher before you can become one.
Mistake 4: Lack of Goals
Would you head out on a cross country trip without a road map? Goals need to be realistic, measurable and specific. Be accountable. Tell people what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Remind yourself of your goals daily.
Mistake 5: Rep Ranges
High reps are not going to get you stronger in the bench press. Triples build power! If you’ve never done triples start with fives and work your way down over a few weeks. Triples are sets of three repetitions with as much weight as you can handle WITHOUT needing a spot.
[HR] How much time do people need to spend exercising on a weekly basis to see results?
[MW] Any exercise is better than no exercise. If all you do is go for a walk three times a week you’ll see more results than someone who never gets off the couch.
If you want to do the bare minimum, just go to the gym three times a week and combine your cardio and weight training with metabolic resistance training. These sessions only take 30-45 minutes each. If you’re busy and just trying to stay in shape, burn some fat and don’t want to live at the gym, this could be a good option for you.
However if you’re more serious and want to build muscle and strength I’d recommend lifting weights 3-4 times per week with an additional 3 cardio sessions per week. Take one full day off per week at a minimum.
Make it fun and make it fit your lifestyle. If you’re forcing yourself to do something because some guru told you it’s the right thing to do, it’s probably not going to work out for you.
[HR] What are your thoughts on cardio? Does it affect your ability to gain strength on the bench?
[MW] Cardio is not going to help you bench press more. Don’t get me wrong you do need some basic conditioning so that you can get through your workout with getting too tired. However if you’re doing too much cardio you simply won’t be able to produce a high level strength workout.
I’m an advocate of a term I call powerbuilding. This is where you’re strong like a powerlifter but you still stay lean and muscular like a bodybuilder. Therefore even if you’re trying to get stronger in the bench press you want to do some moderate cardio on a weekly basis and keep your diet on point.
[HR] What sort of mind set do people need to achieve their goals of bench pressing more?
[MW] The bench press is a very mental lift. Big numbers can be intimidating, and so can three, four, or five plates on each side of the bar. Some people can do 310 lbs but can’t get 315 lbs.
Some people can get 395 lbs but not 400 lbs, because 400 lbs sounds so much heavier.
Or they can lift 400 lbs but not 405 lbs because the four plates on each side of the bar psyches them out. The most important thing I can teach you is this:
“Never Plant A Seed Of Doubt In Your Mind!”
Do not be afraid to fail. Think of failing as way to try again more intelligently. Most people don’t’ get it right their first time, but those that don’t’ give up wind up reaching their goals.
If you even consider the fact that you might not get a certain weight, you probably won’t. Don’t cut yourself short. Either you or someone you know has said the following prior to a big lift, “I don’t know if I’m going to get this.” That is the worst thing you can do. Stop making excuses for yourself before you’ve even tried.
Let me explain why positive thinking is so instrumental. The mind has two components, the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is the rational analytical thinking part of the brain. The subconscious part is responsible for memory, reflexes, and autonomic functions such as breathing, circulation and several other functions. All you need to know is that the subconscious mind does not think It accepts whatever it is told whether it is true or not.
Therefore, you need to program your subconscious mind with positive thoughts instead of self-destructing negative commands. Whatever you think about all day is what you become.
Positive thinking is much more powerful than many people imagine. Put it this way, if somebody asked you to close your eyes and NOT think about penguins, you’ll mentally see penguins everywhere. It’s impossible to NOT think about something. You either think about something or you don’t so make sure it’s a positive thought in your head.
The second you catch yourself in a negative thought I want you to immediately replace it with a positive one. Instead of thinking, “I’ll try” replace it with “I will.” Eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary.
Mike Westerdal Hits 630 LB Bench Press
[HR] Mike, thank you so much for your interview and for those final words of wisdom!
[MW] You are most welcome Hugo. Thanks for the opportunity!
[HR] Anything else you would like to add?
[MW] If your readers are interested, they can download a FREE pdf called The Seven Fastest Ways to Increase Your Bench Press via this special page that I set up for them: http://www.criticalbench.com/partners/free-report/pdf/7FASTESTWAYS_cxegyinm3a.pdf <==Clicking on this link will start the download of the PDF to your computer. Be sure to have Adobe Reader so that you can open the file. [HR] Thanks so much for the awesome information, the nice PDF, and your time!