Author: Wes Keith
1.) Understand that the pursuit of strength is a marathon
Just like anything you are new at you will get better at it very quickly. Then, all of a sudden the same gains take longer and longer to achieve. When I began to weight train I very quickly was able to deadlift 315 pounds, within the first year I was able to deadlift 405 pounds, and 15 years later I am happy to deadlift 650 pounds. Too many lifters get used to those big gains in the beginning and can’t settle for a 10 or 15 pound gain of strength. Just imagine if you are a 200 pound man that bench presses 250 pounds and you made a 15 pound gain each year in your bench press. That means in 10 years you will press 400 pounds and in 15 years 450 pounds. That would be considered an Elite level bench press. Allow yourself time to maximize your strength and accept the little gains along the way.
2.) Form is Everything
You’re only as good as your form allows you to be. Sure you might be able to squat 315 pounds, but when your knees cave in and your heels are off the ground your lift is going to be limited and you’re setting yourself up for an injury. Many lifters are too worried about what program to follow that they forget that the program is only as good as your form allows it to be. You can take the most basic programs and make them effective if you have good technique with your lifts. Most of the time perfecting your form will require that you take weight off the bar and check your ego.
3.) Train to be Fast!
Too many lifters are slow with their movements and wonder why they are not getting stronger or why they miss a heavy bench press half-way off their chest. Speed has everything to do with being stronger, and speed has to be trained. Work on being explosive with your movements in a full range of motion. Research Dynamic Effort from West Side Barbell and Compensatory Acceleration Training by Sam Byrd and apply these methods to your training right away.
4.) Build a Base
More often than not when I see a new lifter squatting or deadlifting he or she will be wearing a belt. While a belt is a great tool to use it can also hinder in building strength in the right areas. It acts as a crutch for people who have weak abdominals and low back. Start your training off without a belt keep the weights manageable to develop a solid base and then when you go to add a belt it will truly enhance your performance.
5.) Be Coachable
The best strength athletes in the world are students of the game and they learned from the greats before them. Keep an open mind to new techniques and training ideas. Learn from the best. Find out what they do and why. Take that knowledge back to your training and make it your own. Video your lifts not to brag but, to want to be coached. If used properly the video camera is one of the best tools a strength athlete can have.
Building an impressive bench press starts with the set up. Just like any other sport, form and technique are everything. To be a good golfer you have to learn the perfect form then constantly work on it. Bench pressing is no different you are only as good as your set up.
Teaching the set-up Part 1: the arched back
The goal of the bench press set up is to put your body in a strong pressing position. Flat back bench pressing is how most of us learned how to press. The flat back technique or body building style bench press removes the ability to tuck your elbows and creates more distance for the bar to move.
Arched back bench pressing decreases the distance in which you have to move the bar buy up to 50% and increases the body’s leverages. Arching your back requires that you work on your flexibility. The more flexible you become the higher you can build your arch.
Flat back bench press
Arched back bench press
Teaching the set-up part 2: setting the pressing surface
Locking in your back is the next step once you have your arch. This is the make it or break it point of your set up. Any looseness in your set up will result in a poor press. The set up is all about tightness. Any lose part of your body will hurt your press. You want to develop as much contact with the bench pad as possible with your upper back.
This step requires that you squeeze your shoulder blades together like you are trying to hold a pencil in the middle of your back. Most people try to shrug up thus bring the shoulders up towards the ears. This creates a horrible pressing position. By pinching your shoulder blades together you gain more contact with the bench press pad and create a bigger pressing surface. The harder you can press your back into the bench press pad the harder you can press the bar up.
Once you start to lower yourself down at the bench press pad make contact with your traps, neck then head. As you loosely grab the bar squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your lats towards your glutes thus setting them underneath your body.
Pinching shoulder blades
Teaching the set-up part 3: foot placement
After your upper back is locked in, you have to choose a foot placement that allows you to stabilize your body and apply leg drive during the pressing portion of the bench press. There are advantages and disadvantages to both styles. A wide foot position with your feet flat allows you to really be stable but cuts down on your arch, thus making a longer press. While tucking your feet below you up on your toes allows you to build up a big arch, it creates a less stable pressing position.
The act of leg drive can be explained by kinetic linking. The harder a golfer presses into the ground the more energy that transfers through the entire body into the club into the ball. Bench pressing is the same way. The harder you can press your heels into the ground the more energy that transfers through your body into the bench press pad into the weights as you press. The harder you can get your back pressing into the bench press pad the harder you can press up on the bar and that starts with a leg drive from your heels. Once you plant your feet lock them in position and keep them there for the entire press. Your body should only be making contact with the bench on your glutes and upper back.
Kinetic linking on toes
Kinetic linking flat feet
Teaching the set-up part 4: get a grip
This is one of the most overlooked techniques for beginner lifters. How you grip the bar is critical in bench pressing success. A narrow grip is considered with the pinky finger on the rings of the bar. This is a great grip for lifters who are tricep dominant. A max grip is with the pointer finger on the rings of the bar. This is a good way to cut down the distance you press the bar but can put more stress on the shoulders. A grip that best fits you should play to your strengths (Triceps/Shoulder) and you should always have your wrist straight directly above the elbow in the same pressing line.
Narrow grip (pinky on ring)
Max grip (point finger on ringer)
Once you have your grip position then you have to position the bar correctly in your hands. How the bar is in your hands determines how your body responds to the weight during the lowering of the bench press. You need to squeeze the bar as hard as possibly like you are trying to crush it in your hands as you are squeezing the bar begin to pull it apart like you are trying to make the middle of the bar laffy taffy. This will engage your back and rear delts and help keep a big pressing surface.
One of the biggest mistakes that most lifters make is letting the bar roll back in their hands allowing the wrist to bend back and the weight to sit more on the outside of the hands. This puts the elbows at a poor pressing position off the chest. You must make a serious effort to keep your wrists straight and keep your elbows directly below.
Poor pressing position (wrists rolled)
Proper pressing position (wrists straight)
Wrists Rolled (elbow wrist bar not in line)
Wrist Straight (elbow wrist bar in same line)
Teaching the set-up part 5: getting the bar out of the rack
By now you have put a great deal of effort to get your body into perfect bench pressing position. However this is where most people go wrong. The mistake here is bench pressing the bar out of the rack. By doing this you have lost all of your tightness in your shoulder blades and they are no longer underneath your body. Not only have you lost your back tightness but your arch has been cut in half and proper pressing mechanics can no longer be attained. This is easily one of the biggest mistakes in competitive bench pressing.
The fix is to hold your position and pull the weight out of the rack. This is why the strongest guys in the world use a hand off guy at lighter weights so they don’t lose their tightness. Pulling the bar out of the rack with your lats keeps them engaged and underneath you for your press. Have a spotter hand the bar out to you as you pull it out of the rack.
Pulling the Bar (note shoulder and arch position)
Pressing the Bar (note shoulder and arch position)
Teaching the set-up par 6: set your air
Now we are ready for the eccentric portion of the lift or the lowering of the bar. Every part of your body should be tight at this point. Before you lower the weight take a big breath of air in your mouth and push it into your belly hold it there for the entire press. Push your belly up towards the bar to cut down the distance the bar has to travel. This internal tightness along with your full body being squeezed tight will give you a spring for a monster bench press.
Set up with No Air (note arch position)
Set up with Air (note arch position)
No one in the world has as good of a bench press set up than Iowa’s own Jake Prazak. He is the owner of N.I.P. & Fitness Center in Mason City, Iowa and world record bench press holder with a bench press of 920lbs at a body weight of 220lbs. Jake is the definition of bench press set up and a product of hard work.
As a trainer I sit down with people every day who say they want to lose weight, get in shape or be healthy. My question to them is what does that mean to you? How much weight do you want to lose? What does it mean to be in shape or be healthy?
Commonly these are people who have dieted and/or worked out and then fall off the face of the earth and put back on all the weight they had lost and then some. What is going to make this time different?
Find your purpose!
So what is the real reason behind why you are wanting to make a change this time? After talking with people we start finding the root of why they want to make a change and here are some of the responses I get when they are willing to open up and be honest with not only me, but themselves:
- Sick and tired of being sick and tired
- Embarrassed by what they look like
- Want to be more active with their kids
- Don’t want to be on medications related to an unhealthy life-style
- Want to feel good about themselves
Having a purpose will make showing up for your workouts have meaning. You are going to have tough days where you don’t want to wake up early or would rather go out after work for drinks with friends instead of going to the gym. Having a purpose for what you are doing will make it easier to push through those days.
Set your goals!
Now that you have a clear purpose for why you are doing what you are doing, set your goals. Once again these are unique to you. The more specific you can get the better. Is there a specific body type you want, a certain pair of pants you want to fit into, or is it as simple as you want to be strong? Write them down and know them!
Now that you have a purpose and have set your goals you need to be held accountable. By far the best ways is to work with a trainer. I am not saying you need them for every workout. Working with them just once a week so they can put you through a workout as well as map out the rest of your weeks workouts is sufficient. When you have someone to report to you are less likely to skip workouts.
If your purpose is strong enough then it should be a priority in your life. Now, it is up to you to set yourself up for success. Most people think having a trainer is expensive when really it is not, and is probably the most crucial missing link. To be honest it is probably a lot cheaper than most nights out with friends for dinner and drinks. Also, they will not only give you workouts, but they can show you proper form, technique and be your cheerleader when others don’t understand why you are doing what you are doing. Set your priorities so you can create balance in your life that will allow your to fulfill your purpose and goals.
I often get asked the simple question of what makes me grind? You may be asking what in the heck does it mean to grind. It simply is what motivates me to keep working hard day after day with a no excuses attitude…… perseverance.
For those of you who don’t know me I am a personal trainer in West Des Moines with a deep passion for powerlifting. As of today, I am currently ranked 6th over-all in the nation. In my last powerlifting meet I had by best total to date of 1537 pounds by squatting 540, benching 369, and deadlifting 628 pounds.
I didn’t start lifting weights because I was in sports or I was training for something. I started lifting weights because I was tired of being the small skinny kid that everyone overlooked. Simply put I was pissed off that I wasn’t who I wanted to be and it was time for me to step up in order to make a change. I was sick of thinking I wasn’t good enough, “too small for this”, and “too slow for that.” Weight lifting was my answer. I knew it was what I needed to do to get to who I wanted to be.
When I was 16 years old I would wake up angry because I was not where I wanted to be. I kept hearing that voice in my head saying, “you’re not good enough for this” and “you’re just a little guy!” It was a constant reminder to myself of what I was not. I spent late nights at the gym, including Friday and Saturday nights only to return back again in the early mornings. I had to maximize my time. I would go to bed thinking about my goals and I woke up eager to put my game plan into action. Everything else took a back seat because I was simply sick of not doing what I wanted to do and being who I want to be.
As I started to achieve some success with my weight training I have found that my mind set hasn’t really changed. The only difference is that it has become clearer to me what exactly it is I want to do. I asked myself if being good at something is good enough? I am a “good” powerlifter, is this enough?
Maybe at some point in my life I would have said yes this is who I want to be, but now that I am here I am still that 16 year old kid. Everyone is still saying that I am too small or too skinny, and everyone is still overlooking me. To this day I still go to bed thinking about this and I still wake up mad and ready to maximize my time. Every day is a grind!
Every day you will have one speed bump after another in your plan, and every day you will have to overcome it. The road going from good to great is about perseverance. I have chosen my path and I don’t care what lies in the road because it is only a matter of time before I get there.
I tell you all of this not to brag about myself, but hopes that it will make you realize that people who are great at something devote their life to making themselves better than the rest. It took me 16 years to reach that 1537 pound total.
Find what makes you grind!
Making changes takes hard work, dedication, perseverance and sacrifice. Knowing what makes you “grind” will make getting through those difficult days a little easier. When you are too tired, too sore or are simply just frustrated you need to remind yourself why you started the journey in the first place. What change did you want to change? Who did you want to become? It is your hard work, dedication, perseverance and sacrifices that will set you apart and make you successful at achieving your goals.
Click here to watch Wesley Keith during his last powerlifting meet where he totaled 1537.
Growing up on a farm there wasn’t much I didn’t get to experience as a child. Every day was a classroom for my brothers and I with the teachers being my dad and grandfather. Whether it was working on farm machinery, sawing down a tree, splitting wood or building a barn they could do it all. To me they were supermen! There was nothing they couldn’t fix or do.
A blessing in disguise…
As a child I developed many skills that would prove to be a great foundation later on in life. It wasn’t until after college that I realized the biggest lesson my teachers instilled in me was the one of belief. I watched as my dad and grandfather would go from task to task with supreme confidence. There was nothing that they did that they thought was impossible. They believed they could do everything!
It wasn’t until I started to pursue my powerlifting career that I realized what a valuable tool this was. The first time I was approaching 600lbs in my deadlift I starting to doubt my skills. The idea of picking up 600lbs seemed impossible to me and I approached the bar with doubt. The bar didn’t budge an inch! I had let doubt creep into my mind and I gave a half-hearted commitment to the task at hand.
Believe Before you can Achieve!
Whether it is powerlifting, at the gym, or at the office the people who are successful are the people who believe they can be successful. There have been many times when I had to convince my-self that I believed I could do something even though I really didn’t. How was I going to ever deadlift 600lbs if I didn’t believe I could? So, I started imagining picking the weight up with ease. I would visualize it as I went to bed and again before my training sessions. I never let doubt creep into my mind and I would have supreme confidence in my abilities. Before you know it I easily pulled 600lbs, then 620lbs, next 630lbs, and then pulled my current PR of 650lbs in training. Now 700lbs is in my site and I believe someday I will stand up with it too.
You show me a person who is successful and I will show you a person who believed they could be successful. I always encourage people not to share their beliefs with too many people. There are so many people that are quick to shoot you down and let doubt creep into your mind. For every person that supports you, you can find ten more that doubt you. I have always let these internal beliefs grow inside of me like a fire and I have let the doubters add fuel to that fire. When I approach the bar at 650lbs not only do I believe I can, but I want to see your face when I prove you wrong.
Set your Goals!
Henry Ford filed for bankruptcy 5 times. Thomas Edison failed 10,000 times or did he just find 10,000 wrong ways to do something? It is all about perspective! I can come up with a hundred more examples of people who believed so much in what they were doing that it was only a matter of time before they became successful. The next time you set a goal for yourself allow for your mind to be free from doubt, clear your thoughts and imagine exceeding your goals. Do this daily and you will start to believe without a doubt that you can accomplish anything, but it all starts with a belief.
Blog written by Wesley Keith of 515 Fitness
I recently saw the following post to the left on a social media outlet and I thought to myself, “that is exactly what is wrong with the mindset of most people.” The harsh truth is life is not about giving out participation ribbons; this isn’t YMCA basketball. Not everyone has to play. Some will ride the bench their entire lives.
Being successful at something requires a 100% commitment to excellence. Being committed to excellence is about perfecting your craft.
If you are an accountant, are you just another average accountant or do you spend time figuring out how to perfect all the small things you do to make your job more efficient and maximize your output? Just like the best golfers in the world spend countless hours perfecting their swings. They hire swing coaches to perfect the small mechanics of their swing. To the average person looking at this they would say why is it necessary they already have a great swing, but to that professional it’s about a relentless commitment to perfection. At no point are you ever completely satisfied with your craft and if you are that means you will no longer progress.
It’s not just about practice it’s about perfect practice. If I want to be a successful golfer and I swing the club like Charles Barkley, and I just say “oh well it’s not about being perfect it’s about giving a good effort”, will I ever be a professional golfer? No, I will continue to be an average or below average golfer. Click here to see Charles Barkley’s golf swing and why you will see why you will never be a great golfer!
This happens, every day in the fitness industry. Let’s say it’s your goal to lose weight and get in shape. You then just need to do as the poster says and apply an honest effort every single day to some exercise and nutrition; and you will no doubt see results. Transformations will happen and changes will occur just like the poster says.
However ,did you lose the weight the right way or did you lose it at all costs? You weren’t committed to losing weight correctly (perfection), you were just committed to losing weight. Let’s look at the example of how most people approach weight loss. Move more (cardio), eat less (less calories), so basically the body is starving to death and then the body reacts by reducing muscle and slowing its metabolism to deal with the stress. You see the scale drop and think huh this is just all about the effort. I don’t need a professional to help me with this because I lost the weight my-self. You sure did! Here is your participation ribbon, and wait there is more, your metabolism is now ruined, you will begin to gain all the weight back and more. It will take months maybe even years of a professional working with you to reverse the affects you put your body through. “Remember why you started,” says the poster. I say if you truly have a good enough reason why (commitment), then you will want to learn how to do it the right way (perfection), and that will lead to your success!
We have all had it happen. Our fitness plan is all laid out, we are being productive, and seeing results. A couple of weeks go by and we quit seeing results. Then, we start to get bored and looking for the next fitness plan, right?
This time try using the F.I.T.T. Principle to overcome plateaus and get the most out of your workouts. So what does F.I.T.T. stand for?
- Frequency: How often you exercise.
- Strength training 2-4 non-consecutive days per week.
- Moderate cardio 4-5 times a week or intense cardio 2-3 times per week.
- Intensity: How hard you work during exercise.
- Think of intensity as getting more work done in the same amount of time. For cardio, this could be running further in the same twenty minutes. When it comes to weight training, instead of doing 3×10 with moderate weight be more intense and do 10×3 with heavy weight.
- Time: How long you exercise.
- The amount of time you work out will not only depend on your level of fitness, but also your intensity level. The longer you workout the less intense the workout gets. The harder your work, the shorter your workout gets.
- Type: The type of activity you are doing.
- Instead of doing your cardio on the treadmill, try playing a game of basketball or go ride your bike. When it comes to weight training instead of always doing the leg press to work your legs do some squats.
If your current fitness plan is walking 45 minutes, 3 times a week and you are not seeing results anymore, follow the FITT Principle in this order. Try adding another day (change frequency), walk faster or even start running (change intensity), walk for 60 minutes instead of 45 minutes (change time), or go swimming instead of walking (change type).
Blog written by personal trainer Wesley Keith of 515 Fitness
Myth # 1: Lifting weights will cause women to get bulky
The truth is women can and will not produce as much testosterone (main hormone responsible for muscle growth) as men do. Women just simply don’t have the natural potential to produce big bulky muscles. Local IFPA Pro figure athlete Jennifer Foster says “This is easily one of the biggest concerns from the women that I train. What they don’t realize is I have to work so hard to develop just a little bit of muscle. What weight training will do is, tighten up your body, burn more fat and make you look better for swim suit season.”
Myth#2: Women should use light weights and high reps
“If you wish to see muscle growth and tightness to your body you have to stress your muscles.” Say’s Lass Lassitor C.P.T. at Gold’s Gym in West Des Moines, Iowa. “If you wish for your body to change you have to tell it what you want it to do, the best way to do that is to train to get stronger.Training to get stronger is going to involve heavy weights and proper form. Don’t train to be skinny train to be strong and you are going to like how you look.”
Myth#3: Muscle will turn to fat when I stop lifting
Muscle and fat are two separate and different tissues. It is impossible for muscle to turn to fat. “When you do stop weight training your muscles will deteriorate,this is a process called atrophy. When this happens your metabolism will slow down and your body fat percentage will go up” Says Lassitor. Exercise should be a lifestyle, something we pursue the rest of our lives not just for a couple of months.
Myth#4: You spot-reduce fat by exercising a specific muscle
Spot reduction is a myth that keeps people buying every abdominal machine they see on late night infomercials. “Fat is lost throughout the body by gaining muscle, which area we reduce from we have no control over” says Lassitor. “Think about it when you see someone lose weight where is the first place you notice it? The face. Since we don’t see anyone at they gym doing face crunches it goes to show you we have not control where our body burns the fat from. If we want to target an area to build muscle we can do that to make it look younger and firmer but fat loss isn’t a targeted process like muscle building is, you have to lose the fat under under your chin to be able to lose it from your stomach. As long as this myth is out there every abdominal machine in every gym will continue to be the most popular machines.”
Blog written by personal trainer Wesley Keith of Gold’s Gym and 515 Fitness
As a director of fitness at Gold’s Gym I am constantly bombarded with applications to become a personal trainer, but very few have what it takes to make it in this industry. I use some simple rules inspired by Dave Tate of Elitefts.com to evaluate if he or she is worth hiring. You can also use these rules to evaluate if your coach or trainer is worth your time and money.
1. Education level?
What is their level of education? Do they have a degree or certification? If so what are their degree/certifications in and where is it from? It is important that they know how to translate their education into actual client scenarios, and not just an educated idiot. Are they self taught? Who were their mentors, work history, or internships with?
On a scale of 1-5 where do they rank? 5 would be an advanced degree/internship and 2-3 very good mentors. If they are only self taught they would score a 1 or 2.
2. What have they done?
Do they lift? Do they play sports? What level? How long? How long did it take for them to get to the top level? How long did they stay at the top level? What adversity did they face? If they are so good at coaching they should have been able to at least get results with themselves.
A 5 would be the person who busted his or her butt for years to get into the top 10%. They faced adversity and had to earn every inch and paid a price for it. A 1 would be the person who did nothing. A 2 would be the genetic freak who hit the top fast and never really faced adversity.
3. Who have they coached or trained?
Do they have any clients or athletes? If so what kind of results did they see? Do they have any clients at all? What practical experience do they have? Have they worked with beginners? Intermediate? Advanced?
A 5 would have worked with every skill level and has made people better than they were. They have years of experience doing so and have many tools in the tool box. A real coach should know how to work with advanced level athletes and also how to create them. A 1 lies about who they have trained.
4. Who coached them and who have they trained with?
Do they know how to listen? Follow directions? Were they coached by the best or nobody at all? Have they trained with champions (it rubs off). Do they know when to drive and push hard and when to back down? Do they know how a squat should look, feel and sound? Do they know basic gym manners?
A 5 has been coached by the best and has learned respect for it, continues to be a lifelong student. A 1 has never been coached by anyone who pushed them hard, disagreed with and didn’t learn to respect. They tend to know it all. Avoid these coaches and trainers at all costs.
If you find a perfect 20 it’s REALLY rare, hire them today! The goal would be to find a 16 or better. They won’t be cheap but they will get you were you need to go and the extra money you do spend will be nothing compared to the medical expenses and downtime working with a 12 or below.
Blog compliments of Wesley Keith of Gold’s Gym & 22nd Street Barbell