This is a review of Chad Wesley Smith’s Bench Manual, which came out on August 17. The Bench Manual breaks down what it takes to develop a strong and efficient bench press and covers everything from equipment selection to technique to programming design and training.

I read the whole thing in less than an hour. And yes, I paid for my own copy. (And yes, I am a fast reader.)

This review is as unbiased as it can get. I don’t know Chad, never met him, I’m not affiliated in any way, and I’m not getting compensated for this post. I have no desire to kiss his ass (or anyone’s for that matter). After reading his book though, my desire to do a powerlifting clinic with him has turned into a bucket list item.

“Who is Chad Wesley Smith”, you ask? “And why does he have three names?”

The man is a giant in the strength world, which, I dunno, might be one reason why he is referred to by three names instead of a mere two. From the book: “Chad Wesley Smith is the owner/founder of Juggernaut Training Systems and one of the most accomplished strength athletes of recent years. With a background in track & field, Smith took his 2 collegiate national shot put championships and his athletic success in powerlifting and strongman….As a coach, Smith has helped numerous powerlifters reach World Class status like IPF World Champion Marisa Inda.”

Side note: the manual has lots of photos of Marisa Inda, which I loved seeing. She’s not just strong for a woman, she’s just strong, and seeing her in action is inspiring. With the rise in popularity of powerlifting for women, I think it was very smart to have Marisa demonstrate different bench techniques.

Anyway, back to the review. 

A few people messaged me wanting to know what I think of the book. You see, bench pressing is my favorite thing to do so I think they thought I’d have some good feedback. I’ve done a few competitions and I’ve had the benefit of good coaching (Canadian bench-pressing champion Barry Antoniow and Derek Wilcox from Renaissance Periodization, to drop a couple names).  But I also know there’s a lot of room for improvement, and because I want to compete again in 2019, I bought the book.

So yeah, was it worth the $17? Definitely.

The Table of Contents covers the following topics:

  1. Equipment (Wrist wraps, shoes, belt, cuffs)
  2. Warmup (Wall slides, IYT’s, Scapular pushup, Half Kneeling KB Bottom up press)
  3. Technique (Foot placement, Upper back positioning, The Unrack, Grip, Touch point, Breathing, Leg drive, Bar path)
  4. Addressing Weakpoints (Weak off the chest, Mid-range strength, Lockout strength, Mechanical overload)
  5. Programming Considerations (Assessing the athlete, Training volume, Classification charts, Determining intensity, Determining frequency)
  6. Programming (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced)

The second half of the Bench Manual was the most valuable to me, especially in terms of addressing weak points. I have a sticking point about 2-5″: off my chest, which, according to Chad, is due to weak shoulders. He provides some exercises and tips that should address this. If they work, my bench numbers will go up. That kind of knowledge and advice is worth a lot more than $17. (Note: I got in on early-bird pricing. The regular price is $27. Still worth it.)

I also appreciated the reminder that I need to bring warmups back into my programming (something I’ve been neglecting since I started doing more hypertrophy work). If I want to keep my shoulders healthy over the long-term, I NEED to do those drills.

Other things I appreciated were the training programs and programming considerations based on body weight, age, gender, years of experience in the gym, diet, sleep, etc. which are helpful considerations not just for my training, but for any future clients that I build programs for.

For example, Chad says, “Bigger, Stronger, More Experienced Athletes are more capable of generating fatigue with each session, so they will often need to train at lower intensities to properly manage fatigue and avoid non-functional overreaching. Smaller, Weaker and Less Experienced Athletes, along with most female lifters, aren’t able to generate as much fatigue in single sessions, so they are often able to train at higher relative intensities.” He also discusses intensities for hypertrophy, strength, and peaking cycles and breaks down exercises from least fatiguing (single-joint exercises) to most fatiguing (reverse band bench, slingshots, high pin press, and negatives) with recommendations for everything.

If some of this lingo is confusing to you, don’t worry. Chad breaks things down in an easy-to-understand manner. That is probably one of the best things about this book: the way Chad orders the information and presents it. Like a good coach, he doesn’t overwhelm you with 16 different technical points to focus on. He begins with the basics and builds on them.

If I have any criticism of the Bench Manual, it has to do with formatting. Things get very wonky in certain sections where there should be tables and there is only jigsaws of text, making it hard to follow what items should be in certain columns. Also, there is no wrap-up at the end. The book suddenly stops after the Advanced Bench Program. I emailed support to see if this was a mistake because it was a bit of a shock. I scrolled down on the PDF, wondering where Chad had gone. There were no final words and no goodbye.

Anyway, these are minor points. The book is solid, and if you are serious about improving your bench, I recommend buying a copy of the Bench Manual.

I hope that helps! If you have any questions, please comment below.

…I’m off to work on my bar path and shoulders….

Adele Frizzell

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