Jen Thompson is not only considered one of the greatest female benchers but one of the greatest benchers of our time period, male or female. Her resume speaks for itself, with multiple IPF world records, and multiple championships. She has a competition best of 319.7 lbs at under 140 lbs bodyweight! So yes, there is definitely a lot we can take away from her approach to benching! I have learned much from her training, approach, and educational materials over the years which is why I want to share my big takeaways with you.
Benching Is A Total Body Movement!
Benching is still categorized today by most as an upper body movement. In powerlifting circles, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The bench engages your lower body just as much as it does your upper body if performed correctly! Setting up with the help of your legs and utilizing leg drive on the bench can be exhausting. It might feel like you’ve been through a squat workout after!
If you’ve seen Jen bench, you can actually see how she uses her legs within the movement. When she pushes the weight off her chest, she’s not just using her upper body muscles as one might think. She is actually getting just as big a push from her legs than anywhere else! When you learn to use your legs to assist your bench it will unlock so much potential strength for you. You’ll be setting up better and pressing more weight!
Heavy Holds For The Bench Press
Something that Jen uses in her training is heavy holds. This is where she loads the bar up with as much as 500 lbs and simply holds the weight in her hands for time. This is a fantastic way to overload your nervous system and gets you “primed” to lift heavy. After holding 500 lbs, 300 lbs is going to feel a lot lighter! It’s an awesome way to start a workout. I typically start my lifters by having them hold their max for 10 seconds and progressing in weight throughout the course of the training cycle.
I have slowly started to implement this with all my athletes and have loved the results! Not only does it provide the feeling of weight feeling lighter after, but it also teaches them to “get tighter” before working sets. If you can bring the tightness required to hold 500 lbs for 10 seconds to 200 lb “speed work”, you are going to get a lot out of that training session. Always treat the lightweight like it’s your max. I’ve found that my athletes have gained a deeper appreciation for the details of the setup and take out process in performing these!
Squeeze The Bar With Your Pinky
This is an awesome cue I learned from Jen! It really changes the game in terms of activation and how tight you can get to the bar. Most of us know and at least try to squeeze the bar as much as possible. We often hear the cue “bend the bar” repeated over and over. We think we are doing all this with 100% effort, but when you put this cue in your mind, you realize you have more to give! That extra bit could make all the difference under your next max attempt!
If you think about bringing 100% effort to squeezing the bar as tight as possible with your smallest, weakest end finger, you’ll begin to bring 110% effort to squeezing the bar with the rest of your hand. It’s how you frame the action in your mind that makes all the difference and I can say this cue has made a profound impact on my athletes' training as well as my own.
Progress Isn’t Always Linear
This is a great lesson not only for beginners but serves as a great reminder to veterans of the sport as well from time to time. We get caught up and put so much stake into always hitting a personal record in every lift each meet that we get so frustrated at the moment when it doesn’t happen. Progress doesn’t happen in a linear fashion, especially the longer you compete in powerlifting. It becomes a grind, and you’re working harder and harder with less and less payoff. Powerlifting is a giant puzzle and you’re constantly trying to fit new pieces. To some, like myself, this is what makes this sport awesome!
Take a look at Jen’s career. You don’t see her hitting a new bench record each meet she enters. Sometimes there’s a different goal, or the game plan changes as the meet ensues, or record strength simply isn’t there that day. That’s OK. Take the entirety of her career and you’ll see that the trend is always steadily increasing. She’s getting better on a larger scale, but when you focus on the meet by meet, there are ups and downs. One meet doesn’t define you as a lifter.
Give Something Back
This one might not pertain strictly to benching but is important nonetheless. This is one of Arnold’s 6 rules to success. We typically take with ease but never give back. Giving back is the primary reason I’m writing this today. Giving back can take many forms. Sharing knowledge, helping out at meets, hosting events, introducing a friend to the sport, etc. I think Jen embodies this as much as anyone.
Jen is a world class bencher and has taken away a lot from this sport and has been able to enjoy some amazing moments as a result, but she always gives back just as much. Whether it’s running meets, doing podcasts, writing articles, sharing her knowledge through Iron Sisters Camps, and coaching others. Let’s look to do the same. If you’ve been competing at the same meets over the years, just take the time to reach out and offer help, it’s likely they could use it! If you have a friend that wants to get healthier, expose them to the sport you love! If you think you have something to share that could help others, share it! Don’t wait for someone else to do it! Part of being a strong individual is being a strong role model. This message is one I want to share with everyone!
These are just five things I’ve taken away from Jen Thompson as a top-level athlete and person, although I’m sure there is much more that could have been included! I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped me! I want to thank Jen for her continued pursuit of excellence and doing so in the right way!
“My website www.bigbenchas.com and my YouTube channel Big Benchas is dedicated to providing all the content you need to take your bench to the next level. I cover every aspect of how to perfect the technical side of bench pressing. I encourage you all to reach out to me for additional training help. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”