Yesterday I attended the Kirill Sarychev Bench Press Seminar at Animal Barbell Gym in Blanchardstown.
To begin with, if you don't know who Kirill Sarychev is you have some learning to do. Kirill is a Russian powerlifter, who is the current owner of the record for the biggest raw bench press in history, at a ridiculous 335kg. What's even more astounding is just how easy he made this feat of strength look (see video below).
Needless to say, there is likely a lot that anyone who wants to increase their bench can learn from someone like this! The seminar was 4 hrs long, including theory and practical (where Kirill assessed our bench technique). As Kirill, doesn't have fluent English, there was a translator at hand to explain some of the more detailed points.
Here are the top 10 training tips that I learned from this seminar.
1. Use Your Back
Kirill gave a great analogy to describe why optimising your technique is so important for pushing the most weight possible. He talks about how it is common sense that 4 horses could pull a carriage stronger than one horse could. For the same reason, you should try to use as many muscles as possible when you are benching. The horses are the back, the triceps, the chest, and the shoulders. All of the horses are important, however it seemed that the one that most people were under-utilising was their back.
In order to use your upper back, you must aggressively pull your shoulder blades back and down as hard as you can. This keeps your back in a stable position for you to press from. When Kirill put me in the correct position, it felt like the bar was being rocket launched off my chest. You should also put an emphasis on strengthening your upper back with exercises like rows and pull-ups.
The seminar involves hands on instruction and technique analysis from Kirill.
2. Tuck Your Elbows
The elbows should be slightly tucked inwards, such that your upper arm is at roughly a 45 degree angle to your torso. This allows greater engagement of the tricep muscle and the lats, and may also protect the lifter from injury from over-loading the shoulder or pec.
3. Arch Your Back
You should create a large arch through your back when benching. Doing so shortens the range of motion, thereby allowing you to lift more weight. However another benefit of using an arch is it allows you to keeps your body tighter, so that you can more easily absorb and transfer force from the bar.
Photo showing Kirill arching his back during his bench set-up.
4. Use Your Legs
The average gym goer think of the bench as an upper body exercise. While it does primarily train the upper body muscles, make no mistake that the correct execution of the movement requires you to use your whole body. You should be consistently driving your feet into the floor in order to maintain tension throughout your entire body.
Kirill suggests that instead of pushing down you should push through your toes (I have heard many top level benchers use the cue of pretending you're performing a leg extension).
5. Keep it Light
Kirill talked about friends of his that he has trained, and how they all try to go too heavy too soon. They are are baffled by how easy the training is in the first few weeks. Kirill says this is the difference between 'training' and 'competing'. Training is supposed to be light enough so that you can practice executing perfect technique under load. You should save the high intensity for competitions/testing your max.
This is in direct contrast to the gym bro who tries to max out every day. Training like this will get you nowhere fast, except, maybe the hospital. Kirill was adamant that you must start light and progress slowly. Building strength takes time and patience.
6. Recovery is Key
If you want to train your hard, your recovery has to be on point. But what does 'recovery' mean? Lots of sleep, and lots of the right food. Eating is practically a full time job for Kirill, who says that when he first started training he was 72kg, and now he weights 170kg.
7. Vary Your Training Intensity
You can't just go heavy all the time. Some of the reasons why are because you will fatigue yourself, but also because your body will begin to predict what it is going to face every training session, therefore discouraging it from adapting any further. For this reason, Kirill likes to alternate days with light, medium, and heavy weights, so that his progress does not stagnate.
Additionally, he also noted that lighter lifters ( < 100kg bodyweight) can tolerate higher training volumes, whereas heavier lifters ( > 100kg) need more recovery. He thinks this should be a more commonly used method for categorising lifters than just how long they have been training (novice, intermediate, advanced, etc.).
8. Get a Training Partner
This is especially important for people who have a tendency to let bad technique creep in at heavy weights. The training partner can spot you and let you know if you mess up.
It's also important to mention that one of Kirill's regular training partner's is Andrey Malanychev, who is currently one of the best powerlifters in the world. Training with someone competitive who can push you like that is likely also highly important for your progress.
9. Technique, Technique, Technique
Kirill has found that improving someone's technique can add anywhere from 10 to 30kg onto their 1RM. The key is to be patient and allow yourself to build strength with better technique.
However some people can't detach themselves from their lifting ego. These people will never get the best strength gains because they are not willing to temporarily decrease the weight on the bar to allow themselves to improve their technique. This leads onto our final and most important tip from Kirill..
10. Get a Coach
Kirill closed the seminar by emphasising that the best thing you can do for your training progress is getting yourself a coach, because they can teach you all of the points we have already outlined. A coach will keep your ego in check and call you on your bullshit. A coach will fine tune your technique and hold you accountable to your training and recovery habits. It's likely no mere coincidence that Kirill was coached by arguable the most successful powerlifting coach of all time: Boris Sheiko.
On the whole, this was a very good seminar. There was a period of 40 minutes or so in the middle where the discussion went down a weird route of talking about some of the more outlandish recovery protocols Kirill uses (plasma transfusions and neutropics). But I think that with any source, you need to have the critical thinking skills to separate the useful information from the not so useful. Kirill is not a scientist, he is an elite level athlete who has an in depth understanding of bench technique and programming, and that's what you should be looking to learn from a seminar like this.
The largest human I've ever shook hands with.
The main points I took away from this seminar are: the importance of efficient technique, resisting the urge to to train too heavy too soon / too often, and how we can all benefit from being coached or at least training with someone else.
Big thank you to Kirill and Animal Barbell Gym for the seminar. Unfortunately I won't be posting any videos as Kirill and his team requested that the videos stay off social media, which is fair as we all have to make a living! For the same reason I've omitted any of the more detailed tips that Kirill gave as I don't think these would be fair to share these for free. I'd highly recommend this seminar for anyone looking to improve their bench press!