What Others Are Saying...

  • " Not only is Sean a great nutritionist, but he's an excellent strength coach. I've coached athletes with him on multiple occasions. The most impressive attributes I've seen in him is his integrity, work ethic, ability to work with athletes and desire to be the best coach possible...."

-Luke Richesson. Head NFL Strength & Conditioning Coach for Denver Broncos


Interview with the Bench Press Expert - Bill Carpenter

Quit Hit Summary

In this “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking shop with bench press expert Bill Carpenter. During his career he has broken the WPO 242 lb class World Record 4 times including a 744 lb press at the Arnold Classic which set the all-time record. Additionally he's pressed 800 lbs while weighing 253 lbs at the 2007 APF New York State Meet. Topics discussed in this interview include how he got involved with the sport, most memorable moments, raw vs. equipped and training strategies to improve one's bench press.

About Bill Carpenter

Bill, president and founder of the UPA. Posted with permission.

Bill Carpenter started lifting at the age of 10 and has since paved his own way through a sport that demands every fiber of strength both mentally and physically in order to prevail as a champion. During his 20's, and now his 30's, Bill's raw strength remains unquestionable and his expertise in the bench press has helped form world-class bench press athletes through his coaching. Bill's influence in the sport of powerlifting also stretches commercially as the CEO of the United Powerlifting Association (UPA).

Recently I, along with Sean Casey, had the opportunity to interview one of the world's top bench press athletes, Bill Carpenter. Bill's accomplishments in the bench press are simply jaw dropping, including an 800 lb bench press at an American Powerlifting Federation (APF) championship in Lake George, NY.

[Brian] Bill, thanks for spending some time with us today and giving us this opportunity to interview you.

Thanks guys for the interview!

[Brian] What initially sparked your interest in the bench press, and at what point did you realize your potential to specialize in it?

My father was a police officer here in Dubuque, IA for 17 years. My dad would always take me with him to workout at the police force. I started benching there and at my house. My freshman year in High School I could do 225 lb for reps. This is when I realized I was a lot stronger on the bench then my fellow classmates.

[Brian] What are your most memorable accomplishments in the bench press, both on and off the stage?

Video Bill Carpenter benching 800 lb while weighing 253 lb at the 2007 APF New York State Meet. Posted with permission.

On stage would be several. I broke the WPO 242 lb class World Record 4 times. The most memorable lift would be at the Arnold Classic when I benched 744 lb to break the all-time record of 743 lb. set by Chris Confessore. Then a close second would be when I benched 800 lb at Bill Crawford’s meet in 2007. The crowd really got into it especially my wife on the video camera. LOL!

[Brian] As CEO of the United Powerlifting Association (UPA), you offer lifters the opportunity to compete RAW or EQUIPPED (assistive gear). Can you briefly explain the difference between these two divisions?

Figure 2. Bill Carpenter working at a UPA meet. Image posted with permission.

Raw is pure strength with no assistance from equipment. Equipped is when a lifter can use assistance equipment to help them lift the weight. To me equipped is more of a sport then pure strength lift. I like both. I am strong both raw and equipped.

[Sean]: What are your thoughts on bench press shirts?

I like using the bench shirt. I would have never been able to compete for 17 years without using a bench shirt. Raw is great and I loved to lift raw myself but no way would I have been able to compete that long raw. There were times I would have a little muscle tweak in my peck and the shirt would help me get through my training and competition with a slight pull. Personally my raw bench would go down sometimes from using the shirt. When training with a shirt you get most of the help at the bottom of the lift. So when training for an equipped bench meet I would work more of my mid and top range of my lift. My raw bench would still stay around 500 sometimes more. I never really maxed out but I could tell from my raw reps where my strength was raw. (video).

[Sean]: Can you explain to our readers what board presses are and why you use them?

Board presses help you to overload your max lift. They also help you get stronger at your weak points in your bench stroke. You can watch several of my workouts here to get an idea how they are used.

[Sean]: In preparation for a major competition, when do you use board presses (i.e.- 4-8 weeks out, all the way up to competition, etc). Also do you use more or less boards as you get closer to a competition?

We start training cycle 10 weeks out from a meet. On heavy bench day (Sundays) we will use up to 3 boards and work our way down to 2 or 1 depending on the experience of the lifter. An experienced lifter like me can train all the way up to a meet off one board. I train myself a little different than one of my lifters. I know how my body responds and if I was to touch every week I would peak too fast. An inexperience lifter I would have them touching weights about 5 weeks out. You will see a lot of lifters on their training logs lift big weights off boards in training and at the meet bomb. This is because they don’t do full range reps. For some lifters especially inexperienced lifters a 1 board press compared to touching makes a huge difference in weights lifted. On Wednesdays we do 4 board lockouts. We do 3 reps, 3 seconds hold at the top and add weight each set. This helps your lockout. Some weeks we add bands or chains. Each week you should try to beat your PR from the following week until the meet you are training for.

[Sean]: How important is a strong back for bench pressing?

If you have a weak back I guarantee you don’t have a big bench. Having a strong back will help you bench the big weights.

[Sean]: What type of exercises do you use to train the back?

I do a heavy back once a weak. I do seated front pulls, T-bar rows or 1 arm rows, seated pulls and standing front pulls. Usually 3 to 4 sets of each exercise.

[Sean]: A common complaint amongst individuals who do a lot of bench pressing is that it kills their shoulders. What exercises or stretches do you incorporate to stave off shoulder issues?

Well if you have shoulder injuries from benching you are not benching correctly. I train a lot of high school kids and the first mistake I see is they flat back bench. A lot of kids are taught wrong by the old school coach at the High School level. They are taught flat back and feet flat on the ground. This is so wrong. In the bench press you should always try to squeeze your shoulder blades together, get high up on your traps, arch your back and then drop your elbows in at a 45 degree angle. This takes a tremendous load off your shoulder joint. I am not a doctor but have 17 years of experience. I have learned any time I flattened my back out raw or in a shirt I hurt my shoulder joint. I would usually inflame my bursa in my shoulder. If you are a heavy bencher you should be icing your shoulders after a heavy workout too. This will help a lot.

[Brian]: In terms of recovery, how many days do you recommend between bench press training? Also, do you constantly train the bench press with the same intensity, or do you occasionally utilize active-recovery techniques by reducing the weight loads, and if so, how often?

I only bench heavy one day a week. You can add a light day but I don’t. One heavy day per week, starting 10 weeks out from a meet has always worked for me and most of my lifters. I will sometimes do a de-load day on my heavy day for myself or any of my lifters I feel is over trained or peaking too soon. So instead of benching heavy we will do some light reps and some accessory exercises like DB flat and incline presses at reps of 10. Sometimes your CNS just can’t take the week after week of the heavy benching and needs a de-load day.

[Sean]: One of the ebooks we give away with our CasePerformance Newsletter focuses on post workout recovery modalities. Based off your personal experience, have you found any type of modality (massage, hydrotherapy, compression gear) to be more effective than others?

I highly recommend massage, especially if you have any muscle pulls or you're recovering from a tear. My massage therapist always saved the day. I also use a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator that my chiropractor purchased for me – which I put on muscles for therapy or recovery.

[Brian]: I know many individuals attempt to increase their bench press by constantly maxing out with only 1-rep. Is this an effective training technique, or is this counter-productive to higher bench numbers?

I would not recommend it. It depends if you are benching raw or shirted. Shirted you can do this but you will need a deload week here and there depending how you feel. Raw I would go percentages with 5 sets of 5 reps to start a cycle with then begin to drop down to 3-2-1 as you get closer to the meet you are training for or whatever goal you set yourself for.

[Brian]: In a typical training week, what muscle groups do you train, and what days do you train them on?

Sunday – Heavy chest, Monday – Heavy Back, Tuesday – Shoulders, Wednesday – Arms, Thursday – Legs, Friday and Saturday off.

[Brian]: Oftentimes amateur lifters believe "more is better" and spend hours in the gym. Have you found shorter intense sessions more conducive to strength gains than longer training sessions?

That is the worst thing you can do. More is not better. Less and more intense is better for you. It has been proven over and over that more is over training and you go backwards. Instead of gaining you are losing strength. Recovery is everything when trying to make muscle and strength gains. I have used shorter and intense workouts for the past 17 years and I have always made gains on size and strength. Your workout should not take you any longer then a hour unless you have a big group of lifters you train with.

[Brian]: When training for strength, what do you feel are the ideal SETS, REPS, and REST TIMES for exercises?

I like to use 5 × 5 for High School kids that I train. The big bench lifters I like to see the rep range stay around 3-2-1. 5 – 7 sets. 2 – 3 minutes rest in between sets.

[Brian]: What are your TOP 5 all-time best training tips for the bench press?

Figure 3. Bill Carpenter benching. Image posted with permission.

  • Form – good form is important to prevent injuries.
  • Set up – find a good set up that fits your body.
  • Smart choices of weights – Don’t max out every week. Use a percentage of your max and build up to your goal.
  • Don’t bench by yourself – Get a good training partner or partners. I am lucky I have always 5 – 10 lifters training with me on my heavy bench day.
  • Bench heavy only once a week – I see it all the time young guys benching 2 to 3 times a week. They are overtraining and their strength goes down.

Bill, thanks again for this interview, you've provided a lot of great information for our readers. If any of our readers would like to contact Bill, you can join up with him at United Powerlifting Association (UPA) or on Facebook.

Click Here to find out "Why we do, what we do."

Written on September 23, 2010 by Brian Putchio
Last Updated: February 18, 2014

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Brian Putchio is owner/operator of NUTRI-BODIES, LLC in Dubuque, Iowa. Through his extensive knowledge and experience in the nutraceuticals industry since 1999, Brian offers a unique perspective to his blog readers. Brian's refusal to simply flow with the marketing strategies of the industry conveys a strong sense of credibility that helps consumers successfully navigate the nutraceutical minefield.