Jennifer Thompson’s Bench Press Training

Jennifer Thompson’s Bench Press Training

Sep 7, 2012

Jennifer Thompson’s Bench Press Training
As seen on
By: Jennifer Thompson 






I am Jennifer Thompson.  I have been powerlifting for 13 years.  I am a 39 year old mother of two boys, wife, algebra teacher and I.P.F. World Champion Powerlifter.  I live in Denver, North Carolina and am our USAPL State Chair.

I lift in the 132 pound weight class and I have 16 USAPL National titles, 4 IPF World Bench Press titles, 6 IPF silver medals, 10 World Records, 54 American Records, highest raw bench press coefficient 2.28 and the lightest female to bench press 300 lbs.

My proudest moment is the 300 lb. raw competition lift. I have worked at it for years and it finally came to fruition. It was an I.P.F. Raw World Record and made me pound for pound the best female raw bencher in the history of the sport.


We have a couple different training programs that we do.  One is purely to build our base muscle strength.  I do this on a cycle that I am not training for a competition.  It starts with reps of ten and over a 12 week cycle and I work my way down to five reps.  It is a prescribed workout, I decide what I want my weight to be when I end the work out with reps of five.  Then I use percentages to work my way back to determine how much weight I should be using the first week of ten reps.  This is a killer workout!

(Percentages:  It is a percentage of your best set of five. We do 3 total sets.  We start with 70% for the first week of tens, then 72.5  % for the second week of tens, 77.5% for 9’s, 80% for the second week of 9’s and so on. You gain 5% on your sets of five each rep cycle  You end up at 105%.)

When I train for a competition, I work out on an eight day cycle alternating a heavy and a speed workout.  We train hard for two hours, two days in a row and then take two days off.  On my heavy week we have what we call static holds.  On the bench and squat we unrack the bar with a super heavy weight and hold it for 15 seconds.  The idea is that you are working all of your stabilizer muscles and it gets your body used to holding heavy weight.  We do exercises such as lock outs on the bench and uploads with the bands. Our squats and deadlifts we do the 3-5-7 for reps, use the ham-glute and reverse hyper machine.

On our speed week we use bands to really work on the speed aspect of the lift.  We wrap a thick blue band underneath some dumbbells on the bench.  This way, when you are pressing the weight off of your chest, you have to be fast because the weight gets progressively heavier to the top.  We also practice speed presses.  I take a light weight, usually close to my heaviest warm up, and hold it for an exaggerated pause on my t-shirt (you should be so tight that the bar touches your t-shirt, not your chest).  Once given the “press” command you try to push the bar to the top as fast as you can.  We do this for 3 sets of five individual reps.  We use the bands on the squats as well, but hand them from the top of the rack.  We also do our deadlifts off a two inch platform for five sets of three reps with very little rest in between.

(Speed work: we use the blue bands on bench. The change from the bottom to top is a fifty pounds. We don’t do percentages on this. We pick a weight we can move, try to achieve three sets of five, then move up five lbs the next workout.)

Heavy / Speed Template (not the percentage workout)
Day 1:  bench press/ incline/decline/dumbbells or plyo push ups (on a board with a ball mounted on the bottom)
Day 2:  squats, ham glutes, reverse hyper or front squats
Day 3:  off
Day 4:  off
Day 5:  close grip, lockouts, military, push downs, dumbbell military
Day 6:  deadlifts, rack pulls, Romanians or good mornings, pull downs, pull ins or t-bars
Day 7:  off
Day 8:  off
Percentage Template
Day 1:  flat bench, incline, decline
Day 2:  squats, ham glutes, reverse hyper
Day 3:  off
Day 4:  off
Day 5:  close grip,military, push downs, dumbbell military
Day 6:  deadlifts/ romanians (straight leg deadlifts)pull downs, pull ins
Day 7:  off
Day 8:  off



Our off competition training is to purely build up our raw base strength. The speed/heavy workouts are to refine our core strength into the three competition lifts. It is set up to purely to work every aspect of the squat, bench and deadlift. The speed week is to help build enough muscle strength to push the bar as fast as you can. In physics class we learn that force equals mass times acceleration. To generate the most force possible, you have to have speed. The heavy week is to get your body used to handling heavy weight and pushing yourself to lifting max weights.

Some of our “keys to success” is the way we train. If the weight gets heavy and slow our gym rule is you have to drop fifteen pounds and work your way back up. This rule keeps you from hitting plateaus. If I hit the same weight in an exercise twice and don’t see an improvement in reps I drop back 15 lbs. When I do this is it only a matter of a couple of weeks where I am passing the previous weight I was stuck at. By dropping back to the lighter weight you can go back to pushing with speed.

Another training technique we enforce is spotted reps. When we can’t finish a rep, the spotter helps with the remaining reps at the same pace the lifter used on the first few reps. I think this helps with assistance, but doesn’t burn out the rest of the workout by struggling with a few reps.

Mostly, I train for two hours each workout and I push myself to the limit on each set. There is not a day that goes by where I am not extremely sore from the previous workout. On our last sets in the core strength workout we go to failure. It is amazing when you think you are done and you can squeak out one more rep – it makes a difference.


For one, we look at whether we are going to be competing raw or equipped. With an equipped meet the only thing we do different is incorporate equipment in the eighth week of training.

Most of our training cycles are about twelve weeks long. The first two weeks of the training cycle is mostly getting our bodies back in shape after some much needed time off.

We mainly stick with an eight day cycle because we find we need two days of rest in a row for us to recover the best. So the days we work out on vary each week. We plan out our workouts for twelve weeks so that we can avoid any scheduling conflicts – because we don’t ever miss a workout.

But mostly, I look at what numbers I want to end at and how I am going to get myself to achieve those numbers.


We have “it’s not supposed to be easy” posted in our gym.  Mainly to remind ourselves that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. It should be hard if you are going to be the best.


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  1. Very good article. Considering that Jennifer is considered some type of “unexplainable miracle lifter”, it is beautiful to see that her training merely follows solid principles – no miracle novelty involved.

    She has longer limbs than expected, is less muscular than expected and that’s it: one has to come to terms that the beauty of maximum strength and powerlifting in particular is that not always (maybe never) you can explain the exceptional lifters. They are probably exceptional in their minds, before any training strategy or anthropometric variable.

    That’s one lifter that has left her mark in History.

  2. Thanks Marilia! We are glad that you enjoyed it. Jen is a great role model for all women.

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