How I added 37 lbs to my bench in 21 days

Yes, the title is true. From Dec 11,2015 to January 1,2016 I added 37 lbs to my bench press 1 RM without the use of drugs, complex dieting or fancy programming. In that same stretch of time, the rest of my lifts went up too:

Incline Bench Press = +15 lbs.

Seated Shoulder Press = +30 lbs.

Weighted Pull-ups = +25 lbs.

Deadlift = +50 lbs.

My secret?

Deadlifting everyday and time under tension.

Yes, even on Christmas and New Years day. Hung-over.

Increasing my strength wasn’t the driving force for me to start this. Actually, it didn’t even cross my mind.

First some history…

I had back surgery in May of 2014 for a herniated disc. The piece of disc they removed was about 7 mm wide, or about the thickness of your pinky. I was told I should cut back on the heavy lifting. About a year after back surgery I started deadlifting twice a week to build up lower back strength. At first it sucked, I won’t lie. I started out with a 20lb barbell and slowly worked my way up to an unloaded olympic barbell to eventually added weights to that barbell. My back was really sore and a couple of times I felt like I had done a little too much and re-injured it. Luckily for me, I hadn’t. Then after about 3 weeks of twice a week deadlifting, my back pain was gone. I was a real boy again! Or so I thought.

Flash forward to Thanksgiving 2016, my back had been a little more sore in the morning than usual. Probably from sitting more between my day job and writing blog posts for my website (

I had recently listened to a podcast or an interview (can’t remember which) with Cory Gregory and he had mentioned in passing, that his lower back was stronger than ever from his Squat Everyday program. I didn’t pay attention to it at the time but apparently it stuck with me. Around the same time, I was reading The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss and the stars aligned.

In Cory’s Squat Everyday program, he would work up to a 1RM with the squat and also use a different variation to keep challenging the body. So I decided to use the deadlift (I’ll tell you why in a second) instead of the squat and keep his 1RM workup and constant variation.

In the book The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss, there is a chapter called “From Geek to Freak “. (If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it) In this chapter, Tim added 34 lbs. in 28 days using some basic exercises while performing a full body workout 2–3 times a week. Those basic exercises are the same exercises the guys in the 60’s and 70’s were doing. How’s that for a new fitness trend. The full body workout was to have a maximal hormonal response (more testosterone and growth hormone) to help aide his growth. Tim also used a 5–0–5 cadence when lifting for maximal time under tension.

I decided to combine these two portions into my program and modify some things to fit my needs. This is where I chose to use the deadlift instead of the squat and use a 3–0–3 cadence on all lifts besides the deadlift. Initially, I started with a 3x10 scheme for the first 2 weeks then switched over to a 5x5.

In my opinion the deadlift is the Alpha of all exercises. To be able to lift weight off the floor from a dead stop is the ultimate demonstration of strength. Plus, I am still nervous about squatting with weight. Loading up my spine with weight gives me nightmares. Call me what you wish, I prefer to walk pain free than have shooting pain down my leg. So rather than tempt fate, I decided the deadlift would be my choice. Not to mention the deadlift emphasizes the hips, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. All of which the physical therapist said needed work.

For deadlift variations, I used with and without a belt, and a mid shin pause with and without a belt. I used these variations with the conventional, sumo and the RDL. This gave me 12 different variations to start with. On Christmas, I threw in some single leg deadlifts for reps because the gym was closed. Who takes holidays off?

During the week I would train chest, back and shoulders on Monday/Thursday, legs/arms on Tuesday/Friday and ab work on Wednesday. Saturday and Sunday were rest days besides the deadlifting. This is my workout:


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Weighted Pullups 3x10

Incline Barbell Bench 3x10

Seated Barbell Shoulder Press 3x10


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Machine Squat 3x10

Weighted Dips 3x10

Barbell Curl 3x10


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Woodchoppers 3x15–20

Swiss ball Crunch 3x15–20

Superset with

Hanging Leg Raises 3x15–20


Deadlift work up to 1RM

T-Bar Rows or Cable Rows 3x10

Flat Barbell Bench 3x10

Shrugs 3x10–15


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Landmine Squat 3x10

Skull Crushers 3x10

Barbell Preacher Curl 3x10


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Stretch and/or foam roll


Deadlift work up to 1RM

Stretch and/or foam roll

After 2 weeks of 3x10 I switched over to a 5x5 using 90% of my 1RM using a 1RM calculator. The exercises stayed the same. If I eliminated distractions, I could finish within 45 min.

Each day I would warmup with the bar which I’m a big fan of, especially starting with a big movement like the deadlift. After a few warmup sets of increasing weight my entire body is ready to go. For the warmups, I would keep all sets under 5 reps to prevent overuse injuries. The deadlifting sets would go (5, 5, 5 warmups) 5, 3, 3, 3, 1, 1 increasing weight on every set. Usually I would hit my 1RM by set 6–7. This took me 15–20 minutes on most days. The weight increase would go on feel. If I was feeling good, I might jump from 185 to 225. If I was sore or struggling, I’d go up from 185 to 205 to 215 then 225.

After the deadlifts I would jump into the rest of the workout. I’d keep rest periods to about a minute. Each week I would up the weight 5–10 lbs. depending on which rep I needed a spotter. If I needed help on rep 8, I’d go up 5 lbs. but if it was after that (9 or 10) I went up 10 lbs. the next week. This way I am constantly stressing my muscles and getting stronger. I’ve used this method of constant increase a few times, but I wouldn’t be able go up in every exercise every week.

Then came the final week when I switched over to a 5x5 rep scheme keeping the 3–0–3 cadence. That is when it finally hit me that I was on to something. The bench press, which is my Achilles heel, went up from 205 to 245 using the 5x5 scheme. That was with controlling the weight down for 3 sec and then slowly raising it for 3 more sec. To say I was excited at my progress would be an understatement. Finally, I was able to bench like I had a man!

That increase prompted me to look at the rest of my numbers. To calculate my 1RM, I used a calculator using the weight and reps used for the last workout the exercise was performed in.


Week of Dec 11 1RM = 245lbs.

Week of Jan 1 1RM = 282lbs.

Incline Bench

Week of Dec 11 1RM = 220lbs.

Week of Jan 1 1RM = 235lbs.

Deadlift (Conventional without a belt)

Week of Dec 11 1RM = 295lbs.

Week of Jan 1 1RM = 345lbs.

Weighted Pullup (My weight (200 lbs.) + added weight)

Week of Dec 11 1RM = 240lbs.

Week of Jan 1 1RM = 265lbs.

Seated Shoulder Press

Week of Dec 11 1RM = 125lbs.

Week of Jan 1 1RM = 155lbs.

My shoulders have always been a weak point for me and I know my numbers are OK. My goal is progress and progress I achieved.

I would get the hairy eyeball from people when they saw me deadlifting everyday or they would ask why with a crazy look in their face. In order to achieve you have to push yourself. Lifting heavy everyday is a way to push yourself. I keep form and do only what my body allows. Most days I leave some reps in the tank so I can ensure I walk out of the gym under my own power. I keep the reps low to prevent overuse injuries and I have more confidence in my back then I ever have. Not to mention I feel fantastic. I have reaped more rewards in 21 days than most people hope to accomplish in 6 months. I’m not sure how long I will keep this up. At a certain point the Law of Diminishing Returns will kick in. Then I’ll switch to something else. So look at me like I’m crazy, but while you do, I’ll be warming up with your max.

Take my template and try it out for yourself. Keep track of your starting and finishing numbers. I should have kept track of my bodyfat % as added data but I didn’t think of it until I was almost done with the 21 days. Let me know how you do on Twitter @APhysiquesCoach or email me at

Thanks so much for reading! If you liked it, hit that heart button below. It means more people will be able to see the article. And that would mean a lot to me. :)

Dave Bonollo writes at, where he shares workout and nutrition methods for looking better naked. To get the body you’ve always wanted, join my free newsletter.

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