this is how close 'the machine' came to being the 5th man in history to bench 700lbs or more.
We had our first official day open in our new facility on Monday 5/4/2015. We didn't expect much. We had some clients scheduled and our Powerlifting and Strongman class members were excited to see the new equipment. Throughout the day, we had some random drop-ins, people who had heard about us in passing and were looking for a gym with a bit of an edge. 3 new members signed up strictly from word of mouth without the slightest bit of selling needed. Not a bad start. Then a successful trainer friend of mine brought a client of his over to train, confessing that his goal is to have all of his clients transfer from the dying Powerhouse to our gym by the end of the month. Excellent. Then, when I thought the stupid grin on my face couldn't get any wider, Jared informs me that some local bench presser is supposed to meet us at 11. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but I thought Id better do my homework first.
Leroy Walker isn't the industry sensation that many lesser lifters are. When you think of the "Greatest of All Time"s who are still walking around today, I think of the Lilliebridges, Greens, Spotos, Sarychevs, Melanichevs, and Zavickas's. Whether it's lack of attention whoring or internet shit talking, or maybe that people tend to pay less attention to a humble #4 or #5 than a louder #10 or #12, Walker hasn't yet commanded the attention he deserves. In a few minutes of Youtube searching, I had seen some of the most impressive benching that has ever been done, in training or in contest.
Leroy Walker has longer arms than his stout frame suggests, and his chest, albeit thick, isn't the 80" barrel that you would associate with world record pressing. Also, his setup, while technical, doesn't favor a high arch or reduced range of motion like many bench opportunists use. Immediately, videos came up of 600lb+ raw INCLINE benching done through a full range of motion with the spotters hands no where near the bar. This was a rare occasion where shock and awe beat my skepticism to the punch. After a brief delay, I came to my senses and started to question things. Is this another Brad Castleberry? Fake plates exist, and there could be other smoke and mirrors I'm not accounting for. I need to see some contest footage.
Here's Leroy talking about leverage and the importance of a comprehensive set-up
3.5 seconds later, I found the same caliber of pressing in a meet, with other elite benchers, judges, and standardized plates. 622lbs good. 675lbs good. Then.... Jesus, 705lbs. This attempt would have made him the 5th man in history, behind Henderson, Mendelson, Spoto, and Sarychev, to press over 700lbs raw in contest (and in training, most scholars would agree) and would place him a mere 17lbs behind Eric Spoto's 722lb ALL TIME world record! He took it out, waited a solid 3 seconds for the start command, took a slow descent to his chest, held for a long pause, and shot the bar a foot off of his chest before stalling out inches from lockout. How have I not heard of this guy?
Leroy Walker walked in exactly at 11:00am (his scheduled arrival time) and promptly began bending our ear. Turns out he lives 10 minutes away and his wife was looking for a gym for him closer than the Metroflex in Long Beach that he typically trained out of. The conversation went from a place to train to training protocol to life as an elite lifter to sponsorships to marketing. Before long, we were discussing social media, agreeing to tag each other in videos, scheduling workout shoots and seminars. Not only was Leroy a wealth of knowledge from a programming and technical standpoint, but he knew a shit ton about marketing and how to grow a brand.
Shortly after, we were benching, and my simple caveman setup that had me with a medium/low bar position across my chest, elbows slightly flared, a straight and vertical bar path, and 'pull the bar apart' cue was changed into something I had never tried and, actually, had never seen anyone else do before. I had always mentally paired grip width with bar position across the chest; narrow grip, tucked elbows means lower bar position and wider grip, flared elbows means higher bar position.
Now that I think about it, I don't have an exceptionally good reason for this imaginary continuum other than it is what I have typically seen and/or used myself. Leroy had me take my grip in and focus on tucking my elbows hard, which is counter intuitive to me since this emphasizes my weaker triceps. Before I could object, he had me descend and moved the bar position to the midline of my pectorals ABOVE my nipple line. "Are we JM pressing today???". This can't be right.
By the time the bar got within an inch of my chest, the pressure in my elbows and shoulders was incredible; to the point where touching my chest with an exaggerated arch was difficult. Yes, my elbows were strained, which meant my triceps would need to be strong, but the stroke felt solid. We worked up to working sets with 315lbs, and even with a dramatically different setup (something that will typically drop the weight on the bar your first time out regardless of mechanical advantage) there was zero loss in srength. Then, it got real.
Because Leroy doesn't exploit an arch or leg drive (though he practices plenty of scapular retraction for shoulder stability), he does a lot of 'no feet' work to improve stability on max effort lifts. So we busted out the camera and he knocked out 10 close-grip-no-feet reps with 405lbs in 15 seconds. Holy hell.
My giddiness in working with Leroy doesn't come from whatever marketing he will bring to my gym (although I would be remiss if I said it wasn't a factor). It comes from the fact that I once again have an authority to take all of my uncertainties to, something that is absolutely invaluable to both an athlete and coach. Owning a gym means that you are 'Coach' and coach has all the answers. It doesn't take long being the guy with the answers, as any pastor in the pulpit can attest to, before you start to believe your own bullshit. Maintaining close proximity to someone who knows more than you, or better yet a network of people who know more than you, is integral to continued growth and this is an obligation you have to anyone who calls you 'Coach'.