Upper Body Workout Routine: A Powerlifter’s Approach

This article  is written by Fred Ashford, who is a competitive Masters 2 (over 50) powerlifter who has set M2 records in the raw bench at 479lbs and raw deadlift at 655lbs.

A solid bench press usually accounts for about 25% of a lifter’s total so having a strong and balanced upper body is critical to overall success.

Let me start by saying there are many foundations to any lifting program. Understanding the foundation is key to the methodology used throughout the routine.

Knowing this foundation will allow you to make a conscious decision to the value of this… or any lifting program. Without the knowledge of where the program originated from – I would skip it (if I where you).

The following routine is a minimalist routine which means doing a minimal amount of movements completing each set and rep with maximum intensity.

A minimalist routine was founded on the principles introduced by Mike Mentzer’s ‘Heavy Duty’ and perfected by Dorian Yates (six-time Mr. Olympia). The refined premise of the aforementioned gentlemen is: a muscle can only extend maximum effort during one all-out set.

Any work on the muscle after that set is wasteful at best and might result in an injury to the muscle. So how does a powerlifter capitalize on these bodybuilders’ minimalist approach?


Before starting any lifting routine, you absolutely need to ensure your muscles and joints are mobile.

Mobility movements and dynamic stretching are important in preventing injury and maximizing results in the gym. The internet is full of good mobility movements and dynamic exercises designed to prep you for the workout ahead.

I encourage you to research and find those movements that work for you. Ensure all the muscles and joints you are working in the routine are fully prepared prior to starting the heavy work. After some mobility/dynamic stretching, jump on an exercise bike or any other low impact vehicle for a good 5-7 minutes to get the blood flowing.


Bench Press

Place your shins perpendicular to the floor angling your feet slightly out and flat. Tuck your shoulders under (chalking the back of your shoulders will help maintain this position) and keep your butt planted.

Grab the bar with a grip just slightly over shoulder width. You should feel a slight arch and will feel most of your body weight shifting toward your shoulders. Take the bar at arm’s length and lower the bar to your chest down to your nipples.

Maintain a tightness throughout your body and visualize you are bending the bar as it touches your chest. Drive up with explosion on every rep through your legs, back, chest and then triceps while keeping your butt glued to the bench.

The bar path should move from your chest to a line perpendicular with the point of your chin (a 25 degree straight line).

Seated Military Press

Position a free-standing bench in a power rack. Place the bar in the rack at a comfortable height that will allow you to grip the bar and remove it from the rack while siting on the bench. Use a bench without any back support and wear a belt; this will help strengthen the core.

Grip the bar shoulder width and lower the bar just below your chin while maintaining a vertical position with your back. Drive the weight up explosively and move your head forward as the weight ascends over your head.

Close-Grip Bench

Place your hands at the side of your chest against your upper body. Note this position as it aligns with the bar. This is the optimal grip position for this movement;your hands will be approximately 18 – 24 inches apart.

Lay flat on the bench – no tucking necessary. Grip the bar and lower it to the nipples on your chest and drive the weight straight up.

Low Incline Flyes

Set the bench at a low incline level. Grip the dumbbells and lay flat on the bench. Extend the weight at arm’s length and establish a 15-18% angle in your arms and maintain this angle throughout the lift. Lower the weight until your grip is level with your upper chest. In the old days we would say: imagine you are hugging your fat grandma. Grandma found out and we didn’t use that analogy again.


  • Mobility and Dynamic Work
    • As required until mobile
  • Low Impact Cardio
    • 5-7 Minutes
  • Bench Press
    • 1 set x 6 reps with the bar
    • 1 set x 2 reps at 30% weight of the work set – Repeat this set with 2 minutes rest until you feel the explosive pop out of the hole.
    • 1 set x 2 reps at 60% weight of the work set
    • 1 set x 6 to 8 reps of the work set
  • Seated Military Press
    • 1 set x 4 reps with the bar
    • 1 set x 2 reps at 50% weight of the work set
    • 1 set x 8 to 10 reps of the work set
  • Close-Grip Bench
    • 1 set x 4 reps with the bar
    • 1 set x 2 reps at 50% weight of the work set
    • 1 set x 10 to12 reps of the work set
  • Low Incline Flyes
    • 1 set x 4 reps at 60% weight of the work set
    • 1 set x 10 to 12 reps of the work set
  • Abs
    • 2 sets balls out of exercise of your choice; go until failure.

* Work set is the maximum amount of weight you can move within the rep range. Once you accomplish the upper rep range, incrementally add weight (5 – 10 lbs). All warm-ups are percentages of the work set. Rest adequately to ensure maximum effort on your next movement.


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