Dutch Champion Jeffrey Hasselt shares his secret of the 185kg bench press
This is what you need to know for the heaviest bench press of your life.
The long queue at the bench press is not without reason. Bench pressing is great fun and gives you those coveted, round pecs. Speaking of which, physiotherapist Jeffrey Hasselt (32), has a chest that will blow your mind. He is also - not entirely coincidentally - a three-time Dutch Bench Press Champion. How he does it, and how you can get a chest like that? Find out in this article.
Lessons from the Bench Press Champion
Have you always had a background in sports?
Jeffrey: "Yes, I started judo at the age of four and did it until I was twenty. I was even Dutch champion, under 15. At a certain point, I noticed that the level was rising and that the fun was diminishing a bit because of the fierce competition. In my last year I became second in the Netherlands, by losing to my current strength coach, Bram Strik.
Is top-class sport fun at that age?
In the beginning I thought it was fantastic. Until I reached a certain level and had to leave a lot behind. For example, I had been seeing a sports dietician since I was twelve. Even though I already had a very low-fat percentage, I always had to lose a few kilos before a competition. If you are one gram too heavy, you are already done for a certain weight class. That's why I didn't even eat cake on my own birthday. Still a little trauma, I think. So those are the less pleasant aspects. But once you are on the mat and you win, that sort of makes up for everything. Only the nice things around it in your daily life, like doing something nice with friends, going out for a drink or a meal, were not possible for me at the time.
And then you suddenly decided to stop?
Yes, it was quite abrupt actually. I decided to leave judo behind and do something else. Eventually it became strength training. In principle I was already training a lot, because being strong is very important for judo, but it was always very specialised. So when judo was behind me, I could concentrate on hypertrophy for the first time — pure mass. The knowledge I had gained before that in terms of nutrition and training, I could then convert to another goal.
I started bulking, dry training and then bulking again — you know how it goes. I was doing everything I could just to grow. In other words, it was never good enough. I always wanted to get bigger and drier. The strange thing is that in your own eyes it is never quite perfect, while you hear from people around you that you should not complain and that you are already "big enough". By now, I can see this better and better. Stronger is actually more fun than bigger.
How did you train for that mass?
I went to the gym six days a week and had one day off. Like most people I had a split of chest-triceps, back-biceps, etc. I did four big exercises for big muscle groups and three small exercises for small muscle groups. And repeat that twice a week, for each muscle group. And I was extremely careful with my diet for over 10 years, until I was at my driest and biggest. Then I got bored and missed the competitive element of judo.
"A bad night is guaranteed to make for a bad workout."
And do you still take certain supplements?
I've been taking certain supplements for a long time, varying according to my goals. And Whey Perfection protein powder is one of them. I try to get my macros and micros in through real food, but this helps to make up for any shortages. Proteins I usually take as a shake, with oatmeal or Brinta. I also supplement with creatine throughout the year. Basically, this means that I can do more repetitions and lift more weight. This ultimately results in muscle growth and more strength.
Do you notice when you stop taking supplements?
It is not that you will notice it from week to week. But if you don't use them for a certain period of time and you literally get less protein, which is important for muscle recovery and building, then you will notice in the long run that you make less progress, for example, or that you recover less well.
That is why I also take Body and Fit ZMA capsules (Zinc, Magnesium and Vitamin B6). I notice that I sleep better on these, thanks to magnesium. This is good for my recovery, which in turn helps me to perform better. A bad night is guaranteed to make for a bad workout. I find it harder to get my amounts from food, so a supplement is easy and effective. Finally, between breakfast and lunch I eat a smartbar. This helps to fight hunger and boost my daily protein intake.
Are there any miracle products you always take?
I eat quite a lot of peanut butter. First of all because I like it, but also because of the good fats and proteins. And besides that I am really a dairy man. So I eat a lot of cottage cheese. Sometimes I add a bit of Whey Perfection protein powder. It's not necessary for the amount of protein, as the cottage cheese already contains enough, but it's a nice addition for the taste.
So when did you start bench-pressing?
I had been training for a while with a group of friends I met through judo and I noticed I was stronger, but I just didn't know what the records were. That's why I trained purely for hypertrophy for 10 years, to make nice gains. Then, a few years ago, I went with the same group of friends to the biggest fitness fair in Europe, the FIBO. While strolling around, we saw the Body&Fit stand. Here you could participate in a challenge, with a year's free supplements as prize. The goal was to do the most repetitions with your own body weight. At first I didn't want to take part at all, but with pressure from my friends I decided to give it a go.
I then pressed 56 times my body weight (84 kg), which put me right at the top of the scoreboard from the first day. For more than three days, in the end. On the last day, I still came second, but then I started thinking about what I had achieved. I decided to study the bench press sport more and discovered that the record in my weight class was 150 kg. Of course, I wanted to beat that. I immediately contacted my old rival, Bram. He could teach me the finer points of bench pressing.
What changed in terms of training?
I went from hypertrophy to technique, focusing on strength. Fortunately, the muscle mass helped me enormously, but I had to supplement the rest with strength schedules and few repetitions with a lot of weight. I did this for six months, until the first NK, where I immediately became Dutch Champion Open Class. I was 30 at the time and lifted 175 kg. That was more than 20 kg over the old record. Since then I have broken my own records every year. The last one was officially (at a competition) 185 kg, with -83 kg bodyweight.
And do you have ambitions to go higher?
Definitely. When I look at the last World Championship in Japan, the number 3 of the world had pressed 200 kg. I also managed to do that during a training session the other day, with a little less bodyweight. That also made me think again. But I now have until May to train for the next competition, so I can put on a little muscle mass now, as I am relatively light in my weight class.
"A little dirty bulk is not bad, but it has to remain functional."
So you're going to bulk up nicely?
'Yes, quite a bit. That's something I've always done during the winter months. The focus then is no longer on being dry, but purely on strength and muscle growth. I would definitely recommend that to most strength athletes. Bulking is also very nice mentally, because you can eat more without worrying about a little extra fat.
How many calories will you be eating during your bulk?
About 3,000 calories in total. Normally I eat 2,500, which is not that much - even for someone of 1.76m and 81kg. But I don't want to watch my calories or my fat percentage too strictly for the time being. I want my intake to be sufficient to gain some mass, with the aim of becoming stronger and gaining more mass. I don't pay attention to what I can or cannot eat. The focus is on carbohydrates and fats. Think oatmeal and Brinta, with full milk. But also: rice, pasta, potatoes, or even fries. Of course it should not get too crazy. A small dirty bulk is not bad, but it must remain functional.
What advantages will bulk bring you later on?
The more muscle mass you can build up during a bulk, the more you can keep over during cutting. You always lose a bit of muscle mass when you bulk up, so the more you grow, the more you can retain. The second advantage is that it is easier to lose weight when you have more muscle mass. This leads to a higher daily burn. So you can eat more without gaining weight.
And will you dry out after the winter?
Yes, definitely. Not completely shredded, because I still need to maintain my strength, but I will definitely lose some. A fat percentage of 10% is the perfect balance for me - both aesthetically and for strength. But all in all, I don't pay as much attention to how I look now, but rather to my performance in the gym. A few years ago I was less good at that, so I let go of the aesthetic a bit more. Apparently, you get used to it. Because now I love the fact that in the coming months I don't have to think as much about food, but can just follow my gut. And going out for a bite to eat with friends, for example. In the past I always had to say no to that.
Enough about nutrition. What is the secret of bench pressing 185 kg?
It's a bit genetic, of course. If you look at my arch (curvature of the back), it's very extreme in many eyes, but I'm supple and flexible in my back. Because of this, I can make a nice arch without having to make a lot of effort. That is not to say that you need an extreme arch to bench heavy, but you should try to implement the right steps. A small arch and enough tension is important to lift a lot. So place your feet slightly backwards, giving you more leg drive and turning it into a compound exercise. Keep your shoulder blades and buttocks on the bench at all times while performing the exercise. And don't forget your head: a lot of people take their head off the bench, but that doesn't give you any advantages.
Where does a good bench press start?
You should always make sure you have a good warm-up and activate your glutes, hamstrings, core, lats and chest muscles. Resistance bands can be very useful here. Or check YouTube for good exercises to activate your core. It is also important to always start with an empty bar. This is your last check to know if everything is okay," my coach always says. Then you can slowly increase the weights until you reach your actual work sets.
Finally: How do you break through a bench plateau?
Work especially on your technique. This is the most effective way to achieve this. And do not try to break your 1RM every week. This is stressful for your body and not an effective training method because you are constantly pushing your limits. Injuries are a constant threat if you train in this way. That is why it is sometimes more effective to take a step back so that you can recover better. Yes, really: a deaload week works wonders. You train just as heavy, but with less volume by doing fewer sets and reps.
In addition, it is often useful to go back from 10 repetitions to 5 reps with more weight. But continuing to do the same thing and hoping that something will change is really pointless. Once in a while you can test your RM, after which you can use that weight to recalculate how many sets and kilos you should lift. That's how all powerlifters work and that's how I work myself. But don't forget to listen to your body and be patient. If you do that, the kilos go up almost by themselves.