Real-Time Chest Training with Anthony Pomponio
He weighs only 185 pounds but Southern Cal amateur bodybuilder Anthony Pomponio benches more than 400 pounds and does 150-pound dumbbell inclines for reps.
By Eric Velazquez, NSCA-CPT | Editor-at-Large
Today, the gym floor at the famed Gold’s Gym in Venice is every bit the mecca it’s made out to be. In one corner, the affable Gunter Schlierkamp is busy refining his biceps for a photo shoot. Mike O’Hearn, of “American Gladiators” fame, crosses our setup to head to the water fountain. And just to our right, 2008 Olympia champ Dexter Jackson is filming a segment for Bodybuilding.com. Standing in the middle of it all for his first major magazine shoot is 23-year-old amateur bodybuilder Anthony Pomponio.
“This is awesome,” says a wide-eyed Anthony, who drove some 120 miles from his inland home in Palm Desert, CA, as he prepares to train chest. “From the moment I heard about this, I was in. I’d been to Gold’s previously but the overall setup today is amazing. Here I am, some kid shooting for one of the best mags in the business.”
But the star-struck aura fades quickly as Anthony preps himself for the work ahead. Since he last stepped onstage at the 2010 Excalibur, a well-known contest in Southern California, where he won the middleweight class, he’s trained almost exclusively in Olympic-style weightlifting. Clean-and-jerks and snatches — explosive, full-body movements — constitute the bulk of his hectic eight-session training week, but he still loves training his chest heavy.
“I have a decent chest and I wanna keep that up,” he says. “I do it once every two weeks, just really heavy. I go up to some heavy singles and doubles, and I find that helps my shoulders for the jerk.”
As he peels off his shirt, it’s evident he’s managed to keep his pecs high on his priority list. A former collegiate and European pro football running back, Anthony has banged out 225 pounds for 34 reps and, two years ago, he won a push-up contest by performing 120 reps in a single minute. But today, in this raw, unfiltered chest workout, the 185-pound genetic wonder — who’s evergreen lean at around 4–6% bodyfat year-round — has designs on moving 405 pounds for doubles on the bench. As we soon find out, it’s not just the hubris of youth — it’s merely confidence in the work invested.
Barbell Bench Press
Warm-up: 4 progressively heavier warm-up sets
Working sets: 5 sets x 2 reps
Settling himself on the bench with 135 on the bar, Anthony takes a grip just outside shoulder width on the bar. It’s not quite a close-grip bench, but it’s certainly not as wide as most guys tend to go.
“I kind of keep my hands more narrow than most because I grew up doing that,” he says. “The range of motion is going to be a lot shorter when you go wider. So I keep my hands closer to resemble more of an athletic movement.”
As he progresses through his extensive warm-up, with high-rep stops at 225 and 315, another aspect of his training personality begins to shine through: His reps are all inconspicuously fast.
“I’ve trained with Charles Glass, and he tried to get me to slow down, to get some blood into the muscle,” he says, laughing. “It’s tough for me though. It’s just the way I’m used to operating. Either way, I feel like if you’re pushing enough weight, there’s gonna be blood driven into your muscles.”
For his fourth warm-up set, Anthony executes two clean reps with 365. “I just want to make sure I’m warmed up,” he says. “If you just go from 225 to 405, your body’s not gonna be ready for it. Even though it’s 365, I don’t count it as a working set because I’m doing only two reps.”
Doing away with the 25s from each end of the bar, he loads back up to his working weight of 405 — four wheels a side. With a deep breath, he reclines back onto the bench and hoists the bar into action. A slower descent at this weight is followed by an explosive, concentric rep. Without much of a pause, he lowers the weight into the next rep, completing it with ease before re-racking it. Anthony sits up and rests three full minutes before attacking his next set. “I just get back in when I feel ready to go,” he says. “I want my body to recover all that ATP so that I have power going into the next set.”
About 10 minutes into his routine, he’s logged over 8,000 pounds worth of reps and that’s not counting his warm-up sets.
“I’m a little bit tired, but I feel ready to go,” he says, walking over to an incline bench. “Normally, I’d be a little more fatigued but the cameras are giving me a bit more adrenaline!”
Incline Dumbbell Press
5 sets x 6–8 reps
With plenty of pressing logged so far, Anthony doesn’t take the time to perform additional warm-ups on the incline dumbbell press. With a fairly steep bench — about 45 degrees — he starts out with a set of 100s.
“I feel like this is one of the most beneficial exercises for your upper chest and it builds a lot of shoulder stability,” he says, after his first set of eight. “As a weightlifter, it also benefits your overhead stuff like jerks.”
By his fifth set, Anthony is handling 150s, each one just 35 pounds shy of his total bodyweight. Though he sometimes performs incline work first in his routine, he always uses free weights.
“I prefer using free weights because you get a lot of core work,” he says. “I think the Smith is made for people who aren’t able to manage the free weights. If you’re healthy enough, do free weights. I think sometimes machines are big gimmicks in the bodybuilding scene.”
If you’ve ever handled 150-pound dumbbells, you know the weight can be awkward, bringing about fatigue much faster than a bar or a machine because of all of the stabilizer muscles that are called into action. Still, Anthony keeps his range of motion clean and technically sound, with his elbows coming roughly to shoulder level, never bent more than 90 degrees.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Let’s get the weight up over my chest and stay in control,’” he says. “I try to just keep driving the weight and get into a rhythm. No matter what, it’s a pushing move, so you still feel it in your triceps.”
This heavy demand on his triceps is what leads to his next exercise choice: the pec-deck flye.
5 sets x 12–15 reps
As we stand before the pec-deck machine, Anthony clues us into the fact that there are two exercises remaining in his routine: this one and dips. Why put an isolation move in the middle of a routine, only to finish with a multijoint exercise?
“Because I’ve already done two really heavy movements in a row, I want to switch it up and do something lighter and less strenuous on the joints,” he says. “Here, I’m just trying to pump some blood into my chest and give my triceps a bit of a break. Then, from here, I go back to the pushing by grinding out some dips.”
Setting the pin near the bottom of the stack, Anthony keeps his back flush to the pad and cruises through 15 smooth reps. He pauses for a peak contraction on each rep, as if willing his pecs to soak up more blood. On a few reps he opens his palms, “pushing” the handles together.
“It just puts less stress on your forearms when your palms are open like this,” he says. “You can focus on squeezing your chest instead of squeezing the handles.”
For this exercise, Anthony keeps his rest periods short — about a minute — in order to maintain his pump. After his fifth set, each a carbon copy of the one that preceded it, he ambles to the dip bars for his unconventional chest finisher.
4 sets x To failure
“I finish with dips just to get the lower pecs involved a bit more toward the end and to get a bit more triceps as well,” he says.
Anthony starts in on his first set. “I kind of rock my body forward until I really feel it in the pecs.” He does 10 reps easily, and then another 10 without stopping. Each rep is deep by design in order to put a stretch on his lower pecs, but he keeps his elbows tight to decrease the stress put on his rotators. By now it’s 30 reps, then 35. At 40, he stops. That’s one set?
Anthony doesn’t always finish his chest work with this exercise. Sometimes, he’ll hang 90 pounds around his waist with a dip belt and do it as a second or third exercise in his routine. “Those times, I’ll aim for 6–10 reps.”
Each time he goes back to the dip bars his goal is to reach failure. It just happens that failure for him is usually between 30 and 40 reps.
We follow Anthony around, expecting to catch his post-workout stretching routine. He grins, knowingly.
“No real stretching or cool-down for me,” he says. “I usually just call it a day. I don’t really do any significant stretching unless I’m feeling tight. But I’ll probably be sore for days after this!”
His chest swollen with detail, Anthony can’t say definitively when he’ll be back on the bodybuilding stages. Taking some time to focus on weightlifting, his goal for the interim is to see if he can make the 2012 Olympic weightlifting team.
“It doesn’t look promising because I’m so new to the sport, but crazier things have happened,” he says. “But this was a tough workout. I put up some heavy weight and I feel great.”
He knows that the focus on big-weight, and explosive lifts will give him a stronger base from which to work when he does return to posing trunks and spray tans.
“Luckily, I’ve been blessed with some good genetics, and I have a pretty strong work ethic,” he says. “I think I could be right up there with some of the top guys in the NPC.”
Weeks after this shoot, he finished fifth in the 85-kilogram weight class at a national meet and had a December date circled for the American Open Championships. So will it be the Olympics or the Olympia for this up-and-comer? He’s got plenty of time to answer that question for himself.
Birthdate: Nov. 12, 1987
Birthplace: Montclair, CA
Current Residence: Palm Desert, CA
Weight: 185 pounds contest
Marital Status: Dating Charlotte Moore, 4+ years
Contest Highlights: 2010 NPC Excalibur, 1st (open middleweight); 2009 NPC Junior California, 1st (middleweight, novice middleweight, lightweight, collegiate lightweight).
Anthony’s Training Split
|Day|| Bodypart(s) Trained
|5||Auxiliary — calves, biceps, triceps|
Mondays and Tuesdays, Anthony follows major bodypart work with lighter, low-volume work for biceps and triceps. On Fridays, Anthony dedicates an entire session to “auxiliary” bodyparts such as calves, biceps and triceps. Because of his genetics, he rarely trains abs or does cardio.
Anthony’s Chest Routine
“My routine isn’t fancy. Everyone’s different, but you know that these exercises are working your chest. I mainly stick to these because I feel them. These exercises have been around forever. Think about it — 50 years ago people did the bench press, and 50 years from now they’ll still be benching. It’s still around for a reason.”
|Barbell Bench Press||5†||2|
|Incline Dumbbell Press||5||6-8|
†Doesn’t include four or more warm-up sets. Anthony works up to 365 for two reps — not to failure — before performing his five workings sets of two reps at 405.
‡Anthony cuts his rest periods to 45–60 seconds for isolation work. On all other mass-building moves, he gets into the next set when he feels ready, usually 2–3 minutes.
‡‡Anthony reps out clean, methodical reps with his bodyweight to failure, which usually occurs between 30–40 reps.
Getting To Know Anthony Pomponio
- Good genes run in the family: “My younger brother Dominic was very athletic but stopped playing sports in high school. Still, he can work out every two weeks and blow up, then maintain it for quite a while.”
- His brother was almost a SEAL: “My older brother Adam spent four years in the Navy and made it to the end of BUDs, which is basically hell week for SEALs, and tore his hip flexor. He was days away from finishing but this put him on crutches. He was devastated.”
- He’s taken: “I’ve been with my girlfriend Charlotte for over four years now.”
- He has pets: “I have a cat named Enzo and a dog named Cali. Cali is half pinscher, half dachshund — she’s called a Doxie-Pin.”
- He’s Italian: “When I played pro football in Switzerland, I visited Germany, Austria, France and Italy. I probably liked Italy the best. Not just because my family is Italian, either. The food and the people are just amazing.”
- A guy you love to hate: “I pretty much never do cardio. Before the 2010 Excalibur, the last week, I did like 20 minutes of walking in the morning, but that was about it. I can’t stand it — it’s boring. I lost like 10 pounds those last few weeks and then added it all back within two days.”
- He still loves football: Even though he played professionally in Europe, Anthony still wishes he had the chance to play in the NFL. “I heard back from the San Diego Chargers once but nothing came of it so I just got heavy into pursuing weightlifting.”
Barbell Bench Press
Power Pointer: If you want to move more weight on your bench, focus on power and strength rep ranges, not pumping the muscle.
Incline Dumbbell Press
Power Pointer: Using a more steeply angled bench puts more emphasis on the shoulders, which is Anthony’s aim.
Power Pointer: On single-joint moves, go for slightly higher rep ranges. Here, it’s about pumping blood into the pecs.
Power Pointer: Leaning forward puts more emphasis on the pecs and less on the triceps.