Eric Spoto is arguably the best bench presser of all time. He recently set the all time world record raw bench press at an incredible 722 pounds! Furthermore, he was able to accomplish this at only his third powerlifting competition!
In this in depth interview Spoto talks with us about his training, recovery, injury prevention, and more!
LIFT: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, give us a little background?
I am 36 years old, 5’11”, and 315 Lb. Born and raised in Long Island, New York. I currently live in Las Vegas, Nevada, where I train a select group of people and am an avid stock trader.
LIFT: We’ve heard many people refer to you as “Vanilla Gorilla”, where and how did you pick up this nickname?
I friend of mine and training partner came up with it about 10 years ago. He would call me “Vanilla Gorilla” and “Honkey Kong”. I guess the Vanilla Gorilla name just stuck.
LIFT: You seem well known in the arm wrestling community, what made you decide to put arm wrestling on hold and pursue bench pressing?
I was training pretty serious for arm wrestling and bench press at the same time, but my arms, especially my elbows took too much of a beating. I had to decide to focus on one. I made the decision based on the fact that arm wrestlers stay extremely completive in there late 50’s, where it seems raw bench pressers strength starts decreasing in their early to mid 40’s.
LIFT: At what point did you decide to pursue the bench press world record?
I would say about 5 years ago I made the conscious decision to train as hard as I could, and really focus on the bench press. I wanted to see what I was capable of. 700 Lb always seemed like a mythical number to me, and I knew very few select people had done it, but I had my doubts if I would be able to get to that elite level. I figured if I trained my ass off, whatever weight I ended up benching I would have no regrets because I gave it my best effort.
LIFT: How much did you bench press in the very beginning?
Wow that’s a tough one. I was 11 with those funny plastic gray weights, maybe 100 Lb. I remember 225 Lb for the first time. 2 plates was a really big deal for me, I was in 8th grade.
LIFT: When did you hit your first 600lb bench?
I was 27.
LIFT: What did your training consist of for your preparation to break the raw bench press record?
Monday: Heavy Bench
135×15, 135×10, 225×10, 315×10, 405×5, 495×3, 585×1, 635×1, 675×1, 705×1, 705×1
3board press – 705×3, 735×3
Tuesday: Heavy Upper Back
Chest supported row – Hammer Strength 10 sets 12 plates – set up just like negative of bench press.
Rear Delts – 3 sets Face Pulls with Cable and Rope, Reverse Pec deck 3 sets.
Thursday: Rep Bench Day
3 sets with 405-500 15-20 reps per set.
Some triple board work, more reps 2 sets 600 10 reps.
Standing Shoulder Press – 3 sets 315x 10
Friday: Rotator Cuff, prehab, rehab movements, bands, etc.
LIFT: What have you changed, if anything, in training for the 722 Lb world record since your first world record bench attempt?
I started doing more singles to help me feel more comfortable with setting up for just one good clean rep. Stan Efferding definitely was a big influence in me doing more singles. I guess it’s not bad to have a Powerlifting Legend as a training partner.
LIFT: How do you set up your assistance work? Do you do anything specific for back and shoulders?
For back I like to emulate the exact motion of the negative in the bench press. A chest supported back machine works best for that. Shoulders, I like overhead press, standing and seated.
LIFT: Many people discredited your strength in the beginning, why did you decide to wait until a 700 Lb bench to compete?
700 was that number in my head I always wanted to hit. I wanted to hit 700 before I ever even thought of a competition. It just worked out that there happened to be a competition in Las Vegas at the same time I was in that 700 range. I was getting a little bit of a push from some of my training partners to do a meet, so it just happened to be perfect timing.
LIFT: During your lifting career, what was your biggest bench press break through?
Learning to bench press like a powerlifter. Elbows tight, shoulder blades back, chest up, and drive those legs as hard as possible.
LIFT: What are your thoughts on recovery? Are there certain things you put emphasis on?
Recovery is without a doubt one of the most important components of increasing strength. Sleep and nutrition are the cornerstones of recovery. If you don’t get enough quality calories or sleep, you will not be able to recover at your optimum level.
LIFT: Do you do anything specific for injury prevention?
Injury prevention is always a concern when you talk about weight training. Especially with bench press, once you get in that 500 Lb plus range your chances of injury really start to increase. I am a big proponent in being extremely warm when I get to my work sets. I might even lose 1-2% of weight on my top end sets in training, but I feel the positives outweigh the negatives. I will never do more than a 90 pound jump with pounds or 110 Kg with kilo plates. I don’t do work sets until I feel warm and ready, no matter how many sets or reps it takes. I rarely do forced reps. I have noticed during a forced rep you are more likely to break form and increase the chance of injury. I also like to use bands for pull aparts and get those rotators warm and ready for heavy benching. The most important part of injury prevention is to be fully hydrated. Just look at Pro Bodybuilders when they are leading up to a show and are really dry. They use half of their normal weight in training, and have been known to still pull or tear a muscle.
LIFT: What is your food intake and diet like? Do you do anything specific to stay at a certain weight?
I don’t track anything except protein intake. I try to get a minimum of 300 grams of high quality protein per day. Leading up to a meet I try to increase it to as much as I can intake. I know I get plenty of carbs, so that’s never a concern, and high quality fats, nuts, avocados, and olive oil. It’s all about meat, eggs, and milk if you want to get strong. Complete high quality proteins are going to be the cornerstone of anyone who wants to get strong.
LIFT: Are you planning on getting back into arm wrestling now that you’ve accomplished the bench press world record?
I do plan on getting back to arm wrestling at some point. I don’t think 722 is the best I am capable of. I would like to see what I am able to hit before focusing on AW. Plus, with the resurgence of raw lifting I see the bench record getting pushed up to the 750 range, so that 722 is definitely not holding up for too long.
LIFT: Was it a hard transition to go from arm wrestling to powerlifting? What are the biggest differences between the two?
They are night and day. Almost nothing is similar, except for they both require strength. Arm Wrestling (AW) is verse an opponent, their particular AW style will effect how you go about that match. Arm Wrestling is a chess match, so many different little things are going on just with grip, let alone the match. Different AW moves counter other moves, and technique and execution of those moves determines the winner at the highest level most of the time. Arm Wrestling Strength is hand, wrist, bicep, then everything else is secondary. Legs are basically useless so it’s just wasted weight that will put you in a higher weight class.
Powerlifting is just you and the weights. It really doesn’t matter where you lift the weight, 500 Lb is 500 Lb no matter what location. Where AW can really focus on just a couple sport specific muscles, a 3 lift powerlifter has to be strong everywhere, if they have one weak point it will effect their whole total.
LIFT: You mentioned previously you would like to hit a 1000 Lb shirted bench. Now that you have the raw world record, do you have any plans to move to equipped and try to set records there as well?
I do still have plans to start some geared bench work, but I’m still not at that point. I would like to hit a couple more raw meets before I change my focus to geared lifting.
LIFT: Everyone’s curious, what are your max squat and deadlift? Do you ever plan on doing a full powerlifting meet?
I am in the process of physical therapy, testing squat with light numbers, and seeing if my lower back is going to be able to handle it. I haven’t maxed in over a decade.
LIFT: What drives you to keep going, and pushing through your hardest times?
I love to train, it is the greatest stress reliever in the world. If powerlifting competitions didn’t exist, I would still be doing the exact same thing, training the exact same way, to push my limits and see what I am capable of lifting. It also helps to have good strong training partners that will always keep pushing you during those days when you don’t have that killer instinct.
LIFT: How does it feel to be the best raw bencher, ever?
I would say I am ONE of the best benchers ever, but who is to say Jennifer Thompson’s 300 Lb at 132, or Jeremy Hoornstra’s 661 Lb at 242, just to name a few, doesn’t make them the best bencher. I am happy to be considered one of the best Bench Pressers in the world.
Spoto’s 722 Lb World Record Bench Press
Spoto’s 0 – 600 Lb Bench in 30 Seconds