I'd like to think I'm a classic case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Or rather, Dr. Deadlift and Mr. HydeThatBenchPress.
While I'm well on my way to deadlifting 3x my bodyweight, I really struggle on the bench press. I know, I know, #meatheadproblems right?
But when it comes to my bench numbers, the struggle is real. Between May and December of last year, I failed to improve my bench press and if anything, it occasionally seemed like my numbers were going backwards. While my best bench ever was a measly 275 pounds (it's all perspective, right?), in late December I missed a rep at 265. I was frustrated, and frankly, was thinking about benching wayyyy too much for my own good.
(And I'm sorry, but any guys reading this, I don't believe that you benched over 300 in high school. Because you didn't. It's that simple.)
Plus, I have very little patience for something that doesn't work. Want proof? Watch me react when I can't get something to print, or get Netflix to load. On second thought....don't. As both Lindsay and my Mom can attest, it's a lot like this but with less profanity:
After trying different bench variations, and increasing my volume (the usual go-to's for improving the lift), it was clear that I needed a new plan. With New Year's eve looming, I decided that for the first time in a few years I would actually make a New Years resolution: Bench Press every session for the next 40 workouts.
....I mean, did you expect any other type of resolution from me?
To be honest, I stole the idea from Dan John, who is pretty much the Mr. Miyagi of the Strength Coach world. Anytime he recommends an idea, I'm always listening. Plus, my coworker Derek Christeler had tried something similar with his bench press and experienced some pretty good progress.
So before I talk about the exact plan, the results, and how I'm moving forward, I'll quickly share that the plan DOES work. It IS crazy.
But, it's crazy like a fox.
As mentioned above, I decided to bench every training session for the next 40 workouts. I'd never come close to missing a rep, go as light as I need, and simply add weight when it's easy. For reps, I decided to take them directly from Dan John and followed this template:
Mon (1) 2 x 5 Tues (2) 2 x 5 Wed (3) 5-3-2 Fri (4) 2 x 5 Sat (5) 2 x 5
Mon (6) 2 x 5 Tues (7) 6 Singles Wed (8) 1 x 10 Fri (9) 2 x 5 Sat (10) 5-3-2
After those two weeks, simply start again at Week 1, Day 1. Yes, it's really that easy. No, it's not more complicated.
I'll admit that the hardest part was actually swallowing my ego, and starting much, much lighter than I otherwise would. In fact, I started with only 160 on the bar - a full 115 pounds less than my "max." As you can see below, there was a bit of an ebb and flow based on how I felt that day, but the general theme was making the heavier weights seem as easy as 160 that very first day.
Keep in mind, I was doing almost all of this work without a spotter, so I had to be sure I wouldn't miss a rep and end up strangling myself with the bar....that would not be a good look.
But, the last week of the experiment, I managed to hit 270 for a single without a spotter. And while that wasn't technically a PR, it was much smoother than 275, and heavier than the 265 I missed before I started this experiment. If I had a spotter, I would have tried a bit heavier, or had a bit more of a pause at the bottom:
Now, why did this whole crazy experiment work? I credit 1) the practice on technique and 2) confidence. Benching 5 days a week helped me nail down all the tiny techniques I couldn't master before, especially with the load being just a bit lighter than normal. And, since I hadn't missed a rep, I had a feeling that I could bench almost anything that was put on the bar. (When in reality, nothing could be further from the truth...)
Another side benefit is the impact it's had on my shoulder stability. I'm one of those odd ducks that's actually TOO mobile as I can touch my hands behind my back like that woman on the right. But with that extra mobility comes it's own set of problems, as we all don't need to be supple leopards. I've managed to avoid any of those neck/shoulder issues since I started this experiment, which has been pretty awesome.
I have to admit I was shocked at how "easy" this experiment truly was. In fact, a week after the experiment ended, I proceeded to hit a new 10 rep PR on the bench press (it was a meathead moment..) I'm anxious to see what happens when the weights really start getting heavy again.
Related, I've started to move my 40 day experiment onto Front Squats - which I'm aptly naming "The Hunt for Quadzilla." In all seriousness, I'm only 8 sessions in, but it's already made it much easier. Stay tuned everybody.