Archive for November, 2008

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

November 19, 2008

Recently I hit a milestone in my quest for strength. I benched 300lbs. It’s been a long time coming. Probably about 20 years to be exact.

I started lifting weights when I was in eighth grade. I think I benched maybe 95 pounds the first time I tried. By ninth grade I was doing 160 and in my junior year I had benched 260.

So why did it take me 22 years more to hit the elusive (for me) 300. The reasons are myriad. For the most part falling into the more is better trap which led to overtraining was the culprit. When I went to college I read all the glossy muscle rags. Instead of training two or three times per week it was at least four. I started splitting body parts and doing a higher volume of work leaving behind the Bigger Faster Stronger protocol I was introduced to in eighth grade.

Later that year, I rehabbed at the St Scholastica physical therapy clinic to fix my poor, beat to hell rotator cuff. That experience taught me some valuable lessons, but they were soon forgotten, or perhaps not that well learned in the first place. A year later I was still trying to bench heavy two or three times per week. “I could do it in ninth grade, why can’t I now?” Answers now that are obvious such as using much less weight, sleeping much more, and not partying four nights a week didn’t seem to present themselves at the time.

Through out the years I’ve always maintained my strength. It never seems to leave. I might lose a few reps with a certain weight, but my max stayed put. After age 25, I really noticed a slow down in my ability to recover. Two heavy sessions a week were the max. For the next ten years it was a steady diet of alternating training styles around Arthur Jones, Dr. Ken, Wayne Wescott, Bill Starr, Bigger Faster Stronger. The main focus was always short and intense workouts. Limited sets of low, medium or high reps depending on which system I was following. During this time almost all of my lifts went up. All except my bench. It stayed around 260 – 275 on any given day. Depending on of course, how my shoulder felt.

In my thirties I got married and was into my family and career. Lifting was ever present but not the focus to any extent. At this point in my life had kind of given up on reaching 300. I’m tall and have longish (36 inch sleeve) arms so that along with my bum shoulder made a pretty good excuse. That excuse was actually good in that it over rode my false pride of the bench being the end all of upper body strength. I started to focus on overhead press and other lifts, treating them as equals to the bench and not just an assistance exercise. The most important thing I discovered though, was the secret to strength. The secret for me at least is low volume training. Low frequency and low volume.

I had stumbled onto Dinosaur training and read about singles and doubles training. What I found out was that I could literally do three to five singles in a workout for an exercise and come in the gym the next time or the time after that and add five lbs to the bar without any problem. I mentioned the low frequency. So how low? I’m able to gain strength on the bench press benching only two to three times per month. Yes, per month! Not per week as I had done for the previous 20 years.

So it comes down to what Arthur Jones said about training as little as possible/necessary. I could go heavy once per week, but should I? No. I feel that low rep strength training is the most effective for me. The thing about it though, is it takes a lot out of you. It’s not physically or metabolically taxing at the time like doing 4 sets of 12 reps. It’s a deeper tired. I call it a nervous tired. I believe you are training the muscles and the nerves to fire more efficiently with this type of training and when you go heavy you stimulate them a lot. This tiredness lasts for several days. You aren’t physically tired, but you just don’t have any interest in doing more of that lift. I typically feel like that for five or six days. After that time I feeling like I might want to bench again. At this stage I resist. I try to go another five or six days. At the end of the 10+ days I have this feeling of being strong and wanting to use my strength. I make it a point to work out in the next week whenever it fits into my schedule. Obviously this lifting schedule leaves me free to pursue activities outside the gym or get in some cardio etc.

At this point I’m going to not touch a weight for a couple months. I feel like I need a rest from the singles. I think I’ll do some bodywieight stuff, or cables or dynamic tension. Anything that is resistance, but doesn’t involve a dumbbell or barbell really. That’s another of my resistance training philosophies. You can refresh yourself simply by changing the type of resistance training you are doing. The muscles don’t know and don’t care, but your mind does get bored doing the same thing and I think the nerves do as well because you are always using the same neuro pathway. Changing the exercise method will most probably utilize a new pathway.

So that in it’s long form is how I finally benched 300 just short of my 40th birthday. If I would have discovered how I work sooner it may have been 400, but I don’t care. Like they say, it’s the journey, not the destination.