Thing-a-day 12: Bench Progress

Posting to my blog every day for the month of February is only one commitment I made this month. The other is do a cycle of 5/3/1, a weightlifting program developed by Jim Wendler. There are several programming volumes for 5/3/1, which you can have calculated for you at a wonderful site called Strength Standards, whose front page asks you a few questions and predicts your 1-rep-max weights for the 4 major barbell lifts: bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press.

I’m doing the lightest volume of 5/3/1 – just 6 sets of each of the main lifts, each on separate days. I enjoy strength training, and I’d like to have a total of over 500 lb (that’s the total of your max in bench press, deadlift, and squat). I’m close, at around 450, but I’m in no hurry. I am more of an endurance athlete by inclination, and hitting each major lift once a week is plenty for me. I am finishing Week 2 of this 5/3/1 cycle, and it suits my goals perfectly right now.


I took this photo in the Arboretum in Seattle in 2008.

Right after I graduated from college, I started going to a gym, looking to gain weight, and when the trainer asked me my blue-sky goal – something I’d always imagined but never thought I’d be able to do – I said “I want to bench press my weight.” We got me there – on a technicality. I benched my starting weight once, for 1 rep. (The real success was that I’d gained almost 20 healthy pounds.) Then I gave up the bench press.

Over 20 years later, I’ve taken it up again. There are other lifts that interest me more, and for more than 6 months, I just didn’t bother with it at all, because I could do other lifts at home but didn’t have a bench. But I got a new rack and bench last fall, and I’ve been pretty consistently benching once a week.

The 5/3/1 programming is based on percentages of your theoretical maxes, and it’s been telling me my bench is higher than my last test (in October, at 102.5 lb). So tonight I tested it again. And I benched 110. So close to that 120! But my strength is much less brittle now, and I know I’m going to blow right past it this time.

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