Strange brew...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bench press

Having had to break my run of trips to Westbury for Ironworx Strongman, I had Nailsworth Strength and Fitness' Autumn Strongest in sight. The problems were multiple but the two most prominent were that it was going to involve multiples of bodyweight for many of the rounds and it also involved a bench press.

If you watched the Olympics you may have noticed the trend across the weight categories in weighlifting. As the bodyweight increases, generally you see an upward shift in absolute strength, that is to say the weight on the bar. But there comes a point after which that weight represents smaller multiples of bodyweight. And there's the rub with this format. It is demanding but it is accessible to a broader spectrum of lifters than a comp with just an absolute weight in it. But it it means the big boys are going to have to shift some big weights for reps which start to feel like a cardio workout.

But what's my beef with the bench? For your average gym monkey a bench press wouldn't be seen as a problem. But, while I am average in many respects, this is not one. I've never seen the appeal of the bench press. There, I said it! A combination of that and being able to almost guarantee that you'd have to work around the crowds at the benches in any gym meant that I have firmly neglected this otherwise staple gym fodder. A few years back one of my rugby league coaches asked me what I benched. I had to admit that  had not the faintest idea but could tell him how much I could squat and how many reps of bodyweight power cleans I could do. After a little while, my bench numbers were about what you'd expect from the asthmatic 14-year old that I once was. Which made it all the less likely that I'd head there, and with a lack of enjoyment, I did what every gym monkey does, ducked the difficult option and ignored the weakness in favour of stuff I enjoyed/looked fun! Even within the last 18 months, if ever time was an issue and I was going to have to drop a lift from a session, you could pretty much guarantee that it would be the bench! On the bright side Liam and Doug had also programmed in a squat, so I should be able to bank on a reasonable placing in that.

So what to do, fresh back from holiday with the family target my weaknesses: shift some timber and work on the bench. So I programmed in some kettlebell swinging at lunchtime at work, some overhead carries just so as not to neglect my overhead work (while safe in the knowledge that there was to be no vertical pressing in Gloucestershire); targetted some form of bench in every lifting session (+/- 3 per week) and took some advice on shifting weight. 

And here's where it got little frustrating. I put weight on, First week that is to be expected to some degree as  I shifted patterns but it didn't come off. At all, so after four weeks on a fairly well-respected programme, I entered the competition precisely 1lb heavier than when I started. Couple that with rock bottom view of my benching and it is safe to say that I was not heading off to Nailsworth full of confidence. And then it became apparent that I was one of the biggest guys there! I weighed in at a chubby 103 and some change kg. But what the heck, I was just there for the craic.

Event 1 - Deadlift. 
This is showstopper territory. Big lift, big demands on the body. And here we were going to have to go for as many reps as possible in 75 seconds with double bodyweight on the bar. 207.5kg/457lb in my case.
In my head I was targetting 12, it's a good number and shouldn't leave me too messed up for other events. I don't know whether I got the count wrong in my head or whether I had a lift docked (more likely the former) but what I suspect, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, is that I talked myself out of trying for another rep (for which I had enough time) because I thought I'd hit target. Stupid. Just stupid.
11/09/16 Event 1 - Deadlift (207.5kg/457lb) from Ben Morris on Vimeo.

In some respects I was pretty disappointed to only hit 11 reps. In other ways though, it was about right. I don't do a lot of volume work (ie any!) on deadlifts, as I am  little bit scared of letting crappy form sneak in, and it was quite a large amount of tin to have to shift! Also, first event, I still wasn't feeling any kind of confidence in outcome, so it had to be my own targets. Not a disaster but not great, unbeknown to me, I finished in 7th place.

Event 2 - Bench Press.

Let's get it on! Bodyweight. 75 seconds, what can you do? Well, have a little bop to the music before it's go time. I'd said at the beginning of the day that I'd be happy with double figures. Sure enough, I got to 11, form still solid and checked out. Having seen the score sheets, one extra rep would have moved me up a place. I didn't appreciate at this stage in the day that this might be important. I had however, forgotten the rule. This is competition, it's not a time to be leaving anything in the tank. Sure, it's not going to break a world record, so there is no point in half killing yourself but there is a world of difference between that and quitting early... One to ponder before the next competition.

Event 3 - Back squat

Yes, here we are. This is the one I wanted. This felt like my realm. I wanted something north of 15 reps at 1.5 times my bodyweight. But more than that, I wanted to take people into deep water to have to beat me. I hit 15 reps and felt good for a couple more. 18 reps and still not massively ragged. Good enough. I didn't see many people going that far. More than that, even through the tiredness and the burning in my legs I was feeling the jolt of energy from it. I love squats. They just make me feel good, they seem to connect all the parts of my brain and body together into a whole. A fat whole but one with impregnable armour round it.

Then Dave strode up as last man and knocked out 22 reps! I was gutted not to take the crown but to be fair, he had to do something pretty special to take it. That'll do.
11/09/16 - Event 3 Squats (155kg/341lb) from Ben Morris on Vimeo.

And then we had a break for a spot of lunch...

To Be Continued


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