Benched: A Follow Up

Last week I posted an account of my bench press routine, shared it in a Facebook forum, and got killed for it.

To be clear, the criticism I got was deserved, and some of it quite expected. The two basic reactions to my post were

  1. Do not use a smith machine, especially for this purpose, and
  2. The 5/3/1 program is not appropriate for me at this stage in my training.

At first, I did not listen to what they had to say. My thoughts were

  1. I don’t have a spotter… you need a spotter to bench press safely… I’m using the smith machine to be safe, and
  2. Screw you! I can do the 5/3/1 rep and set structure, and I’m more than willing to put in the work, so I’m sticking with it.

This was hard headed for me, and it took me a while to hear the feedback, let alone accept it. But, in the end, accept it I did. It turns out, it wasn’t criticism after all, it was constructive feedback (delivered at varying levels of dry frankness).

When I stepped back from my emotional investment in the program and how I was going about it, I was able to see that

  1. The smith machine doesn’t allow the proper motion, locks you into inappropriate positions throughout the lift, and gives you a false sense of security, all of which actually increase the likelihood of injury, not decrease as I had believed, and
  2. The 5/3/1 program is for people who are further in their training for a reason. It’s progression is geared toward someone whose gains are much more hard fought and earned. It doesn’t allow someone like me to take full advantage of the “noob gains” available to me.

So, after all of that, Friday was bench day, and decision day. I went to the flat bench (as opposed to the incline bench I had been using), and benched, just need and a barbell.

It was actually very enjoyable, and never for a second felt unsafe. I think the reason I hated the bench press all these years is that I was never actually just doing the bench press. Also, moving from incline machines to a flat barbell bench press proved to be the best thing I could do for my weights.

Since I was still using the 5/3/1 template, and programming based on incorrect numbers, the beginning half of this workout was very easy. I don’t usually do AMRAP (as many reps as possible) on the last set as suggested, to keep me fresh for the 5×10 Boring But Big sets, but I went AMRAP just to get an actual feel for what my 1RM is.

Since this was my 3×5 week, my last set was at 85% of my (artificially low) training max, and I got 20 reps at that weight. That calculated 1RM is 35 pounds heavier than I had thought based on the previous weeks.

So, I’m sold on the bench, and I’m going all in on the barbell strength training from here on out. This also means admitting 5/3/1 actually isn’t right for me at this stage, and probably for at least 6 months, though I’m not concerned with a timetable.

New PR: 20 reps at 95 pounds (160 pound calculated 1RM)


Accountability Daily Routine Exercise Self Experimentation Self Improvement


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