Yesterday I did 6×5 @150kg in bench-press. I was training at the club and nobody else was there. Now, granted, I used a heavy competition bench with really sturdy safety arms, but heavy benching is always a scary proposition. Nothing will make you besmirch your undies faster than that feeling that you’re going to miss a heavy bench-press when you’re lifting without a spotter. It’s a primal, healthy and instinctive fear of lifting a really heavy thing directly over one’s throat and chest. It doesn’t matter if you have those heavy safety arms set up correctly, your lizard brain doesn’t give AF. I’ve seen a lot of bad, mad and dangerous spotting in my time, so actually the safety arms are a safer bet. Still, it’s a been a while since I’ve reached that part of my programming where the lifting scares me. The last rep of each set was a real exercise is keeping, ahem, focused.
Another potent motivator when benching heavy without a spotter (this time in a gym with people) is good ol’ fashioned embarrassment. Yep, nothing looks cheesier and more amateur hour than getting pinned underneath one’s own lift. Nothing really screams NOOB more than the ignominy of having 1 or 2 dudes run over to pry the bar off your sorry ass. Even if you’re not training for powerlifting, I’m going to say nobody should be training bench-press to failure and/or to the point your form is compromised. There is just too much possibility for injury. A few weeks ago after a heavy training session I was doing some back off sets of bench-press at probably 75% of my 1 RM. 5 reps per set. During the last set, all was going smoothly until I began lifting the 5th rep off of my chest and very suddenly ran out of gas about half way up. The last thing I remember was a distinct “Oh F##k” feeling and a fear-induced last ditch desperation push. Next thing I know the bar was back up and racked. I think I micro blacked-out for half second it took to do this. My reputation and undies remained unsoiled…this time.
When you first start lifting your coach will repeatedly tell you lower the weight and concentrate on proper form which, of course, is boring. 100% of new lifters ignore this advice when the coach is not there. You know it’s sound advice but…but…somehow you can’t follow it. Then, a few years into your lifting career you’re hitting a huge plateau. Maybe you have the luck at that point to have a coach or experienced lifters point out some deficiencies in your technique. Now, eureka, you get it. I have to reduce the weight to something more manageable so I can concentrate on form. So you do. It’s excruciating, you feel like you’re being judged for your puny weights. In reality, nobody really cares that much and furthermore, they don’t know where you are in your programming. Worst case, they’ll think it’s a deload day or “thank god he finally decided to dial in his form”.
All of the lifts are technical. Bench-press is uber technique driven which might come a surprise to the casual observer as it’s got the reputation as the meat-head lift par excellence. Nobody can remember all of the cues simultaneously. They must be trained into the lifters muscle memory over time, one by one. A really good bench-presser is half born (good leverages, etc) and half-made.