Dare to fail and you will avoid just that

This is a story of how I failed to increase my bench press this spring, but nevertheless gained physically and mentally

Takeaways:

  • A quick run through of what should be a very good strength training regime
  • A rare glimpse of me failing
  • A lesson on why you never truly fail if at least you try
Trial and error built this 40+ year old body

Trial and error built this 40+ year old body

The perfect peak strength plan

I tried to become stronger this spring.

I had a plan and I followed it. In addition, I was being (informally) coached by Sweden’s best weight lifting blogger.

I powered on with high volume (5-8 sets of 3-4 reps at 80-85% of my assumed 1 rep maximum; a little more than 2 times a week on average for the bench press) during two months. Around week 9-11, I progressed to pyramids: a base of 4-7 sets of 2s-5s at 85-89% of my 1RM plus a peak of a few singles at 93-96% of 1RM).

I de-loaded during week 12 by approximately halving my volume but keeping 1-3 heavy singles of 93-96%. After that, during week 13, six days before today’s all out effort, I did my last two singles on respectively 120kg and 125kg (264.5/275.5 lbs), or 93/96% of my 1RM before the program.

The last five days I cut out the heavy singles and reduced both intensity and volume of what little was left, as well as cut out other exercises, to enable my muscles to bounce back and super compensate for the heavy volume and intensity the weeks and months before. On T-4 days, I benched only 85kg x4x3 (65%) and 70kg x3x4 (54%), and on T-2 just 70kg x4x3, with as much explosivity I could muster.

Maximum effort

Today I warmed up with 8 minutes of easy jogging on a tread mill, then carefully mobilized all my joints, as well as my upper and lower back. I couldn’t have prepared any better; I was well rested, well prepared, had overreached and then rested to bounce back. I felt confident.

I worked myself up through the weights on the bench, gradually increasing the intensity of my arc and eventually slapped on some chalk on my hands when I reached 120kg (265 lbs). 130kg x1 (286.5 lbs) was fine, but it’d better be, since that was what I was supposed to handle before the program.

And then, five minutes later, just like that, I missed (albeit marginally) my attempt on 132.5kg (+safety springs, so approximately 132.75kg = 292.5lbs).

 

I don’t consider it 3 months down the drain, although I am quite disappointed. I have learned a lot during this program and I have an idea how to improve going forward. What is annoying, however, is that I benched 140kg (308 lbs) three years ago, without an elaborate program or peak plan.

Sure, I’ve had knee surgery, a wrist injury and several hamstring tears since then, of which last November’s hamstring tear was quite serious.
 
Hamstring tear

A failure isn’t always a failure
As failures go, this one wasn’t too bad: I still worked out, I went through the motions and exposed myself to more exercise volume than usual. Something good has definitely happened, even if it didn’t show up in peak strength right this day.
I can still try 132.5kg or even 135kg (297.5 lbs) in a couple of days or a week. Not least, going forward, I can build on my training capacity that most likely increased during the period.
So, all in all, this wasn’t just a failure: I tried something new, I trained more than usual, I learned new hypertrophy and strength training theories and I put myself out there. Now I really know my body holds up for a maximum effort, after all my recent injuries – and I know exactly where that maximum is per this date. That is something to build on; and building layer upon layer is all this website is about.

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5 Comments

  1. Peaking programs which spend a lot of time sub max have never worked for me either. With my body there is definitely a ceiling to max efforts without gaining more weight or using enhancements. Have you incorporated board presses before? I’ve found 2 board presses, for 5 or so singles @105-120% EOW helpful.

    • I’ve tried “static holds” and “micro lifts” at 110-120% but not board presses. I can definitely see haow that would work for me though. It helps acclimatising to holding the weight in your hands.

  2. Serious case of iron bug virus, untreatable I’m afraid. Hey, have you read every word by the late Mike Mentzer? Maybe you would like his contrarian teachings. Just a thought. Keep up the good work.

      • Sure was. He even let me, then a 19 yo geek pencilneck, finish my set of pulldowns before him and Ray at gold’s in venice. I was awed. I’m still a pencilneck but Mike single-handedly popularised the concept of [high] intensity. Required reading.

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