When we think about fitness, we tend to think in terms of musculature. Spend a few minutes with a casual lifter and the question is sure to come up: “how much do you bench, bro?”
If you’re talking to a more seasoned lifter, the question tends to skew toward squats instead, in part because it’s a better measure of functional strength, but primarily because, within the social media fitness sphere, it’s imperative that we accuse one another of skipping leg day. Without that standby insult, most Instagram models wouldn’t know what to write on their memes (God help us all). Of course, leg day is important for other reasons, but the internet has a funny way of sucking the substance out of a topic and replacing it with snarky wit.
I’ll level with you, I’m just as excited about setting a new personal record (PR) on the bench as the next guy, but it’s important that we frame these accomplishments properly. In most circumstances, it’s not the guy that can move the most weight ONCE that succeeds, but rather the guy with the right combination of strength, stamina, and practical experience. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, it’s important to tailor your workouts to your fitness goals. For instance, if you compete as a power lifter, it makes sense to tune your program toward constantly increasing your single-rep max, but it honestly just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the rest of us.
When someone asks me what my max is on the bench, they’re usually disappointed when I respond, “I dunno, around 350 or so.” It’s hard for people to swallow the fact that a guy like me (that loves to work out) doesn’t have an exact figure to offer. The truth of the matter: I only max every couple of months. The rest of the time, my workout cycle generally consists of switching set and rep counts (week by week) while trying to gradually increase the weight I can move while still meeting my rep-goals. I realize that sounds a bit confusing so I’ll provide an example.