Saturday, February 19, 2011

Got a 135 lb Monkey Off My Back

Today was the 10th Annual Bench Press Competition at Virginia Tech. It’s my third year competing and I really enjoy training for and competing in something that is pretty different from my usual endurance sports. Although bench is a staple in my year-round strength training, Jake and I ramp it up in the fall with this meet as a goal.

And today I FINALLY got the 135 lb monkey off my back. Woohoo!! This weight has been my nemesis for a long time, both physically and mentally. It was 13 lbs over my weigh-in bodyweight.

Rules of the Game
In a competition, the press is only done after a pause, after the bar comes to rest on the chest and the head judge commands “press”. The pause makes it more challenging because there is no momentum to carry it through. After a full lockout, the command to “rack” is given. Feet must remain stationary, shoulders and buttocks on bench. You have three opportunities for the press and go in order in your flight, which is a group of 10-20 lifters. If a lift is unsuccessful (as determined by the majority of a panel of 3 judges), you can repeat that weight or increase it in remaining attempts, but you cannot decrease the weight. So your “opener” must be chosen wisely as something you can confidently do. I opened at 120, did my second lift at 130, then finished at 135. When I did this meet two years ago, I finished at 120, finished at 130 last year, and improved on that again this year. So I was very pleased. Very pleased ☺
130# lift


Technique
Bench is great fitness challenge for both body and mind because good technique is essential and form must be consistent and unchanging from rep to rep to maximize results. A strong bench press requires involvement from the entire body - legs, core, lats, chest, and arms. Each lifter has his or her own unique pre-lift ritual to get the hands and body precisely placed. You want to achieve a sense of tightness and control as if the bar is lowering against a set of resistance bands.

Jake developed a warmup routine suited to me and it remains largely the same, week after week – weights and reps. I know what to expect and my brain has time to adjust to the increasing weight. At the meet it was nice to have the same warmup and same lift-off I have grown accustomed to from him (as he reads my subtle head nod!).

Jake and I before the start of the meet in War Memorial Hall at Virginia Tech

Mental Prep
Preparing for a three-second max effort, after a considerable wait, with surging adrenalin, and in front of a crowd can be a challenge. You trust in muscle memory and then can only focus on one or two things. On my first and second attempts, I thought only of achieving a feeling of control and tightness and a desire to have strong confident lifts that would carry into the subsequent attempts. On the third attempt, I simply repeated to myself “this is your day….this is your day.” I would never get this attempt back. I have worked on shifting my focus from negative thoughts of the heaviness of the weight to positive thoughts of moving the weight, so I went with that. It feels good to go 3 for 3 and has encouraged me to continue raising the bar (a bit of an unintended pun there, I'll take it!).

And How Does This Relate To Triathlon?
As with triathlon, successful powerlifts rely on consistent and progressive training, good technique, sharp mental focus, and belief!! Belief in the training process, belief in our trained bodies, and belief in our minds!

Sometimes I am frustrated that my bench numbers (swim times/run times/and on and on....) aren’t going up (or down as the case may be) faster, but Friday night I spoke with the men’s 2010 bench winner who put up 430 lbs!!!  He said he was happy to maintain or add 5 lbs from year to year. It reminded me that most legitimate progress is slow and any progress is good progress! We have to keep the faith and believe in consistent training even if the benefits aren’t always readily and dramatically apparent.

Bart Yasso posted on Facebook the other day, “Running isn’t about how far you go but how far you’ve come” and the Training Peaks page said “Don't fear moving slowly forward...fear standing still.”

So I will be satisfied with slow and solid progress and continue to work patiently toward all my goals, enjoying the journey and process.

Prologue
I don’t even know how I finished in the standings and it doesn’t even matter. This is a personal quest and I overcame the 135 pound monkey.  (Addendum: I did win the women's overall - http://www.recsports.vt.edu/special/BenchPress_results.php.  I don't pretend to think I'm some kinda hot stuff and I know there are women outbenching me everywhere, but where were they on Saturday??)

Love the VT on the plates and the fact that it's a GIRL!!!

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