On the eve of my second bench press competition, I'm thinking about ways my training this year differs from last time around.
Taking Care. Last year I loaded up on Hemp Protein in the two weeks before the competition and, in pictures, I'm a glowing green. This year I have no dairy allergy to contend with, so I went straight for whey protein isolate, the best protein source for muscles.
After workouts, I'd drink a shake while applying ice to any inflamed areas. When the ice pack warmed, I'd massage all angry muscle fibers until they calmed down. And I really, really tried to remember to stretch. These efforts were important, especially as I moved towards higher weights this year.
Ignoring My Trainer. My trainer is a large man who parks his 1972 red corvette legally in a handicapped spot near the entrance to the gym. Not one for subtleties, he tries his full bag of tricks on me and never notices it doesn't help.
"My grandma could lift more than that," he'll tell me, and I fail to vow to best grandma's strength. "Push the damn bar through the ceiling," he'll say, but I already have my own visualization technique. "Get mean," he'll say, but then I catch sight of his belly hanging over me when he gives me a lift-off, and I giggle.
He's helpful, there's no doubt about it, but this year, I learned to not simply follow advice and play the A student. Instead, I've tried to listen to my body, to know when to avoid a certain exercise, or know when to rest even if it's not on the schedule.
Sometimes I'll think I'm taking my trainer's advice, like while I'm benching and he yells things like "Explode!" but a replay of the action would show that the bar is slowly, steadily rising higher. At this level, I can't exactly explode with 130 pounds over my head. Which leads me to Point #3.
Slow and Steady Does It. The sport of bench pressing might seem pretty straightforward, but lots of things are going on all at once.
First off, there are rules to follow. The bar must touch the chest; the head and buttocks must stay in contact with the bench; feet cannot lift off the floor; hands a certain width apart; the bar should not move downward while traveling upwards; no re-racking until the judge calls it.
Within that structure, there is room for discrepancies in technique, and minor shifts that could affect your success. How fast do you bring the bar down? How many--and which--muscles do you activate, and when? The five seconds or so are loaded with decisions, and they go by quickly.
There's a comfort that only comes with time, and I've noticed it this year while benching. I don't have to think as much now; the right rhythm is usually there, for the most part.
Superstitious About Superstitions. On a day when I was sure that if I wore a certain shirt I'd lift my personal best, I decided to throw all superstitions out the window. I wore a different shirt. I sniffed the Vicks Inhaler after the drink of water instead of before. I wrapped my wrists a little looser. Superstitions need to be separated out from legitimate routines or equipment, of course--I've got a little mental thing I do on the bench after all the necessary wiggling to get in place, and I won't give either of those up. But I knew I needed to walk away from unnecessary fears and just do what I've been training to do.
Like the fear of writing too much when I should be getting my head in the game, especially the day before the competition.
Maybe it's time to wrap this up.
Tune in tomorrow to find out what Amy lifted--and, not that it matters, what she wore.