Exercise Log 10.24.13 (Chest Day + Cardio)

Today was another “beginning again” day for me at the gym, this time with chest work instead of the squat work I had done the day before. My focus today was the bench press, and trying to wean myself off the smith machine.

Chest day is a fun day for me because it’s all about hitting the chest heavy from all sorts of directions and I always get a crazy pump that makes my pectorals get all bloated up with blood like the belly of an overfed mosquito. However one thing is I’m trying to train my neurological system to deal with more complicated movements. Now for a beginning body builder/strength trainer, moving from simpler movements like pushups to bench presses is a little intimidating. I don’t bench press anything of note (my upper body is underdeveloped from years of atrophy from a sedentary lifestyle that only ended two years ago, I’m trying to improve but it takes time) but for the last few months I began the bench pressing movement with the smith machine and feel like I learned a lot so far.

One of the real hurdles is I’m pretty anti-social at the gym, not with people I come with naturally or people I otherwise somehow meet and get to know, but with the random people I’m absolutely someone who just doesn’t interact well. I’m not saying I hate people, I just am very focused on me and learning the lessons I enjoy learning in the gym on my own terms. I feel like I just digest info better that way, firsthand. Not with someone else making comments, or interfering with my rhythm. So this is reflected most in learning the bench press. For one, at my gym the weight floor is very busy. I simply don’t like competing for bench spots when the floor is active because people will periodically want to “work in” with you. What that means is they expect you to just stop after a set, and let them have a turn. I hate long waits between sets, feel like it makes my workout less intense to have more than 45-60 seconds rest time. Also too, the smith machine is appealing because when you get on it, you can literally do all the benching you want and it’s not heavily contested machinery and they have three smith machines there… so really I can just keep using it as much as I want. Lastly though is the safety issue. Of all the exercises in the gym I feel I need a spot for, the bench press is the top one. The bar can do so many things when you fail a rep, and the one time I tried to bench press (the first time I tried the motion at all) I failed on a rep and it required someone else to jump in and “save” me. Always awkward in the gym.

However, as I grew I noticed a few things. One with learning about deadlifting and squats, I learned that there are so many elements to the complex motion that mean so much more for your body in the exercises to have the free, heavy weight. You can’t get a good deadlift from the smith machine, for instance, despite being able to emulate the movement it just doesn’t work. I ultimately came to the conclusion that while the smith machine might be a nice way to test upper limits of my bench strength, I don’t think it’s good for the standard movement anymore. I need to learn the conventional bench press. The second thing I noticed from observation was that day to day there are a TON of people who use the bench press safely, without a spotter, and without issue. At first I felt like it was just big gigantic guys who were doing this, but ultimately I realized it was people of all difficultly levels.

So I decided to look online and learned there are two key elements to a “safe” bench press without assistance. One is the form, you simply need to be practicing good bench form. While I pieced together the form matters before the workout with a series of videos, after I got home I found one video from Scott Herman that really just laid down all the form issues in one short concise video that I’ll share here…

Scott Herman demonstrates good form bench pressing

The second real big issue is learning what to do with the weight when things go… well not as planned. Well the first, and best and most safe thing to do is to set up the bench inside a power rack (one with adjustable bars to support the weight). Set the bars at just chest level or slightly below, then when you go too high, you can adjust slightly or deflate your chest and let it rest on the supports. Well this is good and great but my gym has one power rack, and I’m not tying it up for a ridiculously long time doing benching… it’s really primarily there for people to do squats. I honestly thing our gym needs two of these racks but that’s a whole different post. On top of that, I need to hit inclines and declines and the power rack supported bench press is not as easily swapped to those. So then you have the standard inclined/declined/flat benches with no special supports, just a rack and a secondary pin in case you can’t quite get to the top pin and that’s it.

Well if you lose control of the weight, the most likely thing that will happen is it’ll come down on your chest and you’ll just be stuck. Well for one, if that happens you can probably call for a spot but there is two things you could do solo without bugging someone else to save yourself. For one, if you don’t collar the weight you can tilt the bar to the left or right and let the weight plate slide off. This is uncomfortable and the resulting *CLANG* is bound to make you look like an ass to everyone else on the weight floor, but done in a controlled fashion you will prevent yourself from hurting yourself and will be able to get back up and reset yourself. Now you might ask “but that means you’re doing all your bench pressing without weight plates being collared to the bar, isn’t that dangerous?” Well I thought so too, then I thought on it. Really if you’re being safe AT ALL in the bench press, your gestures are controlled and the weights won’t be slipping around… and if you’re trying to press something you can’t control that easily, then you’re talking about simply pressing too much. You kind of have to know where you really stand with the bench press to know one way or another, and that’s the real issue, not whether or not it’s “good” to have the weight uncollared.

The second way to dump weight, which made me feel a lot safer just knowing about it, is the “roll of shame”. When you fail your press and you don’t have the strength to lift the weight back up to the rack, all you have to do is roll the bar down your abdomen to your hips, and sit up. As you sit up and eventually shift to stand up, the bar goes into a deadlifted hold and it gives you a safe way to set the weight back down to get everything reset. This video demonstrates the technique readily.

Home alone with a scary weight… keep calm, tuck & roll

So with this in my mind I decided I’m going to get off the smith machine today, and hopefully for a while except for exceptionally heavy pressing, and learn the bench press right. Well I think I did good but I only did so with exceedingly little weight. I knew the number one point of safety was simply knowing your limits, and I even started every new angled press with a bare bar. I knew from the smith machine what was going to be “too much” and as I expected, less weight “felt” heavier in the free weight environment because my body had to work all it’s stabilizers to keep it in position. After finishing off incrementing sets, my max weight I think was a mere 115lbs (laugh all you will, I’m still learning the movement) I dropped the weight down to something lighter even and did a lot of extra reps to help reinforce the pattern. All said I was very happy and felt like I did a good job of focusing on the chest area with the presses which is the goal of this exercise in my routine.

After the bench press lessons, I continued my workout with dumbbell flys. I started with a standing low dumbbell fly to work the lower pecs. Then I did an inclined fly keeping sure to keep my chest neutral and not to engage in thoracic extension because I knew if I did so, it’d neutralize the angle at which I was really hitting my chest, and effectively hit my upper chest (my upper chest is pretty well defined actually which is a hard area for a lot of people to hit so I’m lucky, if anything my chest issues are namely that the bottom more “mass” heavy part of the chest isn’t filled in very well). Then I did flat bench dumbbell flys to hit the central part of the chest. After this I was feeling froggy and felt it was time to do something heavier with some good volume, so I nabbed some 50lb dumbbells and went to the floor to do some chest pressing. I did quite a lot of presses and felt pretty good about that. Then I wrapped up with hitting crossover cable flys (I call these “pledge of allegiance” flys because I hold one hand over the pec being worked, to feel it compress because the rope machine based exercises are hard to isolate the right muscle). I also made sure to do completely upright shoulder presses with a focus on the elbow mechanics to work the uppermost chest muscles… the only thing I forgot today was an extreme low angle chest exercise, and something simple like pushups to really round it out. I felt like my pump was really good, so it was all good.

If anyone has the patience to read any of these exercise logs, they’ll know I’m training for a 5K. Thankfully my gym running buddy who is awesome showed up and we got in an incredible run. I did a total of 4 miles, but I kept the 3.1 miles at my 5K pace successfully (after failing twice, first at 2.3 miles and then at 2.5 miles) and off the record books I improved my 5K time by 40 seconds tonight. I’m hoping it pans out to an even bigger improvement on race day. My running partner is not as fast a runner as me (although she could easily be, she’s a much more natural runner than I am but that’s a rant for another day) so while I waited for her to complete her 3 miles, I spent the last mile running intervals. Doing a walking rest, a short run then a one minute “hard” run. Doing this already expended beyond my run let me know that I have more emergency energy than I expected, so maybe if things go well in the race I can tap that in the last few minutes and really pound the pavement. We’ll see!

Lastly, didn’t forget to stretch tonight! Got myself a nice stretch in all parts of my legs feeling nice and limber. Going to take a day off tomorrow (maybe do a fasted morning walk but that’d be it) and then carboload myself up. I’m thinking pancakes and fruit for breakfast, panera bread sammich/pastry for lunch and pizza hut pasta/pizza for dinner. Might cost me an arm and a leg, but it should add a little boot scoot to my boogey. Again… we’ll see!

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