“Training Reality” by John Christy
So, how’s your last month of training been? Have you stuck to the basics and made “a little” but steady progress or have you abandoned ship because progress was “okay” but too slow and are currently trying a “wonder program” written by some arm-chair theoretician or steroid using phony that guarantees to put 20 to 30 pounds on your best bench press in 30 days? I can tell you that the trainee who put four pounds on his or her best bench last month (and the five months before that) is the one who is making great progress.
Think about that for a moment. In 12 month’s time, that trainee’s bench press will be up 48 pounds. And I’m talking about being up 48 pounds on sets of three to five reps. Their one rep max will have gone up much more than that. What I just described is not just a use of mathematics to show you what could happen; it is not just some theory that I have. It has proven itself over and over again with the many trainees that I have coached. It is “training reality”. This is truly how great size and great strength are developed. It is developed one pound at a time.
Now I know that many “Nay Sayers” are thinking that this sounds good and all but you can’t continue to progress at this rate forever or you would have trainees benching thousands of pounds. This is true – but you can maintain this rate of progression for a long, long time — long enough to put any trainee into a category that most trainees will never reach.
So, what about for the long haul? Well, what happens is that the rate of progression slows – but it doesn’t stop. If a plateau does occur then you simply adjust a workout variable (volume, frequency, rep scheme, auxiliary work, regeneration period, etc.) and you start making slow but steady progress again – one pound at a time! An advanced trainee may add “only” one or two pounds per month to their best lifts – but so what? This is great progress for an advanced trainee. Let me give you an example.
A trainee who weighs 200 to 220 pounds and can bench press 350 to 400 pounds (drug free, no bench shirt, with a one second pause on the chest) is truly an advanced trainee. So, the addition of one pound per month “only” equates to 12 pounds per year. I know that doesn’t seem like much but over the next five years that trainee will be benching somewhere between 400 to 460 pounds! How many trainees have you actually witnessed come into the gym, warm-up, and “only wearing sweat pants and a T-shirt” bench that much weight? Really think about that for a minute. I bet not many.
Of course that trainee will be able to bench 370 to 400 pounds for three to five reps – with a pause on the chest! This event won’t be a one-time shot either (like a powerlifting meet), because that same trainee will be coming into the gym next week to do it again. Wouldn’t you like to be able to do this? Well, starting with the right thinking, the right program, and patience – you can achieve equally outstanding results.
I feel that I need to digress for a moment and talk about what I am calling “outstanding” results – using the bench press example that I used too above. I know that many of you have been “brainwashed” by the so-called 700 to even 1000 pound benches that you’ve been hearing about, so that a “measly” 400 pounds doesn’t sound like much. So, I want to shed some light on this and put things in perspective. If you don’t know it already, it is a fact that those 700 pound benchers couldn’t bench anywhere near those weights without the steroids and the bench shirts that they are wearing.
Do you know that a bench shirt can now add over 150 pounds to what someone can really bench – that is, without a bench shirt? And the steroids are adding at least another 100 pounds or more. Here is a great example. I recently heard a very popular, steroid using strength coach say that he had a trainee who competes in the 308 pound class and benched in excess of 620 pounds in competition. He goes on to say that this same trainee (only) benches 405 pounds for five reps in the gym without the bench shirt that he wears in competition.
That equates to roughly a “raw” (no bench shirt) 450 pound max – which isn’t that impressive for a man that weighs over 300 pounds! So, the bench shirt is giving him over 170 pounds on his competition max – how absurd! This guy is not a 620 pound bencher! As he now starts to approach “reality”, his bench is at 450pounds! But wait, there is more. Take away the steroids and he’ll lose about 50 to 80 pounds of muscle and now, in “reality land” he’ll be able to bench “only” 350 pounds at a bodyweight around 240 pounds. Welcome to the real world.
That is why I used the term “so-called” in the sentence above to describe the 700 pound+ benchers. I’ve been around the iron game now for over 31 years and in all that time I have only witnessed one maybe two (the second guy might have been on steroids) “real” 500 pound bench presses, and only a couple dozen 400’s. Now I am not saying that there haven’t been others who have legitimately benched more — for I know that Pat Casey benched 600 pounds without drugs or a bench shirt – the point that I am trying to make is that a 400 pound bench (or better stated a double bodyweight bench) is a rare and tremendous feat for those who live “in the real world” of strength training.
With that said, let’s get back to the gist of this article – the “real” trainee who is building great strength “one pound at a time”. One last important point needs to be made, and this is dealing with a trainee’s expectations. Most trainees expect more than the body can deliver in the short term – but then this same trainee goes on to sell himself short over the long term.
What do I mean by this? Well, it’s like the example I started with, most beginner and intermediate trainees are looking for that “secret” program that can add 20 to 30 pounds to their bench in a month or two (unrealistic short term goal), but then convince themselves that they have only average genetics, don’t have the time, the dog ate their computer generated training program, or that without drugs, they need to be “realistic” and can only expect minimal results over the long term (unrealistic long term goal).
This is exactly the opposite way that you need to think. You need to have realistic short term expectations – like increasing your five rep bench by four pounds per month – but then have “big” long term goals – like benching double your bodyweight after ten to twelve years of training.
I’m confident that if you approach your training with the “one pound at a time” mindset, you will develop a physique and strength level that few achieve. Starting with realistic, achievable, short term goals – like getting those four pounds per month – and then “dreaming big” about what you can achieve over the long haul will help you to stay motivated and stick with a program that really delivers results. Most of all don’t ever underestimate what you can accomplish.