400LB BENCH PRESS - History Repeats Itself
The day was in mid-May of the year 1987 and my senior year in high school was coming to a close. One of my goals at the time was to bench press 400lbs before the end of my senior year. I was running out of time. My lifts had been improving consistently, but to date my best bench press was 380lbs. If I was going to get 400lbs before I graduated, today was the day.
A month earlier I had purchased a t-shirt from the classified section in the back of a Muscle & Fitness magazine. On the bright yellow t-shirt was a picture of a weight lifting bench, with huge weights bending the bar, and the words, "BENCH PRESS 400LBS". I didn't tell anyone about the t-shirt. I just stuck it in the bottom of my gym bag, underneath my weight belt, knee wraps, plastic container of chalk and pack of smelling salts.
After I warmed up and then loaded the bar to 400lbs, word spread around the high school gym that "Sward is going for 400." As Van Halen blasted out "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love" through a cassette tape on the gym stereo, I leaned back on the bench. It was time to go for it. After I instructed my spotter, "One, two, three!," the weight was on me. I let the weight lower to my chest and then pushed hard. The bar went up in a slow, but consistent, grind. I had done it! I was now in the "400lb Club."
After I sat up from the bench, I showed no reaction at all. I calmly walked into the corner of the gym. I turned my back to everyone, reached into my gym bag and pulled out the bright yellow t-shirt. I pulled off the shirt I was wearing and replaced it with the new shirt. Then I turned around to face everyone in the gym. I hit a "most muscular" pose, with the words "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" emblazoned across my chest. The gym erupted with positive energy as our strength coach yelled out, "Now that's what I'm talking about!"
As my athletic career developed I would go on to bench press much more weight than 400lbs. But that day, back at the end of my senior year in high school, has always been an important and positive memory for me.
I have two sons, ages 13 and 15. They have both been getting into weight-lifting and I have been coaching them. They often ask me about my past weight-lifting exploits. One of the stories I have told them is the story above, when I first bench pressed 400lbs and about the "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" t-shirt.
Then I got to thinking. I might still have that t-shirt. After I first adorned the "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" t-shirt 33 years ago, I never wore it again. I threw it in the bottom of a cardboard box labeled "Joel's Trophies" and forgot about it. I decided to look for the box and found it in the attic. Low and behold, there it was. Sitting in the bottom of the box was the "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" t-shirt. I took it out and proceeded to hide it underneath a mat in the corner of our "home gym" in the basement.
As some of you know, I have been getting back into heavy weight-lifting after a long layoff from the "heavy stuff". I have been hitting it hard since the start of this year and all my lifts have been slowly, but consistently, improving. About six weeks ago, I got 380lbs in the bench press for one rep. Once again, even though I had not bench pressed 400lbs since before my eldest son was born, the 400lb barrier was creeping into my mind as an attainable and important "new" goal for me. At age 51 my body and my training has changed a lot from when I was 18, back in 1987. But one thing that hasn't changed is the process of setting goals in my mind to help fuel my training.
A few days ago, I decided once again, to attempt 400lbs in the bench press. Down in our basement, which my boys and I have affectionately named "The Dungeon," I leaned back on the bench. As Van Halen again blasted out "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love", but this time through my iPhone and Bluetooth speaker, it was time to go for it. With my 15-year-old son spotting me, and my 13-year-old son looking on, I barked out, "One, two, three!" and the weight was on me. I let the weight lower to my chest and then pushed hard. The bar went up in a slow, but consistent, grind. I had done it! Once again, I was in the "400lb Club".
Both of my boys were excited, but I showed no reaction at all. After I sat up from the bench, I calmly walked into the corner of the basement. I turned my back to my boys, reached underneath a mat and pulled out the bright yellow t-shirt. This time I didn't have to pull off the shirt I was wearing, as I wasn't wearing a shirt. I simply put on the t-shirt and turned around to face my boys and once again I hit a "most muscular" pose, with the words "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" emblazoned across my chest.
The boys got a big kick out of it, remembering the story I had told them about the first time I bench pressed 400lbs and the "BENCH PRESS 400LBS" t-shirt. History had repeated itself and once again an important and positive memory had been formed.
I hung the shirt on the wall in the basement and told my boys, "The next guy who gets to put on that t-shirt is the first one of you to bench press 400lbs." One of the great things about getting back into heavy lifting and coaching my boys is that I am not just telling my boys what to do, I am showing my boys what to do. There is a big difference in those two approaches to coaching. They get to see my approach to training, the intensity I bring to each training session, the importance I place on diet and rest, and everything that goes into improving yourself and striving toward a goal.
I do not know what is going to happen with my newfound emphasis on training. I do not know what is going to happen as I continue to coach my boys and attempt to instill the benefits that a long-term commitment to training can bring. But I do know that I am enjoying the process and memories like the story above will stay with me, and hopefully with them as well, in a fulfilling and meaningful way.
P.S. In conjunction with my newfound emphasis on heavy training I have been posting clips of my training on social media. You can follow along on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.
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