My entry in the world of fitness started in high school when I walked into the gym and saw a piece of equipment that looked like an upside down “A” with two bars attached. The sign said that this was the Smith machine, and it boasted increased weight because you did not have to balance weights on both sides. This intrigued me. I started out dumbbell bench pressing without shoulder inflection (not knowing any better) and did 4 sets of 10 reps each day for about a month. My strength rapidly went up, reaching my target number of reps at 110 lbs after only 2 weeks; however, during this time I noticed odd muscular pain in my neck and shoulders while benching, almost as if something inside me were tearing or ripping apart. Deep within I knew that such pain meant I had to stop. However, I was so fixated on reaching my goal of benching 110 lbs for 10 reps per set that I continued with the pain until I got used to it… but this was not good enough.
So one day after school when I knew no one else would be at the gym, I decided to try out the Smith machine once more. It seemed perfect! No balancing weights on both sides and only half the weight is needed compared with free weights! So into position I went onto the bench, already knowing which seat height/angle that would be best suited for me (I’m 5’8″ btw). The cool thing about these machines is how you can move them up and down like jacks using a pin that locks into the weight stack. I began with a warm-up set of 10 reps at 75 lbs, and after this I was ready to go. I started with 135 lbs for my first work set, but quickly found out that doing so was impossible! Each time I pushed up from the pin something felt wrong in my shoulder area… it wasn’t painful or restricting movement yet al the same, something did not feel right. However, since all the other weights were manageable I thought maybe it had been a fluke and decided to try again at 150 lbs this time… it too did not go well. With great difficulty, pain mounting steadily higher during each rep, and no weight on either side of me due to lifting off the bar, I got the weight up halfway until it dropped like a rock and forced me to stop.
Following this experience, I see all fitness equipment carried by northern fitness (a website that is quite helpful for those new to working out) and began searching the forums for advice from others who have had my same issue with benching. User “machineman” wrote a post in which he listed how he had removed his shoulders inflections as well as advised doing high volume work with low weight to fix the problem. At first I was skeptical because usually training heavy leads to more strength gains… but after reading another post by “Saber2Golf” about using light weights at high reps combined with short rest periods between sets turned him from a bench nobody into a world champion bench presser. So I decided to give it a try, and after all, my shoulders/chest were really what had been troubling me ever since I started benching.
In the gym now I began with 3 sets of 10 reps at 30 lbs on the incline press machine (this is a good one for those who have shoulder issues/pain) after my warm-up sets on flat dumbbells. These sets went great! No pain or stiffness that was once present when going heavy with just 35 lbs per side, no awkward feelings holding 135 lbs in position throughout each rep like before… everything felt normal again. This made me happy! Then came time to do some free weights again; however, I was no longer aiming for 10 reps on my work sets. My goal was to reach around 20-30 reps per set, with the weight at 100 lbs this time. This would be no easy feat, but I knew it was possible if I worked hard enough… and after only 2 weeks of training this way I achieved what once felt impossible: 30 pushups AND 30 proper form benching reps without any pain or stiffness afterwards!
Now that the bench press issue had been resolved, I wanted to do something more challenging… something that would benefit me even more then simply pushing heavier weights. So one day at school I asked “Dan” (a hulky individual) which deadlift variation he preferred because he is so strong in them… without hesitation he said “conventional.” So that night at the gym I began deadlifting with a partner holding the bar for me each rep. After warm up sets, We added weight to both sides of the bar until around 275 lbs where I could no longer maintain perfect form… this is what’s known as hitting your sticking point. My strength will improve more and more with time at this weight, but gradually adding 2 reps per week has not only strengthened my back/hamstrings/glutes even further but also made them much more flexible.
Another thing I’ve done differently these past 4 weeks was not doing straight leg deadlifts anymore because I had stopped seeing any improvement in strength plus they were killing my back. Now that my shoulder /chest issue was resolved I went back to straight leg deadlifts but did them with a slightly wider stance and did away with the sumo deadlift which used to be my go-to move for legs. Now instead of going really wide, I keep my feet just outside shoulder width apart while maintaining a slight forward lean in my upper body… this way I am able to get a much better hamstring stretch at the bottom of each rep by keeping my hips low while not straining my lower back. This exercise has done wonders for me, putting me on par for strength/size with some people even bigger then myself!
In conclusion, this is all that I have been doing these past 4 weeks:
Preacher curls 2 sets of 10 reps using 55 lbs 3 sets of 15 reps using 25 lbs Incline bench press machine 3 sets of 10 reps at 30 lbs Dumbbell flat bench 2 sets of 10 reps 50 lb dumbbells
2-3 other exercises (I switch it up every week) for 1 set each to failure.
This is a great routine to do if you want to break plateaus and improve your flexibility/mobility as well as strength like nothing else! After all, I used it and achieved things that weren’t possible before…
Bodyweight squats: 365 lbs
Bench Press: 275 lbs 20+ reps using 100 lbs