The title of this post is a common question, heard in gyms throughout the world. You can even supplant “bench” with “squat,” “clean,” or “deadlift.” Any lift will do. What are your numbers?
After reading Zach Even Esh’s article about the prisoner he saw working out, I re-read Dan John’s AIT article. In it, he asks “what would you do if you were a political prisoner, and only given 15 minutes to work out every day?” He goes on to suggest perhaps the front squat.
The first thing that came to mind when I read that sentence, in light of Even Esh’s article, was not the front squat.
Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for Dan John. And I really like his message in that article. But Dan John always recommends Olympic Lifts (or their variants, or their supplements). It’s his thing.
If you were truly a political prisoner (or any type of prisoner), and you had no access to a set of weights, what would you do? Would you sit in your cell all day and vegetate? Would you go the route of Even Esh’s inmate and bust your ass every day, becoming so strong you could break through your handcuffs and straightjacket? Or would you do something else?
I once read a story about one of Xing Yi’s Quan’s (it’s a martial art) “founding fathers,” Gou Yun Shen. As the story goes, he was imprisoned for killing someone (I think while working as a bodyguard, but maybe not…it was a violent time in China). Anyway, Gou was regarded as highly dangerous, because of his martial arts skills. He was kept manacled all day. Yet, somehow, he came out of prison a more dangerous martial artist than he went in. He had practiced his art while manacled.
I guess I’m just a little dismayed by the attention weightlifting still gets, even now. Weights are a tool. They can achieve certain ends. But they are not the end-all of resistance training. Intention, desire, determination…those are all more important. Sure, O-lifts are important if you’re an athlete, or an O-lifter, but for the general populace, is it necessary for me to perfect my hang-snatch?
Even closer to the point – is it necessary for me to put up a big bench press number to be truly powerful, or to have a very high level of physical strength? What about movement ability? What type movement did I learn after all of that time practicing my bench press?
I think we all can, and should, use the 15-minute paradigm in our workouts on a regular basis. Do as much work as you can in that 15 minute period. Pick the most intense, most effective exercises you can and do them for 15 minutes. Then rest. Then do them again. What will you pick?
Oh yeah…what can you bench?