My first max test was all about power. The previous 3 months I had crushed my disciplines and just weeks before I destroyed my 5K goal. I felt ready to take on the world.  And with no set point, there was no “success” or “failure” … just a number.  Since bench during my workouts consist of dumbbells, and my bench at the time was typically 35s, I was figuring I would be able to max 90-100 on the bar.

Donovan had to teach me how to press the bar, since I haven’t done bench with a bar since middle school. Each time he added weight, the rep count came down but I had no idea what kind of weight was on the bar. I kept giggling during the hardest part of my press.  Donovan tried telling me to grunt but I would grunt and it would make me giggle.

My final press was a second attempt on the 135 and I got it up.  Later Daniel called it “a full plate” because that is the weight of the bar with a 45s on each side. Donovan was stoked but contained his excitement, wanting me to assign my own feelings to the press without mirroring off his reaction.

The battle was all about how much I could physically lift and, for a first test, I was stoked about the results.  Since I weighed in at 175 the next day, I set a goal of improving my bench by 30 and dropping 10 pounds, figuring then I could bench my weight.  Donovan’s only comment was that 30 is a lot to add in 90 days but with focus I could do it.

90 days later…

My main fear was that I would psych myself out so I tried to avoid watching how much weight Donovan was adding to the bar… but my brain was still doing math.  Even without looking, I knew what he was doing. I pressed the 95, then 115, then 135 all without any difficulty.

My first attempt was clean but it only came down half way; that doesn’t count.  He told me to reset; it’s got to touch my chest. Then I brought it all the way down and was able to press about 2-3 inches but couldn’t get it up. I closed my eyes and tried to picture bringing the bar down and throwing it back up.  With a semi-clear picture, I tried again; and again, I got it up but didn’t go down all the way.  The fourth press I struggled through and thought I got it up… only to realize after that Donovan had assisted.

“Ok, we’ll stay there.” Donovan said and confirmed that it was the 135 I had assumed for the last successful rep. I swallowed my disappointment, took a deep breath, and glanced to see how much he had added. My heart sank; it wasn’t 10s, or even 5s.  Donovan had put on 2.5lb plates… literally that bar weighed only 140 pounds.  Physically I know I can press that; mentally I just couldn’t get it up.

When I got home I sent this email to Daniel.  For context, he’s always calling me his hero and saying he’s just a fan.  The email was titled “Not your hero today”


I’m still benching 135.

Benched the 135 just fine. Almost too easy.

But with 4 attempts, I couldn’t get the 140 right.

90 days, no progress?

Yeah, mental progress, sure.

It’s just not the measurable kind.

The kind I can feel good about.

The kind that makes my identity.

And maybe that’s why.

Until I untangle my identity from my results, failure to produce results will derail my identity.

And from a state of weakness like that… how can I bench more?

My physical weight went up (2 pounds) so my results are lacking so my identity is questioned.

So how can I believe I can bench more than last time?

Even if it’s just 5 pounds.

I told Donovan that last time it felt like a huge physical struggle.  This time it was all mental.

Maybe that’s the reason.

I can do more and better pushups than 90 days ago.  Logically my bench should have gone up.

It didn’t because I didn’t let it. Mentally I got in my own way. I couldn’t believe more.

So, today I’m not your hero. But today I’ll fix it so tomorrow I can be.





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