This past Saturday I set a new PR in the Bench Press, after breaking my prev one little more than a week ago. After a hasty warm up I did 100 for a triple, 110 for a double (probably a new 2RM), 120 for a single, and seeing it went up pretty solidly (no loss of speed of the bar around mid lift) loaded the bar w 125 and started visualizing the lift.
I used to be somewaht sceptical of the use of those "cheap" mental tricks, but as I grow more experienced I've come to realize the iron game is a highly mental activity. When you fail a lift and let the bar go down it is never (never that I've seen in myself, at least) a "real" muscular failure (well, maybe for very high rep ranges, with a comparatively low percentage of 1RM), but a ceasing & desisting of the will to continue exerting herself to keep the muscle pushing. You let the bar go "in your head" before the muscles let go physically (I know this dualistic language would be highly suspect in the philosophy of mind circles that have become overwhelmingly dominant, but I'm tending more and more towards a kind of neo cartesianim whose full explanation would take me far, far away from the original intent of this post). So anything that helps the mind complete the exercise, and thus keep on truckin' (sending orders, firing neurons or whatever non-mentalistic language you deem to prefer) 'til the deed is done is not to be taken lightly.
So I visualized the lift, and focused more intently, and visualized some more: the feeling of the knurled bar in my hands, the slight strain in my right pec and front delt while lowering it, the slight pressure in my chest when it touches there, the reversal of direction, and how most likely it would deccelerate at about 3-4 inches from lockout, and how I would struggle, and tense the glutes more and use the legs to push the chest higher and get some additional leg drive whilst keeping the butt firmly planted in the bench...
But of course there comes a time when you have to stop playing mind games and go for the real shit. So I set up (my routine, or rather ritual is: first plant feet firmly on ground, slightly behind knees, then tense glutes to nail 'em to the bench, then arch hard the back, then retract the scapulas and finally align the wrists under the bar and, after a big breath, start pushing), unracked authoritatively, got some additional air in for extra stability in the belly, and started lowering the bar...
It came down very controlled (a mixed blessing, it gives you confidence that you can reverse direction at any moment, but it tires the pecs and front delts more than just letting it come crashing to the chest), slightly touched right at the lower end of the sternum, and up it went. In all the months this year that I haven't trained the bench press at all (the majority of them) I must have changed the strength balance between the different parts of my upper body, as a year ago I usually stalled a couple of inches above the chest, and now I start struggling when the bar is much higher (that means stronger pecs, which is somewhat surprising, as I never train 'em directly, except may be with weighted dips). This time was no different, and it was when 2/3's of the lift were already done that I found myself in trouble, as the bar was almost stopping, and I noticed I had driven it too far backwards (as it noisily hit the lower part of the j-hook in the rack). I was not to be defeated so far into the push, so I regained my bearings, braced some more, pushed with the legs, drove the back of the head harder in the bench, clenched my teeth and slowly and agonically drove the bar all the way to a successful lockout.
Then to round out the session I did 5 triples with 105, every two minutes on the minute (so really minimal rest), which after the 125 felt pretty easy (maybe with the exception of the last rep of the last set, which was quite a struggle again). So I did for triples what at the beginning of the year (last time I trained BP consistently) I could only do for singles. Definitely much stronger in this lift, which, due to my comparatively long arms has been the bane of my lifting existence.
Now I'm doubting if it would be better to have an additional training session with triples before one based on singles and then going for a final max, or just singles, rest and max attempt... the 125 felt much more limit than the 122,5 of the previous week (duh!), and I have the feeling that there is not much more than I can milk out of this cycle, so I'll probably go for a new max ASAP, and then start with some added volume again, from a foundation set comparatively higher than where it was five weeks ago.