The Last Reps of the Last Set of Bench-Press, and a Reason I Blog


I used to be good at bench-press; I did it often enough. Now, those days are mostly gone. But one thing I learned from weightlifting was that there is a huge difference between doing just 2 sets of 10 repetitions, and doing 3 sets of 10 reps—even if on the last set you can only get just 6, 7, 8, or 9 reps.

arnold schwarzenegger, incline bench press

A lot of work happens in just 3 reps when those reps are your last 3. Something painful and wonderful and productive happens near, or at, our limit.

Doing 1 set everyday—1 easy-effort set, without pain and grunting and the shredding of muscle fibers—doesn’t lead to strength. But doing several sets, and digging deep on the last one, even if only done once a week, does lead to strength.

In other words, those last 3 reps are valuable in a way that the first 10 reps are not, because the last 10% of effort produces more results than the previous 90%. This is true to such an extent that during the attempt to complete the last set, in a way, the last set is really completing you.

This is a reason I blog—not the reason but a reason.

For several years, I’ve been collecting random thoughts in random Microsoft Word documents—fly paper placed randomly throughout the house. If you get an idea in the middle of the night, well then, write it down; scratch a few notes on the notepad beside the bed. If you think of something juicy while riding your bike, pull over and use the smartphone.

These are helpful practices. I know this. If I don’t start here, it can never move beyond there. But really, these are the first reps in the first set. They come relatively easy.

Writing blog posts, however, pushes me—like the last 3 reps, in the last set of bench-press, pushed me. Blogging forces me to exert effort and trim the fat. It forces me to think about my audience and to eschew lazy sentences. No lollygagging, no passive fly paper. My ‘spotters’ yell, “Come on, Vrbicek; push it!  Finish the set!”

When I blog, I’m forced to commit to an idea in a greater way than I would have otherwise. Writing for “publication,” albeit publication with a lowercase ‘p,’ gives me knowledge of my limits; my writing muscles get fatigued, and sometimes, the weights thud on my chest, and fatigue gives way to failure.

But it’s okay. Something painful and wonderful and productive happens near, or at, the precipice of (current) ability. After a protein shake and 2 days of recovery, I’ll be the stronger for it.

In other words, the hearty effort to complete 1 blog post at a time, is completing me.

But you might be thinking, “So, Benjamin, what if I don’t blog and I don’t bench?”

To you I’d say, probably there is something in your life where the last 10% matters more than the first 10%, or maybe even the entire previous 90%. Perhaps it’s a hobby or something in your vocation, or an aspect of building a relationship with someone. What is that “something” for you?