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We recently purchased a family gym membership, as our daughter has gotten into weight lifting to help her with sports. I told her I would go to the gym with her tomorrow night, and I'm nervous about it, to say the least. She is 14 years old and has been lifting weights for a year and a half. I was asking her about what she does when she lifts weights, and she mentioned that she works out with 145 lbs on the bench press. I've been trying to do some reading on weight lifting to be a bit prepared.

I'm 41 years old, male, 5'8, 130 lbs, have been a runner for decades and haven't lifted a weight since middle school, and honestly never even tried the bench press. She is about one inch shorter. She and I both realize that it will take time for me, but I'm not looking to embarrass myself. Should I expect to be able to lift that amount of weight? Or should I expect to be outclassed?

Any advice on how to handle this gracefully? Thanks.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JohnP Apr 9 '18 at 14:14
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    Anything above your current weight of 130lbs will most likely be impossible on your first attempt and you might hurt yourself trying. Aim for something under 50% your body weight, there’s no shame in starting small. Injuring yourself badly on your first go because of your ego on the other hand... – conorgriffin Apr 9 '18 at 14:21

13 Answers 13

45

Given your height/weight, you are fairly lean and your running will not have done much to develop your chest muscles. Unless your other activities have worked them, I think it is unlikely you will be able to do a set at 145 lbs on your first visit.

To handle it gracefully, put your ego aside and accept that your daughter is going to outperform you in the short term. Start light and ensure that your form is good rather than straining to see how much you can do the first day. If the first set is too easy, step it up on the next set, but I suggest you aim for weights that seem to require "medium" effort to start with - a day or two after your session, you are likely to find your newly stressed muscles protesting.

Once you get familiar with how to perform the various exercises, you will likely be able to increase the weight steadily for awhile (beginners gains,) before being limited by muscle growth.

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    Comparing oneself with another person, even your family or your twin will never be productive. I know I will never bench press the same as a former Cal. Govn. when he was my age. It is more interesting to know how can I bench press compared to the me a month ago. – Mindwin Apr 5 '18 at 14:30
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    “I know I will never bench press the same as a former Cal. Govn. when he was my age.” certainly not with that attitude. Though anabolic steroids probably help as well ;) – Michael Apr 7 '18 at 6:03
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    Hi, EMT here. Please, for the love of my sanity, don't try to bench press 145lbs unless you're at least somewhat confident you can do it from experience, rather than just "this little girl can do it, of course I can". Trying to start at a high weight without knowing your limit is a great way to crush your ribs, sternum, throat, and cervical spine. The advice to put your pride aside is fantastic. Start lower than you rationally think your minimum is and work up from there. – Nic Hartley Apr 7 '18 at 7:25
  • "put your ego aside and accept that your daughter is going to outperform you in the short term" correction.... accept that your daughter is likely to physically outperform you for the rest of your life. – Dean MacGregor Apr 8 '18 at 14:36
  • @davor "...if one is competing." Since OP is not (at least he did not specify competitive bodybuilding / weightlifting), he doesn't care so the comment is for this kind of people. If you have so strong point of view, please post an answer people can vote on, instead of offending other users. – Mindwin Apr 9 '18 at 15:07
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First off, props to your daughter. That's very respectable for a girl that age & size.

Second, unless there's money on this, start with an empty bar (45 lbs).

Even if you can lift more than that, delayed onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS) hits hardest when doing things that you haven't done lately. If you lift anywhere near as much as you can, you'll feel it for the next five days. I personally have never regretted starting too light.

Also, the bench is a more technical lift than a lot of people realize. Take the first few weeks to learn how to do it efficiently and safely, rather than to move a lot of iron.

Certain lifts require something to be on the bar (it's very hard to deadlift with an empty bar as the weight changes your center of mass and positions the bar), but the bench isn't one of them.

Last, it's a chance to show your daughter what it looks like to be careful & smart, something my kids at least need to see more often.

Good luck whatever you do.

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    Respectable is an understatement. Benching 145lbs for a 14 y/o girl is incredible, borderline unbelievable. Reading through the answers and comments here, I feel like I'm the only one who is absolutely stunned at this accomplishment. – Jun Kang Apr 5 '18 at 19:40
  • @JunKang Yeah, 145lbs for a 14y/o girl would put her at a world-class level. That's equal to the world record for 57kg bodyweight at that age. – Omegastick Apr 6 '18 at 4:59
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    @Omegastick I think you're mixing up kg and lbs. The world records (IPF) for 57kg female sub-junior bench are 102.5kg raw and 145kg equipped. – David Scarlett Apr 6 '18 at 6:43
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    @DavidScarlett Ah yes, so I am. Never mind then. It's still very impressive though. – Omegastick Apr 6 '18 at 7:44
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Bench pressing your body weight is actually quite impressive and would take several months of training to achieve. In my experience, someone new to weight training might be able to lift 50-70% bodyweight, depending on their general condition.

The most important thing with weights is to lift what's appropriate for you. Not only will you risk injury, but to grow stronger you need to perform enough repetitions to work the muscles fully, and you won't do that if the weight is too heavy. 3 sets of 12 reps is a good starting point, and it pretty much works for any exercise not just bench press.

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Thank you all for your answers/advice/contributions - can't say that I was expecting such a flurry!

We went to the gym this evening, and it was a new experience, to say the least. Clarification: I am a man - 41 yrs old, 5'8 130lbs, with decades of mid to long distance running, my daughter is 14, 5'7 "140ish" and she swims and plays water polo. She's been lifting weights 3-5 times per week since the summer of 2016.

Your answers were helpful, as I went into it not expecting to match her lifts. I didn't. Since it seems you all may be interested, I'll summarize my time as her fill-in lifting partner.

We did the bench press, and as she said she would, she did 3 sets of 10 with 145 lbs, which is a 45 lb weight and a 5 lb weight on each end of the bar, for those of you who don't know what that looks like (I didn't, to be honest).

Finding a weight for me took some trial and error, but I ended up doing a set and a half with 65 lbs (plus one rep in the "third set"). This is a ten pound weight on each side.

We also did bicep curls, in which I used a 10 lb weight and my daughter used a 25 lb weight. Then we did a handful of machine exercises that I don't remember all the names of - one was the shoulder press, a rowing one, one for triceps. We did (or tried to do) some pullups. We finished with doing a punching bag, which was maybe the most awful, because I have actually never thrown a punch in my life, and I'm certain I looked like a fool because my daughter was giggling the whole time as she wailed on her bag.

So to summarize, she was able to lift basically 2-3 times as much as I was on any given exercise. This wasn't necessarily embarrassing, as the gym was fairly empty of any onlookers, but it is definitely humbling to know that my 14 year old daughter is physically superior to me by such a wide margin. She definitely relished it, and our relationship has always been built on joking and teasing, so it would probably be unreasonable for me to expect her to treat this situation differently. So I'm sure that the "weakling" jokes will be flowing.

For those of you who will tell me I should hit the weights to not be such a wimp, based on the fact that this has never been something I've been remotely interested in, it feels like it would be strange for me start working out hard to surpass my teenage daughter in strength.

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    "For those of you who will tell me I should hit the weights to not be such a wimp" anyone with that mentality doesn't belong on this site. Keeping fit isn't a zero-sum game, where someone wins when you lose. Everyone wins by you being more healthy. So long as you exercise safely, you're going to reduce your overall cost in healthcare as you lower your risk for heart attacks, which lowers everyone's cost for healthcare (insurance premiums or taxes). If you find that members of your gym are being judgmental, find a different gym. – zzzzBov Apr 6 '18 at 14:01
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    Follow up info should not be placed as an answer. It should be edited into the original question. :-) As happy as I am for you that you're able to bond with your daughter over something as healthy as fitness, the four people that upvoted this answer should not have done so. – corsiKa Apr 6 '18 at 14:11
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    This is not really a good way to answer, although you are allowed to answer your own questions. This is not a discussion site, so I have edited out the open ended invitation to share. Welcome to the site, there is a wealth of information here! – JohnP Apr 6 '18 at 14:19
  • @zzzzBov: Don’t forget that it’s also about fun. I think few people are able to keep doing exercise just for the health benefits. – Michael Apr 7 '18 at 6:09
  • I am glad to hear that you don't care much what other think. But think about this: you are already very weak. What do you think happens when you get to your 50s and 60s? Muscle loss is about 5% per decade. Reading the book "Your New Prime" by Craig Cooper was an eye-opener for me. At 45 I started lifting weights and reduced running. I would highly recommend that you start heavy barbell training according to Starting Strength or Stronglifts. – Andy Mar 5 at 18:50
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According to the charts linked below, you should expect yourself to be able to bench press between 74 and 110 lbs as your one rep max. When doing sets, you’ll be doing less weight.

You will be “outclassed” because she’s clearly put in some work and had time to build lean muscle. You’ll basically be starting fresh, so that makes sense though. As a word of advice, avoid “ego lifting” and try to learn proper form first and foremost. Then, as you become comfortable with the movement patterns, pick a challenging weight when you are ready to do sets. Just don’t go too heavy or too light (to the point where it isn’t challenging), neither of those two options are beneficial.

(Note that "Too Heavy" is defined by you not being able to do the exercise in proper form and "Too Light" is defined by a lack of muscular engagement. The middle ground between the two that you are looking for is when your muscles are "challenged".)

Related - A quick way to find that ideal challenge level is to do a single rep with various weights, starting light and adding more as you feel comfortable. You will find this to be the case with the various exercises that you incorporate into your routine. Try to take notes (mental or otherwise) and remember what weights were challenging for you. That way, the next time you go to work out, you'll be ready to make the most of it from the start.

https://strengthlevel.com/strength-standards

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    As a rough approximation, you should expect to do 10 reps at 75% of your 1RM, 8 reps at 80% and 5 reps at 85%. These may not apply as well to a novice who doesn't have enough experience to engage their muscles appropriately for decent performance. – Reti43 Apr 5 '18 at 14:43
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    I disagree with this. Going too light is not a bad thing and will absolutely be beneficial, especially since he said "(I) haven't lifted a weight since middle school, and honestly never even tried the bench press." He should absolutely start too light, I would suggest with an empty bar, as it will benefit him much more in the long run to learn proper form and establish a strong foundation. – Jun Kang Apr 5 '18 at 19:22
  • @JunKang - I'm not sure where you're disagreeing with me. Not unless you're suggesting that as a part of his workouts he should just practice the movement patterns with something more than air in his hands. – JustSnilloc Apr 5 '18 at 20:01
  • @JustSnilloc No, of course not. But in his particular situation, as a completely untrained, "hasn't lifted a weight since middle school" man, he should just start with an empty bar and move up slowly, getting used to lifting with proper form, rather than jumping into a challenging weight. – Jun Kang Apr 5 '18 at 20:06
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    @JustSnilloc "Pick challenging weights of course." "I didn't suggest that the very first lift he does should be challenging, that would be silly." "He should go with a challenging weight." You can see where someone might get confused. Of course, I agree with "avoid 'ego lifting' and learn proper form first and foremost." I disagree with "he should go with a challenging weight." Regardless of it being an exact number or not. I don't think he should start with a challenging weight, he should start light. But I suppose that's where we disagree. – Jun Kang Apr 5 '18 at 20:31
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  1. People working out at the gym could care less about how much another person lifts, bench presses, squats etc. Everyone who is at the gym is trying improve their bodies and couldn't care less about yours. So don't worry about the weight being light because no ADULT at a gym will mock or make fun of person for doing light weight.

  2. Doing reasonable weight AND proper form is better than trying to do too much weight with improper form. Start with the bar and go up by 10 pounds or so until you feel comfortable doing 3 sets of 8-12 reps. You want to exercise those muscles not overwork or strain them.

  3. At the end of the day a daughter is going to be able to workout with her father and I don't think she'll pass any judgement on her father for not being able to bench as much as her, except with some occasional playful teasing here and there. Enjoy the time you get to spend with her doing something she loves.

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Short answer: you will not be able to do that amount of weight, your body is not prepared for that movement with any amount of weight (unless you do some push-ups once in a while).

You should congratulate your daughter and be proud of her, benching your body weight is a nice goal to have for beginners and intermediates. 2X your body weight is no small feat (I can't even do that, my max bench was 315 and I'm about 200 pounds), 3X is very rare!

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There is a very reasonable way to approach weight lifting with free weights:

Start with the empty bar.

The sport of weight lifting, most importantly with free weights (which I wholeheartedly suggest you do, and skip the machines), is very much about the technique. At the beginning, you get away with anything, but when you get into tougher weights, you can really hurt yourself bad. And hurting means no training, hence no progress, and no fun.

So, start with an empty bar. If someone looks at you funnily, it's their fault. Other guys at the gym are not supposed to care, and you will certainly not get insulted for it by strangers.

You most definitely do not want to get into a contest with your daughter. Do the empty bar with pride, and have her do a partner-check for you (Correct form? No big arch in the back? Feet tight on the floor? Full range of movement? etc.). Think about what happens when you grow into it, eventually she surely will not be able to keep up with you - making it a contest just sets you both up for frustration.

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Although everyone is built differently, I will provide anecdotal experience to kind of give you an idea of where you could likely perform.

When I first started going to the gym, I was pretty much exactly your height and weight (albeit, I was about 20 years old so the age difference might be important). I worked with a trainer for my first day and while doing the bench press I did around 75 lbs for 3 set of 8 with a LOT of help from the trainer. I do not think I would have been able to do that much alone at all.

As others have suggested, I would either just use an empty bar, or use dumbbells (maybe 15-20 lbs). The movements are tricky to get perfect and its important to get the technique down before you start pushing yourself. The dumbbells will be good because when you are just starting, you might have a muscle imbalance, where maybe one arm is stronger than the other. When using a barbell, this can be hard to notice as both arms are used to push one object, and therefore one arm could be doing more work than the other.

Just remember to take it slow as to not hurt yourself. Any sensible person at the gym won't care how much you are lifting. Everyone started somewhere, and in the beginning you grow quickly.

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Apparently during a regular push-up you are lifting 64% of your body weight (the other 36% is, presumably, the weight on your feet rather than your hands).

So when you push-up, you are lifting (130lb x 64% =) 83lb.

145lb would be 75% more than 83lb.

In summary, how easily you can lift 83lb may correspond to how easily you can do push-ups (which you can test for yourself, easily enough, even without a gym).

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SO as your just staring out, it's important to do, and work on three main goals.

  • Your max weight
  • Your workout weight
  • Your Form

Now your max weight is the weight that you can lift one time. If you can lift it twice then you didn't do your max weight. You should be very careful when trying to figure this out the first time. Make sure you have a spotter or two, and that they are comfortable lifting and catching the weight should you drop it. This number is only really good to see how far you have come. So I recommend skipping this till your a week or two (maybe even a month) in.

Your workout weight is what is more important to you right now. Start by knowing your goals. Are you trying to do three sets of 12? That's a good starting point. Then start with a silly low number and do the first set. Lets say 60 lbs. Can you do all 12 reps? Do you feel all "noodle arms". If you can't do 12, or you can and you feel all noodle arms, then it's too much weight and you should go down. If you did all 12, and it felt super easy, then go up a bit (say 90), then do another set. Again if your just barely completing the set, and you feel week and wobbly after it, then you have too much weight. Rinse and repeat till you get to the point that you can lift the weight 12 times with effort, but that even in the 3rd 12 you still feel confident that you can lift it. Don't fall in to the trap of the people at the gym yelling and screaming "just one more rep" they are not helping themselves. Instead you should be able to do your entire workout, feel tired and worn, but not exhausted or spent.

AGE ALERT

Due to your age you are going to want to take it slow. So what if it takes you 2 weeks to find the right weight. This working out thing will have side effects. The last thing you want to do is feel like you had a good work out, go to bed, get up in the morning, and find out that you can't work your arms well enough to put on your pants. When you make that mistake and your younger your body will recover faster. When you make it and your older you could actually have to miss work because you can't work your pants. Take it slow. That's important at 20 too, but very much so at 40.

Lastly, but most importantly, your form. You will get a better (more productive) workout lifting and empty bar correctly, then you will lifting 500 lbs incorrectly. Make sure to educate your self on your form, and follow it. It will help reduce heal times, keep you safe, and make sure that your effort is not wasted.

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You're totally outclassed here. You're 130 pounds and haven't moved a weight in decades. She could beat you up if she wanted. Just let her tell you how much you should try, she sounds like she would know. I think you should listen to your ego, ultimately.. that you should be able to lift more than a girl, and just go to the gym eh? Put in the same time she has and see if you like being strong.

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one way is stack the bar with a with some weight. Do 3 reps then ask your self can you do another 9. if the answer is yes easily than stack more weight on the bar do another three and ask the same question but with 6 reps if yes add more weight do another 3 same question can I do 3 more if the answer is easily add more weight. If the answer is no then take a little weight off and that should take you to overload. If at any time the answer is no then take a little off then do another three and ask the question. It works if you start with a slightly heavier weight as you could run out of reps before you get to your ideal weight. This method can be used for most exercises and is designed to find a starting point. Of course the old favourite is a 1 rep max then work on about 60% for your 12 reps. Hope I havnt confused you.

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