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What Bench Are You Sitting On?

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Since last year, I’ve been trying to keep up the trend of reading a book per month. Recently, I worked through Coach Dan John’s Never Let go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living, and Learning. A model that Dan John likes to talk about is breaking up your training cycle into “Park Bench” and “Bus Bench” periods.

While he’s specifically talking about athletic training, the underlying philosophy applies to just about anything we talk about here at The Everyday Marksman.

Defining the Problem

Nobody is really capable of doing everything all of the time. It’s a sure path to burnout, which often sets us back even further than when we started. The realities of life mean that we typically have to choose one or two goals at a time to do well. Otherwise, we just do a lot of things poorly.

When you want to bear down on a specific goal, it usually requires sacrifice in other places. Whether it’s time, energy, or letting other skills lag behind, you know something else has to give. That means you can also only keep up on that focus for relatively short bursts.

The Bench Analogy

Dan John’s “Park Bench” and “Bus Bench” philosophy addresses this issue in a way that makes total sense to me. It’s akin to baseline training and sport-specific training.

The park bench is where you like to go and sit to hang out and enjoy your time. You can spend a lot of time on the park bench and feel good about people watching, eating a meal, or doing whatever. On the other hand, the bus bench means you’re looking to go a destination. You want the bus to be on time so you can arrive at a specific place and time- your goal.

Bus Benches

The thing about the bus bench is that you know you can’t spend a long time there. You’ve got other places to go and things to do. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a temporary activity before you get on with the rest of your life.

For athletics, Dan John says this is about six to eight weeks of focused training towards a specific goal. Longer than that and you start to burn out, get injured, or the other areas of your life that you’ve put on the back burner so you can pursue this goal start to catch up to you.

In athletics, this might be a specific competition, meet, or even trying to get your best “beach physique” for vacation. Whatever the event is, you know that it requires a particular set of skills or capabilities, so you adjust your training to focus on maximizing those skills at the expense of others.

In thinking about it, I also believe this applies to other skills and capabilities. Take, for instance, two-month block of focused dry fire and drills preparing for a big USPSA match. For a PRS-style match, you put it time with bolt manipulation, position building, and working dope. Or maybe you’re going on a camping trip and need to work up your backpacking, fire making, and field cooking skills.

These events all represent scheduled point-in-time places where you want to arrive prepared to succeed. Since you know where and when you need to arrive, you can work backwards by six to eight weeks to your start point: the bus bench where you begin the journey.

Dan John thinks everyone should have a bus bench goal at least twice per year, which would consume about four months total.

Park Benches

The park bench is what you do with your time the rest of the year. In a workout sense, this is your day-in-day-out-check-the-box programming. It’s where you hang out building or maintaining your baseline capabilities across the board. Sure, you’ll see gradual progress, and several plateaus, along the way- but that’s okay. It’s about enjoying the process.

You don’t have to do the same thing the entire time. In fact, this is your period to explore and try new things. Perhaps you’ve wanted to give pistol red dots a try, or spend some time with hardcore calisthenics. Give it four to six weeks, or more, and go have fun with it.

Your park bench training routines shouldn’t be stressful.

With shooting, this might be a short 10-minute dry fire session several times per week. Swap between pistol, rifle, and shotgun every few weeks and just keep working the basics. For bushcraft, it’s a few minutes every day working on a few favorite knots.

So What am I Doing Right Now?

As I’m writing this, I’m about to end a period of park bench. I’ve spent a lot of time on Tactical Barbell’s program, with a few other philosophies mixed in. I’m also the final stages of cutting body fat down to where I want my new “normal” to be.

In the community server, someone pointed out there is a nearby Gun Run event coming up at the end of April. This is essentially a tactical biathlon, and I’m planning on signing up as soon as ticket sales open.

Shout out to FlatDarkEarth, a community member who has a cameo in this video. I wanted to highlight it because it shows several of the physical attributes required for success in this kind of event. You need to move over distance under load, climb obstacles wearing your equipment, and still be ready to shoot on target.

Working backwards from the event date on April 29, I’ve put together an eight-week physical training program to serve as my “bus bench” plan for the event. The actual stages aren’t published ahead of time, so I have to take a best guess on the requirements.

As such, my program will witch from a balance of strength and cardio training to an emphasis on VO2 max and rucking endurance. Strength training will be present, with a subtle focus on weighted pull ups and more strength endurance activities.

This plan starts on March 6, 2023. Perhaps you’d be interested in a “train with me” series to join along for yourself? Here’s a signup form to get special emails with the program as it rolls out.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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1 Comment
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Run and gun – sounds like a great challenge! I’ve always held the biathlon event at the Winter Olympics in high regard as a true test of fitness and marksmanship. Carrying a load and manipulating obstacles while hitting bullseyes under time sounds even more challenging! What a great cause to boot! The video made a good point about supporting and getting involved in the next generation’s shooting sports – God forbid we don’t take that serious! We have good youth shooting programs here in AZ but there’s always need for volunteers and support. Good luck Matt and let us know… Read more »

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