Navy veteran and YouTuber Austen Alexander has made a name for himself for his fitness challenges, specifically when it comes to military fitness tests. But for a recent attempt, he's taking on a new kind of stunt that has gone somewhat viral on the fitness internet: underwater bench pressing. Guinness world records for the event started falling in 2019, when a man pumped through 43 reps underwater. By 2020, the mark jumped to 77 reps while completely submerged under water.
But Alexander is less concerned about rep volume as he is about pure weight. "As an athlete myself, I had to test this method of bench press myself to see how buoyancy affects benching under water," he says. His goal: to bench 405 pounds – that's just under 185kg – completely underwater using steel plates. According to Alexander, other fitness enthusiasts who have attempted the stunt have done so using rubber plates, which are more buoyant in the water and therefore feel lighter.
He's gunning for the 405 mark, even though his on-land max is about 300 pounds (~135kg). He utilises the help of powerlifter Kristen Dunsmore and CrossFit and endurance athlete Hunter McIntyre. Alexander starts by benching 135 pounds in a pool. Before we go any further, we should make it clear: don't try this at home.
"It's definitely a little lighter. It's really hard staying on the bench... I was like sideways. But I got two reps in," he says. "It felt good."
But just as the experiment begins, they hit a snag. The team has to switch pools after getting kicked out of the one they started in, but they quickly relocate to use the pool of professional stuntwoman Michelle Khare. They also make some adjustments to prevent their legs from floating up while lifting. To prevent that problem, they decide to place a 45 pound (~20kg) weight on their waists, and installed a bank to hold the barbell itself.
In the new pool and new setup, Alexander attempts to lift the 135 pound barbell again, and is able to get in 15 reps. Next, he ups to 225 pounds (~100kg), and is able to do 10 reps.
"It felt really good, it felt a lot better than it does on land," says Alexander.
Next, he ups it to 245 pounds (~110kg) for 1 rep. He ups the weight to 315 pounds (~140kg), and pushes out five reps. Then, he goes to 335 pounds (~150kg) and hits a single rep. Excited, he moves up to 405 pounds... but can't get the bar off the rack.
After the attempt, Alexander explains how the water displaces weight. According to his math, one pound on land is actually .86 pounds in the water. So 45 pounds is really 38.7 pounds in the water ... and 405 pounds is 348.3 pounds. That's just under 160kg. Even though he was working with that handicap, he wasn't going to push that much weight in the pool.
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