Recently I’ve had a lot of people commenting or emailing me regarding the weightlifting I do. My logs only tell what I did that day in a synopsis for myself because I know what I’m generally doing otherwise. But since those details aren’t obvious from the logs, I thought I’d take a moment to fill in the blanks.
I’ve lifted weights on and off since I was a teenager. All the lifting I did was always worshiping at the altar of Joe Weider – bodybuilding, with knowledge based upon what I gleaned from magazines. It was the only resource I had in my youth. It was alright, but inevitably I’d either wane in my interest or something else would take greater interest and I’d stop.
My goals as a teenager were typical: big, strong, no wimps, get girls, and that sort of thing. But after I got married, took a desk job, and started to get squishy, well… things change. Biggest of all was realizing it was a chore to get down on the floor to play with my then-infant son. That’s a telling sign. I quit smoking (haven’t had a cigarette in almost 20 years), and the goals of some sort of “fitness” came to be a bigger priority for me.
The main reason I exercise – regardless of specifics – is that I don’t want to become decrepit. It was stupid that as someone in their mid-20’s I couldn’t walk 3 flights of stairs without getting winded or get on the floor to play with my son. I saw people in their 40’s and 50’s that struggled to pick things up off the floor or couldn’t walk 3 steps without making it a big negotiation. I grant age will bring the things that it does, that I cannot guarantee how things will be in my life, but so long as I can help it I want to ensure I can enjoy the life I have while I have it. Many people “eat right” and “exercise” because they want to stay young and avoid aging and the inevitability of dying (extend life as long as possible). I accept that I have no true control over when and how I’ll die, so all I can do is ensure that while I have my life that I have the ability to enjoy it to the fullest.
And so, I exercise and try to “eat right”.
Yes, goals of “being stronger” and “looking good” are part of it. I do want to be strong. I do want to look good. But really, the driving goal is to enable the enjoyment of life, and that is the primary drive and guide in my decisions.
That’s part of why I don’t expect to be a hardcore powerlifter, because that level of injury is not conducive to “enjoyment of life” (in my book). But yet, powerlifting is where it’s at for me.
Rippetoe and Wendler
I did martial arts for a number of years, and it was one of the better things for me, health-wise. For numerous reasons I quit, and settled into my desk chair again. I hated it. There was a small gym near my house so I checked it out, and about 3.5 years ago I started back into the world of weights – but for the first time at a gym instead of at home.
I started out with a light, full-body, bodybuilding-like approach, because that’s what I knew. But just as I was getting into it I got sick (flu or something) and had to stay out of the gym. I had gotten bit by the iron bug again tho, so while I was laid up I devoured all the information I could on the topic. Hooray Internet, because that’s how I discovered Jim Wendler (5/3/1) and Mark Rippetoe (Starting Strength). When I went back to the gym I dove into Starting Strength, and after that stalled out for me I went on 5/3/1.
I spent probably 2 years on 5/3/1 and made really good gains in size and strength, especially for middle-aged fart like myself. Alas, I suffered from mixed priorities: you can’t get big, get strong, and get lean at the same time as they tend to be goals that run counter to each other. So I would try to focus on one goal, get frustrated it wasn’t working, and flounder a bit. I know if I had focused more I would have made better gains, but it’s the path I took and because of it I learned a lot, so I don’t regret it.
During 2014 I’ve been trying out Paul Carter’s approaches. I’ll talk more about them below.
I will say a powerlifting style of weight-work sits much better with me (vs. Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk), or bodybuilding). I like focusing on getting stronger because strong is useful. That I get bigger is a nice side-benefit. It was always in my mind to total 1000 lbs (how much you squat, bench press, and deadlift) and during 2013 I focused on that and at the end of 2013 I achieved that goal.
To date, my best lifts are:
- Squat – 325 lbs (Aug. 2014)
- Bench Press – 250 lbs (Aug. 2014)
- Deadlift – 445 lbs (Aug. 2014)
- Press – 165 lbs for 2 reps (Dec 2013 – haven’t done pressing much since I went off 5/3/1)
They aren’t huge numbers, but they are my numbers. And they are gym PR’s. I haven’t tried competing yet, but it’s on my mind to once I can make that a goal (presently I have other goals).
After a couple years on 5/3/1 (which I still really like and recommend), I opted to switch to Paul Carter’s approaches. Following things like his mass building routines, Strong-15 cycle, and presently I’m working with his Base Building methodology. I must say I really like how he does things because I feel I’m making the same sort of progress as I did on 5/3/1 but I do NOT feel as beat-up as I did on 5/3/1. I mean, I can’t recall the last time I deloaded, and I really feel no need to; on 5/3/1 I had to deload now and again. So making essentially the same gains but with less pain? I’ll take it.
My main goal right now is defattening myself. I gained too much fat because I took too much casualness in the powerlifting mentality of “eat big”. I woke up a few months ago, got on the scale and was 265 lbs. My clothing wasn’t fitting — in a bad way. And it was evident when I looked in the mirror I was turning into a fat tub of lard. I also think all that weight was doing bad things to me in other ways, like stressing my knees and ankles, which already have enough issues to deal with.
I’ve struggled with the weight-loss thing for a while, so I figured it was time to get serious. Getting serious included getting help. I heard so many good things about Renaissance Periodization so I hooked up with them. To date, it’s been about 3 months and I’ve lost a little over 20 lbs of fat. I don’t feel I’ve lost any muscle mass, and my strength actually feels like it’s going up, tho it’s really hard to judge that unless I measured things in the same way. Many more months ahead, but the “defattening” is my focus.
While I do that, I still lift. Base Building actually seems to suit me well for this period. I can keep up with strength-oriented work, but well… you just have to look at how BB is structured and the goals around it. And frankly, I think it fits quite well. I couldn’t do 5/3/1, I couldn’t do any sort of “strength peaking” program. And a pure bodybuilding-style program would be mental agony. 🙂 But I think BB works and fits, for me, with my goals. I reckon I’ll stick with it while I defat myself. After I’m done defatting, I don’t know exactly what I’ll do but likely it will be working on a strength peaking cycle (maybe Strong-15) and seeing where I wind up. And come that point, that’s when I’ll start to think about doing a local competition (maybe just something as simple as Hyde Park Gym’s annual push-pull event). Competition may be my next goal, but until I achieve my current goal I’m not going to sweat future goals too much.
One detail that doesn’t reflect in my logs is rest time.
I try to take no more than 60 seconds of rest between sets. When I was doing 5/3/1 I’d take as long as I needed, up to 5 minutes. Since I started following Paul Carter’s approaches, I dropped my rest periods down to about a minute (read Paul’s books, his blog, etc. and you’ll see the reasoning why). Yeah, when I did Strong-15 I might take a little longer on the heaviest work sets, but even then not much more (maybe 2 minutes?). In the end, I’m only getting stronger. Sure it was a slight hit at first to get used to it, but now I think that it’s more beneficial. Over time I’m obviously stronger, and I’m also better conditioned.
I think the conditioning is a big part of it. I mean, I’d be out at KR Training hauling heavy equipment around and find myself sucking wind like crazy. But now? Not so much. I hate cardio (my answer: squat faster), so if I can do things like this to have some reasonable conditioning, I’ll take it.
So it means lighter weights when I’m working, but I also think that it feeds well into sub-maximal training, which is being demonstrated more and more as an ideal way to be able to build strength and train for longer (see Wendler, Carter, Chad Wesley-Smith, Brandon Lilly, amongst others). I’m getting stronger, I’m getting bigger (in the good way), and not beating myself up as much. How can you not win from this?
That’s about it, in terms of filling in some details for folks that have wondered.
By some terms I’m an “intermediate” lifter in terms of time spent and amounts lifted. By no means am I an expert, and I’m doing all I can to learn. This has been the most productive and fulfilling time I’ve had in all my years of lifting. I really wish I had known this when I was a teenager. The information was out there (Bill Starr was preaching stuff way back when), but I just had no idea. But I figure it took other bits of life, maturity, and other life-lesson learning to be able to have the discipline and attitude needed — and not sure I would have done it when I was a teenager.
Yeah, it means I won’t turn into Ronnie Coleman, nor set records like Dan Green. I got started late. But I’ll do the best I can. I see too many guys in their 70’s doing awesome stuff, and I’d like to be one of those.
Beyond the de-fatting of myself, I guess my next big strength goal would be to bench 300, squat 400, and deadlift 500. Frankly after I defat myself, those should be attainable with 1-2 years of focused hard work. But you know… it’s like Wendler said: once he hit a 300 lbs. press, what was his next goal? 305.
Just one day, one plate, one thing at a time.