Lifting Details

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.

Background

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.

Driving Goal

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.

Powerlifting

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).

Current Approach

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.

More Details

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?

Conclusion

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.

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8 thoughts on “Lifting Details

  1. Great read! The struggle between getting stronger or getting fluffier on Wendler is real. However, I haven’t done any of that hill sprinting he’s advocating.

    I’ll have to check out Carter’s program when I hit my goal. I recently had to scale back on my squat after failing a 3x3x3 week, but I’m definitely making progress.

    • The more I think about 5/3/1 and its underlying philosophies, I do think that maximum gains — in terms of Jim’s motivation for his program — come out of the non-obvious things. That is, everyone gets the books and focuses on the weights and the templates. But there’s a lot in the other writings that is part of the program. For instance, Jim doesn’t make it glaringly obvious, but you have to do a lot of back work — some sort of pulling movement between every pushing set (chins, rows, etc. between all your pressing sets). And yeah, to really get N.O.V. (to use Jim’s term), some sort of conditioning be it hill sprints, Prowler pushes, or whatever, is a strong part of the program. That doesn’t mean 5/3/1 can’t be adapted for other uses, but that does seem to be Jim’s approach.

      I also found that with Jim’s stuff, I get stronger but not bigger… well, musclular bigger (it’s easy to get fat, because 5/3/1 really makes you want to eat! you just have to be smarter about what you take in — I wasn’t). Yeah to some extent sure there’s mass building (BBB template does orient that way), but IMHO the focus of 5/3/1 really is on strong, which doesn’t always mean increased muscle mass. It CAN be there, but well… I think this is where Paul Carter comes in because Paul makes it very clear that a year-long program plan has periods of just mass building, periods of base building, and periods of strength peaking. Jim’s stuff, if there’s any mold to fit it into, tends to be of the “strength peaking” approach — but again nothing says it HAS to be, and certainly if you read through and think about all the things Jim provides it IS in there. Just I think Paul has more obvious and intentional discussion of this sort of cycling.

      I’ve been quite pleased with Paul’s approaches so far. It’s a little hard for me to evaluate because I’ve been doing so much in the context of my fat-loss… but even in that I have noticed muscles are getting bigger and strength is going up — slowly, but still increasing. I cannot complain. I am looking forward to really following Paul’s stuff once I can eat more freely again. 😉 But one big thing I can say is that I feel I am getting more out of Paul’s programming, towards MY goals, and I feel a LOT less beat up. So it feels like a win-win for me. That said, I have thought about dropping back to 5/3/1 for a while just to see. I still like 5/3/1, and I think it’s a VERY logical and well-laid out program and philosophy. Just that right now it seems I’m getting more out of Paul’s.

      One recommendation… if you do want to look at Paul’s stuff, get all of his eBooks NOW and start reading them. While Paul is a very thought-ful person and a good writer, the books sometimes can be a little hard to follow because I think much of the writing was culled from his blog writings and then edited into book form, so sometimes there’s continuity issues. I found I had to read all 3 books (Base Building, LRB 365, Strength Life Legacy), then go back and re-read them, THEN everything started to fall into place (cross-referencing was useful). Plus, I found if I then went to his blog, searched, often times any questions I had were answered in blog postings OR in the Q&A that happens in the comments. So… you may just need some time to consume all of his knowledge and philosophy, digest the full concepts and ideals that he promotes, then be able to see the whole picture and how it goes.

      Either way, keep lifting things up and putting them down. 🙂

      • Good points on Jim’s program. I’ve been doing croc rows and chins as the accessory movements, but I agree – I’m only focused on the obvious pieces of his program. Set the template. Stretch. Lift the weight. Go Home.

        Looks like I have a lot of reading to do.

        • Note: that’s just my limited experience on Jim’s program. I don’t think you HAVE to do things that way to get something out of 5/3/1, just that when you read and re-read Jim’s stuff that does seem to be the way HE sees people getting max stuff from it.

          BTW, you get much from Kroc Rows? I’ve found I just don’t get much from DB rows as I do just BB rows.

            • Good deal then.

              I got to a point with rows that I do something between a strict Pendlay row and a traditional BB Row…. mostly coming about because of the length of my arms vs. my legs and the position taken with the bar and everything when bent over. Bent over, just a slight knee bend, and work to keep the back as close to parallel as possible but there will be some “heave” there (just keep it small) because… I grab the bar and make sure I pull my back “up” so that my shoulders are (rolled) as far forward as possible, so that usually means my back is a little angled up. Then pull heavy and ensure scapular retraction, lower and ensure again that my shoulders go forward. Do that like 5×8 or something, and it seems to be what my back finally responds to. Huzzah!

          • On another note: grip strength used to be an issue, and now it isnt. I’ll run both palms down on the warm up sets, the mixed kn the working sets for deadlift.

            • Yeah, deadlifting is great for grip. I run double-overhand for as long as possible too, saving mixed grip for the heaviest sets when I know I won’t make it otherwise. But even then sometimes I try it double-overhand just for the challenge.

              Also try holding the deadlift at the top for a while… like last rep of last set, when you get up… just hold it…….

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