Friday, February 21, 2014

Weight Lifting: An Update On My Routine and Progress

It's been about two years since I last discussed my weight lifting routine on the blog, and I have changed it around quite a bit.  While I am definitely still not as strong as some of you out there, I have progressed considerably since I last visited the topic, and I figured an update is in order to document my successes and failures so far.

A Change of Program

If you recall my last article on weight lifting, I was following Lyle McDonald's generic bulking program to bulk up before my wedding that was a few months away at the time.  The plan was to bulk up for a couple months, then lean for a month-and-a-half before the wedding.  Well, that didn't happen at all.  I kept lifting weights on a regular basis, and there were no motivation issues holding me back, as I really do enjoy the activity.  In my usual fashion, I mentally decided that I was going to diet correctly for each phase of the recomp, but in reality, I just ate whatever I wanted.  Dieting has never been something I've successfully accomplished, but in retrospect, I don't really care that much.  My fiancee at the time (my now wonderful wife of a year-and-a-half) has always told me that she would find me attractive unless I somehow managed to become morbidly obese.  So the motivation to deprive myself of delicious food just for six pack abs just isn't there.  I accept this now.

After my wedding, I decided that my main goal in regards to weight lifting would be to become as strong as possible at my comfortable set point range of 160-170 lbs.  Since the bulk/cut cycle was unimportant to me, McDonald's generic bulking routine was out.  I still think it is a good program, but it wasn't what I'm looking for.

StrongLifts 5x5

Enter StrongLifts 5x5.  Usually I am enticed by things that are based on strong scientific evidence.  With the 5x5 program, it's actually the opposite.  Despite what the author of the program wants you to think, there aren't actually a lot of references to scientific literature in his program's guide.  Obviously, weight lifting in general is an activity that has been scientifically demonstrated to increase muscle mass, and this program (as well any basically any other lifting program) falls into that category.  There just isn't a lot of evidence to believe this program would work any better than any other program like it with all other factors being equal (e.g. diet, sleep, stress).

Anyway, what attracted me to StrongLifts 5x5 is the sheer simplicity of it.  There is no working out percentages, no heavy/light day rotations, no extra exercises and no frills.  Just get in there, do five sets of five reps with some heavy ass weight, and get done.  Do it again next time, but with five more pounds on the bar.  Bam, I'm stronger than I was the last time I worked out.

Keep adding weight!

My motivation to lift has never been higher.  But switching programs didn't come without some glitches at first.  Back squatting comes to mind since I still don't have a power rack.  Lifting that much weight over my head was just plain dangerous, and it also murdered my shoulder and elbow joints.  Improving my power clean form is always an ongoing issue, as it becomes harder to get the bar "shelved" properly as the weight goes up.  Progressions for working the chest is more difficult without a bench.  And rowing is a constant experiment for me, trying to find the best position to lift safely--I think I have finally figured it out, thankfully.

After doing some slight modifications to work for my situation, StrongLifts 5x5 has taken my lifting numbers way up.  Sure, I've lifted better numbers... when I was 200 lbs, eating like a maniac, downing protein supplements and  going to the gym every other day (spending large amounts of money on food, gas and supplements in the process).  I'm now 165 lbs, mostly vegetarian and I only take fish oil and Vitamin D as supplements, mostly for health reasons.  And I lift at home, sparing me the cost of gas and a gym membership.

Additionally, I am no longer able to do a strict "every-other-day" schedule, largely due to more responsibilities I have to take care of first.  My wife and I take turns either watching our 7-month-old son, or working.  Thankfully, my muscles don't seem to mind having a few days extra to rest, and I've been consistently getting stronger.

The Program

Here's the breakdown:

Day 1
  1. Power clean - 1 x 5 @ 165 lbs.
  2. Front squat - 5 x 5 @ 165 lbs.
  3. Deadlift - 1 x 5 @ 300 lbs.
  4. Overhead Press - 5 x 5 @ 105 lbs.
Day 2
  1. Power clean - 1 x 5 @ 165 lbs.
  2. Front squat - 5 x 5 @ 165 lbs.
  3. Rows - 5 x 5 @ 135 lbs.
  4. Push up - 1 set as many as possible

Most days I will usually just do this as my work out, but if I feel like it sometimes I will add in pull ups or curls.

My front squat numbers are admittedly small due to being limited to what I can power clean.  The heaviest squat I've managed dates back to 2011, when I did a 250 lbs. back squat for one rep.  I still have a way to go to front squat 250, but I'm sure if I had a power rack it would jump dramatically.

Deadlift went from 280 lbs x 3 to 300 x 5.

OHP then and now is about the same, but I am now 35 lbs. lighter.  110 x 6 back in 2011.

I don't have a bench now, so I can't readily compare numbers there.

I didn't do rows back then, but I'm rowing more weight than I ever have since starting StrongLifts 5x5.

Final Thoughts

One of the things I like about StrongLifts is that the program can be recycled so many times.  At some point, I know that the sheer volume of reps to complete will be too much at such a heavy weight and I will have to go to 3 x 5, and eventually 1 x 5, according to the e-book.  However, I've kept doing the 5 x 5 scheme well over a year now and the only thing that has stopped my progress is the lack of consistency.  I would recommend this program to any beginner and possibly to intermediate trainees looking to squeeze out some gains before starting out a new program.

I'll leave you with a video of my 300 pound deadlift.  I know my form is atrocious, but I am going to be working on that in the coming weeks.  I'm gonna have to buy new plates soon!

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