When I Ignore the Little Voice of Reason

back pain
Photo credit: stomachview.info

You might say I’m struggling right now. Ouch. Things didn’t work out so well today at the gym.

Well, actually, my “plan B” workout was pretty good (you can judge by the numbers below). Sure, the lower left side of my back was giving me some grief, but it wasn’t bad, at least not while I was working out.

I think it was when I tried to get out of the car after driving home from the gym that I really noticed the problem with my back pain. From that point on, it just got worse. Any little twist, turn, or bend nailed me. Even sitting right now, if I move slightly the wrong way, it really hurts (well, not as much as a few hours ago). No, this isn’t normal muscle soreness. Today’s workout did something unpleasant.

But before continuing with that, here’s what I did today. As usual, I rested ~60-90 seconds between sets.

Close Grip Bench Press

10x 95lbs/43.09kg (warm up)
5x 115lbs/52.16kg
5x 115lbs/52.16kg
5x 115lbs/52.16kg
5x 125lbs/56.69kg
5x 125lbs/56.69kg

Barbell Hack Squat

8x 135lbs/61.23kg (warm up)
5x 155lbs/70.3kg
5x 155lbs/70.3kg
5x 155lbs/70.3kg
5x 165lbs/74.84kg
5x 165lbs/74.84kg

Barbell Bent Leg Deadlift

10x 135lbs/61.23kg (warm up)
8x 155lbs/70.3kg (warm up)
5x 185lbs/83.91kg (warm up)
5x 195lbs/88.45kg

Barbell Overhead Press

10x 45lbs/20.41kg (warm up)
5x 55lbs/24.94kg
5x 50lbs/22.67kg
5x 50lbs/22.67kg
5x 50lbs/22.67kg
5x 50lbs/22.67kg

muscles used for a deadlift
Photo credit: imgbuddy.com

Straight Bar Curl

12x 55lbs/24.94kg (warm up)
8x 65lbs/29.48kg
8x 65lbs/29.48kg
8x 65lbs/29.48kg

I’ve mentioned previously that in addressing the idea of progressive overload, that is, increasing the weight of each exercise week over week, instead of doing that for all sets, I was going to try it on just one or two sets. That’s what I attempted today and it seemed to be successful.

As promised, I backed off on the weight for the close grip bench press, doing a very (for me) light warm up of only 95lbs and then doing my working sets on what I previously established was my warm up weight of 115lbs.

But after three sets, I thought I could go a little higher, so I bumped the weight up to 125lbs for the final two sets and was able to do 5 reps per set, though it was certainly challenging. But that’s the weight I did a week ago Monday so I’m moving back up the ladder again, so to speak.

No, I’m not going to go crazy. I think next time, I may do three sets at 125lbs and not just two, but I’ll have to see how I feel as I progress through the exercise.

Since I was successful with the bench press, I did the same thing with hack squats, increasing the weight only on the last two sets. Since starting the 5×5 strength training routine, the max weight I’ve done with this exercise is 155lbs, so doing the last two sets at 165lbs is a nice boost. I think even when I was using my old weight training routine, the max I did for hack squats on leg day was 165, so I’m pretty impressed.

The only trouble is, as I straightened up after each squat, I could really feel it in my back. Even though my legs could adapt to the weight increase, I have a feeling my back didn’t do so well.

But like I said, at the time, it didn’t seem too bad. I figured it was just some lingering soreness I could push through.

Next were the bent leg deadlifts. You may recall that the last time I did plan B, I performed straight leg deadlifts because they stretched my back without straining it too much. This time I wanted to get back to bent leg since that’s the deadlift type recommended by this program.

Photo credit: ironmanmag.com.au

I actually did pretty well. Instead of a gradual increase topping out at 175lbs over five sets, I decided to do fewer warm up sets but a larger increase in weights set over set. After doing five reps at 195lbs, I debated knocking it up to 205lbs and doing five more, but I figured I better not push it. That was probably my one good idea at the gym today.

Still, it’s 20 pounds heavier than my one working set last Friday.

I’m still kind of unhappy with my overhead presses. I tried to increase the weight for the working sets from 50 to 55lbs but I knew I wouldn’t make all five sets at that weight so I dropped it back down. I increased the warm up weight for the straight bar curls but kept the working weight the same as last time.

I also noticed that today’s workout took more time, a full 55 minutes. I’m not sure if I was resting for longer periods of time, or if my lifts were somehow slower, or both. I think my back was slowing me down, since by the time I got to the overhead presses, I found bending over difficult.

I don’t know if this makes a difference, but I forgot my water bottle in the car. Normally, I take sips between sets and between exercises, but this time, between exercises, I went to the public water fountain to hydrate.

Anyway, as I said before, by the time I got home, I knew something was definitely wrong. This is a lot worse than the pain I first experienced last week. Even the amount of bending it took to put on my pants and shoes was quite a chore.

If I sit very still and in the right position, all I feel is a dull ache. But when I go to change my position, even leaning forward slightly, I experience a significant tug in the affected area of my back.

I normally don’t use pain meds, but I took some ibuprofen when I got to work and applied a tiger balm patch to the injured area of my lower back to see if that helps. It’s been over four hours since I left the gym and I can feel my back pain starting to dull just a bit. Hope that’s a good sign.

I’m glad tomorrow is a cardio day. Depending on how my back feels, I may not even do abs since most of those exercises also tug on my back somewhat.

I can walk OK for the most part but if I get going too fast, I can feel it enough to make me wince.

strong old man
photo credit: ML Sinibaldi/CORBIS

I know I’ve said before that we older folks need to dial things back a bit to avoid injuries because we don’t heal as quickly as younger people. I broke my own rule and I’m paying for it. I guess you could say this is an opportunity for you to benefit from my bad example.

On the other hand, I’m just competitive enough (with myself) to be glad that I was able to increase my weight for some portion of most of my exercises. I just need to try to keep my perspective when I go back to workout A on Friday.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says “I’ll try again tomorrow.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

That describes not only courage but reason.


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