Progressing Toward Strength and Dodging Plateaus

barbell hack squatI was fairly excited to get to “Plan B” again in order to fix some of the problems I had previously. As you may recall, last time I did this workout, I lagged both in the overhead press and the barbell curls. I wanted another crack at them to push past the plateau and basically to finish what I started.

Naturally, I didn’t sleep too well last night, but the anticipation of lifting plus a cup of coffee or two always manages to get me to the gym on time and wide awake. It’s later in the day when I start feeling fatigued.

Without further ado, here’s what happened. I tried to rest ~60-90 seconds between sets, but must admit to sometimes pushing rest out for upwards of 2 minutes as the workout progressed. I felt like I really needed the recovery time.

Barbell Hack Squat 5×5

6x 135lbs/61.23kg (warm up)
5x 185lbs/83.91kg
5x 185lbs/83.91kg
5x 185lbs/83.91kg
5x 185lbs/83.91kg
5x 185lbs/83.91kg

Barbell Close Grip Bench Press 3×5-8

8x 115lbs/52.16kg (warm up)
6x 135lbs/61.23kg
6x 135lbs/61.23kg
6x 135lbs/61.23kg

Barbell Bent Leg Deadlift 1×5

8x 135lbs/61.23kg (warm up)
6x 155lbs/70.3kg (warm up)
5x 185lbs/83.91kg (warm up)
5x 205lbs/92.98kg (warm up)
5x 215lbs/97.52kg

Barbell Overhead Press 5×5

6x 45lbs/20.41kg (warm up)
5x 60lbs/27.21kg
5x 60lbs/27.21kg
5x 60lbs/27.21kg
5x 60lbs/27.21kg
5x 60lbs/27.21kg

Photo credit:

Straight Bar Curls 3×8

10x 55lbs/24.94kg (warm up)
8x 75lbs/34.01kg
8x 75lbs/34.01kg
6x 75lbs/34.01kg

Body Hang Exercise w/shoulders engaged (bodyweight)

30 seconds

Two days ago, I did hack squats at 180 pounds, but it’s awkward to put on just the right amount and type of plates on the bar to equal that, so I upped it to 185 pounds. That’s the bar plus two 45 pound weights and two 25 pound weights. What’s an extra 5 pounds, right?

Yikes! After the initial lift to starting position, I sat down into the bucket, so to speak, where my thighs were parallel to the floor. Standing up again was amazing, especially as I progressed through the sets, amazingly heavy, that is. Yes, I was successful, but it was hardly a breeze.

I also increased the working weight for the close grip bench press by 5 pounds, though I kept the warm up weight the same. Pushed through 3 sets of 6 reps each pretty admirably, especially for an exercise that’s given me problems in the past.

I felt the most trepidation when facing the deadlift for today. I knew I wanted to increase the weight for the working set just slightly, but these are also weights I’ve never lifted before, and they are the heaviest exercise in my routine.

The first two warm up sets were pretty easy, but I felt the effort on the third, and of course, the fourth at 205 pounds should be counted as a working set, though I call it a “warm up”. I nudged up the weight for the working set from last week by 5 pounds to 215 and got busy. Oh yeah, it was heavy but I kept reminding myself that all I had to do was power through 5 reps…and I did.

I was already tired and sweating profusely after hack squats, so you could imagine how I felt when I finished deadlifts. Invigorated and grateful.

overhead press
Image credit:

I normally do barbell overhead presses in the power rack, but today, the trainer had his class working in there. Well, they got to it first, so as annoying as I found it, I had no moral basis to complain.

Instead, I used the olympic bar at the bench I had been previously using to do my warm up set at 45 pounds. However, I needed the 60 pound fixed weight barbell for my working sets.

Good news. I didn’t have to lighten the load at all for any of the 5 sets. I finally achieved 5 sets at 5 reps each lifting 60 pounds. I’ll probably keep it at this weight for the next “Plan B” day just to make sure before increasing the weight again.

By the time I was done, the training class had finished with the power rack, so I moved over there to do my curls (and as I write this, I just found out that doing curls in the power rack is poor form unless the gym is empty or nobody squats…oops). That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I am still lagging in this exercise. I managed the first 2 of 3 sets at the required 8 reps per set, but could only manage 6 reps for the final set. I tried for a seventh rep, but couldn’t complete the move.

This is still better than last Friday when the last set of curls was only 4 reps, but I need to conquer this one.

Now that I’m on the other side of today’s workout, I’m feeling pretty good about surviving it at the increased weights, in spite of my obvious deficits. I even managed to do 30 seconds of my hanging exercise at the end with my shoulders engaged rather than just hanging limp by my arms like a rag doll.

My son David commented that he’s surprised my legs aren’t becoming massive, but then again 185 pounds really isn’t that heavy for a squat. In fact, it’s pretty puny. It may take more weight over a longer stretch of time before my quads start to build up more. That said, I can certainly feel it in my legs every time I stand up.

Also, strength training doesn’t change the body the way a bodybuilding routine would, so it’s possible I’ll keep getting stronger without becoming particularly massive. I’ll have to wait and see.

After my workout, I ran into some of the other older people at the gym and chatted with them for a few minutes. Especially Gary, who’s 67 years old, seems impressed with me. He and the other two folks tend to stick to cardio and the lifecycle/nautilus-type weight machines. I teased Gary about coming over to the weight room, but I really do believe that older people (and just about anyone else) can extend themselves past their current limits.

55 yr old man deadlifts 315 lbs
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I told them about some of my “inspirations,” particularly seniors who have excelled at weightlifting and other sports, but the three of them looked pretty dubious. I guess it doesn’t matter as long as they’re doing what they want and it’s paying off for them.

I’m sure I’m going to hit a wall at some point. Plateaus are anticipated in a 5×5 program. I’m not looking forward to it and as far as my curls go, I seem to have temporarily plateaued at present.

I need to keep pushing but at the same time, take care not to push too hard or fast with lifts like rows and deadlifts which have the potential to cause injuries.

Tomorrow, abs and cardio, and then Friday, back to “Plan A.”

Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.

Will Rogers


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