Making Adjustments Up and Down

hack squat
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Today’s workout, as I’ve mentioned before, was a study in weight adjustments, both up and down. This week, I’m doing hack squats at 195 pounds, which as I’ll explain in a moment, is quite a chore, but I’ve also increased the working weight on both my bench press and my bent over rows by five pounds to 155 pounds. I can really feel that.

I’ve also mentioned that I’ve been doing my triceps extensions improperly, flaring out my elbows too much, which is an indication that I’ve been using too much weight. So I’ve backed off both the warm up and working weights to 50 pounds and 70 pounds respectively. That’s a reduction of 20 pounds for each.

In addition, since I still can’t make my minimum 5 to 8 reps for three sets at pull ups after three-and-a-half weeks of trying, I’ve temporarily shifted to doing lat pulldowns at less than my body weight.

Speaking of which, my official weigh-in this morning was 191.8lbs/86.99kg. Over seven years ago, at my son David’s wedding, I was 200lbs/90.71kg even. I haven’t seen 191 in I don’t know how long but longer than seven years.

But I’m still not strong enough to pull 191 pounds up and down 5 times for three sets each. Something to work toward.

Speaking of working, here’s what I did. I generally rested about 60 seconds between sets for the bench press and for the most part when doing bent over rows, but I needed more time when squatting…between 90 and 120 seconds, especially for the last two sets.

Barbell Hack Squat

5x 135lbs/61.23kg (warm up)
5x 195lbs/88.45kg
5x 195lbs/88.45kg
5x 195lbs/88.45kg
5x 195lbs/88.45kg
5x 195lbs/88.45kg

Barbell Bench Press

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

Barbell Bent Over Rows

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

lat pulldownOverhead Cable Triceps Extension w/rope

8x 50lbs/22.67kg (warm up)
8x 70lbs/31.75kg
8x 70lbs/31.75kg
8x 70lbs/31.75kg

Lat Pulldowns

5x 180lbs/81.64kg
4x 170lbs/77.11kg
5x 160lbs/72.57kg

Underhand grip body hang

x20 seconds

Although I seemed to sleep pretty well last night, after my first working set of hack squats, I felt like throwing in the towel. I had the momentary urge to quit and do something lighter.

I fought off the urge, rested a bit, and attacked my second set and so on.

I kept focusing on making sure I was going low enough so that my thighs were parallel with the floor at the bottom of each squat. For my last rep in the last set, I tried to go even lower than parallel and on the way up, lost my balance and took several staggering baby steps forward. I was able to keep upright and not drop the barbell, but just by a hair.

Progressive overload be hanged, 195 pounds still feels really heavy. I hope I continue to adapt and haven’t hit some sort of hard limit. One more day of squats at 195 pounds before I increase the weight again on Monday.

I was concerned with doing bench presses at 155 pounds, especially using full range of motion. I didn’t want to get stuck with the barbell on my chest and not be able to lift it up again. I literally had to picture Lou Ferrigno’s “angry face” in his performance as The Incredible Hulk before lifting the weight off the pegs to make sure I had the drive to see me through the next five reps.

Hey! Whatever you have to do for motivation is okay.

But something’s not right. I looked back at Monday’s workout and saw that the weight for my Barbell Close Grip Bench Press was 140 pounds. I’m benching only 15 pounds more than my close grip? Of course, I realized that I was making the same mistake in my close grip press as I was with my triceps extension. I was going so heavy that my elbows were flaring out. I need to reduce the weight on the close grip press too, so I can keep my elbows closer in and work more of my triceps.

bench press
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See what I mean about adjustments?

It’s kind of ego bruising, but I’d rather go lighter temporarily if it means doing all this right.

The barbell rows were tough. I could pull the bar up to my upper gut but not to the top of my chest. I still feel okay with this as the seated cable rows generally hit the upper gut as well. Not sure how exceeding 155 pounds will work out though, unless this program really works and I do get stronger.

Even at 70 pounds, I still had to concentrate while looking at my reflection in the mirror to make sure I didn’t flare my elbows out when doing cable triceps extensions. Fortunately, this seems like the right weight for now. I’ll probably keep it at 70 pounds for next week as well.

The lat pulldowns were particularly humiliating. I figured since I couldn’t manage to pull up about 192 pounds of “me” for the required 3 sets of 5 to 8 reps per set, I’d simulate a lighter body weight on the lat pulldown exercise. Initially, I decided to go just slightly lighter to 185 pounds, but once confronted with the machine, I settled on 180 pounds. I figured that would be light enough so I could do what was necessary.

I was wrong.

Sure, I managed 5 reps the first set at 180 pounds, but I barely made the last rep and knew I’d fail if I kept the weight that high. I figured 170 pounds for the second set would work fine but in the middle of the fifth rep, I stalled halfway. I couldn’t get the bar down to my face let alone the top of my chest.

Swallowing another throat full of pride, I knocked the weight down another 10 pounds to 160 pounds and still barely made 5 reps.

I’m never going to weigh 160 pounds again and I don’t think it would be healthy for a guy my height if I did (I’m just under 6′ 3″ or 75 inches), so the only alternative is to figure out some way to get strong enough to lift my body weight.

It took only about 45 minutes to get through all this and I spent 20 seconds, which was all I could manage, doing my body hang exercise.

That was that. I can really feel myself approaching my body’s limit to lift at these different exercises. Am I really getting stronger, or did I start out too light and am now reaching the extent to which I can lift?

There’s only one way to find out. Keep lifting and keep attempting to increase the weight over time.

snatch deadlift
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I’ll finish the week doing hack squats at 195 pounds, but I think I’ll have to reduce the weight on my close grip press on Friday and focus on proper form. I’ll keep my max deadlift weight for five reps at 220 pounds and attempt to increase it by five more pounds next week. I should also keep the overhead press and curls at the same weight as last Monday and see about increasing them next week as well.

As far as regular bench presses and bent over rows, I think I’ll keep the working weight of 155 pounds for next week. That will give me next Monday and the following Friday to adapt to the additional load before trying to pile more on.

I think I’m finally at the point of seeing how far I can push a nearly 61-year-old body. Let’s hope it’s farther than this. On Friday, I’ll have finished my fourth week of 5×5 strength training and I’ve allotted myself a full 12 weeks to test this program. That should be plenty of time to see if I can accommodate myself to this method of physical training.

I’m nowhere near “beast mode” yet, but I’m hoping I can get there.

You’ll never stand out if your goal in life is to fit in.

Dr. Mardy Grothe


5 thoughts on “Making Adjustments Up and Down

  1. I am sixty five and from what I have learned through my own work out programs and what I have read you seem to being too much too often .


      1. Hi James, I have been a member of the Starting Strength forum and reading advice in a book Practical Programming 3 by Mark Rippitoe and Andy Baker.. From what I read older lifters,especially over 60 respond better to intensity than volume. In the past I worked out under direct supervision of Dr. Ken Liestner,most of his programs were two days of lifting a week. I am also placing around with Wendlers 5 3 1 methods. I did take a long break from training due to family issues, but started to WO a few months ago. I have been doing either a two day a week program with Sqts,BP one one day and DL and press the next, or a one lift a day schedule SQT one day,BP next day, rest then DL day,next day Press. I usually do two accesory lifts following the main lift. This is not done for hypertopy, just tring to increase my lifts and lift what I did 15 years ago at the same bodyweight. Your blog is great,keep up,the great work.


      2. Thanks, Gennaro. I’d like to keep up with my current frequency, at least until I finish the 12 weeks I’ve committed to. I’ve read that two days a week of lifting can be just as effective as three days a week, and I may settle into that as a maintenance routine. However, I’d like to lose 7 or 8 pounds of fat and get just a tad stronger before I back off. I appreciate you commenting and sharing your experience and wisdom. I’ve got a “hold” on Rippitoe’s “Starting Strength” book at my local library. When it becomes available, I’ll be able to check it out and read through it.


    1. Gennaro, I’ve been thinking about what you said and doing a little reading. I have subscribed to a newsletter written by Logan Franklin of Gray Iron Fitness. Logan’s been doing some form of weightlifting/bodybuilding since he was 15 years old. Now he’s 71 years old and in a recent newsletter, describes his current workout routine:

      I exercise six days a week, alternating one day of resistance training with one day of cardio. That may sound like a lot, especially for someone my age, but the workouts are concise and brief. For variety, I use a mixture of dumbbells, cables, resistance bands, bodyweight movements, and kettlebells.

      On resistance training days, I warm-up with a few light calisthenics before beginning a workout; I also do a few minutes of relaxed stretching after completing it. The entire session takes roughly 35- to 40-minutes.

      He’s 10 years older than I am and seems to work just as hard, nor nearly so. Certainly, his routine is a lot like mine where he works out six days a week, alternating lifting days with cardio days.

      We all choose our own ways to exercise. Certainly what I do might not appeal to someone else. The important thing is, if we can do so safely, we should choose the type of exercise we like to do and that will keep us moving and motivated.


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