Not too long ago, I wrote a blog post called What am I Doing to My Body, in which I explored to some degree, the changes my body seems to be undergoing now that I’m involved in a 5×5 strength training routine as opposed to a more traditional bodybuilding-style workout.
Today marks the beginning of my sixth week doing the 5×5 workout, which emphasizes heavy, compound lifts using barbells almost exclusively, lifting the weight for 5 sets at 5 reps per set in most exercises, and employing progressive overload by increasing the weights being lifted week-over-week. Previously, I was doing a lot more isolation lifts for different parts of my body, typically lifting 3 sets at 8 to 15 reps per set.
Those two different styles of lifting, strength training vs. bodybuilding, affect the body differently and produce sometimes radically different results.
As you can see from the accompanying photo (scroll down a bit) comparing bodybuilder and Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman and Olympic weightlifter and gold winner Hossein Rezazadeh, they represent two very different body types.
I’m not sure I like either one, at least in terms of what I want to look like.
Mehdi, the site owner for Stronglifts, writes:
I agree you’ll never achieve a bodybuilder physique through weightlifting. But the physique you’ll build will make most of us happy. All muscles work during Olympic lifts:
- Calves. Full extension of the pull where you get on your toes.
- Legs. Pull & squat movements involve your legs.
- Lower Back. Pulling from the floor is a modified Deadlift.
- Core. Keeping the weight overhead works your core.
- Traps & Upper-back. These are the muscles pulling from thigh-level.
- Shoulders & Triceps. The Jerk is an explosive Overhead Press with a dip.
Chest & Biceps are not worked directly. But of course, your body works as one peace [sic]. Try an Overhead Squat, the catching position of a Snatch, and tell me if you’re not tightening every muscle, including chest & arms.
Of course, I don’t do Olympic-style powerlifting, but a number of the lifts I perform in my routine are similar enough for me to expect that I’ll end up looking more “powerlifter-like.”
I’m encouraged that not all powerlifters look like Rezazadeh given the other photo of some Chinese weightlifters I found on Mehdi’s site (scroll down a bit).
On my previous blog post, I went into the details of the different styles of lifting and how they affect the muscles and central nervous system. For today’s missive, I just wanted to see some graphic examples.
Having accomplished that, here’s what I did today. I typically rested somewhere in between 90 and 120 seconds between sets and on one or two occasions, a little more than 2 minutes:
Barbell Hack Squats 5×5
5x 145lbs/65.77kg (warm up)
5x 145lbs/65.77kg (warm up)
Barbell Close Grip Bench Press 3×5-8
8x 115lbs/52.16kg (warm up)
Barbell Bent Leg Deadlift 1×5
5x 145lbs/65.77kg (warm up)
5x 165lbs/74.84kg (warm up)
5x 185lbs/83.91kg (warm up)
5x 205lbs/92.98kg (warm up)
Barbell Overhead Press 5×5
5x 45lbs/20.41kg (warm up)
Barbell Curl 3×8
8x 45lbs/20.41kg (warm up)
Underhand Grip Body Hang w/shoulders engaged
Although I do have to work today, since I’m not commuting into town with my son for the next few weeks due to the recent and joyous addition to his family, I felt I could still stay at the gym a little longer than usual. Good thing too, since today’s workout took over an hour.
Two things account for that. The first is doing two warm up sets for hack squats instead of one. The second was letting myself take more time to rest between sets, especially for hack squats and deadlifts.
This was the first day for doing hack squats at 205 pounds, a five-pound increase from last week. If anyone tells you five pounds isn’t that much, don’t believe them. I felt it, especially pulling the barbell off the floor behind me and getting into starting position for each set.
Besides the sheer challenge of the weight increase, I noticed again that my grip on the bar with my right hand still needs work. Even when I focus on getting a firm hold, as I pull the barbell off the floor, my hand still loosens up a bit.
My knees complained some for the first working set but I settled into a routine for the subsequent sets and amazingly (for me) managed to finish everything as planned.
I kept my close grip presses at the same weight but increased the reps for both the warm up and working sets to 8, which is up from 6 reps per set from last week. I find it difficult to keep my elbows tucked in as much as I know they should be, but I’m still feeling the lift in my upper triceps head.
I continue to find a 225 pound deadlift intimidating. I started feeling the effort at the 185 warm up set as well as the 205 pound set.
Getting the barbell off the floor at 225 pounds was a definite groan inducer but once accomplished, I powered through all five reps. For a second, I doubted my ability to go through all five, but I ignored that and just focused on finishing.
The barbell hit the floor with a loud, metallic “bang” at the end of the fifth rep. It was very satisfying.
In addition to increasing the weight for hack squats, it was time for a five-pound jump up for overhead military presses from 65 to 70 pounds.
I’ve had problems with overhead barbell presses before and this one worried me a little. I can’t say it was easy, but it was do-able, and on the first day of the weight increase, I was successful at all five sets.
I had increased the weight last Wednesday for barbell curls and am keeping the working weight at 70 pounds all this week. It seemed just slightly easier than it was last week, particularly the last few reps of the last set, which I almost wasn’t able to complete the previous week.
At this point, it was just a little after six in the morning, but I still made myself do my 30 seconds of body hanging with my shoulders engaged, followed by 10 seconds of just hanging there and letting my body stretch out.
Today was another “sweat-til-your-shirt-is-soaked” day, which is another sign of a job well done.
I was going to stop writing here, but I saw an article in my Facebook feed called How Much Strength Training Do You Really Need. It’s touting the benefits of less is more (again), suggesting that a mere two or even one strength training session per week can result in significant strength gains. Sometimes I think these articles pander to those people who want to spend the least amount of time and effort in the gym as possible. That’s not one of my problems.
Anyway, this minimalist approach to strength training is somewhat controversial, since there are pundits who say that two sessions per week is good but one is a waste of time.
Research also suggests that a once-weekly strength training frequency can be just as effective on improving muscle strength as a more rigorous schedule. This small study followed two groups of adults over 60—one group performing a set of strength training exercises to muscular fatigue once per week, and a second group that exercised twice per week—and found that substantial strength gains can be derived from less frequent activity.
The flip side though, is what are the strength goals of these over 60-year-olds? The article doesn’t say, but it definitely is talking about strength training and not bodybuilding:
To be fair, one or two days of lifting per week is probably not getting you anywhere near those Hulk-esque arms—but that’s OK. Strength training isn’t just about “bulking up,” Metzl explains. “Instead, it helps your muscles get stronger, improves your balance, and preserves your fast-twitch muscle fibers, allowing your muscles to contract faster.” Translation: This helps you drive the golf ball farther, hit an overhead harder, and see improvements in any sport performance.
So the question is, will my weightlifting three times a week contribute more to hypertrophy as well as strength increase than two times per week?
Hugh hadn’t done much direct strength work prior to training with me. He mostly worked in the 8-12 rep range. I always encourage low, 1-5 rep heavy work to stimulate myofibril hypertrophy. Then after the heavy work is done we move onto the higher rep schemes to encourage sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. By increasing your strength with the low reps, you increase your capacity with the higher reps, so I always plan heavy sets of the compound movements. The combination of the two styles brings the best gains.
It looks like trainer David Kingsbury took Jackman back and forth between a heavy weight, few rep routine and a lighter weight, more reps workout to increase his strength and endurance, and then work on maximizing his muscle size.
It makes sense that someone who has built up their sheer strength and muscle endurance would then tear the more typical bodybuilding exercise routine to shreds.
So after my 12 week strength training trial is done, I might put myself back on my old bodybuilding workout to see how things work.
That’s just an idea for now. I’ll have to play it by ear as the 12 weeks nears its end. Right now, week 6 is beckoning me.
Either you run the day, or the day runs you.