Except for tomorrow’s ab and cardio workout, I’m done with week one of my Mutant Strength workout routine. Actually, that’s the end of week one of my first five-week round of “mutant strength”.
As I’ve said before, I’m under no illusion that I’ll eventually look like Hugh Jackman did in 2013 film The Wolverine, especially because I’ve significantly altered the exercises and scheduling (and especially since I’m 15 years older than Jackman), but it seems like a good solution to the roadblock I’d hit in my 5×5 strength training plan.
Since I reached a plateau at doing 5x5s with hack squats at 205 pounds and 1x5s with deadlifts at 225 pounds (and just getting the bar off the floor was a major challenge), I decided to take a running start at increasing my working weights in strength training by going lighter with more reps and somewhat fewer sets, then moving the weight back up and the number of reps back down a step at a time.
Here’s how week one ended in my five-week plan (first round). I rested, most of the time, somewhere between 60 to 90 seconds and probably a little more on both types of squats, at least as the weight increased.
Back Squats in Squat Rack
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Bent Over Row
Cable Triceps Extension w/Rope
Pull ups (bodyweight)
Barbell Hack Squat
Underhand Grip Hang w/Shoulders Engaged (bodyweight)
Dead Hang (bodyweight)
The first thing you may have noticed is that I’m getting progressively heavier in performing my back squats. I still didn’t hit my target of doing at least one set of 10 reps at 155 pounds, but it’s better than I did on both Monday and Wednesday. This also affected how I approached hack squats at the end of today’s workout, but more on that in a minute.
The single most difficult thing about back squats for me is positioning my body under the bar and then pushing up to a fully standing position with the barbell balanced across my traps.
I watched some more videos on how to perform a back squat before hitting the gym this morning, paying attention to this specific part of the exercise. I need to have the bar positioned correctly across my traps and have my feet even under my body before pushing up.
For the squats at 135 and 145 pounds, I started to stand, lifting the bar out of the pegs, and then momentarily set the bar back down, trying to get a “feel” for the bar and how it was balancing.
I know these are a ridiculously light weights for most guys who squat. However, the idea isn’t really to work my legs all that much, but to learn the very basics about how to squat. The fact that I’m able to go heavier with each successive day I attempt squats seems to indicate that I’m learning, but I don’t want to get too ambitious, lose my balance, and risk injuring myself.
Having done five sets and my last set being 10 reps at 145 pounds, I decided to call it good and move on.
Most of the rest of my workout went as expected. Both the bench presses and bent over rows were well within my abilities while still challenging the muscle groups involved. So were the triceps extensions.
For the first time ever, I managed to do the first two sets of pull ups at 5 reps each, which surprised and pleased me. It was “downhill” after that, but doing 4 reps on the third set was pretty good for me, and I could settle for a “mere” 3 reps for the fourth and final set.
Since I had somewhat approached my working weight for back squats while in the squat rack, rather than doing the usual 4 sets of 10 reps each doing hack squats, I decided to do just one warm up and then the two working sets at 160 pounds. This was at the very end of my workout and I was pretty tired at this point, but it was certainly “doable”. I did have to rest significantly between the first and second working set, but like I said, I was sweaty and wasted.
I didn’t let myself bail out on the body hang exercises, although I was tempted to. Believe it or not, pulling yourself off the floor and keeping your biceps and delts engaged for a full 30 seconds is actually painful, and even maintaining my grip on the bars for an additional 10 seconds in the final “dead hang” is no fun.
Well, the fun part comes from the sense of accomplishment. I did it. I finished the first full week and I improved on my back squats, although I’m still not doing my working weight.
If you count up all the sets and reps for both back and hack squats, you’ll see I did eight sets (5 for back squats and 3 for hack squats) for a total of 80 reps. Granted, you can consider most of those reps warm ups, but you’ll have to admit, my legs got a terrific amount of use, not to mention all of the supplemental muscle groups involved in those two types of squats.
A few days ago, I came across an article at the online version of “Men’s Health Magazine” called Normal-Sized Guys Who Are Freakishly Strong Tell You How They Did It. I don’t know if these guys all look exactly “normal,” but they are all incredibly strong…and young.
Of the three fellows featured in the article, none of them had their age listed, but from their photos, I don’t see too many (if any at all) gray hairs among them. I suspect I won’t find any role models in that group who will realistically inspire me to become “freakishly strong.”
Also, “Strength Talking Fitness,” a blog I follow, just published an article called Strength was, is, and always will be relative. This brings a little sanity back into the idea of being a “strong man” or “strong woman”.
It means you don’t have to be Superman, The Incredible Hulk, or a gorilla in order to be exercising well, challenging yourself, and improving your overall health and strength. What a guy like me, who turns 61 years old in less than a week, can do in the gym, even at my best, is going to be different from someone 30, 20, or even 10 years younger in the same relative physical condition.
As I was walking out of the weight room this morning, I saw an older couple (older than I am), 5 a.m. regulars, resting between sets at their respective weight machines. As always, I looked like a hot, smoking mess after an hour of lifting, and when I stopped to greet them, the woman said that every time she sees me, I get more trim.
I don’t really experience myself that way, since for the past 30 days or so, my bodyweight has been holding pretty steady between 191 and 193 pounds. I can only say that my “skinny jeans” may have gotten just slightly more roomy, but that could be an illusion as the waistline stretches out. It’s sometimes tough to tell how much of my weight is shifting around between being made of muscle or fat.
I know eventually I’ll hit a hard limit that, no matter what I do, I won’t be able to cross, and I’ll have to back down and find other ways to challenge myself. I don’t think it’s going to be fun to find out what that limit is, and I need to keep pushing until I reach it.
I don’t think a lot of people my age even consider pushing themselves beyond their exercise comfort zone (those who exercise at all), so right there I’m ahead of the game. But the other side of the equation is that I’m training to improve the quality of my life, not trying to become the strongest man in the world, even at my age class (though I guess I wouldn’t mind). Life, particularly as you get older, is about living between the extremes and being the best person you can be within those boundaries.
I’m still in search of that place, both physically and spiritually. If you haven’t begun that quest for yourself, I encourage you to get started. There aren’t many better ways to spend your time and your effort.
Too much rest is rust.