Back Squats in Wonderland…Maybe

coffee mug
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I slept fairly well last night. True, I woke up about an hour before I wanted to, but my sleep was steady up until then. I finally got out of bed, had a small bit of yogurt and a banana along with my water and coffee for a pre-workout meal, then headed off to the gym, looking forward to what I could do.

It was a bit of a strange day at the gym this morning but I’ll get to that in a minute. As always, I rested somewhere between one to two minutes (or a little more) between sets depending on the exercise.

Oh, I’m in the middle of Week 4 of my five-week rotation and this is the only Workout A that I’ll do this week (did I write “week” too many times in a single sentence?).

Barbell Back Squats in Squat Rack

4x 160lbs/72.57kg
4x 185lbs/83.91kg
4x 205lbs/92.98kg
4x 205lbs/92.98kg

Barbell Bench Press

4x 135lbs/61.23kg
4x 150lbs/68.03kg
4x 165lbs/74.84kg
4x 165lbs/74.84kg

Barbell Bent Over Rows

4x 135lbs/61.23kg
4x 150lbs/68.03kg
4x 165lbs/74.84kg
4x 165lbs/74.84kg

Cable Overhead Triceps Extensions w/Rope

8x 65lbs/29.48kg
4x 80lbs/36.28kg
4x 85lbs/38.55kg
4x 85lbs/38.55kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)


squatBack Squats in Squat Rack (Bonus)

3x 205lbs/92.98kg
3x 205lbs/92.98kg

Body Hang w/Shoulders Engaged

x35 seconds

Dead Hang

x15 seconds

Even mentally prepared, my first warm up set of squats just about took me down. I don’t know what it was. Maybe doing squats cold just takes some getting used to. My second warm up set at a heavier weight felt more manageable, and my working sets, though heavy, were doable.

My bench press at the working weight of 165 pounds was pretty much all I could handle for 4 reps per set, especially that last rep or two. Fortunately, I think I’m past getting caught under a barbell because it’s too heavy for me to lift off my chest (I hope).

Interestingly enough, I’d just read an old article at Flex Online written by Arnold Schwarzenegger on doing barbell rows “back in the day.” I’m not about to try them barefoot and especially not while balancing on a bench, but it was encouraging to read how he endorsed this particular exercise for the back. Thinking about it gave me some extra “Oomph” when pulling up the barbell for my two working sets.

I encountered an embarrassing moment when approaching my cable triceps extensions. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s only one pulley in the entire weight room I can perform my extensions because there’s no bar overhead for my hands to hit.

Unfortunately, as I was finishing my last set of barbell rows, a women, who is a semi-regular in the weight room, claimed that pulley to so some side leg extensions (which she could have done at any of three available pulleys).

pull ups
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I thought about skipping to my pull ups and using the pulley when it was free, but I knew my lats were tired from the barbell rows, and I wanted to rest them before attempting to equal or beat performing 3 sets of pull ups at a full 5 reps per set.

So I approached the woman and asked if we could switch off using the pulley, explaining why I needed that particular station.

She seemed taken aback, and after a few polite words, moved to a different part of the gym to do other exercises. I felt really bad, especially since my routine wasn’t going to take that long.

As you can see, I powered through the first warm up set doing 8 reps instead of 4. I was hoping to get through my 4 sets fast so she could have the pulley back. I guess she wasn’t used to sharing equipment, but anyone who has worked with a training partner knows how to switch off between the two of you.

I probably rested less than a minute between sets, and although I was done fairly quickly, she never came back to that pulley. I did approach her again and apologized, restating my original intent to share the equipment. She said something like “no problem,” but I’m not sure what she really thought about it. I wasn’t kicking her off the pulley at all. I hope she realizes that.

My pull ups went well. The last rep of the last set was tough, though. I was trying to get up to the point where I could look over the bar and I must have been pulling on that last rep for 10 or 15 seconds with my arms and lats under a lot of tension just to nudge myself up that last inch or so.

When I finished, I looked at the clock and saw I still had plenty of time. For a second, I considered getting in a short cardio, but it would have only been 10 or 15 minutes, and it didn’t seem like such a brief elliptical session would be worth it.

I’d fantasized yesterday about doing an extra set or two of squats at 215 pounds (97.52kg) for 3 or 4 reps per set just to get ahead of the game and prepare for next week.

I figured I’d go for it.

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I loaded up the bar in the squat rack, got into position, and started to lift the barbell off of the pegs.


As I freed the barbell from the pegs and tried to stand, I almost lost my balance. I figured I didn’t have my feet placed correctly so I replaced the bar, repositioned myself, and tried again.

No go. It was only 10 more pounds than I had squatted earlier but it felt amazingly heavy…beyond my ability to safely lift it and even get into starting position, let alone actually perform a squat.

I set my ego aside and took the barbell weight back down to 205 pounds and then did 2 sets of 3 reps per set. I figured it was better than nothing, and it gave me the opportunity to slowly, carefully, lower myself into the squat as far down as I could go and maintain good balance and form. I guess I need the practice.

Oh my stars and garders, it was hard, but also satisfying.

The only thing I could figure is that I normally schedule my squats at the beginning of my workout when I’m reasonably fresh. Trying a heavier weight for squats (the heaviest I’ve ever attempted, even with hack squats) at the end of my workout when I was tired must have been too much.

I hope 215 pounds will be more approachable next week when it won’t be optional (at least from my scheduled workout routine’s point of view).

At this point, I still had a few minutes, and decided to do my typical hanging exercises and then call it a morning.

My face and neck had dripped sweat soaking the collar of my t-shirt, which I actually like since it’s a visible indicator that I wasn’t just monkeying around in the weight room.

When I was getting dressed earlier, I decided not to wear my usual oversized t-shirt, the one I almost always wear when lifting. I used to wear it to cover my belly when I was on a weight bench, since most t-shirts tend to ride up when you’re on your back (or for that matter, when you’re doing pull ups).

My belly is a lot smaller now, though my weight popped up almost a pound between yesterday and today (I had my daily meals all mapped out, but some scheduling changes resulted in me consuming more calories than expected, and then there was this muffin my wife brought home from work later that evening).

There are days when I suspect I burn more calories lifting than when I do cardio. I dunno.

morpheus memeI can feel myself sneaking up on my body’s limitations and I don’t want to admit it. I want to be able to train myself to exceed those boundaries and to get bigger and stronger. Tomorrow is ab and cardio day as well as “rest and grow” day. Friday will be the last lifting day for Week 4, which will include the challenging deadlift.

Friday, I’ll also have the option of doing more bonus squats, using additional sets, additional weight, or both.

Next week will be week 5 and then, to paraphrase Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne from the 1999 film The Matrix), we’ll see “how deep the rabbit-hole goes,” or in my case, how heavy a weight I can squat. Will I take the “red pill” and be able to stay in (squat) “Wonderland?”

Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.

William James


3 thoughts on “Back Squats in Wonderland…Maybe

  1. Thanks, Hsampson. The “magic” comes and goes.

    @Wanda, not so far. When I visited my parents last December, I was without access to a gym for about a week. Darn near drove me nuts.

    From what I’ve read, it’s really difficult to actually overtrain. Of course I suppose you could say I have a deload week built into my current routine since I lift with increasing amounts of weight while reducing the number of reps across 5 weeks and then start over again with lighter weights and more reps.


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