My Limits Might Not Be As Close As I Thought

deadlift
Photo credit: muscleandfitness.com

They noticed.

Yesterday, after work, I went to my dentist’s office to have my teeth cleaned. It’s not one of my favorite activities, basically because of various dental problems I’ve had in the past that required a lot of uncomfortable “attention,” but generally the procedure goes smoothly and I like my dentist and his staff.

I remember that the last time I went into the dentist’s office, several people noticed that I’d lost weight and was looking more trim. Because of that, I was surprised when again, both the dental hygienist and receptionist (the latter whom I’ve known for many years) commented on how fit and trim I looked.

I decided to check back in my records. The last time I had my teeth cleaned was in mid-May and on that day, I weighed 196.9 pounds / 89.312338 kg / 14.064286 stone. It was right before I started my original 5×5 strength training program and when I was finishing up my previous routine.

Since then, I’ve gone through 6 weeks of 5x5s and then nearly 2 full circuits of my five-week (per circuit) mutant strength training workout.

So in a little over 4 months, there’s been a noticeable difference in my body.

As of yesterday, I weighed about 192 pounds / 87.0897 kg / 13.7143 stone. Only about a 5 pound difference, at least as the bathroom scale sees it, but maybe that’s not all that’s changed. It’s difficult for me to tell since I’m too “close” to myself and my appearance. I suppose I could have lost more fat weight than I realized and gained more lean muscle mass.

I’m just glad someone else can see what’s going on and I’m glad they mentioned it.

I mean, I think my workouts are worth it no matter what, but it’s nice to have some sort of external confirmation.

I’ve been going through a book written by written by Kelly Starrett with Glen Cordoza called Becoming a Supple Leopard, and it really goes into detail about how to create a stable spine and maintain it through a lift.

supple leopard starrett
Kelly Starrett

There’s actually much more to it, such as creating the right amount of torque, and I’ve been practicing some of his techniques. I reviewed the section on squats on my back patio last night. I could see my reflection in the windows of my house, and decided to try out some of what I read.

Preparing to do bodyweight squats, I stood up straight, “screwed” my feet into the ground, tightened my abs and glutes, placed my hands in front of me, and squatted down, opening up my hips by letting my knees go to each side rather than keeping them pointed straight forward.

I seemed to have better balance and was able to get my thighs parallel to the ground. Keeping all that in mind, here’s what actually happened at the gym this morning. As usual, I shot for about 120 seconds rest between sets.

Barbell Back Squat in Squat Rack

3x 175lbs/79.3787kg
3x 205lbs/92.9864kg
3x 220lbs/99.7903kg
3x 220lbs/99.7903kg
3x 225lbs/102.058kg (Bonus set)

Barbell Bench Press

3x 155lbs/70.3068kg
3x 165lbs/74.8427kg
3x 175lbs/79.3787kg
4x 175lbs/79.3787kg (Bonus rep)
2x 180lbs/81.6466kg (Bonus set)

bent over rows
Photo credit: sportsscience.co

Barbell Bent Over Rows

3x 155lbs/70.3068kg
3x 165lbs/74.8427kg
3x 175lbs/79.3787kg
3x 175lbs/79.3787kg

Cable Triceps Extension w/Rope on Knees

8x 75lbs/34.0194kg
6x 85lbs/38.5554kg
3x 95lbs/43.0913kg
3x 95lbs/43.0913kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)

5x
5x
5x

Body Hang w/shoulders engaged

x23 seconds

Doing squats under load is absolutely not the same as bodyweight squats. I approached the barbell in the squat rack. gripped it and pulled to create torque in my shoulders, stepped under it with my feet facing forward about shoulder length apart. And then I stood up attempting to achieve a neutral spine and not bend forward.

That’s pretty difficult, even with just 175 pounds on your back.

I stepped back as straight as I could, attempted to re-establish my neutral spine position, and then began my squat, trying my best to open my hips and let my knees go to the side.

Wow, that was hard.

It got harder as I added more weight to the bar.

back squat
Photo credit: Tribe Sports

In spite of that, I felt I was able to go a little lower and keep my balance a little longer. I still couldn’t go as low as when I was doing bodyweight squats.

But, I achieved enough confidence to do a bonus set at my goal weight of 225 pounds for a full 3 reps. That finally puts me at over 100 kilos for the squat.

I was disappointed that I couldn’t get my thighs completely parallel with the floor, but other than that, I considered today’s squat session a success. I can practice Starrett’s form more when I go back to lighter weights next week.

I also remembered how Starrett talked about the bench press and getting the bar close to the chest while trying not to flare out the elbows. I think I was pretty successful at lowering the bar sufficiently without trapping myself under it, but I need to work on my elbows.

At the second working set, somehow I managed 4 reps pushing up 175 pounds instead of the required 3. So I did a bonus set at 180 pounds but when pushing the barbell up at the second rep, I felt like I shouldn’t risk a third, so I stopped and called it good.

I had reviewed the bent over row technique last week and decided I needed to bend over more than I have been and maintain that posture throughout the lift, rather than using my legs to assist in pulling up the barbell. That meant my 2 working sets felt a lot heavier than I experienced them last week. No bonus set for me here. Besides, I was anxious to claim the one weighted cable pulley position I needed to do standing cable triceps extensions.

triceps extensions
Photo credit: insidefitnessmag.com

Too late. Another person grabbed it before I could unload my barbell after bent over rows.

But I had a contingency plan.

I claimed one of the pulleys in the middle of the “playpen” assembly, right under the pull up bars, attached the rope extension, set the weight, pulled the rope over my head, and then went to my knees.

The problem with using this pulley is that there’s a bar that goes all the way across between the two inside pulley assemblies, and when I pull the rope completely over my head, my hands hit the bar, limiting my range of motion.

But sinking to my knees with the weight stack behind me, I avoided that problem and was able to do the extensions.

The only problem is some guy got to the other interior pulley do to some shoulder work, so we had to avoid hitting each other. The weight room was getting pretty crowded at this point.

Triceps extensions done, my “partner” finished his shoulder work and vacated, leaving the pull up bars available.

Happily, I still had enough in me to do 5 full reps for all 3 sets, although that last rep of the last set was a killer.

I had just enough time left to do some bodyweight hanging work, but it was pretty disappointing. I don’t know if it was my spotty sleep last night or just that I was worn out from lifting, but during my engaged hang, my strength failed me at 23 seconds.

muscles worked in squat
Photo credit: peakfatlossandfitness.com

Pushing myself harder at this point would have been ridiculous. I’d gotten a more than satisfying workout in. It was time to leave.

Now, when I stand up and walk, I can feel the tiredness and soreness in my glutes, front and exterior quads, and traps. Time to protein up and rebuild what I tore apart earlier.

If I keep working on my technique, I feel I can be effective in mobilizing more strength. I haven’t reached my limits yet. You are free to continue to test your limits as well. They may not be as close as you think.

Who you are can never be taken. It can only be surrendered.

Tom Ziglar

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