Circuit Zero, Day Three of Lifting

buff dudes zercher squat
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I was hoping this would be better by now. I let my back rest (more or less…I had to do some yard work) for 4 days…somewhere over 100 hours, and still it was a tad sore this morning when I woke up, or rather, I found it was sore when I got up.

But I don’t want to start losing muscle and strength, so I was determined to lift this morning. I might have waited one more day, but my car had to go into the shop this morning and I’m taking my daughter (borrowing her car) to the airport tomorrow morning (no gym for me), so circumstances required I either wait until Wednesday or hit the squat rack at 5 a.m. today.

I chose today.

Just like last week, I kept things relatively light compared to what I’m used to and increased the number of sets as well as reps per set. One of the results is that I can go longer before I feel my reserves beginning to give out, and I don’t always need a lot of time to rest between sets. Here’s how things shaped up.

Zercher Squats in Squat Rack

8x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 165lbs/74.8427kg
6x 175lbs/79.3787kg
5x 185lbs/83.9146kg
5x 190lbs/86.1826kg

Barbell Bench Press

8x 135lbs/61.235kg
5x 155lbs/70.3068kg
5x 155lbs/70.3068kg
5x 160lbs/72.5748kg
5x 165lbs/74.8427kg

overhead press
Image credit:

Barbell Overhead Press

8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
6x 65lbs/29.4835kg
5x 70lbs/31.7515kg
5x 70lbs/31.7515kg

Standing Barbell Curls

10x 55lbs/24.9476kg
8x 65lbs/29.4835kg
6x 75lbs/34.0194kg
6x 80lbs/36.2874kg
6x 80lbs/36.2874kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)


It’s more difficult to go heavier doing Zercher Squats because you have to hold the bar in place using your biceps, but I still managed a max weight of 190 pounds. To work up to that, I needed to do 6 sets, starting at a light 135 pounds doing 8 reps and working slowly up to adding 55 pounds more onto the bar.

I checked back with my last 5-week round and particularly the third week where all the sets were 5 reps per, and I was only lifting 5 pounds more or 200 pounds back then, even for my 2 working sets. Not bad.

But while Zercher Squats are easier on my lower back, they aren’t painless. By the time I was up to 185 pounds, I could tell my back was taking the hit. That’s why I only increased the weight just a tiny bit for that sixth and final set. The back tweaked but not as much as it would have if I pushed it past 200 pounds (I think).

Mark Rippetoe
Mark Rippetoe

I tried to keep in mind what Mark Rippetoe wrote about squats in his book Starting Strength, particularly about taking a wider stance and pushing my knees way out. I completely forgot about looking down and kept my eyes on my reflection, specifically my thighs, which I did get to parallel with the floor. I do think the wider stance is more beneficial, at least with Zercher Squats (I just found a nice review of this book — enjoy).

My bench press wasn’t so bad either. Last week, my max weight was 165 pounds but I only did 3 reps per set. Today, as you can see above, although I only did 165 for the last set, I still managed 5 reps instead of 3. In week 3 of my last full circuit, my max weight was 160, so I’m in the ballpark and maybe even slightly ahead of the game.

I wasn’t impressed with my overhead press, not until I saw that last week, my max weight was 60 pounds and I was doing 5 reps for all 5 sets. Today I did more weight but by the end of the fourth set, I knew I’d better call it quits for this lift. On my last week 3, the max weight for 5 reps was also 70 pounds, so I don’t think I’m gaining a thing here. My overhead press is one of the more frustrating lifts in that I can’t seem to get stronger. I mean, I did more weight, but managed one rep less doing 4 sets than I did last week doing 5.

Heck, I saw a guy at the gym this morning, one of the regulars, press 135 pounds. Yeah, he’s younger and stronger, and while I’m not getting any younger, as far as my press goes, I’m not getting stronger, either.

Oh, I also read about the overhead press in Rippetoe’s book and he gave me a much clearer idea of how this is supposed to work than I had before, particularly how you’re supposed to actually bend back as you push the bar off your chest to let it move past your face, and then return to standing straight up so the bar is over your head at the lockout. I can see how I’m losing power on the lift when I can’t straighten back up in time.

My curls were more or less the same as last week except I did my last 2 sets at 80 pounds instead of just the very last set. I also managed 6 reps instead of 5 for the last 2 sets. However, this is no better than my week 3 curls from the last round…same weight, even if I managed to nudge it up an “extra” rep.

I decided on doing pull ups rather than lat pulldowns and was very disappointed I couldn’t do 5 reps even on the first set. I think my biceps were just tired and I’m hoping my lats aren’t getting weaker. To compensate, I did 4 sets instead of 3, but the total number of reps still only added up to 14, one less than doing 3 sets at 5 reps per set. This is another difficult area for me that I can’t seem to be able to push (or pull) past.

My lower back felt OK throughout my workout with just a little soreness when I bent a certain way. Of course, I was taking care not to bend over as much as possible, but as time passed after I left the gym, the old familiar soreness increased to what I expected.

old school gym
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I took an ice pack to work, but I’ve been noticing that my back feels more stiff after applying ice than when I use heat (which I did over the weekend). I might switch from ice to heat tomorrow to see if that helps my back.

The way things are working in my schedule this week, my next lift day will be Thursday. That’s 3 days to let my back calm down again. If I stick to the same pattern, I’ll be doing Squats, Bench Press, Straight Leg Deadlifts (lightweight), Bent Over Rows w/Dumbbells, and more Barbell Curls. At least doing my bench press twice a week should benefit my pecs (hopefully) and maybe I won’t lose too much by lifting only twice a week with lighter weights and increased sets and reps.

Make time for it. Just get it done. Nobody ever got strong or got in shape by thinking about it. They did it.

Jim Wendler


5 thoughts on “Circuit Zero, Day Three of Lifting

  1. Because I like to dole out unsolicited advice that will never be taken . . .

    Consider discontinuing curls. The pullups are enough bicep work.
    Consider replacing the Zerchers with front squats. Less moment arm on your back.
    Always use heat, not cold for your back. Wear Ben gay. It’s called smelling like an old man. I’ve learned to embrace it. But be warned . . . This stuff draws chicks like you won’t believe😉


    1. In photos and videos I’ve seen of the front squat, the hand position looks really awkward. I’ll give wearing “heat” a shot (and if it draws chicks, my wife will kill me), although the Internet is split on whether heat or cold is best for an injury.

      front squat


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