Circuit Zero, Day Four of Lifting

Credit: Dinosaurs and Turtles YouTube channel

Well, after resting my back for four consecutive days, I had the opportunity to get back to the gym this morning. My car is still in the shop (alas), but my wife didn’t have to leave for shul until around 9:30 a.m. and, since the gym opens at 8 on Saturday’s, I could get my hour in.

I tried to keep in mind everything I’d recently learned about healing my back injury at the gym in designing today’s workout program. Although more than one source advised front squats, the hand position looks so darn awkward, and I’d have to learn it from scratch, which I don’t have time to do right now.

So, I decided to stick with zercher squats as my main (only, really) lower body lift. I did want to try bent over rows with a weighted cable as an alternative to either using a barbell or dumbbells, but as you’ll see, that didn’t work out so well.

I kept the reps and sets fairly high in number but was determined to increase the weight progressively to see how much my lower back could handle.

Here’s what happened this Saturday morning at the gym. Rest periods between sets was the usual.

Zercher Squat in Squat Rack

8x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 185lbs/83.9146kg
6x 185lbs/83.9146kg
5x 195lbs/88.4505kg

Barbell Bench Press

10x 115lbs/52.1631kg
8x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 155lbs/70.3068kg

one arm bent over row
Photo credit:

Dumbbell Bent Over Rows @ Bench

8x 50lbs/22.6796kg
8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
6x 60lbs/27.2155kg
8x 60lbs/27.2155kg

Weighted Cable Triceps Ext w/Rope

10x 70lbs/31.7515kg
8x 80lbs/36.2874kg
8x 80lbs/36.2874kg
6x 85lbs/38.5554kg
6x 85lbs/38.5554kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)


Dead Hang (Bodyweight)

x25 seconds

The zercher squats went pretty well. My back was only somewhat tender this morning and I felt I could handle some moderate weight. Also, keeping Mark Rippetoe’s advice in mind about gazing in a bit of a downward direction while squatting, I noticed that I was keeping the bar over the middle of my feet as I went down and then came up out of the squat. As I increased the weight, it did play hell with the inside of my elbows, however, but I can get over friction burns and a few bruises.

bench pressI thought about keeping the weight at 185 pounds as that seemed optimal, but I gave into the temptation to push it up another 10 pounds, just for giggles. I would have been thrilled if I could have squat 200 pounds or more, but that seemed like going too far for someone who’s trying to use lifting to heal rather than to destroy.

Next came the bench press. In comparing my numbers from the previous full circuit I did before injury, I don’t think I’ve lost anything, but I haven’t gotten any stronger, either. I seem to be holding my own across the board in fact, except for my pull ups which have gotten weaker. I must admit though, the sixth rep of the last set of bench presses required a lot of focus and effort.

A “gaggle” of women in a training class pretty much dominated all of the weighted cable equipment, so I had to pass up trying out cable bent over rows and settle for the dumbbells. I did notice that I lifted more weight for more reps this time than on Monday, which made me happy.

By the time I finished by dumbbell rows, the training class had moved on to a different part of the gym and I could get to the cable equipment. I think I made mistake doing weighted cable triceps extensions as this seems very similar to the overhead press in terms of how it stresses the lower back. Nevertheless, I made it through all 5 sets and we’ll see how my back adapts as the day goes on.

The pull up bars were free so I made my attempt. The first set went better than I expected but I barely made 5 reps for the second set. The third was more or less a disaster. I did the first 2 reps but only made it halfway up on the third. I held myself there in mid-pull for about 10 seconds trying to get all the way up, but it was no good.

I let my arms extend back out but kept my legs tucked under me, impulsively performing a dead body hang for about 25 seconds.

At this point my hour was nearly up and I had to get the van back home so my wife could use it.

Photo credit:

I was really glad I got back to lifting and realized I missed it tremendously. On the other hand, I hate lifting on Saturdays because the weight room in incredibly crowded and I’m never sure I’ll be able to get to a weight bench or the squat rack when I need to.

Also, my favorite bench for doing presses was being used, and the only other one available had been cannibalized of its weight plates. I had to scour other areas of the weight room for over 5 minutes to get the plates I needed to lift. Well, not really. I only used 2 45 pound plates and 2 10 pounders, but I just decided to set the bench back up with all of the plates you expect to find. 25 pound and 35 pound plates were missing and there was only a single 10 pound and 5 pound plate available. Someone had really stripped the bench down. At least I left it better than the way I found it.

Since the earliest I can get my car back from the garage is Monday afternoon, and since next week, my wife has to go into work really, really early, I won’t have transportation to get to the gym and lift. That makes Tuesday the first possible opportunity I’ll have to continue my workouts (unless I decide to do some cardio work tomorrow).

I’ve got to get back on track. I’ve picked up nearly 5 pounds in the past several weeks, and I know it’s not muscle. No, it’s not a catastrophe, but it is going in the wrong direction. I used to hit the gym 5 to 6 days a week. I have to return to that pattern.

As far as the mutant strength workout plan goes, I don’t know. I tweaked my back pulling a 250 pound/113.398 kilo barbell off the floor for deadlifts. The deadlifts I can do (although in the videos I watched today — see below — I should have been banging the barbell down to the floor at the end of each rep instead of keeping it off the ground), but initially getting the barbell off the floor is a terrific challenge and may, at this time, represent my functional limit.

I thought about doing deadlifts off of blocks, but I’ve checked, and my gym doesn’t have the necessary blocks.

Then I discovered rack pulls, which seems like an acceptable alternative, at least for now, since they don’t require bending over so much.

Of course, probably even rack pulls are off the menu until my lower back gets better. They do look tempting, though.

Although there are people who compare rack pulls and deadlifts, and some do rack pulls, having quit deadlifts entirely depending on their circumstances (like my circumstances?) such as what this young guy talks about (YouTube video)

Mark Rippetoe has a video on rack pulls, but it’s almost 20 minutes long and who has that kind of time. I’ll just embed it here in this blog post in case you do have time to burn (and so I can find it again when I have that time, too). Additionally, I found a nice, brief comparison of deadlifts vs. rack pulls at

And now, here’s Rip:

For the short version, here’s what has to say about this lift.

OK, I lied. I’m watching Rip’s video as I’m finishing up with this blog post. Also, Rip talks about something called a halting deadlift (YouTube video) which is the second part of a complete deadlift training regime (the rack pull being the first part). That wouldn’t work for me, at least not right now. Still it’s interesting to see these variations. I thought it was funny that Rip made some allowances for his heavier rack pulls because he’s a “geezer”. He was only 56 years old when he made the video (he’s 59 now, or about 2 years younger than I am). He assumes his audience is made up exclusively of young, testosterone-driven beast lifters. Wonder what he’d say to me?

Last thing. As I’ve been getting up, walking around, and sitting down again, I can definitely feel my quads and hams got some work during the zercher squats. My entire back feels well worked, as do my pecs, biceps, and triceps. My lower back is sore but I don’t feel limited, so if there was any tweaking, it wasn’t too severe. Like I said, my most likely next lift day is Tuesday, 3 days from now. Haven’t decided if I want to try rack pulls as a deadlift alternative yet, given that I want my back to heal, but as I mentioned above, they sure seem compelling.

Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning.

Bruce Lee


2 thoughts on “Circuit Zero, Day Four of Lifting

  1. Glad you are feeling somewhat better and could get a WO in. I was wondering if you have heard of Brroks Kubick,he has a website called Dinosuar Training and a booked called,Gray Hair and Black Iron. After reading his thoughts on Training as an older person I see that doing a little less may be what I need to get my lifts higher. Just something you may want to look into.


    1. I’ve heard of Dinosaur Training, and I’ve actually read “Gray Hair and Black Iron”. The author is more an Olympic style lifter so his programs have limited application to what I do. That said, he does advise doing less but going very heavy. Right now, I’m in remediation mode, so heavy will have to wait.


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