I’ll Be Back

I'll be backI guess you could call this Circuit Zero, Day Five of Lifting, but today was different. My back feels great. I don’t know when it happened, but I can bend over fine, with little or no discomfort.

Fortunately I got my car back yesterday afternoon and I’m mobile again. The gym was calling my name and I was determined to answer.

I got there just a few minutes after 5, but while there were 2 or 3 guys in the weight room, the squat rack was empty. Even though I was feeling pretty good, I was still determined to work in “remediation mode” rather than throw caution to the winds and get hurt again. So I stuck with zercher squats and experimented with rack pulls. Also, rather than overhead presses with a barbell, I decided to do seated shoulder presses to support my back, and use dumbbells.

Rest times between sets were the usual for the barbell lifts and less for dumbbells.

Zercher Squat in Squat Rack

10x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 185lbs/83.9146kg
5x 205lbs/92.9864kg

Rack Pulls in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg
10x 135lbs/61.235kg
10x 185lbs/83.9146kg
6x 205lbs/92.9864kg
5x 215lbs/97.5224kg
3x 225lbs/102.058kg

bench press
Proto credit: bizzfortune.com

Barbell Bench Press

10x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 165lbs/74.8427kg
6x 165lbs/74.8427kg

Dumbbell Shoulder Press

10x 20lbs/9.07185kg
10x 22.5lbs/10.20583kg
10x 25lbs/11.3398kg
3x 30lbs/13.6078kg
6x 25lbs/11.3398kg

Back Supported Crunch (Bodyweight)

x30
x20
x20

I only did 3 sets of zercher squats and intended on doing only 3 sets of rack pulls because I didn’t want to hog the squat rack. At least one of the guys there this morning, uses it a little later in his routine, and I didn’t want to throw him off track.

So instead of a slow wind up on the z-squats, I did one light set at 135 pounds and then started adding the plates. I ended up at 205, which is pretty heavy (for me) when you have to hold the barbell against your chest with your arms. I think I could have gone heavier if the barbell was across my upper back.

rack pull
Credit: bodybuilding.com

The squat rack only has two options for rack pulls, either you use the lower bars, which are a permanent part of the rack and rest midway between my knees and shins, or you use the removable upper bars, which come to a few inches above my knees.

I tried the removable bars first using just the unloaded barbell (45lbs/20.4117kg) and my range of motion (ROM) was pathetic. I switched to the lower braces which gave a more reasonable lift.

I also remembered to drag the barbell up and down the front of my legs. I think one of the mistakes I’ve been making with deadlifts has been holding the barbell away from my body, which I can see would put additional stress on my lower back.

Since I had no experience with rack pulls, I added weight slowly. Like I said, I only intended on doing 3 sets, but as I added weight, I kept realizing I could go heavier. I stopped at 225 pounds and did only 3 reps. Yes, I still felt fine besides some slight soreness in the target area of my back, but I didn’t want to get stupid and get hurt again.

I was doing the rack pulls stiff-legged and I noticed that my range of motion didn’t allow me to slam the barbell back down on the braces at the end of each rep. I still got a good stretch on my lower back and hams, so I’m sure it was still effective. Next time, I’ll do a bent leg rack pull to increase the ROM and get the full benefits of this move. If Mark Rippetoe is right, potentially I should be able to lift much heavier using rack pulls than I ever did doing deadlifts. Also, this should strengthen me for my eventual return to doing deadlifts.

Mark Rippetoe
Mark Rippetoe

Except for day one of zero circuit, I did my heaviest zercher squats at 205 pounds, although I managed 5 reps today instead of just 3 back on day one.

By the time I was done with squats and rack lifts in the squat rack, I was dripping sweat on the floor…the sign of a good workout.

My bench press seems to be getting stronger, too. On day one, I did a max weight of 165 pounds, but only 3 reps for the last 2 sets. Today, I upped that to 6 reps per the final 2 sets, so I hope this means improvement. In Week 3 of Circuit 3, I was doing 160 pound bench presses and 5 reps for my 2 working sets, and in Week 4, I was up to 175 pounds but only doing 4 reps (I did a bonus set of 4 reps lifting 180 pounds, though).

It’s tough to compare standing overhead presses with a barbell to seated shoulder presses with dumbbells. I looked back at Circuit 3, Week 1, which is when I typically do 10 reps per set. My working weight was 65 pounds. If you think of two 25 pound dumbbells as equaling one 50 pound barbell, then it might seem kind of comparable…well, sort of. It still means that I’m not doing well here. I tried using 30 pound barbells. After all, I had done 10 reps using 25s. As you can see, it didn’t workout. I stalled halfway up on the fourth rep. Actually, it was the triceps that were worn out. I shifted back to the 25s but only got in 6 more reps.

I had time left and spontaneously decided to do some spine-supported crunches. I didn’t do them correctly however, since I hadn’t reviewed the video. I ended up placing both of my hands under my lower back and raising up from the head and chest. I got a fair amount of reps in but by the third set, I was really feeling it.

Time ran out, which was just fine. I walked out of the gym feeling only a little bit of soreness in my lower right back. Getting in and out of the car was OK. Back at home, I tested my back by bending over under various circumstances and waiting for pain. It didn’t come.

spine supported crunch
Credit: Dean Somerset’s YouTube channel

I could put on pants, socks, and shoes without problems. Even at work, getting up out of my chair after being seated for a while feels normal. Well,  can tell I worked out. Mainly feeling it in the quads, glutes, and lumbar area. Also my pecs and delts some. I love this feeling.

It’s been weeks since my back has felt this well. I intend to do cardio and maybe some more light ab work tomorrow, and then hit the weights again on Friday, doing some variation of my routine from last Saturday.

I’m still going to take it easy until I’m sure my back is strong enough to jump back into “mutant strength training”. Particularly concerning the rack pulls, I think this is a good intermediary step for me to toughen up my lower lumbar region so that when I get back to doing full bent leg deadlifts, I’m not going to be entering the danger zone again.

Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.

Christian D. Larson

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