Speed Bump on the Road Back

squat rack
Credit: killer-fitness-instincts.tumblr.com

Well, maybe I’m not back as close to 100% as I thought.

I woke up this morning feeling really loggy. It wasn’t like I could have slept anymore, at least I don’t think I could have, but I felt off balance and my lower right back was nagging me. I wasn’t happy about this.

As I woke up more, my sense of balance returned but I still felt a tug on the usual place in my back. I decided to continue with the plan to do some lifting today using the specific exercises from last Saturday.

For whatever reason, I was just a minute or two late to the gym, but still in time to grab a coveted spot at the squat rack. But something was about to go wrong.

Here’s how things went.

Zercher Squat in Squat Rack

8x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 185lbs/83.9146kg
3x 210lbs/95.2544kg
3x 210lbs/95.2544kg

Barbell Bench Press

10x 135lbs/61.235kg
10x 135lbs/61.235kg
7x 155lbs/70.3068kg
7x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 165lbs/74.8427kg

Dumbbell Bent Over Rows @ Bench

10x 40lbs/18.1437kg
8x 50lbs/22.6796kg
6x 60lbs/27.2155kg
6x 60lbs/27.2155kg
5x 70lbs/31.7515kg

Pull ups (Bodyweight)


Image credit: njuskalo.hr

Weighted Cable Triceps Ext w/Rope (Kneeling)

10x 60lbs/27.2155kg
8x 70lbs/31.7515kg
8x 70lbs/31.7515kg
6x 80lbs/36.2874kg
6x 80lbs/36.2874kg

Back Squats in Squat Rack (Light)

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg

The soreness in my lower right lumbar region flared up, not so much as I went down into the zercher squat, but as I came up. On Saturday, I did a full five sets, performing 5 reps for my last set at 195 pounds. then on Wednesday, I only did 3 sets but I upped the weight in the final set to 205, doing 3 reps. I noticed that for my 185 pound sets on Saturday, I did 8 reps for each set, but on Wednesday, I only did 6.

Today, my 185 pound set was back up to 8 reps, and I managed to squeeze out 3 reps for each of my 210 pound sets…

…but I couldn’t go beyond 3 reps, partly because I was holding the barbell in place with my arms, and partly because I could feel it in my back.

I tried to keep my spine neutral, but I wasn’t sure exactly how to do that with zercher squats. I tried looking down at the same or similar angle I would if I were doing back squats, but I don’t know what that did.

My back was sore when I was done, but if I hurt myself, it was mild compared to past sessions and I retained full mobility while bending over, not that it didn’t hurt sometimes.

My bench was better than last Saturday, but I did a slightly different pattern than last Wednesday, performing 2 sets at 135 pounds instead of one, and 2 sets at 155 pounds, but only doing 7 reps per set instead of 8.

I only did my final set at 165 pounds, the same max weight I used on Tuesday, and that sixth and final rep was hard.

one arm bent over row
Photo credit: musclemag.com

I was determined to exceed my performance on the dumbbell rows from last weekend, but I couldn’t remember my starting weight, so I began with a 40 pound dumbbell, 10 pounds lighter than I starting weight last Saturday. I did progress up rapidly, and chose a 70 pound dumbbell for my one max set instead of 60, managing 5 reps with each arm (and it just occurred to me that I could do barbell bent over rows in the squat rack, just like I do rack pulls).

I did notice that when I was switching from my left arm to my right, the rotational movement really bugged my back. Ouch.

I had to do pull ups before my triceps extensions because the station I use for extensions was being used. This was probably a mistake right after bent over rows since my performance was pathetic.

The only position I can do standing weighted cable triceps extensions was still being occupied by the pesky training class, so I chose a station where I had to kneel. I decided to go lighter than I did last week, knocking everything back by 10 pounds, except for my final 2 sets which were just 5 pounds lighter but for the same number of reps.

I still had time when I finished my triceps work and the squat rack was empty, so I decided to try out back squats with very light weights, concentrating on maintaining a neutral spine rather than going for strength.

That meant starting out with an empty barbell…only 45 pounds.

The pull out of the rack was astonishingly easy since I’m used to lifting much more weight.

I focused on looking down at the proper angle, but it was tough to resist looking at my reflection to assess the angle of my thighs. As near as I could tell, I got deeper into the squat than I did previously in back squats. Of course, I was carrying practically no load.

So I decided to add just a little weight, two 25 pound plates, and did my back squats at 95 pounds, which seemed ridiculously light in the lift out and walk back.

back squat
Photo credit: Tribe Sports

I still went down pretty low but as I started to come back up, I could feel it in my back. This make me wonder if my spine loses neutral position as I raise up.

I wanted to do a little more, so I upped the weight to 115 pounds and tried again. I had pretty much the same results, tolerating the load and back compression OK, but still feeling the “yikes” as I started to come back up.

This was also the feeling as I racked the bar and then bent down to get out from under it.

I figured that’s as far as I wanted to go for today and time was running low anyway.

I did notice earlier in my workout that one of the regulars, a younger guy, was doing squats. I saw that he kept his head up, looking at the reflection of his face in the mirror in front of him, and that this caused his back to arch in the lumbar region, probably like mine has done.

He had pulled a bench into the squat rack and was able to sit down on it, pause for a moment, and come back up. He apparently wasn’t in any pain, so maybe a younger back can take more abuse. Later, he returned to the squat rack and did more back squats, this time without the bench, and he still lost a neutral back. I also noticed that his thighs didn’t quite get parallel to the floor.

I didn’t feel so bad seeing someone else making the same mistakes that I make, I guess a lot of us have imperfect form squatting, but I had to resist the temptation to tell him that he was arching his back. I’m hardly an expert and it’s not like we’re “buds” or anything. We’re just 2 guys who happen to use the weight room at the same time.

My lower back is still sore, but I can get up and sit down OK. I can also bend over, although I can feel the discomfort when I do somewhat.

I’m not out of the woods yet. I still have plenty of work to do to get my back to where I can start lifting truly heavy again.

Change of subject.

straight leg deadlift
Photo credit: Bodybuilding.com

I had a few random encounters that I want to mention.

The first was a few days ago at work. I work for a rather small company, so VPs and C-level folks are pretty accessible. I noticed the CEO, a guy who’s about 15 years younger than I am, was walking rather stiffly. Turns out he tweaked his back at the gym that day. I mentioned that I was just getting over an injury, and without thinking about, said it was because I was pulling a 250 pound barbell off the floor.

A 250 pound deadlift isn’t much to a lot of guys, but my CEO seemed fairly amazed. I keep forgetting that my “role models” are all young, super-strong lifters, not ordinary people who lift at their neighborhood gyms.

Another happened today at the gym. As I was getting ready to leave, I ran into Gary, an older guy who uses mostly machine weights. We chit-chatted for a second, and he mentioned he noticed my absences from the gym. It felt good that someone paid attention. Sometimes I feel like being a long wolf lifter means that my being there or not doesn’t make any difference except to me.

The last encounter was back at home with my wife. She asked if on Sunday, I’d go to the gym with her and help her with some things. She wasn’t specific, but she said she stopped going to the gym (this was a long time ago) because she kept tweaking this, that, and the other thing.

I know how she feels, not that tweaking is going to keep me from lifting if I can help it.

She’s been going to a chiropractor lately. Actually, she and my son David have just finished a 12-week program. She does all these exercises in our living room with various types of equipment, which is probably some combination of what she learned at the chiropractor’s and what she got out of this set of lessons on DVD and the accompanying book.

It’ll be interesting to go back to the gym with my wife. The last time we did that was a lot of years ago, and I was using the typical weight machines, same as she was. Now I have a whole different perspective on lifting.

Due to years of repetitive motion injuries, she has almost no grip left. so I don’t think she’d tolerate dumbbells and barbells very well, at least not at any weight. Also, she had a hip replaced around 15 years ago, and I seriously doubt it would hold up under any real pressure, so no squats for her.

Whatever she does at the gym is her call. It’ll just be nice to walk into the gym together again.

Vince McMahon, age 70

Another change of subject.

I came across an article at Muscle and Fitness Magazine called “The 8 Oldest, Most Jacked Men in the Gym.” It starts out:

We’ve found the Fountain of Youth — it’s in the gym.

How else can you explain every gym’s local jacked old-timer? You know, that 60-something-year-old beast warming up with your one-rep max. The science of “old man strength” is spotty at best, but there are some interesting tips we’ve learned from some weightlifting vets who — by the way — are still going strong.

Well, I’m not a beast who warms up with some young kid’s one-rep max, but I would like to be at least a little surprising.

The guys featured in this article have been long-time lifters, strongmen, and bodybuilders and are now between their late 50s to 80 (Vince McMahon and Arthur Peacock are amazing). You may know a few of them.

In order to have what you really want, you must first be who you really are.

Tim S. Grover


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