Day Eight of Zero Circuit and Holding Steady

buff dudes zercher squat
Photo credit:

I had every intention of doing cardio and some ab work this morning at the gym. I’ve been eating like a total pig all week, and after all, Thanksgiving is tomorrow, so I really need to burn down some calories (fat).

But my lower right lumbar area was only sort of sore, and I figured if I kept the weight light, I’d be OK. So I went into my online exercise log (Google calendar), found the exercises I did last Friday, and prepared my workout log for lifting.

I really did keep my “idiot mode” turned off or at least down and didn’t try to lift heavy…not like I did on Monday. I still feel like I got a good workout in because by the time I got to my pull ups, I was basically exhausted (which explains the lousy pull ups).

Here’s what happened for the record:

Zercher Squats in Squat Rack

8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
8x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 185lbs/83.9146kg
6x 185lbs/83.9146kg
6x 190lbs/86.1826kg

Barbell Bench Press

10x 135lbs/61.235kg
10x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 155lbs/70.3068kg
6x 155lbs/70.3068kg
3x 165lbs/74.8427kg

Barbell Bent Over Rows in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg
6x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 145lbs/65.7709kg

bent over rows in squat rack
Credit: Kaung S’s Yelp page: Gold’s Gym in Augusta, CA

Cable Triceps Extensions w/Rope (kneeling)

10x 60lbs/27.2155kg
10x 60lbs/27.2155kg
8x 70lbs/31.7515kg
10x 70lbs/31.7515kg

Pull ups (bodyweight)

x2 1/2

Dead Hang (bodyweight)

x20 seconds

Spine-supported ab crunches


As you can see, I really did keep the weight down for the zercher squats, and a good thing, too. Although I could feel the soreness in my back at the bottom of the squat, I didn’t come away with a greater pain in the back than I started out with. I had intended to do only 4 sets per lift, but I reserved the fifth one for just a little increase in weight while trying to keep my reps up.

I was conservative on my bench press, not doing as many reps at 155 as I have previously, but with the trade off of getting the bar as close to my chest as I could.

For the final set at 165, I thought I’d take a piece of Mark Rippetoe’s advice and not put the collars on the barbell. The idea is that if you’re benching heavy (for me) and you’re benching alone, if you keep the collars off and get trapped under the weight (which has happened to me more than once), then you can lean the barbell to one side and then the other and dump the weights on the floor. It’s messy, but it works.

bench press
Photo credit:

However, it also bothered me, and when I bumped the barbell against one of the pins, I lost all concentration and had to stop at 3 reps when I know I could have done more.

Oh well.

After I finished my bench press, the squat rack was open and I saw my golden opportunity to do “rack pull” style barbell bent over rows. I figured with the barbell suspended about a foot off the floor by the squat rack supports, it would be easier on my back. I was also determined to go lighter on the rows, that is, not as heavy as I would normally bench.

Just to get the lift down, I started with only the barbell, 45 pounds. Then I gradually nudged up the weight, first to 115 pounds for 2 sets at 8 reps per set, and then up to 135 for 6 reps. For the final set, I added 10 pounds on the bar and finished at 145 for 6 more reps, and was feeling pretty good about it.

I had to do my cable triceps extensions kneeling because the only cable station where I can do them standing was occupied. I was also conservative here, not doing as much weight as I could and only doing 4 sets.

My first set of pull ups felt strong until the fifth rep when I could feel myself weakening. I didn’t do quite as well for the second set, and I totally sucked on the last one, not being able to complete that third rep. I finally lowered myself down after trying for 10 to 15 seconds, and did a spontaneous dead hang.

But as I said, I was pretty wiped out and only hung on for 20 seconds before dropping back down to the floor.

I had time left so threw in 4 sets of spine-supported crunches for good measure.

What I’m happy about is that my back doesn’t feel any worse than it did when I got out of bed this morning. It’s achy when I move in certain directions, but the pain isn’t constant and it’s really down to a low roar. Hardly noticeable.

spine supported crunch
Credit: Dean Somerset’s YouTube channel

I don’t want to have to lift light for the rest of my life so I hope that A) my back heals up and stays healed up, and B) that I find a way to improve my form and consistently maintain a stable spine for all my lifts.

Now that I’ve lifted Monday and Wednesday, that leaves Friday as the next logical time for me to lift again. If this works out, I’ll be back to lifting three days a week. Yeehah!

I’ll do another “zero circuit” on Friday, but then I’ll have to think about where to go from there.

Topic change

I noticed a few things at the gym today I want to mention.

The first is that the younger guy I’ve been watching doing squats is still, like me, unable to maintain a neutral spine. When he squats, he’s always looking straight ahead at the reflection of his face in the mirror. His lower lumbar gets into quite a curve. He doesn’t seem to be suffering from it, but then, he squats at a max weight of 155 to 185. I haven’t counted his reps, but they look to be in the 8 to 10 range.

The other thing was a guy maybe in his 40s who looks like he knows what he’s doing. He also looks disabled, as he walks always hunched over. He also squats in the Smith Machine which tells me that he’s probably nursing an injury or a disability of some kind.

But his deadlifts are incredible.

He starts out with just the bar on the floor and works his way up. Since I’m also working out, I normally don’t notice the details, but this time, I was resting between sets of triceps extensions and paid attention to his working set. He really prepared himself to pull 225lbs/102.058kg off of the floor, but once he did, with great spinal mechanics, he performed 15 reps. That’s 15 reps deadlifting 225 pounds up and then back down to the floor for each and every rep.

I was impressed. I wanted to tell him so, but he never walked close enough for me to get his attention.

snatch deadlift
Photo credit:

I’ve deadlifted heavier before, but not 225 pounds for 15 reps. Wow!

Another topic change

When I do cardio, I sweat like a pig. My shirt’s always soaked by the end of 30 or 40 minutes. However, I also sweat a lot when lifting, particularly after heavy squats and deadlifts/rack pulls. There are competing theories as to why some people sweat more than others.

Old school logic says that you sweat more if you work harder, but more recent research seems to indicate that some people are just more prone to sweating than others.

When someone comments about how much sweat is dripping off of me, suggesting that I worked out like a monster, I tell them that I’m just a sweater. But is that really true?

I recently came across an article titled What Determines How Much You Sweat? that takes a new look at the topic.

Here’s how the author frames two competing theories on sweating during exercise:

Some people sweat more than others. Go for a run with a group of people on a warm day, and the differences become obvious. But what determines these variations? Answers have traditionally focused on factors like body fat percentage (more fat insulates you and makes you overheat sooner) and aerobic fitness (the fitter you are the less you sweat).

So according to these to ideas, I either sweat more because I’m insulated by my fat, or I sweat more because I’m less aerobically fit.

I don’t like the sound of either of those. I’m not a marathon runner nor do I want to be, but I can manage my aerobic workouts OK. Also, while I do have fat I’d like to get rid of, I’m a lot better than I was 30 pounds ago, and at 6’3″ (well 6′ 2 3/4″ … 74.75 inches or 189.865 cm), I’m currently cruising around 195 pounds/88.4505 kilos/13.9286 stone.

muscle vs fat
Image credit:

Of course, just a weight measurement doesn’t describe the proportion of muscle weight to fat weight, but I don’t feel overly insulated by my fat, and my 34 inch waist jeans still fit.

However, the Runner’s World article cites research by Matthew Cramer of the University of Ottawa and Ollie Jay of the University of Sydney published in the Journal of Applied Physiology which, as this write-up states, “has some surprising twists.”

You can read the entire article (it’s not very long) but here’s the important part:

Sure enough, the change in core temperature was mostly explained by how much heat they generated in pedaling the bike per unit of body mass, with no “insulation effect.” Heat production accounted for 50 percent of the variability in core temperature, and adding body fat percentage (which varied from 6.8 to 32.5 percent in the subjects) only explained another 2.3 percent of the variability. This suggests that two people who weigh the same and pedal at the same pace should heat up at the same rate, even if one of them is short and fat and the other is tall and lean.

Similarly, VO2 max turns out not to make a big difference on its own, accounting for only 4 percent of variation in sweat rate. That seems counterintuitive—but again, it comes down to how much heat you’re generating. If you ask two people with different VO2 max to exercise at, say, 70 percent of their max, the fitter person will be pedaling or running much faster, and thus generating more heat. They’re sweating more, but that’s because they’re doing more work, not because of some magical property of VO2 max itself.

Well what do you know. It seems to, at least as far as this one study goes, come down to how much your core temperature increases in response to how hard you’re working.

But not so fast:

The bottom line? If you’re trying to figure out whether you’re likely to overheat on a hot day, or how much you’re likely to sweat, simple rules of thumb about fatness and fitness aren’t that useful. In the end, there’s so much variability in thermoregulatory responses that you have to rely on your own experiences and on simple tests like weighing yourself before and after a run to get a sense of how much fluid you’re losing.

So human beings have varying responses to exercise and it’s not necessarily the amount of fat or lack of aerobic fitness that results in more sweating. Increased sweating seems to be the result of how much a person’s core temperature increases in response to doing work, but there’s still “so much variability in thermoregulatory responses that you have to rely on your own experiences.”

Photo credit:

In other words, the answer is as clear as mud, or more accurately, how much a person sweats can be pretty individualistic.

Oh well. It’s reassuring but not exactly what I’d hoped for.

I’ll be fighting the war of the yummy food at work today and then all the goodies at Thanksgiving tomorrow, starting with my daughter’s homemade cinnamon rolls (to die for).

I’ve been in a holding pattern as far as increasing my strength and muscle for several weeks now, so I’m not overly concerned that I’m going to blow up like a beach ball. Right now, it’s just as important to keep my strength gains, even if that means I’m stuck at a plateau. At least I’m not going backward.

For those of you who are in the United States, I wish you a good and healthy Thanksgiving Day. May you spend it with family and friends and remember what you are truly thankful for in your life.

Nothing is worth more than this day.

Johann van Goethe


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