I had kind of a rough yesterday and was up later than I wanted to be last night, so I was feeling particularly groggy when I got up this morning, with just the touch of a headache. Not exactly the way I wanted to feel heading into my first personal training session with Chase.
Not wanting to keep him waiting, I got to the gym about five minutes before it opened. It was just under 30 degrees F outside, so against my normal habit, I kept the engine running and the heater blasting until the lights popped on.
I was still a few minutes ahead of Chase which was fine. When he arrived, he recognized me from seeing me at the gym other mornings, so after quick introductions, we went right to work.
We reviewed what I wanted to work on: Squats, Deadlifts, Bench Press, and Overhead Press.
Back Squat in Squat Rack
I said I wanted to start out with the back squat just because I didn’t want to need it later and have it be occupied. He asked for a brief history of my squats, how heavy I lifted and for how many sets/reps.
I also told him I sometimes do zercher squats when my back is acting up and I was surprised to find he didn’t seem to know what they were. I briefly demonstrated and it came back to him. Maybe they have another name or something.
Anyway, he asked to see me squat just using the bar and so I stepped into the squat rack and showed him.
Actually, my form wasn’t that bad, he said. My main problem seemed to be getting my butt to go back far enough and I had a problem letting my knees go too far forward. Really, it was awkward as it gets to make the corrections. The other thing he said that totally surprised me was to look up, not down, especially at the bottom of the squat as I’m coming back up. This, he said, makes it a lot easier to maintain a neutral spine.
It seemed to work, because I had absolutely no pain doing squats and going low.
We added a few things, like weight and a box. We put the barbell up to 65 pounds and I tried again. This time, he wanted me to go so low I would actually sit on the box (it’s called the box squat for a reason), rest a moment, then shoot back up. It was amazingly hard.
We put the weight up to 75 pounds and I almost couldn’t get back up off of the box. I can’t tell you how difficult it was doing the squat right. I was sweating and actually felt light-headed at one point. I don’t know why. I thought maybe low blood sugar, but I had a banana before heading out to the gym.
I think it was just making my body do what it wasn’t used to. I noticed my heart rate was pretty high as well. It was physically demanding to keep track of all the new variables and force myself to move in the squat as directed.
The first 30 minutes flew by and by the end, I was ready to stop squatting.
I have no idea how many reps and sets I did. I took my notebook but was too busy to write in it. Maybe 10 sets of 4 to 5 reps per set. It’s tough to remember.
Barbell Bench Press
Then we moved on to my bench press. He said my form was generally good, but I practiced with the bar alone and put it right on my chest. Then we moved the weight up to 95 pounds and I tried again. Getting the bar down to my chest and up again for 10 reps over who knows how many sets was amazingly difficult, and I pushed up so much harder with my left arm than my right that the bar tilted and threatened to dump one of the plates on the floor (Chase caught it before that happened).
Dumbbell Bench Press
The cure, apparently, is to do some dumbbell bench presses. We started at 30 pounds for 10 reps, then 35 pounds, and finally 40. Chase had to assist me on the ninth and tenth reps because my arms were done, particularly the triceps on my left arm.
Bent Leg Deadlifts
This turned out to be the absolutely most difficult lift of my training day.
To keep the barbell higher off the floor, Chase suggested we use two 45 pound plates, pushing the barbell up to 135 pounds. I know it doesn’t sound heavy, especially since he just asked for 4 or 5 reps per set, but keeping good form was brutal. He even got a broom stick to press against my backside (consider this brief video) to show me where I needed to make position changes to achieve a neutral spine at the bottom of the deadlift.
I got low down, butt back, barbell against my shins, and then pressed my head back as far as it would go…until it touched the broom stick so I could ensure a neutral spine. Then, in order to avoid using too much of my arms or back to pull the weight off the floor, Chase had me pull back a bit so my lats were engaged, and then with my head back, lift with my legs.
My big problem was the instant I actually started to lift, my head would drop down curving my spine…not a lot, but enough.
I was able to do a deadlift with perfect form once or twice, but most of the time, I couldn’t quite rise to the challenge.
I overheated and got light-headed again. That really worries me since these are pathetically light weights. There’s a lot of effort that goes into proper form and I thought I was melting.
At one point between sets, I looked down at the bar and saw blood on it. I had racked up my shins and was bleeding from my left leg. Like I said, there will be blood and it was on the barbell.
Chase had me do a single rep, set the barbell down, and then hold my position for several seconds. This was hard on my thighs and sometimes it hurt bad enough to where I needed to stand up. As my hour ran down, I was running down with it. I hate to admit it, but I was really looking forward to leaving the gym. I didn’t lift anything heavy, but I can’t remember a time when I felt that drained and punished.
After I was done (well done), Chase got some sort of spray cleaner and I wiped my blood off of the barbell with my sweat rag. No one wants to touch that nasty stuff, so I wanted to leave the bar clean (probably cleaner than I found it).
Chase wasn’t sure of his schedule for next week so we settled on next Thursday. Since my own schedule has opened up somewhat, I said I could meet him at 6 a.m. instead of 5. Maybe I just need more rest before tackling the weights, and hopefully, we can start out with my other nemesis lift: the overhead press.
It certainly sounded like Chase expected me to practice what we’d worked on today before our next session. That’ll be interesting.
I walked out of the gym with a stream of drying blood running down from my mid-shin to ankle thanks to deadlifts and considered it an additional sign that although I worked light, I worked hard.
I don’t know if I should lift again tomorrow or not. Sure, I didn’t lift heavy or even really moderate weights today, so on the one hand, this shouldn’t “count” as a lift day. On the other hand, I was totally wiped out by the time I walked out of the gym, I’d been sweating, and I know that especially during squats and deadlifts, my heart rate was jacked way up.
Maybe I’ll do more cardio on Friday and save weights for Sunday when I hit the gym with my wife. I’ll have to see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow.
As I write this, my quads and pecs especially feel well worked and a little sore. My lower lumber is OK…well, just a slight tinge of soreness but nothing that says “tweak”.
Overall, I was favorably impressed with Chase. He seemed professional and competent. He did work me hard and recognized when I was running out of gas.
I noticed something else. His bio says he trained “with UFC fighter BJ Penn at his academy learning boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.” I noticed that Chase’s right ear bore the marks of a boxer, which means he trained and probably competed.
I’m glad I have this opportunity. Much of what I’ve read makes a lot more sense now, even though some of what Chase had me doing seems to contradict Rippetoe (looking up in the squat instead of down). As we progress, I might ask Chase to take short videos of me on my phone just so I can see myself and what I’m doing (though looking at little films of myself working out will probably be embarrassing).
I’m on the road to getting better and lifting right. My search for the neutral spine is progressing.
The deadlift also serves as a way to train the mind to do things that are hard.