Blood and Pain: Training Day Two

back pain
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Three days ago, I tweaked my back pulling a 250 pound/113.398 kilo barbell off the floor for 3 reps of deadlifts. Two days ago, I could only do 4 out of the planned 5 reps at 160 pounds/72.5748 kilos on my final working set of back squats because of back soreness.

And today, my second training day with Chase, the revenge of the lower lumbar pain came back to haunt me.

I took yesterday as a complete rest day. No cardio work. No ab work. Nothing. I wanted to give myself a chance to heal up and be refreshed. I even stayed in bed and extra 30 minutes before tackling the day.

When I woke up this morning, I felt OK. Sure, my lower back was a tad tender, but I figured if I was lifting light, which I normally do in training, and my form remained good, which Chase is supposed to help me with, I’d be fine.

Well, best laid plans and all that.

Since I wanted to avoid the excessive light-headedness I experienced during last week’s training session, I had a good breakfast of 2 fried eggs and a couple of special non-pork sausages I picked up at Trader Joe’s. I was still planning on sucking down a protein shake after my weight training, but I wanted something on my stomach providing me with enough juice to get through my hour-long torture session.

I tried to get plenty of sleep the night before and felt reasonably prepared for Chase when I got to the gym right before 6.

Chase was already there with his usual class and when he was finished with them, he transitioned to me.

Since we didn’t cover the overhead press last week, I asked to start there. I learned a lot. Here’s the routine:

Overhead Barbell Press in Squat Rack

overhead press
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We started with just the bar, 45 pounds/20.4117 kilos. While he didn’t say my form was bad, he offered some pointers, such as a wider grip on the bar and resting the bar on my chest as I unrack it. He demonstrated how when the bar passes his head, he actually ducks his head under the bar so he can lift it straight over him.

Another trick was to step backward with one foot. That way, if the weight is heavy enough to make me lean back, the weight is actually more applied to the rear leg and foot than my lower back. Imagine that.

I don’t know how many sets of 6 to 10 reps I did, but it was enough to where even the bar started to feel heavy. We tried moving the weight up to 65 pounds/29.4835 kilos, but I couldn’t even do 1 rep. I barely got 55 pounds/24.9476 kilos up. I could still do 45 OK, and just increasing it to 50 pounds/22.6796 kilos became quite a challenge by the end of 15 or 20 minutes.

Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

Chase said that toggling back and forth between barbells and dumbbells would help increase my overall strength in the long run. I told him I was used to working with 20 pound/9.07185 kilo dumbbells doing 5 sets of 10 reps each. He started me off using 15 pounders (6.80389 kilos) in each hand.

Just as with the barbell, he says I tend to move my hands and arms too far forward. I’m doing great work on my anterior (front) delts, but not so much on the middle and rear delts.

dumbbell shoulder press

He had me move my elbows way back and almost put the dumbbells up behind my head. This was as awkward as it gets but it hit all three delt heads better. He increased the weight to 20 pounds which was still manageable but harder because of the change in position.

We then tried moving the bench angle from completely vertical to angled back one notch. I couldn’t see myself in the mirror anymore but interestingly enough, the lift was easier. We must have gone through 5, 6, or more sets, which was tiring me out fast. For the first 30 minutes of training, all I was doing was overhead presses, just to get the hang of the form.

Bent Leg Deadlifts

I figured at 135 pounds/61.235 kilos, I’d be safe, but as it turns out, this was not the case.

What I need to do to establish and maintain a neutral spine is to get my butt down low and raise my head way up. Anything else causes me to curve forward. I need to grab the bar and set my lats by pulling the bar until I hear the “clink,” then push with my legs, not lift with my arms. Chase also had me take a wider stance, effectively lowering my body, so I don’t have to lever the weight up so far.

I’m writing this down so I can remember it.

On the first several sets, my initial rep would be fine but then my form would degrade on subsequent reps.

Chase had me do a single rep, lower the barbell slowly, release and then stand up. When I was rested, he’d have me squat down, reset my position, and do another lift. This worked pretty well as each rep after rest and reset did the trick. I managed to re-establish and maintain a neutral spine for each of these singles.

He had me then double up, doing 2 reps in a row. I knew my back was getting sore, even maintaining proper form, which meant I went into this with an already weak and injured back. I was starting to get light-headed between sets, probably from holding my breath as I was pulling up the weight. Slowly exhaling helped a little, but even a modest 135 pounds felt punishing using the new positioning.

In the meantime, I was scraping the heck out of both shins and bleeding onto my socks. Chase demonstrated again how he deadlifts, and he made lifting 135 pounds look effortless. He was wearing sweat pants, but the bar only touched his shins in the starting position.

wide stance deadlift
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Once he started the lift, the bar was near his legs, passed over his knees and rested against his thighs at the top. I tried this and it went a lot better. In fact, the weight felt easier to lift once I got it off the floor and I had hope that my back would survive the experience.

But it was on one of those sets of 2 reps that my back went tweak.

Oh yeah. I did it. Chase had been planning to run me through a final set of 2, but decided against it. We still had 9 minutes on the clock. What to do?

Barbell Bench Press

I didn’t want to risk hurting my back further by doing squats so we settled on more bench press work, even though I feel pretty confident in this area.

He started me with just the 45 pound barbell for 10 reps which felt easy. Then he put on two 10 pound weights, one on each side of the bar, and had me perform 10 reps at 65 pounds/29.4835 kilos. That was still pretty doable. Then he notched it up further to 95 pounds/43.0913 kilos. I could do 10 reps for that set but it was tough, especially since he held me to task and made me lower the bar right down to my chest with each rep.

I tried another set at the same weight and barely made 10.

He wanted me to do another set, and I figured I had about 5 left in me. I tried for 6 and knew I wasn’t going to make it, so he helped with that and the last few reps to make 10 again.

We still had a minute or two left, but I was well done.

Chase talked about getting a good workout in with lighter weights, and I believe that’s what happened today. However, my back was the casualty. It ended up not being as bad as my worst tweaks, but it’s still tender.

bench press
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We settled for a week from today at the same time for our next session. Kinetically and mentally, I feel more prepared for my overhead press, deadlift, and bench press, but I need not to push my back into a worse condition than it’s already in.

If I am miraculously healed by tomorrow, I’ll do more lifting, but if not, I may have to postpone until Sunday, which would give me 2 days of rest. I should probably still do cardio and ab work tomorrow, though.

I’ve mapped out my second week in the 5/3/1 program but given today’s performance, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t hold off until I’ve got my form down better. I did talk with Chase about how I supplement deadlifts with rack pulls, and he said it was a good idea, especially since it takes the legs out of the picture and emphasizes lower back and lat work.

For the coming week, starting tomorrow, I was planning this:

Workout A

Main Lifts


3x 160lbs/72.5748kg
3x 180lbs/81.6466kg
3x 205lbs/92.9864kg (3+)

Overhead Press

3x 50lbs/22.6796kg
3x 60lbs/27.2155kg
3x 65lbs/29.4835kg (3+)

Workout B

Main Lifts

squat rack
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Barbell Back Squat in Squat Rack

3x 125lbs/56.699kg
3x 145lbs/65.7709kg
3x 165lbs/74.8427kg (3+)

Barbell Bench Press (bar to chest)

3x 125lbs/56.699kg
3x 130lbs/58.967kg
3x 135lbs/61.235kg (3+)

Not sure going heavier is such a hot idea right now. My options are to repeat week one again or to go even lighter and do more reps, treating everything like an assistance lift and essentially doing more of a bodybuilding routine. That means another “zero circuit” to let my back heal up, but then, I can still practice my technique. I also thought about making rack pulls a main lift and deadlifts an assistance, which would mean lighter deadlifts at higher reps.

My brain says “go heavy” but Chase says go lighter and still exert the same (or greater) effort. I guess we’ll see which one wins on Friday or Sunday.

I took a couple of Advil when I got home and iced my back when I got to work. My back’s better but not 100%. I need to build that area up, keep everything tight during my deadlifts, so that I can achieve my goals without these repeated injuries plaguing me.

Oh yeah, I had to clean the barbell off in two areas after my deadlifts since I still bled all over it. Some athletes see bloody shins as a mark of honor, but mostly, it’s just a pain.

I don’t know if I’m meant to become some kind of herculean, mass moving monster. Maybe that’s just the point on the map I aim for as I see just how far my body can do down that road.

The goal is not always meant to be reached, but to serve as a mark for our aim.

Joseph Joubert


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