I went to the gym today with such high hopes. I intended to make the overhead press and rack pulls my main lifts and then seated dumbbell shoulder presses and really light deadlifts my assistance work to practice form, particularly for the DLs which have turned out to be my true nemesis.
As is often the case, things didn’t work out like I planned. In fact, my plan was completely turned on its head and I only have my own stupidity to thank for it.
It was dark, cloudy, and rainy in Southwestern Idaho this morning. Lying in bed, I was very warm and comfortable. I couldn’t fall back to sleep, but it didn’t really matter. I was enjoying the experience and didn’t want to get up.
But the time on the clock was approaching 7 a.m. and my wife likes to get to the gym pretty close to when it opens at 8 on Sundays, so I hauled my lazy self out of bed.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work out, too. I was looking forward to it. I was just faced with competing priorities.
My lower right back was still sore from Thursday and well, actually still sore since Monday, but I thought that Rack Pulls were pretty safe and I was going to do 115 pound deadlifts, resting the two 35 pound plates on a couple of 45 pound plates flat on the floor so I wouldn’t have to squat down and pull up quite as far.
We managed to get to the gym about 10 minutes after the hour and I headed for the free weight room. There were a couple of people already there, but no one was using the squat rack. My lucky day.
Here’s what happened. I’ll break up the stats with commentary.
Main Lift: Overhead Press in Squat Rack 5x5x5
10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 60lbs/27.2155kg (5+)
5x 60lbs/27.2155kg (joker)
This went pretty well. I felt strong with just the bar (of course) as well as at 50 and then 55 pounds. When I raised the weight to 60 pounds however, it felt really heavy. In anticipation of this, I set one leg back so that if I had to bend backward to push the barbell up, my leg would take the weight. I made the fifth rep but just barely so no 5+ for me.
I wanted a joker however, and I knew I’d never get the thing up this time around if I increased the weight again, so I just did my last working rep over and it worked. I did remember to put my chest right up against the bar as I unracked it rather than support all the weight with my arms. Also, I made it a point to step under the bar as I raised it over my head, which made it easier to support the weight. All and all, a good experience.
On to rack pulls then. I wasn’t sure if I’d beat my PR of 260 pounds, but I wanted to get close. However, as the Rolling Stones have taught us, you don’t always get what you want.
Main Lift: Rack Pulls in Squat Rack 5x5x5
5x 135lbs/61.235kg (warm up)
5x 160lbs/72.5748kg (warm up)
3x 235lbs/106.594kg (5+) (tweak)
Everything was going great at first. My warm up sets were cake. My first working set felt like work, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Even though these are considered “half-deadlifts,” I still tried to pay good attention to my form. The barbell is just under 12 inches higher than it would be if it were sitting on the floor, but I still have to squat down, set my grip and lats, move my head back, and then press through my legs.
I could see my form slip in a few of the reps, mainly me lowering my head, but it didn’t seem to affect my performance and I didn’t feel any pain.
But even though I’ve lifted up to 260 pounds for 3 reps as my PR, I still may have been a bit too ambitious using 235 pounds as my working weight for my 5+ set.
I set myself for the first rep and stood. It felt a lot heavier than I anticipated and I felt something was wrong. The same for my second rep. Then I realized that I was still using an overhand grip with both hands. Over 225 pounds, I usually switch to an underhand grip for my right hand so that the barbell is easier to move.
Apparently, this caused my form to go all to hell and as I stood up, my lower right back complained bitterly. That was it. I knew I was done. I wasn’t going to make the full 5 reps let alone a 5+ and certainly not a joker.
I limped around to each side of the bar to unload the weights and then I set the empty barbell back in position for anyone wanting to do squats.
What a disappointment and it was all my fault. I could have gone slower, stopped the set, and reacquired a good spinal form. I also could have followed Chase’s advice and just got the same effort out of less weight. But I was looking forward to lifting something heavy.
Well, I paid the price for that, didn’t I?
Fortunately, seated dumbbell shoulder presses were next. I figured I’d get a chance to rest and then see what light DLs would be like.
Assistance Lift: Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press 5×10
There’s not much to write home about this. Yes, each set became increasingly difficult as I continued to fatigue, but the weight was set so that I’d be able to complete 10 reps for all 5 sets. As I started each set and bent side to side to pick up the dumbbells from the floor, my back bitched at me at bit. Not a good sign for the DLs to come.
I did remember what Chase said about holding my arms and shoulders back so that I could get more action from all three delt heads rather than rely on the front delts exclusively. That made it seem a little awkward but not as much as on my last training day.
Then came the hard part.
Assistance Lift: Bent Leg Deadlifts 5×10 (Rest on two 45 pound plates)
This was a disaster. I set the barbell to 115 pounds as planned, placed it on the floor, and then put two 45 pound plates flat on the floor. It was a tad awkward figuring out how to rest the two 35s on the two 45s but I managed.
I stood looking at my reflection, standing straight up, setting my spine, “screwing” my feet into the floor. Then I squatted down, trying to remember everything Chase said about setting up for a deadlift. 115 pounds, what could happen, right?
And I stood. Pain in the back but not too bad. The actual physical effort wasn’t much. I was able to complete all 10 reps but I was in pain before, during, and after. Plus, the discomfort made it that much harder to set myself up for each rep. I knew attempting another set, much less four more sets was courting catastrophe.
I bailed on the DLs.
I figured since I could do nothing else, I’d work on my bench press some more. I wasn’t feeling ambitious at this point. I figured I’d just practice for the sake of practicing.
Barbell Bench Press
An older guy, probably late 50s or early 60s came in and started doing bench presses, but pretty consistently with a 90 pound bar, although lowering it right to the chest. I didn’t reel so bad about my own meager efforts. I envied him that he probably wasn’t nursing an injury.
Getting that fifth rep up at 120 pounds was pretty tough, but I felt I owed myself just a little more effort and put 125 pounds on the bar. I didn’t get it down to my chest for all 5 reps, but it was probably less than an inch from my pecs at its lowest.
When I was finished, I noticed that my wife and I had been at the gym nearly an hour. I found her on one of the rowing machines in the main gym and asked how her time was. I probably could have quit right then, not because I was particularly tired, but because my back was playing hell with me.
She was pretty flexible with her time and besides, had a bit more to do anyway.
I felt like I had a pretty unbalanced workout so since I’d done chest, I might as well do something about my lats as well.
Assistance Lift: Cable Low Rows 5×10
I had to make adjustments to the weight between sets based on my level of fatigue, so I could get 10 reps for all 5 sets. It worked out fairly well, with just to minor to moderate “tweakiness” in the affected area.
Afterward, I wanted to make sure I got a little ab work in to complement the torture I’d but my lower back through.
Spine Supported Ab Crunch
All my wife had left were her own ab crunches, which would just take a few minutes. Still, I hate waiting around with nothing to do. Also, I was disappointed that, since I’d pretty much worked the rest of my body, I hadn’t done much with my legs.
I briefly considered the leg press machine, but decided on incredibly light back squats. I figured if I encountered pain, I could stop. After all, I was just killing time and not really trying to accomplish specific goals.
Barbell Back Squats in Squat Rack
I did just the bar to start out with and found that I could get deep into the squat and come back up with only minor discomfort. I added 20 pounds and got the same result, but something told me to keep it right at 65 pounds for my third and final set.
I maintained a deep squat and good form for all 3 sets, but that was it.
The missus was ready to go home. She’d already done a lot of the cooking for our eighth and last night of Chanukah, and she wanted to get back to check the brisket on the Traeger.
Hours have passed since we got home from the gym. I took a couple of Advils and have been icing my back. After prolonged periods of sitting, just standing up is a chore and it’s tough not to walk without listing to starboard.
I doubt I’m going to lift again until my training day with Chase this coming Thursday. I’ll never be able to finish the hour with him if my back isn’t in reasonably good shape. Just abs and cardio work for me until then.
Chag Sameach Chanukah.
It’s not about how much you can lift, it’s about giving it your maximum every single day.