Return of the Deadlift: Training Day Four

snowIt had snowed overnight, so my yard was buried under about an inch of the fluffy, cold, white stuff when I woke up this morning. Of course, it was still pitch black outside. Fortunately, there wasn’t much more than a thin accumulation on my driveway and the streets, so my drive to the gym at a quarter to 6 wasn’t bad.

My lower back soreness was fairly minor, but that means while it’s not debilitating, it’s not really healed either. This is session 4 of my 5 personal training sessions with Chase so I want to nail the deadlift before time runs out. That meant somehow, doing deadlifts today, but without injuring myself.

I gave myself plenty of time to get to the gym and arrived about 5 minutes ahead of schedule. Chase was still with his class so I chatted it up with one of the older guys while he was between sets. As Chase’s class ended, a couple of them “warned” me that I was in for a tough workout today. Since I do work that’s so radically different from their’s, I figured they were right, but not the way they thought.

As I was waiting for Chase, there was a young guy in the squat rack, late teens or very early twenties tops. I guess he thought I was waiting for him and he let me know he had just one more set. I told him he got the squat rack first, fair and square, and besides, I was just hanging. Nice to have a friendly talk with new people.

Anyway, I explained what I had in mind to Chase and my reservations, and he decided to start me out on the Roman Chair. Oh yeah. I forgot about head up and neutral spine for back extensions when I did them yesterday. Each set of roman chair work alternated with a set of lunges. I hate lunges, mainly because my sense of balance is lousy and I keep tripping. Of course, Chase wants me to work on my balance, too. These were the only two exercises that were alternated. Everything else was stand-alone.

I more or less remember what I did including sets and reps, but this may not be a perfect representation of my training session. Also, between catching my breath and listening to Chase, I don’t really time my rest periods between sets, but they always seem a tad short.

Roman Chair Back Ext


Lunges (alternating legs)


rack pullBarbell Rack Pulls in Squat Rack

8x 95lbs/43.0913kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg
8x 115lbs/52.1631kg
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg

Barbell Bent Leg Deadlifts

6x 95lbs/43.0913kg
6x 95lbs/43.0913kg
6x 105lbs/47.6272kg
6x 105lbs/47.6272kg
6x 135lbs/47.6272kg
6x 135lbs/61.235kg
6x 135lbs/61.235kg
8x 135lbs/61.235kg

Ab Crunch on mat


Leg Lifts on mat


I could feel the stretch in my lower back and hams on the roman chair but the killer was the dismount. Because my body is extended so far out without support, I really suffer at the top of the extension. Turns out I’ve been coming up too much. Only midway works better. The idea is to work the lower back and hams and not the quads so much. Chase had me step over a mat to do lunges and I kept tripping over the thing. At least the mat is easier on my knees than the crummy carpet the gym has on the floor.

That was pretty much the warm up until the squat rack was free. Then we moved on to light rack pulls. As it turns out, squats, rack pulls, and deadlifts have something in common. When you’re at the bottom, your butt is supposed to be positioned way, way back, like you’re sitting down.

2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher
Photo: 2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher

Believe it or not, that’s a really hard concept to get, even when you see it on a video. Chase pulled a bench into the squat rack after my first set of lifts to illustrate. Because of the bars on either side, I didn’t quite sit down before the barbell came to rest, but it gave me a good picture of what I needed to do. After a couple of sets at 115 pounds, Chase felt I might be better able to focus on form by knocking it back to 95. I may have done 5 sets instead of 4, but I don’t really know. There’s no time to write anything down, even though I take my notebook with me, so I have to reconstruct my workout from memory afterward.

I was a tad surprised when we moved to full deadlifts. Chase laid down two 45 pound plates on either side of where I was going to rest my barbell on the ground, then loaded the bar up to 95 pounds. Same drill as before. Get the butt down, down, down. Lift your head up, grab the bar, set your lats, and stand straight up.

Actually, I have to get my rear quite a bit lower than the person in the photo just above because of my height. Otherwise, I end up rounding my back.

There’s a huge temptation to try to let my arms do some of the work and to lever the weight up using my hips as a hinge. The real trick is not to bend at the waist so much as to just push down hard with your legs. That hits me more or less, in the same part of my thighs as squatting and it sucks the life out of me, at least when I go heavier.

95 pounds was pretty do-able so we upped it to 105. After several sets, I suggested that instead of adding more smaller weights, we take everything off and put on two 35s, one on each side. Chase misinterpreted what I said and thought I meant to take the barbell up to 135 or a 45 pound plate on each side of the bar.

Oh well, in for a penny. I went with it hoping I wasn’t being stupid.

Actually, it went better than I thought. I could always feel some aching in my back right at mid-lift, which Chase said was probably just a sign that this is my weakest area. I have to tell you, using more of my legs and less of my back is both easier and harder than I thought.

It’s easier to get the weight up without pain (or with very minimal discomfort) using my legs, but it sucks blood and oxygen away from my brain and after each set, I have to grab the rack to steady myself because of light-headedness.

But we practiced over and over, 6 reps per set, 6 reps per set, with Chase talking me though each one and evaluating me between sets while I was huffing and puffing and struggling to speak.

Photo credit:

The pain in my back didn’t get any worse but I have to remember to get my rear way down and then push up with my legs without trying to use my arms or back. Trying to substitute good habits for bad.

It actually worked well, but I was a wrung out wash cloth by the end of it all. For the final set, I lost count and kept going past the intended 6 reps and ended up doing 8. I’m getting a much better mental and physical model of a correct deadlift. I’m loving it.

After I was done with deadlifts, Chase suggested some ab work and this is where things fell apart. He had me down on a mat with my feet under some piece of equipment, legs bent, hands on my chest, shoulders resting on the mat but my head up.

The idea was to fold my body forward, one vertebrae at a time, going up and then rolling back. This hurt my lower back more than the deadlifts. I did a couple of sets, and he switched me to leg lifts. Again. flat on my back and lifting my legs up to 90 degrees from the waist. That really bugged all of my lower back, even when putting my hands under my hips to flatten my back out.

No doubt about it, my core is my weakest link and my limiting factor in lifting heavier.

We were pretty much out of time, and Chase left it to me to find ways to strengthen my abs and lower back without aggravating my injury. After a pretty successful lifting session, it was the ab work that did me in.

On the way out, I saw Gary, one of the older regulars, and he asked me about my training. He’s got a bad lower back as well, and I mentioned that Chase has been working with me, with weights, to help deal with that.

The idea is that even with an injury, you’re not automatically out of the race, at least if it’s just tissue rather than bone or nervous system. Even my long-suffering wife is using weights, albeit light ones, to work on strengthening her weakened body parts. That’s what I’m doing as well.

I’ll have to go back and do some research on how to focus on strengthening my core with an eye on remediating a sore and painful lumbar area.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the gym is only open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., but I’ll still have time to go in and do some squats and bench presses. I’ve been missing out on the overhead press, but I can do those with rack pulls and deadlifts on Sunday.

buff santa
Photo: Santa Gym Banta twitter account

Things are slowly coming together. My next and last training session with Chase will be a week from today at 9 a.m. (I’ll be able to get more sleep). I know someone has suggested that lifting a little later in the day is probably better than hitting the weights first thing. I guess I’ll see if that’s true next week.

Before I left the gym, Gary wished me a “Merry Christmas.” He doesn’t know my wife is Jewish and that we don’t celebrate Christmas, but there’s no need to get “weird” about it. We live in a world where people can get offended over just about anything. I said “Merry Christmas” back to him. Christmas may come only once a year, but being a kind and good human being never goes out of season. Wishing you and yours the best of whatever comes at the end of this year and whatever is in store for the next one.

I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.

-Rabbi A.Y. Kook


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