I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the gym this morning. I periodically suffer from muscle cramps, usually in my calves. If they’re going to happen, they are more likely to happen in the early morning, either when I’m still in bed (though awake) or as I’m putting my socks on (something about how I twist and turn my feet and ankles I think).
Anyway, around 3:30 or 3:40 this morning, I move my legs a bit which triggers a cramp in my left calf. Then, for some bizarre reason, my right calf cramps, too. I’ve learned that if I just relax (as much as I can while in pain), the cramps seem to go away faster, and that worked…for the left calf. My right calf calmed down most of the way, but then cramped again…and it cramped for a total of four times before finally letting go.
That’s never happened before.
After these sorts of cramps, my calves feel like they’re bruised, so it’s not exactly like “business as usual” as far as walking is concerned. Plus, after yesterday’s workout, my lower back still felt a tad sore. Nothing debilitating, but I was wondering if rack pulls and deadlifts were really the best thing for a sore back.
Putting all that together, I considered either not going to the gym this morning and just taking a rest day, or going to the gym but doing only cardio and core work.
I figured I’d get up and let an hour and a cup of coffee decide (OK, and a little yogurt).
30 minutes or so later, I figured I’d “go for it” and let the chips fall where they may.
Not raining this morning but it’s foggy out. Streets are still wet but only a little snow lingers in driveways and parking lots.
Made it to the gym with 2 minutes to spare and got to the squat rack in a perfectly empty weight room. Ah, if only it could stay that way.
I started off my routine with resting about 90 seconds between sets and ended up extending that rest period to 2 minutes as I started to fatigue.
Here’s what this morning’s performance looked like.
Overhead Press in Squat Rack
5x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
8x 55lbs/24.9476kg (5+)
5x 60lbs/27.2155kg (joker)
5x 65lbs/29.4835kg (joker)
4x 70lbs/31.7515kg (joker)
Rack Pull in Squat Rack
5x 125lbs/56.699kg (warm up)
8x 175/79.3787kg (5+)
Bent Leg Deadlifts (5×10) 115lbs/52.1631kg
Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press (5×10) 20lbs/9.07185kg
I was particularly pleased with my overhead press, particularly the jokers. The 45 pound barbell always feels heavy for the first set or two until I warm up. I did 8 reps pushing a 55 pound barbell over my head for my last working set and then just kept going in the jokers. For the 70 pound set, I managed not just 1 but a total of 4 reps. That first rep was hard but I decided not to give in and did another, and then another, but I had to stop at 4. Still, the last 2 times I tried to press 70 pounds over my head I could only do 1 rep on each occasion.
I just want to mention that only one other person was in the weight room at this time, one of the regulars who started coming several months ago. It could have been my imagination, but it looked like he was “eyeing” the squat rack. Maybe he was just examining my form, but he might have wanted to use it.
I felt kind of guilty that I’d scheduled rack pulls right after my overhead press, but I’d gotten to the rack first and this is my routine. I did my best to ignore him and by the time I was done with the squat rack, he’d already left the gym. Typically, he only works out for 30 minutes and only in the free weight room. Go figure.
My previous (post-training) PR for rack pulls was 205 pounds, so I tried to do a bit better this time. 215 pounds came up just fine for 5 reps. I probably could have done more, but I didn’t want to push it. My legs felt OK but I could feel a hint of soreness in my lower back, and usually tweaks happen at higher weights. 215 will do for now. There’ll be other occasions to go further.
I know you probably think doing deadlifts as an assistance (“boring but big”) lift right after rack pulls is nuts, especially when my back is sore, but there are only two bench press benches available and that’s the station I use for deadlifts.
I had planned to use 115 pounds as my working weight, but I didn’t want to hassle with dumping four 45 pound plates, 2 on each side of the bar, onto the floor and try to set my barbell down on them properly at the end of each rep, so I set the bar for 135 pounds and hoped for the best.
That weight was very “doable” for all 5 sets at 10 reps per set. Yeah, I was sweating and breathing heavy after each set, but I managed to recover in 90 to 120 seconds and have another go. It was only after the fifth and final set that I started feeling just a little light-headed.
I want to say that for both the rack pulls and deadlifts, I was really studying my form in the mirror. I could tell when I had a good rep and when I was bending over a little at the start of the lift, even after setting my lats properly. Not every rep was picture perfect, but at least now I can see which ones are good and which ones need improvement.
Fortunately at 135 pounds, the barbell wasn’t so heavy that a minor glitch in my rep results in injury. In fact, my back soreness remained fairly slight during my entire workout and afterward. Hours later, I still didn’t need to take any ibuprofen once I got to work.
The other happy surprise was my dumbbell shoulder press. I started out using a pair of 20 pound dumbbells because last time I did this assistance lift, my delts were exhausted and 25 pound dumbbells were too much. This time, my first set felt particularly light, so I thought I’d go up. I chose two 22.5 pounders and did set 2, but I still thought I could do more. I did the final 3 sets with the two 25 pound dumbbells and only felt like I was going to run out of gas during last several reps of the last set.
Actually, I considered going up to 30 pound dumbbells for set 5, but assessing myself at the end of the fourth set, I thought that was going a little too far. Good thing. I almost didn’t make the tenth rep of set 5.
At the end of my last assistance lift, it was straight up 6 a.m. I’d been lifting for exactly one hour. That was that. Sure, I could have taken more time and done stretches or core work, but I was dripping sweat all over my t-shirt and definitely “feeling” the workout, so I called it a day.
As I sit here composing this blog post, my lower back still feels sore, at least when I move around in my chair (and especially when I stand up). My legs are tired, and my arms are tired, and my traps are tired, and I had a good workout. I achieved new PRs for both the overhead press and rack pull. My body seems to be adapting to the new routine and I’m able to better assess my body mechanics during my lifts.
During my workout, a few more guys came in. Somewhat older shaved head guy did mainly curls and standing dumbbell presses. Younger guy who kept dropping his iPhone was doing biceps and triceps work with dumbbells. Big, tall guy who recently recovered from a broken foot worked on his back squats, and he did them very well. He never exceeded 135 pounds, but his form was excellent and his thighs consistently went parallel to the floor. He was a marvel of balance.
It’s hard to believe I’ve completed my first week of my rebooted 5/3/1 training. Next Sunday, I’ll start week two doing 3/3/3+, so the weight goes up, but not drastically. In fact, the weight on my main lifts for this round stay pretty light, at least until I go into jokers.
The best part is that although I feel back soreness, I made it through an entire week lifting solo and not injuring myself. Oh sure, on a couple of reps of my deadlifts, I accidentally nailed my left shin, but at least I didn’t bleed. The worst thing I left behind on the barbell was some of my skin cells, but that probably happens anyway just because I lift bare handed.
During a couple of sets of my deadlifts, I found myself thinking about chalk. My palms were starting to get sweaty and it really does make a difference on my grip. The saving grace is that a 135 pound barbell isn’t particularly heavy, so I was in no danger of ever dropping it. At much heavier weights, assuming I can work my way up to that, there’s going to be a difference.
I also noticed that I did better with my rack pulls by changing the grip of my right hand from overhand to underhand for anything much over 200 pounds. That’s as much for safety as for an improved lift, because the last time I tried rack pulls at 200+ pounds without changing my grip, I received my last “tweak”.
Things are coming together so far. I’m having fun.
One of life’s greatest mysteries is how the boy who wasn’t good enough to marry your daughter can be the father of the smartest grandchild in the world.