Back Squat, Bench Press, and Considering Deload Week

zombie coffee
Photo credit:

I really, really, really didn’t want to get up this morning. I actually thought it was a Thursday, my last lifting day of the week, and that I could push off overhead presses and rack pulls to Friday. Then I had the rude thought that it was only Wednesday, and if I blew off today, I’d forfeit the option of blowing off tomorrow if I wanted to.

So I slowly dragged my bones out of bed. Turned on the coffee maker even before hitting the bathroom so my first cup of “wake up juice” would be ready sooner.

I couldn’t imagine being able to do squats in a mere hour’s time but somehow I made it. Although I felt I did OK in my workout, for about the first 30 minutes or so, that is, all the time I was in the squat rack, I didn’t feel quite like myself. It was a little disconcerting, I think I need more sleep.

Anyway, here’s how my Wednesday morning got started.


Main Lifts

Back Squat in Squat Rack

5x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 95lbs/43.0913kg (warm up)
5x 130lbs/58.967kg
3x 145lbs/65.7709kg
4x 160lbs/72.5748kg (1+)
2x 185lbs/83.9146kg (joker)
1x 205lbs/92.9864kg (joker)
2x 215lbs/97.5224kg (joker)
1x 220lbs/99.7903kg (joker)

Barbell Bench Press

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 95lbs/43.0913kg (warm up)
5x 110lbs/49.8952kg
3x 125lbs/56.699kg
3x 135lbs/61.235kg (1+)
2x 145lbs/65.7709kg (joker)
1x 145lbs/65.7709kg (joker)
1x 145lbs/65.7709kg (joker)

Assistance Lifts

Barbell Bent Over Row

10x 115lbs/52.1631kg
10x 115lbs/52.1631kg
10x 115lbs/52.1631kg
10x 115lbs/52.1631kg
10x 115lbs/52.1631kg

dumbbellsDumbbell Bench Press

10x 55lbs/24.9476kg
10x 55lbs/24.9476kg
10x 50lbs/22.6796kg
10x 50lbs/22.6796kg
10x 45lbs/20.4117kg

I’ve been making it a habit to drag a bench into the squat rack with me so I have something to aim for at the bottom of the hole. For both my warm up sets and my first working set, I’m able to sit down on the bench and then push myself back up. But at 145 pounds and heavier, the best I can do is to get my rear within about an inch of the surface of the bench.

I recall from last Sunday that at 215 pounds, my previous PR for squats, I couldn’t get within about an inch and a half of the bench, so I bagged it at 1 rep. Today, safety bars in place (just in case), I let myself settle down to within an inch and still managed 2 reps at 215 pounds. I decided to push the envelope a little bit more and did a single 220 pound squat, but getting really down toward (but not on) the bench.

And pushing back up pulled a big ol’ groan from the back of my throat. Oh man, was it tough.

This convinced me that I need to do a deload week next week, both to give my body a break and to practice my squats, hopefully building some leg strength, which I’ll need to do better in the squat rack.

Still, I did set a new post-personal training PR in squats for 220 pounds, and I got my butt down further than I did at 215 pounds earlier this week.

I had a different sort of success with bench presses.

As always, I was able to get the bar all the way down to my chest through 135 pounds, but my first set at 145 wasn’t so good. Instead of increasing the weight again, I decided to “go for broke,” keep the weight the same, and no matter what, let the bar descend to my chest. If I couldn’t push it back up and had to dump the weights on the floor, so be it.

So I overcame my hesitation and for my second joker, let the bar go all the way down. Once it touched my chest, I pushed up with everything I had. For a second there, I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I finally completed the rep. But just one.

I wanted to see if I could do it again, so I rested somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 to 120 seconds and did my third and final joker. Exactly the same result. It was a really hard rep, but I got the barbell all the way down to my chest, and then all the way back up.

In terms of weight, it’s technically not a PR, but this is the first time ever that I set the barbell on my chest and got it all the way back up to the starting position at 145 pounds. I don’t know if this means I’m getting stronger in this lift or if I’m just willing to take a bigger chance.

Either way, it’s a change in the right direction.

barbell rows for batwings
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If my main lifts are difficult because of the intensity, my assistance lifts task me because of volume. Even going back to 115 pounds for bent over rows wore me out by the fourth and fifth sets.

I decided to challenge myself with my dumbbell bench press and use a pair of 55 pounders rather than two 50s. That worked for the first 2 sets, but I could tell I wouldn’t be able to do more at that weight, so I switched them out for a pair of 50s. That lasted through the fourth set, but I was fading fast. This was taking too long. It was already just past 6 a.m.

I swallowed my pride and did the last set with two 45 pound dumbbells, and then it was over and I was (well) done.

Only one more day before the end of my first rebooted 5/3/1 circuit. Then I think I need a deload week, which means revisiting this site and doing some new calculations to figure out what weights are right for deloading.

If deload week is 5/5/5, and if I’m doing the calculation correctly, for squats I should be using:

5x 95lbs/43.0913kg
5x 115lbs/52.1631kg
5x 135lbs/61.235kg

as my working weights.

The calculations for my bench press seem a little light, so I think I’ll go for:

5x 85lbs/38.5554kg
5x 105lbs/47.6272kg
5x 125lbs/56.699kg

As near as I can figure it, for my overhead press I should be doing something like:

5x 45lbs/20.4117kg
5x 50lbs/22.6796kg
5x 55lbs/24.9476kg

sumo deadlift
Photo credit:

For deadlifts, it looks like:

5x 115lbs/52.1631kg
5x 125lbs/56.699kg
5x 135lbs/61.235kg

Rack pulls should be:

5x 115lbs/52.1631kg
5x 125lbs/56.699kg
5x 145lbs/65.7709kg

But since I’m seriously revisiting the idea of doing a deload week, I thought I should do a little research on it. Fortunately, after a brief search, I came up with Deloading 101: What Is a Deload and How Do You Do It? written by a young-looking guy named Mike Samuels.

Apparently there are a number of ways to deload.

The first is to keep you main lifts the same but reduce the weight to 40-60% of your 1 RM, which is more or less what I have in mind.

The second is to keep the weight at the same level, but reduce the number of reps. If you’re squatting 205 pounds for 5 reps, keep the weight and just do singles.

The third is completely change your exercise selection, but for me, that’s putting too much thought into it.

The fourth and final option, according to Samuels, is used when you are going great guns on all of your lifts except one or two. Keep weight, sets, and reps the same for the lifts you’re OK with and drop the weight on the problem exercises to focus on form and technique.

Samuels is obviously writing for young powerlifting competitors, but his advice seems generally applicable for we older folks as well.

And while he says that highly experienced powerlifters might get away with adjusting their deload schedule, for we newer lifters, doing a deload week when it’s scheduled in your program is not optional:

This is certainly the case for beginners and intermediate lifters. When you’re a little more experienced, and know what your body responds best to, maybe you can skip the odd deload, push it back a few weeks, or cut it a few days short if you know you’re fully recovered, but for now, keep it in.

Plenty of other trainers and coaches say about the same thing including at the Tony Gentilcore website, however, deloading isn’t universally accepted.

Photo: Jordan Syatt at

Jordan Syatt writing for says:

Most of my clients don’t deload.

And, by and large, I think the traditional week-long deload is a monumental waste of time.

Worth noting, I’m an Elite ranked powerlifter holding 3 IPA Raw Junior World Records and am only a hair’s breadth away from deadlifting 4x, squatting 3x, and benching 2x my bodyweight.

I’m not some random schmuck off the street blowing hot air for shits and gigs.

I’ve been in the iron game for a long time and, through inordinate amounts of trial and error, I’ve realized the traditional deload that we’ve been told is essential is actually…well…not.

So what is Syatt’s beef with deloads?

Not only does it neglect individual needs and preferences, it fails to account for inevitable variances in how you feel on a day-to-day basis.

Cybernetic periodization, a term coined by the late Mel Siff, essentially refers to accounting for and modifying your program based on your subjective perception of how the weights feel on that specific day.

This skill, learning how to listen to your body and understand what it needs based on how you feel, is arguably the single most important skill to master for both coaches and lifters a like.

Unfortunately, the traditional deload completely neglects cybernetic periodization.

So he doesn’t rule out deloads across the board. Syatt generally opposed regularly scheduled deloads. He goes on to say scheduled deloads may be necessary for professional athletes, older and experienced lifters, and trainees with recurring injuries.

Photo credit:

The “older lifters” made me take notice, but…

…when working with older (think 30yrs+) and experienced lifters it’s smart to incorporate the traditional deload as a means of preventing overuse injuries while simultaneously improving performance. I’d note, an older individual with little-to-no strength training experience likely doesn’t need to deload as the weights they’re handling won’t be anywhere near challenging enough.

So according to Syatt, I don’t lift heavy enough to merit a scheduled deload. But then there’s…

If a lifter is continually getting hurt over and over again…they should first check their exercise technique and general programming strategies as that’s where they’re probably screwing up. That being said, with individuals who appear to be more injury-prone, incorporating a traditional deload is a smart strategy to use in order to reduce their risk of pain and injury.

That sort of could apply to me. I haven’t injured myself in weeks and I’d like to keep it that way. Syatt has a great deal of experience, and I think he’d support me listening to my body and if it needs a break, I’m going to give it one.

His objection to programmed deload weeks is that they ignore individual preference or needs, so if I am choosing to deload for a week, then I’m expressing my individual preferences and needs.

So there.

Charles Staley at T Nation sees some value in a scheduled deload week, but feels that something called contrast week might be better:

The contrast week can be used as an opportunity to experiment with new things and get out of your comfort zone – a chance to do things that aren’t in your formal program. And believe it or not, often something of even greater difficulty can promote recovery, simply because it’s different.

So deload week might be effective not because you lighten up the weight, but because you change the routine.

Maybe focusing on hypertrophy rather than strength for a week is what does a body good.

The beauty of reading all this advice is I can take what I think is useful and disregard the rest. I can see some value in just about everything each of these pundits have mentioned, but it’s not next Sunday yet. I still have time to turn all this over in my head and decide what I want to do with the coming week.

squat to seat

As I mentioned above, given the plateau I’ve hit in my back squats, I’d like to change that up for a week to see if I can make some improvements. It might not be a bad idea though to change other things up as well. I certainly don’t have to stick with 3 sets at 5 reps a set for everything. I can decrease the weight and increase the reps, kind of how I treat deadlifts as an assistance lift once a week, to practice form and good spinal mechanics and not have to worry about moving a lot of heavy (for me) iron.

A few months back, I did multiple days in what I called Circuit Zero to recover from my back injuries. Deload week can serve a similar function in letting my body recover from the stress of lifting and prevent future injuries. Heck. Maybe the trouble I’ve been having getting out of bed lately means I really do need a break.

Discipline is doing what you hate to do, but nonetheless doing it like you love it.

Mike Tyson


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