Training the Future Beast

strong old man
photo credit: ML Sinibaldi/CORBIS

I forgot that my wife didn’t have to work today because it’s President’s Day, so I tried to rouse her at 4.a.m. She took it well, since she’d rather have me check to make sure she’s not over sleeping rather than be late for her job.

I guess I slept OK but it took me some time during my morning routine before I felt ready to actually tackle the gym. I was determined to make at least a PR with deadlifts, and hoping for one for my overhead press, too.

I got to the gym’s parking lot at about 5 til the hour and was a little surprised to see the lights were still out. I expected more workmen laboring over the remodeling job again, but such was not the case.

I gathered with the usual crew by the front door to wait for the place to open. Didn’t have to wait long and I saw that no one who uses the weight room was present, so I was assured unfettered access to the squat rack.

The main part of the gym still smelled of flooring adhesive but fortunately, the odor hadn’t made its way into the weight room.

Monday, the day of the week people tend to dread. For me, it’s an exciting opportunity once 5 a.m. rolls around and I find myself facing an unloaded barbell ready to do warm up reps. Here’s how the first day of the work week started out.

5/3/1+

Main Lifts

Overhead Press in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 70lbs/31.7515kg
3x 70lbs/31.7515kg
3x 75lbs/34.0194kg (1+)
3x 85lbs/38.5554kg (joker)
1x 90lbs/40.8233kg (joker)
2x 90lbs/40.8233kg (joker) PR

deadlift
Photo credit: ironmanmag.com.au

Bent Leg Deadlift

5x 135lbs/61.235kg (warm up)
5x 155lbs/70.3068kg
3x 175lbs/79.3787kg
5x 190lbs/86.1826kg (1+)
3x 215lbs/97.5224kg (joker)
3x 235lbs/106.594kg (joker)
1x 250lbs/113.398kg (joker)
1x 260lbs/117.934kg (joker) PR

Assistance Lifts

Rack Pull in Squat Rack (5×10) 185lbs/83.9146kg

10x 185lbs/83.9146kg
10x 185lbs/83.9146kg
10x 185lbs/83.9146kg
10x 185lbs/83.9146kg
10x 185lbs/83.9146kg

Core Work

Leg Back Raises
Lx12, Rx12

Leg Side Raises
Lx12, Rx12

Alternating Arm/Leg Raises (Bird Dog)
12x each side

Standing on One Foot
30 seconds each side

overhead press
Photo: strongfirst.com

Before I could get started, I had to grab the barbell, which was perched in the rack on a single safety bar leaving one end in the air and the other on the floor, and put it back up on its pins. I can’t imagine why someone left it that way. It was amazingly careless. Sometimes, I think at the end of each day, a group of brain-damaged chimps goof around in the weight room by the condition I find it on mornings like this one.

Proceeding to my first main lift, I noticed the hardest part of my warm up set of overhead presses was some soreness in my left forearm, as if I’d worked my grip in that arm hard. I didn’t want to do a full 10 reps but powered my way through rather than easing off of my plan.

My 3 working sets were supposed to be 5 reps at 60 pounds, 3 reps at 65, and then 1+ rep(s) at 75. But as you can see above, I goofed. I loaded 70 pounds on the barbell for the first set instead of 60.

Oops.

I wondered why 60 pounds felt so heavy for 5 reps, but astonishingly, I pushed through all 5. I put the barbell back on its pins and only then did I realize my mistake.

No sense is reducing the weight to 65 pounds for the second working set, so I just left it at 70 and did 3 more reps.

For the 1+ set, I increased the weight only 5 more pounds and did another 3 reps.

On Monday and Thursday of last week, I did 4 reps using a 70 pound barbell on both days, and today it was 3 reps at 75.

Now for the jokers.

On Monday, I managed 2 reps at 85 pounds and on Thursday, I could only pull off a single. Today, I pushed 85 pounds over my head for 3 reps, but they were 3 tough reps.

overhead press
Photo credit: buffdudes.us/

I was tempted to increase the weight on the bar to 95 pounds, but thought better of it. On Monday of last week, I could only do a single at 90 pounds, and when I tried a second set at that weight, I stalled halfway up. Thursday, I attempted and succeeded 1 single at 90 pounds and called it good.

So for my third joker, I set the weight on the bar to 90 pounds and did the expected 1 rep. I thought I’d try for another single with my fourth and final joker. Even after the previous set, I felt like I could muscle up that weight 1 more time. Amazingly (for me), I did. But I wasn’t done.

With my right leg behind me, I used my legs to give me a little boost as I launched the barbell up again. I briefly struggled at the halfway point, but kept pushing and pushing an inch at a time until victoriously, I completed a second rep for my final joker set with the 90 pound barbell.

A new PR and at the overhead press no less. I am getting stronger, just a little bit at a time. This is working.

I looked around and saw just a couple of regulars, both guys who use some of the cable machines but don’t do dumbbells or barbells. No sign of shaved head guy and his daughter, so both of the bench press stations were still free.

One of them had been nearly denuded of weight plates, but the other appeared almost fully equipped. I have issues with people who screw around with weight plates, robbing a bench and not replacing the equipment when they’re done. I know. I’m kind of rigid that way, at least in the weight room.

I loaded the barbell up to 135 pounds, set it on the floor, rested a minute, and then proceeded to do my warm up set of deadlifts.

I’m trying to use good form particularly for deadlifts since, if I’m going to hurt my back, I’m going to do it performing deads. The warm up set felt fine, but even 155 pounds started to feel a little heavy. I sometimes think my working sets are just an extended warm up.

snatch deadlift
Photo credit: crossfittidalwave.com

Last week, my new PR for the deadlift was 1 rep at 255 pounds. I wanted to beat that today by 5 pounds. I figure doing slight increments of weight week over week will gradually build strength without putting too much strain on my lower back. I’d rather do this gradually and save my lumbar spine as opposed to letting my “testosterone brain” take over and screw myself up (and I’ve done that more than once).

I did 3 reps for each of the first 2 jokers and, as I anticipated, did singles for the last 2. I was also having to rest a full 2 minutes between sets because of the weight. The third joker was a 250 pound barbell, which was certainly heavy, and came off the floor slowly.

Then I increased the weight another 10 pounds to 260 pounds and waited.

After 2 minutes passed, I looked around. Just 3 other guys were in the weight room, and they were all using dumbbells. I saw the older group of regulars using the LifeFitness weight machines. I kind of wanted an audience for this. If it worked, I’d have a new PR. This would be the heaviest barbell I’d ever tried to lift.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror in front of me, squatted down, grabbed the bar in a mixed grip, tried to put my butt lower so that my legs would take most of the weight, set my lats, tightened everything up, took several deep breaths…and pulled.

Immediately, my stance changed and I could tell I was using more back than I wanted to for the lift. No pain but a huge amount of stress. The barbell was moving and I was starting to stand. It was slow, several seconds at least, but I kept moving upward, becoming erect. I could see in the mirror that my face was turning beet red and my expression was a twisted grimace.

And then I was standing straight up with 260 pounds of barbell in my bare hands. I made it. A new deadlift PR.

The weight went down with a loud metallic “clank”. I was tired but not exhausted. I started to pull plates off of the barbell while dripping sweat on the floor. Looking around again, people were still doing what they were doing with dumbbells and weight machines. I was hoping that someone was at least silently impressed.

I was finished with my main lifts, but they’d taken up a lot of time. I wasn’t sure I could fit in both assistance lifts of rack pulls and dumbbell shoulder presses.

Shaved head guy and his daughter still hadn’t put in an appearance, and for once, use of the weight room seemed pretty light. So far, I was the only one who was using barbells and the only one who had used the squat rack.

rack pull
Photo: practicalstrengthfortrainers.com

I walked back in and did the set up for my “boring but big” rack pulls. I increased the weight on the bar 10 pounds over last week, so I’d be using a 185 pound barbell for all 5 sets at 10 reps per set.

The weight is certainly “doable,” but the volume wipes me out between sets, so again, I had to wait 2 minutes or a little more between sets to get my breath back.

I also noticed in the later sets, that the grip of my right hand was weakening, so I switched to a supinated grip for that hand, leaving my left hand grip pronated for the final 2 sets.

It was just after 6 a.m. when I finished, and I knew I’d couldn’t get another assistance lift in. Barely enough time to do my Kasey the Chiropractor core work and then rush home to get ready for work.

I stopped briefly to talk to Everett and brag about my new deadlift PR. His son does strength training, but Everett said he’s in the gym each day just to keep things moving. It’s true that strength lifting isn’t for everyone, and Everett is like most people in the gym, doing the same thing with the same weight day in and day out, just keeping things moving.

That’s a fine goal for most folks, but I want more. I want that 300 pound rack pull and, if I can eventually get there, a 300 pound deadlift.

Right now as I’m composing this missive, I notice my forearms the most, probably because I need those muscles to keyboard (formerly known as “typing”). My DOMS are very persistent thanks to the last 2 days of lifting, but as the joke goes, it’s a good kind of hurt.

So far, my evil plan is working, but I noticed that I’ve slacked off of counting calories, and this past weekend being dedicated to family and eating, I’ve been gobbling down more than my fair share of the wrong kinds of food.

This is one area I’m having a tough time getting back on track with, but that’s what Monday is for. I had a more sensible breakfast, packed a lunch and snacks that should (more or less) keep me on the straight and narrow, and over time, I will be able to get back on the weight (fat) loss wagon.

farside hurt
From Gary Larson’s “Far Side”

I’d love to believe my weight gains are all muscle, but I can tell by how my pants fit that they’re not.

The road to better health has many turns. Time to get better at this one.

I’m not a beast yet, but I’m training to become one.

As soon as a milestone is passed, it’s significance fades, and the focus is shifted to some other marker further down the road. No matter what you do or how satisfying it is in that beautiful moment in time, immediately you want more. You have to, if you want to find out how good you can be.

Glenn Pendlay

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2 thoughts on “Training the Future Beast

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