Don’t Let the Barbells Win

rainy morning
Photo: idahostatesman.com

It was raining outside when I woke up. The bed was warm. The light was low. It was the perfect morning to sleep in. Except it was also the first day in the last week of my 5/3/1 strength training cycle, which means it’s time to “kick ass” (so to speak) with my bench press and deadlift.

But something inside of me wasn’t really looking forward to the experience. I’d been visualizing doing heavy bench presses and deadlifts as I was summoning up the motivation to get out of bed. The missus had already gotten up and time was a-wastin’.

I got up and did my usual thing. Coffee, water, and a banana, plus the online Sunday funnies to get my brain to wake up.

My body didn’t want to cooperate. I had a nagging ache in my lower back, which isn’t a good thing when you want to do heavy deadlifts.

My wife hasn’t been feeling well lately, and I was wondering if she was going to the gym with me this morning, that is, until I saw she’d gotten into her workout clothes.

Then it was time to leave. I was glad I didn’t have the pressure of having to get to the squat rack the instant the gym opened. We had a little “wiggle room” in case the missus took a few extra minutes to pull herself together and get ready to go.

As it turns out, we beat Bryce to the gym by about a minute or so, and we, along with Don and his wife and/or girlfriend, were inside right as the doors opened. I stashed my hoodie in a locker and claimed one of the 2 bench press stations while Don went for the barbell incline bench press station. Medical profession gal, who I think Don called “Liz” came in a few minutes later.

So I found myself on my back staring up at the empty barbell wondering how far I could take this lift today. Did getting in more rest and recovery days really improve my strength? Would I be able to lift a 160 pound barbell this morning? Would I go even heavier? Only one way to find out.

Here come the answers.

5/3/1+

Main Lifts

Arnold's bench press
Photo credit: Bodybuilding.com – Arnold’s bench press

Barbell Bench Press

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg (warm up)
5x 130lbs/58.967kg
3x 140lbs/63.5029kg
1x 150lbs/68.0389kg (1+)
2x 155lbs/70.3068kg (joker)
1x 160lbs/72.5748kg (joker)
0x 160lbs/72.5748kg (joker) -partial-

Bent Leg Deadlift

8x 135lbs/61.235kg (warm up)
5x 185lbs/83.9146kg
3x 205lbs/92.9864kg
5x 225lbs/102.058kg (1+)
3x 255lbs/115.666kg (joker)
1x 265lbs/120.202kg (joker)
0x 280lbs/127.006kg (joker) -partial-

Assistance Lift

Box Squat in Squat Rack

8x 45lbs/20.4117kg
8x 55lbs/24.9476kg
8x 65lbs/29.4835kg
8x 70lbs/31.7515kg
8x 75lbs/34.0194kg

Core Work

Balancing on one foot
30 seconds each side

Leg Back Raises
Lx12, Rx12
Lx12, Rx12
Lx12, Rx12

side leg lift
Credit: strivehere.com YouTube channel

Leg Side Raises
Lx12, Rx12
Lx12, Rx12
Lx12, Rx12

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

I have to admit to being alternately pleased and disappointed. On the one hand, I’m back up to my PR with the bench press, 1 rep with a 160 pound barbell, but on the other hand, when I attempted a second set at that weight, I failed.

Well, sort of.

On the final joker set, I lifted the barbell off the pins, pressed it up, lowered it to my chest, and then pressed up again.

But I stalled on the way up and there was no pushing through. Fortunately there are 3 sets of pins where I can rack the barbell and I managed the middle set, so it wasn’t a complete waste. I at least did a partial and was under tension for several seconds, so although it doesn’t count “number-wise,” in terms of muscular and neuromechanics, it probably did something.

I compared today’s performance with the previous cycle’s 5/3/1+ week. On that Sunday 3 weeks ago, I did 1 rep jokers at 155 pounds, 155 again, and finally 160. Today, I was able to do 2 reps with a 155 pound barbell but only completed a second joker set for 1 rep at 160. The improvement is very slight if at all.

On the following Wednesday, I did the bench press again, but only did a single joker set, performing 1 rep with a 150 pound barbell. I don’t know what this all means yet, and I’ll have to keep trying out my current lifting schedule to see if it produces positive effects.

The big problem with my bench press is that I’m intimidated by it. I’m afraid of being caught under the weight again. Sure, I don’t lock the weight plates on the bar with collars, so I can dump the weights if the worst should happen, but on the other hand, I don’t want to have to deal with that kind of public embarrassment, either. My arms were actually trembling between sets once I got into the jokers and I don’t know if it was fatigue or nerves (or both).

deadlift
Photo credit: muscleandfitness.com

Moving on, my deadlifts were also good/bad, although I felt pretty good through most of them.

Looking back to last week, I did my first joker with a 235 pound barbell for 5 reps, the second with a 260 pound bar doing 3 reps, and I set a new PR in the final joker, lifting a 275 pound barbell for a single.

Today, my first joker set was with a 255 pound barbell and I did 3 reps, I did a single for the second joker at 265 pounds, and I tried for a new PR with a 280 pound barbell…and didn’t make it.

For a minute, I thought it was going to come up, though.

I prepared myself, knowing how difficult deadlifting 275 pounds was for me last week. When I did the single today at 265 pounds, I remembered to count, and it took about 5 seconds from the floor to me standing up straight at the lockout. I remember it seemed much longer to pull up that 275 pound barbell last Sunday. I wanted to see how long it would take at 280.

When I attempted the 280 pound lift, the weight came up off the floor and I slowly started to stand, but only made it a fraction of the way up. It was just too heavy and I stalled. I set the barbell back down with a “clank” and momentarily thought of trying again, but decided not to. Today wasn’t the day. I wasn’t in the right frame mentally to challenge myself. I tried to force myself to be in that place, but it didn’t work.

I was glad that no one was in the weight room when I went down in flames. Only Don and “Liz” (if that’s her name) had been in there, along with another woman I didn’t recognize, but when I attempted my final joker, they were all someplace else.

Just as well.

I did look back on the previous cycle’s 5/3/1+ for deadlifts, and for the jokers, I did 3 reps at 215 pounds, 3 reps at 235, 1 rep at 250, and set my previous PR that day doing a single with a 260 pound barbell. I guess I’d have to say I’ve improved from 3 weeks ago, but not relative to last week.

With my deadlifts done, I had my choice of anything to do for assistance lifts, the weight room being temporarily vacant. I thought about my lagging bench press, which I attribute mainly to my triceps, but instead of doing some sort of triceps/chest lift, I settled on box squats.

If I did box squats today, the relevant muscles and nervous system pathways would have until Thursday morning to recover. If, on Thursday, I do some sort of triceps/chest assistance lifts, the muscles and nervous system pathways involved will have until the following Sunday to rest.

Maybe that’ll make a difference.

box squat
Photo: bonvecstrength.com

So I set my gear by the squat rack, making my “claim” (not that I had to worry, so far, no one had used it), then went hunting for the 12 inch tall box. I found it in the new semi-private training room the gym just had built, and placed it in the appropriate spot inside the rack.

I had to remove the so-called “pussy pad” from the bar, set the barbell at the correct height (for me), and then I started my assistance lifts.

Previously, I limited my self to 5 reps per set, but I upped it to 8 this time. I felt a tug in the usual weak area of my lumbar region, and tried as best I could to do each rep with correct spinal mechanics. I increased the weight for each set and at no point did I feel as if I couldn’t perform the reps. I did feel it in my quads, especially on the outside of each thigh, as well as in my knees on occasion, but not so much that it stopped me, though I did slow down on a few reps because of it.

I got up to using a 75 pound barbell, which isn’t much, but on the other hand, my rear was getting down pretty low. This is more for form and practicing the motion and mobility than anything else. Guess we’ll see what happens when I do back squats on Thursday.

Since I was at the squat rack anyway, I decided to do my “balancing act” first using the rack as my brace. I was lousy. This only works for me if I find an object fairly close to focus my gaze upon, and when I started out on the first foot (can’t remember if it was left or right), I didn’t find a focal point right away and kept falling left or right.

For the other foot, I found a bolt to stare at and it seemed to work better.

The other day, I read an article online called “Balance” Training written by Austin Baraki, MD, which basically discounted this kind of balance exercise as having any practical use. It only trains you to stand on one foot, but doesn’t improve the kind of balance older people need to prevent them from falling.

balance training
Photo: roigragefitness.wordpress.com

Baraki makes sense. Older people fall and often injure themselves, typically because their muscles and bones are weak. The kind of balance training that would help them not to fall, and also strengthen their bones, is resistance training. It’s the kind of balancing we need to do every day to keep upright walking and standing. Balancing while doing a back squat, or an overhead press, or a deadlift is more effective and practical than standing on one foot or on some sort of “semi-ball” designed to be an unstable standing surface.

But standing on one foot may have other neurological advantages, so I’ll keep with it. After all, I also do back squats, overhead presses, and deadlifts, so it’s not like I’m missing anything.

When I was done with the squat rack, I put the box back where I found it, and since the area was empty, I grabbed a mat and went through the rest of my Kasey the Chiropractor core work. I kept the number of sets the same but increased the reps per set from 10 to 12. I was dripping sweat as you’d expect and was feeling pretty beat by that point.

The missus caught up with me in that little room, and decided she’d do her final work in there with me. By the time I was doing “bird dogging,” we were both well done. We’d been at the gym 75 minutes and that was long enough, at least for today.

And speaking of Kasey, today was the day to go and get tortured by him again. After the adjustment session on the drive home, I admitted to my missus that I had actually been looking forward to it. Normally I don’t, but my neck has been stiff lately and I really wanted him to loosen it up.

We got to his place right on time, was greeted by his dog Dova, and went into his little office to get adjusted. My wife went on the rack…uh, table first, and I always find it amusing that she responds to pain by laughing. It’s a release of tension, but my response is anything but laughter.

He did me next and stuff on me popped and cracked, including my neck fortunately, that hadn’t in the past. Maybe being adjusted is having a cumulative effect.

The wife also took Kasey some resources including a copy of Kelly Starrett’s book Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally. Apparently, she read something in the book that she thought Kasey might incorporate into his practice, even if he had to travel to Starrett’s place of business in the San Francisco Bay Area to get some training.

Apparently Starrett’s methods are becoming popular, but no one is doing them here in Southwestern Idaho, so Kasey could set himself apart this way.

chiropractic spine
Credit: easewell.net

Being the beneficiary of a hip replacement, my wife will never run again, but the principles in the book are just as good for walking, which she does a lot.

I can’t say I covered myself in glory at the gym today, but it wasn’t a total loss either. I really do want incorporating longer recovery periods between lifting to work relative to increasing my strength over time. I’ll finish out the week, but I think the only way to give this a fair shot, is to do the entire next cycle lifting only twice a week. If I get stronger, great. If I start losing ground, then it will be time to re-evaluate my strategy again.

I never think about losing.

Lou Ferrigno

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