Finishing Cycle Three of My 5/3/1 Routine and Thoughts on Fenugreek and Leucine

squatting to a bench
Photo: Livestrong.com’s YouTube channel

So I woke up this morning with a splitting headache. For just a second, I considered getting some more sleep and lifting on Friday, but I couldn’t make myself do that. Coffee and water usually works wonders in getting my head cleared up and in the right place to lift. I threw a banana into the mix just for the carbs.

It has been a whole week since I’ve done squats (apart from some light box squats as an assistance lift on Sunday) and the overhead press. Now’s my real opportunity to see if longer rest periods can increase strength or if, somehow, I’m losing strength.

I absolutely needed to be in the power rack right when the place opened up, so I made sure I pulled into the gym parking lot at about 4 minutes til the hour. The usual crew was waiting and none of them do free weights. I was golden.

But my lifting was delayed because the plates at the power rack were all messed up. I had to search different areas of the weight room to restock the rack, and then I couldn’t find the safety bars for like 5 minutes. I’d like to wrap a barbell around the neck of the people who think it’s OK just to trash the gym and then just walk away.

The only saving grace was that someone left a bench set up in the power rack, so I didn’t have to go get one.

Finally, I was ready for lifting. Here’s how I started out my morning.

5/3/1+

Main Lifts

Back Squat in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
8x 95lbs/43.0913kg (warm up)
5x 130lbs/58.967kg
3x 145lbs/65.7709kg
4x 155lbs/70.3068kg (1+)
3x 165lbs/74.8427kg (joker)
3x 175lbs/79.3787kg (joker)
2x 185lbs/83.9146kg (joker)
1x 190lbs/86.1826kg (joker) PR –partial 2nd rep–

overhead press
Photo credit: t-nation.com

Overhead Press in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 65lbs/29.4835kg
3x 75lbs/34.0194kg
3x 80lbs/36.2874kg (1+)
2x 85lbs/38.5554kg (joker)
2x 95lbs/43.0913kg (joker) PR
0x 100lbs/45.3592kg (joker) –partial–

Assistance Lift

Cable Triceps Push Downs w/rope

10x 125lbs/56.699kg
10x 125lbs/56.699kg
10x 125lbs/56.699kg
10x 125lbs/56.699kg
10x 115lbs/52.1631kg

Core Work

Balancing on one foot
30 seconds each side

Leg Back Raises
Lx10, Rx10
Lx10, Rx10
Lx10, Rx10

Leg Side Raises
Lx10, Rx10
Lx10, Rx10
Lx10, Rx10

Alternating Arm/Leg Raises (Bird Dog)
10x each side
10x each side
10x each side

squatI still had my headache when I started doing squats, but I was determined to not let it affect my performance. Based on what I did, I guess I powered through.

I felt pretty strong through my main lifts, though on my 1+ set, I only did 4 reps instead of the 5 I wanted. The jokers went pretty well, though there were a few times, I thought I was going to stall on a rep on the way back up. Ultimately, that’s what happened, but not until I tried a second rep with a 190 pound barbell on my back. Still, doing a single at that weight qualifies as a new PR, so maybe this stuff is actually working.

Good thing I found the safety bars and put them in place. When I completed rep 1 of that final joker, I really thought I had another rep in me, but on the way up, my legs locked and I couldn’t force myself to go higher. I had to abort, which was kind of embarrassing since there was a guy right next to me doing squats in the Smith machine (more like half-squats, but he was pushing 225 pounds or more).

But I got my PR and I didn’t get hurt.

I compared today’s squats with how I did on 5/3/1+ week in the previous cycle. My squat PR 3 weeks ago was 2x 180 pounds (I failed using a 185 pound barbell), so from one cycle to the next, I am getting stronger.

The same seems to be true for my overhead press. Last cycle, my overhead press PR was 2x 90 pounds, and today, I maxed out doing 2 reps at 95 pounds, one more rep than my PR of last week. I know. I tried 100 pounds and stalled halfway up. I even tried a second time, but when I found the barbell momentarily resting on top of my head, I knew not only that I didn’t have the strength to lift it higher, but I was doing something potentially dangerous.

However, last week, I could only press 95 pounds for a single, and today I did a double, so it still counts.

Two new PRs! Ha!

squat smith machine
Photo: bodybuilding.com

OK, so I spent nearly 45 minutes in the power rack, hogging it all the way. Tall, strong, formerly broken foot guy came in right in the middle of my overhead press routine, but he had to settle for the Smith machine to do his squats. I felt bad, but if I wanted to get my own work done, I had to make myself impervious to his presence. In other words, I had to ignore him. On the bright side, when I was done with the power rack, I left it in much better shape than I found it. Of course, that didn’t do him much good, but it’ll help the next person who comes behind me.

I also noticed that Big Daddy (Shaved head guy) and Hit Girl (his daughter) came in and were dominating the only 2 bench press stations in the weight room. Glad I didn’t need one of them today.

Speaking of, to (hopefully) improve on my bench press, I did cable triceps push downs as my single assistance lift (I didn’t have time for anything else). The usual “boring but big” routine. I could sure feel it. Maybe I’ll see some good results next Sunday.

After that, I did the usual Kasey the Chiropractor Core workout, sweating all over the mat as I was going through each exercise. And then I was done.

I’m feeling sore right now, and I notice it especially in my thighs when I stand up after sitting for an extended period of time. Biceps, triceps, and delts all feel like they’ve been pounded on. I’m just encouraged that I’m seeing some progress, however slight.

Oh, and then there’s this:

Try fenugreek and leucine supplementation.

That was a response on Facebook to my blog post Don’t Let the Barbells Win.

fenugreek
Fenugreek Greens

I generally take supplement suggestions with a grain of salt (so to speak) because most of this advice is normed on much younger men than me, and a lot of time what works on guys in the their 20s and 30s has limited or no effect on people in their 60s.

But I said I’d look them up and I did.

The first place I checked was WebMD.com. Their article on fenugreek said there was insufficient evidence for:

Exercise performance. Early research shows that taking 500 mg of fenugreek extract (Indus Biotech, India) for 8 weeks decreases body fat and increases testosterone levels, but does not change muscle strength or endurance in young men. In a similar group of young men, taking a specific fenugreek product (Torabolic, Indus Biotech) reduced body fat and increased leg and bench press performance.

Notice that references to studies all involved young men, so there’s no guarantee that even if it does increase testosterone and decreases body fat in young men, that it would do the same thing for older men. I couldn’t find much more online that seemed to say fenugreek was more effective and especially nothing suggesting how it would affect older men.

For Leucine, it was a slightly different matter.

WebMd.com had this to say under “Possibly effective for”:

Muscle breakdown. Taking branched-chain amino acids by mouth seems to reduce the breakdown of muscles during exercise.

I think that translates into more endurance during resistance exercise. However, under “Insufficient evidence for,” they said this:

Athletic performance. There is inconsistent evidence about the effectiveness of branched-chain amino acids for athletic performance. Many studies suggest that taking branched-chain amino acids does not enhance exercise or athletic performance. However, other research suggests that it might reduce tiredness and muscle soreness associated with exercising.

leucine
Image: Bodybuilding.com

So there’s some soft evidence that leucine may help reduce muscle tiredness and soreness. I guess that’s something.

On the other hand, Bodybuilding.com couldn’t have praised lucine higher:

Training sets the stage for muscle growth, but it’s not enough by itself. You also need protein. No source is better than whey protein, due to its high amino acid score, and more specifically its leucine content. Leucine, one of the 9 essential amino acids—”essential” means it cannot be made by the body—is considered the “switch” that stimulates protein synthesis.

Of course, Bodybuilding tends to tout the latest and greatest in supplements. After all, it’s their business to sell the stuff. But this part I found especially interesting:

This study recruited young (28-30 years old) and old (66 years old) participants, and had them ingest 6.7 grams of essential amino acids dissolved in a noncaloric drink. 3 In one condition, the solution contained 1.7 g of leucine (26 percent leucine which is commonly found in whey protein). The other condition provided 2.8 g of leucine, which made its leucine content 41 percent of the total amount of essential amino acids.

The two biggest questions researchers were trying to answer were:

  1. Does increasing the amount of leucine from what is provided in a typical serving of whey protein result in positive changes in muscle protein metabolism?
  2. Does the age of the participants effect how they respond?
barbell
Photo credit: livehealthy.chron.com

I didn’t particularly care about the effects on the younger group, but in reading the article, I was dying to discover if any of this was effective for older people. It’s relatively rare that this sort of age study is conducted.

The older group, on the other hand, saw an increase in protein synthesis only with the 41 percent solution. This should come as no surprise, though, as previous research has demonstrated reduced muscle protein synthesis in older individuals when only small amounts of essential amino acids are ingested. Due to a possible decrease in sensitively to leucine, individuals 65 years and older should aim to consume extra leucine to activate muscle protein synthesis.

Now I need to go look at the ingredients of my protein powder, see if it contains leucine, and if so, how much. It’s possible I’ve found a game changer or at least another tool to add to my collection of supplements and methods of increasing muscle mass and strength. Guess I’ll add it to my Resources page.

So ends circuit three of my 5/3/1 powerlifting reboot. Including the one deload week I incorporated, that means I’m finishing my tenth week doing all this. So far, it’s working. Next Sunday starts cycle four and a new 5/5/5+ week.

Goals allow you to control the direction of change in your favor.

Brian Tracy

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