The Long Road Back: Day One

bench press
Photo credit:

I haven’t lifted in nearly five weeks. That’s a long time.

Last week, I did a couple of short cardio sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. My stamina and oxygen uptake are gone. It’ll take a while to rebuild that. In fact, lack of stamina turns out to be a bigger problem than lack of muscle mass. Here’s why.

Not so much with the bench press but definitely with the deadlift, you need all kinds of stamina. Just pulling a single deadlift off the floor completely engages your cardiovascular system. Pulling ten in a row should leave you huffing and puffing like an old steam engine if you aren’t used to it.

I’m not used to it anymore. I’m going to have to work to get it back.

It was raining this morning, which is rare for summers in Southwestern Idaho. If it’s going to rain, it’s usually afternoon and evening thunderstorms, the kind that set fires in the foothills and threaten people’s homes.

No, this was a cool rain, like we get in the spring and fall. It was a relief.

My wife said she wasn’t going to the gym with me this morning, which was probably for the best. It gave me total freedom to arrange the timing of my workout.

I got to the gym at about five to the hour. Bryce, the guy who opens up on Sunday’s, was his usual two minutes late. No worries. There wasn’t another single person around who wanted to use the gym so I had the place to myself, at least for a little while.

I was setting up the bench press station when the lights popped on. Here’s what happened.

5/5/5+ Week, Main Lifts

Barbell Bench Press

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg (warm up)
5x 80lbs/36.2874kg
5x 90lbs/40.8233kg
7x 100lbs/45.3592kg
3x 115lbs/52.1631kg (joker)
3x 125lbs/56.699kg (joker)
1x 135lbs/61.235kg (joker)

2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher
Photo: 2013 Open workout descriptions with Julie Foucher

Barbell Bent Over Deadlift

10x 135lbs/ (warm up)
5x 140lbs/63.5029kg
5x 165lbs/74.8427kg
7x 185lbs/83.9146kg
5x 205lbs/92.9864kg (joker)
5x 225lbs/102.058kg (joker)
2x 240lbs/108.862kg (joker)

Assistance Lifts

Bodyweight Bench Dips with Legs Fully Ext
x5, x5, x5, x5, x10

Lightweight Raw Squats in Squat Rack

10x 45lbs/20.4117kg
10x 65lbs/29.4835kg
5x 80lbs/36.2874kg
5x 95lbs/43.0913kg


Hamstring stretch #1 30 seconds x2
Hamstring stretch #2 30 seconds x2

Quad stretch 30 seconds x2

Bench press warm up felt fine but even an 80 pound barbell felt kind of heavy at first. I still did five reps for the first and second working sets and managed 7 for the 5+ set. Mind you, it was only 100 pounds, but that’s what happens when you knock 25% of the weight off previous performance.

Technically, this is 5/5/5+ week of the eighth cycle in my 5/3/1 powerlifting routine, but I can’t really think of it as such. It’s a giant reset after illness and surgery. I’ve lost a lot. This is a do-over.

I went easy on the jokers. 3 reps at 115 pounds and 3 at 125. I managed a single at 135. Might have made a double, but today wasn’t the day to push barriers. I’m just trying to get my body back into the swing of things.

I was more intimidated about deadlifts than the bench press. I knew I wasn’t going to lift so heavy that I’d risk being trapped under the barbell, but how far I was going to push deadlifts was another story.

I’d been feeling some achiness in my lower back, especially after yard work yesterday, so I was wondering if I’d be risking a tweak. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem…well, not exactly.

I snapped off 10 reps at 135 pounds for my warm up set and proceeded through the working sets better than expected. It was the jokers that killed me.

Well, that’s an exaggeration.

deadlift chalk

At 205 pounds, which isn’t particularly heavy for a deadlift, I discovered a new problem: my grip. Normally, it’s not until 225 pounds or so that I switch my grip on my right hand from overhand to underhand, but with the first joker, the right hand felt weak. Guess I lost my forearms, too.

I still did 5 reps at 205 and another 5 at 225. I was hoping for a final joker at 260 or even 275, but no luck.

I could only manage 2 reps at 240 pounds, not only because it felt heavier than expected, but because my stamina was gone. Too much huffing and puffing. It was taking me three minutes or more to recover between sets.

Train, don’t strain. This is the first day of my recovery. I’m lagging far behind what I used to be.

Through all this, people started drifting in.

A guy, one of the regulars, came in and started working on a plate loaded chest press machine. Liz, the lady in black, surprised me by doing a lot of weight machine work in the main area of the gym before coming into the weight room.

A kid came in, maybe 18 years old, longish dark hair, baby face, looked like a runner or some other field and track sport guy. Did some weight plate machine work for his chest, lightweight squats (maybe 95 to 125 pounds), and then calf raises in the Smith machine.

His form was good and he put his equipment away when he was done, so he was OK as far as I’m concerned.

Another guy I’d never seen before came into the weight room, but after a while, I started to wonder why. He was in his 40s, thinning light-colored hair, wearing glasses and a grey hoodie. All he seemed interested in doing was adjusting the music on his mobile. The guy must have wandered in and out of the weight room for twenty minutes doing that before hopping into the hack squat machine.

By this time, I was done with deadlifts and was doing some bodyweight bench dips for my first assistance lift. I kept it light. Just trying to break my body in again.

After that, I still felt I had something left in me. The squat rack was free, so I thought I’d do lightweight raw squats as an assistance lift. I also wanted to test my lower back and legs some more. During deadlifts, my back felt totally fine and the mental pattern of how to do a deadlift was still with me, even if my body couldn’t perform nearly as well.

squat rack

I just wanted to make my body squat raw to see how it would react. I managed to get down to parallel or a little below on some reps. 45 pounds and 65 pounds were fine for 10 reps per set, but when I nudged the weight up to 80, I decided to only do 5 reps. It wasn’t so much that my legs were weak, it’s that I was having such a tough time recovering between sets. I had worn my body down a lot by this time.

I put the weight up to 95 pounds and managed another 5 reps, but I was just plain tired by then and decided to call it. Not sure how this will affect my plans for doing squats as a main lift later this week, especially since I want to switch from bench squats to raw. Might end up going way, way, lighter than the program and re-train my body for squats from scratch.

A little over an hour had passed since I’d entered the gym. The guy in the glasses was doing a lot of calf work, first calf raises in the hack squat machine, then more on a plate loaded machine. The kid had done some lightweight concentration curls and then disappeared. By the time I left the weight room, he was long gone from the gym. Glasses guy was doing curls with a fixed weight barbell the last time I saw him.

I finished up with the usual mobility work and discovered my lower back was complaining at me a bit during the stretches. It feels fine now, but I can tell it got weaker. I can see some roman chair back extensions in my future, and I haven’t even addressed gut work yet.

I walked out of the gym, happy I’d gotten this far. It was still raining as I drove back home. I had a protein shake as I was recording my numbers in Google calendar, and the first swig made me nauseous for some reason. After that, my gut felt fine.

My legs are tired. Heck, all of me is tired and sore. It’s like going to the gym for the first time all over again. The only difference is, I’ve got the experience in my head and I know what I used to be capable of. I just need to make my brain and my body match up to each other. My head wants to do what my muscles, nervous system, heart, and lungs aren’t ready to do yet.

I know. I know. Give it time.

Wake up. Kick ass. Be kind. Repeat.



2 thoughts on “The Long Road Back: Day One

  1. I’m sure your glad to be back doing some lifting. As far as the weight on the bar,I know it’s disappointing to use what was once a warmup as a working weight. I am just getting over a shoulder injury,almost a year lost. Benching 90 lbs as a work set, that was my warmup last year at this time. As far as rest, I always rested at most two minutes, seems the SS suggests five minutes for strength gains, so don’t feel so bad when you need more time between sets .


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