Sunday, December 30, 2007

Training 12-30-07

I went into today's session a bit fatigued and not convinced I'd do very well. The running and other stuff yesterday plus about 2.5 hours of bowling early this afternoon had me feeling drowsy and slow. But I woke up and did well!

Week 5, Day 3

5 x 5 x 250

Good Morning
3 x 5 x 140

2 x 5 x 130
4 x 130
2 x 5 x 130

Power Clean
3 x 3 x 140

I thought I was done after the 2nd set of Squats, but I caught a second wind and finished strong. My 5th set was the best-feeling set of them all!

Token Asian Roommate's work sets on Squats started late, so I took the opportunity to do some Good Mornings to increase lower-back strength between his last few sets.

I think my problem with Press is that I'm trying to keep my elbows pointed forward throughout the movement, and that feels unnatural. On my last 2 sets, I started with my elbows pointed forward and let them naturally flare out a bit towards the side as the bar passes my forehead. That movement feels much more natural than keeping my elbows pointing forward, and it lets me handle more weight.

Only 3 sets of Power Cleans because the gym closed on us. I was feeling good and the day had gone well, so I moved up to 140. Since I didn't get a full 5 sets of 3, I'll stick with 140 again next time.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why Ego is my Enemy

Ego: an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others

Ego makes me want to lift weights that are heavier than I can handle, leading to incorrect form, injuries, and no progress.

Ego makes me too proud to ask for advice from people who know more than me, either because I'm secretly jealous of them or because I think I'm too good to need advice.

Ego makes me too proud to learn from people who know less than me, too. Just because they know less doesn't mean they don't know something I don't. Or I could be wrong in assuming they know less -- I won't know until I listen to them.

Ego makes me think that I'm special, that I can handle things other people can't. Sometimes this is true. Usually, it's not.

Ego gives me a big head. So do steroids. That means, logically, ego also shrinks my testicles. If you don't think about that one too much, it almost sounds like some sort of wise saying or something. Confucius say, "Ego shinks your testicles."

Ego prevents me from clearly assessing my strengths and weaknesses. And if I can't see myself accurately, I can't improve myself optimally.

Ego keeps me from doing everything I can to get stronger, since I already think I'm a badass.

Ego makes me a jerk. And if I'm a big enough jerk, nobody at the gym will help me out if I'm stuck under a heavy bench press.

Ego makes me dismiss the way other people train if I don't agree with it or understand it, when I should be trying to figure out why they're doing what they do and learning from it.

Ego makes me self-satisfied. It robs me of my fire, my desire to improve myself and work as hard as I can to get stronger every day.

Ego makes me scared to try new things, because I might fail at them. And failing, while great for growth and learning, is terrible for one's sense of superiority.

Ego makes me refuse to admit when something's not working. Stubbornly, I keep plugging away despite not seeing any results because I know I'm right.

Conclusion: Do my best to ignore my ego. Lift smart. Learn. Work hard. Be honest with myself. And then work harder.

Training 12-29-07

Token Asian Roommate and I were supposed to go lift this afternoon. But Token Asian Roommate took longer than expected running some errands, and our planned time of 4:00 turned into 5:30. But the gym closes at 6 on Saturdays, so we rounded up the rest of the roomies and went to the park for some running, walking, pullups and dips.

The path at the park is about 3 miles around, with 4 exercise stations distributed around the path. One roomie chose to just walk around the path. The rest of us would run, then walk for a while with him, then stop at the stations and do some exercises, then run again. It was good times!

3 sets of chinups (10, 10, 10 for me)
Run .5 mile
Walk .5 mile
3 sets of pullups (10, 7, 6 for me)
Run .25 mile
Walk .25 mile
Run .5 mile
3 sets of dips on wide bars (10, 10, 10 for me)
2 sets of hanging situps with knees over bar (5, 7 for me)
Run .25 mile
Play around on 3 multi-level bars. We tried to go between all 3 without touching the ground.
Run .75 mile (Sprint last 100 yards)

Afterwards, we did some standing broadjumps over a puddle. (Yes, we're dorks.) Token Asian Roommate kicked my butt. It was a good exercise/roomie hangout time combination, and we're tentatively planning to return to the park to walk and generally goof around once or twice a week going forward.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Training 12-27-07

I found out yesterday afternoon that I have to create an entire 12-page handbook from scratch by 5:00 today. Good times! It's going to be a busy day.

Week 5, Day 2

5 x 5 x 245

Bench Press
5 x 5 x 230

5 x 320

13, 8, 8

Squats were a bit uneven, probably thanks to the fact that I haven't squatted in a week. I still tend to "good morning" the tough reps. 250 next time!

Finally got the 5x5 with 230 on Bench Press! The last rep of the last set was tough. 235 next time.

My form fell apart in the last 2 reps on Deadlift. My back rounded a bit and I pulled away from my body on the 4th. I need to get some grippers or something to improve my grip strength -- I feel like my grip is slipping a bit and it hurts my form.

Chinups are an improvement over last time I did them, when I got 13, 7, 6. I'll go for 13, 9, 9 next time!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Training 12-24-07

This training log entry is a couple of days late. So sue me. Holidays + work have taken up most of my time over the past few days.

This was a quick Press workout, mainly to build some confidence after last Friday's debacle. It was a bit uneven, but definitely an improvement on last time.

Week 5, Day 1

2 x 5 x 130
4 x 130
5 x 130
4 x 130

Then some drop sets. Basically I'd do as many reps as I could with the weight, rack it, take some weight off, and go do more reps with no rest between:
5 x 125
3 x 115
4 x 95
5 x 80
5 x 75
5 x 65
5 x 60
5 x 55
5 x 50
15 x 45

This really illustrates how training with sets of 5 trains you to do sets of 5. I couldn't have gotten a 6th rep on any of the weights from 80 lbs down to 50 without resting for a second or two first. When I got down to just the bar (45 lbs), I took a few seconds of rest between reps when needed, only racking the bar when I finally couldn't finish a rep at all.

My workout schedule will be a bit funky for the next couple of weeks. I'll work out tomorrow (Thursday) and Saturday, doing the normal Wednesday and Friday routines. Then I'll do some maxing on Monday and/or Tuesday to get baseline numbers to compare with my goals for 2008. (coming soon to a blog near you!) Then it's likely that work and life craziness will force me to shuffle workouts around over the next 2-3 weeks in order to try to get in 3 per week.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Training 12-21-07

I have about half a dozen posts written for this blog that I haven't yet posted. I'll start posting them soon.

Week 4, Day 3

5 x 5 x 240

Absolute and utter failure. See below.

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 135

3 x 5 x 47.5

3 x 5 x 90

My shoulders haven't yet gotten used to the low bar position in Squats. I've rubbed the skin off of my shoulders over the posterior deltoids (where the bar rests), so it hurts to get into position. As a result, I'm tensing up too much and I'm feeling a nerve-y tingling in my left arm during my sets. Being slightly stupid and even more stubborn, I'm not letting this stop me. But...

... it might be affecting my Press. This should have been a deload day. I was supposed to do 5 sets of 5 with 130 pounds, 10 pounds lighter than my work weight a week ago. I couldn't even get 3 reps on the first set. My form was absolute crap. I couldn't keep in line at all. It was terrible. I was amazingly pissed off (I'm still pissed off about it just typing this), but managed to keep myself from punching or kicking any gym equipment in frustration. (Which is good, because then I'd have had a bad day in the gym and a broken hand or foot.) I'm heading home on Saturday, and will press every day -- light one day, "heavy" the next -- to work on getting the form back.

Power Clean form is slowly coming along. I'll start adding weight once I can bang out a perfect set of 3 on the last set.

Pullups were satisfactory. Just keeping pace with Chinups on the weight is starting to get hard. 50 lbs next week with Chinups, then 50 lbs the week after with Pullups.

I finally got the 3x5 with 90 lbs on Dips! That was exciting. According to Token Asian Roommate, a fellow-gym goer who was on a nearby machine was watching me with a quizzical expression when I moved the plates over to the dip station, then gave me a "What the hell? He can't do that!" look when I loaded the plates on my belt and got into position, then shook his head and resumed his workout after I successfully completed my first set. I'm glad I can be entertaining to my fellow gym patrons!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Training 12-19-07

Apparently, lifting in the morning has the potential to kick my butt. I haven't eaten as well as I could or should have for the past few days, I haven't gotten quite enough sleep, and I'm stressed out by work and home stuff. Hopefully if I fix these things going forward I'll have more success with the Wednesday morning workouts.


3 x 5 x 240
2 x 240
3 x 240

Bench Press
4 x 230
2 x 5 x 230
4 x 230
3 x 230

5 x 315

13, 9, 6

A friendly observer came by after my 4th set of Squats and let me know that I apparently start to Good Morning the bar up when I get tired and/or am about to fail. My hips rise faster than my chest and I have to pull the bar back up with my hips and lower back. On the last set, I thought "chest up" and it helped a lot.

Bench Press was disappointing, especially since I've been at this weight for a while. Give it at least one more workout to get the 5x5.

I jumped more than I'd planned to on the Deadlift. I was upset at failing on Squat and Bench Press, and I wanted the ego boost that moving up to 3-plate Deadlifts would give. 5th rep was a bit ugly and the grip on my right hand was starting to give out, but it got all the way up. 320 next time.

Added 1 Pullup to my total from last time. Last time was 12, 8, 7. Stick with aiming for 13 and 9 on the first 2 sets and get up to 7+ on that last one!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Training 12-17-07

A well-intentioned guy at the gym approached Token Asian Roommate and I as we were Pressing and advised us to go from the top of our heads to just before lockout to better "work our shoulders" and not give the muslce a break or "push the range of motion too far." He was a really nice guy and only wanted to help us out, so I told him I was grateful for his advice, but I was going to keep on Pressing all the way from my chest to full extension overhead. I'm not quite sure if we made a new gym friend or just convinced this guy that we're a couple of punk kids who don't know what we're talking about. If we made a new friend, maybe we can eventually convince him that full range of motion is a good thing!

Week 4, Day 1

5 x 5 x 235

5 x 5 x 125

Power Clean
6 x 3 x 135

Bent Over Barbell Row
4 x 5 x 165
4 x 165

I figured out low bar position on Squat! The high bar had been feeling a bit unbalanced as the weight increased, so I decided to give it a go and found the bar position on my posterior deltoids almost instantly. I'm psyched -- using this position should help keep my form good and my base strong as the weight increases. 240 next time.

Beginning of a Press deload here. Tried to focus on form, and it was a bit inconsistent. I want to do some overhead situps tomorrow to get that "pushing through" feeling that I should have at lockout down.

Power Clean was also inconsistent. For the first 3 sets I was trying to avoid re-scraping my leg (no blood on the bar, please!), so form suffered. The next 2 sets were much better because I focused on keeping the bar close to my body. Racking on the last set suffered thanks to fatigue. Keep it at 135 until my form is better.

The first 3 reps on all sets of Bent Rows were good, and the last 2 were usually questionable. Fatigue builds quickly for me on these, apparently. Get that 5x5 next time!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Weekend Headstands

I'm trying to learn how to do a freestanding handstand and, eventually, a handstand pushup. So to start off, I did some headstands. Since this is, after all, the digital age, I videoed my attempts and posted two of the videos on YouTube:

Here's a video of me trying an assisted headstand off of my bed last Wednesday (note the super cool pile of laundry). And here's a video of me doing a freestanding headstand today (note the spectator on the couch).

Good times!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Training 12-14-07

Finally, a Friday workout that went the distance!

Week 3, Day 3

5 x 5 x 230

3 x 5 x 140
2 x 4 x 140

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 135

3 x 5 x 47.5

2 x 5 x 90
4 x 90

I think I went lower than in the past with Squats and my back was more vertical. This is good, as long as I didn't tuck my tailbone under like I sometimes do. I should have somebody around to watch my form on Monday, so I'll know more then. But they felt a lot easier than Wednesday, and I'm heading up to 235 next time.

3rd time I failed on the Press, and I'm pissed about it. 10% deload to 125 and work back up from there.

Power Cleans were still a bit sloppy. I once again ripped the scab off of my shin on the second set, so I think I might have been holding the bar a little too far away on subsequent sets in an effort to avoid getting blood on the bar. I need to just go buy some gauze and athletic tape to cover that scrape with until it heals all the way. On form, remember -- it's a JUMP!

Looking at the ceiling helps me involve my back a bit more on Chinups. 50 pounds next time I do weighted Chinups.

Dips got a bit better, too. I anticipate getting the full 3x5 next Friday.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Difference Between Strength Training and Bodybuilding

Many people seem to think that lifting weights is lifting weights is lifting weights. That's not the case. There are lots of different weightlifting protocols -- the 5x5, the "gym rat" 3x10, HIT, etc. Each protocol produces a different effect in the trainee, and each protocol can be sorted into 1 of 2 general categories: Strength Training and Bodybuilding.

To understand these categories, we must understand the goals of each. In Strength Training, the goal is to get stronger. To put it more precisely, the goal is to increase the amount of weight that you can lift for a single repetition. This is achieved by increasing the power production capacity of muscle fibers and by improving the ability of the nervous system to recruit those fibers.

In Bodybuilding, the goal is to increase the visible amount of muscle on your body. This is achieved via hypertrophy (the process by which the body creates new muscle cells and/or increases the size of existing ones) and by reducing body fat.

There is some overlap in these two goals. In the process of building strength, you will begin to appear more muscular. In the process of building muscle, you will start to get stronger. But the two are not the same.

There are a number of easily noticeable differences between Strength Training and Bodybuilding programs:

Rep range:

To build strength, you need to lift heavy weights, weights that you won't be able to lift for a whole lot of consecutive repetitions. This means that most Strength Training programs will use sets of no more than 8 repetitions. Most commonly, you'll see sets of 5 or 3, and more advanced Strength Training Programs often call for heavy singles (sets of 1 rep).

For hypertrophy, you want to cause as much muscle fatigue as possible. This means more reps with lower weights. For this reason, most bodybuilding programs will use sets of at least 8 reps, often going as high as 20 or "to failure," which means as many reps as you can possibly do with the weight.

Exercise selection:

Strength is most efficiently built through movements that mimic real-world actions: picking things up, pushing things around, etc. This means that Strength Training programs rely heavily on compound movements: complex movements involving more than one joint. Examples would be the Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press, Overhead Press, Power Clean, Bent Over Row, Pullup, etc.

In competition, bodybuilders are judged on a set of criteria that include muscle definition, proportion, etc. For this reason, bodybuilders often try to isolate specific muscles in order to precisely manipulate their physique. Isolation and machine exercises such as tricep pull-downs, preacher curls, pectoral flys, leg extensions and calf raises are often found in a Bodybuilding program.


Your body works as a unit. When you pick up a heavy box, you're using almost every muscle in your body. Therefore, Strength Training programs usually train the whole body in one workout, though some Strength Training programs use a split in which the upper body is worked one day and the lower body is worked the next. Your body needs time to recover from these kind of large scale workouts, so Strength Training programs usually involve 3-4 workouts per week.

Because they want to fatigue a specific muscle or muscle group as much as possible in order to induce maximum hypertrophy, bodybuilders often only work out one specific area of the body (chest, back, shoulders, triceps, biceps, abs, legs, etc.) per day. Therefore, Bodybuilding programs are often designed so that the trainee works out 5-7 days a week, working a different area of the body every day. Bodybuilding programs don't have as many rest days built in because each workout stresses only a small area of the body, creating less systematic fatigue and necessitating less recovery time.

Not all programs are created equal. It's important to define your goals and pick a program that matches those goals. If your main goal is to pump up your "beach muscles," pick a Bodybuilding program. If you're training for a sport or you just want to be the strongest guy you know, follow a Strength Training program.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Training 12-13-07

Was planning on doing some light jogging and then overhead situps today, but those plans changed and instead I decided to time myself on a 1-mile run.

1 mile run for time

Not anything very impressive, but not too bad considering that the last time I timed myself on the 1 mile was in high school, when I was running a lot more than I am now, and that time was right around 6 minutes. I'll time this again sometime in January and see if there's any improvement.

The situps got cut off because my parents called right after I was done with the mile and I ended up talking to them for about half an hour. By the time that was done, I was cooled off so I decided to call it a day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Step Away from the Scale

To many Americans, health and fitness have a lot to do with bodyweight. People who are concerned about their health go to Weight Watchers meetings, or to a LA Weight Loss Center. They watch The Biggest Loser for inspiration, and tell their friends that their goal is to drop 10 pounds by New Year's.

The fitness industry and mainstream media are fixated on weight and, as a result, so is the average gym-goer. This makes sense from the fitness industry's point of view: weight loss or gain is an extremely easy metric to track, and since the average American is overweight, marketing your gym or program or product as a weight-loss tool is a good way to make it attractive to a lot of people.

For the average gym-goer, however, weight should not be the primary measure of progress towards "fitness" or "health." Here's why:

Other indicators are more important.

Measures such as body-fat percentage, blood pressure, and your lipid profile (cholesterol and triglyceride levels) are all more important to overall health and wellness than bodyweight and, like bodyweight, they can all be impacted positively by exercise. They're not as heavily emphasized in the fitness industry or the media for the simple reason that they're harder to track. You need calipers or a hydrostatic scale to estimate body-fat percentage, one of those arm-squeezing devices and a stethoscope to measure blood pressure, and a blood test to assess your lipid profile.

Weight and body composition aren't the same thing.

When people say they want to lose weight, they usually mean that they want to lose fat. In fact, many people think that losing weight and losing fat are the same thing. This is NOT true. If you lose fat, you will also lose weight, but it is possible (especially for men) that eating better and exercising will lead to fat loss AND weight gain. This is because exercise builds muscle, which weighs more than fat.

Which would you prefer?

Also, you can lose weight without losing any fat at all. Some fad diets and diet pills have the single effect of dehydrating you, leading to the loss of "water weight," but absolutely no reduction in fat levels or body-fat percentage.

Weight loss doesn't move you towards a specific fitness goal.

If you're obese, you need to get rid of some of your excess fat in order to be healthy. But "losing 20 pounds" isn't really anyone's fitness goal. Someone might SAY that losing weight is his or her goal, but if you press further, you'll discover that his or her real goal is to be able to walk up the stairs to the apartment without getting out of breath, or to look great in that wedding dress, or to have "six pack" abs. Losing fat might be a step towards achieving these goals, but weight loss for the sake of weight loss is useless and can be extremely unhealthy.

So I say to you, step away from the scale. Instead of focusing on how much weight you've gained or lost this week, focus on how your clothes fit and on your energy level throughout the day. Instead of setting your goal as "losing 5 pounds," aim to shave 10 seconds off of your time on the 1-mile run or add 5 pounds to your Squat. Ignoring the scale and instead concentrating on other measures of fitness and health will have a beneficial long-term effect on your health, and will, ironically, make it easier to lose that fat.

Training 12-12-07

My first morning workout by my lonesome. Token Asian Roommate got screwed over by a coworker last night and had to work until the wee hours of the morning, so he was sleeping in. New Workout Buddy said he'd be there but didn't show, which marks the 3rd Wednesday in a row he's done that. I could blame my sub-par performance on that, but that's a pansy excuse. Training partners or no training partners, I have to be responsible for getting my work done in the gym.

Week 3, Day 2

4 x 5 x 230
4 x 230

Bench Press
3 x 5 x 230
2 x 4 x 230

5 x 305

13, 7, 6

I shouldn't have missed that last rep on Squats. I wanted to make it a great rep, so I went low and couldn't get up out of the hole. 230 again on Friday and I'd better make it the best 5 sets of 5 I've done thus far.

Got one less rep on Bench Press than last time. That's not good. Get the 5x5 next time, dangit!

Deadlift was the one lift on which I met my goal for today. The 305 felt good, but heavy. I think it's time to start 5 pound increases instead of 10 pounds. 310 next time.

Chinups, like Bench Press, regressed. Last time I did Chinups for reps, I got 12, 9, 8. That means I got 3 fewer reps this time than last time. Stick with aiming for 13 on the first set and get the next 2 sets up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Training 12-11-07

Today, New Workout Buddy and I had an appointment with one of the trainers at the gym. New Workout Buddy was entitled to a free workout as a part of his recently acquired gym membership, and I was invited to tag along.

The trainer was a nice enough guy, probably a year or two younger than me (!), and claimed that he was going to put us through a Crossfit workout. I was a bit skeptical going in. He had us do some circuits:

~20 yard famer's walk with dumbbells = 75% bodyweight
5 pushups to dumbbell rows
10 box jumps, 14 inch box
~ 20 yard farmer's walk with 75% bodyweight
25 rope jumps
15 ez-bar curls, 45 pounds

I completed 4 rounds of the circuit, then we rested for a couple of minutes before doing one last round.

I left the workout with mixed impressions. The farmer's walks, box jumps and rope jumps were solid ingredients -- functional, taxing and good for use in a metcon circuit such as this one. The pushups to dumbbell rows seemed a bit silly, but harmless. It doesn't seem like they're going to do much for your upper body strength, but they're an interesting way to add a twist to the conventional pushup and row movements and maybe work your stabilizing muscles in a new way. The ez bar curls, however, were completely out of place in a "Crossfit" workout. (Perhaps a post on why curls are largely useless is in order...)

So could I make a better circuit? Well, I obviously think I could. So here's my attempt at modifying this circuit to create a solid Crossfit-style metcon workout for beginners. It wouldn't really be very different from what he had us doing:

3 rounds, for time:
~20 yard farmer's walk with 75% bodyweight
5 pushups (from knees, if necessary)
10 box jumps, 14 inch box
~ 20 yards of lunges
25 rope jumps
5 jumping pullups

I'd make it 3 rounds for time to keep the intensity high and to set a benchmark. You could then repeat the workout after a couple of weeks of training to demonstrate progress with an improved time.

In any event, it was an interesting workout, and it wasn't taxing enough to create any problems with lifting tomorrow morning.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Training 12-10-07

I watched a lot of videos at the Crossfit website about handstands today. I'm thinking it would be fun to try to develop some gymnastics-type skills, maybe starting with the handstand. It kind of fits with my goal of increasing Press strength, and it would be a neat thing to be able to do. Maybe I could even work my way up to a handstand pushup!

Week 3, Day 1

5 x 5 x 225

3 x 5 x 140
4 x 140
5 x 140

Bent Over Barbell Row
4 x 5 x 165
4 x 165

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 135

Squats are definitely getting more difficult, but form is staying strong and I'm even getting incrementally lower each workout as my hamstrings stretch out a bit. 230 next time.

I added 2 reps on Press with 140. I probably didn't take enough time between the 3rd and 4th sets. Full 5 x 5 next time!

I'm liking the Pendlay rows. I feel like the form is easier to maintain when deloading on the floor between reps, and it's a better exercise all around. Get the 5 x 5 next time.

Power Clean form is still a little bit sloppy. I'll stay at 135 until I feel comfortable with the form.

In Defense of the Deadlift

The Deadlift is one of the most misunderstood exercises in the history of strength training. People think it's dangerous. They say that you'll mess up your back by doing it. Many corporate gyms won't even allow you to Deadlift. And if you do Deadlift as a regular part of your training regimen, you'll inevitably be approached by at least one person who "knows" that the Deadlift is dangerous and tries to convince you to give it up.

First, let's address the safety issue. Compared to other recreational sports, strength training has an incredibly low rate of injury. People think of soccer, for example, as being safer than weight lifting, but participants average 6.2 injuries per 100 hours of playing soccer versus 0.0035 injuries per hundred hours of weight training. Even badminton has a higher rate of injury than weight training, with 0.05 injuries per 100 hours of play.

Now think about the safety of specific lifts. If you're going to get injured while lifting weights, it's probably going to happen when you're trying to lift too much weight and you lose control of the bar. A Bench Press would be the worst lift for this to happen on, since a loss of control means the bar crashing to your chest, and possibly remaining there if you have no spotters or bad spotters. If you go too heavy on a Deadlift, on the other hand, all you do is drop the weight. A worst-case scenario would be the weight rebounding off of the floor and smacking you in the shin.

So with the Deadlift's potential for catastrophic injury now realistically assessed as being very close to 0, we address the issue of "messing up your back." Yes, your lower back will probably be sore after a workout involving Deadlifts, but only in the way that your chest is sore after a workout involving Bench Press. A correctly executed Deadlift will NOT injure your back. Ever.

The only way to injure your back by Deadlifting is to perform the lift incorrectly, in which case you're not really doing a Deadlift, after all. In a correct Deadlift, your back stays straight throughout the entire movement while you lift the weight by extending at the knees and hips. If your back stays straight, you can't hurt it. Period.

Since correct form is the most important factor in safely Deadlifting, you should learn all you can about correct form. Read online articles. Watch video of correctly performed Deadlifts. Ask a personal trainer who has a Powerlifting or Olympic Lifting background. If you're serious about strength training, buy Starting Strength and read it cover to cover. Do whatever you need to do to feel confident in your form. If you have the equipment, periodically video yourself performing the Deadlift so you can check your form. You can even post the video online and ask for feedback on your technique.

"You Deadlift like a girl." "Thanks!"

The Deadlift is an extremely useful lift that has gotten a bad rap thanks to idiots like this guy. Correctly executed Deadlifts are one of the best ways to build strength in the series of muscles known as the "posterior chain": glutes, hamstrings and back. They also teach you how to correctly and safely pick up heavy objects from the floor. The Deadlift is an extremely useful exercise for everyone from the 17 year old who wants to get stronger for sports to the 70 year old who just wants to be able to perform everyday tasks without pain.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Training 12-8-07

Worked my way up to full Power Cleans today! Form seemed pretty good, though I can't be certain without anybody to watch.

Power Clean
5 x 95
3 x 5 x 115
5 x 3 x 135

Box Jumps
Sets of 10, starting at 1 foot and increasing by 2 inches each time:
10 x 12"
10 x 14"
10 x 16"
10 x 18"
10 x 20"
10 x 22"
10 x 24"
10 x 26"
10 x 28"
10 x 30"

Overall, a good dynamic workout. Jumping rules!

Training 12-7-07

Second week in a row that the Friday workout's been a bit rushed due to evening plans. It's all good, though; the workout went well and the evening was highly enjoyable.

Week 2, Day 3

5 x 5 x 220

2 x 5 x 140
3 x 4 x 140

3 x 5 x 45

5 x 90
4 x 90
3 x 90

Squats are getting more and more comfortable. I really felt the work today, but that was at lest partially due to the short rest between sets. Two plates on Monday!

I think I could've gotten the 5th rep on the 3rd set of Press if I hadn't waited too long at the bottom after the 4th rep. Stay at 140 and get at least 1 more rep next time!

Got all 3 sets of Pullups, so I'm moving up to 50 pounds on Chinups next week.

Dips were a bit optimistic with 90 pounds after Pressing. I think I'm going to switch the program up and keep Bench on every Wednesday and Dips on every Friday.

You'll notice no Power Cleans -- again due to time. Tomorrow I plan to head to the gym and pratice my form all the way up to performing my first real Power Cleans! Hopefully it'll go well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Strength Training for Seniors

Many older folk think of Strength Training as a young person's pursuit. It's true that there are more young people lifting weights than there are elderly lifters, but that doesn't mean that the senior citizens among us shouldn't be lifting. In fact, the opposite is true. Lifting weights offers many benefits to its age-advanced practitioners:

Increased strength

This one's pretty obvious. If you lift weights, you'll get stronger. If you're stronger, you can more easily perform everyday tasks such as carrying groceries, cleaning dishes, even tying your shoes.

Improved bone density

Bone responds to weightlifting in much the same way as muscle. As you place progressively heavier loads on your bones, they respond by becoming stronger and more dense. In fact, Strength Training can help prevent osteoporosis and may even help decrease its effects.

Increased flexibility

Many people think of flexibility as muscle "looseness," which isn't necessarily the case. What we experience as being flexible or inflexible is really just our body protecting itself. Any time you move a certain appendage or joint beyond the normal range of motion that it experiences in everyday life, your brain sends a message saying, "Warning! Possible danger! Protect yourself!" and your muscles tighten in response. Lifting weights helps your body re-learn to use its entire natural range of motion, thus increasing your effective flexibility.

Reduced blood pressure

Yes, your blood pressure increases slightly while you're lifting weights, as it does during any strenuous activity. However, weight training decreases resting blood pressure and therefore decreases the risk for and severity of cardiovascular disease.

Less pain

In addition to strengthening your muscle and bone, weightlifting also strengthens your tendons, ligaments and joints. This can decrease pain caused by arthritis or other joint conditions.

Improved mood

It's long been known that exercise can help alleviate depression, and this includes Strength Training. The feeling of accomplishment and increased independence that comes from becoming stronger and better able to perform everyday tasks as a result of Strength Training can improve anyone's mood.

Easier recovery

Whenever you lift weights, you're putting your body under stress. Your body reacts by using its recovery systems to repair the damage caused by this stress and strengthen the affected tissues and structures. These recovery systems are the same recovery systems that would repair your heart after a heart attack or mend a broken bone, and by using them regularly via Strength Training, you're keeping them sharp and ready to quickly repair any injury you might sustain.

Elderly people who want to take up Strength Training should proceed carefully -- consult a doctor and find a trainer or a supervised Strength Training program that you can attend. Make sure you're executing all the exercises in your program properly, start with a light weight, and add weight progressively in small increments as you get stronger. A properly planned and executed Strength Training program will give you all of the benefits listed above with very little chance of injury. So get to it!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Training 12-6-07

Today turned into my "cheat" day for food. The office went out together to Chuy's for lunch, so I had a really tasty Southwestern Enchilada, complete with rice, beans and dozens of tortilla chips. After dinner, I had a cupcake in celebration of my friend's birthday. But I had time to get to the gym after the festivities for a quick workout, which was a pleasant surprise!

Crossfit WOD

"Michael" - scaled down
3 rounds for time:
Run 400 meters
20 back extensions
20 situps

I ran on the treadmill, and each 400 took between 1:30 and 1:40. Didn't keep a total time, though, as I didn't have a watch. By the end I felt tired but not wiped out. My back and hips felt tight, so I did some hip circles and hip flexor stretches afterwards to get loose.

If you're wanting to get into Crossfit, either as a full-time workout or a way to spice up your current routine, use the scaled Crossfit WOD's posted on the Brand X Martial Arts forums. Even if you think you're in great shape, start off at the "Buttercup" level. Crossfit is the kind of thing that looks easier on paper than it actually is.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Weight Lifting eBook

Mehdi over at has published his first eBook, the StrongLifts 5x5 eBook. He lays out his StrongLifts 5x5 program, shows the logic behind the program and explains how to perform each of the lifts. It's a great resource for anybody who's interested in getting into strength training, and it's free. If you're wanting to start lifting weights, download the eBook, read it, and use it as your first training program.

The eBook is available for free to anybody who subscribes to the StrongLifts blog. And, to be honest, if you're interested in reading the eBook, you'd be interested in pretty much everything on the website, so subscribing is a good idea anyway.

Training 12-5-07

Lucas no like mornings. But Lucas like lifting weights. It all evens out, Lucas guesses.

Week 2, Day 2

5 x 5 x 215

Bench Press
3 x 5 x 230
2 x 4 x 230

5 x 295

12, 8, 7

Squats are starting to get heavy. My warmup reps were CRAP, since it was early and I was stiff, but the work sets had good form. 220 next time.

I was supposed to do weighted Dips today, but I'm a moron and forgot the dip belt. The first set with 230 felt pretty hard, and I was surprised that I got a full 3 sets before I failed any reps. 230 again when I next do Bench. (Just looked at my log and realized I didn't even get the full 5x5 with 225 last time. D'oh!)

Token Asian Roommate looked at my Deadlift form, and I have a bad habit of bringing my hips up a bit before the bar comes off of the ground. I need to work on that. But despite my inefficient form, 295 felt relatively easy. 305 next time.

Last week, I did Chinups for 12, 9, 8 reps. So this week I got 2 fewer reps, but with Pullups, which are a bit harder for me. I'll take it, I guess.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Training 12-3-07

I'm liking 3 days a week working out. I don't feel run down at the end of the week like I did when I lifted 4 days a week, and today I was almost giddy with excitement at getting back into the gym.

Week 2, Day 1

5 x 5 x 210

5 x 5 x 135

Jump Clean
6 x 5 x 45

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 160

Only moved up to 210 on Squat after an exchange with Mehdi on the Forum made me realize that smaller jumps would keep my focus on form and help me avoid stalling. Form was still good. 215 next time.

Last time I tried 135 on Press, I tried for 2 workouts, never got the form right, and ended up hurting my back. This time it was a breeze, relatively speaking. 140 next time.

Power Clean learning is coming along well. I think jump cleans again on Friday, then take some time over the weekend to try out the full Power Clean. Right now I'm inconsistent; some reps are great, and on others I bang my collarbone or neck with the bar.

Bent Over Row was ok, but I'd lost some steam during the break provided by Power Clean learning. I think I'll move Bent Over Row to just after Press until I'm comfortable enough with Power Cleans for them to be a real work exercise.

Smith Machine shenannegans

edit: I'm aware that the formatting of this text SUCKS. I'm not a big fan of Blogger's text editing tools, and though I know enough HTML to go fix it, it would take too much time. I've tweaked it enough to be mostly readable. Leave a comment if you have problems with it.

There's a Smith Machine in virtually every commercial gym in the Western World. Some consider this a sign that the Smith Machine is a worthwhile and valuable piece of exercise equipment. This is not the case. Remember those vibrating belt machines from the 1950's or so? They were in every gym in the US, and they did absolutely nothing but make you jiggle while standing still. (See picture at the bottom of this post.)

The Smith Machine is in exactly the same position: widely used, easily recognizable... and completely useless.

"But wait," you say, "I've heard that the Smith Machine is a great way to do Squats, Bench Press, and other exercises when you don't have a spotter."

NOT TRUE. Like any machine, the Smith Machine is inferior to free weights in many ways:


Many people think that the Smith Machine is a safer alternative to barbell exercises, but this is not the case. The Smith Machine might feel safer, but the fixed bar path actually makes many exercises more dangerous.

The most obvious example is the Bench Press. With free weights, there are a number of ways to get out of a failed rep without a spotter. In a worst-case scenario, when the bar is on your chest and you absolutely cannot lift it off, you could lean to one side until the weights fell off to free yourself. If the same situation arose in a Smith Machine, the bar is held in place, so your only option is to scream for help and/or wait to die as the weight slowly crushes you. Your call.

Some people think Squatting is safer in the Smith Machine, as well. This guy probably used to think so, too:

This wouldn't have happened with free weights, because he would've felt his balance shifting when the weight was too far forward and compensated by taking a step forward.


The Smith Machine's primary characteristic is that it removes the need to stabilize the weight while lifting. This means that the stabilizing muscles that you would normally use through a range of motion are not used and therefore are not strengthened. This leads to strength imbalances which can, in turn, lead to injuries.

In extreme cases, the primary movers can become so strong in relation to the stabilizing muscles that they contract with enough force to literally tear those stabilizing muscles. To return to the Bench Press example, the pectoral muscles could become much, much stronger than the stabilizing muscles in the shoulder, leading to recurring shoulder injuries. Not a good thing.

The Ego Boost

The Smith machine will artificially inflate your numbers. If you regularly perform your Bench Press workout with 155 pounds with free weights, you can easily add another 30-50 pounds on in a Smith Machine. Conversely, if you bench 155 in a smith machine, you'll have problems lifting 125 with free weights.

Strength built with free weights translates readily to movements done in the Smith Machine. Strength built on a Smith Machine does NOT translate to free weights, or real-world strength.

Look, we're exercising!

Uses for the Smith Machine

Despite what I've said above, the Smith Machine is not completely useless. It makes an excellent adjustable chin-up bar (scroll down to Step 2) or inverted row station, and the loons over at T-nation thought up a few more uses, as well.

A good rule of thumb for using the Smith Machine: if the exercise involves you moving and the bar staying still (chin-ups, inverted rows, etc.), then you can use the Smith Machine. If the exercise involves the bar moving at all (Squat, Press, Bench Press, Deadlift, etc.), then STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM THE SMITH MACHINE.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Training 12-1-07

Went to the gym to make up for not getting in any Power Clean practice yesterday. A nice way to pass the time on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Hang Clean
3 x 5-10 x 45

Clean Jump
3 x 5-10 x 45

Jump Clean
5 x 5-8 x 45

6 x 135
6 x 185
2 x 5 x 225

On the Power Clean learning stuff, I did each set to 5, then did a couple more until either I did one rep where I thought the form was really solid, or I reached 10 (8 on Jump Cleans). The light Deadlifts were to keep the blood moving through and check form. Everything felt good.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Training 11-30-07

Token Asian Roommate and I blasted through this workout in about 50 minutes from walking into the gym to walking out, since we had a dinner with some friends to go to. As a result, the Power Clean learning was dropped from the workout. I think I'll head to the gym for an hour or so tomorrow to practice hang cleans and jump cleans and and do some light Deadlifts.

Week 1, Day 3

5 x 5 x 205

5 x 5 x 130

3 x 5 x 45

Squat form is staying solid as the weight increases. One bad rep today -- 3rd rep of the last set. But even that rep was way better than what I was doing on every rep a short 3 weeks ago. 215 next time, again with the qualifier that I immediately go back down if form struggles.

Press was also solid. Overhead situps yesterday helped me feel the sensation of really pushing my torso through while locking out overhead, which I think helped. 135 next time.

Doing only 3 sets of Chinups across lets me use a bit heavier weight. I'll try 45 on weighted Pullups next week, then 50 on Chinups the week after.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Training 11-29-07

Did a little bit of nothing at the gym today. New Workout Buddy wanted to lift, so I spotted him and did a couple of really light sets of Squats and Bench Press to get the blood moving. Then I did some light work that was worth actually writing down:

Overhead Situps (decline)
3 x 10 x 45

Good Mornings
2 x 10 x 45

10 minutes

Overhead Situps are exactly what they sound like -- situps while holding a weight overhead. It should help build ab strength to help support me on Press.

Good Mornings are a posterior chain exercise in which you place the bar on your shoulders in a Squat position, keep your back straight and bend from the hips until your back is parallel to the floor.

Was a good light exercise. I'll get as much sleep as possible tonight after the Cowboys game and I should be feeling good for the weights tomorrow afternoon. Woot!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Training 11-28-07

Worked out before work, as I'll have to do on every Wednesday. Getting up early is a little rough, but about halfway through Squats I began to feel alive, and by the end of the workout I was feeling fully awake and ready to face the day -- a full 20 minutes before I'm usually even awake!

Week 1, Day 2

5 x 5 x 195

Bench Press
4 x 5 x 225
4 x 225

1 x 5 x 285

12, 9, 8

Squat form was a bit rougher than usual at first, probably because I'd only been awake for half an hour and was still tight. It got much better as the sets went on, and my very last rep was the best of them all. I need to remember to take more time warming up for my next morning workout. 205 on Friday, if the form stays solid.

Missed the last rep of Bench Press, but only by a hair. I stalled about halfway up, but a light spot from Token Asian Roommate was all I needed to get past that point and finish the rep. I'm only benching once every other week, so I'll stay at 225 when it next rolls around.

Deadlift felt good at 285. I like one heavier work set better than sets across for Deadlift. 295 next time.

Chinups for reps were harder than expected, probably since I haven't done them in a while. This is my baseline, so aim for at least one more rep next week.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Training 11-27-07

Generally, I let my hair grow out until I look like one of the Beatles and my hair is constantly in my eyes. Then I shave it all off. My Mom doesn't like it very much when I shave it all off. She says my hair looks good long. My hair's been getting very long lately, so I shaved it all off this afternoon. Sorry, Mom!

4 x 400 meter sprints, 1 minute rest between

Calf Raises
3 x 10 x 150

Spinal Decompression Hangs

When I came in, I was planning to do a heavily scaled down Michael, but I wimped out because I didn't want to draw stares by leaving a treadmill running while going back and forth between the treadmill, the back extension station and a situp mat.

I remembered a WOD from the Crossfit main page that was basically four 400 meter sprints, so I did that on the treadmill instead. I went all out on the last 2 sprints, which might not have been the best idea since this was supposed to be a light workout between lifting days. D'oh!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Training 11-26-07

Thanksgiving vacation is over, and I'm as unmotivated as ever at work. On the plus side, I'm learning that I really really do enjoy this whole physical fitness thing -- reading, learning, doing and teaching anything and everything to do with fitness and, more specifically, lifting weights. I'm feeling more and more confident that I want to do something like this professionally after I quit my current job.

First day on the new program, and an additional friend was added to the stable of occasional workout partners. Good times!

Week 1, Day 1

5 x 5 x 185

5 x 5 x 125

Hang Clean (learning)
3 x 10 x 45

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 155

As previously discussed, Squats are starting off light and the focus will remain on preserving PERFECT form as the weight advances. The form was damn good with 185, and I'll move up to 195 next time. If form struggles on the first set, though, move back down.

Press was just a 5 pound backoff from the last time I did the exercise (over 2 weeks ago), but it felt easy. A good sign! Move up to 130 next time.

Hang Cleans were for learning purposes, as the first step in progressing to the Power Clean. I think I did pretty well. Token Asian Roommate struggled, and New Workout Buddy was getting the hang of it by the end. Next time I'll move on to Jump Cleans, and the other two might as well, depending on how they do at Hang Cleans to start.

I'm doing Bent Over Rows like Pendlay Rows -- complete deload on the floor between reps, which makes the movement harder because you lose the elastic bounce out of the bottom of the rep. I don't want to advance too fast on an exercise I'm only doing as assistance once a week, so 160 next time.

Overhead Press & Squats Galore

A disclaimer to begin: this program is a work in progress. I'll probably be revising it as time goes on. I might even come back and edit this post to reflect any such revisions.

First, my goals:
  1. Press my bodyweight (~200 lbs)
  2. Squat double my bodyweight (~400 lbs)
After reviewing some numbers and estimates online, I've decided that the first goal might be a bit of a stretch, but I'm sticking with it. "Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" and all that crap. The second should be attainable, especially since my Squat form is now officially BADASS.

So how am I going to get there? With the following unnecessarily complicated two week program:

Week 1
M: Squat (5x5), Press (5x5), Power Clean (5x3), Bent Over Row (5x5)
W: Squat, Bench (5x5), Deadlift (1x5), Chinups (3x failure, unweighted)
F: Squat, Press, Power Clean, Chinups (3x5, weighted)

Week 2
M: Squat, Press, Power Clean, Bent Over Row
W: Squat, Dips (5x5, weighted), Deadlift, Pullups (3x failure, unweighted)
F: Squat, Press, Power Clean, Pullups (3x5, weighted)

Note that if a set & rep scheme is listed once for an exercise, that scheme is used for all iterations of that exercise unless otherwise noted. Thus, all Squats are for 5x5, all Power Cleans are for 5x3, etc.

Now for some explanation of the reasoning behind the madness:

I'm Squatting 3 times a week because if you don't Squat 3 times a week, you're a pansy. And also because Squat has been the least trained of the core exercises for me over the past few years, so I need to get my reps in to get the weight up.

I'm Pressing heavy twice a week, with Bench and Dips alternating on Wednesdays. This is because My focus is obviously on improving Pressing strength, but I also want to at least maintain my Bench and Dip strength. Plus, I think that working in a variety of pushes will help keep my Press progress from stagnating.

Deadlifting heavy once a week is plenty to get stronger on that lift from what I've read (and experienced), so Wednesday morning is Deadlift time! Power Cleans on Monday and Friday to work the posterior chain and help overall power development. The first few weeks will be learning the exercise with the progression outlined in Starting Strength, since I'm brand new to Power Cleans.

Pullups/Chinups are great assistance exercises for the Press, and I originally had them programmed on every day, but I added in Bent Over Rows for the same reason I added in Bench and Dips -- variety and warding off stagnation.

I'll be doing metabolic conditioning workouts from Crossfit on Tuesday and Thursday, quite heaviliy scaled down at first. I won't be aiming to push myself as hard as those Crossfit guys generally do, at least at first. It's more to keep above a minimum level of GPP ("General Physical Preparedness") and keep the habit of getting into the gym as often as possible. Oh, and to freak people out by doing weird Crossfit things at the gym.

So that's the plan. Modifications will be made as the necessity for doing so becomes obvious, and will be noted on this blog. If you, o random denizen of the internet, have any thoughts or ideas about how I could improve this, please leave a comment!

Training 11-24-07

I'm back from the annual Thanksgiving Family Reunion. It was good times -- I slept in a converted box car decorated with way too much railroad paraphernalia and ate disgusting amounts of yummy food. Surprisingly, I didn't do too bad of a job of sticking to my eating rules. (I refuse to call it a diet, dammit!)

On Saturday, I decided to freak out my relatives by doing some Tabata intervals. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 4 minutes per exercise with 1 minute or less of rest while switching between exercises. I didn't keep very good track of my totals, but I recorded my lows:

low: 6 girl pushups (pitiful!)

Dumbbell Deadlift
(30 pound dumbbell in each hand)
low: 10

low: 10


I was wiped out by the time I got to sprints, and the last few felt like sprints but looked more like slow-motion zombie shuffles. I know this to be true because apparently some of my relatives saw me running from their windows and asked me if I had a good jog. D'oh!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Training 11-22-07

Happy Thanksgiving! Spent today with my roomates & some of their family, my aunt, uncle & cousines, and my grandmother. Good times!

Went to the gym for some more maxing and general messing around.

1 x 255
1 x 275

Form work up to a good form double of 225

17 consecutive

Bench was about what I was aiming for, though 285 would've been nice.

Squat form is coming along nicely, though a try with 275 went straight down without any chance for me to push back up. I think I just wasn't ready for it, but I didn't want to try again for fear of losing my resurgent form.

Like Bench, 17 pullups is pretty good and around what I was aiming for, but I would've been happier if I'd broken 20. Maybe next time!

I'm about 80% sure what my new program next week will look like. I'll finalize it over the weekend and write it up later.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Training 11-20-07

Thanksgiving vacation is officially beginning. I'm typing this while sitting in a living room filled with me, my 3 roommates, 3 siblings of said roommates and 1 father of said roommates. It feels like a long college weekend!

Some light work and max deadlift today:

Various light weights to get the blood flowing (didn't keep track at all)

Form work -- I'm starting to get it!

1 x 275
1 x 315
1 x 355

I really wanted at least 365 on Deadlift, but didn't quite get it. I just couldn't get it off the floor. 355 is respectable, though.

The real happiness from this workout comes from the fact that I think my Squat form is on the rebound! Knees pointed out wide over the toes, sit back to at or barely below parallel, and come straight back up. Mainly, just think, "knees out, back straight." Focusing on those two seems to help everything else stay right -- I get to right about parallel, my knees stay over my toes, my posterior chain stays involved, my upper back and chest stay right, and I go straight down and back up. It's like magic!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Training 11-19-07

The first of three mess around/max out days leading up to Thanksgiving break. Woot! I took my time, did plenty of warming up and made sure I was fully rested between all sets/attempts. I've only recorded the successful tries below -- if I tried a weight and didn't get the rep, it's not written here.

3 x 3 x 225
3 x 3 x 205

1 x 135
1 x 155
1 x 160

1 x 55
1 x 65
1 x 80
1 x 90

Form is still the limiting factor on Squat, I think. But it's getting better. I need to keep my knees pointed out over my feet, sit back instead of down, keep my lower back straight and concentrate on using the posterior chain from the bottom.

A note on terminology -- I'm switching to the terms used by Rippetoe in Starting Strength: Overhead Press = Press and Underhand Pullups = Chinups. I'm happy with both maxes here. 155 felt relatively easy on Press, but I couldn't even get 165 above my forehead. I might need to work some partials at some point in the future. We'll see how it goes.

I really wanted 100 lbs on weighted Chinups, but on two seperate tries I got about 60% - 70% up and was stuck. I'll get it yet!

Lessons Learned Thus Far

I've learned a lot since I started actually recording my workouts and trying to learn as much as possible about lifting three months ago. Looking back, it's almost comical how little I knew when I started. I'm sure that, 3 months from now, it'll be comical to look back on how little I know right now. But here are a few of the highlights of what I've learned:

1 - Lifting weights doesn't build muscle. Recovery builds muscle.

That's the biggest mistake I made when starting out in September -- I took a 3-day a week program, looked at my schedule and said "4 days a week works better for me," and proceeded to transform a well-organized program into something that almost ran me into the ground on a couple of occasions.

Working out tears up your muscle and makes you weaker than you were before. Your body then repairs the damage and adds a little more muscle and strength on top (supercompensation). It is this rebuilding process makes you stronger, and if you don't give it enough time to occur between workouts, you'll end up overtraining to some degree.

Maximize your recovery between workouts by spacing your workouts 24-72 hours apart, eating right (pay special attention to getting enough protein -- roughly 1g per pound of bodyweight per day) and getting plenty of sleep.

2 - For strength in non-elite athletes, isolation is basically useless.

Want to get strong? Stop the bicep curls. Now. Seriously. Put those 30-lb dumbbells down and do some pullups. If you want to get stronger, you have to use compound exercises that work multiple joints and muscle groups, because that's the way your body is designed. In the real world, bicep strength isn't important -- pulling strength is. Tricep strength isn't important -- pushing strength is.

Isolation exercises work muscles in a way that you'll never actually use them -- alone and without regard to strengthening the rest of the musculature that would contribute to pushing, pulling, lifting, dragging or carrying heavy stuff. Compound movements work all muscles involved in a certain motion in the proportion to which those muscles contribute to that motion. That leads to a high level of balanced, functional strength.

3 - You are what you eat.

We exercise buffs rarely admit this publicly, but what you eat is possibly more important than how you exercise when it comes to how you look. If you want to look like a fat slob, eat like a fat slob: twinkies, doritos, cheesburgers, etc. If you want to look like you're fit, eat like you're fit: veggies, fruit, lean meat, whole grains.

Diet also has a big impact on performance. If you want to be as "strong" as Kate Moss, eat like Kate Moss: celery, water, water, celery and water. If you want to be as strong as a powerlifter, eat like a powerlifter: meat, eggs, milk, and veggies.

Yes, it's important to train hard in order to get stronger or look better. But if you don't give your body the right "raw materials" to use in recovery (see #1), then your results will be less than optimal.

4 - A training partner is essential.

I don't have a regular, every-day training partner. And I don't mind it -- I like being able to do my own thing in the gym and not worry about keeping someone else happy. But I do have a roommate who trains with me once or twice a week, and having him there has been invaluable to my progress. He keeps an eye on my form, helps keep me motivated, and keeps me honest when I'm tired and start trying to cheat a little bit on the last few reps.

If you can't get somebody to work out with you at least some of the time, invest in a video camera. Video a few of your workouts so that you can see what you're doing and spot any weaknesses or technique flaws. Post the videos online and ask for tips or advice. It'll act as both motivation and a chance to learn.

5 - I love this crap.

I thought I liked working out before, when I did so with no real plan and with no real attention to what I was doing. But now that I'm learning as much as I can, keeping track of what I'm doing and trying to make educated, practical decisions about what I need to do in order to improve, I'm having twice as much fun as I was before. Seeing my progress (or lack thereof) and finding ways to improve or fix problems is an incredibly satisfying experience for me.

Based on what I've learned over the past months, I'll be starting a new and improved program next week. I'll be lifting 3x a week instead of 4, so I'll have adequate recovery time between sessions. I'll be refining my exercise selection in order to meet specific goals and hopefully facilitate slightly shorter, more intense workouts. I'll be adding some general conditioning twice a week in the form of Crossfit.

Early this week, I'll test some maxes and goof around. I'll do whatever I can figure out for workouts while traveling for Thanksgiving. Then next week the fun starts! Here's hoping that I've got a better grip on what I'm doing this time than I did last time!

Training 11-17-07

I was in Memphis for the weekend, so I didn't have a chance to get a normal lifting session. On Saturday, however, I went to the hotel gym, grabbed some 20 lb dumbbells and did Tabata Thrusters.

The Tabata protocol is simple but intense: 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes (2 minutes 40 seconds of work, 1 minute 20 seconds of rest). If you want to get a hard workout in really fast, try it. I spent a total of about 12 minutes in the gym -- 5 minutes warming up, 4 minutes of Tabata, and 3 minutes sprawled on the gym floor sucking air afterwards.

Here's how I did (It was my first time, so don't laugh):

Tabata Thrusters
40 x 10, 10, 10, 9, 7, 6, 5, 5

Total reps: 62

Not too shabby for a first try, I think. I lost a couple of reps on the last 2 sets because I was so wiped out that 10 seconds of rest time wasn't enough for me to put down the dumbbells, take a step to the right, jot down my reps for that interval, take a step back to the dumbbells and pick them back up.

This week will be a "whatever I feel like doing" week, and then the training routine will be changing after Thanksgiving. I'll even set goals! More on that today or tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Training 11-15-07

The Day the Squats Died...


4 x 205
2 x 5 x 205
3 x 205

Squats - focus on form!
3 x 7 x 135

5 x 5 x 225

3 x 5 x 275

Pullups (underhand)
2 x 5 x 40
4 x 40
2 x 3 x 40

Squats were just plain terrible. Even when I got a full set of 5, the form was atrocious. I've decided to go all the way back to the beginning, a la Starting Strength. I started with an empty bar, and added weight in 10-pound increments until I got to a weight where my form was not absolutely, 100% perfect. I then did 2 more sets at that weight, and called it a day.

From here on out, that's what I'm going to do. Focus on form above all else, gradually increase the weight ONLY as long as I can do so with perfect form, and drill it into my head. Also, no more Front Squats for at least a few months, until I get the motion of a perfect Back Squat burned into my mind and body for all eternity.

Bench was solid, only arched on the last rep of the last set. Also kept my head off the bench for most reps, which is good. 235 net time!

Deadlifts were ok, but the back rounded on the 4th and 5th reps of the last 2 sets a bit. Could be because my glutes and hamstrings were already worn out from so many Squats. 275 again.

I used up all my time on Squats, so I only had 8 minutes before the gym closed for pullups. Rest was minimal, so I expected to lose a few reps compared to last time. Stay at 40 for now, and I should be able to get all the reps next time, with adequate rest.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Good Carbs!

I didn't lift yesterday. I forgot that I had a meeting after work until 8, and I'd already arranged to go out with friends at 8:30, which if I hadn't had that silly meeting, would have given me plenty of time to go home, work out and shower. D'oh!

But it's not all bad. I'll get a bit of rest, which I'm beginning to suspect is the missing element in my current program. Hopefully the extra rest will help me fix my Squat problems on Thursday.

Since I have no workout to report, let me ramble for a bit about nutrition. A few months ago, I was of the opinion that nutrition was unimportant and what really mattered was working hard in the gym. Boy was I wrong. Working hard in the gym matters. A lot. But nutrition is probably even more important.

Since about a month ago, I've been basing my diet on the paleo diet. The basic idea is this: only eat things that, in theory, you could go outside, pick up off of the ground (or out of the water) and eat. This means that pretty much all meat is ok, most veggies, fruits, and nuts. But no bread, pasta, potatoes, legumes, dairy or processed food.

Some people would call this a low-carb diet. I disagree. It's not a low-carb diet, it's a good-carb diet. Let me explain what I mean by this.

From the time I was a kid up until I took bread, pasta, etc. out of my diet, I would become very emotionally and psychologically unstable if I was hungry. If I hadn't eaten in a few hours, I was either on top of the world or I hated it. Something as small as stubbing my toe or thinking about having to go to school the next day could send me from one end of the spectrum to the other in seconds. I learned to control it by eating often and making sure that I always had food close to hand. My stomach literally controlled my mood, and to an extent, my life.

Now I realize that this pattern was the result of a post-carb crash. Traditional high-carb foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes cause a big spike in blood sugar after you eat them. Most of my meals would be full of whole grains, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc., which would spike my blood sugar levels and make me feel good for a couple of hours. Then, as my body released insulin, my blood sugar levels would plummet and I'd be moody. Since I started avoiding these foods, I've noticed that my mood is much, much less dependent on the state of my stomach, because I avoid blood sugar spikes and the lows that come after them.

So what makes the carbs from bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. "bad" and other carbs "good?" Well, the good carbs, those that come from veggies, fruits, nuts, milk, etc., promote a slow, long-lasting boost in blood sugar levels instead of the spike that comes from eating the bad carbs found in bread, pasta, etc.

A carb source's status as "good" or "bad" is determined by its rating on the glycemic index:
  • Low glycemic index = slow, long-lasting blood sugar boost = good
  • High glycemic index = fast blood sugar spike = bad
Following a diet that has a relatively low glycemic index has been shown to reduce the likelihood of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and other conditions. Also, you avoid what I call the "after lunch nap syndrome," where you feel lazy and tired after meals. By getting my carbs from fruit, veggies, nuts, and other low glycemic index sources, I've found that my energy level stays higher throughout the day, I no longer get moody when I haven't eaten, and I don't get tired in the afternoon or early evening like I used to. I'm not eliminating carbs; I'm just being picky about my sources.

So this isn't a low-carb diet because I'm not trying to minimize the amount of carbs I eat. Instead, I'm cutting out carbohydrate sources with a high glycemic index, and only eating the good carbs. On this diet, I average 170-200g of carbs a day, which, while it is below the 271g recommended by the USDA, is more than enough to keep my body properly fueled. (I personally don't think much of the USDA's dietary recommendations, anyway, but that's another post.) As a result, I feel better, I'm healthier (I think), and my stomach no longer controls my mood. I call that a win.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Training 11-12-07

Monday, Monday, Monday. On the plus side, I'm taking the day off on Friday and getting a most-expenses-paid trip to Memphis this weekend! Beale Street, here I come!


2 x 5 x 215
2 x 215 (lost tension in posterior chain)
5 x 215
3 x 215 (just failed)

Bench Press
4 x 5 x 225
4 x 225

3 x 5 x 275

Pullups (overhand)
3 x 5 x 40
2 x 4 x 40

Squat was disappointing. There's got to be something about the form that I'm just not getting. While talking about it with Token Asian Roommate, I developed a suspicion that I might be trying to bring my hips forward and under myself at the bottom of the rep when I get tired. I need to focus on keeping the hips back and pushing straight up. 215 again until I get it right!

Bench Press is coming along nicely. Form is pretty easy, so all I have to think about is getting set, getting tight and going fast. Was really close to the last rep on the last set. Should be able to get it next time!

Deadlift was seeming to push back with the heavier sets, so I'm back to working 3 sets of 5, at least for now. Form was iffy on the last rep, but I should be able to get 285 next time.

Pullups are also coming along. Underhand is easier than overhand, so I should be able to get a full 5 sets of 5 next time.

Overall, I was really fatigued towards the end of this workout. I was getting a headache, and had a tingly feeling almost like a pinched nerve from the front of my left shoulder down to the pinkie of my left hand. It's a good sign that I'm working hard, but I'm glad I'll be mixing stuff up with a new program in a couple of weeks. I'm thinking that should help with the fatigue and hopefully give my numbers a boost.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Training 11-9-07

Just finished a late evening of poker with the roomies and friends. Making this posed based on my notes from earlier this evening. Must... sleep...


5 x 5 x 205

Bench Press
3 x 5 x 225
3 x 225
4 x 225

5 x 135
5 x 225
3 x 5 x 275

Pullups (underhand)
3 x 5 x 40
2 x 4 x 40

Squats were pretty solid. I notice that my form gets better when I feel like there's someone watching me, so I have to do it right. So just always assume that people are watching me critically, so I'll do it right! 215 next time.

Bench Press was better, though I couldn't convince my spotter for the last set not to touch the bar. I got the first 3 100% on my own, I think I got number 4 on my own, and though I didn't really feel him pulling up, I think the 5th rep wouldn't have happened without him. That's why I only counted four.

Deadlift is pushing back against being trained heavy very often, which is what I'd heard would happen. I need to start learning Power Cleans so I can alternate between the two.

Pullups are progressing. Hopefully I'll get a full 5 sets of 5 next time.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Why you should always lift fast

There are a lot of different ideas out there about lifting speeds. Some people tell you to lift slow, some say lift fast. Some particularly power-mad coaches will even try to prescribe the exact amount of time for the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (raising) portions of the lift, as well as the amount of time you should pause between each.

The slow rep or precisely timed methods might work for advanced bodybuilders who have decades of high-level training under their belts and who don't care how strong they are as long as you can see the definition in their pecs. For anyone other than a professional bodybuilder, there is one speed you should go: fast.

Why should you go fast? Power. Whip out your old high school physics book, and you'll find the following equation:
We can tell from this equation that the longer you take to perform a given task (the "work" part of the equation), the less power you are producing. So a lifter who takes 1 second to complete a rep of with 200 pounds is producing much more power than a lifter who takes 3 seconds to complete one rep with the same weight.

So it takes more power to lift faster. Using more power in your workout means you're building more power. Simple enough.

Why should I care about power, you ask? I'll tell you why. Power is basically the real-world application of strength. Pure strength is isometric, when you're exerting force but nothing is moving. Power is dynamic, when you're exerting force to accelerate or decelerate an object. So while pure strength might enable you to hold 300 pounds overhead, you'll need lots of power to move the weight from the floor to overhead.

There's another reason you should lift fast. Lifting weights at a certain speed builds strength at that speed AND ALL SLOWER SPEEDS. Train fast and you'll be able to lift heavier weights slow. Train slow, and you'll still be able to lift slow, but you won't be building power like you would lifting fast.

Now a bit of qualification: don't pick a super light weight and throw it around as fast as you can. You should lift fast, but controlled. Never lift so fast that you're in danger of throwing the weight away from you or your form breaks down. If you can go that fast, you're not using enough weight! You should lift like you're trying to throw the bar up in the air, but if you find that you're actually almost succeeding in doing so, add some weight to the bar.

Training 11-8-07

For some reason I'm inordinately excited about the upcoming Will Smith movie entitled I Am Legend. I like Will Smith as an actor, and the previews I've seen lead me to believe that the plot will be interesting, unusual (for Hollywood) and provide plenty of opportunities for shooting things, jumping off of buildings, etc. Anyway, I discovered today that this is actually the third cinema adaptation of a novel by the same title by Richard Matheson. After a quick post-workout meal, I'm headed to Half Price Books to see if I can snag a copy.


Front Squat
2 x 5 x 185
3 x 185 (leaned forward and dropped the weight)
2 x 5 x 185

Overhead Press
2 x 5 x 130
3 x 130
2 x 4 x 130

Bent Over Barbell Row
5 x 5 x 165

5 x 5 x 80

Overhead Press Lockouts
2 x 4 x 135
2 x 3 x 135

Front Squat form is still occasionally iffy, as evidenced by the drop in the third set. Fix it! Keeping my focus on pressure in the chest and abdomen and moving fast is helping. Breathe in at the top, NOT while moving down.

Overhead Press is advancing slowly. I sucked on the 3rd set, got pissed off about it, and did better on the last two. I need to get pissed off beforehand, so the sucking doesn't happen. Keep tight and shrug the shoulders at the top.

Bent Over Barbell Row still hurts my right wrist. Not sure what the deal is. Form was a bit loose, but try 170 next time.

Dips were solid. 85 next time. Go fast.

I want to bring up my Overhead Press Strength, and my stick point on failed reps is just above my head, where the triceps take over for the shoulders as the main movers. Working some heavy lockouts (set pins in squat rack just above head, press from pins to top) once or twice a week should help.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Training 11-6-07

Had dinner tonight with my friend from work and a couple of other folk. It was highly enjoyable, and contributed nicely to my "Lucas being more social" project. Woot!


5 x 5 x 195

2 x 5 x 225
4 x 225
2 x 5 x 225

5 x 135
5 x 185
5 x 225
5 x 275
1 x 325

Pullups (overhand)
2 x 5 x 40
3 x 3 x 40

Squat was best when I focused on going all the way down, going fast and pushing as hard as possible. Think about the up when going down and think about the 5th rep when doing the first. Try 205 next time, but if it compromises form, move back down.

Bench was a bit artifically enhanced. I asked a guy to spot me on the last 2 sets, and I told him not to touch the bar unless it looked like I was going to drop the bar b ack on my chest. It didn't work, and he touched the bar as soon as I lost even a little bit of bar speed. On the plus side, it made me go as fast as possible, which helped. Same as with Squat: stay tight, go fast. 225 again next time.

Deadlift was disappointing. My legs felt a bit weak going in, but still, only getting 1 rep with 325 after previously getting a triple on two different occasions is disappointing. I need to keep the pressure up in my chest and abdomen. That should help next time.

Pullups were ok. A bit of short rest, since I was running late for dinner. 40 lbs underhand next time.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Training 11-5-07

Today was a mediocre day at work, but a good day overall. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to be more friendly and open to meeting people. In the past, I'd head into the grocery store, almost completely ignore the people around me, get my food and go home. Today at the store, I made an effort to notice the people around me and give them a friendly smile. A small step, but I felt good about it.


Front Squat
5 x 5 x 185

Overhead Press
4 x 130
5 x 130
3 x 130
2 x 4 x 130

Bent Over Barbell Row
4 x 165
4 x 5 x 165

5 x 5 x 75

Still doing the Crossfit Warmup beforehand, and it makes those Front Squats slow and painful. But I got a full 5 sets of 5 with 185, which I wasn't sure I'd be able to do after the warmup. I initially tried the clean grip, but it just didn't feel right, so I went back to the cross-arm grip. Form got better in the later sets. 185 again next time to solidify the form.

I had form problems on Overhead Press and Bent Over Barbell Row, which explains why the reps jumped around on those exercises. On Overhead Press, I need to focus on keeping my base stable: squeeze the glutes and abs, and keep the shoulderblades back and tight. I think I can get a full 5 sets of 5 next time if I do that. For Bent Over Barbell Row, focus on pulling back with the shoulder blades. I have a tendency to come a bit upright and shrug on the last rep of a set in an effort to get all the way up, and I need to fix that.

A full 5 sets of 5 with 75 lbs on Dips! Nothing will get you noticed in the gym like adding weight to what are usually bodyweight exercises. Guys who could snap you in half start to think that maybe you're not a complete weakling after all. 80 lbs next time.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Progress Thus Far

I've been feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of progress over the past few weeks, and I've been considering switching things up. I'm trying to decide between staying with my current program, switching to an "intermediate" program such as the Texas Method or Bill Starr's 5x5, or doing a ME Black Box Crossfit program. So, before making this decision, I decided I should take a look at the numbers so far.

A quick rundown:

Squat weight increased from 205 to a best of 225, but I failed to move up to 235 and am in the midst of a deload. Front Squat moved from 165 to 205, but once again, I'm currently deloading after failing spectacularly with 205 the workout after I first got it.

Bench Press has gone nowhere but down. My bests in workout weight (225) and volume were both achieved on day 1. I just worked through a deload to try to get back there, but haven't yet matched my first day totals. Sad. Overhead Press started at 125 and I actually made it to 135, but then hurt my back. Now I've worked back up to 130.

Deadlift has seen nice improvement, probably because I've never done it before. Started at 225 and can now rep 275. I even have done two triples of 325 thus far. Bent Over Barbell row has increased from 145 to 165, but form is still problematic and I may need to do a second deload to fix it.

Pullups and Dips have gone from bodyweight to successful 5x5's of 35 and 70 lbs, respectively. They seem to still be advancing, too, as I expect to best those weights by 5 pounds within the next week for Dips and 2 weeks for Pullups.

I'm frustrated by my progress on both kinds of Squats, Bench and Overhead Press, have been doing well on Deadlift, Pullups and Dips, and am still trying to find my groove on Bent Over Barbell Row. Physically, I think I look better than I did before starting this program. I didn't take pictures, but I'm pretty sure that I've added some size and definition.

But strength is what I'm going for, and I just haven't gotten the results I want. A working Squat of 225, Deadlift of 275, Bench of 220 and Overhead Press of 125 are ok, but not the results I was looking for. The Squat is particularly disappointing, though that's probably to be expected since I'd neglected my lower-body training for so long.

For now, what I'll do is hit this program as hard as humanly possible for two and a half more weeks. I'll try to blow through my deloads and push as hard as possible to get the weight up as much as I can on every single lift before Thanksgiving.

I also noticed, looking over my log, that I'm on the verge of falling back into the trap of giving myself a free pass for missing reps or not giving 100% intensity with the mindset that I can do more reps to make up for it. Fix that, go hard for two weeks, and re-evaluate at Thanksgiving.

A full breakout of the important numbers is below. "Work weight" refers to the amount of weight I have on the bar when doing my work sets. "Volume" refers to the total weight lifted for the workout (sets x reps x weight). "Best work weight" refers to the heaviest weight with which I completed a full 5 sets of 5. "Best volume" is just the highest single-day volume thus far.

Starting work weight: 205
Starting volume: 5125
Most recent work weight: 195 (deload)
Most recent volume: 4875
Best work weight: 225 (10-2-07)
Best volume: 5625 (10-2-07)

Front Squats
Starting work weight: 165
Starting volume: 4125
Most recent work weight: 175 (deload)
Most recent volume: 4375
Best work weight: 205 (10-25-07)
Best volume: 5125 (10-25-07)

Bench Press
Starting work weight: 225
Starting volume: 5625
Most recent work weight: 225
Most recent volume: 4275
Best work weight: 225 (9-10-07)
Best volume: 5625 (9-10-07)

Overhead Press
Starting work weight: 125
Starting volume: 3125
Most recent work weight: 130
Most recent volume: 2730
Best work weight: 130 (9-25-07)
Best volume: 3250 (9-25-07)

Starting work weight: 225
Starting volume: 3375
Most recent work weight: 275
Most recent volume: 5475
Best work weight: 275 (11-1-07)
Best volume: 5475 (11-1-07)

Bent Over Barbell Row
Starting work weight: 145
Starting volume: 3625
Most recent work weight: 165
Most recent volume: 4125
Best work weight: 165 (11-2-07)
Best volume: 4125 (11-2-07)

Starting work weight: Bodyweight
Starting volume: 34 reps
Most recent work weight: 40
Most recent volume: 760
Best work weight: 35 (10-26-07)
Best volume: 875 (10-26-07)

Starting work weight: bodyweight
Starting volume: 57 reps
Most recent work weight: 75
Most recent volume: 1800
Best work weight: 70 (10-25-07)
Best volume: 1800 (11-2-07)