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.