Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Step Away from the Machines

Let's get one thing straight from the very beginning: lifting weights and exercising on machines are two completely different activities. The Nautilus Bench Press machine is not equivalent to the plain ol' barbell Bench Press. If the exercise involves a stack of weights and a pin, or any sort of lever, gear or pulley, then it's NOT WEIGHTLIFTING.
I've posted once already about why free weights are superior to machines, so I won't rehash it all here. The short version: machines control the way you move, enable you to lift more weight without being stronger, increase your risk of injury, and do not build strength that is applicable in the real world.
So why do people continue to use machines? Ego. People want to be able to claim that they can "Bench" an impressive-sounding amount of weight, so they use machines for the simple reason that machines do some of the work for you, thus allowing you to lift more weight than if you used free weights.

I bring this up because Token Asian Roommate was a bit annoyed that a mutual friend claimed to have lifted more weight than TAR can. Of course, this friend was using machines. I told TAR not to worry about it, that the person used machines and that his inflated numbers were just that: inflated.

To drive the point home, we did a little experiment after our workout. We had already Bench Pressed for 5 sets of 5, but I took him over to our gym's Bench Press machine. He got on the machine, and I loaded it up with 140 pounds. He did 2 reps. I moved it up to 160 and he got 1 rep. Not too bad for a guy whose max on the barbell Bench Press stands at 115 pounds.

To further prove my point, I loaded the machine up to its maximum weight of 400 pounds and proceeded to do 5 reps. If I had 400 pounds above me on a barbell, it would crash to my chest the instant I unlocked my elbows, and I'd be headed to the hospital.

So, to conclude: working out on machines is not the same as lifting weights. The "strength" you build on machines will not translate to free weights or to real-life movements. If you're using machines now, switch to free weights. You might have to check the ego at the door and use less weight at first, but stick to free weights and you'll get stronger than you ever could by using machines.

Training 1-30-08

5 x 5 x 255

5 x 5 x 230

5 x 330

12, 9, 7

1 Arm DB Snatch
3 x 5 x 70

Comments: Morning Squats again. Bleh. 4 and 5 were ugly on most sets, but they got done. Bench Press 5x5 felt easy! Solid Deadlifts, the weight came up easy. Glad to continue progressing on Pullups. Again, DB Snatch for torso strength and overhead stabilization.

Friday's a light day -- I'll keep the weight the same and go 3x3 instead of 5x5. Why, you ask? Find out on Friday!

Monday, January 28, 2008

You're in Control!

When you're lifting weights, it's easy to think of it as you vs. the bar. You're trying to get an exercise done, and the bar is your enemy, trying to drag you down and stop you. But this isn't the case.

The bar (and the weight on it) does nothing. Absolutely nothing. It is not a force trying to oppose you in the completion of your movement. It's simply a piece of metal that you push and pull around in an effort to get stronger.

This may seem blindingly obvious to some of you, but the revelation that I'm not fighting against the bar when I work out came to me almost like an epiphany in the middle of a hard set of Squats the other day.

As I struggled to stand up with the bar on my back, my first thought was along the lines of "I'm not going to let this bar beat me." Then I suddenly realized that there's no way the bar can beat me. I'm not competing against it. I'm the one who put it on my back. I'm the one who controls where it goes. I'm the only active agent in the me-bar system. I'm not struggling against the bar, I'm struggling against myself. I'm fighting against the fatigue in my legs. I'm fighting against the pain in my shoulders. I'm fighting against the part of my brain that says "Heavy thing on your back! Drop it! Drop it!" I'm fighting against the ever-present temptation to just give up on a rep or a set or a workout because I'm tired or I'd rather watch TV or I just don't feel like it.

In other words, working out isn't a test of me vs. the bar. It's a test of me vs. me. Just as the workout tests my muscles, it also tests my fortitude, discipline, concentration and determination. If I fail on a rep, it's not because the bar beat me. The bar can't beat me. If I fail, it's because I let myself fail.

Of course, this philosophy can't be taken to extremes. If I went to the gym and loaded up a bar with 900 pounds, there would be no way that I could Squat that weight. That's not due to a lack of determination or a lapse in concentration. That's because I was stupid enough to load up a weight I couldn't handle.

This shift from thinking in terms of me vs the bar to thinking in terms of me being in complete control of my workout helped me finish that set, and it helps me to keep my focus on the task at hand in the gym. It brings home the fact that I'm responsible for my own workout, and that "having an off day" doesn't happen unless I let it happen.

Training 1-28-08

5 x 5 x 250

2 x 5 x 145
2 x 4 x 145
3 x 145

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 155

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 170

Overhead Delcine Situps
3 x 8 x 45

Comments: Squats felt almost easy, probably because my previous 2 sessions were in the early AM. Lifting in the afternoon is so much better! Nothing wrong with Press, weight is just getting heavy. Power Clean form was problematic at times: I tended to want to pull with the arms when I got tired. Focusing on keeping the back locked and driving up off of the floor helps on Rows. Couldn't quite hold the top position on the last situp like I'd wanted to.

Friday, January 25, 2008


When you lift weights, you're making yourself weaker. The act of lifting weights results in tiny tears in the muscle and a good deal of systematic fatigue, meaning that you're weaker immediately after a workout than you were immediately before. You know the feeling -- you walk into the gym feeling like you could lift an elephant, and you're barely able to hold yourself upright when you walk out.

So how, then, do you get stronger? The damage done to your muscles while working out is repaired by your body's recovery systems. And since your body is smart, it knows that it needs to repair the damage and also add a little extra muscle, since you, being dumber than your body, are going to just go back to the gym and try to tear your muscles up again in a day or two.

It follows, then, that proper recovery is as important to strength training as working hard in the gym. Yet, for some reason, it's completely overlooked by many lifters. So here's what everyone should know about recovery:


The most basic tenet of recovery is that you need enough time between workouts for your body to recover. For most folks, this means taking at least 36 hours between every session.

Think of working out as giving your body homework. After the workout, your body starts doing the homework you've assigned to it by repairing and building muscle. If you only let your body get halfway done with the homework you've already given it before assigning more, then the homework piles up and your body can't keep up. Assignments are forgotten and never turned in, and you don't get stronger or maybe even get weaker because your body can't keep up with your break-neck pace. But if you give your body ample time to complete the homework before assigning more, you get stronger.


The rebuilding "homework" you give your body by working out is best done while sleeping. Ideally, you'd get 8-9 hours of sleep every night. This isn't possible for many people, but you should try to get as much sleep as you can.

You can also improve the quality of your sleep, and therefore the quality of your recovery, by making a few changes in your bedroom. Keep the room as dark as possible at night by covering windows and removing any devices that give off light. Unplug electronics and keep battery-powered devices out of the room. The radiation given off by TV's, cell phones, radios, and all electronic devices can negatively impact your sleep. Try to establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time. Turn off the TV and dim or turn off as many lights as possible half an hour before bedtime. Don't eat foods with a high glycemic index before bed, as the blood sugar spike will keep you up.


Your body uses the building blocks in food to build muscle, bone and connective tissue. So if you don't eat (and eat well), your body doesn't have the materials necessary to make itself stronger.

There are lots of different theories on the best foods to eat. You might need to do some research on your own to find the plan or theory that works best for you. As a starting point, here are the basic rules I eat by:

- Get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. Protein is the basic building block of muscle, so if you want to get stronger, you have to make sure your body has enough protein. Some protein sources are better than others, because they are more similar to the proteins found and used in the human body. In general, protein from meat is better than protein from dairy products, which is in turn better than protein from vegetables.

- Drink milk. Mark Rippetoe, author of Starting Strength, says that beginners should drink 1 gallon of milk a day to gain size and muscle. I don't drink a gallon a day, but I drink milk with every meal. Milk has a good balance of carbohydrates, fat and protein. It also contains something called Insulin-like growth factor, which has been linked to strength gains.

- Eat enough. Throw that silly old 2000 calories a day rule out the window. A better rule of thumb for active people (such as those undertaking a strength training program) would be to aim for a caloric intake somewhere between your bodyweight times 15 and your bodyweight times 18. For example, I weigh 198 pounds and I aim to eat between 3000 and 3500 calories a day to fuel my body while maintaining my weight. Track your eating habits with a tool like fitday. If you find that your weight is moving in a direction you don't like, modify your caloric intake in small steps until you get to where you want to be.

- Avoid processed foods. Processed foods have much lower nutritional value than the whole foods from which they are derived. My personal rule is based on the paleo diet: if I couldn't, in theory, walk outside, pick it up and eat it, then I shouldn't eat it at all. If you don't want to go to that extreme, just do what you can to replace processed foods with whole foods in your everyday diet. Instead of chicken nuggets, eat chicken breast. Instead of V8, eat veggies. Instead of applesauce, eat apples. Instead of twinkies, eat more apples. You get the drift.


You might have heard the term "active recovery." The idea is that you move around enough to get blood pumping through your muscles and loosen up your joints, but not enough to assign further recovery "homework" to your body's recovery systems. Getting your heart rate up and moving your muscles through a full range of motion on your "off" days helps your body recover more efficiently.

Your active recovery could be anything from taking a walk to an easy 20 minutes on the exercise bike or a heavily scaled-down Crossfit workout. The point is not to let yourself be a couch potato on your off days -- get up and do something!

Proper recovery is essential to gaining strength. You can overcome a couple of days of insufficient sleep and poor nutrition by just gritting your teeth and forcing yourself through a workout, but you need to establish good recovery habits if you want to have long-term success.

Training 1-25-08

5 x 5 x 245

5 x 5 x 140

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 150

3 x 5 x 50

3 x 5 x 90

Comments: Squats were only decent, form-wise. Today's convenient excuse is that it's hard to focus first thing in the morning. Press was much better, because I had more recovery time between sets and because Token Asian Roommate was finally back in the gym and I had the "oh crap, my friend's watching so I have to do well" thing going on. Need to go into a deeper squat for the rack on Power Cleans. Chinups were easy. Dips were long overdue and felt great as a finisher.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tone Without Bulk

(Mad props to Charlotte, who asked the question that inspired this post in the comments on Monday's post.)

The common wisdom on how to achieve muscle "tone" is doing high volume work (lots of reps) at low intensity (light weight). This appears to work because, immediately after doing a workout of this nature, your muscles feel firm, even stiff.

But this immediate feeling of firmness isn't a sign that your muscles are becoming "toned." It's a sign that your muscles have used up all of their energy supply. These high-rep workouts literally tire out your muscles to the extent that they don't have enough energy to relax! The firmness you feel immediately afterwards is basically the same as rigor mortis in a corpse. That's not a good thing, and the "tone" from these workouts only lasts as long as it takes for your body to replenish the muscle's energy stores.

In fact, if you're looking for firm muscles without adding bulk, high volume, low intensity workouts are the worst thing you could do! These workouts are what bodybuilders use to build bulk via a type of muscle growth called sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which increases the volume of fluid (called sarcoplasm) in your muscles and therefore increases muscle size without increasing "tone". (fluid isn't exactly firm...)

The best way to "tone" your muscles is to do the exact opposite of what common wisdom says to do. (Isn't that always the case?) What is commonly described as "tone" can be better defined as residual tension in a relaxed muscle. A muscle's capacity for tension corresponds to that muscle's strength. (stronger contraction = more weight lifted) So to increase the amount of tension in a relaxed muscle, you should increase the amount of tension that muscle is capable of creating. (higher capacity for tension = more residual tension when relaxed) In other words, you should make that muscle stronger.

This means that you should use high intensity, low volume workouts that build strength without inducing lots of hypertrophy. Pavel (from whom most of the ideas presented in this post are stolen) recommends 2 sets of 5 reps, using a weight that you can lift 5 times (but not 6) for the first set and 90% of that weight for the second. Rippetoe's Starting Strength program uses 3 sets of 5 with the same weight on each set. In my opinion, as long as you stay below 20 total reps in 4 or fewer sets with weights above 80% of your 1 rep maximum, you're on the road to building strength and therefore "tone" without adding bulk.

Training 1-23-08

5 x 5 x 240

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

5 x 325

13, 9, 8

Overhead Decline Situps
3 x 8 x 45

Comments: Squats are actually starting to feel easier as I approach my previous workout weight, probably just because I'm getting used to them again. Bench Press regressed from last time. D'oh! If I stall, I might try switching over to 8x3 for a while to see if I can break through. Deadlift was AWESOME. It was one of those where I grinded out the 5th rep, then walked around lightheaded for half a minute before getting what I fondly think of as that "hell yeah!" feeling of accomplishment. Happy that Chinups actually improved from before the layoff. Overhead situps for torso strength and to reinforce the "head through the window" feel of Press.

Monday, January 21, 2008

New format, muscle tidbits and training

To make this blog a bit more readable, I've decided to integrate my random musings with my training log entries. That way, people who want to read my insane ramblings can do so without sifting through the training log entries. And people who want to know what I'm doing in the gym just have to scroll down to the bottom of the most recent post!

Interesting Tidbits on Muscle

I'm beginning the process of studying for my CSCS certification. Step 1 is reading a big textbook. It's kind of imposing, especially when I flip to the first page and see it chock-full of terms such as epimysium, periosteum, sarcomere, and more. I had horrifying flashbacks to high school biology class...

But, as I slowly waded through Chapter 1 in an attempt to learn all the terminology, I did glean a few very interesting tidbits that involved few enough big words for me to clearly understand:

Longer muscles can act more rapidly than shorter ones.

The basic functional unit of a muscle is called a sarcomere. Each sarcomere is a certain length, and each sarcomere is capable of roughly the same amount of contraction. Longer muscles have more sarcomeres in series. More sarcomeres in series contracting at the same time means a faster movement of the limb. (If 10 sarcomeres in series produce 2 cm of movement in a limb when firing, 20 sarcomeres would produce 4 cm of movement, and so on.) This is why long-legged people are fast: not only do they cover more ground with each stride, but they can also move their legs more quickly than someone with shorter leg muscles could.

Bigger muscles aren't necessarily stronger.

I've beaten this dead horse before, but now I more clearly understand the "why" of it: Muscles get big via hypertrophy. There are 2 kinds of hypertrophy. Kind 1 is called myofibrillar hypertrophy, and it involves the growth of more muscle fibers and therefore an increase in strength. Kind 2 is sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which involves an increase in the amount of fluid in each muscle cell, called sarcoplasm, but no growth in the contractile elements of the muscle. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is why many bodybuilders are huge, but aren't as strong as you'd think.

Pre-loading a muscle makes it stronger.

It takes time for a muscle to go from relaxed to fully tensed and contracting. So pre-loading a muscle is basically putting a demand on your muscle before you actually start the exercise, giving it that split second it needs to say "oh crap, it's time to work hard!" and get its metaphorical butt in gear. This happens automatically with free weights -- when you unrack a Bench Press or a Squat, the muscles that you use to support the weight are the same as the ones you'll be using to perform the exercise, so you're pre-loaded and ready for maximal contraction throughout the entire motion. With machines, however, there is no demand placed on your muscle until you're ready to start the movement, so you're not pre-loaded and you don't get the benefit of full contractile strength in the beginning portion of the movement.

So I lied, there were a few big words in there. But now not only do you know more about muscle, but you also know some intimidating big words to use whenever you want people to think you're smart!

Training 1-21-08

5 x 5 x 235

3 x 5 x 140
4 x 140
3 x 140

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 145

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 165

One Arm Dumbbell Snatch
3 x 5 x 65

Comments: Still tend to Good Morning the Squats, need to watch that. One more chance to get the full 5x5 on Press before I go to Timed Total Tonnage. Power Clean was sloppier, concentrate on form. Bent Over Row felt better than before the break -- concentrating on keeping the back straight and firm helped. One Arm Dumbbell Snatch seems like a good assistance exercise to add on for both Press and Power Cleans, since it helps with overhead stabilization and hip explosion.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Training 1-18-08

How important is working out to me? After today's Squats I realized I had a choice between finishing my workout and being half an hour late to my own belated birthday celebration. I chose to finish the workout (albiet hurriedly) and piss off my friends.

I didn't try to explain it to them, because they would've just thought I was silly. But working out isn't just about improving myself physically; it's also about learning discipline, commitment, how to ignore the "you can't do this" voice that lives inside everyone's head, and, yes, setting priorities. My friends are awesome and very very important to me, but I won't use them as an excuse to slack off on something that's this important to becoming who I want to be.

If you read that and you think it is silly and I'm a jerk for making my friends wait, then you very well might be right. I should've managed my time better and gotten to the gym earlier. Lesson learned. But, for me and my priorities, a complete workout > missing 30 minutes out of an evening with good friends.

5 x 5 x 230

5 x 140
4 x 140
2 x 3 x 140
4 x 140

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 140

3 x 5 x 47.5

I'm glad I got all the way through Squats, though they were harder than I would have liked. I paid a big price for my 2 week layoff on Squats, and working back up is going to take almost 2 more weeks.

Press was disappointing because I did so well on it last time. I think I shorted my rest since I realized I was running late. But my Press has been stuck for a while now, so if this turns into a stall, I'll switch to Timed Total Tonnage and see if that works.

Power Cleans form felt good after the layoff, which is a promising sign.

Pullups were a close thing on the last few reps, but I got them. Chinups with 50 lbs next week!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lifting fast vs lifting slow.

Back in November, I wrote about why you should always lift fast. I stand by that post, though I should have made it more clear that what's important isn't the actual act of moving the bar with lots of speed, but the intent to do so. You're trying to throw the bar up as fast as possible, but the amount of weight on the bar means that you can't throw it around and it's actually moving at a reasonable, controlled speed. But I digress.

Last night, I started reading Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline. (The cover is horrific -- whoever designed that should be fired.) One of the very first assertions made in the book is that in order to get stronger, you have to lift SLOW. The idea is that strength is a product of muscle tension. When you lift something, the contraction of your muscles is the driving force. Pavel contends that lifting slow allows you to concentrate on contracting your muscles throughout the entire movement, leading to greater gains in strength.

The idea seems to be very similar to the concept of "time under tension," where bodybuilders lift slowly in order to maximize the amount of time their muscles are contracting, in theory leading to more hypertrophy. But Pavel claims that lifting slowly will give you strength WITHOUT gaining lots of muscle mass.

This is diametrically opposed to what Rippetoe and the guys at Westside Barbell preach. My previous post about lifting fast and power production is based on Rippetoe's analysis in Starting Strength, and the Westside guys split their training up into Max Effort (as heavy as you can go, 1-3 reps) and Dynamic Effort (lighter weight, as fast as you can go) days. These guys are at the top of the game when it comes to Strength Training, and they advocate lifting fast.

I'm interested to hear what Pavel has to say about lifting speed later on in the book, though. I don't think I could ever be convinced that slow lifting is inherently superior to fast lifting for strength training purposes, for the reasons in my previous post, but I'm willing to be convinced that the occasional "slow lift" day could be useful or that a week or two of slow lifting could help break through a plateau.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Training 1-16-08

Finally, my first full workout in over two weeks! And it showed...

2 x 255
5 x 235
4 x 235
2 x 5 x 225

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

4, 1 x 320

11, 8, 6

My (somewhat optimistic) goal was to be able to get 5 sets of 5 with the weight I'd previously achieved before the layoff. That didn't happen. Squats were the worst, possibly because it was early in the morning and they were the first thing I did, and also probably because they're the lift I've been struggling on the most anyway. 230 next time and work back up to it.

I only missed 3 reps on Bench Press, which surprised me after how bad Squats were. stick with 230 and get the 5x5 next time.

Deadlifts were great compared to Squat & Bench! I got 4 good reps, took too long to reset and ended up missing the 5th. I got up from the bar, walked around in a circle, thought to myself "there's no way in hell I'm going to miss reps on all 3 exercises today," went back to the bar and got one last rep. There was about a 20 second break between the 4th and 5th reps, so I listed the 5th rep separately.

Pullups are down from 13, 9, 6 last time, but should climb back up next week. Just gotta get back in the groove on everything.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I went by my new and improved gym this evening to swim some laps. I haven't swum (swimmed? swam?) on a regular basis since my freshman year of college, and I'm really looking forward to the chance to swim at least once or twice a week. In my opinion, it's the best "cardio" option out there.

But it's HARD! I'm not in as good shape as I was back in high school when I was swimming 20 laps a day. I barely made it to 8 laps. (to clarify my terminology: 1 lap = there and back, or 2 lengths)

I was aiming to do 1 lap each of breaststroke, sidestroke and crawl for 3 rounds. I got 2 full rounds, then had to stop about 3/4 of the way through my last length of crawl. My arms just couldn't pull any more. I'm a bit disappointed, but I have a starting point: next time, I'll aim for the full 3 rounds!

For a former lifeguard and swim instructor, it's humbling to realize how far I've fallen from my aquatic glory days...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Training 1-14-08

Today I tried out a new gym. Since I had to move a couple of weeks ago, my old gym is now about 30 minutes away and I need to find a gym closer to my new place.

When I walked into this gym, I was disappointed. The first floor was all ellipticals and treadmills, and was open to the second floor. The second floor had more treadmills and a tiny little weight area containing a bunch of Hammer Strength machines, dumbbells up to 60 lbs and two Smith Machines. I was wholly unimpressed. I banged out an improvised workout, and walked towards the door, planning never to return.

On my way out, just to be sure, I asked one of the trainers if there was another weight area in the gym. To my surprise, he said that there was a third and fourth floor to the gym. He showed me the way up, and my faith in humanity was restored: the fourth floor contained two Squat Racks and two Power Racks. So I've found my new gym. Hooray!

Unfortunately, I worked out before I discovered the good stuff on the fourth floor. Here's what I did:

5 x 5 x 135

Dumbbell Lunge
5 x 5 x 120

One-arm Dumbbell Row
5 x 60
6 x 60
7 x 60
8 x 60
9 x 60

One-arm Dumbbell Snatch
5 x 40
5 x 50
3 x 5 x 60

I'm glad I haven't regressed on Press, and was mad that I had to do the rest of the stuff instead of my planned Squats, Power Cleans and Barbell Rows. I'll get back to the good stuff on Wednesday morning.

Oh, and the first floor has an indoor pool. Lucas gets to swim laps again!

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I've been away for a while. I just went through the busiest week of my life. I've been doing 2 things and only 2 things for the past week: working and sleeping. The week's been an odd mix of exciting, frustrating, fun, scary, infuriating, exhausting, titillating, draining, confusing and looooooooooong. But it's done, and my life should return to normal fairly quickly.

That means I'll be heading back to the gym to continue working towards my strength training goals. I'll also be emailing and calling all the friends and family members I've been ignoring for the past week. (my bad, guys!) And I'll be following up on one intriguing but slightly scary opportunity and one not that intriguing but safer opportunity. But for right now, I'm going to sleep for about 12 hours. 'Night!

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Training 1-5-08

I'm a bad little Strength Training gnome. I didn't get to the gym today. I have excuses ready -- we always do when we miss a workout -- but I know they're just excuses. In reality, I could have made time to lift.

I'll be incredibly busy over the next 8 days. I'll easily average 12+ hours a day at work (including weekends), I have to move into a new house and I have about 9 hours' worth of extracurricular work that I want to get done by Monday. Excuses will abound. But I NEED to get into the gym and lift at least twice during that time. No excuses -- make it happen!

That being said, I did actually get in a bit of a workout today. The gym was closed by the time I got around to it, but I whipped out my trusty dumbbells and got to work:

One-arm dumbbell snatch
10 x 10 x 30 per side

If you don't know what a dumbbell snatch is, you can view a video here. The woman in the video starts each rep from a hang. I like to go lower and touch the dumbbell to the floor on every rep.

I did 10 reps with one arm, then immediately did 10 with the other, and that was one set. I took just enough rest to catch my breath between sets. It was a good, quick workout that should help build shoulder and abdominal strength to help my Presses and Squats.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Trapezius pain from... bowling?

I lift heavy weights 3 times a week. I'm the guy that my friends think to call when it's time to move a couch or TV or washing machine. But I got my ass kicked yesterday by a 16 pound ball. Let me explain:

I'm in a bowling league with my roommates and a few friends. Token Asian Roommate, who's on my team, (Our team name is "Guns and Wiggles," in case you need more proof that my friends and I are huge dorks.) has a solid understanding of bowling technique, and acts as our team coach.

Last Sunday, Token Asian Roommate and I modified my mechanics to make me a better bowler in the long run. In the short run, this means my score will suffer as I adjust and get rid of my bad habits. Apparently, it also means that my right trapezius muscle (the muscle that connects your shoulder and your neck) will hurt like the dickens after I bowl. Something about the new movement involves this muscle in such a way that it doesn't hurt or even feel fatigued while I'm bowling, but the next day I can hardly lift my head off of the pillow.

This is a weird, and humbling, reminder to me of what happens when you ask your unprepared muscles to do new things.

Here's another example: Just before Christmas, I showed three friends a simple dumbbell workout that they could use to get in better shape. We used light weights and only worked out for about 30 minutes. I thought it was a relatively easy introduction to weight training that they could build on over time.

The next day, however, each of them was incredibly sore. They were creaking around like old people because their muscles, unused to the exercises we'd done, were recovering from quite a shock.

In both of these examples, jumping into a new activity or working a new movement pattern without taking the time to build up to it led to lots of soreness. In a weird way, I'm glad that I now have the experience of my poor overworked trapezius muscle tightening up and annoying me throughout the day -- it's a little reminder of how much soreness I used to endure back when I was first lifting weights and it helps me remember to take it easy when working with people who have little or no previous lifting experience.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Goals for 2008

I've lifted weights since my Freshman year in high school, and I've always enjoyed it. But since I got serious about strength training about three months ago, I've been having more fun than ever in the gym. Instead of lifting just because I like it, I'm lifting with a plan and a purpose.

So to keep that sense of purpose and give myself something to plan towards, I'm establishing some strength training goals for 2008. Some will be easier to achieve than others, but my aim is to achieve all of them by December 31, 2008.

The first goals are in the form of single-rep maximum effort lifts, in pounds:

Squat: 405
Deadlift: 500
Press: 200
Bench Press: 315

I'm also aiming to increase some bodyweight skills. These goals are in consecutive repetitions without rest:

Pullups: 25
Pushups: 50
Handstand Pushups: 10 freestanding

Right now I'm focusing on my Squat and Press goals. I want to be able to get those by the spring, and then I'll focus more on my Deadlift and Bench Press goals. I believe that the pullup and pushup goals will come naturally as a product of my current training program. I need to practice handstands at least once or twice a week to progress towards my handstand pushup goal.

If I manage to hit all of these marks before the end of the year, then I'll just come back and set higher goals.

Happy new year to everyone, and I wish you success in achieving all of your goals for 2008!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Training 1-1-08

Happy New Year! I'll post my goals for 2008 later tonight or tomorrow morning.

Week 6, Day 1

5 x 5 x 255

4 x 5 x 135
4 x 135

Power Clean
5 x 3 x 140

Bent Over Row
5 x 5 x 165

Good Morning
5 x 135
6 x 135
7 x 135

Today's Squats felt slightly easier than last time, which is good. I think I need to work on my back and abdominal strength in order to keep my form strong as the weight increases.

Press is still frustrating. Form didn't feel quite as solid as last time, though that could have been because the weight increased. If I end up stalling at 135 or 140 again, I'll switch to a timed total tonnage program for Press.

I didn't rack as cleanly as I would've liked on every rep of Power Clean, but they were mostly solid. 145 next time.

Rows felt a little funny, like I couldn't quite get the form exactly how I want it. Could be because I haven't done them in a while.

The Good Mornings are a step towards addressing back strength for Squats. I'll do a back or abdominal exercise at the end of my workout whenever possible to help build that strength.