Tag Archives: Strength training

Breaking Frustration

The shortened and delayed ski season we experienced this year did much to create havoc for my fitness. A few months before the season started, I switched from a strength based 5×5 varient (Mad Cow) to one more oriented to endurance. The plan was quite simple. Build strength and mass during the off season, then get the muscles ready to spend 8 hours on skis during a weekend shift. It seemed like a good idea, but it didn’t work.

Going into the switch, I had the momentum in my favor. My body fat percentage was hovering around 15% and showed signs of dropping lower. My abs were starting to make an appearance and my waist looked to stay under 34 inches. My one rep max on dead lift of 250 became my 3 rep. My squat wanted to stay above body weight and even 225s were recorded. Only my bench suffered a bit due to my left shoulder weakness. Goals were reached. Looked good.

Pushing heavy weights around is very different from pushing snow for hours. Sure, strength does help, but so does balance and finesse. Mark Rippetoe speaks on how it is easier to build endurance from strength than it is the other way around. Looking at the calendar and the goals I had reached, I decided it was time to switch. Workouts became more 4x oriented. I knew some strength would drop, the amount was one I did not realize.

Normally by mid-December, the ski season is well underway. This year, December closed and being open was not near. The first week in January saw a hand-full of runs open, but nothing upon which we could train. Not until the latter half of January did the hill get opened and ski training could really start. By this time, it had been over 8 weeks since my last heavy sessions. During a busy ski season, this isn’t a problem as long hours in boots and on the hill have made up for it. Not this year. This year, my fitness started to drop far too much. Pants became tighter and the wrong kind of weight showed up.

After the season was over, I tried returning to the Mad Cow 5×5 program, but my heart was not in it. Looking for a change, I decided on some German Volume Training. The first two weeks were good, but as time went on, my ability to meet the required schedule for the training sessions to be of their greatest value waned. GVT without the volume is missing the key component. Though the workouts were good, my charts remained flat and my body fat percentage was still going the wrong way.

Time for a change.

Today I decided to return to the Mad Cow 5×5 with a reset to workout A. The gym was crowded, so I started on the leg press to get warmed up and stretched. Once the rack became available, I started in on the squats. I made my way up to 170 x 5 on the final set and things felt tough, but good. During the rest period between squats and bench press, I decided to make another change: make this an actual leg workout.

Ok, why the double change?

One nice thing about the German Volume training routines is they are not too long. I really want to be out of the gym within 45 minutes most days and want good effectiveness. There is far too much to be done to spend two hours per session. So an idea came across my mind. Five heavy sets of squats. Five heavy sets of leg presses. Then five sets of 12 rep walking lunges. Surely that will work.

Time will tell what the results will be. Here is the routine:

  • Warm up and stretch
  • Squats
    • Warm up: 3 x 5, increasing slightly each set, 30 seconds rest
    • Medium heavy: 1 x 5, 85 seconds rest
    • Work: 5×5, heavy on each set, same weight, 85 seconds rest
  • Presses
    • 1 x 5, heavier than light, consider it a warm up, 75 seconds rest
    • 1 x 5, medium heavy, 75 seconds rest
    • 5 x 5, heavy on each set, same weight, 75 seconds rest
  • Walking Lunge
    • 5 x 12, as much as you can do, same weight every set, 65 seconds rest

Borrowing from the 5×5 and 4x ideals, do not neglect the negative, especially on the leg presses. Go for as much as 6 seconds on each rep. Do not increase the weight until all the sets can be performed with the same weight. Get your ego out of the way. Form counts.

Now to find companion routines for Wednesday and Friday. Time to break out of the rut. Time to break the frustration.

Extra twist: do the weight on the walking lunge unequal. Keeping your torso straight with unbalanced weight will also work your core.

 

Say Hello To Good Mornings

Good Mornings with a barbell
Good Mornings with a barbell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many a casual gym rats have looked at charts of back exercises and made the same remark about Good Mornings, “Those look like they hurt your back.” Wrong. They are great for the back when done properly.

The good morning exercise works the erector spinae muscles in the lower back, as well as, the hamstrings and the gluteus maximus. The exercise helps to strength the lower back and core. Have a weak squat? Hit a limit on your deadlift? The good morning can help strengthen both. Strengthening these muscles also helps with standing and seating posture. I’ve had lower back problems for several years and I do good mornings once a week. This exercise helps my back immensely.

But what about the bending?

When starting to do the good morning, it is important not to grab the Olympic bar, throw some plates on it, lift it off the rack, and bend over. It is best to get used to the movement with limited weight. Grad a light handle and put it on the spin of the scapula. A good place to hold the bar is in the same manner for a low bar squat. This will keep it off the spine when you bend over and from dropping down the back when you stand back upright. It is better to keep the weights light and do more reps than it is to try to move the world.

For safety’s sake, start with the bar in a squat rack with the pins at the same height you would for a low bar squat. Ensure the bar is centered, duck under it, and turn around. Squat down a bit and place the bar on the spine of the scapula. Hand placement is similar to the low bar squat, though it is not total necessary to point your elbows way back. Find a comfortable location.

Now stand up, lifting the bar off the pins, and step forward. There should be enough room in the rack to bend over without banging into any back supports. Keep your back slightly arched while bending and let your butt move backward similar to the squat. Having the knees slightly bent will also help keep the lower back in the proper position.

Once your back is parallel to the floor, push back up with the lower back and stand up straight. There is no need to hyper-extend at the top of the movement. Slowly lower back and do another rep. Down and back up is one rep and a good speed is 2 seconds each way. Going quickly on the positive side may make the weight hard to stop at the top. Slow, steady, and higher rep count will work the muscles adequately.

Now that the reps for your set are done, step back until both sides of the bar are firmly against the rack. Squat down slightly to re-rack the bar. If you have a workout partner, they can help guide you back properly. Walk about a bit and rest for 40 seconds.

Time for the next set.

Deadlifting Past Barriers

English: Deadlift pic
English: Deadlift pic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several weeks ago I passed doing body weight for a bent-legged deadlift. For me, body weight varies between 206-210 pounds and the weight I lifted for 3 reps was 225. That was really a max for me and I thought for sure it would stand for a bit of time.

Today, the week C cycle was up for my deadlift in the 5-3-1 workout routine. The final work set weight was 205 pounds and the rep range was 3+. I didn’t just push past the 3 reps, I doubled up to 6. If I could have kept my back a bit more straight, I feel I could have squeaked out a few more. I am nearly religious with correct form, so I stopped with a little more in the tank, but pumped none-the-less. I cannot wait for the max rep cycle next week.

Over the last few months, I’ve been rotating between 5×5 and 5-3-1. I use the former until my knees need more than two days to recover and my weights start to go backward. The latter I usually do for 2 complete cycles and need to change to add muscle confusion. Normally when I switch back to 5×5, I make good progress for a time.

Hitting the body weight amounts has been a limiting factor for months. A year ago, my sticking point was getting to 130 pounds on squats for 10 reps. Now I can push through 3 sets using at least 150 and 160 on a good day. Getting those 20-30 pounds has been a big fight with my 46 year old knees and I have learned much about how my body reacts. A few weeks ago, I was very emotional when I hit 195 pounds on squats for 1 rep. I cannot image how I will be when I hit body weight. The attempt is coming soon.

As much as I like Steve Holman and his 4X/TORQ ideas, it wasn’t until I switched to more strength oriented workouts that I saw results. Perhaps it is due to my lack of strength and his workouts being more modeled on endurance. Perhaps the ideas of Mark Rippetoe are more what I need for now. Perhaps this is why I accidentally let my subscription to Iron Man Magazine to expire. Yes, I will be correcting that soon. I do wonder if I should write to Steve and let him know of my predicament. This would require me to open to the Universe in search of a solution. Ok.

Dear Steve Holman, I’ve been an avid reader of your columns for more than two years. I even bought your program Old School/New Body. You are responsible for me getting back into lifting and into the gym. I cut some body fat and gained some muscle, though I topped out at 27% body fat and 217 pounds before switching to a more strength oriented workout. The biggest complaint I had was the amount of time the workouts in you Train Eat Grow column. Is this due to my lack of strength first? I am confused. How may you help me?

There you are Universe. I am reaching out to Steve for help. I will seek a way to pass it on to him more directly, though I do want him to find my blog and read about my path to fitness. Here he will know more about me, my path and journey, and better understand how he can guide me to a better outcome. I fully anticipate solutions I require and humbly await their arrival. I will show all Graciousness for the offerings.

Adding Endurance To The Legs

Ski season is very quickly approaching and I’ve been hitting strength training for months now. It started with doing 5×5 until my knees needed more time to recover than just a day or two. I tried lowering to 3×5, but that too showed a top out too soon. I then came across 5-3-1 on the MultiYear App on my iPhone. This offered some more variety and gave my joints time to recover.

Alternating 3 to 4 weeks of 5-3-1 with 2 weeks of 5×5 has been working well. I am finally nearing Lightly Trained, though I seem to have plateaued a bit over the last few weeks. My deadlift is now over body weight on the heavy work set. My squat is getting very close to 200 pounds and I look forward to the attempt. My bench press is approaching 150 pounds. As my left shoulder is in need of some rehabilitation, I’ve added strengthening exercises for the shoulders.

The 5-3-1 workout by itself is quite short and has very few exercises. I’ve been adding a few for targeting muscles a bit more, add some more fat burning potential, or to strengthen supporting muscles. The workouts are 20-30 minutes which helps me get back to my life. As much as I like being in the gym, I really have other things to do. Ok, at least a few.

Late last week, a fellow gym goer was complaining about his current leg workout. He has a desire to improve it. He hasn’t been doing full squats long and seems to have hit a bit of a wall. Last October I blogged about Roger Lockridge’s grueling leg workout that was given in the May issue of Iron Man Magazine. I mentioned it to him and he seemed interested.

Since I use the app on my iPhone to also track my rest time, I flipped over to Safari and found the post. While I was doing my next set, I let him read the article, in particular the workout. He had one simple reaction, “Holy cow!”

I’ve been wanting to add more endurance to my training. I’ve tried a little cardio here and there, using an interval style. While it works, it is too boring. Skiing requires a mix of strength and endurance, and this workout gives both due to the volume and low rest periods.

One starts by using the leg extension and leg curl machines to warm up and stretch. No pre-exhaust here. That’s good ’cause my knees no longer care for the high weights for the leg extensions before squats. Next comes a strength via pyramiding the weight and reducing the reps through 10, 5, 3, 1. This pattern is done twice and rest between sets is 90 seconds. This is strength oriented.

The next three sections of the workout are more geared toward endurance. A superset on leg presses with two different foot positions gives a new meaning to “feeling the burn”. There is no rest between the sets in each super, though there is 1 minute of rest between supers. One does three supersets, with the reps for each set inside them being 15, 12, 10. That is, 15 reps with the feet high and then 15 with the feet low. Yeah, endurance.

The finishing sets of leg extensions, curls and then calf raises to really give the legs a push through. I look forward to having a partner for this workout. As we will most likely do different weights for these, I’m doubtful we will be watching the clock for rest. As soon as one finishes, it will be time to change the weights and let the other get the reps in. It will be brutal. I can’t wait.