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Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Haunting of Bullshit Jobs

I had a couple of days off so I binge-watched a Netflix show called The Haunting of Hill House, loosely based on Shirley Jackson's novel of the same name. The book is the greatest horror novel ever written in the English language, so I didn't expect to like the show. But it is an exquisitely crafted piece of television - visually compelling, poignant and scary as hell. Five star rating.

Reading the book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graeber. I'm only a quarter through it but already some of the hard truths are hitting home. Don't know what the rating's going to be, but it's a great read, and goes a long way in dispelling some deep-rooted magical thinking, e.g. that the private sector is efficient and does not create utterly pointless jobs (spoiler alert: it does). Maybe I just find this amusing and fascinating because I've spent almost half my life working in the corporate sector and can relate to the examples in the book. Definitely recommended.

Lifting-wise things are going well. I'm pretty much doing whatever I feel like, within reason. Trying to get a lot of sets of 6 reps on bench and close-grip bench press. Lower body is trained one day light and one day heavy, alternating squat and deadlift on the heavy day.

Some of the more recent stuff included:


  • Deadlift - 465x2, then singles with 485 and 505 lbs.,
  • Squat - 365x4 paused, then worked up to 465x3 with knee wraps,
  • Bench press - 320 lbs. 2s x 6, also got 280x6 close-grip, which should put me around 315 for a single,
  • Standing military press - worked up to 195x3. Because of my schedule, I do these the day before heavy bench press, so far without detrimental effect.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Up Again

I've changed up the bench press training slightly in that I no longer follow my usual cycle template. Due to travel, I'll be taking long layoffs from training over the next 6-7 months. The goal for now is to maintain strength with higher reps, then run a couple of peaking cycles next summer. So I'll start off with sets of 6 and stick with the same weight for a while, increasing slowly when the current weights start feeling light. No real plan here.

Close-grip presses will be the main assistance exercise, followed by incline presses for 3-4 sets of 5. I'll keep overhead pressing in the rotation, doing behind-the-neck presses on one day and military/push presses on my heavy squat/deadlift day. This should help me build a good base and improve shoulder and triceps power.

I've stepped up the volume of band pull-aparts. Not sure about sets and reps, I just try to do tons of them every day, and from different angles.

In the past two weeks, I did:
  • Deadlifts - worked up to singles with 465-475-495-495. Could have done a bit more, but I have to be careful with these.
  • Squats - worked up to 355x5 paused, then two sets of 445x3. Very pleased with this after 30+ days of neither squatting nor pulling.
  • Bench press - 315 x 2 sets x 6. I'll stick with this weight until it feels light, then increase by 5 lbs. and still try to get 6 reps. On a different day, I got up to 275x5 on close-grip presses and did multiple sets with 265 lbs.
  • Tried overhead pressing from the front position for the first time in forever. I managed a military press of 185x3 and a push press with 200x3, which was cool.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Kill Your Inner Bro

I finished the short bench press cycle with a 380-lb. single. Pretty happy with this, as it is an improvement over my most recent test single (370) and also because the cycle wasn't going all that well, i.e. I didn't expect much from it.

The last "rep" workout was all over the place. I was supposed to do a few sets of heavy triples, then the weights weren't moving right, then I managed to recover at the very end of the workout.

One reason I hate programs with preset weights/percentages is the lack of options on a bad day. If I'm supposed to hit 315 for 3sx5, but only get 3-4 reps on the first set, it totally messes with my mind and I feel like I'm failing. I usually try to force the reps, which is the lifting equivalent of beating your head against a wall.

The correct solution would be to knock the weight down to something doable for five reps and try to get 3x5 with that, then maybe go a little heavier on the accessory work. Alternatively, lower the weight way down and do paused bench presses. Rationally I'm aware of this, but sometimes it's hard to stifle your inner meathead and train in a productive way.

E.g. on the weak rep day I did:

315x2 (last warmup, already knew something was off)
325x2 (was supposed to be my first working set of 3)
335x1 (because if 325x3 didn't work, 335x3 surely will)
340x3 (out of nowhere, felt lighter than 315)
350x2 (absolutely unnecessary)

The smart way would have been to lower bar weight to something I could actually lift:

315x3
325 x 3s x 3
315x3

Which would have equaled an extra 1,000+ lbs. of workload and better quality reps.

I need more of this and less of the above. It's a very useful lesson I learned from reading about the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) and Mike Tuscherer's blog. RPE 9 is always RPE 9, whether you have 300 or 350 on the bar.

In spite of screwing that up, the one-rep test went fine:

315x2
340x1
355x1 (felt like I had two, but curbed my enthusiasm)
380x1 (much stronger and more explosive than 370 was a couple of months ago)
315x5

This may be my last cycle and one-rep test in 2018. Over the next 3 months I'm back to irregular training, mostly sets of five.

Wrapped up the cycle with some moderately heavy squats and deadlifts, done on the same day. I squatted 455 for two reps and pulled 445 for a single - both below my working weights, but heavy enough to matter.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Something's Gotta Hurt

I'm done with sets of five on the bench press. Last two workouts went:

315x5-320x5-325x3-325x4, and
315-320-325-330, five reps on all except the last set with 330 lbs. (4).

Triples started out okay: 325x3-330x3-335x2.

I usually don't get much pectoral soreness from bench pressing, but at the start of this workout I was really sore and under-recovered, so I didn't push it.

Overall I'm feeling strong and confident right now, but we'll see. I'm dialing down the overhead pressing as the benches get heavier, just a few moderate sets. The weird shoulder pain I had in the heavy phases of the last cycle is mostly gone. In almost twenty years of lifting, I've never had shoulder and knee pain until the last few months. I guess something's always got to hurt.

Squats went well, worked up to 475x2 regular, 375x4 paused. The good rack is always taken and I squat in the shitty one almost exclusively. Paused squats now feel very strong for some reason.

Deadlifts felt great this time round. I pulled 465x3 easily (might be some sort of PR) and felt good for at least one more. Hit a 485 lb. beltless single, which is easily the most weight I've ever pulled without a belt, and followed it up with a moderate 505 lb. (belted) single. Next time round I'll shoot for fewer reps and heavier singles.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Sweet Split

Past two weeks I have kept an erratic lifting schedule due to some time off over the weekend. Something like lift for five days in a row - rest for five days - lift for three days in a row. My ideal training split is:

Sunday - heavy bench and medium shoulders
Monday - light squat and pulls
Wednesday - inclines and light bench, heavy shoulders
Friday - heavy squat or deadlift (alternating)

This split ensures optimal recovery and even lets me get in some extra (light) exercise on the off days. I expected that lifting 5 days in a row would destroy me, but to my surprise I found that I was recovering fine (although I did cut down on the accessory work). Would not recommend it for optimal results tho.

Still powering through the bench press workouts on schedule. But I'm no longer doing sets across with the same weight. Instead, I figure out a minimum weight for the set/rep scheme for the day, e.g. 305 lbs. for 6 reps. Then based on how I feel, I either do something like 305-310-315 for sets of 6 (if feeling strong), or stick with 305 x 3s x 6, or some combination thereof.

Last two heavy days I worked up to 315x6, followed by a fourth bonus set of 320x5 (one day), then 320x5 with a bonus set of 325x5. I won't be able to keep up the bonus sets throughout the program, but will try to squeeze one in whenever I feel energetic. Shoulders are feeling fine - knock on wood.

Followed this up with behind the neck press, standing, of 185x4. I can now press 185 lbs. standing pretty consistently. Still making (painstaking) progress on inclines, around 5 lbs. every 2-3 workouts. Did a seated BTN press of 205x3, which I am quite happy about.

Banded bench pressing is tough as hell, but it's a new movement, so I can still make progress from workout to workout. It's only been a few sessions, but already I feel like I'm faster and more explosive at pressing without bands.

Deadlifted on Day 4 of the five-day stretch and my lower back was definitely not fully recovered. Still did 465x2, then singles with 485 and 505, which wasn't bad. Squats felt a little off, and I squatted in the shitty power rack so getting the bar off the hooks was way harder than it should have been. Top set was 455x2 and I decided to call it a day.

I'd be really interested to see how far I can take this simple yet brutal squat/deadlift progression. My training schedule will be all messed up from September onward due to work, so I won't find out.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Do U Even Plasma Bro

For the bench press, I'm running an abbreviated version of the last training cycle, going from sets of six to sets of two and a test workout in 10 weeks. Overhead pressing twice per week and incline pressing once. Started out the cycle with 300 lbs. 2s x 6 and things felt good. Pressed 165x5 behind the neck standing and 195x3 seated. Back is worked three times per week and arms are worked twice.

Deadlift is moving along nicely. This cycle I went 465-485-505-525 for singles. That last one may be an all-time PR, or at least ties it. I no longer have a training plan for the deadlift, just a few triples with whatever I feel like, then singles until I get to a good weight for the day. I'm able to get away with it because I'm only lifting heavy once every two weeks. More importantly, I'm feeling solid and strong lifting the weight and my back/hip injuries are not acting up.

Squats are also going well. 480x3 went up without a hitch, and I am consistently doing paused triples in the 380-405 range. I would like to work up to triples over 500 lbs., as this is where I was at my strongest.

But I'm done with setting specific goals and pushing toward them like a robot. Programs no longer interest me, except as general guidelines. I have a pretty busy work schedule and things to do outside of lifting, so adding weight to the bar week in and week out is not always an option. At this point I can take a few weeks off completely and still maintain my best lifts, or very close to them. I don't think there is any point in random or unstructured "training by feel", but slaving after some bullshit progression seems equally delusional.

Some new things I have tried:
  • Bench pressing against bands: it took me a couple of workouts to figure out how to do these. The first time I anchored the bars to the bench and did not get much extra resistance at all. I did 20 rest-pause reps with 275 lbs., similar to what I'd expect to get without bands. The second time I used two dumbbells as anchors and doubled up the bands. This was much harder - 14 tough rest-pause reps with 215 lbs. on the bar. The band resistance is almost unnoticeable until it slams down on you like a brick wall. I used 60-lb. dumbbells as anchors and the bands were pulling the bells up at full bar extension, so they probably add 110-120 lbs. of resistance at lockout. 330-335 lbs. doesn't seem like much weight for lockouts, but the reps add up, and I got a nice triceps pump.
  • Bench press isometrics: I have used these in the past with mixed results. Pressing off pins for reps (bottoms-up) led to huge gainz... in shoulder pain. Now I just do one support 2-3 inches from lockout and one support 2-3 inches off the chest. The latter is particularly painful (in a good way) and will hopefully lead to some improvement.
  • Smith machine seated BTN press: I really like the feel and convenience of this exercise. It is much easier to do iso holds at certain angles/positions than with a barbell. I don't think I'll replace barbell presses with Smith machine presses, but they offer a nice change.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

No Plasma, No Gainz

Bench press cycle topped out at 350x2. To prepare for the heavy bench press singles, I was inspired by a simple template outlined in this article by Christian Thibaudeau of T-Nation fame. I modified it to:
  • Wednesday - did 3 sets of 3 with 70%, or 260 lbs.
  • Friday - 3 sets of 2 at 80%, or 290 lbs.
I did not increase my Plasma(TM) intake as advised, so I probably missed out on some gainz. Oh well.

Lifts went like so:

135 x 8
185 x 6-8
225 x 3
275 x 3
315 x 1
335 x 1
355 x 1
370 x 1

I expected to smoke 365, so I added 5 lbs. and it turned out to be a very rough single. Should have stuck with the original plan and upped the weight if 365 went well. But no complaints. I wrapped up with a rest-pause set with 285 lbs. x 14 reps, a little bit of back and arm work.

Last overhead press day was the previous Sunday and I did not do any inclines this week. Assistance work was limited to small stuff like curls, face pulls and cable pushdowns. It was refreshing to get into the gym, mess around a while and leave not even tired. Maybe a sign I should do this more often. On off days I messed around a bit with cable exercises at home, limiting myself to 1-2 working sets.

I did not make changes to the lower body program. As scheduled, Monday was a light squat / high pull day with some leg presses and shrugs thrown in.

Friday was heavy squat day this week, plus the light benches. I aimed for a double with 485 lbs., but didn't set up properly and only got one rep. Not a problem, because (unlike on the bench press) I know there was strength to spare there.