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Saturday, October 2, 2021

Circling Back

Second cycle down, nice increases across the board. Now it's just the overhead press I'm lagging behind on. All other lifts are on par with my pre-pandemic numbers.

Squat: 470 lbs. x 3, 490 lbs. x 2, 505 lbs. x 1, 515 lbs. x 1

Bench press: 310 lbs. x 10, 315 lbs. x 8, 330 lbs. x 6, 355 lbs. x 2, 375 lbs. x 1, 385 lbs. x 1

Close-grip bench press: 310 lbs. x 5, 325 lbs. x 1, 335 lbs. x 1, 350 lbs. x 1

Deadlift: 465 lbs. x 3, 495 lbs. x 2, 505 lbs. x 1, 515 lbs. x 1, 525 lbs. x 1

Standing press: 180 lbs. x 8, 200 lbs. x 2, 205 lbs. x 1, 215 lbs. x 1, 220 lbs. x 1

EZ bar curl: 105 lbs. x 5, 110 lbs. x 3

I felt very strong on the bench press and gave 400 lbs. a shot. Twice. And got pinned. Twice. Wasn't even close.

Another training cycle or two and I should have it. Fingers crossed.

Also tried out full-range front squats for the first time in probably 3-4 years, and got a single with 300 lbs. Which is probably an all-time PR, because I've never maxed out on the front squat. Another testament to the power of isometrics.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Cycle Gainz

First cycle of my regular program is now complete. I did four weeks of heavy volume and one intensity week, where I reduce the volume and work up to a few singles on the big lifts. So far so good. Here are some highlights (obviously not all from the same workout):

Squat: 405 lbs. x 5, 475 lbs. x 3, 500 lbs. x 1, 505 lbs. x 1

Bench press: 265 lbs. x 11, 315 lbs. x 6, 335 lbs. x 1, 355 lbs. x 1, 365 lbs. x fail

Close-grip bench press: 315 lbs. x 1, 325 lbs. x 1

Overhead press: 165 lbs. x 9, 185 lbs. x 3, 200 lbs. x 1, 210 lbs. x 1

Deadlift: 465 lbs. x 3, 475 lbs. x 2, 500 lbs. x 1, 510 lbs. x 1

I'm very happy with the 500+ squat and pull, and have regained some lost ground on the bench press too. Feels good to be repping 3 plates again. Overhead press is still lagging, but progressing nicely.

Here is a list of isometronic exercises I've used in the same period. Isometronic = short-range exercise between two sets of pins, with an all-out isometric exertion against top pins on the final rep. When I can complete the six reps and isometric push easily, I increase the weight a bit. As my gym doesn't have a power rack with two sets of pins, I'm doing these in the Smith machine instead:

Standing press - start

Standing press - middle

Standing press - top

Bench press - start

Bench press - close-grip lockout

Front squat - start

Front squat - middle

I haven't found good isometronic exercises for back squats or deadlifts, but I do plain old isometrics at home using straps and a metal bar. Also isometrics for bentover rows, good mornings, hip thrusts, and a few other assistance exercises.


Monday, July 26, 2021

Back to Scheduled Programming

I finished my four-week higher-volume intro program with power to spare. All the weight targets were hit easily, which means that I programmed them correctly.

Squat 430 lbs. 3s x 5

Bench press 295 lbs. 3s x 5, close grip 280 lbs. x 4

Standing overhead press 165 lbs. 3s x 5

Deadlift 440 lbs. x 3 reps

I'm still dealing with pain on overhead presses, which is part of the reason why those numbers are so low. But I think I've pinned down the issue and will keep hammering away at it in the hope it gets better.

On Monday, I'm resuming my pre-pandemic program, with a few tweaks. Hopefully the gym will stay open long enough for me to get close to my old numbers. Right now it looks like we're heading for a shitshow in the fall/winter.

Monday, July 12, 2021

One Step At a Time

Week 2 down, and all the weights still feel easy. Except the deadlift. My back is pretty beat from squatting 400+ lbs. twice a week, then deadlifting in the same weight range. One option is to dial back the assistance work, however I barely do any. Just one death-set of leg presses and one of machine Romanian deadlifts, up to 20 reps. I'm also leery of low back strain, as this has been a problem for me in the past.

It's a good, minimalist program. I'm tempted to keep milking it until the gainz run dry. But I'm also trying to be realistic. It's possible to squat/pull heavy, or to squat/pull often, but not both. Also these aren't real gainz - all I'm doing is getting back to where I was before.

Squat 415 lbs. 3s x 5

Bench press 280 lbs. 3s x 5, close-grip 265 lbs. x 5

Standing overhead press 150 lbs. 3s x 5

Deadlift 420 lbs. x 3

Monday, July 5, 2021

Landmine Lifts Are the New Plyometrics

First week of programmed gym work is now completed. I started off pretty conservatively and hit all the planned numbers with power to spare. Although the weights are low, the frequency is much higher than before to "grease the groove". E.g. now I bench press three times and overhead press twice per week, where my old program only called for one day each (plus close-grip bench presses on overhead press day). Or I squat "heavy" twice and deadlift once in the same week, where I used to alternate the two. Anyway, I'll keep this up for 3 more weeks, then probably go back to the tried and tested stuff.

Squat 405 lbs. 3s x 5

Bench press 270 lbs. 3s x 5

Standing overhead press 140 lbs. 3s x 5

Deadlift 410 lbs. x 3

Still having shoulder issues while overhead pressing. The pain is getting better, but doesn't seem to be going away. So I'm still taking it pretty easy.

Gym hasn't changed much in the last year and change. I see more bros doing landmine lifts. Remembering the plyometrics craze, I'm glad that T-Nation has decreed that landmine lifts are the new pointless thing that looks cool but doesn't improve strength, athleticism, or muscle mass. At least the bros are not hopping on / falling off boxes with terrible form anymore.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

The Great Reset

 Monday was my first day back in the gym since mid-February last year. After a sixteen-month layoff from lifting weights, I posted the following lifts over the week:

Bodyweight: 220 lbs. - a bit heavier than before pandemic, but also less fat.

Back squat: 430 lbs. x 5

Bench press: 285 lbs. x 5, 305 lbs. x 2

Overhead press: 170 lbs. x 5

Deadlift: 445 lbs. x 2, 465 lbs. x 1

There's obviously a lot of work to do to get back to my old numbers, but the results are way better than expected. My biggest drop was on the bench press, but this seems to be more of a form thing than a lack of strength. E.g. on my very first day back I struggled to press 225x5, but by the end of that same workout I ground out a tough but confident 275x5. Being unable to bench press three plates brings great shame upon me and my ancestors and whatever, but I'm sure I'll get back to that pretty quickly.

My overhead pressing is also piss-weak, but that has more to do with pain in my left shoulder, which wasn't a problem before. Will have to monitor that and see whether it goes away as I practice the lift more. On the squat and deadlift, my strength has been impacted very little, if at all, which is a huge surprise.

I used to have reservations about isometric training, but now have proof positive that they work as advertised. During the layoff, I kept all my muscle mass and apparently most of my strength without touching a weight (with the exception of a 40-lb. kettlebell I use for swings). Going forward, I'll incorporate isos in my regular weight training and am hoping to see even better results.

Assistance exercises don't seem to be affected - on some, e.g. leg press, dip, and preacher curl machine, I'm maybe even stronger than before. Another testament to the effectiveness of isometrics and band-bodyweight programs.

Another positive thing about taking 16 months away from weights is that I'm now basically a lifting noob. So even the simplest and most straightforward programs will deliver good strength gains. I'm thinking of 4-6 weeks of a bare-bones training program focused on sets of 5, plus a bit of assistance work. Think Starting Strength with extra bench pressing. Then once this stalls switch back to Old Reliable and ramp up the intensity.

Overall, I'm pretty pleased by my quarantine results and the fact that I can keep my squat in the 400s and my bench press in the 300s, pull close to 500 lbs. without touching a barbell. Kind of makes me question the purpose of lifting weights and dealing with commercial gyms... ever again. I'm not getting any younger, the minor aches and pains are adding up, and grinding my joints to splinters chasing elusive 5-lb. PRs has never felt less appealing.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Never (Forever?) Gymless

My big return to the gym is not happening this year. Maybe not until this time next year.

I'm fine with that.

For a while, I gnashed my teeth at the stupid and irresponsible, whose refusal to follow common-sense masking and social distancing protocols has turned what could have been a tenacious but eminently manageable epidemic into a mass-death national disaster. In addition to making gyms unsafe. But getting upset about idiots is in itself pretty idiotic, so the only workable alternative is to accept and adapt. Hopefully these newfangled vaccines work.

Still training on the push-pull-legs split, using an isometric-dynamic protocol. 4-5 isometric exercises for 3-4 sets each, then 3-4 dynamic exercises using the old reliable 3sx10 protocol. A steel pipe works great as a barbell - I can even do front and back squat isos. After the workout, I typically go for a 45-minute walk/run. On pull days I also do sprints.

Overall, I'm making good progress. Bodyweight is back up to 210, more or less where it was before I quit the gym, only leaner. Zero noticeable muscle loss, although I have no ide where my strength is at. Working out in fresh air is a boon and fits into my new schedule perfectly. Best of all, I can do this new routine anywhere.

I still hope that someday things will go back to normal, so I'm keeping my gym membership (it's incredibly cheap and work pays for it anyway). It would be good to know where I stand exactly on the big lifts, and how effective my weightless workouts have been with regard to retaining strength.

Even if/when I'm ready to head back to the iron, I'll most likely switch to an abbreviated barbell routine and do most of the work with bands and bodyweight.

It's been a hard year for many, although I was fortunate to not suffer any impact from the pandemic. So I shouldn't complain about not being able to go to the gym. But for the first time since I started this blog, I have no end-of-year lifting numbers worth mentioning. My last real workout with weights was in early February, so in the 1.5 months that I lifted I hit the following weights:

Squat: 515 lbs. x1

Standing overhead press: 235 lbs. x 1, 205 lbs. x 3

Deadlift: 535 lbs. x 1

Bench press: 385 lbs. x 1, 365 lbs. x 3, 335 lbs. x 7

Here's hoping for a better 2021.