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Friday, December 31, 2021

Back In Lockdown

COVID-19 cases are rising steeply in my area, and my gym isn't requiring patrons to show proof of vaccination. So I'm heading back into voluntary lockdown. I.e. working out at home and outdoors. As before, I'll keep an eye out on the numbers and 

During my first self-imposed gym absence (16 months), I was annoyed about the situation and worried about losing size/strength. This time it doesn't feel like a hardship at all. I enjoy the flexibility of exercising at home, fresh air in the park and recreation areas, and the absence of non-mask-wearing/potential unvaccinated idiots in my immediate vicinity. Moreover, I have figured out a training system that lets me maintain my lifting gainz without touching a weight. The first 16-month no-weights experiment was a roaring success, and I don't anticipate this second "lockdown" taking anywhere near that long.

In the short time that I deemed it safe to go to the gym this year (June-December), I hit some numbers I have not been capable of in years. I almost tied my all-time best bench press and squat, was only 10 lbs. off matching my top standing overhead press, and set all-time PRs in the front squat and deadlift. Frequently pulling and squatting over 500 lbs. for reps. 2021 turned out to be one of my best lifting years ever. 

I turned 40 a couple of months ago. Last time I was anywhere near these numbers was in 2014. Was really looking forward to bench pressing 400 lbs. before my 40th birthday, but oh well. It gives me hope that one can maintain, if not increase, strength and muscle mass as one cruises into middle age. Don't want to attribute it all to isometrics, but for high levels of joint-sparing muscle tension, they can't be beat.

Hopefully this will be a short hiatus, but I won't be holding my breath. I know the weights are there when I'm ready to go back to them.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Deadlift PR, But Still No 400 lb. Bench Press

Another 5-week cycle down, the last one I'll complete this year.

Started out with high hopes of hitting 400 lbs. in the bench press, as all the stars seemed to be aligned. Last week I did 355 for a triple, and this week my warmups went great. 325-355-380 lbs., the last one popping up as if it were 50 lbs. lighter.

Then I unracked 400, lowered, strained. The bar stayed welded in the bottom position.

I took a few minutes to collect myself, got under the bar, tried again. Shoved so hard the world turned red. This time I moved the weight about halfway up before it slowly, inexorably, started its downward descent to failure.

Back to regular programming, with a few adjustments to the assistance exercises. I think I'll have 400 once I can triple 365 lbs. or so. Maybe do some isometrics at the halfway point to get stronger.

I've hit a wall with close-grip bench presses. After managing a set of five with 330 lbs., I've been unable to get more than two reps with 335 lbs. for two consecutive weeks. Feels like I'm doing too much heavy work for the shoulder girdle, and my bench press days are painful and sluggish. My pecs hurt, my shoulders twinge, and my triceps feel like they're about to rip off the bone. In other words, normal everyday meathead feelz.

It could be that my narrow- and regular-grip weights are too close together. E.g. the program I'm using calls for "close-grip bench presses to a five-rep max", then a separate bench press day. But the guy who wrote it (Marc Keys) uses a much lower percentage of his BP max for his CGBP sets, so I guess he's able to recover more quickly? Either way, I don't want to drop the CGBP completely, but I might lower the weight to 275-300 lbs. and start over.

Just for kicks, I did a few sets of incline presses, another lift I train only with isometrics, and worked up to a really hard single with 255 lbs. Not bad, but I was sort of expecting more.

Squats and deadlifts are progressing nicely. At this point, I'm just interested in maintaining, but will pursue a modest PR whenever possible. I hit a double with 500 lbs. in the squat (no belt - not for any RAWISWAR reasons, but b/c I forgot it at home) and a triple in the deadlift with the same weight, which I'm extremely pleased with. Then a deadlift single with 545 lbs., which is an all-time PR.

Squat: 410 lbs. x 5, 500 lbs. x 2 (beltless), 515 lbs. x 1, 530 lbs. x 1

Front squat: 335 lbs. x 1 (PR)

Bench press: 335 lbs. x 8, 355 lbs. x 3, 380 lbs. x 1

Close-grip bench press: 330 lbs. x 5, 335 lbs. x 2, 365 lbs. x 1 (PR)

Incline press (NEW): 255 lbs. x 1

Standing overhead press: 195 lbs. x 6, 210 lbs. x 4, 215 lbs. x 3, 235 lbs. x 1

Deadlift: 500 lbs. x 3, 525 lbs. x 1, 545 lbs. x 1 (PR)

Barbell curl: 120 lbs. x 3

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Singles Club

Small but consistent increases across the board, which is encouraging. I doubt I'll be able to sustain this for many more cycles, but am happy where my strength levels are at right now. I have not been this strong across all lifts since 2014 or so, and I (probably) tied my best deadlift with a lift of 535 lbs.

Overhead press is still lagging. Not sure if it's because of overwork, or what. It may be time to reduce the close-grip bench press weights.

Decent increase on the front squat as well, which is not bad, given I don't actually train the lift (except isometrically) and only do a handful of reps on singles day.

Squat: 410 lbs. x 5, 490 lbs. x 3, 525 lbs. x 1

Front squat: 300 lbs. x 1, 320 lbs. x 1

Bench press: 330 lbs. x 8, 340 lbs. x 5, 370 lbs. x 1, 390 lbs. x 1

Close-grip bench press: 325 lbs. x 4, 335 lbs. x 1, 355 lbs. x 1

Deadlift: 470 lbs. x 3, 490 lbs. x 2, 515 lbs. x 1, 535 lbs. x 1

Standing overhead press: 185 lbs. x 7, 205 lbs. x 3, 225 lbs. x 1

Went after 400 lbs. in the bench press again and failed. Also failed with 395 lbs. But I got 390, which is more than last time, so that's a win.

Recovery-wise, nothing to complain about. Shoulders are feeling fine, and my elbow/wrist pain had disappeared, but there is a touch of pain in my right knee. Looks like John Broz was right about his "floating pain" theory:

"Your body has to hurt somewhere. It will simply migrate from one place to the next while you sleep, and when you awaken you'll discover where it landed."

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