I’ve decided to start logging my weightlifting sessions. Hopefully this way I can share some of my journey, help out other people as they progress with tips of my own, and pose questions about form and diet that I want answered.
I’m really tall, 6 foot 5 inches tall. Currently 205 pounds. I have a fast metabolism, probably an ectomorph (for whatever that term is worth); inactivity means I lose weight, and I have the capacity to eat a lot.
I’m currently taking an online course (through Coursera) on human nutrition, which should work out pretty nicely as far as logging diet and exercise goes. Other than that, I work at a coffee shop, so I drink a fair amount of caffeine. I’ll definitely be probing the effect that caffeine has on performance.
I currently follow the Starting Strength program, which alternates between workouts involving five compound exercises. I usually warm up to the work sets in 10 or 20 pound jumps.
Squats, 3 sets of 5
Overhead Press, 3 sets of 5
Power Cleans, 5 sets of 3
Bench Press, 3×5
Deadlift, 1 set of 5
If I’m good and don’t miss workouts, I switch between one and the other three times a week. Monday/Wednesday/Friday will be A/B/A one week, and then B/A/B the next.
Let’s get to it!
Today was the first day back from a 9-day break. The last time I went to the gym I was super tired from work, and missed out on a great dinner at home. I had premonitions to blow it off and not go, but I decided to go through with it and ended up having a really bad time. I struggled on shoulder press, got really frustrated and angry, and left halfway through completing my power cleans for fear of hurting myself and feeling extremely negative. Gotta keep it fun, right?
I warmed up with 5 minutes on the rowing machine, and then a couple of dynamic stretches I usually do (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-inLAok0wA ). I mixed these in between my first two sets of squats, with the empty bar and then with a 25-lb weight on either side. I was feeling nervous and tired, but whatever. My knees felt good warming up and jumping up towards the work weight. I went from 5 warm-up reps to 4 as soon as I hit 55 pounds on each side, then one more set of 4 at 65 pounds. At this point, I decided to jump straight up to 80 lbs on each side (total 205 pounds), and made it the first of my work sets. I lost a bit of strength from the break, but overall it was pretty good.
My second set wasn’t ideal. I didn’t take a long enough rest, and it showed. Usually I’ll press against the bar to psych myself up for the next set, kind of like a runner “loading the spring” as he steps back into the blocks, but I was there for too long, trying to force it. My breathing wasn’t very good, and I hesitated forever as soon as the weight was on my back. Ended up rolling around back and forth out of the hole, and I realized that I hadn’t kept my back tight at all. This is always the first body part to go.
The third (last) set was way better. I made sure to rest up, didn’t try to start my set too early, and make a point to keep my back and shoulders really really tight. Throughout the set I kept my back and shoulders really far up, creating a nice big platform to hold the bar. Since my back was tight there wasn’t as much force transferred to my spine either as I bounced down and back up out of the hole. My balance was better, and there was no forward-falling motion that comes from having a loose back. I drove it back up while keeping the back tight, and took maybe only one or two extra breaths before pushing out my last rep. (A bad habit I have is breathing too many times in between reps, which kills any rhythm/momentum you have, as well as creating hesitation.) Good stuff. Squats are an upper-body exercise, too.
Next up was shoulder press, my biggest enemy. Today I power cleaned the weight up to my shoulders, something I do which helps warm up for power cleans a lot. It also gets me a little more fired up to do the press. Last time, I realized that the more I pushed my shoulders forward the harder the exercise became, since it recruited my traps, forearms, shoulders and lats more. Contrast this with leaning too far back and doing the “standing bench press”—it’s way harder. Part of my frustration (and maybe the difficulty I have in progressing with this exercise) comes from feeling like I can’t nail the form down.
I clean the bar up to my shoulders, catching it in the rack position. It’s pretty easy to press it up from there, even with my wrists bent really far backwards. Shoulders and chest squeezed forward together, it’s all good. As I add more weight though, I realize that there’s just way too much tension going into my wrists to press it up from a STRICT rack position—think where you would start with a clean & jerk, or a front-squat—so I tried to find a middle ground between the wrist-crushing rack position and the shoulders-down position I used to do out of laziness and inexperience. Ended up doing my work sets at 15 pounds on either side (total 75 lbs), 3×5, with the last one being the best compromise between the two positions. I figure that you can use the frontal deltoids (the meaty part of your shoulder in the front) and the top of your chest to form a good platform to press from, provided the lean-back is good enough. This way, my wrists weren’t bent totally backwards, and my forearms were pointed down towards the ground, meaning that the weight was close to the heel of my palm. My shoulders still had a nice internal rotation (rotated IN towards the center of the body) from this position, too. Overhead press is such a bitch.
Next up came POWER CLEANS, which might be my favorite exercise ever. I don’t really know what it is about them that gets me so heated. I started with 25 lbs on each side; since I had cleaned 15 up for the shoulder press this was fine. I worked up to 45 pounds, remembering to adjust my form into a more ideal position each time. Get in position, breathe, one big breath in, squeeze everything, pull the bar up with your lats, touch above the knees, and explode! Then catch it again, rotating your elbows AROUND the bar in mid-air. After doing one work set (out of 5), an older guy I know (Bob) came over to the rack to do squats. He’s really cool, always gives me encouragement. Something about him being there just set me off, and my form was great and I was super explosive until all the sets were done. My breath was on point!
I also did 15 pushups on the way out of the gym.
Overall a strong workout. TL;DR things to remember:
Squats: take enough rest when you have to, TIGHT BACK. Balance the weight so when you DRIVE out of the bottom it doesn’t crumple you.
Press: find a good middle-ground between rack position and “standing bench.” Make a good platform, then move it straight up (this should always be kept in mind, I think).
Power cleans: Squeeze it up from the bottom; start accelerating the bar early, and don’t slack on this. Catch the bar with a tight back; that is, with shoulders forward and lats activated, so the spine doesn’t take the brunt of the force. God damn I love power cleans.
Nutrition for that day:
Kind of a shitty breakfast, a cup of coffee, two donut holes, and two CLIF bars before I went to the gym. Came home and had a protein shake with half heavy cream (!) and half 2% milk, then ate a bunch of cheese (brie?), triscuits, cantaloupe before dinner. Dinner was eggs benedict with salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise, lots of asparagus, and mixed fruit. (bananas, cantaloupe, blackberries.) I had 3 english muffins worth, and a small bite of gourmet dessert cake-like things after. Stuffed.
Wed/Thursday: I didn’t go to the gym today, but I’ve been eating exceptionally well, stretching, and meditating. Had a protein shake before breakfast both days, don’t remember what I ate wed, then had a great dinner of Greek salad–chicken, rice-a-roni, lettuce, lots of cherry tomatoes, olives with the pits still in, onions, feta cheese, and dressing. Another small bite of dessert. Today, a protein shake, tea, then leftover spaghetti sauce (hamburger, onions, garlic, sauce, etc) with leftover rice-a-roni. Not too bad. A spinach empanada at work. Another protein shake when I got home. Then for dinner I made stuffed bell peppers, with chicken, zucchini, onions, more rice-a-roni, brown rice, and pepper-jack and swiss cheese, with vinagarette dressing. Put all the leftover veggies and chicken that wouldn’t fit in the peppers, then added spinach, basil, more dressing, olive oil, salt and lemon juice. Really good! One brownie for dessert. It seems like a really healthy 2 days, balanced carbs/veggies/meat. Maybe a tad high in fats, but I’m not particularly worried about that. Plus I can make omelettes out of the leftovers!!
Gonna go to the gym tomorrow morning (fucking MEAN IT this time, lol), but I do have some concerns about that. Being really tall, I’m worried about circulatory problems. When I don’t rest enough, I get petechiae near my ankles, and sometimes towards my wrists; these are tiny broken blood vessels. Sometimes I’ll feel really lightheaded, and my vision starts to dim/brown out a bit; this happens most notably when I’m doing power cleans. My theory is that it’s all the blood rushing down from my head; the face-down position that I start the exercise from makes it all pool up there, and then it all flows back down once I’ve cleaned the weight up to my shoulders, and I’m standing straight. Solution? I’d like to swim more, or do some other form of cardio; hopefully this will alleviate these symptoms and make me healthy in a more balanced way.
Also, my back and shoulders seem to be the sorest part of my body from doing squats. This is probably the limiting factor; it seems like my legs can take the weight just fine (especially my burly-ass T-rex quads), but keeping the back straight is difficult. Time to start doing SUPERMANS to strengthen the back! Probably a bit before squatting, to warm up and imprint the movement (so my muscle memory is there when I need the arch during the set of heavy squats), maybe after to get those muscles super good. Will update again tomorrow.
So I didn’t go Friday… I’m great about going to the gym on days off, and pretty good about going after work, but there’s nothing there when it comes to going BEFORE! That said, I had a phenomenal workout today.
I did some research today (courtesy of Evans Tang!) and calculated my caloric intake I need to bulk. 3600 is the magic number…. tall people metabolism don’t fuck around!
As per usual I biked to the gym, then did 5 minutes on the rowing machine. Before squatting I did a little more extensive of a warm up than usual; one set of supermans (I held it 5 times for 2-3 seconds each), high kicks, kneels, a little extra static stretching of my back muscles, which tend to be the tightest. Instead of doing a LOT of warm-up sets, stepping it up in 10-lb increments on each side, I did one set to get accustomed to the weight, then 50% of the workload, then 75%, then 90%, then all the way up to 100%. For squats that meant one set with 25 to gauge what needed stretching/warming up, then 45, 65, and 80 lbs, before doing my work sets at 85 lbs each side (215).
I drank a cup of coffee ~45 mins before departing to the gym, which I feel is about ideal timing if you are to drink coffee during a workout day. I’m really used to this schedule. The only thing is remembering to consciously relax during the downtime between sets, as caffeine makes you jittery and you just want to rush through the sets. In my experience, starting the sets prematurely means that you don’t give yourself enough time to recharge, and your power isn’t as high as it needs to be.
Notes on squats: (85 each side)
Stay RIGID through the upper body. The main thing I learned today is that your upper body should maintain a totally fixed position. As soon as you go down and lean forward, bringing your back to the ~40 degree angle to the floor, it needs to STAY that way—all the way down, at the bottom, and all the way back up until you’re standing back up for the next rep. I have a bad habit of reaching the bottom, then sacrificing my balance to try and “bounce” the weight back up. So there’s a little wobble in there; usually my back goes, and I lean forward onto my quads to complete the rep, then come back a tiny bit into position as I finish driving up. Don’t be afraid of slowing down; it’s OK if you don’t sacrifice your position. Plus, your legs are assuredly strong enough to take it; better to have the sticking point near your hips than midway up your back!
For what it’s worth, my shoulders were also really tight and high up during these sets. That felt really, really good. My upper body, mainly the “hinge” of the lower back (and the rest of the back all the way up), is the weakest link in the squat at this point. I think more focus on the upper body during this exercise is in order; my legs already know what to do.
Another important thing: REST. The most success I’ve had during rest periods is when I consciously try to think of nothing. Whenever I meditate I’ll focus on the back of my sinuses, and the air flowing back there. That’s the “nothing” spot. This requires more experimenting with, but I think it helps to be AS LAZY AS POSSIBLE while resting! Don’t try to force anything, especially not your breathing; just let your body recover and do its thang. Then, some deep breaths to prepare for the set. As soon as I grab the bar, I start getting nervous and breathing faster in preparation; do whatever you gotta do to get ready, I suppose. Then a deep breath in, go under the bar tight, and get to work.
Bench: 50 lbs each side
Last time I bench pressed I realized it’s an exercise more about symmetry than anything else. But it’s more than just keeping the bar stable in a left-to-right position; you’re moving the bar and the weights through 3 full dimensions, so keep in mind how far towards your head or towards your feet the bar goes during your reps! I tried to visualize the bit of knurling in the center of the bar as staying directly over my solar plexus each set, and that worked really well. Also, I find that the SLOWER I do bench, the easier it is to be conscious of my form (and thus, the better it gets). Had a great time w/ bench today.
Deadlifts! Worked up to 95 pounds on each side. 2 plate club plus a nickel!
Not much to say about deadlifts today. They were heavy as hell, as always. I think I have pretty good form, too. Warmups: 5 reps at 45, 4 (or 5?) at 70, 4 at 80, 3 at 90. I was debating doing my work sets at 90 or 95; last time I deadlifted, maybe 2 weeks ago, I hit 225 and felt really good about it. 225 was really heavy, but I managed it alright, so decided to cut it short at 3 and do the work set at 235. I might have actually gone too hard on deadlifts today. The first set was great. Second set I was a little lightheaded, and had ringing in my ears. The third set felt CRAZY; my legs got so pumped! And there was a pretty loud ringing in my ears after I was finished.
I’m always wary of overexercising, because I don’t want to hurt myself. I’m pretty curious about the lightheadedness/tinnitus, which happens to me during power cleans and deadlifts; I’m going to start doing more cardio, which should hopefully alleviate it. I think it’s a symptom of being tall. In between reps, I’ll grip the bar folded in half, to stretch out my hamstrings a little bit and not drain energy on my legs (by keeping down in a squat position w/ my shins touching the bar). So when I come up, all the sudden in a burst of energy, the blood (which was previously pooled in my head) comes rushing back down as I lock it out. Definitely gonna do some more research on this. I don’t wanna be passing out during my workouts….
After deadlifts I went and swam in the pool. It felt amazing on my shoulders, which got a chance to exert themselves over a really full range of motion. Did freestyle, backstroke, and some breaststroke. I can still do a flip-turn! Cool stuff. But I still suck at breathing; my problem with swimming has always been panicking too much. I take too big of an in-breath, which makes me want to break the rhythm and breathe in a LOT more oxygen. If I had to think of a bro-science explanation, it would be something about CO2 and oxygen levels in your blood. I think when you take a HUGE breath in, your body just says “fuck this imma breathe,” and it turns on all the oxygen alarms. I got a good amount of water up my nose doing backstroke flip-turns; hopefully the combination of hard exercise and EXPOSURE TO A SHIT TON OF GERMS IN A NASTY ASS POOL doesn’t make me sick. Ugh!
Til next time.
Haven’t been to the gym since last time (saturday). I was going to go on Tuesday, which would have put me in the right 3-days-a-week ritual, but I wasn’t feeling it. Above everything else, I’m still worried about “ruining” it for myself by obsessing; “not losing” shouldn’t be the reason to go, my motivation should be the desire to get bigger and express more energy all at once.
Pretty soon my friend (my roommate’s sister’s boyfriend) Paul will be moving into the house, and I’m excited for us to work out together. Bringing another person along makes it easier to commit to going to the gym. Or even just involving another person, like getting a ride there, makes it easier. Motivational issues. Also, I’m wondering whether or not it’s better to incorporate cardio (swimming) on different days, or just hit it three times a week on top of my regular workout. More research I suppose. More doing, more importantly.
You need to stretch more.
You’re doing great on the lifting. You’re enthusiastic and pay attention to detail; keep up the consistency and you’ll be where you want to be before long. And then: beyond!
Didn’t see you stretch afterwards, though. Ideally you should be stretching for as long as you are lifting. I dynamic at least 15 minutes before and ~15-20 minutes after (I often get lazy, though, since I do yoga every day, but I ALWAYS stretch arms/back/chest/hips/hammies/quads).
Hips are the most important to stretch. I prefer frog squats and box jumps to dynamically stretch those out. Downward dog and… — I forgot the name of it, maybe it’s bird pose; I’ll ask Lindsey — to static stretch your hips.
If you stop stretching, your muscles get tighter. You are getting stronger but (I believe; I haven’t had this verified with a well-trained doctor or anything) I think the strength isn’t 360 degrees. You know what I mean? It’s imbalanced. You can tell when you see people walking around and their bodies just look tight — their muscles look too heavy. They’re not stretching enough / at all. Your muscles should look long and lithe.
Make it a point to record your lifting. It makes a word of difference re: form!
I try to do a meditative stretching routine every night; I just focus on the part I’m stretching out and try to make it feel better, tackling one body part at a time. Usually I do the runner’s stretch to get my feet, then calves, then hamstrings, then hips (as it stretches out), and this takes care of my lower back on the opposite side, too. Straddles, downward-facing dog, and quad stretches, as well as shoulders and neck. I’m pretty lazy about it though, to be honest. I have a Yoga for Dummies book, and I’d like to start doing a few yoga poses during off days.
Is it a huge difference to stretch soon after your workout? I usually just do it when I’m feeling sore.
Great that you are tracking your progress. Looking forward to see more updates. You should stretch (Dynamic AND Static) before your workout and do some other proper warm-ups. After your workout, you can do some static stretching on targeted tight muscles and maybe do some very light cardio (if required) to cool down. If you are interested, check out my article at http://evanstang.com/2013/01/08/how-to-triple-the-effectiveness-of-your-workout-by-warming-up/ Hope you will find it useful.
I’m working my way through all your articles. That’s where I’m at right now! Thanks man
Can’t stop won’t stop!