I’ve spent many an hour at the gym over the course of many years. Like anybody else who has a decades-long exercise habit, I’ve faced my share of downtime. We closed the dojo for the last two weeks of December, as we always do over Christmas. My plan had been to spend those two weeks hitting the gym hard to get a head start on the new year.
Alas, reality intervened. I caught bronchitis over Thanksgiving. It took me a few weeks to get rid of that. And then I caught a sinus infection two days later. So instead of spending those two weeks working out hard… I spent them doing next to nothing.
I managed to kick the sinus infection right before the New Year, so I did what I could: I hit the gym on December 31st, and at least got some head start on the new year. My normal lifting days are Tuesday and Saturday… which means that yesterday was officially day 1 of my second week back on track.
As I learned years ago, week two sucks.
Week one is good. You feel great, your body is pulsing with energy, and have no problems staying motivated. Then week two hits and your body reminds you that you’re not used to this anymore. Your energy levels sag, dragging your motivation down with it. And then the soreness sets in.
By week three these problems will all pass. The soreness will diminish. Your energy will return, restoring your motivation as well. You’ll start to settle into a routine, and things will finally pick up.
But you have to survive week two, first.
Quite a few people will begin their week two over the next few days. Many of them will quit, thus giving up on their New Year Resolutions before January’s even out.
Don’t be one of them. Week two will pass. By early February, you’ll feel awesome – and you’ll want to keep going. Push through. Persevere. You’ll thank yourself later.
Last Saturday morning I had one of my best days ever at the gym. It was also the day when I failed at everything.
Summer is drawing to an end. I’ve been working a new routine all summer, ever since I posted my last PRs, and I wanted to see how it had worked out. Unfortunately, I had also been away from the gym for the last two weeks. I’ve been extremely busy, primarily with the dojo merger. But things are settling down a bit, so I went in.
Pro tip: never try for personal records when you’ve been out of the gym for two weeks. The lifts I was going for were all only a few pounds higher than the PRs I posted in the spring. I failed all of them.
Every single one.
But it was still one of my best days ever at the gym.
I loaded up the bench press with 325, and called Phil over to spot me. Now, you need to know a few things about Phil. Phil is awesome. He’s that guy – the one that everybody at the gym knows. A firefighter and a former competitive weightlifter, he’s forgotten more about fitness than I’ll ever know. Even in his sixties he’s still considerably stronger than me. But he’s also got the best attitude of just about anybody I’ve ever met. He’s never met a stranger, and he loves to share his incredible wealth of knowledge. He’s always available to spot you if you need it.
I lifted the bar off the rack fine, and I lowered it well. Then I started the lift. Things were fine until I hit the zone of death – that area about a third of the way through the lift that requires maximum tricep contribution. I couldn’t quite push past it. Phil was there to barely – and I do mean barely – nudge me through. But most importantly, he was there with a huge grin and the encouragement, exclaiming profusely that I almost had it. His exact words:
“Next week you’re going to come in and nail that.”
Then I hit the squat rack. My last PR was 395. Saturday I tried for 405. I warmed up to it as always – first the bar, then I added “one plate” (gym slang for a 45 pound weight on each side) at a time. 45, 135, 225, 315. Just a few reps at each weight. Then I added the fourth plate. Again, I got the bar off the rack strong. Again, I lowered it well – strong, controlled, and deep. Then I made my fatal error. I paused at the bottom. A second later I knew I was done. I caught the eye of a fellow gym goer in the mirror and he jumped in to help me out. Our local YMCA is fantastic for having folks with great attitudes there to help.
But I was bummed out – really bummed. I almost had that one, too. But in the end, I wasn’t quite there. The iron doesn’t lie. I started re-racking the weights and preparing for my next lift (overhead press). That’s when two other young men approached. I’d never met these two before. They were young – probably college students – and in fantastic shape. And they were all smiles.
“Dude, that was awesome – four plates!”
“We thought you had it, man!”
Phil caught me again later.
“We thought you were just showing off at first when you held it like that!” he laughed at me – but it was a good natured laugh. “After that, these guys loading up 2 plates just don’t look impressive anymore.”
I went on to fail my PR at the overhead press as well. I literally failed all of my PR lifts on Saturday.
But I left with pride. I left with respect – respect that I earned – and some real encouragement from total strangers. I’ve never felt better about a failure in my entire life.
Failure is part of the gym. It is part of the progression. You will never hit new records if you don’t try things that are hard. And if you try things that are hard, often you will fail. Embrace the failure. Love it. It’s the pathway to success.
Last night I finished my first 4 week rotation of the 5/3/1 strength training program (very slightly modified to match my schedule).
One thing I like about the program: the deloading week. Though hardly unique to the 5/3/1 program, I’ve found it to be extremely useful. I’d been reading about it lately and planning to incorporate it anyway, even before trying this program. Previously, I’d simply taken a random night or a random week off. After my first week of deloading, I think I like it a lot better. The idea is that you lose less of your gains than you would from a week fully off, but you still ramp everything down enough to really give your body a chance to recover.
In this case, the lifts were basically dropped down to roughly half of what I’d been doing for the previous three weeks – and that’s where things got interesting. I commented to Morgon on both deloading nights that I hadn’t lifted that light in years. To check it, I dredged up an old blog post from a defunct blog. The results shocked even me. From almost exactly five years ago (4 years and 11 months to the day):
Squats: 5×275 (up from 5×265 last week)
Deadlifts: 5×135 (up from 5×125)
Pull-ups: (three sets of: 4, 2.5, 2.5; kind of lame, but significantly up from 3, 2.5, and 1 last week and WAY up from 1,1 only a few weeks ago)
Bench Press: 3×190 (up from 3×165 last week, which was actually <em>down</em> from 3×185 the week before)
I didn’t do pull-ups last night, so I don’t have a good comparison there [side note: I need to work those back into my routine]. As for the others… here’s what I did last night on my deloading night:
Bench: 5×115, 5×145, 5×175
Squats: 5×140, 5×180, 5×215
Deadlifts: 5×155, 5×195, 5×230
On both the Bench Press and the Deadlift, my new “very, very light” night numbers still show me pulling numbers comparable to what I was proud of five years ago. One small caveat: deadlifts were new to me at the time. My numbers from them were almost embarrassingly low.
Proof positive that resistance based strength training works.
As for the 5/3/1 program itself, I’ll report back after a few more cycles through. One month simply isn’t a good test.
I’ve been struggling with my workouts for the last couple of years. After making a lot of progress for a while, I got kind of stagnant. My bench press especially got stuck for nearly two years at about 295lbs.
Right around the new year I was pointed at this post by Mike Cernovich, and it had some words I needed to hear.
There is no “I want.”
There is only “I will.”
Go read the whole post. Seriously. It’s probably his most important post. I’ll wait.
The thing is, it’s nothing I hadn’t heard before. It’s not even a mindset I’d never adopted before. But I’d lost it, and I just needed to hear the words again. From somebody. Anybody. And Mike was the one who happened to be saying it on the day I needed to hear it. So I began this year without New Year’s Resolutions but instead with a list of New Year’s “I WILL’s.” The very first item on the list: I WILL break 300lbs on the bench press in 2016.
Tonight I smashed it out of the park:
There are guys out there who lift a hell of a lot more than that, so don’t mistake this for any kind of bragging. But those are respectable numbers. More importantly, they represent a break in the stagnation and the achievement of multiple personal goals tonight.
So tonight I’m putting out the thank you to Mike for giving me the words I needed to do it. Here’s to shattering many more personal records!