My Newest Hobby – Powerlifting!

At some point last year, I realized I was wasting my lunch break every day sitting around at my computer.  I needed to do something different.  But what?

How It All Started

For my first year and half at my employer, I would play board games during lunch with several of my friends at work.  Sadly, people move on to other companies, or get so heavy a workload that they can’t take lunch breaks, and the group dwindled down to just me being able to play on a regular basis.

It took me a while, but eventually sitting at my desk all day (or at least most of the day) was getting really tedious and depressing.  I’m not the most social and outgoing person (shocking, I know), so simply joining another lunch group was not an easy option for me.  I’m not sure why I thought “hey, I’ll just start working out at lunch”, but one day that’s what came to me.

I hadn’t been to the gym since I tried a sprint triathlon before Samantha was born, and she turns five this month.  And before that I hadn’t worked out since college, when I took a weight lifting class for 1 credit and stuck with it until I started dating my wife and “no longer had time to work out”.  So needless to say, I was very rusty.

My initial workouts ended up being body-building style workouts: chest/triceps, back/biceps/shoulders, and legs.  I went just three days at first, then four, then five.  I was getting stronger, but I knew I was missing something.  After befriending some other gym patrons who worked out during the same time as me, I came up with the notion that I needed a real goal – not just “losing fat and gaining muscle”, which is quite honestly, a stupid thing to even say.  Duh, exercise causes those things to happen.

So I started doing research on weightlifting.  I came to find there were really four “branches” of the sport: Weight lifting (like the Olympic stuff), Body building (what most people are doing), Cross Fit, and Power lifting.  With Body building, machines are fine.  You’re going for workouts that have 3 sets of 8 to 12 reps.  Weight lifting requires a lot of technique and practice, and a coach, which I don’t have the money for.  Cross Fit looks somewhat interesting, but again, cost is a factor for it.  Power lifting seemed like the ticket for me.

In power lifting, you don’t use machines (at least, from what I’ve researched so far).  For the last 8 months, I’ve not used a single machine in the gym.

What!? No Machines?

In February of this year, I discovered the Stronglifts 5×5 program.  And it changed everything for me.

For those who don’t want to go read the lengthy content on their website, I’ll break down stronglifts 5×5 quickly:

  1. There are only 5 exercises: bench press, barbell row, shoulder press, deadlift, and squat.  Note: all of these are done with barbells.
  2. From your starting weight, you increment the total weight 5 lbs. each workout.
  3. Each workout consists of performing 5 sets of 5 reps (except deadlift, which is 1×5).  5×5!
  4. Alternate days as follows:
    1. A day – Squat/Bench/Row
    2. B day – Squat/Press/Deadlift
  5. If you fail to reach 5×5 on an exercise, repeat that weight the next time.
  6. Once you reach about 250-300 lbs. on the squat, it’s time to move on to a new routine.
  7. Form is stressed heavily.  The reps don’t count unless you do good form.  Don’t cheat.

Point number 6 is buried in the bottom of one of those pages, so I missed it and got all the way to 295 on the squat, struggling to hit 5×5 (I think it took me three attempts).

Point number 7 is a point of pride.  It’s really commonplace to look around the gym and see lifters using poor form on bench press and especially squat.  I think 75% of people I see squat don’t go to parallel.  What’s the point of doing that?  Use less weight, and squat correctly.  No one is going to have perfect form on every rep, but if every rep has bad form, it’s time to change it up.

Fortunately, once you’re done with the Stronglifts 5×5, there’s another workout designed for intermediate lifters called “Madcow“.  It’s what I’m currently doing.

It’s all the same exercises, however you don’t 5×5 the same weight, and you don’t add 5 lbs. each time.  Once you have some strength beyond a basic level, it’s impossible to progress at that rate.  Instead, 5 lbs. is added weekly.  The sets ramp up in weight, with the last set of 5 being the target weight.  There’s a handy spreadsheet on the website to help calculate the workout.

Where I’m At

Using it, I got my set of 5 squat to 325, bench to 215, and deadlift to 385.  (My current weight is 190.)  So while my numbers aren’t stellar, they are squarely in the “intermediate” category.  It takes at least a year, if not two, to break out of intermediate and into “advanced.”  Of course, I’m fighting the clock on this as well, since I’m pushing 33 and at some point strength gains are going to be hard to come by.

I stalled out on Madcow back in August, so I restarted it in September.  By the end of it (late November), my numbers (in pounds) should be:

  • Squat: 385
  • Bench: 250
  • Row: 255
  • Press: 165
  • Deadlift: 445

If I stick to my current weight range (185-190 lbs), that’s a squat greater than double my body weight.  I’ll take it.

What’s to Come

Beyond this next iteration, I’ll likely aim for doing Smolov for Squats, or Smolov Jr. for Bench Press or Overhead Press.

Ok, but why lifting?  Why not running/swimming/biking?

Good question.  I still do some running on Tuesdays and Thursdays to boost my cardiovascular system.  But I decided on lifting over running for a few reasons:

  1. Studies show that lifting helps you more when you are older.
  2. Muscle weighs more than fat – the cliche that is true.  Basically, I can be 190 but “in shape”, and I’m ok with that.
  3. Running is kind of boring, to be honest.  I struggle to run for 20 minutes at the gym, not because I can’t physically do it but because I just get bored.
  4. As far as the Iron Man/Triathlon stuff, I don’t have the time to train for those kind of events.  I can get in the gym for about an hour and get all the lifting and stretching I need for my program.  Even as I advance in strength levels, the workouts won’t take longer.  If I were aiming for an endurance event (say a half-marathon) eventually I’d have to practice running 13 miles.  That’s time-consuming.  I’ve got 3 kids and a wife.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!

TL;DR

I lift weights.  Specifically, power lifting.  I did it because I was bored.  It’s now become my hobby.  I’m just about in the “above-average” category at present.  Hoping to advance to advanced by the end of next year.

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