A year ago, I decided to start lifting weights. I’m assessing where I’m at right now, what I’ve learned this year, and what my goals are for the coming year.
This is where I’m at now:
|Start (12/6/19)||Now (12/12/20)|
|Body Weight||173 (@ 5’ 9”)||190 (@ 5’ 9”)|
|Squat||45 (3×5)||215 (3×5)|
|Deadlift||95 (1×5)||230 (1×5)|
|Bench Press||45 (3×5)||150 (3×5)|
|Press||45 (3×5)||95 (3×5)|
|Power Clean||NA||95 (5×3)|
I don’t do 1 rep max tries or anything like that. Most exercises are 3 sets of 5 reps (after warm-up sets). What is listed are the maximum amounts I’ve done in my final work set for each of these exercises. I know these are not huge numbers for people in the weight lifting community. I should be higher across the board. Regardless, I am happy with the progress I’ve made this past year (injury free and making progress). This is a graph of my entire year. It does a good job of telling the story. The shorter version is: I Feel Great!
Workouts – 73 weight lifting training sessions! This year has been a horrible year to start a weight lifting program. About the time I got a full head of steam going and was pushing real weight COVID came along and stopped me dead in my tracks. I also let life get in the way a few times throughout the year (with trips, work, etc.). Regardless, I got my fat, lazy butt up out of my chair and walked into the gym, and did boring and grueling tasks 73 times over the past year. If I follow my plan this year, I’ll do it 104 times (2x per week).
Body Weight – I’ve gained weight this year and this has been by design. Over the year I went from around 173 to around 190. At 5’ 9” to get stronger I probably need to gain more and get to 200+. I’m not worried about my weight at all, however. I plan to keep doing what I’m doing and whatever the scale says it will say it.
Squat – Every single workout begins with the squat. These are low bar/parallel leg squats (no cheating). Not ‘ass to grass’ (close) but also not high squats either. These have a huge range of motion and involve the entire body. They are tough both mentally and physically. There were times that I was positive my body would simply collapse under the weight of the bar. It didn’t. There were times I just knew I’d go down and never come back up. Sometimes that happened, but more often I dug deep and grinded out the rep. Over the past year, I’ve remained injury-free other than some knee pain early on which I slowed down to rehab. Otherwise, I just hit my PR in the last month. The following session I felt like my form was horrible (rounding my back). I’m currently deloading and reworking back up to let my body catch up to the new higher weight. Regardless, I am very happy to be able to squat (for reps) over my bodyweight.
Deadlift – I’ve been stuck at 235 1×4 for a few weeks. This has been the most frustrating thing I’ve dealt with so far. I know I could easily pull much more than this weight but my grip gives out on the final reps in my work set. I could use straps and get around this but I don’t want to do that. No cheating! I’ve been working on this grip issue since September (when it stalled my deadlift at 220). My grip has improved greatly since then. But I’ve now stalled at 235. Since I began the Starting Strength program, I’ve been doing deadlifts each workout. This is not the program and I’ve now incorporated the power clean into my programming (as prescribed). I’ve also slowed down the grip specific stuff I was doing. I think the combination of the two was overtraining and not allowing me to recover between workouts. I’ll see if following the program more closely resolves this in the coming weeks. Regardless…onward!
Bench Press – I’ve made slow, steady progress on my bench press. I’ve gone up in weight very slowly over time (5-pound increments). My upper body has always been the weakest part. I also didn’t want to get 1) injured or 2) dead. The bench is the only exercise I do where I could get dead (bar falls on Deano’s neck…yikes). This has caused me to take an extremely conservative approach to it. I’ve worked my weight up slowly and work inside a rack (I don’t use a spotter). My last workout was at my PR (150 for 3 sets of 5). I expect the next workout to be another PR. I feel like I’m close to a missed rep in my near future, however. Regardless, slow and steady progress beats being dead.
Press – I’m currently at 100 3×4. I’m missing a rep in each set at this weight. If I can’t get the extra rep to go soon, I’m going to deload and start going up in increments lower than 5 (I have some ½ pound plates).
Power Clean – According to the program I was supposed to add in the power clean (and remove the deadlift on alternating days) in the very early part of the program. Deadlifting each workout is too taxing on recovery. I had decided early on that the power clean was not something I was interested in doing at all. It is a pretty technical move and has a lot of moving parts. I’m not very coordinated so I skipped it (many do). Since my deadlifts have been stuck for a bit recently, I was doing more reading (re-reading actually) and realized I was not doing the program accurately. I’ve reworked it in the last few weeks and just did my first full set of power cleans yesterday. My form is not all that great right now but I’ll keep working on it.
My goal this year was to start a program, stick with it, get stronger, and feel better. I wasn’t worried about getting abs or looking sculpted at all. I just wanted to make my old body stronger and fight off the effects of Father Time. Looking back, I feel like I accomplished my goals.
Lessons I’ve learned over the past year:
- Intimidation – When I started, I was intimidated. A year later I think to myself ‘who cares about being intimidated.’ I am a complete loser in the weightlifting world by all accounts. I just didn’t let it bother me. I went into the gym and focused on following the right form and adding weight to the bar. Over the year, I learned that most people in the gym don’t do anything correctly. I see people put a lot more weight on the bar than I do and then lift it incorrectly. I see people do exercises that are a complete waste of time and energy. I’m still not lifting massive weights that would be impressive to most but I don’t compare myself to others. I compare myself to where I was a week ago, a month ago, a year ago. If I’m making progress, I’m good.
- Injury – When I started, I was worried about getting hurt. I was especially worried about hurting my back (which seemed to always give me problems). I figured pushing big, heavy, weights was bound to produce an injury. It didn’t. I learned from my reading that, if executed properly, doing the compound lifts in the Starting Strength program are less likely to injure you than about anything you can do. PS – My back doesn’t hurt…at all (even less than when I started)!
- Sore – When I started, I was worried about having debilitating soreness (DOMS). I used to get extremely sore after my workouts. It would last for many days. I couldn’t do the next scheduled workout and it impacted my functioning in normal life. It was miserable. I had stopped lifting weights because I was not going to live in pain all the time. I was doing it all wrong. Starting Strength is the best program for getting strong there is. Full Stop. I am pushing as much weight as I ever have in my life. I do get sore but it is very minor (and definitely not debilitating). The soreness has not been an issue at all.
- Consistency – Consistency has hurt my progress but has not stopped my progress. There have been a few fits and starts with my training (most notably during COVID). I’ve not let it derail me completely, however. I restart in a logical way and get back to work. I’ve also learned that if you consistently force yourself to do hard things (things you’d rather not do) that there is some good teaching of life lessons in those acts. Sometimes consistency is as hard as the actual weight lifting.
- Stupidity – COVID sucks (I get it). Regardless, it closed my gym right as I was getting a full head of steam. I had to restart completely once things reopened (albeit with faster progress back to where I was). It is mind-boggling that the answer to a virus (a health-related issue) is to close a gym (where people go to get/maintain their health). We are the stupidest society the earth has ever seen! I learn this lesson more and more each day…unfortunately! I can promise that if I am bigger and stronger, I will be better equipped to weather a virus (and lots of other things too). “Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.” ― Mark Rippetoe
- Gaining Weight – Gained weight this year which is not bad. In the past few years, my focus has been on losing weight. I thought I was doing the right thing. In reality, I was probably doing more harm than good. I did get in better shape than I was when I was not doing any exercise at all but I was not doing the correct training (notice I did not say exercise). I still don’t weigh as much as I probably should (and therefore am not as strong as I could be). I will continue to try to gain more weight. I’ll keep an eye on the waistline to be sure I’m not adding the wrong kind of weight in the process.
- Keep Learning – I’ve lifted before in life and read about it before as well. Regardless, I’d consider myself a novice. This year I’ve read Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training” (aka the “Blue Bible” aka the “Book of Rippetoe”) once. I’ve read many parts more than once. I’ve watched tons of videos. I’ve listened to tons of their podcasts. I also recently read “The Barbell Prescription: Starting Strength For Life After 40”. It goes further into the reasons why this program is the best program to fight aging. I believe them. Over the year, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge that has helped me train and stay injury-free, and continue to make progress. I expect I’ll have to continue my quest for knowledge for this to continue. I’ll have to continue to grow my brain to continue to grow my muscles!
- Following The Program – Mark Rippetoe gets upset when people don’t follow his program and then ask him questions related to issues they are having because they are not following the program. Understandable. That said, I’m not following the program. Sometimes this is because I’ve consciously decided to not follow it and other times it is ignorance. I think I am following it but upon further research, I am not. Looking back, I probably should have followed it much more closely than I did. I could have made much more/better progress if I had followed the program better. Regardless, I have still made progress. I know if I’m stuck it is because I’m not following the program. I research/reread and make the adjustments I need to make and it usually helps. I have made good progress and am happy with where I’m at. I’m not in some huge hurry either. I listen to my body, track my progress, and as long as things are progressing, I’m alright with that. Even if I’m not following the program explicitly it is the framework for everything I’m doing. I probably follow it 90+%.
- Aging – I’m old (48 this year). I won’t be able to make the same progress as I could have when I was younger. My body takes longer to recover (and it will take longer and longer as I age). Regardless, lifting weights is good for you. I must keep at it to make the years I have left as high value as they can be. It might not extend my life but it will make whatever life I have higher quality. I know I need to continue a weight training regimen until I’m dead.
- Nutrition – If picking a strength training program is complicated and confusing…enter nutrition. Just as complicated and confusing. So many experts with so many opinions. I’ve changed my diet dramatically from what I was doing the past few years. Over time I’ve worked things out of my diet that I have seen as commonly hated across many different plans. These things never make it into anyone’s list of things to eat. They are sugar, seed oils, and refined grains. There is a ton of debate about meat, dairy, vegan, keto, carnivore, vegetarian, etc. This year, however, I’ve shifted back towards more protein/meat/dairy but have left out the bad stuff. It seems to be working well. One area I am not following the Starting Strength recommendation on is nutrition. I found eating the amounts of calories they prescribed to be miserable. I have found the recommendations of P. D. Mangan to be the most useful in regards to nutrition. I try to follow his nutritional advice as closely as possible.
- Intermittent Fasting – I think this is fantastic. Many people do it to lose weight/restrict calories. That is not at all the reason I do it (anymore at least). I do 16/8. I stop eating after dinner (which used to be an issue for me as I was a late-night snacker). I don’t eat again until lunchtime. I start the day with black coffee and drink hot tea at night (if needed). I started off doing this to limit calories but as my knowledge grew (mainly from P. D. Mangan) I learned that there are tons of benefits from doing this. I learned our bodies are designed to do this and that it helps with insulin resistance and in turn has, potentially, all kinds of other benefits. One of the reasons I cannot follow the Starting Strength program fully is due to this decision (as I can’t get the calories required). I feel so much better when I do a 16/8 intermittent fast that I refuse to do anything else. The only exception I usually make is if I will be doing an activity that will consume a lot of calories (like a long bike ride or hike).
- High Protein – I increased the amount of protein I was eating pretty dramatically this past year. I eat a ton of steak, salmon, eggs, and milk. I’ve noticed that these foods make me feel so full (satiated) that I rarely want to snack (like I used to) on the foods I don’t need to eat. Since there is no room for these foods and they are the ones I don’t need to be eating anyway (see next bullet) that is a win-win!
- Devil Foods – I’ve read about all kinds of nutrition/diet plans. There are similarities and differences. Some have been debunked and some continue to remain fairly unchallenged. Along the way I have not seen a single one of them highlight how 1) sugar, 2) seed oils and 3) refined grains are good for you. Over the years, I’ve pieced together nutritional advice from many sources and have settled on trying to eliminate (or at least severely curtail) these items in my diet. The person who best outlines this is P. D. Mangan and I believe he is dead on with his nutritional advice. It is not conventional (and not mainstream) but it makes the most sense of anything I’ve read and is back up by meta-analysis. I read everything he puts out and try to eliminate these ‘devil foods’ from every meal I eat. This is not easy in today’s day and age, however.
Goals For 2021
- I’m going to keep doing the Starting Strength program. I’m going to try to follow it more closely from now on. I’ve been doing a version of Novice A for a year. It should have lasted a few weeks. I’m currently adjusting my programming to match the Novice B, C, D, and E plans (at B right now).
- I want to get my max weights to ‘intermediate’ numbers. Over the next year, I’d like to add between 20% and 35% to my lifts. I should be able to do this if I stay consistent throughout the year. At that point, my weights for each exercise would be very respectable (especially for a little, sawed-off, troll like me).
- Add in HIIT training on off days. Doing heavy weights is very tasking on this old man’s cardiovascular system. I get really out of breath, my ears ring at times, and sometimes the world starts to go dark and I get wobbly after the last rep! YIKES! I’ve been researching the best way to integrate some HIIT training into my program to get the old VO2 max up to speed (without messing up the strength training program itself). I think I know the answer. Time to start doing it.
- I’ll maintain my current nutrition plan this year. I’ll continue following the work of P. D. Mangan. Intermittent fasting (16/8) + high protein + limited (or better yet no) sugar, seed oil, refined grains. It is working well.
- I want to get more sun. On sunny days, I can often be found eating lunch on my patio with very few clothes on. This is a disturbing visual for all involved…I promise! Regardless, I’ve got to get enough sunlight and I’m already eating lunch anyway. So, the birds and squirrels will just have to bear with me!
- This past year I suspended a lot of my old ‘cardio’ activities. We walked much less this year than in past years. I barely biked at all. Now that I’ve got my strength training program online, I’d like to restart these other activities a bit more this year. The priority will be strength training and I won’t do so much that it will interfere with that. I do expect to do much more than I did this year, however.
As I’ve notated numerous times, I’ve been following the Starting Strength program and have been very pleased with it. It has been great. I’d go as far as saying it is the best thing I have ever done from a health and fitness standpoint. A few months into the program I wrote about it and made a video about the decision and how I came to choose Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength program. I won’t recount that in this post. Everything I said here covers my initial take on the program and my thoughts have not changed very much at all as the year rolled on.
This is a link to some quotes from Mark Rippetoe: https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/679788.Mark_Rippetoe
If you find these interesting, I’d recommend you get his “Blue Bible” and read it. Then go find a weight room with a rack and get to it! You won’t regret it!
I’d also suggest you go find the work of P. D. Mangan and learn more about it. He is on Twitter at @Mangan150. It is the best nutrition advice I have ever read. He also suggests lifting weights and getting sun!
If you use Strava, join me there. If you don’t see me workout for a few too many days…let me have it! https://www.strava.com/athletes/19668663