Strain vs Gain

Stronglifts: Strain or GainI started real strength training using a barbell and plates on October 22 thanks to Stronglifts. This after spending 5 months working out in my garage on a Bowflex Revolution, followed by another 5 months doing a split routine at the gym with a co-worker, who was my lifting partner. Yet during those 5 months prior to him passing away due to a heart condition, we never used a barbell. We used dumbbells in some of our work outs, but never did we perform the 5 lifts that have made me stronger than I have ever been.

Stronglifts.com is a beginners program, which can lead to other forms of barbell training from 3×5 and 3×3 to Madcow and Smolov Jr. I still consider myself a beginner and I am still adding week nearly each session to all my lifts. Sometimes I stall on a lift, which requires me to reattempt the weight a second and possibly a third time before I remove weight an attempt a lower weight in order to push through the previous weight I stalled at.

This was the case with my squat, I was able to get through 185 lbs. and attempt 190 lbs. last week. I came up one rep short on my 4th set. I still considered this a failed attempt since I didn’t get my full 5×5. So I reattempted on Sunday and it was absolutely pathetic, as I went 2/2/2/2/1 in my 5 sets. I was exhausted and I could not drive up, out of the hole with 190 lbs. on my back. I was frustrated because I was so close the previous time. How could I go downhill so quickly in just 3 days?

It took another set of eyes from the Stronglifts Inner Circle to see the errors of my way. I had been doing too many warm up sets. I misread the guide provided my Mehdi Hadim, owner of Stronglifts, instead of doing 2 reps at 45 lbs, I was doing 2×5 at 45 lbs. A difference of 8 reps. This was followed by 3×5 at 95 lbs. and 3×5 at 135 lbs. A difference of 26 reps. So I was added 32 warm up reps to my squat work out before I even got to my work out weight. It’s no wonder I was tired and straining to get through some of the heavier weights more recently.

My warm up routine has now been modified and I currently do a total of 11 reps (2×45, 3×95, 3×135, 3×165) before starting my 5×5 at my work out weight. Yesterday, it made a world of difference, not that the weight was any easier, it was still a challenge, but unlike the previous weeks I had the power in my legs to drive out of the hole to the lock out position and easily accomplished my 5×5.

This is the second mistake I have made while performing Stronglifts. The first was pointed out to me in January when someone mentioned that I “really loved the deadlift” as I had been doing 5×5 and not 1×5, as the program directs. This change allowed me to progress even further on the deadlift since it was only 1 set. It could have also been previous weights were easier to pull. Now that I am at 240 lbs. I have started using chalk and a mixed grip in order to hold on to the barbell with a stronger grip.

Two mistakes and countless minor changes over the course 7 months and I feel as if I am set to make some very good gains in the coming weeks. Add to that the introduction of intermittent fasting, now on a regular basis, going 16 hours without food before having an 8 hour window in which to eat. The running has taken off, as I put in 27.57 miles last month and through today I am already at 25.28. Hopefully this trend continues through June and July as I continue to prepare for my first half marathon in August.

Progress Chart

progress chart

The numbers don’t lie as I have just finished my 6th week following the Stronglifts 5×5 program. Much like changing my diet to a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle, I wish I would have found the gym and barbell training when I was younger. It’s shocking, but I cannot wait to get to the gym, but then end up taking the weekend off, which seems to hurt my progress after a good weight of weight training.

The deadlift and the squat are the two lifts I have made the most progress on. While the chart will reflect a 215 lbs. and the squat, 185 lbs., these are 1RM or 1 rep maximum meaning lifting that weight one time and racking the weight. Currently my work weight for the deadlift is 160 lbs. and 140 lbs. for the squat. Both weights are ahead of my goals I am targeting for this initial 12 week period. If you are interested, you can read the latest scoop from week 6.

Only two minor setbacks, one which was expected but the other came as a bit of a surprise. The overhead press (OHP) I failed last week at 80 lbs. I missed two reps on my final two sets, but I had to work like hell to get the sets done. After some video watching and reading of Mark Rippetoe’s book, Starting Strength I made a few adjustments and I was able to bust out my 5×5 yesterday. The surprise was my failure trying to squat 200 lbs. yesterday. I worked up from 135 lbs. and was feeling good, so after a few intermediate increases, I loaded up the 200 lbs. for a 1RM. It didn’t feel right starting when I unracked the weight. I started the squat and just kept going down…finding myself in a third world squat and the barbell resting on the safety catch. I will give it a try next week.

Strong Progess

Today marks the start of week 6 of my strength training program at Stronglifts as I make strong progress. I continue to increase the weights as I move towards my 12 week goals, which were established before starting the program. Since I had little experience with free weights prior to starting, I began most of the lifts with an empty bar (45 lbs.), but have seen some nice increases, especially in the squat and bench press. The key to this program is getting to the gym on a regular basis, for me that is 3 times a week (Mon, Wed, Fri) and increasing the weight on each lift, every session.

The squat is the cornerstone behind Stronglifts and one that is of the utmost importance. It was an exercise I never did before starting this program. Starting with the empty bar, I have made a 105 lb. increase and can do a 1RM (1 rep max) of 150 lbs after 5 weeks. My 12-week goal for the squat is 240 lbs. There have been a few issues with my form that have been resolved, thanks to another SL member who provided guidance and insight. I now feel confident in my squat form and think 240 lbs. is well within reach.

The bench press been just as impressive in terms of weight added. Just like the squat I started with an empty bar (45 lbs.). At times I felt a bit ridiculous benching an empty bar, but progress was being made. While my current work weight (for my 5×5) is 115 lbs. I just achieved a new 1RM last Friday of 155 lbs! An increase of 110 lbs. in 5 weeks! The goal set for the 12-week program is 140, so I am ahead of the schedule on the bench press. Still have a few form issues to resolve on the bench press, such as pushing my chest up before I lift. My grip continues to baffle me from too narrow to possibly too wide.

The final number I am using as a target is the deadlift is 260 lbs. This is another lift that I had never done before learning of Stronglifts. I had seen it done by power lifters, but never considered myself in that category when lifting weights. Starting with 140 lbs. I have increased the weight 10 lbs. a week. Last week I was able to pull a 1RM of 200 lbs. It probably could have been 20-25 lbs heavier and still be considerable a good rep. This is another lift where form, especially with the back is important. I have scabs on my shins from literally dragging the barbell up my shins, which tells me the form is still not completely correct as my hips are too low when starting the lift.

Still with some minor issues in my form, progress is being made. I am gaining strength across the board in all 5 lifts I attempt, as well as in the dips I am able to accomplish. Right now the only thing holding me back is pain in my left shoulder. I am trying to decide if it’s an injury (pre-existing before I started lifting) or just tightness in my shoulders requiring mobility training. The twinge is more noticeable when I am pulling weight, as in the barbell rows or doing dips. Last night I want is an injury that will interfere with my work out schedule.

Stronglifts Log

I decided to track my Stronglifts 5×5 progress on my website. I currently post a daily log of each workout I accomplish, but it isn’t readily available for all interested parties to read. If you missed my initial post, this is a 12-week program I have embarked on to gain strength and develop muscle. Currently closing in on the end of my 4th week and I do feel stronger and seem to have a new found confidence when I step into the squat rack or lay back on a bench.

I broke down the Stronglifts 12-week program by week, each are listed until the McDougall –> Stronglifts tab in the menu. I will be adding some pictures of the progress and videos of my squats. Hopefully one person find these useful in their journey to gain strength.

I have been very impressed with the program so far. As I mentioned before it feels good to walk into the gym and know what you want to accomplish and the weights you will be using. Just this week I added a few warm up sets to the squat and bench, as well as starting to work on PRs or personal records. These are the best weight you lifted for each exercise.

Once the 12-week program is accomplished, I plan on setting long term (1 year) goals in order to achieve. Right now, it’s difficult to say just where I am when looking 12 months out. By the end of the program, I should have a much better idea about my strength and what I believe I can accomplish.

Stronglifts: 3 Weeks In

Prior to finding Stronglifts5x5 I had a difficult time finding a reason to workout at the gym. It was easy to sell myself on an excuse and say, “I’ll go tomorrow.” Due to the untimely death of my training partner I was lost on the gym floor, doing split routines until muscle failure and thinking I was working towards a goal. Unfortunately with the number of exercises I was doing and the amount of sets/reps I figured I would have seen more progress since May, but that wasn’t the case.

After reading through the Stronglifts site I was sold on the approach, it all seemed to so simple. Reading the success stories and hear interviews with some of the “regular guys” who are lifting weights beyond their expectations has me believing in this program. Much like Dr. John McDougall program, following a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle, this 12-week Stronglifts program will have me seeing strength increases I could never imagine.

Today I start week 4 of the program, after starting from an empty bar (45 lbs) on the squat and bench press, I have made continual gains the first 3 weeks of the program. I see no roadblocks in the near future that will derail my weight gains as I work towards my initial 12-week goals. The more important component in these early weeks, using the correct form for each exercise in order to get the most out of each move.

As of Friday I have recorded and posted 2 videos to the Stronglifts Inner Circle asking for a form check, in order to assure I am performing my squat correctly. This exercise is the cornerstone of the Stronglifts program and I have some minor flaws that I am currently working on fixing in order to get the most out of this exercise. My initial squat goal is 220 lbs and if I continue the gains I have seen recently I should achieve that goal early in January.

What even feels better is going to the gym, knowing what lifts I will be doing and what weights I will be attempting. I have direction, I have motivation and I am working towards goals. It makes me want to go to the gym and push myself even more to achieve these gains.