Next Steps

Next Steps

Still Alive?

Alive and kickin’. Definitely. I haven’t posted anything up in a long time. I’ve never let it interfere with getting into the gym, but I’ve had some real-life things that kept my mind from doing things like blogging and the like. Those are over though, so I’m trying to get some inspiration back for this kind of thing. I also have a pretty unique personal experiment that I’ve been running over the past few months that I think would be interesting to write about.

Currently, I’m sitting around 170 lbs at 5′ 4″. My max lifts need to be updated on here, but some highlights are:

  • Back Squat: 1×350
  • Back Squat 9x10x225 (no belt)
  • Sumo Deadlift: 1×445
  • Bench Press: 1×275
  • Bench Press: 8×225

So things have been heading in the right direction for strength.

What Are The Next Steps?

I’ve decided I’m going to put strength goals aside for now and change my focus up. I’ve been focusing on strength for years now, and I have a ton of confidence when I walk up to a bar to bench it, pick it up, or squat it. But I don’t have a ton of confidence in the appearance of my body, and I want to change that.

I’m shifting gears over to bodybuilding. I feel that I have a reasonable strength base  (bench 1.6x BW, squat 2x BW, deadlift 2.6x BW) and because I’m not very tall I should be able to build a physique that looks pretty decent. Being short can be really helpful sometimes.

My goal is sometime at least a year out from now to step on stage. I’ll be working with a bodybuilding coach to keep me on track for adding more size to my frame and ensuring I can work on my imbalances that I’ve built up from focusing so much on strength and power.

Some big next steps, indeed.

Strength Theory – Progress Update

Strength Theory - Progress Update

Strength Theory

I was pretty bad at keeping up with my blogging over the past month, so I ended up skipping my reflection post on how my second round of Strength Theory went. In this post I’ll touch a bit on that and how my last cycle of Strength Theory went because there are some interesting similarities and differences to analyze.

Starting with the bench press… I was able to hit an all-time (true) PR of benching 230 with no assistance on my first cycle of Strength Theory. My second cycle I missed my 235 attempt and this was the first lift in all of my Strength Theory training that I missed. It was certainly a bummer, but it gave me something to really work towards and I could focus on the weak part of my bench. So in cycle three, I decided I would add in pause reps and banded line-man presses every single bench day. This would help me with my explosiveness so I wouldn’t stick slightly above my chest when I run out of power. The result? Another 5 lbs jump in my bench press for cycle three! So while I missed one lift, in about 3 months I’ve added 10 lbs (4% increase) to my bench press with essentially no body weight fluctuation. I realize that doesn’t sound impressive compared to people adding like 50 lbs to their bench “with this one simple tip”, but this was the real result of me just working hard and putting in time. I’ve been lifting for over a decade (becoming more and more serious as time has gone on) but I’ve always been maxed at 225 on my bench… and that’s just no longer the case.

My deadlifts have consistently gone up in every cycle of Strength Theory that I’ve done so far… And this is awesome. I think one of the reasons why is that I’m actually practicing my sumo deadlift as my main lift and I’m putting in the necessary reps to build confidence and familiarity in the lift. I also think that rack pulls are really helping to build my grip strength since I end up getting more volume with a much higher weight than I’m used to. I used to have a hard time budging ~400 lbs off the ground, and my PR is now 420 lbs. In the same time frame as my bench, this is about a 25 lbs (or 6%) increase. Here’s a shot of my last deadlift PR:

One thing I am noticing on the deadlifting front is that I’m nearing  my maximum for rack pulls. There’s absolutely an imbalance in my body because my working sets are easy in my conventional stance compared to my rack pulls, which in cycle three I was having a really difficult time with. I actually had a missed-lift on my rack pulls but I think this was after the day where a blood blister on my palm had developed… so… a bit of a reason there.

My squats have been an interesting ride so far. My non-maximal days for my squats (high and low bar) were always PR breakers for all three cycles. However, my last (third) cycle was the first time that I couldn’t break my 3-rep PR. I had to hit 3×320 and two reps in I called it. I think I’m starting to get nervous handling weights that high without a box, so I need to build up some confidence there. Interestingly enough, my front squat strength is increasing like crazy. Like my sumo deadlift, I’m attributing a lot of this to just familiarity in the lift. Every time I break my front squat PRs, I’m feeling more and more like there are little tweaks that would let me get a bit more weight or another rep or two and it’s not necessarily a muscular limitation… So that’s a really good feeling.

Here’s two shots from last cycle where I broke my 6 rep PR… And then smashed that by another 5 lbs.

And spoiler alert as I start to work into cycle 4:

What’s Next?

I think it’s important to set a few goals for cycle four as I start that up:

  • Continue to practice explosiveness on benching days. Pause reps and banded line-man presses have been working quite well.
  • Experiment with more volume on benching days because every time I’ve done it, I’ve gone home feeling awesome.
  • Keep pushing the boundaries on front squats… My back is keeping very straight even on my grinder reps, so just keep working at it.
  • Get more lower back work in… Deadlifts will have a HUGE benefit from this, but I NEED to put in the work. Least favorite thing to do at the gym (aside from cardio, duh).
  • Build confidence back up in the low bar squat. I don’t know what the answer for this is yet though.

Front Squats – Lifting Log

Front Squats - Lifting Log

Front Squats

Tonight was another squat session (what else is new, right?). I’m dreading front squats less and less as my mobility improves so coming into the gym and trying to attempt a new PR for my front squats is actually kind of fun. I feel like my ability to grind through some reps on front squats is actually pretty decent, and every time I watch a video of me grinding through, I’m actually pleasantly surprised with my form.  With front squats, I feel like my biggest issue is dealing with balance, and sometimes when the weight is heavy it only takes a little bit of movement to make me feel like I’m going to tip right forward.

Started the workout with my usual banded hip mobility and kettle bell front squat drill. Some dude and his friend/girlfriend/sister were skipping right in front of the squat rack, so I had the awkward conversation of “hey, are you actually using this, or can I?”. Fortunately he was pretty friendly and didn’t hesitate to move his towel from the rack. Unfortunately though, his friend/girlfriend/sister decided it would be okay to continue to skip almost directly behind where I need to squat. (Important to note that this is in the personal training area that’s generally closed off from general members AND this is one of the biggest (if not THE biggest) Goodlifes in Canada).

I checked the number I wanted to beat tonight… 205 for 4 reps. Decided it would be smart to ramp by doubles so that I wouldn’t be gassed for my final set of 4 at 210. I figured a 5 pound PR would be a small but doable jump, and as I ramped the weight, I think that was a smart decision since I wasn’t feeling all that strong tonight. I hit it though, and had a little audience:

My accessory work was banded lowbar pause squat doubles ramping up to 275ish from 235. Felt pretty good. Finished it off with a set of 4 at 295 with no pause. I figured I should get some lunges in today too (not sure where all of the time went) so I did walking lunges with a 95 pound barbell and superset that with situps.

Bench – Lifting Log

Bench - Lifting Log

Bench

Things were out of the regular order for tonight because my close friends were visiting from home and wanted to bench instead of squat. The downside was that I put two of my squat workouts in a row (but it was the lightest one and a heavy one the next day), and the benefit was getting tons of tips on the bench from my friend. I should have tossed up a video of him benching 455 and then repping out 315 like it was an unloaded bar.

Started off just by ramping into the low 200’s. For bench, I don’t do a lot of mobility warmup stuff, I just… ramp. I was deviating from Strength Theory in this workout but I don’t think it’ll be the end of the world… It was supposed to be a narrow-grip focus day but oh well. Once I was in the low 200’s I started doing doubles and singles. I worked up to 225 completely on my own, which is still one of the only few times I’ve ever hit 225 smoothly on my own. I decided to show my friend what my previous PR attempt looked like at 235 so that he could see where my technique breaks down.  My 235 bench attempt looked exactly like it did before. I thought that I was getting stuck a few inches off my chest,  but he disagreed. He was claiming that the only reason the bar even got that high was because of the quick turn around out of the bottom of the movement, but that really there wasn’t enough power from the bottom. If I’m able to increase my power off my chest, then I’d be able to correct that.

Cool! My bench accessory work was then tailored to be a bunch of pause reps at a modest wait, so I hit reps of 4-5 at 165 with a 1-2 second pause. Also identified that I don’t actually get a lot of leg drive on the bench despite being really tight, so my next bit of accessory work was doing neutral-grip dumbbell presses on a tiny incline. The twist is that at the bottom, I need to lower into position and hold the contraction. I throw the dumbbells from the bottom position but I don’t rely on any “bounce” out of the hole (can you even say “out of the hole” for bench-related movements?). This was a cool cue because I could feel that my entire body wanted to jerk upward when pressing. “There’s your leg drive”, said my friend.

We finished off our workout with a classic bicep pump. Just hammered on some of the hammer strength machines (see what I did there?) and got eh blood going. Was a nice twist hitting the machines for biceps since I almost exclusively stick to dumbbells. Definitely had a ton of tightness in my arms by the time I walked out.

Squatting Lifting Log

Ignantt

Squatting

Today was supposed to be a benching day, but some of my closest friends are coming up to visit tomorrow and wanted to crush some bench. So what’s that leave me with? I get to squat. I love to squat, but trying to wrap my head around hitting 8×270 was a bit scary. Buttt there’s nothing like posting up at a squat rack at the end of the week late at night and grinding out some reps.

Started with my normal warmup of banded hip stretches and kettle bell front squats. On my second set of kettle bell front squats I could already feel my hips had opened up a ton, and by the third set I could actually sit as close as ass-to-grass as possible with no discomfort. My hip mobility has been improving lately and I’m not totally sure what I’ve changed. From there, I ramped from 135, 225, for triples and 255 for a double. I did a few sets at 135 until I felt I could fly out of the hole with no issues, but I didn’t want to waste a ton of energy on my other sets leading up to my working sets. 8×270 was tough. But I don’t feel like it was any more difficult than when I did 8×260 about a month ago. My 3x6x270 back-off sets were definitely slower than I wanted them to be, but they were nothing that I couldn’t power through.

 

After my working sets, I hit some lighter walking lunges using kettle bells for a change. No real reason, just wanted to mix it up. After that, I hit highbar pause-squat doubles from 135 up to 235 and superset all of that with crunches/abwheel.

Picture is of the car because getting into a lowered car after blasting your legs is… the worst. I shouldn’t have slammed it down before I went to lift, but I’ll learn some day.

Squatting – Lifting Log

Squatting - Lifting Log

Squatting

Today was day one of my third cycle of Strength Theory. I’ll post in the next couple of days to touch on my results from the second cycle. I was expecting tonight to be kind of rough. I went out last night (for the first time since New Years Eve, I think?) so I was a big hungover and demotivated. I was actually considering taking a rest day today, especially because last night was record setting deadlifts and tonight was scheduled to be high volume squatting… But I still went in.

I started my squat warmup in typical fashion. I still rock some static lunges with bands to stretch out my hips and mix that in with some kettle bell front squats. Over the past couple of days, I’ve REALLY noticed my hips loosening up in the hole, which is totally cool. I think it’s been helping that I’m stretching my hips more on deadlift days and it’s carrying over nicely into my squatting days. When I start to feel warm, I do pause reps of highbar squats with 135. I repeat all of this until I feel that I can smoothly do a highbar squat and smoothly rep out my kettlebell front squats. It’s an awesome gauge for me because if those two things feel good, my lowbar back squat makes my hips feel like butter.

Ramping sets were pretty short. Few triples at 135, a triple at 185, and a triple at 225. From there, I belted up for another triple at 225 (more just to get a set in with the belt). After that, it was time for 10×250. Easiest way for me to look at a big set of 10? It’s just 3 triples and a single! Orrrr it’s just 2 sets of 4 and a double… Orrr… you get the idea. I break it up in my head before I do it, and then I try to split up my pauses/breaths for that. And you know what? 10×250 was actually not hard. Because my prescribed weight fell between 250 and 255 tonight, I did my 3×8 after my top set at 255. Those sets were kind of rough, but hey, I got ’em done and I’m confident I could go heavier next time. It’s a good start for sure.

The rest of my workout was just leg machines. This time through strength theory, I want to make sure I’m getting more total volume in. Way back when, I used to do huge pyramids and dropsets on the leg press. I attribute my leg size basically all to this because there was a period of time where my legs exploded in size while I was working hard a that. The past year or so, I’ve been getting way more total squat volume. I think it’s time to mix it back up! I hit up leg press for a big and could definitely feel my hips had taken a beating from my squats. Then some quad extensions afterward. I finished up with the ab wheel and some cable crunches.

Here’s a couple of sets from tonight!

Bench Press – Lifting Log

Bench Press - Lifting Log

Bench Press

Tonight was the the light workout scheduled before my PR attempt workout at the end of my Strength Theory cycle. It can be a little demotivating going into the gym and thinking “damn, I’m not even going heavy today”, but you need to look for some positive spins. And since I need to workout my tris and bis in the same workout… I could make it a sweet arm day after my prescribed sets!

I only had a couple warmup sets tonight on the bench. I haven’t been stretching too much prior to upper body work, but I find a few warmup sets with the bar and sub 100 lbs works well. I only had to hit 5x3x160 tonight, so I breezed through that. I tried to focus on using as much control as I could on the way down, and being as explosive as possible on the way up. I also took pretty short rests because the amount of work was pretty low. I followed that up with some incline dumbbell presses, taking the 70’s for a spin for three sets of eight, and superset that with some curls. No crazy weight. No crazy volume. Nice and light.

I hit overhead tricep extensions superset with  both hammer curls and narrow grip spider curls on the preacher bench. My arms felt pretty pumped at this point, so things were going well. Next was dips superset with pushdowns on the assisted dip knee pad. My triceps were definitely on fire at this point, but I’ve been trying to get some work with dips more often now since I’ve neglected dips for a while. Tricep rope pulldowns superset with rope hammer curls were next, and definitely a solid finisher for my arms. Holding the rope for hammer curls at the peak of the contraction is a crazy burn.

To finish off my workout, I blasted out a couple of sets of a chest machine. I’m not a huge fan of any machine really, but it’s a nice way to get a bit of a pump in my chest after my triceps are torched. I decided to get a tiny bit of back work in since I think my total back volume is a bit lower on Strength Theory. I used the narrow grip DD handle for a few sets of pulldowns, and even tried a couple of sets of straight arm lat pulldowns (which seem to be the latest fad for everyone at my gym).

Bench Press – Lifting Log

Bench Press - Lifting Log

Bench Press

I was out pretty late last night, but I feel like I got a reasonable amount of sleep + an hour nap during the day. I wasn’t totally psyched up to hit the gym or anything though… But I wasn’t feeling overly sluggish either. Wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of performance tonight.

Warmed up on the bench with the bar for a pile of reps and then ramped up with 95, 135, 165, 185 for triples. My working sets tonight were 3×3 at 195 and then 3×1 at 205. I’ve been trying to get in the habit of putting wrist wraps on for my top sets to try and protect my wrists a bit (while not building too much of a dependency on them). There’s a bit of a mental component that comes along with them too, because it makes me think I’m more “unbreakable”. Anyway, top sets went up despite weights like 185 feeling kind of heavy. By the time I was hitting my top singles, it was much easier than hitting the triples at 195.

For my accessory work, I hit incline bench with dumbbells for some 10 rep volume superset with bicep curls. I’m definitely a big fan of hitting biceps in between my chest accessory work… I find my triceps get obliterated pretty fast, but if I hit biceps in between it helps to keep my triceps alive. I’m not sure what the science is there (if any) or if it’s strictly a mental thing. I did a weird dip superset consisting of dips + assisted dip machine pushdowns (i.e. just bending over the assisted dip knee pad and pushing it down with my hands) + hammer curls. I finished it off with some overhead tricep extensions superset with reverse babrell curls (one of my favourites for frying my forearms) and a few reps blasted out on one of the chest machines.

I’m determined to set another bench PR at the end of this Strength Theory cycle.

Sumo Deadlifts – Lifting Log

Sumo Deadlifts - Lifting Log

Sumo Deadlifts

Over the past few days, hitting macros has been challenging for whatever reason and I haven’t totally figured it out. Perhaps a lack of focus and putting off meals to work on other things is playing a bit of a problem. At some point in the day, I realized I was pretty behind on carbs so I whipped up a big batch of pancakes for my sumo deadlifting workout.

Warmups for sumo and conventional deadlifts haven’t been that consistent recently and I can’t really find what I like. I do a mix of light hamstring stretches, some basic hip stretches, and then a few sets of Romanian deadlifts just to get some tension on my hamstrings. I take my time on my warmup sets too. If I need to do 5 sets of 8 at 135 lbs before I feel warm, then I’ll do it. I’m not sure how much of an effect the volume has on my overall performance (which is my only concern, really), but it certainly gets me to a point where I feel warm and ready to go.

I ramped up with triples to around 275 and then did a belted single at 315. I had six work sets of 325 for three reps, so nothing too heavy and I’m happy that the rep range is below five. I didn’t feel as explosive as I wanted to on my lifts, especially at the beginning, but towards the end things were certainly improving. Trying to get a handle on not squatting the weight up, but rather pulling the bar a few inches up and then driving my hips forward. The struggle is real.

I finished up my workout with Romanian deadlifts, some row variations, and then assisted strict pullups at a very slow tempo superset with hyperextensions. One of the row variations I’ve really been liking is a kettle bell row superset in with my barbell rows. It’s pretty basic, but trying to maintain a mostly horizontal back really helps get my lower back fired up (and it’s a huge weakness of mine).

Squats – Lifting Log

Squats - Lifting Log

Squats

Haven’t posted a lifting log in a while, but I figured after a solid night of squatting I’d post ‘er up. I’m now into my “second week” of Strength Theory for my squats on my second cycle of the program. I use quotes because I follow the 3/week squat program but squat every other day. So far, things are looking sweet.

I follow my typical warmup pattern that I like for my squat days. I loosen my hips up with a band, do some paused kettle bell front squats, and a couple singles/doubles of highbar pause squats. All of these are really just movements to help my hips open up. As I’ve said a million times now, my hips are surely one of the really big limiting factors in my squats when they’re not warmed up. So far, for me this does the trick. If I start to notice tight hips after following this for a longer period of time, I’ll consider switching up how I warm up my hips.

The workout tonight still wasn’t *THAT* heavy, but I’m dealing with some higher volume than I’m used to (considering I like squatting in the single to triple range). Tonight I had to hit a top set of 8 and a few backoff sets at the same weight. I started by ramping with triples with no belt or wraps, and once I passed 225, I tossed on a belt for 245. Didn’t need it, but my next set was my top working set at 260, so I didn’t want a belt to feel like a surprise on my top set. I added in wrist wraps too because the last thing I want is for my wrists to give me grief during my top set. 8 reps were a grind, but I managed to get them out. The next few backoff sets were also pretty challenging, but I think they’re the perfect level of challenging… They seem hard but within reach if I put my mind to it.

Here are a few videos of some reps for the night: