Day 71 – 8 Week Results

The time has come for me to take a break from lifting. My body is in desperate need of some extensive healing and stretching. The timing couldn’t be more perfect though. Friday I’m on vacation, Monday I’m working from home and next Friday my gym will be closed for graduation. Trying to shove a lifting session in the middle of all of that is probably not worth the effort. So I will spend the next 11 days stretching, resting and doing a bit of cardio.

So now is the time to check the numbers and evaluate my progress.

Starting numbers as of April 1st. Three sets of five for all lifts (3 x 5)

  • Squat: 135
  • Bench: 160
  • Dead: 195
  • Press: 70

Latest numbers as of June 3rd.

  • Squat: 225 (+90) 67% increase
  • Bench: 205 (+45) 28% increase
  • Dead: 265 (+70) 36% increase
  • Press: 115 (+45)  64% increase

Looking at these numbers I have to say that I’m pretty impressed. I remember a time ten or twelve years ago when I was *about* this strong, but I wasn’t doing squats or deadlifts. So it might be valid to say that I’ve never been stronger! That’s amazing to me and something I wasn’t even expecting!

Obviously these types of gains cannot progress forever and I’m sure that I will eventually switch to a 3 day split. But for now I plan to continue the StrongLifts progression and finally add in the desperately needed barbell rows every other workout.

The common advice is to deload by 10% on all lifts after a week off, so this is where I will be starting on June 15th:

  • Squat: 200
  • Bench: 185
  • Rows: 155*
  • Dead: 240
  • Press: 95

Regarding rows, on my first day back to the gym I will increase the weight every set until  5 reps becomes difficult and that will be my work set weight for the next session.

Whew! That’s a lot of number crunching. And I haven’t even mentioned my diet yet!

It goes without saying that I’m hoping to stay on target with my macros during the week off from the gym. My new numbers (200/150/50) seem to be working well for me (so far at least). The next few days will be fraught with temptations – 3 birthday parties and a trip to Atlantic City – so I need to stay focused and plan around these calorie bombs!

I’m not sure how often I will post to this blog. 2 or 3 times at least just to keep myself accountable. Here’s to the next 8 weeks!!

Day 66 Part 2, Good News and Bad News

Bad news first, always bad news first.

In short, something popped in my left hip as I attempted to squat 215. It was the last warm up set and I was going for depth for just one rep. It wasn’t debilitating, just not a normal feeling. I rested for 3 minutes, stretched and put 225 on the bar. With 30 seconds left in my rest I looked at the bar and said, “Are you crazy? If 215 pops your hip out, what do you think 225 is going to do?!” So I pulled off a plate and tried to squat 135…

No go dude. Time to quit.

Part of the problem is that everything is sore. My traps, delts, lats, lower back and knees. Clearly this is fucking with my form. Ok, I get the message. Time to take a break.

And now the good news. I always remember that one of the benchmarks of strength is to be able to bench your own weight. Well, today that happened!

  • 200 x 5
  • 200 x 6
  • 205 x 4

Ok, technically I didn’t bench my weight because I currently weigh 207, but who cares!

So lets see where we are. On May 15th I set the following goals:

  • Weight: 203 (-7)
  • Squat: 235 (+20)
  • Bench: 200 (+10)
  • Press: 115 (+10)
  • Dead: 275 (+20)

In retrospect it appears that these were a little too optimistic. Here’s what reality will likely look like by June 3rd (the last day of lifting before my break).

  • Weight: 205
  • Squat: 225
  • Bench: 205
  • Press: 115
  • Dead: 270

But anything can happen between now and then so I really need to spend the next 2 days focusing on diet, rest and stretching.

Day 59, Squat Goal Reached!

It finally happened. This morning I squatted 225!

2015-05-22 07.08.07Ever since I started doing linear progression barbell training (StrongLifts, Starting Strength, Big 3, etc.) I’ve fantasized about putting 2 45 pound plates on both sides of the bar. For some reason 2 plates seems like graduating to the next level.

After about 6 warm up sets, I loaded up the bar and sat down and stared at it for 3 minutes. The first set was a little shaky, my form was a bit off. I think I was nervous. But by the 3rd rep I realized that I wasn’t going to fail. The 2nd set was strong. By the third set I had worked up the courage (I have a bit of social anxiety) to ask one of the two college seniors working out next to me to film my final set.

There was something about the fact that they were watching or that the video was rolling (or both) that gave me confidence. When I dropped down for the first rep the bar felt abnormally light, almost as if I had lightened the weight. In retrospect after watching the video I realize that I didn’t drop low enough. In fact just about all of my reps were above parallel. After finishing the set its clear  that my form is pretty much right on. I don’t lean forward too much, the bar path is pretty straight. The bar is in a good place (for low position) and I’m breathing correctly. So really the only thing I need to work on is getting lower. From the advice of one of the guys at the gym it seems that pointing my toes out further should help this.

Here’s the video, I added annotations for where the descent didn’t go low enough.

After squatting I attempted 200 on the bench. The problem here is that my arms were completely toasted from the deep tissue massage that my wife gave me 2 nights before. I managed 5 reps on the first set, 4 reps with very little help from the spotter on the second set and 3 reps on the last set. Given the soreness of my arms I’m confident I would have gotten 3 sets of 5 had they felt normal. But I will stick with 200 next time. Regardless this is another PR even though I failed to get 3 x 5.

After that I contemplated a deadlift, but changed my mind. I was done!

So starting today, I’m back to eating via the LeanGains approach. My new macros on training days are:

  • 175 protein
  • 200 carbs
  • 30 fat

Which should work out to 1770 calories. These macros were derived by my coach on the Fitocracy program and while I think they might be a little low I’m going to go with it for now and see what happens.

By around 2pm today the Memorial Day holiday weekend will kick in and I will be challenged to maintain my new rest day macros for the first time. If I can make it to Monday and stay on target I’ve decided to reward myself with a non tracking day on Memorial Day proper, but I will stay conscious of what I’m eating and not overdo it.

Day 58, Fitocracy, Anyman Fitness and a new 12 week program!

A few days ago I received an annoying piece of spam in my inbox (annoying spam… is that redundant?) from Fitocracy. They have my email address because I signed in to the app I downloaded and used for a few days for its macro tracking abilities.

The spam was advertising Anyman Fitness  and its “12 week no-cardio fat shredding plan” which (after I researched it a bit is basically the same plan I’m on: Linear Progression Barbell Training and LeanGains). After a few back and forth emails with the coach I decided to join. The cost is $60/month, which is really not an extra expense I’d like to incur, but having someone else in charge of my diet and evaluating my progress is a very liberating idea. Fitocracy has a 2 week guarantee, so if I’m not seeing any progress I can always get a refund. I’m also not committed to the full 3 months either. So it seemed low risk enough for me to push the button.

The major difference between what I’m doing now and what I will be doing on this program is the diet. While I have some experience in IF, this program takes carb cycling to a new level by limiting you to only eat fat and protein on rest days. This sounds really scary especially when you consider that rest days for me include 2 weekend days. Now that summer is starting, those 2 weekend days will be filled with carb distractions and temptations, not to mention my full week of vacation down at the Jersey shore!

But here’s the thing. When I start to think about things logically I realize that I’ve associated “having a good time” with eating carbs. And this is the emotional food association that I HAVE to break if I’m truly going to get lean. Clearly this plan of carb cycling works if you follow it. And if I do follow it, does that mean that I won’t have any fun this summer? Of course not! There will still be picnics and parties and pool days and theme parks and beach visits. And if I want to have a beer I’ll have one! And if I want to get ice cream with the kids I will!

This gloomy feeling I have that committing to this program will ruin my summer is mentally unhealthy (although its probably normal for most people), and stems all the way back to childhood where my connection between junk food and special occasions originated. It’s not going to be easy, but I think it’s doable with the right mindset and some encouragement. Most importantly if I start to see progress, I will stick to it.

With the holiday weekend coming up, I’m not exactly sure how/when I will start adhering to the new program. I’ve decided to take 2 rest days in a row so that I will feel rested and strong on Friday when I attempt squat 225 x 5 x 3. I think I will eat normally for these two days and then switch to my new macros on Friday. Saturday and Sunday will be my first attempt at no carb rest days. And for memorial day, I might just say screw it, give me a beer and a burger!

Finally, I think it might be time for me to inspire myself with some progress photos. When you look at yourself every day you don’t see the changes. But after comparing these two photos side by side, it’s clear that I AM making progress, albeit a bit slower than I’d like. The photo on the left was taken on February 2nd 2015. The photo on the right was taken 12 weeks later on May 13th 2015. It’s also important to note that I didn’t really start getting serious about the program until March 23.

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Also, I’m not stupid, I know that part of my “transformation” is low lights, shadows and the angle of the lens. But it’s still a noticeable change. On Friday (officially day 60) I will take a photo in the same position and same clothes as the before photo. Then we’ll see what’s what!

*UPDATE*

Even as I’m writing this post I’ve been invited to a memorial day picnic on Saturday. I guess this will be the first true opportunity to look at food and fun differently.

Day 57, Why can’t the diet be as easy as the workout?!

2015-05-19 11.48.31Let’s start with the good news. I busted through 2 new PRs today.

Squat 220 x 5 x 3 and Bench 195 x 5 x 3. Tuesday is an off day for me at the gym but I had to deal with some logistical problems that prevented me from renewing my gym membership until yesterday afternoon. But who am I kidding, I was happy to sleep in yesterday.

So I plan to be a little unorthodox this week and take 2 days off in a row. This will set me up for Friday morning where I will finally try to hit 225 on the squat. If I’m not too sore, I’ll also shoot for 200 on the bench. Otherwise 260 deadlift again.

Diet wise, I’m still struggling. Trying to eat at a 1000 calorie/day deficit is hard and I already knew this when I started doing it last week. But the scale still doesn’t budge and I really think it should have by now. I started day 1 at 210 pounds and today I weigh 210 pounds. I suppose I should be happy because my strength went up significantly but my weight stayed the same. But I’m so conditioned to see the loss of pounds as a measure for success. I know, I know. Muscle weighs more than fat, body re-composition, etc. But the reality is that I have seen the other side of 200 pounds many times and even the other side of 190 a few times. But now I just can’t get there.

Day 51, PRs keep coming!

As with Monday I slept in and didn’t get to the gym until lunchtime today. All the squat racks were engaged so I did bench first which ended up being pretty impressive:

190 x 5 x 2, 190 x 6 (I had a spotter for the last set and pushed really hard, but didn’t fail)

This is a new PR! I’m 10 pounds away from being able to bench my own weight!

2015-05-13 12.06.36-2After that was squats and although I hit a new PR for 215, I failed to get 5 reps on the first set. I’m not sure if it was just a break in concentration or if I just hadn’t fully warmed up yet, but the next set was better (after resting for 5 minutes) and the final set was the easiest of all (after resting for 3 mins). So it breaks down like this:

215 x 4, 215 x 5 x 2

Both the Stronglifts and Starting Strength programs have you repeat the same weight next workout if you fail to get all the reps so I will play along and do 215 again on Friday, which will push off my goal of 225 until at least Wednesday of next week. This doesn’t bother me at all.

2015-05-13 12.18.37I snapped a mirror shot after working out and I think I’m starting to show some improvement. Clearly muscle and strength is the key, but I’m really starting to believe that aggressive calorie cutting is going to help me blast through the first 5% of body fat. Most articles I’ve read warn that strength gains will decrease and muscle mass will be lost on an aggressive caloric deficit, but not necessarily people with a lot of body fat to lose.

I tried writing some new goals yesterday and here is the base I came up with:

By June 3rd (That’s 3 weeks from today):

  • Weight: 203 (-7)
  • Squat: 235 (+20)
  • Bench: 200 (+10)
  • Press: 115 (+10)
  • Dead: 275 (+20)

I think these are very achievable goals so long as I remain focused. Getting my weight down to 203 will probably be the hardest of all but I think that if I ignore all the temptations I might be able to do it.

Here are my macros from yesterday, not excited about the extra 100 calories, but I did go for a 30 minute walk so I suppose the difference is negligible:

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