5×5 strength training program

Since my last update strength training I’ve progressed from 3 sets of 5 reps to 5 sets of 5 reps: the infamous 5×5.

I’m still training 3 days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday before work, still not doing any cardio and the Osgood Schlatters is still giving me gip.

Here’s what my routine has been like lately:

  • Monday
    • Front Squat
    • Overhead Press or Dumbbell Bench Press
    • Clean
  • Wednesday
    • Front Squat
    • Overhead Press or Dumbbell Bench Press
    • Barbell Row
  • Friday
    • Front Squat
    • Overhead Press or Dumbbell Bench Press
    • Deadlift

I’m training the front squat every session and alternating the overhead press and the dumbbell bench press between sessions. Taking into mind my knee difficulties I’m training the squat with relatively low intensity and wearing a knee sleeve which is giving me a much needed opportunity to work on my form and control.

As an aside, I’ve been working towards another goal: making it into the light-heavyweight division. It’s been tough going, I’m sick of the sight of food a lot of the time and have even been supplementing with vitamin B12 to see if I can boost my appetite sufficiently. I’ll be sure to let you know if I hit this milestone :D

Strength training: adding variety

A couple of months ago I decided to add some variety to my strength training program.

The main change has been to alternate between front and back squats. The higher frequency with the back squat has brought some much needed practice to an exercise I find mechanically more difficult to perform, quite possibly due to difficulties with my right knee I had when I was a teenager.

Through the influence of stronglifts.com I’ve developed an interest in the olympic-style lifts and have been practicing the power clean twice a week. This has brought an extra dimension of power, speed and technique to my training and proved a “tonic,” buoying my enthusiasm for lifting.

The final change has been to train all the different pull-up/chin-up grips: neutral, supinated and pronated. The pull-up has been quite a challenge and I’ve really had to focus on progress, not perfection, leaving my ego at the weights-room door and emphasising strict form at all times.

Current strength training program

For nearly 3 months my strength training has revolved around squatting 3 times a week and this is my current program:

  • Monday

    • Front squat
    • Neutral-grip chin up
    • Parallel bar dip
  • Wednesday

    • Back squat
    • Overhead press
    • Row
  • Friday

    • Front squat
    • Dumbbell bench press
    • Deadlift

All squats are done to below parallel with all free-weight exercises being performed for 3 sets of 5 repetitions, after warm-ups, with the exception of the deadlift for which my “work” consists of a single set of 5 reps.

My focus, as always, has been on periodisation: a few weeks working up from approximately 85% to 100% of my previous best followed by a couple of weeks setting new bests ending with maybe a few days out of the gym and starting back at 85% again. I find the shorter periods of progressive poundages to be easier to manage psychologically than perhaps 7 or 8 weeks of progress that I have aimed for in the past.

This program appears to be working for me: I’ve never been stronger and my intimidation of the squat has greatly diminished due to the higher frequency. I still have to leave my ego at the weights-room door though: there will also be a person who can lift heavier, one who’s bigger and yet another who’s leaner.

Deadlift Friday – no injury shocker

Once again it was my weekly deadlift session this morning but unfortunately I have no injuries to share with you all this time:(

My lower-back and hips took a battering though so I might me complaining tomorrow and there would appear to be a possibility of having some tasty bruising over my left clavicle and anterior deltoid from doing front-squats of which I’ll post a photo of if they “shine through” :)

This session culminated in 98% of the maximum intensity for my 5-rep deadlift, so all being well next week will see 100% and things will then take on a more psychological edge as the fear of lifting a progressively heavier weight kicks in.

Love/hate all the way!

Squatting 3 times a week and a return to early morning training

I’ve now completed my third week of a new strength program. This program involves full-body training 3 times a week with squatting each session (!) and deadlifting once a week.

Until I read Practical Programming I didn’t know that bodybuilders were generally the only weight-lifters to squat once per week, or to “train legs” to use their lingo, but apparently many other weight-lifting disciplines are built upon more frequent squatting, especially power-lifting and olympic-lifting.

I hadn’t done back-squats in a while, focusing on the front-squat instead, and as such my body wasn’t used them. The evidence of this is that I ripped a patch of skin off my upper-back on the first session:

squatting - upper back skin tearing

My body has now adapted and I’m the proud owner of a tough patch of skin in that area :)

Something I am also experimenting this time around is doing no additional cardiovascular work, relying entirely on the squat to push my heart and lungs to their limits. Surprisingly I’m not feeling unfit and I’m reassured that I’m getting the most “bang for my buck” when it comes to my time spent in the gym. Cardio-bunnies I miss you already!

The final change to my routine is training before work as my new office is closer to the gym than house. This has been invaluable as it now frees my weekends and evening for things like BarCamp, OpenCoffee and BLUG meetings. Win-win!

New 5RM Deadlift Today

Over the past few months I haven’t been quite the gym freak that I’ve been in the past but one exercise I have continued to regularly train has been the deadlift.

Saturday mornings had become my sole weekly strength session so I had to ensure I was getting as much bang for my buck as possible and nothing works the body like this exercise.

I haven’t set a new personal record in any of the big movements since about November so it was a good boost to exceed my previous best. This morning’s effort was the culmination of 8 weeks work: starting off at a relatively low intensity and adding weight to the bar each time. I had planned on reaching this stage sooner but I noticed one Saturday that I couldn’t grip the bar properly and found I had developed a blister which proceeded to burst, resulting in missing my target for that session and slowing my progress.

I’ve recently been reading up on Mark Rippetoe’s techniques and slowly moving away from those of Stuart McRobert, hence the 5 reps, and I’ll probably start a “Practical Programming” style training cycle once I’ve finished reading the book and absorbing it’s material. Squats every workout? Brilliant :)

The question now though is, can I keep the progression coming and lift heavier next time?

Abbreviated Weight Training

Towards the end of last year I started rereading large portions of Stuart McRobert’s Beyond Brawn and seeing how I’d begun training in the mornings and consequently had less time to do so I decided to experiment with a more abbreviated routine. Here’s how my routine stands as of today:

  • Monday:
    • Squats
    • Neutral Grip Chin-ups
    • Single Leg Dumbbell Calf Raises
  • Tuesday:
    • Swimming
  • Wednesday:
    • Barbell Bench Press
    • Bent-Over Barbell Rows
    • Weighted Crunches
  • Thursday:
    • Swimming
  • Friday:
    • Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
    • Parallel Bar Dips
    • Dumbbell Shrugs

When I was planning this routine I hadn’t had a break from weight training for a few months and I could feel that a rest would be in my best interests: I was starting to feel tired more often, progress had slowed and I knew from past experiences with over-training that if I kept pushing it I would only regress.

I dismissed strength training for a week, did some extra running and swimming and proceeded to eschew modern bodybuilding techniques, turning my back on split routines and instead focusing on building my basic core strength with a mere handful of big, basic, compound exercises.

The abbreviated approach seemed to go against the generally accepted dogma that you have to train to absolute exhaustion to see results and I admit I was skeptical. For the first month I even avoided accessory movements (in italics above,) only performing 2 exercises per session and was amazed to discover that by doing less work I was able to make more progress!

Over the festive period I did absolutely no exercise, got myself fully rested and since getting back into training I’ve brought in some accessory work for my calves, abs and traps and over the course of a few weeks built back up to my previous bests in the compound movements.

This week has been the start of a journey into new poundages and as such I’ve increased my caloric intake. Generally, I’m performing 2 warm-up sets and 3 work sets for the compounds and 1 warm-up set and 1 or 2 work sets for the smaller exercises. My swimming routine has consisted of 60 lengths of breaststroke and it will be the first thing to be dropped, along with the accessory movements, as I approach the limit of this training cycle. I’m loving making progress again, it reminds me why I like about playing the iron game!

Right, I gotta go eat…

Bulk Powders

In my time honored tradition of bulk purchasing I placed an order with bulkpowders.co.uk, which arrived last week. I refrained from documenting it at the time as I’ve only just had the opportunity to sample the produce and here is what was waiting for me at reception last Tuesday:

Bulk Powders - Box Unopened

I’d been meaning to start buying my supplements online for a while but I wasn’t going to be saving much going for brand name products, especially when delivery costs were factored in. I scoured through uk-muscle.co.uk and compared the online retailers I found discussed there and decided on the aforementioned site which specialises in no-frills, bulk orders:

Bulk Powders - Box Opened

As you can see, the goods came packaged in food-grade buckets, with the contents described via an ink-jet printed label:

Bulk Powders - Dextrose and Flavour Systems

My main objective was to find a cheaper source for whey: I’d been buying my protein powder locally and I knew from reading various forums that there had to be a cheaper solution. A 2.27 Kg tub of Instant Whey was costing me £34.95 approximately every 6 weeks, so I was pleased to find a 5 Kg bucket of unflavoured whey for only £24.99:

Bulk Powders - Unflavoured Whey

My breakfast/pre-workout smoothie has contained this stuff for the past 2 mornings and I’ve had no complaints. Along with the whey and the dextrose, I ordered a couple of “flavouring systems,” chocolate and strawberry cream. I put a minuscule amount of the strawberry cream powder into into my post-swim shake and was rewarded with a pink-hued liquid which was actually quite tasty! When it comes to food, flavour isn’t particularly important to me, so I suspect that I could get away without adding flavouring to my shakes but it’s good to have the option if need be.

Post and packing was a pain to the wallet at £10.99, but the saving far out-weighed this cost and is unfortunately unavoidable when buying online and my only gripe with the company is that they have been out of stock of fish oil capsules for the past while. I’m pleased with the purchase and I suspect I’ll be ordering from bulkpowders.co.uk again!