Looking back, I can see my resistance training has gone through four stages marked by the exercises I did and how often I did them.
I began regular training as a teenager in my basement, using one of those 110 pound Sear weight sets. You know the type – gray plastic weights filled with sand or concrete, a hollow bar. I built my own bench press out of scrap wood. For most of high school all I did was bench press, curls and french press. I bought additional weights from friends. At the end, I think I’d accumulated a few hundred pounds of those plastic weights!
When I got to college, some of the friends I made lifted weights as well. That’s when I began a more full body workout routine that I used for over 10 years. It was your pretty standard push-day, pull-day done 5 days a week:
- Mon/Thur: Chest, shoulders, triceps
- Tues/Fri: Back and biceps
- Wed: Legs
I was doing a lot of exercises (3-4) for each body part. In retrospect, I can see how my smaller muscles groups were getting over trained. After 5 – 6 exercises of chest and shoulders, I probably didn’t need to be doing triceps!
Nevertheless, I kept this up for a decade. When I hit 30, I started having a few aches and pains. I felt sore most of the time. My gains had been stalled for years. I figured I was just getting a bit older and that training each bodypart 2x a week was too much. So I moved to a single muscle group each day, 5 days a week:
- Mon: Chest
- Tues: Back
- Wed: Legs (including dead lifts)
- Thur: Shoulders
- Fri: Arms
I was still doing multiple exercises per body part. It was during this time, at the age of 32, I made the 1,000 pound club (1,065) at the gym:
- Dead lift: 415
- Bench Press: 285
- Squat 365
Again, I stuck with this workout for a decade. When I hit 40, I was feeling stale, and going to the gym 5x a week was getting old. There were some cross trainer guys preaching compound exercises and 20 minute workouts and such, so I did some research and ended up with Bill Pearl’s 5×5.
After more than 20 years in the gym the thought of a shorter workout done with less frequency had a certain appeal. I could do the whole workout in about 30 – 40 minutes, vice the 70 – 90 I spent previously.
And it worked. In the space of a year, from age 40 – 41, I went from 185 pounds (where I’d been forever) to 198 (did some dietary changes too). I was squatting 320 for reps and set a new personal best deadlift of 430.
Alas, injuries took their toll. Elbow surgery for a bone spur in my left elbow (directly related to lifting for so long) and a torn right triceps tendon (hence my low bench press poundage), a pulled muscle in my back that kept me off squats and dead lifts for almost 4 months, torn rotator cuff….
When I finally found myself healthy again, the close-to-max effort of the 5×5 wasn’t so appealing. I’d grown to like the compound stuff though, and the shorter, less-frequent workouts, so I took the principles of the 5×5 and hacked up my current workout, which sorta kinda looks like this:
- Mon: Squats, Incline Press, Hanging Clean to Press, Chin Ups/Pull Ups, Dips
- Wed: Power Cleans, Military Press, Dumbbell Press, Chin Ups/Pull Ups, Dips
- Fri: Dead lifts, Bench Press, Hanging Clean and Jerk, Chin Ups/Pull Ups, Dips
I don’t go as heavy any more, and do 4-5 sets, keeping the reps in the 5-6 range. My body weight is back down to 185 (mainly lost after elbow surgery and never recovered).
It wouldn’t be too hard to take this workout, apply the 5×5 progressive resistance methodology, start pounding more protein and calories, and put on muscle again. I think I’m finally wrapping my head around a maintenance routine however, at least for the time being….