My Workout Evolution

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’s 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 hung a bar in an outside stairwell for pull ups. I spent my hard-earned McDonald’s money (min wage was $3.35 an hour then) and got one of those cheap benches that had squat arm attachments and started squatting. 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 regimented workout routine that I used for over 10 years. It was your standard PPL, a push-day, pull-day, leg-day routine that I did 5 days a week, only hitting legs once:

  • Mon/Thur: Chest, shoulders, triceps
  • Wed: Legs
  • Tues/Fri: Back and biceps

I was doing a lot of exercises (3-4 or even more) and a lot of sets (15+) for each body part. In retrospect, I can see how my smaller muscles groups were probably getting over-trained. After 5 – 6 exercises of chest and shoulders, I probably didn’t need to be doing triceps accessory work!

Nevertheless, I kept this up for a decade. When I turned 30, I started having a few aches and pains. I felt sore more often after a workout, and for longer. My gains had been stalled for years — I was just going through the motions. I looked pretty good and was strong, but I still wanted to look better and get stronger. I figured I was just getting older and training each body part too much. So I moved to a single muscle group each day, 5 days a week:

  • Mon: Chest
  • Tues:  Back
  • Wed: Legs (including deadlifts)
  • 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:

  • Deadlift: 415
  • Bench Press: 285
  • Squat 365

Again, I stuck with this workout for a decade. When the big Four-oh (40) rolled around, 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 Starr’s 5×5.

After more than 20 years in the gym the thought of a shorter workout done less often 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 weighing 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 dead lift of 435.

Alas, injuries took their toll. Elbow surgery for a bone spur in my left elbow (directly related to lifting for so long and specifically to those heavy French presses of my youth) and a torn right triceps tendon (hence my low bench press poundage), a pulled muscle in my back that kept me off squats and deadlifts for almost 4 months, a torn rotator cuff took away press for a few months….

When I finally found myself healthy again, the close-to-max effort of the 5×5 wasn’t so appealing anymore. 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 a new 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: Deadlifts, Bench Press, Hanging Clean and Jerk, Chin Ups/Pull Ups, Dips

I didn’t go as heavy any more, and did 4-5 sets, keeping the reps in the 5-6 range. My body weight went back down to 185 (mainly lost after elbow surgery). This workout worked well, and I did it until my son turned 14, which was 3 years ago. I figured he was old enough to be introduced to the iron lifestyle, so over a weekend we built our own power rack. We ordered some dumbbells and an Olympic set, and we were off and running.

I got my son all set up with the basics and the importance of form, and we’ve been lifting together ever since. At age 14 he was around 5’4″ and weighed about 105. Now at almost 17 he’s 5′ 7″ and clocks in at 150. So that’s 45 pounds in 2.5 years. I’m sure puberty can take partial credit for that, but he’s worked hard and has made impressive gains.

We started with aa Mass Made Simple workout:

  • Mon/Wed/Fri: Dumbbell Clean and Press, Squat, Straight Leg Deadlifts, Seated Rows, Pull Ups, Bench Press, Curls, Close Grip Bench Press, Farmer Walks

It’s the same exercises every time, but the number of sets differ depending on the day. I’ll detail this particular workout more in another post, or you can click through and read the original. I still sort stick to it, although my son likes to read about new programs and change things up.

It works great for me as more of a maintenance type workout. These days, it’s rare for me to see an increase.

It’s a bit of a longer workout, as it takes the two of use about 75 minutes to finish. Alone, I can do it in about 40. Sometimes, for fun, we’ll add in calves, and we usually finish each workout with abs and some stretches.


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