here come the DOMS…

Well, you can’t stay sick forever, so I got back into my new 5/3/1 program this week, continuing my Cycle 1: on Monday I finished Phase I (Squat), and then started Phase II on Wednesday (Press) and Friday (Deadlift). No spectacular stuff to report, just workingman’s lifting. This is only the beginning. Monday’s high volume “Boring But Big” squat workout left me with a debilitating level of DOMS. Such soreness makes a mockery out of the notion of “functional strength” but, you gotta love it. Besides, a sudden change in programming, especially a change towards sessions with higher volume, that’s gonna bring on the DOMS. Nothing to be done but ride out this transition phase.

Monday, Dec. 24th, 2012 (Christmas Eve)

5/3/1, 1.I.D (Squat)

Warm-Up: mobility / 5 x 4 pushups & 5 x 2 turkish get ups w/ 35 lb KB alternating arms & 5 x 50 jump rope / mobility

5 x 45 (bar)
5 x 100 (45%)
3 x 125 (55%)
5 x 145 (65%)
5 x 170 (75%)
11 x 190 (85%)

Boring But Big:
Squat 5 x 10 x 115 (50%)

Conditioning: 24″ box jumps 3 x 10 (step down) / KB Swings 28 kg x 3 x 12 (Russian) ~~ 2 min rest between rounds.

Wednesday, Dec. 26th, 2012 (Boxing Day)

5/3/1, 1.II.A (Press)

Warm-Up: 500 meter row (1:44) / Puke (Just Kidding) / Stretching

5 x 45
5 x 60
5 x 75
3 x 82.5
3 x 95
10 x 105

Boring But Big:
Press: 5 x 10 x 65 (“55%”)
Chin-Up (Assisted, Green and Purple Bands): 8, 8, 6, 5, 4
Push-Ups, Elevated Feet (2 x 20kg plates): 5 x 5

Too worn down to condition. Not nearly back at 100% yet after the strep.

Friday, Dec. 28th, 2012

5/3/1, 1.II.B (Deadlift)

Warm-Up: Shoulder Mobility, Push-Ups 3 x 6, KB Clean & Press 3 x 6 x each arm x 35 lb KB

5 x 115 (40%)
5 x 145 (50%)
3 x 175 (60%)
3 x 205 (70%)
3 x 235 (80%)
10 x 265 (90%)

Boring But Big:
Deadlift 5 x 10 x 160 (“55%”)
Rest 5 min
Power Clean 5 x 3 x 135 lbs

More Work:
6 rounds, 1-2 min rest between rounds
12 x each arm x 25 lb DB Row w/ FatGripz
10 x Shrugs x 45 lb DBs
2 x TGUs 35 lb KB (alt arms)

Sick Week

What a crappy week. I visited urgent care on Sunday, got a throat culture, and boom, yes I had strep throat. I started a Z-Pack but damn if I still don’t feel under the weather seven days out. Needless to say I completely missed Monday morning (T-Bone covered for me in the gym), and on Wednesday and Thursday I did exactly jack diddly squat. Nothing. So this week has been a total loss. I will continue 5/3/1 Cycle I, Phase I, with workout D, on Monday of next week, Christmas Eve. The only thing I can say positive about this week is that the world didn’t end according to the “Mayan Calendar” prediction. Hoo-ray.


Starting 5/3/1

Well, I plunged right into it on Monday of this week, Dec. 10th, right in the middle of finals. I probably should have waited a week, or even three weeks, before beginning a new program. This week was so crazy-wack because of final exams, sick kids, and, towards the end, a sick wife (Yael was in bed with fever for THREE days, Wed Thu and Fri), that, you know something had to go wrong. And it did. Today, Saturday, Dec. 15th, I’m in bed with a fever, sick as a dog, with a terrible sore throat. If this keeps up I’ll visit Urgent Care tomorrow. It’s going to put a damper on this new program, but, nothing can be done about microbes.

Monday, Dec. 10th, 2012

5/3/1 Cycle 1, Phase I, Workout A

Warm-Up: 500 meter row (1:46), Stretching.

Press: 5 x 50, 5 x 60, 3 x 72.5 (all lbs) / 5 x 77.5, 90 / 13 x 100 (PR).

Assistance: “Boring But Big” Program / Press: 5 x 10 x 75 / Chin-Ups (assisted, green and purple band): 10, 7, 7, 5, 5.

Conditioning: Spring 6 x 100 meter & Push Ups 6 x 5 @ 2 min intervals.

Wednesday, Dec. 12th, 2012

5/3/1 Cycle 1, Phase I, Workout B

Warm-Up: Shoulder Mobility, then, 3 rounds: Push-Ups x 5, Single Arm KB Clean and Press 35 lbs KB, right arm x 5, left arm x 5.

Deadlift: 5 x 115, 145 / 3 x 175 / 5 x 190, 220 / 12 x 250

Boring But Big: Deadlift: 5 x 8 x 175 / Power Clean 10 x 1 x 145

Conditioning: 12 x 20 meters Farmer’s Carry w/ 45 lbs DBs & FatGripz @ 30-45 sec intervals.

Friday, Dec. 14th, 2012

Warm-Up: 500 meter row (1:48), stretching, Bird Dogs 3 x 20, Planks 3 x 20 sec/

Bench: 5 x 65, 5 x 85, 3 x 105 / 5 x 110, 130 / 11 x 145 (PR)

BBB: Bench: 5 x 10 x 95 / Floor Press: 5 x 5 x 35 lbs DBs.

Conditioning: TGUs 2 x 10 x 35 lb KB, alternating arms, Push-Ups 2 x 3. (Wanted to do 5 rounds but COULD NOT force myself).

LATER IN THE DAY: moving heavy blocks of concrete and running a jackhammer at Jamie Hurlston’s house, maybe 120 minutes? SO SPENT. SO SORE.

General Observations

This first week was BRUTAL. The return of relatively high volume (especially including the BBB sets) meant lots of DOMS. But by the end of the week, I was run down and exposed to multiple pathogens in my home environment. BOOM. Run down. New program. Stressful time. I got sick. Damn it!

My New Program: 5/3/1


As of this week I am revamping my training program. It’s time for a change, and I’ve been hinting or mentioning that in post after post lately. I have four desires for the new program: (a) It should support a higher level of conditioning. (b) It should provide a routine that can allow me to make consistent and measurable gains in strength over a longer training horizon. (c) It should provide a greater variety of movements, supporting general physical preparedness and hardiness. (d) The workouts should be doable in an hour or less.

The program philosophy that best meets these desires is 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler. This is a famous and widely recognized program that has been used, successfully, to support strength and conditioning, by many athletes.

At its heart, 5/3/1 is an intermediate powerlifting program, designed to help intermediate or even advanced powerlifters simplify and focus their training. It uses sub-maximal weights and higher volume, but promises to keep a lifter in a position to enter competitions and still lift heavy. It cycles intensity in a logical mathematical progression, building in a natural curve of increasing intensity followed by periods of deloading, to assist in recovery and longevity in the program. Yet it is also designed to let powerlifters bring some balance to their programming, including conditioning and “bodybuilding” auxiliary work for symmetry and muscular development.

I’m not a true intermediate, in terms of my strength. At best I’m advanced novice. But at nearly 44 years old, having spent most of my adult life as a slow-distance runner and a skinny-fat academic with a dysregulated diet, I perhaps present a special case for programming. I do think that 5/3/1 is the way to go. It is probably the way to go for most lifters who may not be advanced, but who have advanced past their 30’s and that life-stage where they have a peak capacity for muscle building, recovery, and athletic attainment. In other words, 5/3/1 promises not only to be a young man’s intermediate/advanced program, but an older, experienced lifter’s program too.

In my case I have three days a week to train. That is it. My schedule isn’t ever going back to five days a week, like it was when I got “really into CrossFit.” In other words: I’ve tried “training more” as a path to greater fitness and, it just burns me out. So now what? Well, I’m stronger now than when I left CrossFit (in the spring of 2011), because I’ve been training the basic powerlifting lifts consistently for 18 months. But at this point I’ve played out the various other approaches I’ve tried and I need something that I can follow, adhere to, and make progress with, at least over the next 12 months. Up until now I feel like I’ve tapped out several programs: I did what I could with a simple 3 x 5 starting strength regimen. I’ve tried self-designed “intuitive” beginner linear progressions. I’ve tried maxing out all the time (a “Bulgarian” approach) for about 15 weeks… and in truth I didn’t respond all that well to it. You’ve seen the charts on this, most recent experiment. I got stronger but once I’d stalled out, it was like banging my head against a brick wall. In every case, these non-periodized, high volume, do the basics all the time approaches tend to lead to me injuring myself in some way, getting sick, burned out, bored, whatever; bottom line is, they have stalled out for me.

I have hope for 5/3/1 and, at least during the next year, until my 45th birthday in January, 2014, this is my new program. We’ll compare where I was in Jan. 2012 with Jan 2013 with Jan 2014 at that time.

18 Weeks of Maxing Out Squats, Presses, and Power Cleans

Screen Shot 2012-12-23 at 10.51.35 AM

For the past 18 weeks I have given over my programming to Zach Bijesse, my young friend, who is smart, super strong (he is a superheavyweight class weightlifter), and dedicated to a programming philosophy that is “Bulgarian,” in that it prescribes constant reiteration of the training lifts, at maximal efforts. Usually, the day’s workout prescribed more than I could accomplish in the time I had available for training, involving, ideally, maxing out on three lifts and adding volume in one, two, or all three. This chart, the latest and last iteration in a series of check-ins on the program, doesn’t reflect the volume work, or the overall volume attained, or the average intensity, nothing like that. It does just one thing. It plots my best single rep effort in each lift attained over three workout sessions each week. During a week for which there is no data, it means that for some reason I wasn’t able to attempt the lift, or Zach didn’t program it. There was a brief switch out to Front Squats, not reflected in this chart, a very brief dalliance with deadlifts.

The chart has clear and inescapable implications. It demonstrates the following points. (a) Maxing out Press day after day three days a week got me absolutely nowhere. Yes my press is stronger now than it was at the beginning of the program, but not by much. I peaked out on the press early on, in my sixth week, and then bounced against that glass ceiling for the next twelve weeks. (b) Maxing out on squat continuously helped me to get my HBBS up to where my LBBS was … back in January. I obviously need some other approach to squatting to make appreciable gains in it. Bottom line is: my squat sucks. Maybe I just lack the testicular fortitude to really squat heavy. That may be the case but the bottom line is: this program didn’t bring me a heck of a lot closer to my goal. What it did do was build confidence in me that I can do heavy singles day after day. That’s something. Yet, since I don’t feel much closer to my long term goal of a 1.5 x bodyweight squat (now 315 lbs) than I was last December, I am left underwhelmed. (c) Maxing out my Power Clean day after day got me ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. In the first six weeks I made about 5kg progress; in the next six weeks I made 1kg progress; in the final six weeks I made no progress, and ended up consistently able to pull only what I’d pulled at the beginning. BOO.

By no means are my results to be regarded as a repudiation of “Bulgarian” training methods. I am the trainee here, and I am responsible for my own results. It isn’t the program, it’s me. There is no denying the validity of the Bulgarian concepts: effort drives adaptation, and, if you want to get better at something, do more of it. Why then didn’t I succeed following Zach’s program?

Well, I think that I might have had better results following this philosophy if I was younger, had more time to train, had better opportunities for recovery, especially sleep (i.e. wasn’t a full time professor and father of small children), and was able to do more like 10 training sessions a week, instead of 3. All these factors limited my gains and, disappointingly so. I know nobody is more disappointed in my failure to thrive on this program than my buddy Zach. SORRY ZACH. But it is where it is.

For me, then, is there any benefit to “Bulgarian” methods? Yes, for about six weeks. I do believe, and this is a well-known truism in the strength training world, that just about any program can bring you good results … for about six weeks. I believe Dan John is the one who made this concept famous. So, if I was looking to boost my numbers in lifts that I was stagnating in, I might, repeat, MIGHT, choose to do a six week program of daily maxes. But then I would switch it up. I see no value in pursuing this method for longer cycles, without interruption. But then, I’m not an Olympic style weightlifter from Bulgaria, or even one of our competitive Bulgarian style lifters at Asheville Strength and Conditioning. I’m just some old professor guy and I have to choose my programs wisely, based on what works for me.

Cycle IV, Week III

“Cycle IV” (aka the broken cycle, the last cycle, the cycle of degeneration), third week. Only managed two workouts this week. Not sure what happened on 12/3. I can’t remember what happened when I showed up that morning. I didn’t take a photo of my workout log and didn’t tweet anything. I think it had to do with the crush of finals week, and perhaps, some other issue. Anyway, I didn’t train Monday morning. Again. Zach didn’t send me workouts Wed. and Fri., pretty much signalling the end of our training relationship, though not, of course our friendship. On Friday I tested bench so I could begin 5/3/1 in some plausible fashion.

Wednesday, Dec. 5th, 2012.

Warm-Up: Floor work and stretching (lower and upper body and full range of motion stuff); then: 3 rounds: 10 russian box step ups, 5 push ups, 50 jumprope single unders.

Squat: 5 x 20, 40, 50 kg / 1 x 60, 70, 80, 90, 100, 105, 110, 115 (form “miss” so squats are done).

Press: 12 x 20 / 5 x 30 / 3 x 40 / 2 x 45 / 1 x 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62 / f x 63 / 3 x 46, 51, 56. All Presses up to 63 were done after a power clean (see below).

Power Clean: 20, 30, 40, 45, 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 63 / 60, 65, 70, 75, 80 / f x 85.

Out of time.


Friday, Dec 7th, 2012.

Zach didn’t send me a workout again.

Warm-Up: 500 meter row.

Bench: (using positions 6 and 3 in the rack). 2 x 10 x 45 / 2 x 95, 115 / 1 x 135 / max reps @140: 11 x 140 lbs.

5/3/1 style calculation for max: (140 x 11 x 0.0333) + 140 = approx 190 lbs.

Looking forward to starting a new training regime next week!

Workout 12-5-2012Workout 12-7-2012

Cycle IV, Weeks I & II

November 18th to Dec. 1st, 2012
Cycle IV, Weeks I & II.

This period of my program was interrupted by a conference, and Thanksgiving holiday, and by family responsibilities. With the upshot being that there were only five workouts, only two of which were crap, and three of which were mediocre.

Cycle IV, Week I, Workouts II & III.

I missed Monday’s workout due to a conference. I missed Friday’s workout due to “Black Friday” (day after Thanksgiving). I got in a squat session on Saturday, which hardly felt like a full workout, but at least I had the true benefit of working directly with Zach on my atrocious Squat form.

Wednesday, Nov. 21st, 2012.
Warm-Up: Jump Rope, Stretching; 3 rounds: Push-Ups x 4, Box Step Ups x 10.
Squat: 3 x 20kg, form fail!
Front Squat: 2 x 5 x 20 kg
Squat: 2 x 5 x 20 kg / 2 x 70 kg / 1 x 90, 95, 100, f x 105. WTF? I’ll blame the long weekend in Chicago including two 12+ hour drives, and the missed workouts Friday and Monday / 2 x 2 x 90 / 5 x 50, 55, 60
Press: 15 x 20 kg / 1 x 40, 50, 53, 56, 59 / 2 x 2 x 54 / 5 x 50, 51 / 4 x 50 (f on 5)

Saturday, Nov. 24th, 2012.
Warm-Up: Squat 2 x 10 x 20 kg / 3 x 5 w/ pause, chest up knees and hips forward position exercise / Press 10 x 20 kg / Front Squat 10 x 20 kg
Squat: 5 x 20kg / 3 x 40 / 2 x 50, 60 / 1 x 70, 80, 90, 100, 110 form breakdown miss / 3 x 70, 74, 76, 78, 80

Cycle IV, Week II, Workouts I, II & III

Monday, Nov. 26th, 2012.
Warm-Up: 500 meter row / 3 rounds: KB Swing 28 kg x 10, Push-Ups 5 / Stretching lower extremities
Squat: (rx to 116) 4 x 8 x 20 kg (& positions) / 1 x 56, 66, 76, 86, 96, 106, f x 116
Press: (rx to 60) 12 x 20 kg / 1 x 50, 55, 60 / f x 65 (these were done after power cleans, 3rd sets, see below)
Power Clean: (rx to 80) 3 x 1 x 50 / 3 x 1 x 55 / 3 x 1 x 60 / 3 x 1 x 65 / 68, 71, 74, 77, 80.

Wednesday, Nov. 28th, 2012.
Warm-Up: 3 rounds 150 single unders, 5 push-ups / Stretching
Squat: 3 x 5 x 20 kg / 1 x 70, 80, 90, 96, 101, 106, 111 / f x 116
Press: 12 x 20 kg / 1 x 50, 52, 54, 56, 58, 60 / f x 63 / f x 63
Power Clean: 10 x 1 x 63 kg. Just working form. Totally off the reservation on this day. I think Zach forgot to send me a workout? Or I ignored his instructions.

Friday, Nov. 30th, 2012.
Warm-Up: 3 rounds Russian Box Step Ups x 10 (24″ box), Push-Ups x 5 / Stretching and Movement
Squat: 3 x 6 x 20 kg / 2 x 40, 50, 60, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90, 95, 100 — called that a form ‘miss’ / 3 x 5 x 75
Power Clean and Press “complex”: 40, 40, 45, 45, 50, 53, 56, 59, 62 (f on press) / then … 3 sets: 55 & Press x 3.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

I’ll be straightforward and say the following. Plusses of the current regime: I’m sort of stronger and bigger. I’ve gained weight and muscle mass. I’ve definitely been pressing more and I hit a new all time squat PR shortly before thanksgiving. Minuses: I’m out of practice with a lot of things I value doing and being able to do, I’m deconditioned, and it’s doubtful that I’m actually stronger or bigger than I would have otherwise been, after 17 weeks, had I been doing something different. I’ve worked hard but it’s been monotonous and I’ve run out of motivation to keep maxing out on basically three lifts all the time. My programming coach is also just as burned out on my bullshit as I am, and … well, all things considered it’s time for something different. I don’t have to sell myself on that. I just need to get started. But I promised ZB 19 weeks and he’ll have every last one of them, which means at this point, just five more workouts (since I can’t workout on Monday the 3rd).

So, this program feels “over,” and I’m counting down the last two weeks. After that, I’m starting Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 training program fairly seriously in an effort to restore some balance.