I hope you had a relaxing Labor Day Weekend. I for one am happy that Fall is slowly but surely heading our way. Paul and I have one last “Summer” getaway planned, but then it’s on to the crisper temperatures that I love so much.
August has become the start of my new fitness year – mainly because I love these planners from the Saint Michael’s College bookstore so much. They make PERFECT workout journals! If I can record my progress and lend a little support to my alma mater at the same time, I’m happy.
At the beginning of every September, I go back to the first pages of last year’s planner to compare my progress. It’s truly an eye opening reality check! I tend to get so caught up in my day-to-day ebb and flow that I lose sight of how far I’ve actually come.
I was pretty psyched to do some calculations today and compare my year over year 1 rep max for each of my major lifts. I thought it would be fun to share the numbers with you all, and briefly go over what my training has looked like this last year.
First off, for those of you who don’t know, your 1 rep max is defined as the most weight (within 95%) you can lift for 1 repetition only. Bodybuilding.com has a super easy and helpful calculator if you’d like to figure out your own numbers!
Before I get to the numbers, let me describe my 2015-2016 training.
Last August I decided to get serious about weight training, with the help of my Personal Trainer man-friend, Paul. I had already been powerlifting for about a year, but I had started to stall out a bit and needed to revamp my program.
Paul suggested I try Starting Strength, Mark Rippitoe’s guide to, well, starting your strength training program. The plan is designed to get a novice lifter to proficiency with barbell movements quickly. Each day you’re in the gym, you Squat, Deadlift and Press.
Doing each of those compound movements at a high frequency allows you to add significant weight to each lift week over week. This program worked well for me for the 10 or so weeks that I followed it and I was able to add TWENTY FIVE pounds to each of my compound lifts (squat, bench and deadlift). That’s a serious amount of weight in a short time frame if I do say so myself.
Alas, I began to feel burned out, as I am apt to do. The sheer volume of weight I was moving weekly was taking a toll on my central nervous system and telling me to slow down. I still felt that my squats were a weak point (and still do to this day), so Paul helped me design a program that kept me practicing them multiple days a week, but throwing in other movements such as power cleans and lighter accessory work as well. This helped me to recover and feel less exhausted day in and day out.
December brought me to 5/3/1.
A program that Paul will tell you I struggled to grasp the concept of. I’ll save you my piss poor explanation, and direct you instead to this article where you can learn the gist of the program.
Basically, 5/3/1 is a series of 4 week cycles where 1 week you work at 65 – 85% of your max for 5 reps, the next at 70 – 90% for 3 reps, then at 75%, 85% and 95% for 5, 3 and 1 reps before taking a recovery on week 4. This program is designed to get you STRONG and really help increase those 1 rep maximums. This program worked like a charm for me and I really enjoyed the variation from week to week. I was able to increase my 1 rep max on each of the lifts significantly during the 5 months I spent on this program.
In May, I decided to make a major switch from powerlifting to bodybuilding.
For those of you who may not know, powerlifting is focused on lifting the maximum amount of weight you can for fewer reps (normally between 1 and 5). Bodybuilding focuses on lifting lighter weight for a higher rep range (usually 6-10 for compound movements and a range from 8-15 for accessory movements).
Paul suggested I make this switch because, again, I was beginning to become burned out. A year of powerlifting with sprints mixed in tends to have that effect! It was time to try something less metabolically demanding.
This switch was a true turning point for me and my body…
I have seen my body change more in the last 3 months than I have in the last 2 years. I’ve found that bodybuilding is not only FUN and less stressful on my body, but it’s also something that my muscles respond to very well. I’ve always known that I have the ability to gain muscle quickly, but I’ve finally been able to prove it to Paul! Even he was a bit surprised at the rate my muscles developed.
Now, I will say, with bodybuilding you have to be prepared to sacrifice absolute strength.
As I mentioned before, bodybuilding is about lifting lighter (relatively) weights for more reps. I have seen my 1 rep max’s decrease since I ended 5/3/1 but those increased reps are what cause muscles to grow. Powerlifting has an impact on the brain and muscle connection, whereas bodybuilding actually causes those muscles to grow which seems counter-intuitive given the fact that the weights are actually lighter. You can read more about the differences between Powerlifting and Bodybuilding HERE.
My training is what’s popularly described as “powerbuilding” a mix of both sports.
I lift 4 days each week and begin every workout with a compound strength movement (Bench, Squat, Press and Deadlift). I focus on increasing the weight and/or reps for each of those week over week. The rest of the workouts are filled with accessory movements to support and condition the first compound movement. I have to say that this program is working amazingly well for me both physically and mentally. The gym is FUN again! I no longer dread the need to be my absolute strongest week after week.
Now, let’s look at the numbers!
1 Rep Maximums September 1 2015:
Bench: 92 lbs.
Squat: 159 lbs.
Overhead Press: 66 lbs.
Deadlift: 185 lbs.
1 Rep Maximums September 1 2016:
Bench: 108 lbs. (Increase of 16 lbs!)
Squat: 183 lbs. (Increase of 24 lbs!)
Overhead Press: 80 lbs. (Increase of 14 lbs!)
Deadlift: 221 lbs. (Increase of 36 lbs!)
I was able to increase every lift significantly while losing 13 pounds of body-weight!
Oh yeah, I skipped right over that part. My goal has always been to get back to the weight I was when I was a frail little pre-mono cardio bunny. Although I haven’t reached that weight yet, I will say that my clothes from those days all fit again and frankly, my body composition is significantly better than it ever was then! I have to assume that since I am not a novice lifter, that the weight I’ve lost has been pure fat. I’ve done it slowly over a series of many months while increasing my strength. I’m pretty damn proud of myself!
Keep fighting the fight and I promise you’ll achieve your goals!
It takes time, but hey, that’s all we’ve got. In the words of the great Britney Spears…”You’ve gotta work bitch.” 😉