What happened to week thirty?
The observant among you will have noticed that I didn’t put up a workouts post last week. That was because I went and did a week of walking work at short notice and didn’t get into the gym at all. So week thirty was spent walking hard for many hours each day for four days.
As you can probably imagine, I came back to an uncertain week in the gym thanks to the length and toughness of the days I walked. Rather than progress anything I decided to try and aim for equalling my pre-trip numbers. Some things went well (hip thrusts gained a couple of reps, though nothing amazing), some things stayed as they had been (RDL and rowing) and some things look as good as before on paper but in reality were not pretty (squats).
A review of the year so far
I write my training records very simply on a sheet of lined A4 paper, with each workout taking a single line (after a few months it starts to look like it’s written in columns). With 2-3 workouts each week one sheet of paper can last me for several months and it can be very revealing to look back at the first few entries on side one when I finish the second side of the paper.
My trip away coincided with the end of a sheet of paper. The final entries are 17 and 19 July and include:
- Back squat with 79kg: 6×2
- RDL with 104kg: 8 singles
- Hip thrust with 94kg: 5×8 bodybuilding style (30 seconds rest between sets).
Turning back I found that this particular sheet had started on 4 January this year with my first workouts of the year. They reveal:
- Back squat with 75kg: 1×3, 7×2
- RDL with 90kg: 8×3
- Hip thrust with 120kg: 8×3
- There’s also some partial overhead presses with 30kg and some chin ups.
RDLs have clearly gained in strength since I started. Looking at the pages I can see where I’ve had to pause my progress as I wait for my grip to catch up, but the numbers gradually climb as I run my eye down each sheet. Hip thrusts understandably have gone “down” because I’ve increased the reps and the rest period has gone from 2 minutes to only 30 seconds.
I’m proud of what I’ve achieved there. I increased up to 145kg on the lower rep programme before calling time on them because the form was breaking down and switching to the higher rep bodybuilding style where I’ve worked my way up from 80kg.
At two workouts each week and the general sense that the first half of this year was about getting used to my new lifestyle and being more active, none of this is bad.
The squat story
What bothers me are the squats. They have gone up to 78kg (on 8×2 rising to 8×3), gone back down to 75kg, climbed up to 82kg, (still on 8×2 rising to 8×3) dropped back down to 77kg, and then built back up to 79kg (on 8×1 rising to 4×2).
And now I’m thinking I need to drop the weight again. The quality of my reps following the trip (because I actually fitted in two squat workouts last week) was poor with several times when I didn’t get full depth, a real sense of fear under the bar and a reliance on the wrong muscle groups to get me out of the hole a few times.
Each time I’ve dropped the weight I’ve tried a different set/rep scheme. It works for a while then my form has suddenly deteriorated so that I can’t get depth anymore. Sometimes it’s been precipitated by a walking trip but sometimes it has just happened for no clear reason.
While I originally said I didn’t specifically want to chase any additional strength on my squats, there is something depressing about looking back over seven months of records, feeling like you are still fighting to get every rep, and find that seven months earlier you could actually do a higher number of reps with a weight that was only a kilo or two lighter.
Time for a change
So I called on my live-in personal trainer, Chris, (don’t tell him I’ve called him that) for some advice.
For a year or so as I got through the lifestyle changes hurdles I worked on just keeping things going and I kept the same workout, in essence. Set and reps schemes have changed from time to time but the basic premise of squat or RDLs as my heavy exercise on 2 or 3 minutes plus some “assistance” work has been in the mix for some time. I was getting stale, mentally and physically.
We talked about what I want, which is not to lose any strength but to have something that I can fix on as progress and perhaps to build some muscle size since I’m feeling small again.
We talked about problems I’ve had in the past, like the bodybuilding workout where I did 5×8 rising to 5×12 with 30 seconds rest between sets on three consecutive exercises. For anyone who follows my workout posts you’ll remember that I quit those after 5 weeks (or 5 workouts, depending on how you look at it). I didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with the workouts and still do my strength workouts alongside these, and also through a concern that I just couldn’t trust my form to hold through the squatting and RDLs. My lower back started taking the strain and I was in agony for a day or two after each bodybuilding workout.
A possible solution
At the end of it all Chris came up with a suggestion that combines my desire to stop my strength from slipping away with a quest to build more muscle bulk but avoiding the mental weakness and form problems that undermined my bodybuilding workouts before. I’ve put below the workouts I’m planning on doing this week as a trial for these, but it might be subject to a bit of change and review as I get the hang of it all.
The new style is taking me from high volume workouts where I never worked to failure to low volume workouts where I work to failure on everything to see if the different fatigue on my muscles does anything. Hopefully it’ll make a few of them pop out a bit!
I’ve got two weeks to settle into it and establish the right weights for everything. I’ll then be away for a week and won’t have access to anything. Then I can start properly at the beginning of September.
Results for last week
Workout 1: (Sunday)
- Back squat: 79kg – 6×2 – incredibly hard and probably only hit the box that was marking depth on about 60% of my reps.
- Concept 2 intervals: 5x30s (30s rest) – The 60s rest continued to work with some fairly consistent intervals: 2.00.7, 2.00.6, 2.00.4, 2.00.4, 2.00.1
Workout 2: (Tuesday)
- RDL: 104kg – 8×1
- Hip thrusts: 94kg – 3×9, 2×8 (30s rest)
Workout 3: (Thursday) – an extra workout since I was on a post-holiday fight to regain my numbers
- Back squat: 79kg – 7×2 – incredibly hard and very ugly with the box hit less than half the time and a fear developing of even pick it up off the rack by the end of the workout.
- Concept 2 intervals: 5x30s (30s rest) – An improvement on last time: 2.00.1, 1.59.8, 2.00.3, 2.00.3, 2.00.1
Plan for this week (the new workouts)
- Back squat: 70kg – 1×4 (should feel hard but not kill me, the first two weeks will be finding out where the weights are comfortable for this first, strength-maintaining set which will be 4RM, 3RM, 2RM, 1RM over the four workouts – I’ve pitched this quite low because I can always put it up next cycle if this is too easy.)
- Back squat: 55kg – 1x max rep effort, minimum reps of 8 (I’m aiming for anything in the 8-12 range and aiming for more reps the next time until I hit or exceed 12 reps when I’ll put the weight up – it’s a complete guess at the weight but I’m aiming to do as many reps as possible and it’ll give me an idea of where to pitch it next time.)
- RDL: 85kg 3×4 (possibly on about 2 minutes – I will increase the reps over 3 weeks to 6 reps and then drop back to 3×4 and increase the weight – I’m not sure how my hands will cope with the higher reps at this weight but we’ll see. I’ve set it )
- Assisted glute-ham raises: Blue band support & 1 sling, 3×4 (Same workout style as the RDLs. For the assistance I think this is a few steps of extra assistance on the set-up I used before but I’ll need to play about with it.)
Mid-week rowing: – while I’m still cycling in the summer I’ll probably only do this once a week, unless it’s a particularly wet and miserable week.
- Concept 2 intervals: 5x30s (60s rest) – target 1.59.0 (because I’ve actually enjoyed these now that I’ve got the hang of intervals)
- Back squat: 74kg – 1×3 (next week I’ll do 1×2 then 1×1 before cycling back to a 4RM)
- Back squat: 55kg – 1x max rep effort, minimum effort to equal previous workout, unless I’ve put the weight up from 55kg after a storming performance on this at workout 1
- Hip thrusts: 95kg rest-pause method (I’m thinking I’ll need 20 seconds rest rather than the 10 seconds I used last time I used this method. For those who don’t know this method, you do as many reps as possible, take a brief rest, another max rep effort, a second rest, and then a final effort at max reps. At the end you count up your total reps – the aim is to increase on the previous workout’s total and if you total or exceed 15 the weight goes up next time. If I don’t beat the previous workout’s total then I suspect Chris will change the exercise. It’s similar to, but not the same as, the DC method.)
- Assisted glute-ham raises: Blue band support & 1 sling, 3×5