Strong Lifts 5x5

Started April 28 on Stronglifts 5x5. Old school strength training that gets results.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stronglifts 5x5

Realized it has been awhile since my last blog entry. As April came to a close I decide it was time to evaluate and refocus on what I wanted out of my journey back to a healthier me. I broke the 200lb mark finally and it seemed a fitting time to take stock.

Physically and mentally I am in the best shape of my life. My clothes fit great, my wife thinks I look fantastic and I get great compliments from all my friends and family. For the first time in a very long time I don't feel self conscious about how I look. I no longer agonize over clothing choices trying to find that shirt or whatever that hid my flab.

At the same time, after almost a year of the same workout routine, I was finding it boring. I had plateaued in the gym. I looked much better, but I stopped getting any stronger months ago. For many people that maybe doesn't matter, but for myself, what's the point of lifting heavy objects over and over without getting any stronger? I'm a happily married almost 40 year old guy. I'm not into the pretty beach muscle to attract the women, I want to be strong.

So, I went looking around for information on strength training. Not body building, but pure strength training. What do football players or strong men competitors do to get so strong? I came across things like Bill Starr's Madcow 5x5 and Mark Rippetoes' Starting Strength books and many other pure strength training programs. Man what an eye opener! No more split routines and endless reps of curls and extentions. Down and dirty old school lifts to build real strength.

So after doing some research I decided to follow the strength training program from

Nice simple to follow 5x5 across routine. Squats, deadlifts,bench press, overhead press and barbell rows. I won't get to indepth, if anyone is reading this and is interested, hit the stong lifts website and download the program for free. But, to give a summary, two workouts that you alternate. 3 sessions a week starting at an ego humbling empty bar and adding 5lbs to each exercise every session (except deadlift 10lbs per). Each exercise you do a couple warmup sets then 5 sets of 5 reps of the same work weight.

Workout 1
Barbell rows

Workout 2
Overhead Press
Deadlift (1x5 not 5x5)

That's it. Done. No bicep curls, or calf raises or tricep pushdown etc etc. Just raw, compound power lifts.

I spent a lot of time reviewing videos from top strength trainers to make sure of my form. The first weeks I swallowed my ego, started with the empty bar or minimal weight and just focused on form.

I have to say it has been great and revitalized my efforts at the gym. I am getting back to where my 6 rep sets were using the BFL pyramid but the difference I feel is amazing.

I can feel these lifts are having an effect already. I had never ever done a dead lift before, nor free squats in the power rack like I am now. I live in that power rack now.

What's great is the vast majority of the people at the gym are as clueless to this amazing piece of equipment as I was. I almost never have an issue getting on it.

As I approach back to where I was in weight on the bar for my may set under the BFL routine, the difference in starting from scratch again and working on my form is really paying off. I feel like I am getting more out of each lift with proper form and lighter weight than I did before. I take bench press for example. For my 6 rep set (BFL) I was doing 6x 135, but to be honest they were not 6 great reps. I wasn't touching the bar to my chest, my elbows were out of position and I was lifting my ass. On Sat my 5x5 for bench was 120lbs. But I did 25 great 120lb reps and I didn't feel like I was near to my max. I know I have a ways to go before worrying about plateauing or having to deload.

Squats 3x a week are truly killer and I love it. I get a rush getting under that bar and working hard. Like Bench Press form and focus is the key. I was doing ~180lbs x6 on the smith machine, but those 6 squats were horrible. Maybe half way to parallel, the smith machine doing the balancing, no hip explosion. Ugh, I look back and just shake my head. I love the low bar position that is recommended and I feel the whole body lift in my squats now.

Dead lifts are amazing. What a pump. Just something primal in getting over a bar and lifting like that.

Overhead press has been an eye opener. My shoulders lagged behind everything else over the last year with the injury I had. I started with just the bar on this exercise and it has been the hardest one for me and I think will continue to be so. I really feel it afterwards.

One last thing that has really been a mental boost. Pullups. While it's no big thing, I can do 3 unassisted pullups now. Sounds like nothing, but considering less than a year ago, there was no way I could do even one. hell I was struggling doing them with 200lbs on the assist machine, which meant I was pulling up 50lbs.

The program does not espouse doing cardio as legs especially need the recovery time doing squats every second day. That said, losing body fat is still a focus for me so I have not given it up completely. I have backed away from doing HIIT though as my weights have gone up. I have switched to just going for a nice 30min jog with my dog a couple times a week. As the weather keeps improving I'm going to start riding my bike to and from the gym for my cardio along with taking the dog for nice long walks daily.

So my workout week now looks like this:
Sat Weights
Sunday Jog
Monday Weights
Tuesday jog
Wednesday weight
Thur-Fri off.

I feel I need those two days of nothing to let my body recover for the next week. Especially as I progress and the weight on bar keeps increasing.

Nutrition wise, I haven't changed much. Still eating 6x a day and keeping it clean. I have upped my kcals to 2300-2500 a day from 1700. Gotta eat to build muscle, no way around it. I'm not looking to be a fitness model, I'm looking to be strong, real strong.

Here is a blog from Stronglifts to kinda explain what I mean by that. I know that the muscle I am looking for will come as my lifts increase.

So what's the payoff so far? Well, since I switched my training down another 4lbs in two weeks. Which is what I was losing under the BFL program. Another 1" of my waist as well. Even though I have upped my calories significantly and dropped of much of the cardio I was doing. I can only surmise this will continue the weights climb. These compound lifts, even at the starting light weight, require a tone of energy output as well as muscle recovery.

So sitting at 195lbs right now. I really don't want to drop much lower than 185 at the lightest. The goal now is to maintain my body weight around 190lbs while continuing to drop my body fat %.

It's been a great couple weeks. I have the fire back to hit the gym and hit it hard and after so long on a pretty restrictive 1700 kcals a week, not being quite so strict and eating a bit more is a nice thing as well. It feels like I have turned to corner now from being an obese guy obsessing about losing fat. It's a new chapter with new goals. Short term my goals are to get progressively stronger and work away that last 5% or so of body fat.

My long term goal is to enter a power lifting competition around my 40th b-day next July. Lofty but I think obtainable. It's something to shoot for, and if there is one thing I have learned over the last almost year. Gotta have goals.

Going to have to think on renaming the blog.