Sunday, September 13, 2015

Celebrating Two Years at the Gym

Its weird to think that I am "celebrating" two years of hard slog at the gym. For most of my life I have thought of myself as a "weakling", a "nerd", or and "intellectual", but never as a pserson of "normal" strength, let alone a "sportsman". But two years ago that changed. I decided to get serious about getting strong and fit. I just wanted to feel normal for once.
It's difficult to describe just exactly how different that feels. When I was in junior school I could count all the ribs on my chest. I had no muscle tone to speak of. Boys who punched me on the upper arm learned not to do that, because they encountered bone not muscle, and it hurt them as much as it hurt me. Sport was never intuitive or easy for me. I sucked at it, and focused on intellectual activities at school.
So now when I fold my arms across my chest to do decline abdominal crunches, I rejoice in feeling my chest muscles, and not just ribs or body fat. My legs and arms are no longer flabby, and my overall body fat percentage is moving downwards, but very slowly. Its still around 20%, which is high.
My best flat barbell bench press was less around 45% of my body weight. Now its closer to 80% of my body weight, with a target of 135%. 100% is considered respectable. In the last 9 weeks it has only progressed by 5kg to 65kg for 6 reps, but my form is much better, and I have also learnt to do the incline barbell bench press, and manage 50kg for 6 reps. I can also do 15 push-ups as part of my warm-up routine, whereas before I could hardly manage 5 reps without a lot of puffing and panting, and 10 reps was completely out of the question.
Two years ago I couldn't do the squat at all. It took me several months to get my leg and back muscles strong enough just to do the movement (mostly) right, with no bar at all. The first time I tried using the empty 20kg bar, I couldn't manage it, and we had to use the lighter 10kg bar instead. 9 weeks ago my best barbell squat for 6 reps was 60kg. Now it's up to 74kg, which is about 85% of my body weight. I'm aiming for 175%, but even 100% is considered passable to good.
My biggest gains have been with the deadlift, where I got to 100% of my body weight, but with bad form and a bent back. I'm just glad I didn't hurt myself. So I have dialled back to 75kg and focusing on proper form so I don't hurt my lower back. That would be a disaster.
The other big change for this year has been that I now exercise 4 days a week, usually Friday through Monday, leaving Tuesday to Thursday for my job, as well as Monday and Friday afternoons. Before then I was only exercising one day a week, and doing some swimming on one or two other days. That helped with my fitness and general strength, but progress was slow. Probably a good thing so I could get my form right. That's what personal trainers are for, after all. They can advise on technique and form, but don't expect them to motivate you. They can encourage and support you, but you have to motivate yourself.
I have found some excellent advice in the book "Bigger Leaner Stronger" by Mike Matthews, and I'm following his workout program outlined in the "The Year One Challenge for Men" workout diary. I started doing the standard 5 day course, which is intended to be done in 5 days per week, but I was doing it in 4 days and carrying over one day to the following week. After 2 months of this I changed and used the slightly reduced 4 day program, which seems to be working a lot better. My weight has gone from 82kg to 84kg in 4 months, and I'm definitely not fatter than I was, so I can safely assume that most of that is an increase in muscle and a decrease in fat. I certainly hope so.
I have posted some spreadsheets on my Fact Reviews web site which cover the 4-day and 5-day program for Bigger Leaner Stronger. You need to read the book before doing the exercises, however.

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