Lessons Learned #1

From March of 2018 till February of 2019 the main focus of my workouts was on strength training.  During that time I did get much stronger and reached three of my four lifting goals.  Along the way I also learned some things about myself and training.

The first lesson I wanted to discuss is being willing to adapt and change your training or even how you perform certain exercises.  I came to this conclusion with two exercises in particular this past year.

The first was the trap bar dead-lift.  I began doing this exercise last year after repeatedly tweaking my back doing traditional bent legged dead-lifts.  Through some internet searching I saw this exercise was advertised as being much easier on the lower back.  This is primarily because the weight is in line with your body’s center of gravity and not out in front of your body as it is for a traditional bent legged dead-lift.   I definitely found this to be true at first.  Each month I was adding more weight to the lift and my back felt good.  But I began to notice that my knees were aching each time I performed this lift.  Eventually I had begun to unconsciously alter my form due to the knee pain which led to lower back pain.  I became frustrated and was ready to give up on the exercise.  I once again did some research and saw many people doing this lift off of blocks.  I examined my form and realized that my knees were bending further than ninety degrees at the bottom which was causing the extra strain and discomfort.  I decided to perform the trap bar dead-lift off of blocks to see if the shortened range of motion would help my knees.  It did not take long performing the exercise in this shortened the range of motion before my knee pain and subsequently my back pain disappeared.  I began to add weight once again and in February hit my goal.  Initially I was upset that I reached my goal by lessening the range of motion.  But it doesn’t bother me now because if I hadn’t done this I would not be able to do the lift anymore.

The second exercise was the dumbbell press.  I have had an issue with my right shoulder since college that has gotten worse over the years.  To avoid shoulder pain on most upper body movements I need to perform them with a neutral grip.  If you’ve read my earlier blog posts you will know that I have been up and down with the dumbbell press, taking me many months to see progress.  Towards the end of my yearlong strength cycle I had hit the wall with this lift.  I was cleaning the dumbbells and resting them on my shoulder.  From there I would start the lift.  I realized that I was weakest at this position and I also realized that part of the reason was the position of my shoulders.  With the dumbbells on my shoulder there was a great deal of over exaggerated stretching to the shoulder joints.  Due to my previous shoulder injury the pronounced stretch was causing the pain and discomfort to increase.  I decided to try shortening the range of motion by having my starting position be around ear level.  The shortened range of motion put me in a better position to be successful by taking pressure off of my shoulder joints.  This was highly effective right away and in two different ways.  The first was that I was able to lift heavier weights.  The second was that my shoulder pain was greatly reduced.

I now understand that it doesn’t matter if I am doing what the experts deem to be full range of motion on all lifts.  What matters is that I am lifting the fullest range of motion that is safe for me.  I’m not competing against anyone but myself.  I am still getting stronger.  I am still getting fitter.  I wish I had known this years ago; my joints may feel much better if I did.

Strength Training Update #7

This update is my last on the strength program I’ve been following this past year.  After a year of working on low rep/one rep maxes my body and my mind have had enough.  I will be moving my focus the next few months to my conditioning.  I’ll continue strength training but the emphasis will be more on conditioning.  I do not plan on doing any one rep maxes for a while.

  1. Trap Bar Dead-lift – Success!  My goal last March was 300 lbs.  My one rep max is up 10 lbs and now stands at 300.  I have mixed feelings on this as I felt like I could have done more but my back was bothering me that morning and I decided not to push it.  I think it was the right choice, but 300 moved pretty well and made me want to do more.
  2. Floor Press – Fail!  My goal was 200 lbs and I finished at 185.  This was very frustrating as I had been improving each month on this when suddenly I hit a wall and just couldn’t move forward anymore.  I felt pretty good going in that day, but I just could not get past 185 lbs.
  3. Bulgarian Split Squat – Success!  I surpassed my goal from last March.  My goal was two 52.5 lb dumbbells plus a 20 lb weighted vest.  I finished with a one rep max at two 52.5 dumbbells plus 20 lb weighted vest plus a five lb wrist weight on each wrist.  I matched my personal record from the last couple of months but did not try to move forward.
  4. Dumbbell Shoulder Press – Success!  I surpassed my goal on this one.  The goal I set last March was 52.5 lb dumbbells.  I ended this challenge with a one rep max now at two 52.5 lb dumbbells plus a three lb wrist weight on each wrist.  I pushed hard to get a five lb wrist weight on each wrist, but just couldn’t do it.

Overall, I am very pleased with the progress I made this year.  Of the four strength goals I set last March I met one, surpassed two and fell short of the fourth.  I learned a lot, including when to make adjustments and changes.  In my next blog I will write about some of the changes/corrections/adjustments I had to make to keep this strength program going.  I plan to change my strength training over the coming months to include more variety and volume while putting the emphasis of on conditioning.