Stretch! Stretching is a part of my fitness that I have never done consistently. I just rarely took the time to do it. Oh, I might stretch out after a workout for a minute or two. And that wasn’t per body part. Nope, that was for my entire body. But when you’re young, recover quickly and are moderately flexible stretching just isn’t on your mind much.
As I’ve progressed through my forties I have discovered that I am becoming less and less flexible. My mobility is decreasing and I am having more lower back pain. I imagine that this is due to not only the aging issue but also the fact that I have been spending most of my work life seated at a desk. These symptoms increased drastically this past year as I did more low rep weight training. In fact, my back pain and lack of mobility has at times been somewhat debilitating. I recently decided to attempt to combat these issues by not only increasing the amount of time I spend stretching but also the frequency.
Each morning before I exercise I run through a series of dynamic stretches to prepare my body for the workout. Dynamic stretches are different from traditional static stretches. In static stretching you would hold the stretch for a period of time. An example of this type of stretching would be bending over and touching your toes. Static stretching done as a warm up before exercising can actually lead to strained or even torn muscles. This is due to the muscle loosening and having more difficulty springing back to normal quickly as would be necessary when performing strength training or running. Dynamic stretches are movements which not only warm up your muscles and joints, but allow you to gently stretch your muscles without overstretching. Examples of this are neck, shoulder and torso circles, squats, leg swings, ankle rotations etc.. After my workout is complete I will take a few minutes to stretch out the muscles I just worked using more traditional static stretches.
I will usually try to take a few minutes each morning and again in the afternoon at work to perform a combination of dynamic and static stretching. I find that after sitting for a couple of hours I can feel my muscles tightening up. Stretching throughout the day helps me to stay loose, wake up a bit and regain focus.
Increasing my stretching has helped me tremendously. I have noticed a reduction in my back pain and muscle soreness. It also has helped my overall mobility and seems to be speeding up my recovery time.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
This month’s update of my one rep max progress was better than last month. I worked on my technique and tightened up my form and was able to improve.
- Trap Bar Dead-lift – one rep max is up 10 pounds and now stands at 290 lbs. I have been struggling lately with terribly sore knees and pain in my lower back. I know there are many things contributing to these including having little cartilage and no ACL in my left knee as well as arthritis in both knees. I also have a history of back issues. But I realized last month that the Trap Bar Dead-lift is putting extra stress on my knees which is causing me to use bad form contributing to my back issues. I shortened the range of motion last month by lifting off some scrap wood and noticed the pain in my knees was greatly reduced. I will be constructing some blocks to lift off of soon because I think without this I would have to abandon this lift. I will write more about this in the future.
- Floor Press – one rep max still at 185 lbs. I did manage to lift 185 but failed at 190. It felt harder this month than last; my form was not very good.
- Bulgarian Split Squat – one rep max at two 52.5 dumbbells plus 20 lb weighted vest plus a five-pound wrist weight on each wrist. Since I surpassed my original goal, I decided to stay put with this one. It was tough, but I felt that I could have done more.
- Dumbbell Shoulder Press – one rep max now at two 52.5 lb dumbbells plus a two pound wrist weight on each wrist. I worked on my form and technique this past month and I am cautiously optimistic that I am on the right course. I have thought that in the past with this lift so we shall see.
It felt good to make some progress this month. I am pleased that I was able to identify some issues, make adjustments and get back on track. I plan to write about some of these adjustments in the near future.