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.

Disappointment in the Shoulder Press

Last week I saw an increase in three of the four lifts I am currently working on.  As detailed in my previous blog post the trap bar dead-lift went up by 10 pounds, floor press went up by 5 pounds and the Bulgarian split squat went up by 2.5 pounds.

Unfortunately that streak ended last Friday when I did the dumbbell shoulder press.  Last month I worked up to 50 pounds and hoped to move up to 52.5 pounds.  That did not happen.  I started with 40 pounds, moved up to 45 pounds for my next two sets and then got ready to match last months 50 pounds.  As I got the dumbbells into position and attempted the lift it became obvious quickly that it wasn’t going to happen.  The weights moved up about half way and then came right back down.  I was angry and disappointed but knew there was no need to try again.  It just wasn’t there on this day.

Sometimes in weight lifting this is how it goes.  It is important to know when you have it and when you don’t and on this day I didn’t have it.  I opted to regroup and try again next month.  It isn’t worth pushing too hard and ending up injured.

It was a tough way to end what had been a successful week of lifting.  But I know my limitations and knew it wasn’t worth getting hurt.  I’m happy about the success I had last week and although disappointed I couldn’t even match my previous personal best, let alone improve it, am pleased with my overall progress.