As a competing powerlifter, strength is my main goal. As a wannabe Frank Zane, I like to look good in the mirror. The common thought is that you can’t have the best of both worlds, but I beg to differ. Since drastically overhauling my training scheme, about two years ago, I have added slabs of muscle and am stronger than I have ever been in my entire life. I must mention that I am 33 years old, also. This isn’t being written by a young, twenty-something year old personal trainer. I picked up my first weight in 1994; long before most of those other guys/gals were even born. With that now being public knowledge, I claim to know a thing or two about building muscle. Up to two years ago, I spent most of my time doing isolation exercises and wasn’t incorporating enough of the main lifts (squats, bench, deadlifts) in my routine. Once I added these monster movements to my routine, I started seeing some amazing things happen to me physically and mentally.
It all starts with the squat
For years, my leg days consisted of leg press, hack squats, leg extensions, and leg curls. That’s all I did for over a decade, I bet. Though I was working my legs pretty good, in this fashion, my lower back had grown very weak. It wasn’t until I started having multiple muscle spasms in my lower back that I discovered my core was weak, too. this was a tough pill to swallow because I have always sported a nice set of abs. I finally had to accept that a nice set of abs doesn’t necessarily translate into a strong core or lower back. Not to mention, I honestly only hit legs once a week! I was one of those poor souls was under the impression that I could follow a “one body part, once a week” program and grow. Was I ever so wrong. We live and learn, right? It was after discovering the squat that my legs began to slowly grow like baby oak trees. I started seeing muscles in areas I didn’t know had muscle. This started two years ago, when I was 31 years old. I can’t imagine how huge and strong my legs would be had I started squatting in my teens. See, when you look at someone with great leg development, it’s hard to fully appreciate that type of musculature. You have to feel it on your own body, after earning it, to truly appreciate it. I discovered the low bar back squat as a result of watching some YouTube videos. I saw people of all shapes and sizes squatting this intense amount of weight on their backs and loving it. I saw people who had strength comparable to a superhero and thought to myself, “that’s it”. That was going to be my goal from there on out; get as strong as possible starting with the legs. Before too long, I was performing basic 5 x 5 routines and simply practicing the movement. I’d squat with just the bar, for most of my earlier workouts, and then add just enough weight to make 5 sets of 5 reps a good workout. Right after squats, I performed the next movement I saw others on YouTube lifting with superhuman ability: the deadlift.
The mightiest lift
My lower back was severely weak when I first began deadlifitng. The fact that I was incorporating squats for the first time, too, made it an all out assault on my sciatic nerves. Within the first year of deadlifting, I had three different episodes in which my lower back muscles would tighten up so bad, around my sciatic nerve, that I would be paralyzed for at least a week. I could do something as simple as lifting up a stick in the back yard and my lower back would seize up; absolutely paralyzing me. It would take either rest or an ER visit to fix things. I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I did keep lifting after all of this. The only reason I continued was due to the fact that my my doctor said my spine was perfect, but my lower back was weak. See, I needed to deadlift to strengthen those muscles. Too be honest, I never hurt my self unless I was over doing it. As with the squat, the deadlift workouts started with mainly just the bar and then a 5 x 5 scheme. Never did I know that, less than two years later, I would lift 500 lbs. off the floor like it wasn’t a problem.
My most challenging lift
See, the squat is more difficult than it looks; there is so much technique involved. The deadlift is pretty straight forward with it’s two variations. For me, the bench is just as much of a technical lift as the squat is. There is so much to it and it is, naturally, my weakest lift. Everyone has that one lift, unless one is truly gifted, that just seems to lag behind. My chest musculature is exactly how I want it, though. I can’t tell you how many videos I watched about proper bench form; learning about how much different the bodybuilding bench press form was different from the powerlifting form. Then, I taught myself how to program the two together in order to grow stronger while simultaneously growing muscle. The bench has been my longest battle, so far, but I love giving it all I got. The smallest increases in this lift feel better than my biggest increases on the others. Except for that 500 lb. deadlift. That felt really good.
I got so strong at all three of these lifts that I started competing in local powerlifting meets. My numbers aren’t much to write home about, and that’s a fact I love. I’m still so young in my powerlifting days that I have plenty of time to grow stronger and have fun while doing so. Besides, my only competition is me.
Currently, I squat everyday; 5 days in a row. I also bench everyday; 5 days in a row. I hit a light to moderately intense deadlift workout twice a week. Amongst these behemoths, I sprinkle accessory work and bodybuilding movements in for that inner bodybuilder. I do absolutely no cardio, due to the fact that all of my workouts are so intense. If I want abs for the beach, I just carb cycle for a few weeks. I don’t like to get too cut up because it makes me weak. I do, however, want to look good with my shirt off. This is where I simply tweak the diet to match my goals for the season. I never truly bulk, but do fluctuate in the 10 to 12% body fat range. I’m not a huge guy, either, and was once a hard gainer. I’m happy with what God has blessed me with and plan to do every last thing in my power to hang on to it. Just slinging around over 300 lbs. every morning is part of it!
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