My Training History

Eventually this blog will consist of more up-to-the-moment information…discussion of new studies, changes in nutrition that can affect body comp and health, training techniques, recovery protocols, etc. But, for now, I just wanted to catch you all up on my experiences!  This post will summarize my fitness training and activity level.

When I got serious about lifting in college, I started with the typical “bodybuilding” programs from magazines and websites. These consisted of 9 sets for big muscle groups (chest, back, etc) and 6 sets for smaller muscle groups (biceps, triceps, etc), with repetitions in the 8 to 12 range. The frequency resulted in each muscle being worked once over the course of 5 training days per week. The rest periods between sets were short (less than a minute) and the weights were heavy (70-90% of maximum) so every set was carried until failure (technique failed before the last rep).  This did NOT work for me.

What did work were more focused workouts, still with high volume, but never pushing to the point that technique faltered. I switched to 4 sets of 15 reps, one movement for each muscle group, and a weight that felt manageable. I trained upper body on Monday and Thursday and lower body on Tuesday and Friday. This workout, coupled with a healthy increase in calories, helped me grow from a spindly 140 lb novice to a 180 lb weight-lifter.

My current focus is strength so I have been using the “5/3/1” program by Jim Wendler. I would recommend ordering the book from Jim’s website but even an internet search will result in comprehensive discussions of the routine. Basically, there are four training days, each based around a primary strength movement – bench press, squat, military press, and deadlift. I find 3 days a week seems to work best for me. I can handle 4 days a week but I don’t feel the same eager anticipation before each workout. The most valuable feature of this program is what is referred to as the “training max”.

Strength is often determined by a 1RM (1 rep max; the maximum weight you can lift, properly, for one rep). If you take 90% of your 1RM, you’ll have a much safer and effective “training max”. This means that, when you are on the heaviest week of 5/3/1, lifting 75% of your 1RM for 5 reps, 85% X 3, and 95% X 1+, you are never actually lifting more than 85% of your 1RM (95% X 90% = 85.5%). The second key to 5/3/1 is the plus-sign next to the “95% X 1+”. For the last set of the primary lift, you can try to get as many reps (with proper form) as possible. These two features give you enough wiggle room so you can vary the intensity of any given workout, based on how you are feeling that day. Working at your maximum, day after day, will do nothing but burn you out physically and mentally. Conversely, the body can benefit from high intensity output on occasion.

In terms of conditioning, I perform one high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session a week…sprints in the warmer months and Concept2 rowing during the winter months. These workouts consist of a warm-up, anywhere from 5-20 intervals of high intensity work with short rest periods, and a cool-down. I also stay active as much as possible during the day. As a personal trainer, I spend a lot of time on my feet and demonstrating exercise technique. I also try to go for a one-mile walk outdoors whenever I have fifteen or twenty minutes of free time.

In conclusion, I do not think you have to beat yourself up or view workout as torture to reap the benefits. Lifting something heavy a few times a week and staying as active as possible in everyday life is adequate for people focused on general fitness. Finally, throw in an occasional session of short but intense work to improve body composition and function.

On a personal note, at every step of the way on my path to fitness, I was mentored by an amazing personal trainer working in Providence, RI. The guidance of a reliable trainer is invaluable and necessary for continued success. That being said – please e-mail me to arrange consultations, program tailoring, training sessions, etc. Sorry for the shameless plug! This blog and all the information on it will always be free but, heck, I need to make a living too right? Haha.

Hope you’ve all had fun strolling down memory lane with me! The take-away is: I’m not an athlete by nature and I’m not physically built for bodybuilding or powerlifting. If you are not genetically gifted, not everything will work for you…but with enough experimentation, an effective trainer, and some dedication and patience, your goals are possible!

Stay tuned for the next venture later this week…through the many nutritional approaches I’ve tried!

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