I discovered the gym for the first time at school, when I was 15. I used to go on a Wednesday afternoon instead of rugby. I enjoyed rugby but I didn’t like the ‘jocks’ that were also playing it. I was a mosher, with my hair down past my shoulders. However, it wasn’t until my uncle bought me a membership to a local gym that I really discovered my passion.
I soon realised that I loved lifting heavy stuff for the sake of lifting heavy stuff. Sure, it would be nice to look good, but I’ve never felt a strong enough desire to stick to the rigid diet. I have trimmed down for a half marathon and a territorial p-coy selection at Uni but it was never for aesthetics.
Anyway, I felt like writing about my experience of recently lifting 500lbs. I love lifting weights but life has got in the way. Injuries, travel, a new home and just the general day-to-day has meant that I don’t get to the gym as often as I would like. I often have a good few months of training which is broken up by ‘life’. I feel like this type of real-life perspective is missing from the internet and this can discourage people and give a false view on reality. Most of us work crappy jobs, have families and other commitments so 6 day a week training schedules and strange and exotic diets are completely out of the question.
As I lifted 500lbs for the first time yesterday I thought this would be a good place to start. (video below)
So here are 5 steps to how I got to lifting 500lbs yesterday.
1. Keep it Simple
There are a lot of ‘programs’ out there which saturate their workouts with multiple exercises. For the semi-casual lifter these can be daunting or even unrealistic. Truth is my workout is based around 4 exercises (no prizes for guessing which ones). Bench, Squat, Press and Deadlift.
I have a general idea of what I will do when I go into the gym but it usually depends on how my body is feeling. I’ll have one main heavy exercise for the session, and then two secondary movements. So I may bench heavy and then squat 5×5 and do 5 sets of pull-ups and call it a day.
A typical week for the big four may look like the following:
- Monday – Deadlift and Bench
- Tuesday – OHP & Squat
- Thursday – Bench & Squat
- Friday – Deadlift and Squat
This was probably what helped me out the most.
I’ve lost track of the number of friends I have who complain about not making strength gains but who go quiet when I suggest they need to increase the volume of their workouts.
I don’t mean have 10 reps per set and keeping it light. If you want to lift heavy, you need to train heavy. I mean keeping it heavy, keeping the reps low depending on the difficulty, but putting in enough sets to make your body work.
When I pulled my PB yesterday I had already completed 12 sets. 60kg up to 220kg. 10 x60, 10×60, 5×110, 5×110, 130 x 3, 140 x 3, 160×3, 170x 3, 180×2, 190×1, 200×1, 210×1, 220×1 then I hit 227.5×1. That’s 5280kg. Then I finished with 160x 2, 160×10, 160x 2, 120x 5, 60x 5.
I rarely do 10 heavy reps but I was on a high after the 500lb pull.
Not only does it get your muscles working but it allows you to really hone your technique and input the movement into your muscle memory.
So I regularly put a combined lift of over 7000kg in a single exercise of deadlift. If you’re doing 3 sets of 5 at 150kg that’s 2250kg; or 4750kg less than me per deadlift workout. Add this up over a 4 week period and we’re talking a 19000kg difference. That’s some serious numbers. Just have a think about that.
3. Fight through the pain
Stiff and sore legs? Waiting for it to go before your next session? Suck it up. After a particularly heavy squat or deadlift session my glutes and hamstrings would be sore for several days. This is particularly useful for deadlifts and squats. I squat 2 or 3 times a week and deadlift 1 or 2 times a week. Often I have muscle soreness but I still manage to increase my lifts.
In fact my session yesterday in which I hit 500lbs for the first time, I started the day with soreness in my hamstrings, glutes and quads. You need to overcome this and get on with the exercise. I did and I reached a PB. Once you get into it, the soreness will go and you’ll be able to give a good account of yourself. This is DOMS-type pain I’m talking about and not something more serious like sprains, tears, shin splints etc. If you have those, stop and reassess.
4. Don’t be afraid to keep it heavy and push yourself
Another friend anecdote. One of my friends has been stuck on a 80kg deadlift for an age. He doesn’t want to increase the weight because he’s worried about it. He’s stuck on 6-8 reps for 3 sets and that’s him for the week. If you want to lift heavy you cannot be scared of the weight. What my friend needs to do is stick 100kg on and do a couple singles. He needs to conquer his fear, get used to the weight and then continue.
A benefit of always putting in a heavy lift in your workouts is that you get used to the feel of the weight. You get used to the level of effort/concentration you need to give. For me there is a big increase in the level of effort I need to give at the start of the lift from 100kg and 200kg. This sounds obvious but the is crucial to progression; it means that I know the bar won’t come straight off the ground, it’s going to take a few moments more to come up and that’s fine because I’m used to it and I know it’s coming. This attitude and approach will give you confidence whenever you do decide to go for a 1RM.
This is so crucial. Sleep is key, but you would have read that everywhere else – I mean rest between sets. As well as not getting enough volume, most of my friends that lift and complain about their lack of strength gains don’t give enough thought to rest between sets. Sure, if you’re into hypertrophy, conditioning and sculpting those arms then the supersets and minimal rest between sets are key weapons in the arsenal. But we want strength.
You’re lifting heavy, you’re putting your whole body under a lot of strain and it needs time to recover between sets. So you’re lifting heavy 5×5 but you hit a plateau. Are you doing 20 different chest exercises with 45 sec rest between sets? For my heavy exercises (the big four) I give myself anywhere from 1-5 minutes between sets. 1 minute on the warm up sets and 3-5 minutes on the working heavy sets. I go to a commercial gym and the benches are always super busy, if someone comes up to me and asks how many sets I have left (and it’s usually a lot) I’ll ask if they want to jump in between my sets. That way you can’t be accused of hogging equipment. You need to lift to improve, you can lift more if you rest, so rest between sets!!
So that’s it. There is a lot more to it but these are 5 things I find work well for me.
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