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breeseomatic

Personal journey through StrongLifts 5x5

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I just finished my first week of Stronglifts from the very beginning.  My background is as an amateur competitive cyclist turned crossfitter, turned weightlifter.  I had plans in 2011 to train for competitive weightlifting, aiming for the 2017 Pan America Weightlifting competition in the Senior Division.  Vital stats at my prime in 2011 were 148lb body weight, 145lb snatch, 195 C&J, 295 deadlift and 215 squat.  These are respectable globo-gym numbers pound for pound, but nothing competitive.  I'm also 5'9" with long limbs and a short torso, so not even close to the correct proportions to lift anything heavy.

After a particularly traumatizing life event, I gave up on a lot of fitness based activities, took up smoking again, and started to drink a LOT more alcohol.  My fitness slowly declined up to a few years ago then I started mountain biking more and quit those bad habits.  I've been struggling with various weightlifting programs since then, getting on Takano's program, then ditching that because it was too much duration and too technically difficult for my current skill level, Waxman's programming but quit that for one reason or another.  I've had great success with Wendler 5-3-1 because it was super simple to follow, but also incredibly boring and it took a while to get in and out of the garage gym.  

I first heard of StrongLifts 5x5 through Corey in this thread:
2017-2018 season prep thread 

It looked interesting after some investigation, I was concerned about the really low initial starting weight, but I think that the really fast ramp up on the first progressive loading cycle will address that and also allow anyone to achieve some sort of technical proficiency.  Plus you really shouldn't be able to injure yourself squatting 45lbs or benching 45 lbs incorrectly.  Hopefully most of the program users are using support channels to improve their form via photos, video and in person coaching.  For me, it really feels like a waste of time as I could probably start at the body weight squat, but this is about following a specified program, not the Joe Breese Roll Your Own Program.  I did make one small adjustment on Workout #2 and that was to increase the squat to #65 as that is my normal warmup, get the blood flowing weight,  I use the barbell only weight for dynamic warmups, and I just couldn't bring myself to put some tiny 2.5# plates on the side.  Sorry, couldn't do it, had to add 10lb bumpers to make it look like I was doing something meaningful.  Also deadlift started at 95# since I'm not going to put numerous tiny weights on a bar that is 5# shy of an easy to load bar.

My initial impressions are:
StrongLifts 5x5 is a good program for the person with NO experience what-so-ever, in fact you need very little to start it in your home, and this allow the lifter to slowly acquire more weights as they get stronger.  All that is needed to start is a barbell, clamps, rack, bench, 2x 25lbs plates, 2x 10lb plates, 4x 5lb plates, 2x 2.5lbs plates. 

The exercises are easy to execute and complete in a short amount of time, especially in the early stages, later on I can see this taking upwards of 90 minutes to complete.

Obviously nutrition is going to be a large part of your gains or lack thereof.  I was once a very pro-vegetarian person and it was difficult to get the proper ratio of macro nutrients at first.  My advice for anyone with an anti-meat diet is to focus on getting the proper amount of lean proteins to support your body and workout, then control the fats, then see where your carbs are at.  Mostly those can be ignored as they will already be adequate enough, possibly even excessive in a vegetarian diet.

So first week numbers are:

Starting weight 151.8

Squat 45# @ 5x5
Bench 45# @ 5x5
Row 65# @ 5x5

Squat 65# @ 5x5
Press 45# @ 5x5
Deadlift 95# @ 1x5

Squat 70# @ 5x5
Bench 50# @ 5x5
Row 70# @ 5x5

Ending weight 150.4

I'll keep a running log so whoever is interested can follow along.

Edited by breeseomatic

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Moved to Off-topic.  

I'd bet it feels weird starting at such a low weight after having pretty good numbers before!  My only experience is as someone who thought a 45-lb bar was a little scary.  The small steps hugely improved my confidence.  

I was up to about 75 minutes per workout when I dropped StrongLifts in favor of Wendler 531.  Thinking back, I should have just tried the higher weight, failed, and stepped down as prescribed.  But, my ego got in the way so I took all the rest periods in hopes of successfully lifting the weight in the next set.  The mentally crushing part was that if I lifted that weight successfully, it would go up next time.  

Wendler 531 is too open-ended for my liking.  What are good accessories?  How many?  Should I do push-ups somewhere?  Kroc rows?  One-footed Bosu ball deadlifts while spinning plates on my free foot?  

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6 hours ago, corey_dyck said:

I'd bet it feels weird starting at such a low weight after having pretty good numbers before!  My only experience is as someone who thought a 45-lb bar was a little scary.  The small steps hugely improved my confidence. 

Yeah it's weird, but I need to go through the motions.  I can see StrongLifts as being very beneficial to a new lifter, an injured lifter, or a seasoned lifter such as myself coming back after many years off.  My form is still spot on, but the joints are not as strong as my muscles, so squatting far less than my strongest component can handle and well within the limits of my weakest component is a really good, safe, sane start.  I have a weird snap, crackle, pop in my left knee, so working the range of motion with a slow progressive load should make it stronger.

 

6 hours ago, corey_dyck said:

I was up to about 75 minutes per workout when I dropped StrongLifts in favor of Wendler 531.  Thinking back, I should have just tried the higher weight, failed, and stepped down as prescribed.  But, my ego got in the way so I took all the rest periods in hopes of successfully lifting the weight in the next set.  The mentally crushing part was that if I lifted that weight successfully, it would go up next time. 

I plan on taking StrongLifts as far as the app goes.  Going through the failing of reps, deloading, more success or failure, deloading, cutting reps and using smaller increments.  But that's all much further down the road.  How far into the program were you when it started to take 75 minutes?

6 hours ago, corey_dyck said:

One-footed Bosu ball deadlifts while spinning plates on my free foot?  

This could come in very handy for the time when you break a board in two between the bindings, and have to board down a black diamond sheet of ice on your front foot only. 

On a serious note, the main lifts in 5-3-1 is where Wendler says you get the gains.  I saw a lot of the strength gains using 5-3-1 followed by a Crossfit Football workout. A lot of the accessory work was sled/prowler, running, jumping, burpees and fast Olympic style lifts.

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Second week completed:

So first week numbers are:

Starting weight 149.1

Squat 75# @ 5x5
Press 50# @ 5x5
Deadlift 105# @ 1x5

Squat 80# @ 5x5
Bench 55# @ 5x5
Row 75# @ 5x5

Squat 85# @ 5x5
Press 55# @ 5x5
Deadlift 115# @ 5x5

Ending weight 150.2

Impressions: 

  • The squats are getting more serious, especially since I'm bike riding more on the weekends and riding to work. 
  • Overall volume is still pretty low.
  • Pretty easy to get in and out quickly  

Forecasts:

  • I have a feeling that the super fast liner progression in squats will end in the near future. 
  • Deadlifts will continue on the progression for a long time.

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Strong lifts 5x5 is interesting. I've grown bored with my lifting regiment and am giving it a go out of curiosity. 

Dropping to 45 on a squat is weird, but I became aware this year that I wasn't actively engaging my glutes and hamstrings to start the concentric portion of the lift. What an oddly humbling experience.

Thank you for sharing the start of your journey. It has gotten me to finally step back and rebuild with better form and technique. I still have the same shoulder crap going on, but we'll see what happens.

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7 hours ago, alpinegirl said:

Strong lifts 5x5 is interesting. I've grown bored with my lifting regiment and am giving it a go out of curiosity. 

Dropping to 45 on a squat is weird, but I became aware this year that I wasn't actively engaging my glutes and hamstrings to start the concentric portion of the lift. What an oddly humbling experience.

Thank you for sharing the start of your journey. It has gotten me to finally step back and rebuild with better form and technique. I still have the same shoulder crap going on, but we'll see what happens.

Yeah, dropping to such a low weight is weird if you are used to having some weight on a barbell.  How did you become aware of the lack of glute/hamstring engagement?  Was it different bar positioning, heel rise or did someone comment on your position?  Here's a great blog post and accompanying videos about body proportions and squat position (https://bretcontreras.com/how-femur-length-effects-squat-mechanics/).  We're all built different even though we may be the same height, and some people may get more of a glute/hamstring or quad workout from squatting purely based on how their proportions are.

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Third week completed:

Starting weight 150.2

Squat 90# @ 5x5
Bench 60# @ 5x5
Row 80# @ 5x5

Squat 95# @ 5x5
Press 60# @ 5x5
Deadlift 125# @ 1x5

Squat 100# @ 5x5
Bench 65# @ 5x5
Row 85# @ 5x5
Ending weight 150.2

Thoughts: 

I initially thought that squats were going to be tough, but that was my impression after a particularly difficult bike ride last week.  I've re-learned a few things, one is to go for a spirited bike ride immediately after a lifting session, not the day after leaving very little recovery for the next days lifts.

Overall volume is still pretty low.  I'm fighting every urge to max out on reps on the last set.

It's still pretty easy to get in and out quickly, my total time from lights on to lights out in my garage gym is under an hour.

Forecasts:

I'm now thinking that the rows will be the limiting lift for me as the last rows I'm starting to feel, but the other exercises are still well within my perceived ability.

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The lack of glute/hamstring engagement was realized out of self observation. This is a scary thing to rely on, but I have mastered the "stay away from me" glare in the gym. The best comment I have ever received was to keep my head up and look at my own face while squatting. Simple and effective.

I have been able to muscle my way up to some respectable weights, however my one legged lifts were lacking and if I was honest with myself, my lifts were becoming asymmetric (squats and deadlifts especially). I have been compensating for some inflexibility as well as a lack of stability.

My understanding of protecting my joints while lifting heavy things is that it all has to magically work together. I want my body to be better balanced such that even if my glutes don't actively move the weight at the start of the lift, I still want them engaged in order to help stabilize and protect my spine and knees. 

It's a different focus. The lift feels more controlled. I still love how much a barbell squat works all the stabilizing muscles.

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On 9/11/2017 at 6:27 PM, alpinegirl said:

The best comment I have ever received was to keep my head up and look at my own face while squatting. Simple and effective.

That's the preferred technique for olympic lifting as you need a reference point to maintain balance in such an explosive effort. 

For slow lifts like plain old squats and deadlifts you can injure yourself with that technique while lifting max loads.  I find it best to keep your head in a neutral position like you have a neck brace on.  Your sight line will change as you move through the squat position and that's fine as it's not a fast movement.  Craning your neck to maintain a forward faced position might work out, and it might not, it all depends on your proportions and if you introduce strain or unnecessary muscle tension.  Not craning your neck 100% always reduces muscle tension and possibilities for strain.  But that's just my observation.  Mark Rippetoe echoes this in his book Starting Strength a quick good image search on "rippetoe squat form" should produce some "optimal" form images, contrast that with an image search of olympic lifting and you can see a very different technique being used.  

I believe that squatting and being quad dominant or glute dominant has everything to do with proportion and position and almost nothing to do with "active engagement" whatever that means.  You can try to engage muscles at the bottom of the squat, but the reality is that they will fire in the order that works best for your proportions and position.  By "actively engaging" certain muscles on the down (eccentric portion) you are changing your starting body position, ending position in the eccentric phase and possibly weight distribution at the start of the concentric phase.

It's an interesting topic, if you have still photos, compare them to the google image results and also the videos I linked above.

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Fourth week completed:

Starting weight 150.2

Squat 105# @ 5x5
Press 65# @ 5x5
Deadlift 135# @ 1x5

Squat 110# @ 5x5
Bench 70# @ 5x5
Row 90# @ 5x5

Squat 115# @ 5x5
Press 70# @ 5x5
Deadlift 145# @ 1x5

Ending weight 150.8

Impressions: 

The squats portion is taking longer as I'm using the full three minutes of recovery time which is pushing the total training time to just over an hour.  No real biking this week to get in the way of training. 

Overall volume is still pretty low and fighting the urge to max out reps on the very last set.  I have not paid for the upgrade version of the app and I wonder if their accessory lifts offered in the upgrade guides you towards doing this.

Muscle definition is starting to show through my layer of body fat.

Forecasts:

None

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13 hours ago, breeseomatic said:

Overall volume is still pretty low and fighting the urge to max out reps on the very last set.  I have not paid for the upgrade version of the app and I wonder if their accessory lifts offered in the upgrade guides you towards doing this.

Muscle definition is starting to show through my layer of body fat.

I did get the upgrade for the 5x5 app.  It adds: add-on is assistance exercises, a warm up calculator (lift this, then that, then...), a plate calculator (what plates to get 150 lbs on the bar?), the ability to drop volume (3x5/3x3/1x3), and exporting to CSV.  No additional volume. By the time I was maxing out my 5x5 sets, I couldn't fathom adding any more volume.  Just thinking of failing those 5x5 OH presses of 80 lbs makes me angry!  Then one day I made it - only to realize that I then had to do the same thing with 85 lbs in 2 days.  Ugh...  

Congrats on the progress!  

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Great progress! I was awaiting your update.

 

And hey, no arguments from my end. If I am honest with you, there is no mirror in front of the rack at my gym. At that time in my lifting, I was even more wonky. My head was pitched downwards towards the floor, effectively pulling my spine out of alignment.  Now, ten years later, yes, my maximum loads have a downcast look. My neck is likely closer to neutral. I also tend to converse with peoples knees so it comes naturally to me. 

I agree that body proportion has the greatest influence on squat form and muscle dominance along with bar position. Always learning, always refining. The most important thing gleaned from focusing on simply, "feeling it in my rear" at the start of the lift is that it keeps me from pulling to one side.

Mark Rippetoe raises some interesting points. There are of course a million people calling it all dangerous bs,, but I have come to accept that that is how the lifting world is. I figure that either my body can, or it won't. A max lift is not where I am go into change my form or technique. And fortunately I can add those tiny 2.5lb weights to the barbell each day that I lift. 

I hear a lot of shit being said in the gym. Frankly I don't understand doing 18 different exercises for legs on leg day but never doing a barbell squat.

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