“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” —Bruce Barton
And so it begins: The next phase in my journey to spiritual, mental and physical strength.
On October 4, I hit my goal weight of 160. Actually I dropped below it, landing at 159.6. My intent at that time, and always, was to start a very intense weight lifting routine quickly following the attainment of my weight goal.
And on Wednesday, January 7, 2015, I began in earnest.
Little did I know at the time, but naming this particular phase Year In Hell, would prove to be strikingly appropriate.
Several months before hitting my weight goal, I started comparing different weight lifting routines. I looked at Bill Phillips’s Body for Life. I also looked at Tony Horton’s P90X. And then I came across a routine that sounded perfect: the tried and true 5×5 method.
Specifically, I came across StrongLifts 5×5.
In a nutshell, the 5×5 method was developed back in the 1960’s by a guy named Reg Park. It is a weight lifting routine that uses only five exercises: the squat, the bench press, the overhead press, the barbell row and, finally, the deadlift.
With the 5×5 method, you lift three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And on each of your lifting days, you do three of the aforementioned lifts and rotate them back-and-fourth. In each case, you do five sets of five reps for each. The only exception is that when you do the squat and the deadlift on the same day, you one do one set of five reps on the deadlift, because they utilize very similar muscles.
Sounds simple, right? I thought so, too, and indeed, the routine itself is very simple.
The simplicity is what drew me to it.
I have experience with Body for Life. Back in 2002, I used Body for Life to hit my weight goal the first time. And while I believe it to be a good, solid and sound program full of great advice which will work for anyone who works it, the struggle I have with it is the sheer complexity of the weight lifting routine.
It is shockingly difficult to remember what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it and how much you are supposed to do of what you are supposed to do when you actually can figure out what you are supposed to do and when you are supposed to do it.
Did that last sentence read rather jumbled? Good. That’s a great picture of the Body for Life lifting routine.
But not so with StrongLifts 5×5. It’s simple. It straight forward. It’s easy to remember. And it works!
And then came Wednesday, January 7.
I started lifting at about 6:00 AM. By about 2:00 PM, I was convinced that I would soon be dead.
All humor aside, it was perhaps the most demoralizing day in this fight since it began.
Last Wednesday, I learned something. I learned it right out of the gate and I learned it in a way that humbled me.
Nobody likes to be humbled and I’m no exception.
I can run circles around very nearly anyone in my gym on any piece of cardio equipment they can throw at me. I can climb a thousand steps on a step mill. I can walk up a mountainside on a treadmill. I can burn down my competition on an elliptical.
But my performance on the cardio floor has nothing whatsoever to do with my performance (or better said: my lack of performance) on the weight floor.
StrongLifts 5×5 is a beginners program and is designed specifically for people who have either never lifted or who haven’t lifted in many years. I fall into the latter category.
But make no mistake: “beginners program” doesn’t translate to “easy program.” In fact, the 5×5 method is a very difficult and very challenging (both physically and mentally) weight lifting routine that works nearly every muscle in the human body through a series of five compound, free weight exercises.
On your first day, you are told to lift only the weight of the Olympic bar (a weight of forty five pounds). Following that, you are to add five pounds each day to each lift unless and until you fail a rep.
I was bested by the Olympic bar. I was bested by forty five measly pounds. I couldn’t have lifted another pound and I couldn’t even hope to get my full five sets.
So here I am: back at square one. Back at the beginning. I liken it to graduating from High School as a senior and a few months later starting all over as a Freshmen in College.
As I dealt with my very literal physical pain and licked my wounds, I fell into a place of surprising despondence. Had I bitten off more than I would be able to chew? Did I belong on the weight floor?
All I wanted to do was run back to my cardio machines where I know what I am doing, where I am very good at what I do and where the routine is familiar and safe.
In other words: I wanted my comfort zone. But no one has ever changed in a comfort zone, and I am here to change.
The Sun Also Rises
I learned something last Wednesday.
I learned that I have more to learn. I learned that I haven’t arrived. I learned that I am still rising!
So, on Monday morning, I will return to the weight floor at my gym. I will lift forty five pounds on the squat. I will lift forty five pounds on the bench press. I will lift forty five pounds on the barbell row.
Why go back? Why not just stay in the comfort of the cardio floor where I can make my competition look like mince meat?
Because last Wednesday, I learned one other very important thing: I will not be beaten.