Mixing it Up: Strength Stats and Routine Changes

I used to set specific strength goals that I wanted to reach by a specific date.  (Example A, Example B, Example C) And while these goals were excellent for providing motivation, unfortunately they caused my form to suffer in order to reach them on time.  Ultimately they just put me at an increased risk for injury and gave me inflated strength measures.

So for the past couple months I decided to ditch the goals and instead focus on perfecting my form.  I started doing VERY deep squats and made sure everything I called a “rep” was indeed a full rep.

obligatory “ab progress” shot

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Does Crossing Parallel Prevent Knee Injury?

photo credit: elite-kinetics.com

Ever since I started lifting weights I always thought traditional squats, when your thighs go down to the same level as your knees and create a line parallel to the floor, were the preferred method of squatting.  I assumed crossing parallel, when your thighs go below the level of your knees, were better left for the professionals and could potentially cause more risk for a knee injury.

That’s what I thought until a couple of weeks ago at least, when someone at the gym told me I was actually going to hurt my knees if I continued doing traditional-style squats.  I was fairly surprised to hear this, and decided the subject was worth formally looking into… does crossing parallel prevent knee injury?

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How to Start Lifting Weights

After my post on Primal Workout Websites last week, my awesome co-worker, Earlene, told me she wanted to lift weights… but she didn’t know where to begin.  I tried to give her some simple advice… but that’s a little harder than it sounds.  After all people write entire books and devote entire careers to solving this problem.  But as someone who successfully self-taught herself how-to lift weights, I thought I’d share my 2 cents on how to get started 🙂

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Primal Workout Websites

Yesterday my Primal-sister asked me to send her a list of my favorite primal workout sites and tips.  She currently does mostly Pilates and was looking to break out of her fitness-rut.

Since becoming Primal a little over a year ago, I‘ve realized that the most successful exercise routines aren’t overly complicated and don’t need to be done every day.  I attribute my success with this philosophy to the following three websites.


Martin Berkhan. courtesy of Leangains.com

This site can be a little overwhelming the first couple times you try to read through it.  But don’t let that scare you, it is packed with tons of useful information.  It mostly talks about the benefits of fasting, but since it is run by a personal trainer it also has a lot to do with working out: specifically lifting weights.  Lifting weights is the most-effective type of exercise.  So if you want to tone or lose stubborn fat, I highly recommend you try it.

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I finally got around to finishing Beyond Brawn: The Insider’s Encyclopedia on how to Build Muscle & Might.  Throughout his book, Stuart McRobert talks about how to increase your strength and gives lots of detailed instruction on how to do so.

One important point he emphasizes is that in order to increase your strength you need to focus on poundage progressionEvery week you should be increasing how much weight you are lifting.

Once you’ve been lifting for a while, however, this quickly becomes easier said than done.  At most commercial gyms the minimum poundage increase you can make is 5 pounds at a time.  If you are maxing out each workout, to think you can continually add 5 pounds to your weight successfully is crazy.

So that’s why Stuart McRobert advises that you invest in your own weights to bring along with you to your gym.  He suggests owning a couple pairs of ½ lb and 1 lb weight plates that you can use to make very minor poundage progressions each week.  While these increases may seem small, they add up to big increases over time and help keep you from burning out in the process.

After doing some Google searching, however, I realized that finding ½ lb and 1 lb weight plates is also easier said than done.  So I went for the next best thing.

Ankle Weights.  At Fitness Resource in Bethesda I was able to find Adjustable 2.5lb Ankle/Wrist Weights for about 30 bucks.  The best part of these weights is that each Ankle-Weight is comprised of 10 ¼ lb weights… making it VERY easy to adjust your poundage increase.

Yes… I definitely get some funny looks when people see me strapping ankle weights to my squat bar… but honestly the progress I’ve been able to continually make from it has well been worth it. 🙂

Valentine’s Day RESULTS

I originally said I was going to reach my Valentine’s Day Goals by working out 5 days a week.  As I continued to read Beyond Brawn: The Insider’s Encyclopedia on how to build Muscle & Might, however, Stuart McRobert began to advocate working out less and resting more… specifically only lifting hard 2 (maybe 3) days a week.  He said this schedule was not only easier to maintain but would provide you with bigger muscle gains in the long run.

At first I thought this sounded lazy, and so for the first 2 weeks I stuck to my original workout plan.  But then my numbers started to level-off and my class schedule started to pick up.  Suddenly I found myself with less time, less energy, and no improvements in the gym.  And at that point I figured I had nothing to lose, so I decided to give Stuart’s workout less/rest more approach a try…

And the weird thing was… it worked.  I began to have more energy and started making consistent progress in the gym again.  And ultimately was able to reach 5 out of my 8 Valentine’s Day goals.

Abs on January 15 vs. Abs on February 14th

Goals:                                                            Results:

Bench: 95 lbs x 5 reps                               Bench: 92 lbs x 5 reps
Squat: 165 lbs x 5 reps                              Squat: 165 lbs x 5 reps
Front Squat: 95 lbs x 5 reps                    Front Squat: 100 lbs x 5 reps
Overhead Press: 75 lbs x 5 reps            Overhead Press: 75 lbs x 5 reps
Deadlift: 145 lbs x 5 reps                          Deadlift: 145 lbs x 5 reps
Chin-up: 2                                                       Chin-Up: 1
Pull-Down: 8 x 5 reps:                               Pull-Down: 7.5 x 5 reps
Dips: 5                                                              Dips: 5

So all in all… I’m going to count the day as a success.  I even got a surprise Valentine… my adorable nephew Wally 🙂

500 Jumps Challenge

A couple weeks ago I bought myself a jump rope that I’ve been using for warm-ups before I lift.  It only takes about 100 consecutive jumps to get me fairly out-of-breath and decently warmed-up.

And while 100 jumps is a respectable number… 500 jumps would seem a lot cooler.  So considering my Valentine’s Day Goal deadline is a convenient 5 days away, I figured over the next 5 days I would take it there.

Starting today I will jump 100 times, tomorrow I will jump 200 times, Sunday I will jump 300 times, until I reach Tuesday where I will jump 500 times.  And then I will hopefully maintain that number for all my future warm-ups.

Here we go!

Valentine’s Day Goals

So lately I’ve been reading Beyond Brawn: The Insider’s Encyclopedia on how to build Muscle & Might. I found out about it through Martin Berkhan’s list of “Ten Great Books to Expand Your Horizons.”  While I’m only about a third of the way through it, so far it has been an incredibly informative and motivational read.

One of the training tactics Beyond Brawn emphasizes is the importance of setting measurable goals for yourself within a specific time limit and maintaining a detailed training journal of your workouts while you work towards them.  While I have been setting specific goals for myself lately, I really need to start keeping an organized training journal.  A training journal helps keep your memory accurate, your workouts consistent, and holds you accountable to your goals.  So this month I will begin tracking my progress by recording the exact weight, number of reps, and number of sets for each exercise as well as how I feel physically for each workout overall.  I found some good workout log templates from Answer Fitness.

Abs on January 15th... lets keep the progress comin! 🙂

By Valentine’s Day I will reach the following strength goals.

Current Strength Measures          Strength Goals
(January 15th):                                 (February 14th):  

Bench: 90 lbs x 5 reps                       Bench: 95 lbs x 5 reps
Squat: 155 lbs x 5 reps                      Squat: 165 lbs x 5 reps
Front Squat: 85 lbs x 5 reps              Front Squat: 95 lbs x 5 reps
Overhead Press: 65 lbs x 5 reps      Overhead Press: 70 lbs x 5 reps
Deadlift: 135 x 5 reps                         Deadlift: 145 lbs x 5 reps
Chip-Up: 1                                          Chin-Up: 2
Pull-Down: 7 x 5 reps                         Pull-Down: 8 x 5 reps
Dips: ?                                                Dips: 5

Plan of Action:

Break these 8 exercises into 2 separate workouts.
Workout A: Chin-Up, Pull-Down, Bench, Overhead Press
Workout B: Deadlift, Squat, Front Squat, Dip

Monday: Jump Rope for 100 reps, Workout A or B, Stretch
Tuesday: BodyRock workout
Wednesday: Sprints, Workout A or B, Stretch
Thursday: REST
Friday: Jump Rope for 100 reps, Workout A or B, Stretch
Saturday: REST
Sunday: BodyRock

Diet: 90% Paleo & Intermittent Fasting – only eat between Noon and 10 pm

Homemade Dip Station FAIL

This winter break I found myself with a lot of free time on my hands.  So in an effort to use my time wisely and save a little money… I decided to build a homemade dip station.

The process sounded simple enough. In fact all of the instructional sites made it sound easy.  I specifically remember reading “will cost you less than $20” and “will take you less than an hour.

A Homemade PVC Dip Station Requires:

  • 4 – 3 ft. segments of 2 in. PVC pipe
  • 4 – 2ft. segments of 2 in. PVC pipe
  • 4 – 3 in. segments of 2 in. PVC pipe
  • 2 – 1 ½ ft. segments of 2 in. PVC pipe
  • 8 elbows
  • 4 T’s
  • PVC cement

And the good news is: I made it! 🙂

And the bad news is: it was NOT easy!

In total, the materials cost me $45.  This is still cheaper than the commercial ones, which retail for $80 not including shipping,  but $45 is still more than twice the price of the original $20 that I thought it would be.

It also took me 3 trips to Home Depot.  I acknowledge this was mostly my fault; I may have forgotten to get the 3 inch segments cut and then later realized I had bought the wrong size elbows… but still.

But most importantly, it’s not safe.  It stands up straight and supports my body weight, but the thing wobbles more than it would during an earthquake.  This is partly because the guy at Home Depot didn’t cut the pipes perfectly and partly my own fault.  But if I continue to use it I can tell it’s only a matter of time until I’ll be crashing to the ground…loudly and painfully.

So what’s the lesson here?  It is possible to make your own dip station out of PVC pipe.  A handier person than myself could have probably done a much better job.  But for the average joe: just by yourself one.  Some things are better left to a professional 🙂

2011 Goal Progress

I apologize for this post being about a week overdue.  After I went to the gym last week to officially check my strength progress, I went home to my parent’s house and officially checked out for the week.  I didn’t read any e-mail, didn’t read any blogs, and truly just focused on hanging out with my family and relaxing.

Two of my cuter family members: Hattie Hale & William Wallace

But now that I’m moved back to my apartment, and snapped back into real-life, I’m proud to say that I was able to reach all of my Christmas-Eve Goals including the 25 days of Burpees Challenge and, more importantly, that elusive pull-up!

Ab Progress...

Goal by Christmas-Eve            Current Strength Measures
(December 24th)                         (December 23rd)

Bench: 90 lbs                               Bench: 90 lbs
Squat: 150 lbs                              Squat: 155 lbs
Deadlift: 130 lbs                           Deadlift: 135 lbs
Pull-Up: 1                                     Pull-Up: 1
Front-Squat: 55 lbs                      Front-Squat: 85 lbs
Ground-over-Head: 45 lbs           Ground-over-Head: 55 lbs

Happy New Year everybody 🙂