I finally feel like I’m back in the mix after the hand surgery a month ago. Instead of following Outlaw for the last 6 weeks, which is a mix of olympic lifting, power lifting and short-intense-heavy crossfit sessions (usually), I’ve been on a more linear progression, mostly powerlifting approach with just a couple sessions of Oly lifting to knock the rust off. Between being in the hospital, not lifting for a month and the back half of the Whole Life Challenge I dropped down to the lowest weight I’d been in nearly two years. Along with that came a drop in strength… like, a lot. I was surprised at how weak I came back and how out of shape.
Linear progression (Starting Strength style) is pretty dummy proof. Start with a low enough weight, do three sets of 5 reps (Greyskull Linear Progression is nearly the same too, where you do as many reps as possible on that last set, either is fine) of a few key exercises. I used this once per week for the following exercises: high-bar back squat, front squat, bench press, strict shoulder press. Each time you do the same exercise you add 5 lbs (for squats) and 2.5-5 lbs for bench or press. You may notice the lack of heavy deadlifts. I deadlift occasionally with moderate weights, but my back has issues (spondylosis, and pelvis rotation) that are exacerbated with heavy deadlifts, or high volume deadlifts with poor form from fatigue.
I’m finally feeling some progress on the strength front and while I’m not back to where I was, I’m getting there. In addition to the straight linear progression, I’m adding some lighter weight, higher rep stuff to supplement and to add a larger muscular appearance for the summer season. This means some additional shoulder work (some push presses or thrusters), strict pullups, some squat-esque type work (squat cleans, thrusters, another squat day), and even some bicep work (curls for the girls, something I only work a few months out of the years). Reps will range from 8-20 depending on what I’m working towards, and usually 3-5 sets. In addition, I’m getting back into the Oly lifting again (snatch and clean and jerk), if only 3 days a week, and that has made a big improvement on explosiveness in the hips, and traps and shoulder development. I expect to continue on this hybrid approach (linear progression plus higher reps) for the next couple weeks when I expect to stall out, then switch to either a straight Outlaw approach again, or something along the lines of a modified a Westside Barbell which Outlaw is actually based on.
For a man, I think a strong, good looking summer body has the following characteristics: strong shoulders, nice chest, some traps, and not fat. Abs are well and good, but a strong core from heavy squats and deadlifts are apparent, while skinny dudes can have visible abs but minimal core strength (think: Justing Bieber).
As long as you aren’t too fat, you can still look good if you chest is strong/large enough.. sort of like you overlook a little flab on a lady if she’s got big enough boobs, it’s a matter of perspective. And while I’ve talked about squats a little above, the fact that most men aren’t wearing short shorts at the park, and the long board shorts are the norm, it’s not readily apparent you’re working on your legs. However, there’s a lot of importance from doing squats and really, squats balance the rest of your appearance and support overall muscular growth.
From Outlaw Fitness (not to be confused with the Outlaw Way or Outlaw Crossfit by the way), comes the 15 benefits of squats, a few important ones [note: the below refers to heavy squats, not light or bodyweight ones which have a fitness/aerobic impact but don’t trigger CNS recruitment and benefits noted below in the same way]:
1. Squats Create An Anabolic Environment. No other exercise on the planet (with the possible exception of the deadlift) does more to promote overall muscle growth. This means, not only will the squat build muscles directly related to the exercise itself – like your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves – it also indirectly promotes muscle growth across the rest of your body, in places like your biceps, chest, and back (for examples).
You get greater overall muscle and strength gains from the squat than from any other exercise….Squats create an overall anabolic environment in the body that maximizes gains from other exercises [in your workout]. says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.C.S., an exercise researcher at the University of Connecticut.
3. Increase Functional Strength. Very few exercises are as natural as the squat. Since the very beginning of time, man has been squatting down to pick berries, gather food, light fires, and even cook. It makes sense than that the squat builds pure, functional strength. Not only do they build huge amounts of muscle, the squat also forces your body’s nerve networks to work your muscles more efficiently.
6. Entire Body Workout (almost). There is arguably no other exercise that works more muscles than the squat. If you were only to do one exercise for the rest of your life, the squat would make an excellent choice.
7. Growth Hormones and Testosterone. These anabolic hormones are vital for muscle growth, and the squat stimulates your body to produce these more than any other exercise. Want bigger biceps? Add squats to your routine.
8. Sports and Performance. Not only will it make you jump higher and sprint faster, as I mentioned above, it will make you stronger and more explosive no matter what your particular sport is. It’s no wonder squats are part of the regular training regimen of every professional athlete.
9. Increase Upper Body Strength. Due to the large amounts of growth hormone and testosterone released by squatting, your upper body will grow larger and stronger than it would had you not regularly implemented squats into your workouts.
10. Tone and Tighten Your Butt. I implore you to find an exercise that’ll give you a nicer looking rear-end than the squat. Don’t believe me? Go give it a try yourself. [AMD Note: So True!]
15. They’ll Give You Great Abs. If you’ve got a body fat percentage that’s low enough, and you squat regularly, you’ll quickly find that you have no need to do a lot of work on your abs. In fact, some of the best sets of abs I’ve ever seen have been the product of squats, and squats alone.
My biggest problem is balancing out nutrition to support muscle growth but not so much that I’m gaining [too much] fat. Yeah, I’m vain in that I want to look good at the neighborhood pool, but that’s part of what I’m working towards. After pool season I may take a serious stab at the Lift Big, Eat Big approach and just try to gain as much muscle mass I can in 6 months and see what happens. But for now, I realize I’m compromising to some extent on how strong I can get…sacrificing strength and mass for a leaner physique. Trust me though, I’ve got some meat on my bones and look nothing like the Bieber-lookalike above. When I feel confident enough, I still hope to post some photos of my progression from skinny-fat runner to skinny-ish HIIT training to lifting heavy crossfit-esque training bodies.
Hope your summer preparations for a better body are going well.
…and here’s my idea of a lady’s beach body (some muscles and curves – notice lack of flab and waif-like arms and legs).