What I’ve Learned Each Year I’ve Lifted

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Like anything else in life it’s easy to plow forward with our blinders on without looking back at all of the things we’ve accomplished. This has been true for me in my lifting career. In the grand scheme, and compared to some people, I haven’t been lifting that long. But there are some definite lessons I’ve learned along the way and I think it will be helpful to do a bit of a retrospective.

2008 – 2010

I’m lumping this period of time together as it’s what I would term my “fuckarounditis period”. I initially started going to the gym with a friend to lift weights. My weight at the time was actually around 180 lbs. and so I was hoping to drop a few pounds. My training consisted of mostly machines, maybe some dumbbells for the biceps. I mostly just went in and hit what I thought was important, mostly bro type stuff.

The biggest lesson I learned here was that I was quite capable of putting on muscle. I never really had a hardgainer phase that some have before they understand what’s required. That’s probably due to the fact of how much I was eating. In addition I did clean up my diet a bit, started cooking more for myself and did indeed end up dropping weight. My routine did not change that much during this period. In late 2010 I discovered the barbell and that’s when my training took a significant turn.

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late 2010 – early 2011

In late 2010 I began reading LeanGains and was swept up in the burgeoning intermittent fasting wave of the time. Martin Berkhan espoused a simple training routine involving a few barbell lifts. I began squatting, benching and deadlifting with a fair amount of regularity. I didn’t really know what I was doing, especially when it came to squats, I remember once actually falling backwards with weight on my back. But I was able to gain strength while cutting down to a lean 165 lbs.

This period taught me about progression. It taught me that you can progress for a fairly long time by adding 5 pounds a week. I learned I could cut weight without actually counting calories. I attempted counting during this period but I found (as I still do) that it makes me too neurotic. Admittedly the fasting I was doing at the time might be considered slightly extreme I still learned what it was like to go a period of time with less food. I didn’t get that strong, I remember deadlifting in the high 100s low 200s for reps, but I did manage a 45+lb weighted pull up which I’m unlikely to match any time soon.

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late 2011 – late 2012

During this period I read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. Initially I was very engrossed in his koolaid. This worked quite well in my favor as his prescription was what I needed to get quite strong. My form on the lifts improved by a lot. During this period I squatted my first 400 lbs (for reps), benched in the low 200s, and deadlifted 400 lbs. My bodyweight rose to 200 lbs. I accomplished all of this by following the very simple progressions outlined in the Starting Strength and Texas Method programs.

In this period I got a much better understanding of my strength potential. I discovered that if I hit on the right variables I could get very strong fairly quickly. At this point I didn’t really understand how the variables worked and how to create a successful program with them. That would come later.I competed for the first time and learned h0w different competition was from training. I also learned how to put on bodyweight. I probably did so a little too fast. My Squat form developed quite well during this period. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same of my Deadlift and Bench.

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2013

Alas, the simple and productive progressi0ns that had worked so well in the past had ceased to continue working. There were a few reasons for this including not understanding how to manipulate the programs to continue progressing and changing things for the sake of changing things. I would consider this period to be the beginning of my “dark night of the soul” in Powerlifting. I began experimenting with a few programs, namely Sheiko. I ran #29 and was able to get a new Bench PR of 265. This was also the period in which my wife and I moved into a house and I built a home gym in the garage. This would be my gym going forward.

During this period I realized how much volume I could truly tolerate. The lesson I should have learned was that I could tolerate a lot more volume mentally than I could physically. I had developed a layer of mental resolve in which I could push through set after set. This is something anyone needs to develop if they are to sustain high volume training for a long period of time. This wasn’t a terribly productive period of my training career but it’s lessons would be apparent later.

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late 2013 – 2014

In this period I began reading the works of Mike Tuchscherer and learning about Autoregulation. I also began learning much more about the fundamentals of training and program design. I took the RTS Classroom series of lectures that were offered at the time and learned a lot about what actually goes into designing a productive program. During this period I started developing formalized programs for myself. I competed in the USAPL for the first time which would be where I would compete from this point on.

This period really taught me what makes programs work. Before this point successful programs were indistinguishable from magic but now the veil had been lifted and I saw the man behind the curtain. I had a few notable PRs in this time period and the first was Deadlifting 500lbs. I wouldn’t touch this number again for some time. I also stumbled upon a progression that would yield major gains in my squat. Unfortunately this progression would grind to a halt due to elbow pain.

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2015

During this period I experimented with a few types of training styles notably a conjugate-style program and more heavy bodybuilding focus. I read Arnold’s bodybuilding encyclopedia and developed an enjoyment of high rep “pump” work. This era taught me that I didn’t necessarily need to be touching heavy weight on a consistent basis. I could strive for more volume and larger muscle and still be satisfied with my work in the gym.

Conjugate style did not really appeal to me. As part of this experiment I learned that I personally need more consistency in my training programs and I tend to thrive in programs that don’t utilize a ton of variability. This period of my training career didn’t see a ton of new PRs. I spent a fair bit of it trying to bring back old styles of progression which was not very successful for the most part. I learned that you adapt to the level of volume you’re currently using and trying to make large increases is a recipe for disaster.

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2016

This essentially brings us to today. In 2016 I learned that I don’t need nearly as much volume as I used to or used to think I needed. I experimented with an Ed Coan Style Linearly Periodized program and got great results. My past experience has taught me to remain skeptical that such a program will work forever at the same time as it tells me to continue riding the progress out as long as possible.

I hope this retrospective has been as interesting to you as it has been for me. I think we can always learn something from taking a look back through time.

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