Cannibalizing Workouts

So, I have recently started back into the arena of powerlifting, after a nearly twenty-year military-enforced hiatus.  No, the U.S. military doesn’t ban powerlifting; I am just not genetically gifted enough to train in powerlifting and do my daily military PT.

In trying to break back in (at the age of 45, now), I first turned to what had worked for me before.  In high school and college, I successfully trained to State-champion (in my then very-low weight class, at least) using Coach Shepard’s “Bigger, Faster, Stronger” system.  I like the concept quite a lot, but it is somewhat difficult in this age of “Planet Fitness” zombie “workouts” to find a gym outside of an academic setting which caters to things like “four-way neck machines”, “box squats”, and “towel bench presses”.  While none of those things are strictly mandatory, I thought I would look at other, more recent programs to see if I could find something better.

My next stop was Wendler’s “5/3/1” program.  I liked this for similar set-rep scheme to BFS, and in fact its four-a-week training is more similare to how BFS was done in the 80’s than the current version of BFS is.  However, as Wendler notes, his is not a program for beginners–nor 45 year-old rehabilitees.  However, his books regularly mention Mark Rippetoe and the “Starting Strength” program, so I was off to my next trial.

“Starting Strength” and its sequel, “Practical Programming for Strength Training”, really are phenomenal introductions to strength training.  Unfortunately for me, it assumes that strength training is all you are doing.  While it has sections for scalability to “special populations” (such as quatragenarians like myself), it is also made clear that if you are doing other training, or not doing exactly the training in the book, you are NOT doing “Starting Strength”.  And Starting Strength requires you to do, in addition to other exercises, eight sets of back squats every workout.  This would have wiped me out as a fifteen-year-old on summer break, let alone as a forty-five-year-old with military training requirements and a martial arts career.

Even in the Starting Strength fora, the usual response is, “Just drop your other activities for a few months and do Starting Strength.  You’ll come back even better because of your stronger body!”  Be that as it may, “Sorry, Sir, I can’t PT with the Company any more; I’m doing Starting Strength” is not an option.  So, I have taken a lesson from BFS and alternate days of regular back squatting (on my bench press days) with days of front squats.  This is an “acceptable squat variation” from BFS, and mixing it in allows me to train without destroying my body metabolically.  I also did two sets of ten of each exercise, as per the BFS “Readiness Program”, instead of three sets of five.

I have recently met all of the standards for graduation from the BFS “Readiness program”, and I consider this a good place to transition from a true novice program to an “advanced-novice” program.  I am using the Onus-Wunsler template from Starting Strength, including the three-sets-of-five scheme, but with two substitutions: I am still alternating back-squat and front-squat days, and I am doing stiff-legged deadlifts in place of back extensions.  This is another old favorite from BFS which is mechanically similar to back extensions.  It places greater stress on the gluteals and hamstrings rather than the lower back emphasis of back extensions, but more importantly it does not require a special piece of equipment to which I do not have access.

My warm-up for every weightlifting workout is five sets of strict push-ups; I finish with either wrestler’s bridges or a Captains of Crush grip trainer.  On off-days, I do sets of sit-ups and a thirty-minute treadmill run.


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