Evaluation after 2 months of strength training


A review of current programming, results, injuries and future ideas

About 2 months have passed since I began barbell/free weight exercises. Over that time, I've become more aquainted with a small collection of compound lifts and have read lots of information on proper form and methods of programming. I started out learning most of my form information from the Strong Lifts website and, later, videos and articles from Mark Rippetoe / Starting Strength. For some weeks, I compared, contrasted and mixed elements of form from these different sources. However, I'm now moving to the idea that I may be confusing myself by referencing too many sources and, as a result, I've decided to focus on following form instructions by Rippetoe more than from any other source. My logic is that his book and videos give lots of detail and if I really need to learn in person then I can attend a starting strength course and not be confronted with significantly different ideas on form.

To be clear, I'm not following the starting strength or strong lifts programs closely enough to review either. Weight lifting 3 times per week seemed like too much if I also want to climb near my limit. As a result, my programming is more like 2 (occasionally 3) times per week. I currently perform 5x5 worksets, but may shift to 3x5 in the future as the weights become heavier. Also, although I am using lots of form info from Rippetoe/Starting Strength, I have not yet tried to incorporate the power clean and instead do barbell rows, as described on the Strong Lifts site. I'll probably experiment with power cleans in the future, but for now they look complicated and I still feel like I'm spending a fair bit of time getting comfortable with my current set of compound exercises.

Injuries (Tweaks?)

On the 15th of June, while attempting to squat 140lb I felt some pain in my lower back. Since then I significantly reduced the weight I squat and have tried to pay attention to any changes in the lower back pain. As of today, the pain has significantly reduced but I can still notice it. I plan to continue to keep the weight low, review my form, try yoga positions to help stretch my lower back and monitor pain during and after workouts.

Additionally, when attempting to overhead press 70lb, my form faltered in the last reps as I attempted to complete the set and that caused some lingering stiffness/pain in my neck. Like the lower back pain from the squat, I intend to reduce weight, stretch and re-assess what part(s) of my form are failing and contributing to the pain.

Form progress and confidence

I continue to record videos and attempt to self-critique my form though I have difficulty judging how important subtle differences are and when to use what 'feels' right to me over what I see in videos or read in descriptions of proper form. Most specifically, I think my lower back strain resulted from me trying to more closely mimic the back angle seen on Strong Lifts and Starting Strength videos, but I probably mimicked incorrectly and ended up rounding my back / being off balance / ending up in a good morning pose. All that I can reason is to continue using trial and error to test the balance of following orders VS listening to my body's response but not while lifting with heavy loads.

Effects on climbing

On the climbing front, I'm not sending harder routes, but that's probably due to the fact that I haven't been trying harder routes. Must try harder! A lack of regular partners has lead me to move more towards bouldering and that shift is harder for me to measure since I hadn't been doing a lot of bouldering in the recent past.

I am noticing a greater awareness of how and when my muscles interact along with greater coordination with breathing. For example, when I pull in hard with a toe, I can feel my calf, thigh, glute and abdominals/back engage. I don't know if that really helps, but it's interesting to feel. Similarly, when resting on a hold, I can feel my tricep, shoulders, back and chest come in and out of tension as I shift my body's angle to the hold. In summary, I'm not climbing any harder, I do feel strong and I think that when my ability to focus on power/endurance leading comes back that I will be able to notice a quantifiable increase in grade over a short time frame.