Rocky Mountain National Park is a classic outdoor adventure destination and a superstar of the National Park system, and so I put it on my Outdoor Bucket List a few years ago. I was able to check it off this past June. This was our first camping trip of the 2015 summer season and also the biggest. I was super stoked to see the Rocky mountains, and I had also never been to Colorado before. Everyone I knew who lived in Colorado regales me with tales of breathtaking summits, incredible wildlife, the best mountain scenery, and the best hiking and camping in the continental United States. Naturally, I was expecting RMNP to knock my socks off.
In the morning of June 13, a Saturday, we loaded up our ready-for-adventure Subaru Outback and kissed our little dog goodbye, and start the trek to RMNP. The drive was 18 hours. We drove for about 10 hours the first day and stayed in a hotel somewhere in Iowa.
We resume the drive the next day. As we got closer to the park, the mountains appeared in the horizon, and wow. It’s trite, but it was breathtaking. The jagged snow capped peaks look so dramatic against the bright blue sky.
We pulled up to the west entrance of RMNP around 8:00pm on Sunday. The park admission fee was $20 for a whole week. I’m a little blown away at how cheap it was. I mean, this park is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Only $20? I was glad to give them my money.
We were camping in Moraine Park Campground, the biggest campground inside the park. This was a modern campground, which means they are bathrooms with flush toilets and water taps. I prefer rustic camping and primitive campsites, but because I had never been in this area before, I decided to play it safe and reserve in the modern campground. Moraine Park is pretty typical of modern campgrounds in National Parks, except that each campsite has an excellent mountain view:
June 15, 2015
As is typical of most summer camping, I wake up at around 6am because the tent is flooded with LIGHT and my eyeballs can’t escape from it. And you can hear ALL THE BIRDS. Which is ofcourse a great thing, because ya know, we drove halfway across the country to be here in nature. But the first 30 minutes of waking up in a tent is always hard for me, especially if it was a cold night, which it was. It was in the low 40s and I woke up a few times from the cold.
But I also love camping early mornings because of the soft warm sunlight that makes nature look all fresh and new, and because I love making breakfast over a fire.
After we washed up after breakfast, we headed over the to Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. All the guide books recommend consulting the rangers at the visitor centers about trail conditions and the areas are currently open to the public. More importantly, we needed to get on the wifi because Kory teaches an online class that she needs to log on to everyday during the week.
Anyway, pro tip- Beaver Meadows Visitor Center has wifi and there’s a bench adjacent to the ranger desk that has an outlet, so you can charge your camera battery because you forget to bring a spare!
Kory logged into her class, we got some information about where to spot some big horn sheep because Kory really wants to see them, and I charged my electronics. We decide to check out the one of the most popular sites in the east side of the park- Bear Lake.
We drive out to this Park and Ride spot where we can take a shuttle to Bear Lake. The shuttle makes two other spots to other trailheads around Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain before the last stop at Bear Lake.
It was drizzling on and off, and it was a little cold. There was a little bit of snow on the ground. Bear Lake is supposed to be one of the most picturesque lakes in the park, but because the weather was so dark and overcast, it was a little underwhelming. But one could definitely see that this spot would be absolutely gorgeous in better weather conditions.
Overall it was a easy walk around the lake and we ate our packed lunch with a nice view of the lake.
We get back on the shuttle to our car and head back to Moraine Park campground. This is when we notice the temperature/weather difference between the higher and lower elevations of the park. Up in the mountains in Bear Lake, I needed my fleece-lined triclimate jacket, but back down in the shuttle area it was hot and I wanted to change into shorts. The guide book said that the the park’s “high country” and “low country” could have radically different weather conditions. I’m glad that I was prepared with ALL THE CLOTHES.
We are driving down Bear Lake Road when we see our first elk sighting! There were two males eating grass by a bridge. It’s very exciting to spot these huge creatures just chilling and doing their thing.
After admiring the wonderful creatures from afar and taking tons of pictures with my zoom lens, we continue on back to the campsite. We went over a bridge that crossed this fast moving river with these huge boulders:
In Moraine Park, we saw our first herd of elk:
We finally got back to our campsite around 8pm, just in time to start making dinner. We basically spent the day getting our bearings and the lay of the land. Rocky Mountain Park was clearly huge, and we had driven quite a bit today, but we had only seen a tiny portion of it.
It was a dark clear night, and so we could see so many stars in the sky. Watching the starts is always so much better in the wilderness, but they seemed even more bright and brilliant here.
I absolutely love kayaking, but I only really enjoy kayaking on a very specific kind of river – the very densely wooded kind and far away from the sound of cars. This obviously means traveling to somewhere more remote or to a state or national forest. Happily there are many of those rivers in Michigan, but it’s not something we can get to every weekend during the season or anything- because hello, I’m not made of time. I have a full time job and a little dog, etc etc.
Yesterday I finally got to kayak the Grand River in Lansing, the city where I live. Lansing is a typical smallish Midwestern city that has seen better days during the auto industry boom. East Lansing, the neighboring city, is home to Michigan State University. In any case, Lansing is a city and this stretch of the Grand River will go through the city. That’s typically not my jam, which is why I’ve never kayaked in the Grand River in the 7 years I’ve lived in East Lansing/Lansing. But I always want to try something at least once before totally discounting it, so the four us went yesterday after work on a Friday.
Rivertown Adventures is the kayak rental place in downtown Lansing. We went to their booth in the Lansing City Market where you pay for the rentals. We went with the trip that went from Potter Park Zoo back to the City Market. This was advertised as a 2.5 hour trip, but we did it in under 2 hours. The kayak rental was $20. Our friend had her own kayak, and I think they charged her $8 to transport her kayak to the start point.
The four of us pile into their van, and friendly driver guy drives us to the river access point near Potter Park zoo. The drive is a little more than 5 minutes.The dock has steps that lead into the water, so it’s pretty east to get in by yourself, but friendly driver guy gave us a shove and we were off!
This area by the zoo is the best part of this paddle trip because it’s the most wooded and secluded stretch. This part lasts about 20 to 30 minutes, depending on how slow you take it.
The interesting feature of this area is the “islands” dotted around the river.
This is the spot where Adison, who has kayaked here many times, decided to veer off the main river to explore the “islands”. There are little inlets and marshes that one could explore, but they are off the main flow of the river. Which would have been totally fine, but she didnt actually tell us that she was leading us to do said exploring. There were many spots where the the river was almost impassable because of fallen trees and vegetation.
We were also trying to find the the Bald Eagle that was nesting in this area. It made the Lansing news a couple of months ago, that a Bald Eagle was spotted here and had made a nest. This was obviously very exciting because Bald Eagles are super awesome, and wild Bald Eagles hadn’t nested in Lansing for like 50 years or something. The only time I’ve seen Bald Eagles in the wild was in the Au Sable river in Northern Michigan, and they are awe inspiring, and seeing them again here, would be super cool. A kayaker that we met earlier had told us that he had seen the eagle, so we were excited to see it.
We searched and searched. We saw herons and several large nests that could have been an eagle’s nest, but alas we didn’t spot the bird of prey.
After ending up in a couple of dead ends, we were like, what the hell Adison, we’re lost! And she’s like, I was taking you exploring! She eventually leads us back to the main part of the river, but not before we had to paddle through several fallen trees with bushy branches, covering us in leaves and twigs and spiders.
After that portion, the rest of the paddle is pretty much a paddle through a city.
The river goes through residential areas, the industrial area, and under some highways. The buildings we saw were pretty industrial and generally uninteresting. We passed under several bridges. The biggest eyesore was the smokestacks near Cedar Street that were undoubtedly spewing toxic fumes into the air. The banks of the river were covered in trees and greenery, but you definitely get city scenery from your vantage point in the kayak.
The Lansing Riverwalk also borders the river for a good part of this stretch, so we saw a few runners, bikers, and people fishing. We also saw lots of ducks and turtles.
The scenery got a little more interesting when we approached the downtown area, past Michigan Avenue.
We got back to the City Market around 7:15pm. You end up back at their booth where you pay for the rentals. A guy waded into the river and pulled our kayaks back into their little dock.
The City Market has a bar and grill, but we weren’t super hungry yet, and one of our favorite restaurants, the Soup Spoon, wasn’t so far off, so we went there instead.
We went did our trip in about 1:45 hours, from 5:30pm to 7:15pm on a Friday night. It was a very easy paddle. We only saw one other kayaker in the river. In the downtown area there were a few pontoons and a couple speed boats.
My Final Thoughts on the Potter Park Zoo to City Market paddle trip on the Grand River:
– I really liked the first portion of the trip, the area around the Zoo
– The rest of the trip has city scenery, which isn’t my favorite thing when kayaking
-There were a few short stretches in the second half of the trip where the banks were more wooded, which was nice
– Rivertown Adventures seems like a good kayak rental place, and I’m glad that they are in business
– Aside from maneuvering around fallen trees, this is a very easy paddle
– If a person doesn’t mind kayaking through a city, this is a pretty good trip
If you live in the area, I strongly recommend that you do this trip at least once. And who knows, you might spot the Bald Eagle!
On June 11th, after more than 6 months of trying, I broke a board with a flying sidekick, and finally got my black belt in Taekwondo. It was glorious.
So here’s the back story. In October 2014, I took my black belt test. The intensity and difficulty of Taekwondo black belt tests vary by school, but it’s definitely a serious and grueling affair in my dojang. Our master is very old school in how he runs the dojang. For lack of a better term, he is a hard ass, and there is no getting around the fact that he will absolutely make you work for your black belt.
I had been practicing taekwondo in this school for close to six years by the time I applied for the black belt test. It usually doesn’t take that long for people to get their black belt in a martial art, especially if they train consistently (I had also practiced Taekwondo for several years when I was an adolescent, but when I joined this school I opted to start from white belt, the lowest rank). I know people who have gotten their black belt in two and a half years, which is considered pretty fast, but I think most people on average get their black belt in 4 years. Why did I take so much longer to get mine? Well I’m gonna be honest with y’all… I just didn’t have the determination and motivation. Being a black belt was always something I aspired to be, but I lacked the fiery passion needed to train intensely for 3-4 months before the test. Plus, I was too lazy to memorize the whole color belt curriculum that is included in the test.
I’m also not very competitive by nature, so the fact that a few people in the dojang who started after me already got their black belts didn’t really galvanize me to go hard so I could take the test. Competing against other people isn’t a reliable source of motivation for me, unless of course they make it personal, which hardly ever happens. In my school at least, no one ever said, Kim, ya loser, you’ve been here for more than six years, why aren’t you a black belt yet?
In the weeks leading up to my black belt test, I trained to increase my endurance and stamina as much as I could, if only to simply survive the 5-hour ordeal of the test. The black belt test in our school is legendary – it’s part mastery of all the kicking and striking techniques and part intense fitness test. About three hours of the test are spent doing boot camp style exercises: running, box jumps, squats, push ups, duck walks, lunges, mountain climbers, and burpees. It’s not uncommon for black belt test takers to pass out or puke.
I really didn’t want to pass out or puke during test day, so on the day of the test, I was in my best shape in years, in the sense that I could do intense cardio for hours and not die. And I didn’t. I was at the back of the pack during our 3.5 mile run, but we had people who were going for their second black belt dan who were marathon runners and triathletes, so whatevs. I was able to complete three sets of 100 box jumps, which I absolutely hate, without catching my toe on the box crate and falling. My quads were quivering for most of the 200+ squats. I was seeing double by the time we go to burpees. I survived it all without retching and completely passing out. There were a few times when my vision got dark around the edges, but I just stopped for a minute till it snapped back to normal. A banana kept the lactic acid build up at bay, enough to prevent dry heaving.
The black belt test is composed of 5 parts: fitness, poomsae (patterns), self defense, sparring, and breaking. The breaking is where the test taker has to break a wooden board using advanced kicking and hand striking techniques, chosen by the teacher. Aside from the intense fitness test from hell, the breaking portion was what I feared the most in this test. Mostly because the breaking kicks have to be FLYING kicks, and you don’t get to know which one you have to do until the moment you’re called up to the front. Guess what – I really suck at flying kicks.
The breaking I had to do was just a knife hand strike. Got it at the first try, no problem. The second one was a jumping front kick. Which basically meant a board was held up like 3 feet above the top of my head and I had jump straight up and break it with a front kick. It was crazy, but I somehow did it.
And then the last one. The flying side kick. The kick I knew I was probably going to fail if I had to do it. It’s not the most difficult kick in taekwondo by any means, but it would be the most difficult kick I personally would have attempted at this point. And now my passing of this test hinged on performing this kick perfectly, with all these people watching, and I had to break a wooden board with it to boot. I also had to “fly” (extend the kick) over 4 people curled up in a turtle position to make sure I cleared about 1.5 yards. If I didn’t, I would be stepping on someone’s neck or the middle of their back.
Can we say pressure? Yeah, let’s say pressure.
Long story short, I failed the flying sidekick. I couldn’t get enough height on my jump, I couldn’t clear enough distance, and my kicking form was totally off. It was kind of a disaster.
It was a huge disappointment of course, but I couldn’t let it get me down. Giving up isn’t an option; in fact it would be absurd. The only option was to now train for this kick so I could retest for it in a couple of months.
So I did. With the help of a few of the people in my school, I practiced the flying sidekick after class a couple times a week.
January rolled around and one day during class Master C announced that I would do the retest for the black belt. Ok. We set up and did my running start, willing my legs to lift off the ground as high as it could go.
Fail again. Still didn’t jump high enough, not enough distance cleared, fell short of the target. Aaaarghh.
After that, it was a series of failed attempts at this flying sidekick. I kept practicing after class, and every 3 or 4 weeks or so, Master C would make me retest, and the same thing would happen.
It started to become A Thing in our school. Because I kept having to do it, everyone in the school had at one point witnessed me attempt to execute this kick and fail. Soon, each time I came to class people would ask me if I would be retesting today, how was my kick going, do I want help with holding the kicking pad after class? Each time I was given the test there would be this huge crowd and people would be cheering to encourage me. And each time, I would fall short, and it would be like
Needless to say, it was starting to get a bit embarrassing. And more than not a little frustrating.
I watched YouTube tutorials. I read Taekwondo manuals. I asked each Black Belt in the dojang how they execute this kick. I meditated and visualized breaking the board with this kick.
I practiced and practiced after class. It would hurt pretty bad sometimes, because doing a flying sidekick incorrectly basically means wrecking your kicking leg. The strain from practicing flying sidekicks affected my weightlifting..
Months and months went by. I kept trying. It started to become a source of anxiety for me. Why can’t I do this darn kick? I even cursed the fact that this kick was in the curriculum. The flying sidekick was designed, back in ancient times of course, to knock an opponent off a horse. I just could not imagine myself in a situation where someone on horseback was attacking me. Wtf.
But then, on June 11th 2015, I finally did it. Master C held up the board with one of the black belts, I yelled, I took a slowish running start, I jumped as high as I could, tucked in my legs, waited for a second, extended my right leg, and this time – my foot went through that board with a resounding crack.
The moment it happened, everyone watching erupted into loud cheers. I fistpumped a million times and hugged everyone in my class. Then we went for a celebration dinner.
Life lesson (totally cliché, but totally true): simply never give up when you’re going for a goal. It will get hard, you’ll get frustrated, mad, even embarrassed. But you just have to push through it and do it.
Took out the the tent today to air and sweep it out. Camping season is finally here!!! Our first camping trip starts this coming Saturday. I am SO excited. This one is gonna be epic.
First camping trip of the year means I have to take out all the camping gear and clean, sort, and take an inventory to figure out what else we need. I may be super messy but when it comes to my outdoor gear, I’m super meticulous. If you take care of your things, your things will take care of you. It’s going to be a busy week, with work and getting ready for the camping trip. But soon it’s going to be doing some of my favorite things – campfires! hikes! watching wildlife! sleeping in a tent! waking up in the outdoors! stargazing!
Michigan winters, they can be rough. There’s a ton of snow, yes, but that’s not the worst thing about Michigan winters for me. It’s the weeks and weeks of dark, overcast days, when you don’t see the sun for days. I don’t think I actually have seasonal affective disorder or anything, but my energy is def. at its lowest during the winter months. With low energy, my motivation to exercise regularly, eat well, and get outdoors takes a nosedive too. I get a bad case of the winter blahs. All of these things just get stuck in a negative feedback loop of decreased energy, poor eating, and not giving a fuck.
But come late March, when the snow finally stops and everything begins to thaw – doing the whole health, fitness, and the great outdoors thing gets a whole lot easier. And fun.
It’s the Season for Adventure
Yes, there are people who run all through winter and people who go camping in the snow. I aint about that life. Sure skiing is awesome, but it’s prohibitively expensive to go more than a few times during a winter season, and there are just so many more outdoor activities in the summer. When May rolls around I’m already raring to go kayaking, camping, and hiking. Getting out there and enjoying the outdoors, it just makes me so happy, like I’m actually living, and life is good. I’m more likely not to stuff my face with processed chemical shitstorm junk food because I’m feeling like, connected to the earth and shit. So I’m more likely to eat whole foods because I feel all natural!
Gardening, Grow Your Own Food
This year I planted my first vegetable garden in my adult life. I went the whole nine yards – I started seeds around February while it was still snowing in Michigan, put together a raised bed, got blended compost from the gardening supply store, transplanted in spring. It’s kind of magical, watching your plants grow. It’s practically meditative, tending to your plants. Every morning I go outside and do a little gardening. Watering, pulling weeds, stroking leaves, staring lovingly at the first fruit buds. Anyway, I CANT WAIT to eat these vegetables.
Composting, Turning Garbage into Black Gold
As soon as the weather warmed I made Kory build a compost bin (she’s so handy). We are into keeping as much garbage out of landfills as much as possible, we recycle diligently, but composting is even better because you turn your garbage into a useful product. We go through a lot of produce so we generate a decent amount of plant kitchen scraps, and so it just goes into the compost pile, and in a couple/few months – it’ll go into the garden. Closed loop food system? Gettin pretty close. Composting is pretty rad, period.
More Sunlight & Longer Days
It’s so much easier to feel good about life when it’s sunny. When you’re not depressed because you haven’t seen sunlight in days, you don’t have to drag yourself to your workout. When I emerge from my pitch dark bedroom in the morning into the living room bathed in sunlight, I’m happy. When I’m happy, it’s easy to make good choices. When it’s warm and sunny I actually enjoy taking Josie out for a walk. Also, on Mondays and Wednesdays my taekwondo class starts at 7pm. During the winter I can’t bring myself to go then because it’s already dark when the class starts, and it just feels so late. But during summertime it’s still light out at the end of the class at 8:30pm. Thus I go to taekwondo more often.
There’s just something about going to the farmer’s market and getting your vegetables and fruits from the people who grew them. Being able to have a conversation with the grower about where the broccoli was grown and how bitter the beets are going to be gives me this connection to my food that makes me more aware, and it just makes eating this food more meaningful. Eating locally is one of our things – I think it’s healthier to eat as close to home as possible, and more ecologically responsible, obv – and it’s mostly only possible to do this during farmer’s market season. Anyway, I really really enjoy going to the market. I like looking at all the beautiful fruit and veggies, seeing what’s in season, checking out the cool stuff that people in the community make- like soaps, candles, maple syrup, pastries. Going to the farmer’s market is my Saturday morning ritual from late spring to early fall – and I come home with a week’s worth of local produce.
The most delicious and sweetest fruits are in season in the summer/early fall. Mangoes, peaches, and pears – my top favorite fruits, fresh and in season at this time. And so many other delicious sweet things: oranges, cantaloupes, strawberries, grapes, cherries! Go to the supermarket or the farmer’s market and all that stuff is fresh and lots of the time on sale. I think about how strawberries taste in February or eating peaches from a can. I just snatch them all up. It’s good eating in the summer.
I’m not saying that my health and fitness efforts are perfect during spring and summer. But compared to winter, it’s definitely a whole lot easier. This summer I’m determined to make it a fun, healthy, adventure-filled season!
I’ve been doing the 5×5 program for 4 months now, so I’m at a place where I can reliably assess how I’m doing with the program and how it’s working for me.
Back in January when I first started the program, I wrote that if I follow the program to a T, which makes you increase the weight on each lift by 5 pounds, I should be squatting 240lbs by the end of three months.
Needless to say, I am not lifting anything that’s 240lbs. Not even close. So not close, it’s kind of ridic that I even thought I could squat anywhere near that in 3 months. I think it’s clear that I didnt really have a clear concept of how heavy 240lbs is at that time. Because y’all – it’s heavy. Like really heavy. Like, you clearly need quads made of tree trunks to squat or deadlift that much weight. And tree trunks dont grow in three months, my friends.
Ah well, I’m just going to brush off that mathematical delusion as a little bit of naivete.
I basically reached my weight limits after about 6-7 weeks into the program. After hitting 90lbs on the squat, I had to deload to 85 and have been stuck there ever since. Shortly after that, I got pinned after doing 70lbs on the bench press, and I deloaded on that too, and that’s where I’m at now. I havent made any significant progress with the bent over row, and i realize that I don’t really have the mechanics of the lift down yet.
The only lift that I didn’t completely stall at is the deadlift, and I’m up 120 lbs on that one, and my one rep max is like 5-10lbs more.
So yeah, in terms of weightlifting gains, I didn’t get to increase the amount of weight I could lift by very much. I reached my upper limits pretty early and plateaued on most of the lifts except for the deadlift. I admit that I didn’t try to bust through these plateaus with ferocity or anything- I definitely took a conservative approach, and never tried to force the weight until I was ready to increase it.
Visually, my arms also aren’t ripping out of my shirtsleeves or anything.
However, it hasn’t been all lameness and failures:
Plainly, I’ve gotten stronger. I’m not talking about gym strength that lets you pick up weights and lift them up and down, but functional strength in everyday tasks. That’s the key thing with the 5×5 program- it’s all compound lifts that work your whole body and not isolation lifts. So while I may not have a goose egg for a bicep, I feel that I’m just stronger overall. I first realized this when I went to the water cooler at work. The jug was empty, and someone had to replace it with a full one. Normally a few months ago I would have waited around till a male coworker came by to replace the bottle (Yes, I realize this sounds like gender stereotyping, ugh). Not that I didnt think I could lift the thing, but that I just didnt really want to exert that much effort and be all out of breath for a few minutes. But I looked at that 5 gallon water jug (40bs), and I realized that heck, I was lifting practically thrice that much weight this morning. So I removed the empty jug, picked up the a full one from the floor and placed it on the dispenser. Like a bawse. Picking up that jug from the floor and hoisting it above shoulder height is 1) deadlift and then 2) overhead press.
The other day I’m in taekwondo, we’re doing our quick meditation before class where we’re all like this
And I’ve got my hands on my thighs, and I tell you, I felt those quad muscles. Quad muscles that were not there before, and I could for real feel them and they were hard. And I was like daaaaaaaayummm. Kneeling down like that obviously flexed those muscles to the point of straining, but the point is, there are muscles to be flexed. It’s kind of fantastic.
“Babe,” my girlfriend says while I set down the lunch tray I brought up to her office. “I wish you wouldn’t scream while you’re lifting weights downstairs. It just comes out of nowhere and scares me each time.”
Uh oh. Have I really become that person? The screamer in the gym? Several months ago I wrote about grunting in the gym, and how embarrassed I was, and how it just sort of slipped out during a heavy dumbbell bench press. I didn’t make a habit of it; it was sort of a one-time thing. That also happened when I was still going to public gym, but now I only work out at our home gym.
Our home gym is in the basement, and Kory’s office is in the second floor of the house.
“I’m sitting here working and then all of sudden I hear this scream. It makes my heart jump,” she continues.
I can be heard screaming from two floors down. While lifting weights.
“Then I worry that you’ve actually hurt yourself,” she says gently, with a smile, half amused and half apologetic, because she’s basically telling me I get too loud when I’m working out.
“Don’t worry, if I actually hurt myself, I’ll be yelling help!” I tell her.
That conversation happened earlier today, and I just realized that I didn’t even say anything about the fact that I scream while lifting weights.
I guess it kind of snuck up on me. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been lifting weights at home since October of last year. I’m the only one in there, I’m the only one who lies on that bench, my music is blasting on the speakers. There’s no one around; I’m free to make the Eye of the Tiger in the mirror to psych myself out. I’ve probably talked to myself a few times. You can’t do that when you’re in Planet Fitness, even in their no judgment zone.
Is that why I scream now? All this freedom?
Let’s be clear, it’s not like I scream on every rep, or every set. Cus that’s crazy.
I mentally went through what I did during my workout, and there, as proof, in my memories, I do remember screaming. There’s no denying it.
I’m still doing the 5×5, and I think I yell when I get to the 5th rep of the barbell squat, starting at the 4th set, when it gets hard. Same with the overhead press and the bench press. Not with the bent over row or the deadlift though. I think it’s something to do with the bending forward with my hips that prevents me from yelling?
I know it sounds like I’m making excuses, but I think my screaming during weightlifting is a carry over from taekwondo? Yelling is a part of martial arts, and it serves many purposes. To psych yourself and your opponent out, sure. It also can let you expel air from your lungs/stomach and give you a jolt of adrenaline. It’s as normal and routine as warming up.
When I’m screaming during a squat, I’m trying to give myself a mental boost to help me push through the pain in my quads and up to the upright position. In the bench press, I yell a little bit on the last rep when it feels like the barbell wont go up anymore, to push my chest out, and like my scream can help carry the bar up and away from crushing my clavicle.
Thank goodness I wont be going to a gym with other people anytime soon. I just might have to forever be a home gym goer, if I’ve become a screamer.
When I tried to bend my knees for the deadlift, my quads seized up and refused to go any lower.
I’m not going to be able to pick up this barbell off the floor. Doing it 5 times seemed even more unlikely.
* * *
This is where it gets real, y’all. These weights are starting to get heavy.
I’m now at week 4 of the 5×5 program. Last time I wrote about all the things I lurve about this classic weightlifting program. All free weights (necessary because I work out in a home gym), all compound exercises, low reps , not ever having to take a lift to failure, and designed to increase strength.
In this program the weight increases for each lift by 5lbs for every workout (except for the deadlift, which is 10lb). I started with just the Olympic bar (45lbs) for all the lifts except the deadlift because the bar needs plates to sit up off the floor.
The first 3 weeks were pretty great. I love the simplicity of 3 compound exercises in a specific order. Up until this week the weights have been relatively easy, but I appreciated this time to really focus on my form. I know it’s going to be absolutely essential when the weight gets really heavy. The first three weeks got me into the rhythm of the program and let me figure out my pacing. So yeah, the 9 workouts where I moved up from the 45lb to 85lbs squats wasn’t too bad. Before starting the 5×5 program I was squatting 80lbs, and I pushed past that last week without too much of a struggle. The program was doing what it was supposed to do. Sweet.
But oh, this last workout was not quite a walk in the park.
More like I got ambushed by a gang of ninjas bent on revenge while I was walking in the park with only tictacs and a gas receipt in my pocket.
It’s Day 10 and the squat is now at 90lbs. Heck, it looked heavy while I was loading up the bar. I unracked and walked a couple of steps toward the mirror. I stared hard at my reflection with the Eye of the Tiger.
The first time I lowered myself down for that 90lb squat, it felt like there was a giant magnet on my butt and it was being full-on magnetized towards the floor. My upper body went down so fast for a second, it felt like a freefall. Freefalling sounds fun, except when you have a hunk of iron on your back and a basement floor a foot under your butt.
So that was the first rep. I knew the rest of these sets were not going to be so fun.
On the second set, there was a little tremor in my quads.
On the third set, the tremor escalated to a definite quiver.
On the fourth set, my quads were legit shaking. I struggled hard to push myself up to a standing position.
On the fifth set, pain shot from my quads deep into my hips. Yeah, the kind that makes your breath catch. The pain in my muscles burned, then settled as a deep ache in my hip joints.
This is not good at all, you guys. And I was doing soooo well. I was really hitting my stride with this whole lifting thing. Pumping iron in my basement gym like a bawse. I wanted to fling myself dramatically onto the rubber flooring and weep about my failure. It felt like a major setback. The weight was only 5lbs heavier than it was on Wednesday, 2 days ago. Why was this now so hard?
I gave myself a few minutes for my pity party and then examined the facts: I wrecked my legs in taekwondo yesterday. For the past two days ( during my off days from 5×5), I’ve been working on my flying sidekicks in taekwondo class. And by working, I mean trying to do them and failing. I have to break a board with a flying side kick to pass my black belt test.
A flying sidekick involves: 1) running start 2) jump and tuck knees to chest 3) extend one leg to kick 4) bend knees slightly before landing on the floor. I’m not fast enough and not good at flying enough to complete all those steps under 4 seconds, and I end up short. By the time I get to extend my kicking leg, I’m already back on the ground, so my locked leg absorbs a huge impact when I come crashing down on the floor. My legs are getting beat up because science: force =mass x acceleration (120 lbs x running start). After attempting it a few times (and failing), my hamstrings started to cramp and seize up. And I still had to do the rest of the hour-long class. I was limping out of the dojang last night.
Ooookay. So that’s clearly why these 90lb squats are super hard, right? Obviously I’ve been punishing my legs with these freakin flying sidekicks, so ofcouse that’s why I cant perform these squats properly.
Alright, moving on. Let’s get to these overhead presses.
Holy balls, these are terrible too!! They are even more of a disaster!! I hadn’t done barbell overhead presses prior to 5×5, so I spent the first 4 or so workouts with just the bar to get used to the mechanics of the lift. Today was the first time I actually put weight on the bar- a measly 5 lbs. Bad idea, especially after the squat fails. I couldn’t do a complete set with the 50lb weight. On one set I could only do one!!
Yesterday’s taekwondo cannot explain why I can’t do these overhead presses. Straight talk: my morale was super low at this point.
Last up was the deadlift – at 95lbs. Of all the lifts in 5×5, I found the deadlift to be the “easiest”. Simply because the weight isn’t high off the ground, and I’m not under it. I also feel like it’s the most natural of all the compound lifts, and I have a pretty good feel of the body mechanics. In the 5×5 program the deadlift is only for one set of 5 reps. Surely, surely this last exercise will the saving grace of this fiasco.
Yeah, that’s when my legs bailed on me. The first few attempts failed because now my quads exploded with pain when I tried to bend my knees. I don’t back down when a set gets hard, and I’ve taken sets to failure before, but it didn’t feel right to push through this pain. I took like a 5 minute break, and eventually completed the set but it was hard.
Basically, Day 10 of my 5×5 program is going on the record as a very rough day. Failed reps, incomplete sets, bad form. The only thing that could have made it worse was getting an actual injury from the workout, or getting pinned with a bench press or something. It totally seemed like the worst workout ever.
In retrospect, and most things always look better in hindsight, I realize that this day is all part of it. Inevitable, even. This was the first “bad” day I’ve had in the program, where I basically struggled with everything- but it was bound to come. The weights increase every workout- ofcourse I was going to reach my limits (here it is). Yes, it was also compounded by the tough class I had in taekwondo the day before, but cross training is another piece that I have to manage and figure out.
The program hasn’t been that hard until now – but now I’ve caught up to my work weight before I started the program and anything after this is pushing my limits.
Now the real work begins. It’s about to get real.
So a few weeks ago I started searching for a weightlifting program. For the last 2 months of 2014 I was lifting but not following a plan; I was just kind of doing exercises at random. I would just walk into my home gym and choose exercises that I felt like doing that day. Usually a combination of barbell squats, deadlifts, bench presses, curls, dips, shoulder presses, lat pulldowns, and then finish it off with a short run on the treadmill.
It was all fine and good, but I knew I needed to find a program and follow it. You could walk around the forest without a map, and you’ll still get somewhere and see the sights. But if you actually have a specific location in mind that you want to get to, walking around aimlessly isn’t the smartest plan. Sure, you might get to that location eventually, but probably in a really roundabout way, and you’ll probably spend a whole lot of time getting lost or tangled in brambles…the point of this extended metaphor is that I NEEDED TO FIND A WEIGHTLIFTING/EXERCISE PROGRAM.
I only had two requirements for this lifting program:
- No machines; all the exercises had to be done with free weights because I only work out in my home gym
- It would build muscle and increase strength (duh)
So I looked where everyone looks to find anything these days. That’s right, I fired up my Mac and Googled. By the way, I do have books on weightlifting and strength training, but all the programs outlined in those books included exercises that involved exercise machines or some other equipment one would find in a commercial gym.
So I’m looking through programs on Bodybuilding.com, and there a ton of cool and flashy programs, but all of them include at least a few machines, or chin-up bars, kettlebells, bands, etc. A lot of them mixed weights and HIIT (high intensity interval training). They had a very Crossfit feel to them. I suppose I could have tried to modify them so I could work around the missing equipment, but honestly I was so overwhelmed by ALL THE EXERCISES AND BANDS AND BURPEES.
Then I found it. The 5×5 program on the Stronglifts website. It’s like when you look across a crowded room at a party and lock eyes with a stranger, and in that moment you realize you found THE ONE.
Here’s the 5×5 program in a nutshell:
- There are 5 exercises: squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and bent over row.
- 5 sets of 5 reps for each exercise
- 3 times a week
- 3 exercises per workout, squats in every workout
- Increase the weight for each exercise by 5lbs every workout
Background: 5×5 was created by Reg Park, a 3-time Mr. Universe winner. He also trained Arnold. 5×5 is a time-tested program for increasing strength.
I absolutely loved the idea of this program. It was simple, old school, but progressive. Kind of like me. No fuss no muss, like my hair care regimen.
It met my number one requirement, that the program only uses free weights. Aside from the fact that I only work out in my home gym now, using free weights is infinitely more effective for building strength than using machines because you are forced to balance the weight yourself, and not the machine that does it all for you. Using machines will also force you into some unnatural movements not meant for how your particular body will move. I haven’t been weightlifting that long, but I figured this part out pretty quickly after squatting for a couple of months on a smith machine.
The second awesome thing about the program is that the program comprises five compound exercises. Compound exercies like the squat (the “king” of lifts) and the deadlift work the largest muscle groups and engage pretty much your whole body. That’s the stark difference between this program and all the others: there are no lifts that isolate small muscle groups, like curls for biceps or dips for triceps. All compound lifts, baby. And I dig it.
I was also sold on the low reps. No need to take a set to failure. 5 sets of 5 reps. Low reps, heavy weight. I like it.
All of this seems pretty bare bones and old school, but the program’s claim is nothing short of extravagant: if I follow this program to a T, I will be squatting 220lbs in 3 months.
This claim is based on the 5 lb weight increase from each workout (except for the deadlift, which is 10lbs). It’s recommended that you start the program with 50% of your work weight on each lift. I was squatting and deadlifting around 80-85lbs before I started the program, so I started with the just the 45lb Olympic bar. But in three months, after 36 workouts, I’m supposed to be at 220lbs. It sounds crazy, I might not get at 220 exactly, but I’m willing to bet some cash money that my work weight on the squat and deadlift will increase by at least 30-40 lbs and I will be achieving PRs for most of the second half.
The program is designed to increase the amount of weight you lift. And so it’s perfect for someone like me- someone who is pretty early in the game and have a lot of room to improve. As opposed to someone who is already squatting like 400lbs- their gains with this program wont be as dramatic. And I believe that anyone can progress in anything, given the right training program.
So yeah, I’m pretty sold on the 5×5 program. But it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention how I got sold on the 5×5 program. It was the StrongLifts 5×5 website. Yo, for real- this website is fantastic. This Belgian guy Mehdi explains the whole program step by step, gives the rationale behind it, and then gives you all these resources FOR FREE. Videos, excel charts if you want to log your workouts old school, and a 5 star app. He could charge a hundred dollars for this program but he basically is just giving it away. Check out the website, you won’t be disappointed.
I’m two weeks into the program and I’m digging it. This is a program that I can stick with, and I’m looking forward to my strength and muscle gains.
I’ll update on my progress and how I’m doing with the program every four weeks or so.
In the meantime: lift heavy!