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.