Day 15 – Down, up, down, up, down, down, down.

Posted: March 26, 2011 in Bill Starr 5x5 Intermediate Programme
Tags: , , , , ,

Having typed the word “down” several times, the word has lost all meaning. Strange phenomenon, isn’t it? Title sounds like the beginning of a games console cheat code…


Today was the week 5, end of week session – 5×4, 3×1, 8×1.

We managed to grab a rack relatively quickly today, despite the gym having quite a bit of traffic.

We began with the squat. The usual progression over the 5 rep sets was manageable. We both performed a few plyometric reps (2/3) between sets (jump squats/frog squats (basically an explosive goblet squat)) and made sure we were both adequately motivated before each set began. I was first up when the 3 set came along and felt very pleased when I was finished. The movements were deep, well-balanced and challenging. Quick note on squat technique – Big breath in at the top/on descent, keep your chest big, hold that breath and drive with the legs…a lot of people advocate breathing out when you’re on the concentric phase of an exercise, but I disagree based on the following principle:

If your car breaks down and you need to push it off the road, when you get behind the car (resistance), you take a big deep breath before you make the effort (concentric phase)…in that situation, where you’re naturally pushing in a real life scenario, would you exhale as you push the car? No, you’d hold your breath, increase your abdominal pressure and turn your face red. Therefore, naturally, when you’re lifting against heavy resistance, your own body is telling you to hold your breath to exert the more force. Thank you Mark Rippetoe for that analogy.

My own 8 rep set went ahead as planned also. It’s challenging in quite a different way – more pain than the higher weight of the 3-rep, but less mentally challenging. The pain is something I know I can work through (years of rowing under a masochist coach), but the heavy weight is different…it’s not that your body can’t shift it, it’s you telling yourself the weight is just too heavy.

Today’s squatting challenges came from Ross’ inability to give up. Basically, his stubborn dedication made the squat session take up 3 times as long – but you can’t fault the effort. He progressed through he initial sets with relative ease, but the 3 rep set was a different matter. He performed 2 initial reps (one absolutely spot on, one a little more shallow) and then crashed out, letting the safety bar catch the weight on the final set. He sat under it for a while and tried to shift it, but no luck was had. So we stripped the bar, and set it up again, just so he could finish that one last rep. He did, but it was admittedly short of the depth he had performed on the first repetition.

However, this “failure” wasn’t actually a failure of strength. It was a failure of technique. He had commented that the bar felt off-balance on his back from the beginning of the set, but that he thought he could handle it…alas, we reiterate an important technical point – balance yourself! An exercise has a beginning, middle and end – each part requires your absolute attention. The weight was shifted more so to one side than the other, which created a very awkward effort requirement when he began to drive with his legs. It was apparent in the lift itself as instead of him getting up halfway and then dropping the bar, he got up half way on one side and three-quarters on the other. As such, after finishing that one rep to make up for the failure, he performed his 8 rep set…I offered him another opportunity to shift the weight he had failed to lift in the 3 rep set…just for one rep…he obliged – my mistake for asking. He went through almost 10 attempts, all to no avail. However I was willing to let it slide for 2 reasons:

1 – if he DID pull it off, it could prevent a potential confidence crash
2 – though he didn’t realise it, he was doing heavy loaded eccentrics – something coaches commonly use to allow athletes to get used to increases in weight

He’ll find that out when he reads this. Anyway, I have no doubt he’ll pull off Monday’s 5 set, but the starting position must be balanced!

Next up – bench press. We both finished the 3 set feeling ready for more (further showing an improvement in my own strength over the last two weeks, as the weight was 2.5kg heavier than before and lifted with ease).  Technical points – keep yourself balanced and retract your shoulder blades…picture yourself shrugging, but instead of moving your shoulder upwards, move them backwards.

Bent over rows followed and went ahead as planned. I changed my grip today, going from a finger grip (holding the bar only with the fingers, no palm contact) to a standard pronated grip (overhand, held in palm) and felt as though I was a lot stronger. It’s good news, as I’ve been lifting against increasing resistance with a “weaker” grip – I’ll smash my 1 rep max here.

We finished with some grip training work –

Focusing on concentrics:

5 pull ups – 2 fingers
5 pull ups – 3 fingers
5 pull ups – 4 fingers
5 pull ups – full grip

Focusing on slow eccentrics:

5,4,3,2,1 – pull ups, full grip.


In other news:

– Breathe in on the eccentric, HOLD through the concentric.
– Technique, technique, technique! Leave yourself as little room for error as possible and reap the benefits!
– Bench press – shoulders back.
– Experiment with some alternative grips. Every weight you lift which requires you to grasp something has a grip strength aspect to it…your body is an entirely interconnected system – any weakness along the way will lessen your performance. That’s when other muscles start to overcompensate and injuries/muscle imbalances occur.

Christian Thibaudeau shows his method of integrating grip strength into your routine – HERE.

Next week is week 6 – our FINAL week in the 5×5 plan and the hardest yet…I’m well up for it!

  1. Omar says:

    It’s amazing no one has really thought of doing something like this. A simple log through through training. I really look forward to these posts and it keeps me inspired, looking forward to the next gym session. I also have been slacking on my deadlifts and your emphasis on it has made me focus. Thanks for doing this and please keep up the good work!

    • Omar, thank you very much for your input here. It’s always a good idea to keep a training log. Even if you’re not putting it out to an audience, it’s a good way of seeing what works for you and what doesn’t. Plus, it can be quite inspiring. We detailed the struggle with the end of week session in the very first week – 120kg squats for 3 reps. Now shifting 132.5 for 5 reps (and 135 on Monday) seems like a much more impressive feat (relatively) and it’s quite inspiring!

      Thanks again,

      P.S. – Remember Deadlift has a capital D – haha!

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