HarveyNick.com Musings of a professional nerd

Barbell Training Follow Up

So: after writing that giant post about the three main beginners programs I read up on while trying to figure out the best way to get myself into some sort of (non round) shape, I thought I’d switch to a topic on which I can confidently talk with some authority: me.

More specifically, in case you are interested: the program I’ve ended up putting myself on, the other things which are important and how this all is actually working out for me.

The Program I’m Following

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m currently following the Greyskull LP (Linear Progression) barbell training program, having previously spent a few months on Strong Lifts 5x5 and then working with an online trainer for three months (which is another story entirely). Greyskull is made up of a “core program” (which I waffled about at length in my previous post, so will try to avoid repeating myself here) and a set of “plug-ins”1 which add exercises or rearrange the program in order to add flexibility or meet specific goals.

I do the core program as previously described and add the following “plug-ins”:

  1. On bench days I perform two sets of barbell curls, on press days two sets of V-Bar lat pulldowns, though I’ll be switching that to weighted chin ups next time around;
  2. On bench days I do two sets of either reverse crunches or knees to elbows, press days two sets of planks;
  3. On “non training” week days I walk for around 40 minutes before breakfast (so completely fasted);
  4. On Saturdays I go for a run. Fifteen minutes of intervals (Thirty seconds on, one minute off, times ten), followed by a fifteen minute steady jog;
  5. Every evening before bed I do chin-up “ladders” (1 rep, 2 reps, 3 reps, 4 reps, 5 reps, 1 rep, and so on).

The first of these is lifted directly from Johnny Pain’s original forum post describing the program. The second is my replacement for the “neck harness” work also included in the forum post. I don’t want a giant neck, but I would quite like to have abs. I also primarily put on fat around my middle and figure anything I can do to shift the muscle/fat ratio in that area is probably a good thing.

The fasted walk idea is suggested in the Greyskull LP book as something to help with fat loss, and I figure “what the hell, can’t hurt”. I also like to do something active on my off days, as it seems conducive to keeping in good habits.

The Saturday run is something which was added to my program by the online trainer I worked with, and I found I really enjoyed. Working on stamina (when almost everything else I do is focussed on strength) seems like a good idea as well… especially in terms of being prepared for the zombie apocalypse. We all know the importance of cardio in those circumstances.

In my experience there is no better exercise than chin-ups for making you feel strong. Sure, you lift the heaviest in deadlift, and shoulder press actually lets you throw something above your head… but neither of these is quite the same as lifting yourself off the ground and into the air. Psychologically, that’s huge. (Greyskull LP author) Johnny Pain actually recommends doing sets of chin-ups throughout the day, gradually increasing the number of set and reps, but suggests doing a ladder before bed as an alternative if this isn’t practical for you. Option A is not even a little bit practical for me, so option B it is.

In general I’m really happy with this program and how I’m progressing. If my progress slows down, or I seem to need extra work in one area in particular, I’ll likely switch to the four day version of the program. Hopefully neither of these will come up for a while, though.

Is this program right for you? Maybe. Maybe not. The ideal workout program is a lot like the ideal diet: it’s the one you stick to.

Other Variables

It seems pretty logical that working out in the gym makes you stronger. Actually the opposite is true. Working out in the gym makes you weaker, if you’re doing it right. When you lift heavy weights you damage your muscles and, in the short term, decrease their capability.

Your muscles don’t get stronger until later, while you’re asleep. Even then, they only do so if you’ve taken in adequate nutrition to feed their growth. Thus it’s vitally important to ensure you’re taking in enough food and getting enough sleep.

Consistently getting quality sleep has always been a bit of a problem for me, but I do the best I can. My diet is more in my control, though. In general, I tend to concentrate on getting enough protein, which means plenty of chicken, fish or (more rarely) steak at lunch and dinner, and plenty of eggs at breakfast. I also tend top this up with one or two protein shakes a day.

Oh no! Supplements!

I’m generally of the opinion that most fitness related supplements to be complete bollocks, and likely to do you at least as much harm as good. That said, I don’t include protein shakes in this category. It’s basically food, if mildly suboptimal food. It is convenient, however, and sometime convenience is king. Choose the right brand2 and drinking the things doesn’t need to be a completely miserable experience, either.

I also try to make sure I get plenty of carbs, especially on days I work out. Yes, carbs. Evil, evil, insulin spiking carbs. I try to cut them out towards the the end of the day, though, a practice for which I’ve heard several explanations with varying degrees of “BroScience”. Here’s an example:

The insulin created by the body to process and absorb carbs eaten stops the use of fat as an energy source. Your body naturally burns the most fat while sleeping, and so going to sleep with elevated insulin levels interferes with fat loss.

All of this being said: I am still a foodie. I still love eating good food with good food with good friends. Food is still an end in and of itself, and not just a source of nutrients. It’s just that now I keep a much closer eye on what I’m consuming 90% of the time.

How I’m Actually Doing

Upcoming immodesty alert.

I think I can say at this point that I am without a shadow of a doubt in the best shape of my life. You need to understand here, though, that this is an extremely low bar for me to have lept over. This bar was basically underground.

Right now I am definitely stronger than I have been at any previous point in my life. Again, not hard. I’m definitely not “strong” in the absolute sense, but I am considerably stronger than I was before. Going climbing recently for the first time in years really brought this home.

At school I would collapse the ground after running the 1500m, then proceed to lay there panting and feeling my heart pounding (for some reason) in my butt cheeks. Now I usually end up running for a little under 6km on my Saturday runs, and at some point I plan to run an actual organised 5k. I think my time might actually be quite reasonable.

I’m also going to say that I look better (naked or otherwise) than I have at any previous point in my life. This is REALLY not difficult. At some point in the last ten or fifteen years I moved from the “skinny” category to the “skinny fat” category. That oh so sexy combination of podgy belly, visible ribs, pipe cleaner arms and incipient man boobs. Now I’ve gone down two waste sizes and clothes are more likely be tight around my chest than my belly. Friends have remarked that I’ve lost weight and have a bit more in the way of shoulders.

Brad Pitt in Fight Club I am not, but I don’t hate what I see when I look in the mirror anymore, either. There are things wrapped around my skeleton which I could describe as muscles without worrying that I might be sniggered at. Stand me next to The Rock Dwayne Johnson and I’ll still look like I’m made out of plastic spoons and low quality play dough, but I feel like I’m making progress in the right direction.

  1. Yes, “plug-ins”. I’m sure you couldn’t possibly imagine why this terminology might appeal to me. 

  2. I tend to use PhD Nutrition Pharma Whey. It actually tastes pretty good… and alright, yes, fine, using a brand with that name kind of amuses me. My Dad likes Reflex, and one of my work colleagues goes for Optimum. Another uses PhD. Your millage may vary. Flavour wise: chocolate or banana, all the way.