Squat racks razed to the ground. Huge rocks unearthed. Long-term readers will recall the mayhem that I orchestrated at my outdoor gym at the end of last year’s summer training season in order to accomodate for a power rack and heavy duty bench that were to be welded out of iron junk. In the end, the promised welder never showed up and the iron was left alone to hibernate under a big pile of snow. Not wanting to spend another rackless summer at Toffe’s Gym, one of the first things I did upon returning this year was to get me another welder who promised to deliver the goods within the first week of July. Meanwhile, I am relegated to training at what can best be described as a construction site equipped mainly with iron, my donkey calf machine and an old Weider bench standing on a level wooden platform. The spruces swaying in the fresh breeze from the sea made sure I still felt like I had just returned to my own little powerlifting mecca.
Tuesday, 21 June 2005: SQ/DL
After the recent deadlift assault, squatting was on the agenda. More specifically, something that would be beneficial for curing the excessive forward lean and leg drive issue that is the sorry hallmark of both my squat and deadlift. I won’t pretend that I will start to do these exercises with a near straight back overnight simply overriding current weaknesses (long back and thighs don’t help much either), but if I could get to the point where I can drive straight up from whatever forward lean I have at the bottom it would be a great start. Once I start to ascend, I must not yield an inch forward, come rain or shine.
Standing out there in the woods at past midnight (blessed be the bright Finnish summer nights) without any kind of rack, my mind wandered in mysterious ways and suggested I try Zercher squats off the floor. This is the way they were originally performed before, according to Louie Simmons on the older Deadlift Secrets video, the much increased mass of the modern powerlifter prevented going that deep. There is really no reason to drop down just to the thigh or just past the knees if one is physically able to go all the way. For one thing, the lift becomes dramatically more challenging thus sparing the poor elbow crooks from heavier weights while really forcing the lifter into an extreme forward lean and deep squat that are sure to overload a muscle or two as the body must work even harder to stay upright. Being the zealot I am, I will henceforth regard everything else than off the floor a partial Zercher squat.
To the tune of the humming mosquitoes, I slapped one wheel on the bar and found that I was just barely able to go down into a squat deep enough to get the bar into the crook of my arms. What I also found was that 60 kg/133 lbs was already too heavy for me to manage in good form. I dropped down to 50 kg/111 lbs, which worked great although the smaller plates did not permit me to touch the floor between every rep. This is without doubt the most demanding two-legged barbell squat exercise I’ve tried so far. If anyone out there tries the full-range Zercher, I would be more than a little interested in what poundages you can muster up without turning it into a Zercher deadlift. Anyway, if you have three minutes to spare, the nocturnal Zercher action can naturally be found on this week’s video summary (5.2M).
Zecher squat off floor:
3, 1 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
5,3,4 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
One-handed deadlift with barbell:
5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
Stability ball crunch:
30 @ 5 kg/11 lbs
2x15 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Walk outs with arm and leg lift: 5
Friday, 24 June 2005
On the upper body front, I’ve decided to declare war on the shoulders. In my bodybuilding days I came to regard the shoulders as my strongest body part as I could move the same weight on the seated dumbell press as on the incline (32 kg/71 lbs dumbells appeared very heavy back then). Photos from that time also show a guy with huge shoulders and a fairly flat chest.
I do realize the importance of extra shoulder work for raw lifters, but somehow I’ve carried the illusion of shoulders not being a personal problem over the fence into the powerlifting world. Well, I can now bench a lot more than I could back then and it would be naive to pretend that the shoulders are evolving at the same speed as my other muscle groups without doing much extra work for the front delts (always been big on preventive cuff work). As John McDonald pointed out to someone somewhere recently, all the old-time big benchers did tons of shoulder work according to Biasiotto’s and Arndt’s book The Bench Press. I should know that, heck, I’ve even reviewed the book, but blinders are per definition blinders. We raw lifters have a lot to learn from the era before heavy duty bench shirts made powerlifting revolve increasingly around having an overwhelming lockout to augment the drive that the shirt gives out of the bottom. To make things even more plain, it has been clear for a long time now that my sticking point in the bench press is precisely at the point where the delts give over to the triceps. Suddenly the idea that I have seriously neglected shoulder work and that they might be the main hindrance to me pushing up bigger weights on the bench does not appear so far fetched anymore. After all, I have been complemented on my strong lockout more than once and the fact that I can lockout 70 kg/155 lbs more for a triple than I can bench off my chest should tell a listening ear something. ‘Nuff said.
Behind-the-neck press: worked up to 5x5 @ 45 kg/99 lbs over several sets
10 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
10 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
5,4 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Bench shrug: 3x10 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
6 @ 11 kg/24 lbs
15 @ 6 kg/13 lbs
Saturday, 25 June 2005
My mind continued to bubble towards the end of the week. On an impulse I grabbed a shovel and started digging my way past roots and stones into the ground. Come Saturday, my new pit was basically done except for a permanent top structure. Good enough for the second novelty of the week - handle squats. I first saw these on the Westside Squatting Secrets tape where Louie explained how Westside lifters would complement all the box squatting with belt or handle squats to keep the quadriceps up to par. I grabbed my Ironmind loading pin that I bought last year, threw on a few plates, attached my V-bar handle on it and had a go. Reviewing the ensuing video footage, I was more than pleased with my drive off the bottom as the tendency to lead with the legs was only barely noticable. I love this movement already.
Handle squat: worked up to 5,5,5,4 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
Stiff-legged handle deadlift:
8 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
8 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
Bent-over handle row: 3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs (aborted as lower back felt fried)