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A look back: Two years of working out at the gym

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One year ago, I wrote about my progress working out at the gym for a year. It’s now been two years, and I’ve been consistently training with a similar approach. I wanted to look back to see how things have progressed in the past 12 months. Perhaps I’ll take another look a year from now, as up close you really cannot witness the progress, but it starts to add up over time.

I’ve focused slightly less on the exact kilograms this year. Not because I don’t care – I do – but because I’ve enjoyed gaining more volume in everything that I do. For example, when I previously did a deadlift, I would aim for “that magic number,” say 150 kg, for the top set. Now, it’s more of a “let me do how it feels best, and aim for a larger volume.”

Dumbbell shoulder press

With my personal trainer, we still rotate the gym program every four weeks. I now have a stack of printed papers and notes from the past two years – about 26 programs to date. They all build around the three core movements of powerlifting: bench press, back squat, and deadlift. There are variations, of course, so it’s not repetitious or monotonous at all. This also helps me plan my gym visits, as I know after a leg day, I really need at least 36 hours of rest.

Here’s a snapshot of today’s plan of the program I’m currently doing:

  • Front squat: 5 * 5 (with RPE of 6-7)
  • Deadlift with trap bar: 4 reps to top set – then -10 %, and continue with 4 * 6
  • Bench press with a pause: 5 * 2 (RPE 6)
  • Chin ups: 30 (total, in whatever sets feels best)

I guess everyone always needs to know where their “max” is. I did try these a few months ago – for bench press, I did 135 kg (~297 lbs). The back squat was 175 kg (~386 lbs), and the deadlift was 180 kg (~397 lbs). I’m pleased with the progress – from more or less zero to this in about 20 months. On average, that’s 12.5% more weight in 10 months. I focus less on the “absolutely max on an optimal day” mindset and more on having good range, proper form, and plenty of volumes now.

It took a long time to train the body to start accepting harder training sessions. I guess this is true for most sports – you have to train hard to get to a point where you can train hard.

Deadlift with a trap bar

The key for me has been, as I wrote the previous year, consistency. I hit the gym three times a week, usually on Tuesday, Thursday (or Friday), and once during the weekend. The sessions are longer now, though. I warm up for 10-15 minutes and then start working out, which usually takes about 80 minutes. It isn’t unusual for me to spend up to 900 calories for a session like this now. But! I’m not drained – I usually still have energy left, and it’s a great time to stop the session and head for the shower.

In April (2021), all gyms shut down due to COVID-19 in my area. I asked my personal trainer to craft me a program I could do at home. Kettlebells, pull-ups, chin-ups, push-ups, Romanian split squats – anything I could do with the limited weights I have at home. It was pretty great. Once the situation eased up, we started my scheduled training sessions at the local beach with some gym gear – a bench, a power rack, and similar. We were back at the gym by mid-May, but I could also feel I lost some of my strength in those 6 weeks, which was to be expected. Bigger weights ensure proper progress insofar if the goal is to become stronger.

Bench pressing during the summer

I’ve had a few (minor) injuries on the way. I’m not entirely sure if those are related to going to the gym, or me hitting 44 years this year or both. My left shoulder sometimes aches and needs extensive warming up before specific moves at the gym. My left hamstring has been a problem for a few years now, and occasionally it’s much better until it deteriorates again. Knee-warmers have helped massively, but eventually, I’ll have to relent and really focus on getting it fixed. For now, it’s tolerable.

What’s the end goal now, then? Mostly, it’s getting more fit and having more strength to perform in everyday life. It’s amazing when you know you have the mental and physical strength to do any task. Getting those groceries from the car in one go? Not even breaking a sweat now. Doing a tougher gym session just for fun? Great! Putting on that nice shirt, and it actually looks very fitting now.

Deadlift session – this particular gym did not have a deadlift platform.

And that has been a slight issue. Before COVID-19, I had several custom-fitted shirts made for me. None of those fit me now. My waist is a bit more narrow, but my shoulders are bulkier, and nothing fits now. And I don’t mean to sound as if I’ve grown disproportionately in every dimension, but just that the body responds to heavier weights quite easily, and as a result, you get a slightly larger frame.

Deadlifting on a proper platform.

About my weight. When I got started, I was about 102 kg (with a height of 192 cm, or 6’2″). Late last year, I was up to 106 kg – mostly more muscle, but a bit more mass in general as well. I ate a lot, and my protein intake was possibly slightly too much. When writing this, I walked to the scale as it has been a few months since I last checked – and I’m now at exactly 108 kg (238 lbs). Perhaps there is more muscle now and a little less fat. My diet still requires a lot of work – but it’s a gradual process, also. The “learn to love a new vegetable each month” adventure continues. Tomato is fine now, and next up is avocado. Although it’s a fruit, I still need to learn to eat more avocado.

Bench pressing with 120 kg (~264 lbs). The arch in the back is quite sad, but it’s a work in progress – mostly due to the tight left hamstring and back chain.

I’ve also grown to realize that going to the gym to become stronger is a long and sometimes tough endeavor. You would perhaps think that doing a few reps here and there would produce massive gains – and for some, perhaps just so – but my personal experience has been that it’s a slow and long game. Yet, I enjoy it, and I frequently don’t even think about doing a gym session, as it’s so ingrained in my weekly schedule now. We now include gym scouting in our local weekend getaways with the family also. The picture below is from one of those countryside gyms – they practically had one barbell, and the little one on the floor doesn’t count.

What are the future goals, then? Initially, I set out to move 100 kg in most directions. I’ve now set my sights a bit higher – realistically, some of these goals I might get to by the end of the year, and others will take more time. For the bench press, it would be great to hit 150 kg. For deadlift and back squat, 200 kg is the target. But these are dream targets, and reality might be different.

During the next 12 months, I aim to focus more on my diet – without taking it to extremes. I still enjoy the occasional pizza and wine, but the focus will be on getting enough veggies and fibers each day.

Thanks for following along the journey!