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

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

About a year ago, I recapped my gym experience from 2019 to 2021. It has been three years, and I’m happy to say I still stick to the same principles and attitude.

Initially, I wanted to get fit and headed to the gym in 2019. You can read those initial thoughts here.

First things first – how is it going?

It’s been fantastic. I go to the gym four times a week now. It’s one more time per week than previously, and it seems my body is adjusting very well to this added stress. My personal trainer does the programming, and we’ve gone fully digital. That means we’re using a shared Google Sheets doc now.

Back when I started, I hoped to one day lift decent weights. The thinking I had three years ago was that being capable of bench pressing 100 kg (~220 lbs) and deadlifting and back squatting the same would be awesome. Gradually, over the months that followed, I’ve readjusted my thinking.

Instead of a specific top set that I can perhaps hit once or twice a year, I’m eager to add more volume. Over time, this also seems to correlate well with personal records!

I dropped a bit of weight during the summer – simply by choosing not to each french fries during our road trip to California. Today, I’m clocking in at around 103 kg, and I feel good each morning I wake up.

The home gym

During the pandemic, I built a home gym. This is where I do my sessions three times a week now. Once a week, I meet with my PT at a commercial gym.

It’s a nice little space that fits all the essential gear. And to be honest, you don’t need all that much equipment when you’re powerlifting.

I’m super happy with how it turned out. It’s still missing a lat pulldown machine and some minor stuff. I’ll get to those in the coming months – right now, I’m enjoying the feeling of deciding to hit the gym NOW, and 20 seconds later, I’m already warming up. The kids often join me, either by hanging around or doing their session at the same time.

The gym has a squat rack, plates, barbells, dumbbells, a treadmill, and enough space to do any imaginable exercise. I recently also sourced one of the builders I used to craft a custom deadlift platform during the house project. The floor is reinforced concrete with rubber mats, so I’m not too worried about dropping the weights.

All commercial gear I mostly got from Rogue Fitness.

The gear is robust, heavy, and black.

This is how the home gym arrives. It took days to put those things together. I’m slightly disappointed with how poor the assembly instructions are from Rogue. You often had to re-build some equipment because Mickey Mouse drew the instruction booklet.

Overall, the home gym has been a worthy investment. The gear will outlast me. More prominently, I’m saving about 4 hours weekly as I don’t have to commute to the gym. At the same time, my gym sessions at home are about 1 hour and 20 minutes now. I can take long pauses and be more gentle with myself as I’m not racing against the clock when at home.

Let’s be honest, though. Building a home gym is never an excellent investment if you’re considering saving on your membership fees in the commercial gym. Building the room, plus all the gear, would perhaps pay my membership fees for the next 100 years.

I splurged a bit on gear I rarely use – like the full-width curl bar. It’s amazing!

Gradual progress

How has it been, then?

In the past year, I’ve hit a few new milestones.

I’ve graduated to using the red plates (25 kg / 55 lbs) for warming up. It’s awesome. The larger sets, perhaps around the 150 to 200 kg range, have become more accessible for me now. I’m super happy, as I spent a long time closer to the 100 kg range on many exercises.

I’ve altered my conventional stance ever so slightly for deadlift, and it seems to work much better for me now. Less taxing on my hips, I think.

For the better part of year two (2020-2021), I seemed to have different aches and pains now and then. I would take NSAIDs for pain reduction, perhaps once a week or a few times a month. At one point, I realized there was zero need for this, as I could focus more on recovery, form, diet, and rest. I’ve been pain-free now for the better part of 2022. One routine I have now is that about four evenings per week, I do static and dynamic stretching while watching the news in the living room.

Whenever I travel, I take my gym gear with me. The picture above is from a commercial gym in Frankfurt, Germany. I’m surprised how often you get free access to a gym you’re visiting if you agree to write an honest review for them. Which I always do. I’m prepared to pay, but as a tourist, the reception staff often suggests a free visit.

The supplements

For me, the leading supplement is quality food. Usually homemade – a lot of salmon, chicken, rice, and similar. I still need to focus fiercely on getting enough vegetables in, so that’s a work in progress. Still.

Each day, I take about 5 grams of creatine. On training days, I take BCAA during the session and a caffeine-infused pre-workout about 30 minutes before starting to warm up. I’ve stopped using the pre-workout in the past few months, as I felt it wasn’t needed. Lastly, I enjoy additional protein smoothies whenever the body can use more resources. This is usually 2-3 times a week.

In addition, I take daily the usual vitamins, magnesium, fish oil, and similar.

We’ve cut down on alcohol, or perhaps it’s better to say – we’ve stopped opening wine bottles at home. I still enjoy a nice glass or two of wine when traveling, but as it turns out, this is perhaps once a quarter now. It allows for better sleep, and I feel I’m getting more consistent results at the gym.

I also enjoy about 300 grams of berries most mornings. Over time, I’ve cut out milk and any excess wheat and grains from my diet. Nothing over the top. And nothing that stops me from enjoying life in general – just minor optimizations here and there. My kryptonite is wheat and white sugar.

The programming

So, why do it, then? I don’t train to get a six-pack or to have huge biceps. Perhaps as a side effect, I’m more toned, but beyond that, I’m preparing for two reasons. One, it allows me to stay in shape, and two, I generally feel that being stronger makes everything else in life more manageable. Need to carry grocery bags in one go from the car? Not a problem. Need to wrestle with the kids? So much fun. Need to fit in those old jeans from 1995 that you love? Almost.

Ultimately, I want to see how strong I can be. The stronger I become, the more I enjoy hitting the gym. Gradual and consistent progress seems to be an excellent motivator for me in all aspects of life.

I recall reading an old study in which the amount of muscle mass in your quads was attributed to much of the success in old age of getting up from bed. I hope I can do back squats when I hit 75.

We switch the program every four weeks. The core exercises revolve around deadlift variations, back squats, and bench presses. Here’s an example of the session I’m doing later today, on day #3 of week #3 (out of 4):

  • Larsen press: 4 x 6, RPE 6, 7, 8, 6 – 90 kg
  • Back squat (high bar): 4 x 4 RPE 6 – 120 kg
  • Ring row with 2 s pause: 3 x 8
  • Bicep curl: 3 x 8 RPE 7 – 45 to 50 kg

I usually recover pretty rapidly. Twenty-four hours after the session, I barely register I’ve done a session. Thirty-six hours later, I’m eager for the next session.

I’ve learned a considerable difference between three and four-day splits. With four, I’m doing my session on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. With three, I could alternate between Thursday and Friday for the second session.

My Garmin smartwatch usually registers around 200 to 300 minutes of active time during the week from gym sessions. A typical gym day requires about 3300 kcal per day, and a burdensome session day is closer to 4000 kcal.

In closing

So, that’s year three wrapped. I plan on continuing with the 4-day split for the foreseeable future. I carry my wrist wraps and heart rate belt when traveling, but not much else. When at home and visiting my regular gym, I bring the whole she-bang – a weightlifting belt, knee warmers, lifting shoes, and so on.

The current goals are two-fold: reaching a few long-term weight targets and being able to move larger volumes during a session. These are somewhat artificial goals, but when you’re tracking this week over week, it’s a great way to see if any progress is happening. Throughout these three years, I’ve seen consistent improvement. I attribute some success to being diligent with my sessions – each week, four times, and no ifs or buts.

The old wisdom is that everyone has 168 hours per week. I spent about 60 hours a week sleeping. So why not put ~8 hours a week in the gym – with this perspective, it’s not a big commitment. However, it would be next to impossible to put in a few hours more as I couldn’t recover any faster.

I think it was the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was quoted as saying going to the gym is like having breakfast – it becomes second nature, and you want and need to do it. I am at that stage now.