Sometimes I think that I have a bit of a masochistic streak. I wake up each morning, pull myself up out of bed, and eagerly await the muscle soreness that comes after a tough workout. I know that muscle soreness isn’t the best way to judge the effectiveness of a workout but I see it as a little pat on the back for a job well done.
When mornings with muscle soreness come few and far between, or stop altogether, it can lead to self doubt. I thought I killed it in the gym yesterday, why do I feel like I didn’t workout? This was an issue that I dealt with recently and it really started to get to me.
Lack of muscle soreness, combined with no movement on the scale, coupled with stalling in strength training progression left me concerned with what was going on with my body. I’m okay with the scale not moving for a while but not being able to lift more weight or feel the workout the following day. What gives?
Maybe it is time to Mix Things Up
Anyone that invests a significant amount of time and effort into losing weight is bound to panic when the process suddenly seems to stall. Taking a breath and evaluating is critical. In my case, I used the stall as an opportunity to work with a personal trainer.
After going over my goals, the very first thing my personal trainer did was overhaul my workout. We took the key lifts from Starting Strength and built a program around them. Resetting the weight and building back up again was no longer working for me. I would simply top out at the same weight only to reset and build back up yet again.
Building Around the Squat
As I’ve become a regular gym-goer, I’ve developed a couple of little quarks. One of which is that I start every gym session with some cardio. It started out as a slow trot on the treadmill for 15 minutes and has somehow evolved into a 30 minute interval session on the elliptical.
I don’t know why I continue to do it, I know it saps my energy and probably takes away from my lifts, but I feel plenty warmed up and a looser when I step off of the machine. I do a little stretching before finding a rack and getting set up in the weight room.
One of the biggest components of Starting Strength is the Squat. Not only is it an exercise that I enjoy doing, it is a big compound movement with a variety of benefits. My new leg workout would see the squat as the cornerstone of the routine.
Just like Starting Strength, the key was to shoot for 3 Sets of 5 Reps with regular weight progression. Each time I perform ‘Leg Day’ I add 5lbs to the bar and do my best to perform the movement with proper form. If I feel as though the weight was too heavy, resulting in sloppy form or missed reps, I consider the set a failure and won’t add weight during the next session. If the same thing happens during the second attempt, I drop the weight by 20% and begin building back up.
In the image below you’ll see that instead of working 3 Sets of 5 Reps I dropped the weight and lifted 10 Reps. This was a matter of “I feel like doing more reps today” and allowing myself to be flexible with the routine.
Incorporating the Leg Press
During my time with Starting Strength I avoided the Leg Press. I didn’t see it as an exercise that was as beneficial as the Squat and it simply wasn’t in the program. When it came time to change up the routine I wondered, what can I do with this to help me drive more weight in the squat rack?
This is when a little Facebook post popped in my mind. If I placed my feet slightly above center on the platform and pointed my toes out, I could put more focus on my adductors and glutes. Lifting in this manner would allow me to follow up a complete lower body movement with accessory work that would isolate muscles.
The biggest difference between how I treat the squat and how I treat the accessory work is in the reps. With the squat I want power and low reps, with the accessory work I want a much higher rep count. After performing three to five warm-up sets, I load up my working weight and push for 3 Sets of 12 Reps.
During the warm-up sets I take a quick stop along the way and perform calf-raises (I can’t do them with the same weight that I perform the Leg Press)
Wrap Up With A Circuit
At this point in my workout I am past what I think of as the big power exercises. Now it is all about lighter weights and lots of repetitions. I set up a little circuit for myself in the corner of the gym and start off with 15 Single Leg Extensions.
By about Rep 11 my quads are beginning to burn and finishing out the set is difficult. After working both legs, I hop out of the machine (or stumble if it is the last set) and go right to Body Weight Step-Ups. I use a standard bench for this and do 15 reps for each leg.
The last part of my circuit is Goblet Squats with a Kettlebell. My goal is to do 15 reps but sometimes I just can’t do it. Between the burning in my quads and the fatigue, I’m digging deep just to finish the exercise.
After the last exercise I tend to pace around on rubbery legs, giving myself about two minutes before starting it all over again. When 3 complete sets have been done, I grab my stuff and call it a day.
The Day After Leg Day
When I roll out of bed after Leg Day I get more than a gentle pat on the back. I’m sore around the entire circumference of my thigh, as well as in the glutes. In fact, there is still some residual soreness two days after my workout.
As I said before, I realize that muscle soreness isn’t an indication of an effective workout, however, it sure feels like this leg routine is working for me. I haven’t been able to check my Squat progress because I’m in the process of building the weight back up from the pre-change stall and reduction.
In a week or two I should be back on track to hit a new milestone and I’m curious how it will work out. Only time will if the change was beneficial but as long as I continue to show increased muscle definition and the scale doesn’t climb too much during the process, I’ll be happy.