Intro and Training History
I’ll begin with an overview of my successes, mistakes, and overall principles I have learned over the past four years. Following that I have included a brief and detailed training history that includes links to videos of the respective accomplishments. Feel free to read any or all parts of this post, I tried to section it up so that it’s digestible in pieces. This isn’t scientific or exact, it’s just a collection of thoughts and realizations I’ve had over these past four years and my experiences in training the multiple disciplines I choose to pursue. To be precise, the first year or so of training weren’t purposely focused on powerlifting or gymnastics, but I included elements of each from the beginning.
I could’ve made better progress on one discipline if I chose it exclusively, but would I have been as happy with my overall strength or overall mobility had I? The answer is a firm no.
These are the main mistakes I made in my training that I feel slowed down my gains in strength and mobility. If I could go back, I would make these changes in order to progress faster and have fewer injuries.
- Following a program consistently from the start - No one knows what they’re doing in the beginning. Even with all the book and program knowledge in the world, you still don’t know your own body unless you have worked out before. I wish I had began with the reddit recommended routine specifically. Had I followed that as well as stretched with purpose, my initial base moving into more advanced strength and flexibility work would have been much more solid. Don’t think you’re above doing progressions; even if you have the strength, your mobility or connective tissue may have not yet adapted.
- Training with too much intensity - Beginners can work for varying amounts of time (some a month, some for much longer) closer to failure and see great progression; they can beat their body up and then come back in two days, mostly recovered, and beat their body up again. After a while, this stops. The body starts to break down, progression slows, and sometimes begins to slide backwards. Being a large guy, this happened to me relatively quickly working on gymnastics strength. I worked to hard on press handstands and injured my wrists. I worked too hard on weighted dips and hurt my shoulders. I worked too hard on weighted chin-ups and hurt my elbows. I still fight the desire to work towards failure every time I’m in the gym. Adequate sub-maximal work drives progress.
- Not listening to your body when it hurts - Pain is different than soreness. Off of the last bullet, there were too many times when my joints ached and I just wanted to do “1 more set.” Those 1 sets added up and gave me more overuse injuries than I would’ve liked to deal with. When your joints ache, if you don’t have access to a physical therapist, research what is causing the pain and do prehab/rehab work to get blood flow to the area so it can heal. Light weight, low intensity, high rep (30+) at a slow tempo. Every time I’ve had an injury, that has sped up the recovery from what would otherwise be more time spent wallowing about the pain.
- Training consistently - Over the past 4 years I’ve trained on average 5 days a week (3-4 strength workouts and 1-2 skill sessions/gymnastics practices). Even with some of those sessions lacking perfect programming, I kept working hard and consistently plugging away.
- Training through injuries - This does not mean pushing through pain on a specific exercise. Rehabbing the injured body part and working what is not injured is so important for getting through an injury, mentally and physically. When I hurt my wrists, I worked pulling, flexibility, and rehab. When I hurt my elbow, I worked legs and rehab. You just have to get through somehow.
- Tracking - I track my calories even when I don’t measure exactly what I eat. I track my workouts even when I don’t follow a perfect program. I think keeping some type of training history, whether vague or specific, is helpful to know whether or not what you’re doing is working. On top of that, when progress feels slow, it can be helpful to look back and know that you’re still moving forward, no matter how slow it may be.
- Keeping a balance - Even though I train powerlifting I still work on my flexibility heavily, this could be said the other way around as well. Unless you’re competing at the elite level of a sport, having a balanced combination of strength, mobility, and athleticism makes for a much happier human in my experience.
- Powerlifting with gymnastics - Even if you’re competitive in one or both of these disciplines, unless it’s at an elite level, both have a good place in anyone’s training. Some upper body work through gymnastics is invaluable, while powerlifting is hard to replace in regards to the lower body. Read more on this subject here.
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint - This saying is a cliche, but not without reason. If you want to be able to move well throughout your life, take things slow, rarely max out, and do your damn mobility work.
- Stretch with purpose - When you stretch, do it with as much purpose as you do strength training. Find out what ranges you lack, relax into them, and contract in the end ranges to build strength there. Use your own muscles to push/pull yourself deeper. The more strength you have in a range, the more willing your body will be to go there. Read more here on contract-relax stretching.
- Keep it sub-maximal Once you’re not a beginner anymore (squatting 1.5x bodyweight, deadlifting between 1.5 and 2x, benching your bodyweight, repping pull-ups and dips easily, etc), try to stick away from failure. By this I mean always try and have an extra rep in the tank at least, if not more. You will feel fresher in your workouts, you won’t be mad from failure, and you will be more likely to not get injured. When working away from failure you can get in more volume which is what spurs strength gains and muscular growth.
- Put in your best effort - This ties in closely with keeping it sub-maximal by not being afraid to push yourself. It’s a fine line to toe, because it’s easy to just go through easy motions at the gym, but you don’t want to wreck your body by doing maximal effort work. If you feel great one day, try for a personal best, but it certainly isn’t an event that should occur every workout or every week.
- Don’t be afraid to switch things up - If you have been grinding at something for a few months and it’s taking its physical or mental toll, don’t be afraid to give it a break. Whether it’s because you’re getting close to injury or you’re just tired of it, having variety is good.
- If you choose a goal, stick with it (have a routine!) - On the other side of the spectrum, stick with your goals until you get them or at least make significant progress. Remaining consistent will yield results.
- Don’t be afraid to play either - This is similar to switching things up, but I mean it more on a small timescale. If you have the chance to try something you otherwise wouldn’t get to, don’t be afraid to ditch the routine for a day to try something new. If you’re consistent 9 times out of 10, or 99/100, then one little switch-up won’t destroy you, it may give a new perspective that will be helpful in the long-term :).
- Balance - This is the last thing I can think of currently. No matter what, just think critically about your practice and balance your consistency with your play, hard effort with easier activities, mobility with strength, and training with life in general. The 80/20 rule (20% of the effort gives 80% of the results) is a great heuristic. Going beyond 20% effort will give you results you wouldn’t have thought possible over the long term, but sometimes it is important to relax. Great gains can be maintained easily (with a select few strength and mobility exercises) when other callings in life make themselves known.
4 years ago:
- Weight: 175lbs (down from 195lbs just from diet)
- Squat: 150lbs for 5 reps.
- Bench: n/a
- Deadlift: 225 for 5 reps
- Pull-ups: 3x4 bodyweight
- Dips: n/a
- No static holds
- Handbalancing: scared to death
- Flexibility: barely touch toes, no pancake or splits
- Weight: 211lbs
- Squat: 335lbs for 6 reps
- Bench: 225lbs for 3 reps
- Deadlift: 405lbs for 4 reps (trained after squats always)
- Pull-ups: +50lbs for 10 reps pronated, 160lb grip for 1 rep neutral
- Dips: +90lbs for 9 reps, 180lbs for 1 rep
- 5s straddle front lever, 10s full back lever, 19s tuck planche, assisted iron cross holds
- Handbalancing: 45s HS, straddle/tuck/pike up, press eccentrics, freestanding HSPU eccentrics, no german hang
- Flexibility: palms to floor cold pike, head to floor cold pancake (stomach to floor warmed up), left leg forwards front splits, middle splits 6” away from ground at center, german hang
For the first year and a half I followed a haphazard linear progression with a completely nonsensical split that eventually became an organized PPL routine. Following this, I did about half a year of linear progression (full body, 3x a week) while adjusting to gymnastics-oriented training and college. For a year and 3/4 after this (3.75 years in) I followed DUP. At first (first 3 months or so) I was training to intensely and plateaued in upper body strength. Saw great gains after that initial plateau. For the past 3-4 months I’ve followed a bent-arm/straight-arm split while powerlifting for lower body 2 times per week.
Before Overcoming Gravity
- November 2013 (4 years ago) - I began with running on a treadmill and doing the some of the most basic bro-exercises in the gym. My goal was to simply run a mile as fast as the treadmill could go. While I don’t have my old running notes, I reached this within about 6 months by the late spring/early summer of 2014 and that was a 5:20 mile on the treadmill where there was no air resistance. By this point I had cut down from about 196lbs to 166lbs through some split I dreamed up, a decent diet, and running. I was also training for high school baseball primarily at this point. I was also able to do maybe 3-5 bodyweight pull-ups and 1 or 2 dips.
- July 2014 - My baseball coach at this point introduced me to the concept of push/pull/legs split. At this point I worked out 3 times/week and hit each muscle group once. I did this workout and started to get better at squatting (maybe 150lbs for 3x5), dumbbell bench (60lbs for 3x5) (no barbell because it was rumored to be bad for baseball players), and doing pull-ups (could maybe do 5-8 around now?
- November 2014 (3 years ago) - Around a year in was when I started to have a respectable physique. I moved into push/pull/legs 6 days/week around this point, my squat was moving up to moderate weights of 225lbs for reps, and I began to train weighted pull-ups and muscle ups because they looked cool.
- January 2015 - I was starting to get really confident with my strength and pitching abilities in baseball, but I overtrained hard. Weighted pull-ups and muscle-ups took their toll on my elbow with pitching, and one day I didn’t warm-up enough on the mound and I started to get severe tendinitis that day. I couldn’t lift curl my right arm (elbow flexion) much more than 20 degrees for a few days. This knocked me out of baseball for good (throwing still aggravates my elbow) and out of upper body work for a month.
- April 2015 - I began training for track in February (1600m and 3200m) to do some sport during my last semester of high school. To keep a long story short, I got my mile time down to about 5:42 from 6:30 and my body-fat to about the lowest it ever has been. I started training my upper body again with weighted pull-ups. This was also around when I started deadlifting.
After Overcoming Gravity
- June 2015 - This was the major shift that made my training purposeful. I read the book Overcoming Gravity. From this, I learned (and am still realizing) a large deal about programming for strength as well as the long-term goals I would like to achieve. This was when I started seriously pursuing bodyweight strength along with powerlifting for the lower body. I also got my first rings muscle-up.
- August 2015 - Before coming to college, I was just beginning to work on wall handstands, I had achieved a bar and ring muscle-up, and I could do weighted chins with 70lbs for 3x5. Starting college I was 173lbs just about and very lean. On the unlimited meal plan I decided to start bulking up.
- November 2015 (2 years ago) - Here was where I started making decent progress on accomplishing some intermediate bodyweight goals. I held my first few handstands over the past few months, I achieved a half-bodyweight added chin-up, and my flexibility began to improve. I was also up to about 183lbs. My squat hit 315lbs around here and my deadlift was about 315lbs for 5 reps.
- April 2016 - I began to improve further after a slight plateau in strength. My weighted chins and weighted dips were at half-bodyweight for 5 reps around here. I started to get full back-levers and solid advanced-tuck front-levers. My handstands were now about 10% consistent instead of less than 5%. My good split and pancake were starting to get down to the floor. I began training the press-handstand.
- August 2016 - I started to train the iron-cross this summer as well as improve on my press. I injured my wrist around this time though and that took me out of a lot of handbalancing and pushing work for three months. It was wrist-extensor tendinitis. I was squatting around 285 for 5 here and deadlifting around 365 for 5. My powerlifting progress was always on the lacking side.
- November 2016 (1 year ago) - From August until now I worked on leg and pulling strength primarily while my wrist healed. My front lever began greatly improving as well as my squat and deadlift. I squatted 315 for 6 and deadlifted 405 for 5. My wrist was healed by now so I started to work on pushing more, specifically with my handstands.
- January 2017 - Got my weighted chins and dips up to 140x1 and 135x3 respectively. Also achieved straddle front lever.
- March 2017 Hit my highest weighted chin and weighted dip ever (160lbs and 180lbs respectively). Also hit a really ugly 315x11 squat PR (this was when I decided my form needed fixing badly). I deloaded heavily and worked on keeping my knees out as well as preventing my hips from rising too early. The latter of which I still struggle with somewhat.
- April 2017 - Competed at my first national club gymnastics competition. My rings routine was: Kip support > Forward roll to support > Press shoulderstand > Down to hang, muscle-up > Down to hang, back lever > Cast, Swing, Fly-away
- May 2017 - Achieved my first press-handstand. Injured other wrist within a few weeks (progression video here).
- August 2017 - Did a 3 month block of coaching with the author of Overcoming Gravity. Focused mostly on building time in statics and improving work capacity. Saw incredible gains following DUP (followed from January until August). No major skill gains, just hold time improvement and weight moved improvement. Comfortable with cross eccentrics on low rings by now. Achieved rings press handstand with cable support at top.
- September 2017 Achieved a 405lb low-bar back-squat and a straddle front-lever row in the same training session. Two major training goals.
- November 2017 - Wrist has healed. Training for a powerlifting meet in January. Have reached the aforementioned current-day numbers on all lifts. After the meet I’d like to cut weight, maintain my lower-body powerlifting numbers, and improve my flexibility and upper body gymnastics strength.
If you have any comments/questions/critiques, feel free to comment them here. I would absolutely love to hear them. I hope some of this information is useful in applying it to your training :).