Yesterday I was reminded, repeatedly, about the value of keeping an open mind. Last night I went to the big Globo gym near my work. My programming called for bench press, safety bar squats (as my rotator cuff is still very much an issue) and accessory exercises. However, the globo gym does not have specialty bars of any sort…and to me the leg press machine is only slightly less ridiculous than the Smith machine. So, while they are not analogous, I opted for deadlifts instead.
A secondary complication was that I, once again, forgot my chalk. Past a certain weight, chalk-less deadlifts suck. Your hands get ripped to shreds and the grip issues mess with your form. A buddy of mine lent me his Oly lifting straps last week so I decided to give them an honest try. I tried lifting with straps, once, about 2 years ago. I used them for about 5 minutes and then gave it up as being “too complicated”. Besides, real men don’t use straps, right? Did I mention that my deadlift is, at the best of times, straight-up pathetic?
I took a good 10 minutes to really figure out how to use the straps correctly. Then I gingerly tried 1 rep at about 80%. Wow – lifting straps, where have you been all my life? Due to my only recently healed hamstring I’m coming off a 9 week deadlift hiatus so I’m fairly de-trained. And, yet, I began to rep out weights close to my former “strapless” 1RM. So the good news is I am really stronger than my lousy deadlift numbers would imply and strapped deadlifts are probably the best way of getting me of the plateau I’ve been on. The bad news is I realized just how weak my grip is and that it’s a major sticking point. If I didn’t compete, I wouldn’t care, but I’ll have to find a way to build my grip strength pronto. Farmers carries, anyone?
Anyway, fresh from my awesome discovery regarding straps, I headed to the bench press area to do some very low weight, low volume deload sets. So I start benching with the bar and I notice, hmm, this feels great. No fatigue, no soreness and, you ever have those days when you’re just stronger than usual? It was one of those days. Nevertheless, I reminded myself, I’m in a deload phase and next week’s programming is a killer. Just as I was about to give into common sense, “K”, one of the trainers, installed herself and a client on a bench adjacent. K is eastern european, non-surgically enhanced drop dead gorgeous and all around nice. Amazing genetics refined by hard work in the gym – she’d give Elton John second thoughts about his life choices. So, full transparency, I stayed on the bench and started to add weight. Not because I am a creeper, nor was I was I “ogling” (not my style) and, no, it wasn’t some lame attempt to impress. For one, women couldn’t care less about how much you can lift and, besides, she goes out with a guy I know. Rather, and I know this sounds weird, I’ve noticed that I can usually lift a little more when attractive women are in the vicinity. I think it’s probably universal for guys, must be some sort of evolutionary trait.
Anyway, I started making 20kg jumps after each set of 3…as I was getting towards more serious weight one of the biggest gym douches arrives with his posse. They install themselves on another bench near mine and start their sets. This guy is roughly my age, much taller and weighs about 25kgs more than me. He’s never done anything to me, per se, but for some reason, I’ve just never liked him. Soon, however, I’m up to my 1RM weight and I need a spotter. If my deadlift stinks, and it does, my bench doesn’t. So I had a fair amount of weight on bar. I needed somebody with a decent strength and experience to spot for me. Normally, I’d rather have had my toe nails ripped out with pliers than ask this guy for a spot, but I knew I was going to smash a new “touch and go” PR. Swallowing my pride, I asked your man for spot and proceeded to best my former PR by 5kg. I then added 2.5kg on top of that and failed. It turns out the big guy a) knows what he is talking about (very good analysis of why I failed the last lift) and b) is a pretty decent, friendly dude after all. He encouraged me to try again but it was getting late and I began to feel guilty re: blowing off my deload phase.
So the guy I thought was the biggest tool in the gym turns out to be pretty cool. To be honest, he does have resting douche face but, then again, so do I quite often. And lifting straps are best thing since Netflix. All in all, it was a gentle reminder of the value of keeping an open mind as well as getting out of your comfort zone.