Weight training

"The real advantage of any system of exercise is that they force you for the duration of the time that you do them to live inside yourself.
You're compelled to relinquish the future, the past and other people.
And you move down inside yourself to establish only the relationship between you and your body." - Quentin Crisp

When I started

With Laurence Shahlaei.
One of the world's strongest men.
I'm the small one.
I was still in primary school when I would go around lifting things. It was in my DNA. I was naturally strong.
I had no idea what I was doing. But I'd lift stones or anything else I could.
By the time I was nine I could lift a thirty-three pound gas cylinder above my head a dozen times.
I started actually lifting weights for real in high school, where I was one of the strongest pupils and stronger than most of the adult male teachers.
I remember when I was thirteen arm wrestling a male teacher who was in the army part-time. He eventually agreed to declared it stalemate.

Bodybuilding 1980 - 1988

In my youth I was seriously into bodybuilding. I was a member of NABBA (National Amateur Bodybuilding Association). I was so ambitious that I took out life membership so I suppose I still am a member.

I started serious bodybuilding training at seventeen. When I started I weighed eleven stone. I was thin and I had a natually high metabolic rate which meant I had to eat enormous quantities of food to put on weight.

This is not a good thing if you want to be a bodybuider.

But I trained hard four to six days a week and ate everything in sight. I'd eat / drink four dozen eggs a day. Drink half a gallon of milk, one or two steaks and a whole chicken every day.

I trained and ate like this for eight years. By then I was seventeen stone with a forty-six inche chest and seventeen inche arms. Cold for those who know what I mean by that. So I had size and strength. I could leg press 1,000 lbs in the gym.

By the time I turned twenty-five I decided to pack it in. I knew I was not going to win anything. The fact is that if you are not willing to take drugs you have no chance!

How often the ambitions of innocent youth are squashed by the harsh light of the real world. Okay I have to admit that I also liked all the eating too much. Pre-contest dieting was HELL! So I put it all behind me. Well the hope of ever lifting a trophy anyway. I continued to train.

I managed to retain a lot of size for several years. When I first met my wife she could only just get her arms around my chest - she had to pick her spot. (She now tells me I'm not the man she married :)

But I did start to loose size. Not having the impetus of an upcoming contest just doesn't give you the drive to train as hard.

Powerlifting 2013 - 2015

My first competitive lift/medal.
1st place master 2 bench press.
2014 MAX POWER championships.
All three lifts.
1st place master 2
My medals as of end of 2014.
I've lost some weight since then.
And some facial hair.
Fast forward many years and I am now in my late forties. A new member of staff where I worked told me about how he was a competitive powerlifter. As we talked more about this I started to realise that here was a sport very close to my heart, that I could compete in without the pre-contest dieting.
With his help I joined the NIPF (Nothern Ireland Powerlifting Federation).

Up to then all my training (for the last thirty years) had been bodybuilding, which is usually sets of eight to twelve reps and exercises to hit the muscle from as many different angles as possible.

Powerlifting training is very different. It is lower reps, typically three to five, concentrating on the three lifts with much fewer other exercises (which is powerlifting terms are called 'assistance work'.)

You are training to purely get stronger.

So I had to relearn almost everything. A bodybuilding squat is very different from a powerlifting squat. It took me six months to make this change. To retrain my muscles.

I found that I very much enjoyed the training and competing and for the next three years I became national champion and record holder in all three lifts, squat, deadlift and bench press.

Five by five (5x5) across

My second competitive lift.
1st plase master 2 deadlift.
During the first six months I used the basic five by five (5x5) routine. This is a basis of all powerlifting. You do some warm up sets uptill you reach your working weight and then aim to lift this five times, and then after a five minute rest another five times, until you have lifted it for a total of twenty-five reps (5x5).

If you make it you add some weight on next time. Maybe five pounds / 2.5 kgs. Next time you might only get 5x5x5x4x3. You keep going workout after workout until you get twenty-five rep (5x5). Then add more weight.

Now this is a very brutal form of training, but it gives you a tremendious base of strength and conditioning.

Eighty-twenty (80/20) powerlifting

1st place master 2 deadlift
After six months I was beginning to stall on this and was looking around for something new. After a lot of research I came across a routine which is known as 80/20. It is based on a theory known as Pareto's Law.

This states that whatever activity you are engaged in eighty percent of the results will be made from twenty percent of your effort. So the trick is to find the most productive twenty percent and put all your effort into that.

In powerlifting terms it mean but all your effort into the three lifts and nothing else. Not even assistance work.

I was very dubious about this, you need some assistance work. But it kept nagging at me so I decided to try it. The results were amazing. Within a couple of months I was doing 5x5 deadlift with 165kgs.

Without doing any other work I was able to put everything I had into the lifts which mattered.

I was now at a level where I could viably compete.

5/3/1 powerlifting

Powerlifting article in MENSA mag.
After six months of 80/20 I was once again starting to stall and started looking around for a new routine.

I came across a very popular routine by world famous powerlifter Jim Wendler called 5/3/1.

It consists of doing set in the five, three and one rep range. One workout you do three set of five, next three sets of three and third, one set of five, one set of three and one set of one.

The weights used are based on your current one rep max for each lift. So you know exactly what you are aiming for each workout. A cycle lasts one month. Then you add on weight. Five kilos for lower body and two point five kilos for upper body.

I studied this routine for some time and thought I knew it well enough to program it for myself. But it wasn’t until I read Wendler’s book that I fully understood it. So my advice – buy the book.

I really loved this routine and used it for many months.

Retiring. August 2015 ->

Article in Mourne Observer October 2013
In September 2013 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour. For the next two years it did not cause my any great problems. However in August 2015 it definitely did and I had to give up powerlifting.

In April 2018 I had surgery in Saint Jame's Hospital in Leeds, England. After this I had to accept that I will definitely never compete again.


Post surgery training. 2019 -->


By the time I had surgery in April 2018 I had not done any form of training for the previous three years. Post-surgery I did not expect to ever train again. But towards the end of 2018 I was starting to recover from the surgery. My physio, who knew about my past training, actually suggested, to my surprise, that I try again.

We talked over this at length and with her strict guidance I started doing some exercises.

I had to start as if I was a complete beginner, with an empty bar, and add weight very slowly and carefully.

I soon discovered that my physio was right in that I can't do any exercises which put a particular strain on my upper neck and head. I can't do any form of rows or shrugs Some exercises which I can't do have been a surprise. I can't do curls or lateral raises.

I am using the type of training as recommended by Mark Rippetoe in his Starting Strength program. The most basic barbell exercises. Initially I was just doing the squat and bench for one working set of five reps. Then I added in the press, also for one working set of five reps. Then I included pulldowns for three sets of ten reps. I progressed to chins. Finally after months of training I am now able to do deadlifts. With deadlifts I mentally direct the effort to my legs, butt and lower back, while trying to minimise the stress of my traps.

I have always trained inside a power rack for safety. So if I can't make a lift, or drop the bar, the rack will catch it and I won't get hurt. This is of course much more important because of my balance issues.

I progressed very slowly and carefully and have now built up to some decent weights, but nothing like I could before.

My current routine is below -
MondayThursday
Bench press. One work set of 5 reps.Squat. One work set of 5 reps.
Supine pulldown. Three sets of 10 reps.Press. One work set of 5 reps.
Deadlifts. One work set of 5 reps.Chins. Three sets of 10 reps.

I warmup with two minutes on a cross trainer.

If I have the energy, on Saturday, I try to do a longer session on the cross trainer.

I train first thing in the morning. I have a cup of tea and some crackers with peanut butter to try to give me a brief energy boost. As the day progresses my energy dips a lot, so even if I waited until lunch I wouldn't be able to train.

So why am I able to still train with my issues, especially the balance problem?

Weight training - is something which is done standing in one spot. You don't move your feet. Some of it can be done lying down. All exercises, by their very nature, are done slowly and with precise control. All of this minimises the need for balance.

Cardio - I can't run, jog or even walk fast, but I find that the cross trainer's foot wells hold my feet in place and the uprights allow me to hold onto the trainer with both hands, thus further helping my poor balance.

Medals

Bench Press Championships.
22 February 2013
1st place Master 2
Deadlift Championships.
30 March 2013
1st place Master 2
RAW POWER Championships.
All three lifts.
22 November 2013
1st place Master 2
Deadlift Championships.
22 February 2014
1st place Master 2
MAXX POWER Championships.
All three lifts
31 May 2014
1st place Master 2

Instructional videos

I've linked to the below videos because anyone wishing to do weight training / powerlifting can get no better guide than these.