Caveman Notes

Okay, workout’s done for the day. Time to jot down the stuff I learned while I can still remember them.

So I did a whole-body strength workout, as I prefer whole-body workouts from part-based splits. I use a Bowflex Selecttech 552 adjustable dumbbell set. I’m Filipino, of about average Filipino height, so 552's have served me well so far (though, I suspect maybe not for long — I’d lifted with all the plates on some months ago already, so I might have to move to the 1090's soon). I’ve only resumed lifting this week after a very extended hiatus. Today was my 3rd workout since Monday, Aug 3.

The lifts

My lifts consist of the following:

  • Bench Presses
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Shoulder Presses (standing)
  • Hammer Curls
  • Closed-grip bench presses
  • Reverse Lunges

I do 5 reps for 2 sets each, at maximal weights.

‘Maximal’ here is relative. Having stopped lifting for a long time, my current max is nowhere near my personal record max.

The problem with dumbbells

Anyway, I tried to max out the weights today. The problem with dumbells is, at maximal weights, you are going to have a hard time setting up a particularly heavy lift, since unlike a barbell, you won’t be taking weights off a rack, but rather you will be lifting the dumbells away from your body just so you can set up, say, your bench press. The same is true for shoulder presses. You might technically be able to lift say 100lbs dumbells on each arm starting from a bench press position, for example, but just setting up the lift might be impossible, since you will initially be lifting from an awkward position — straight from your abdomen or chest in the case of a bench press set-up.

Same thing with a shoulder press as well. You will have to clean the dumbells to your shoulder in order to even get to the starting position for the shoulder press. The same holds true for a barbell without a rack, but the dumbells are more difficult because the barbell is easier to balance.

Spotting yourself

A trick I tried out today was something I read somewhere that you can do for yourself when you are working out coming from an injury — I did unilateral presses, i.e. lifting with one arm at a time per set, then switching to the other arm for the other set, and I used my free hand to spot my lifting arm. In other words, I spotted myself! This helps balance the weight and really helps setting up the lift.

So for example, for the bench press, you can take one dumbbell and lift with your right arm only, but have your left hand help with the set up and spot your right hand for balance. When you’re done with the right arm, you can then proceed with bench presses with your left arm, with your right hand doing the spotting this time.

You can also do the same for shoulder presses. One arm lifts, while the other spots.

One benefit to this is, your abs and back are engaged in the unilateral lifts, particularly when you’re standing, as with the standing shoulder presses. I really felt the effect when, at the end of my workout, I tried to do crunches, and found that my abs were already more sore than usual when I started!

Backward Lunges

The other thing I learned today is, doing a backward lunge in proper form is easier than a forward lunge. The reason for this is, you can minimize the swaying of the dumbells by just genuflecting straight down, rather than taking a forward step. This was what I did and I was able to lunge deeper because the weights weren’t as prone to swinging as when I did forward lunges.

That, and I suck at forward lunges, I guess!

Triceps Burn

And last but not the least, with the lifts I do as outlined above, I found that my triceps already get a great workout from bench presses and shoulder presses, such that by the time I try to do isolation exercises with the closed-grip bench presses, my triceps are already burned out! I couldn’t do the regular closed-grip bench presses anymore! So yeah, what I did was unilateral presses, and I had one arm spot my lifting arm. Problem solved!

Actually come to think of it, I think maybe isolation for my triceps in the whole body program outlined above, could be kind of redundant already. All told, triceps get used in three lifts — bench, shoulder press, and closed-grip bench — while biceps only get used in rows and hammer curls.

Anyway, those are just some of the things I learned today.

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