I started my first powerlifting program (Layne Norton’s PH3) in March 2016. Since then, I have gained 100 lbs on my deadlift, 75 lbs on my squat, and 55 on my bench. I am insanely proud of those baby gains! Of course, I won’t be able to continue to go in that exponentially, and this journey hasn’t been without pain and challenges. When I hit my 200lb squat in March (without pain, too!), I cried. After herniating my L4-L5 disc 6 years ago, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do that. Next goal? 2 plates (225 lbs).
First Powerlifting Phase: March-May 2016
I LOVED Layne Norton’s PH3 programming, as you can read here. I was working 5 days a week at GoodLife, so I had time to be in the gym 5+ days a week, which this program requires. I liked working on percentages, but I also noticed that I would re-calculate every week, instead of keeping it steady for the whole month. Probably lifted heavier than I needed to at the start. It was also a very humbling process. I worked on my form, and sometimes super light weights felt incredibly challenging, and I’d be out for a week.
Second Phase: May-August 2016
Cutting. Yuck. I’ve never tried an actual cut before, and it wasn’t fun. But I managed to drop from 20% body fat to 16%. That involved lots of high reps lower weight (also to recover my muscles a bit), skipping, and box jumps. Also, I ate less dessert. I hate that about diets.
I also adapted Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 programming to my needs. I still worked 4-5 days a week, but had gotten bored of PH3’s incessant accessory work that drove me insane. I wanted a bit more variation.
Third Phase: September-December 2016
Yup, didn’t do much. I gained 10 lbs and 5-6% body fat (including Christmas bloat) from when I started grad school. Stepping on the scale January 2 was a shock. I didn’t get the hang of 3 courses in grad school, 2 part-time jobs equaling 20 hours, 2 choirs, and being a youth sponsor AND having time for myself. I hit some heavy weights, but did not have the consistency to gain much strength. My energy also got super low. However, with the bulk came a bigger butt. I mean, not necessarily in a good way, but definitely bigger. It was a real, dirty bulk.
Fourth Phase: January 2017-Now
What’s going to be the best phase: a slow cut for some weddings, but hitting some awesome numbers. Within a month of cutting (more healthy food, less dessert, jumping rope most days, and more gym sessions) I had lost the 10 pounds, and dropped 2% body fat. I’m at a very comfortable spot, but I’m looking to lose a bit more body fat before a spring wedding. I expected that I would lose strength, but I easily used up my Christmas carbs hitting my deadlift and squatting goals.
I’m happy with my consistency at the gym despite not having a specific program for the past 6 months. I start co-op in May, and it’s a long commute, so hopefully I figure out a good schedule that will keep this momentum going. Then again, it’s not like I can pretend I haven’t had back or hip pain during this term. I definitely put on weight that I didn’t need to, and suffered. I think now that I’ve hit the 200 lb mark for both squats and deadlifts I’ll take a step back and work on higher reps lower weight to go with my cut.
Yes, these are considered baby gains, since they’re my first year of powerlifting. I don’t think I’ll be at a 300 lb squat March 2018, considering my back. But I’m very proud of the numbers I’ve finally hit, and can’t wait to see if my body can go further than this.
On that note, as I mentioned above, my back hasn’t been super happy the whole time. I’ll tweak it by bending over, or putting on 10 lbs more than I should have. Pretty dumb of me. It seems like I haven’t learned anything. Now that I’ll be backing off, I’ll be making sure that I continue to do my physiotherapy to increase my stabilization strength, and focusing on recovery. Like baths, rolling out, and going to massage and chiro. I only have one back, and I’ve been given so many second chances on back health. Maybe I’ll try sumo deadlifts and see if my back likes that more!
Deadlift 2 plates (225 lbs)
Squat 2 plates (225 lbs)
Bench 1 plate/body weight (135 lbs)
Pull-ups (I’ve been doing sets of 10 with the assisted band for months, I should really be ready soon, but it’s frustrating)
For summer drop 3% more body fat (but I get so angry when I limit dessert)
Let me know how your powerlifting journey has gone!