5 Months at CSC or How I Learned Stop Fucking Around and Love the Squat


I am not an athletic person. I was a single season athlete in high school and generally uncoordinated. I wrestled (poorly) for four years, graduating at 5 foot 7 and a whopping 125 pounds.

Starting Wesleyan University in the fall didn’t exactly help my cause; I fit in pretty well with the skinnyfat hipsters drinking PBRs and recreationally smoking gratuitous amounts of decriminalized drugs. I didn’t put on the freshman fifteen, but I wasn’t doing much actively with my life besides leading hikes and backpacking trips with the Outing Club.

Junior year I started practicing jiu-jitsu a friend. Despite being told it was all about leverage and angles, I found it undeniable that being stronger would make you better. Also that year, I had a somewhat substantial surgery that resolved many issues and put me into a good place physically and mentally (it was unfortunately not a lobotomy).

Winter of my senior year I began weightlifting, if you can really call it that. I was training in my bedroom. With a single bench and a set of 10 pound dumbbells and a set of 25 pound dumbbells. Doing dumbbell presses and curls. Yeah, that’s not weightlifting. I got back to school and continued my durdly little fuckaround program. After a few times at the gym, I ran into two guys I had met when practicing jiu-jitsu. I joined them in running some very bastardized version of 5/3/1 and at this point I became familiar with a number of popular acronyms: SS, GOMAD, and DYEL. At the time I graduated college, my 1RM were 165/150/185, and I was about 140 pounds.

That summer I started intermittent fasting after reading about the plethora of health benefits associated with the practice. I starting going to my local YMCA, and I was following the Berkhan-suggested RPT. Not following the Leangains protocol of tracking calories and definitely not consuming anywhere close to enough protein. Still the noob gains progressed through the winter. 4RM: 205/165/275 (weighted chin-ups at BW+35 pounds) and I weighed about 150 pounds.

Enter CSC

I’ve learned a lot over the past five months, and I really want to share my thoughts with people starting to lift, starting to stall, or starting to stop fucking around.

If you have never run a linear progression program, do it

There is absolutely nothing better you can do to put on more muscle and add numbers to your lifts than sucking it up, dropping to 60-80% of your maxes, and running Starting Strength. Buy or borrow the book. If you have never trained any of the main compound lifts before (squat/bench/deadlift/press), you do not have any excuses. Learn them.You must eat high quantities of protein, you must get adequate rest, and you must push yourself hard at the gym. Work around whatever flexibility issues/former injuries you have and and get under the bar. Do the program and show up consistently. Add weight to bar. Repeat.

When stalled, you should belt and/or wrap and eat more. When you stall again, you should switch programming and eat more.

You will stall. It happens to every novice to intermediate lifter. Linear progression can’t go on forever or we’d all be squatting 600 pounds and be yoked out of our minds.

The first involves to use of classic strength training equipment – the suede belt and the wrist wrap – in conjunction with microloading. Using weightlifting shoes could also fall into category, but you should be using those already. Stabilizing your trunk will help the most in your squat and deadlift, but there is certainly carry-over into the bench and overhead press. I was impressed the first time I squatted in lifting shoes, and my mind was completely blown the first time I used a belt. I would caution against abusing these tools when you haven’t yet stalled, as it may diminish their efficacy once you do.

These tools are best utilized with the first change in programming: switching from 10 pound to 5 pound increments in squat and deadlift, or 5 pound to 2.5 pound increments in bench press or overhead press. Micro-loading will eventually fail too, and a real change in programming will be necessary. I switched to Starting Strength advanced novice, then straight into Texas Method after stalling again. I never did a real deload until I was injured, but it was very effective at that time.

I can’t emphasize enough the effects of caloric intake and rest while on a linear progression. I can’t attest to purely eating through a plateau, but I also can’t deny that I housed many brownie sundaes from Miller’s during this period. Effective programming is king, but caloric intake is queen.

When you get injured, you should eat more and deload.

Hurting my back was probably the best thing that happened to my squat. Something twanged in my erector spinae during my Texas Method volume day back at the end of March – I was about 2 weeks in to the program. I had serious trouble moving for the next few days. After dosing on ibuprofen (600 mg, 2x daily) and failed attempts to squat at 60% work weight, I reset back to 135 and ran Starting Strength again. Loading the bar with light weight gave my back time to actively recover and enabled me to blow through plateaus. I didn’t have to start trying 5 pound increments until I hit 285, where I had previously starting 5 pound increments at 225. I crushed my previous 3×5 max of 275 with a 2×5 of 310, just about twice my body weight. During this time, I was keeping protein high and eating at or above maintenance calories.

Have fun, set goals, and stay motivated.

Getting up at 5:30 to drag my ass to the YMCA to work out alone sucked. It’s essential to train with other people that push you. CSC has been an amazing community of people that I look up to as powerlifters and individuals, and the atmosphere encourages me to come back and work harder. I can’t count how many sets I wouldn’t have been able to complete without metal blasting, people yelling, or nose tork. Lifting in a fun environment definitely takes some of the mental toil out of training.

Log your workouts. It’s inspiring to look back and see that you’re now warming up with weights thats you were grinding out reps with a few months ago. Training with competition in mind has also been effective at providing continued motivation. It’s let me ignore poor performance during individual training sessions as long as my progress continues to improve on a weekly or monthly basis. Writing down your competition goals (on the whiteboard, in your training log) is a great way to hold yourself accountable.

What’s ahead

I’m looking to compete in my first powerlifting competition in October. I’m sitting around at 155-160 pounds with 5RM of 310/200/330. I’ll be starting a slow Leangains-style cut (-20/+0) for what will probably be 8-12 weeks. I’ll be counting calories and macronutients in an attempt to get around 10-12% body fat. This will take me through the summer, and I’ll be switching my programming to RPT or 5/3/1 to maintain my strength. From the end of the summer through October, I’ll be starting a slow bulk (+0/+20) and ideally staying under 165 to compete.

My goals for the competition are a 340 pound squat, and 225 pound bench, and a 435 deadlift for a 1000 pound total. Deadlift needs serious work, and I’ll need to focus my programming on that.

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