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I am not an expert weight trainer by any stretch of the definition. When you read about it, articles often cover the idea of plateaus. A plateau in this context is a period or state of little or no growth or decline: to reach a plateau in one’s career. I can’t say I’ve reached a true plateau 11 sessions into my training. That would indicate I’ve done something very wrong. It’s more accurate to call it a resistance point: I’ve reached the level where every exercise is now difficult and they push me to failure.

As a refresher, my ten main exercises are Squat, Leg Extensions, Leg Curls, Calf Raises, Bench Press, Barbell Bent Rows, Overhead or Military Press, Upright Rows, Bicep Curls, and Tricep Curls. It’s a full body workout which focuses on volume over weight. My Bill Reynolds beginner book prescribes various repetitions. Some are 6-10, others 10-12, and still others are 12-15. Each week I progress the weight or the reps. When I add weight, I lower the reps. I’ve been doing 20 reps for squats, but I’m now at a weight where that’s just too much, so I’m dropping back to 15 max.

My goal is three months of training to build u a core of strength. My longer term goal is to add muscle for the real objectives of health, weight loss, and performance. My doctors all say I need to exercise more, and they won’t help me with weight loss until I do. So I am. I’ve gained three pounds this past month, hopefully all muscle.

My experiences say there are three phases when beginning a training program from scratch.

  1. Stiffness – the first sessions should be very light to get the muscles used to the new stresses.
  2. Finding the limits – we want to train to just about failure, but if you start too high, you’ll run into some very tough workouts that will over-stress your body and possibly lead to injury.
  3. The zone – we’re doing fairly high reps with fairly low weight and the last reps are at or just about at failure

I’ve just reached step three after eleven sessions. I’m now in the working zone. Phase one was surprisingly brief. At past attempts, the first sessions would just about kill me, and we’re not talking big weight at all. This round I was arguably in the worse muscular shape of my life, yet I was barely stiff at all. I admit I had been working in the yard in the weeks leading up: stacking two cord of wood, weeding the garden, and trimming some evergreen trees. The wood probably served as a nice break-in. I’ll say phase 1 lasted three sessions and phase 2 seven sessions. I just completed session eleven.

I’ll throw some images at you, with sparse comments.

This graph breaks down my effort by total weight lifted. I’ll argue it doesn’t accurately measure strength or muscle gain, but I’m not picky. In my last session I lifted 23,282.5 pounds of weights in 100 minutes. The previous session I lifted 24,195, but I was stronger before my last session. The red line represents my lower body exercises and the green my upper body ones.

Squats use the biggest muscles and make up by far the biggest chunk of weight I move. 140 pounds is still very light, but I can feel it. I can feel it through the next day too. My thighs, but, calves, hamstrings are all getting tighter and more muscular. Add leg extensions, leg curls, and calf raises, and I get a burn that lasts. I love squats, and I feel awesome when I do them and after I do them. I have squatted 350 pounds in my home gym in previous, younger years. I don’t plan on pushing that level, not for a long time anyway, and probably not alone at home. I say probably because weight training can be addictive.

I prefer laying triceps extensions, but I do these instead with a curl-bar. This progression illustrates more how I will be proceeding from now on. It will be slow. I will add a few reps each session, and when I get to 12, 12, and 12, I will add weight and drop back to 8,8,8 or maybe 10,10,10, depending on weight added and how stressed I really was. My work graphs will proceed up but not as fast. It always amazes me that I feel like dying with the final rep, yet the next session I move past it rather easily. The secret to these beginning programs really is steady, mechanical progression tested by your failure points.

I work out three times a week: Friday, Sunday, and Wednesday. You really do need the rest, and that extra day is important. Good nutrition and good sleeps are important too.