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Pretty much how every workout session went.

I'm convinced that had I started barbell training in my teens instead of starting at an over-the-hill-age of 30 that I would be an absolute monster with chimpanzee strength.

A goddamn living legend.

Anonymous Reddit users would be worshiping the keyboard I type on instead of questioning my method(s) (which is basically, add more weight to the bar each training session, and lift it), or offering ridiculously unqualified “critiques” of my form.

This is me in grade 8, 20 years ago, months before entering high school and "lifting weights" in the weight room.

If I had started squatting, bench pressing, deadlifting and overhead pressing in my teen years in the high school dungeon weightroom, and trained consistently until now, my power levels would be so high that it would most definitely shatter a Saiyan scouter from Dragon Ball Z.

Instead, I ended up spending a lot of time screwing around with unfocused, pumping up and flexing in the mirror workouts before taking strength training seriously in 2010 at the ripe old age of 30.

Fast forward to today and I am left playing catch up with a mirror “John Phung” from a parallel universe who focused on getting strong at an early age instead of aimlessly lifting weights.

I would imagine an encounter with a mirror "John Phung" would be like this. Except it wouldn't be such an even match.

Despite my current 1RM (which, at the time of writing are as followed: Squat: 585 lb, Bench Press: 420 lb, Deadlift: 585 lb and Overhead Press: 290 lb), I am 100% sure that the parallel universe John Phung is warming up with my maxes. I am left 'mirin his overwhelming physical strength, and live in regret everyday, wondering where I would be had I started serious, structured and focused strength training sooner.

I will continue to train, adding weight to the bar and becoming stronger. This is a slow process, and unfortunately I do not think I will ever catch up to the mirror John Phung lifting in a parallel universe.

However, I have devised a plan in order to make huge leaps in strength in this current universe. And no, it's not sterons.

I have written a letter, to my past self, with guidance and instructions on becoming STRONG based on my current knowledge and experience. It doesn't contain a step-by-step, paint by the numbers training program to follow from age 14 all the way to 34, because there's value in discovering things for yourself. I just want to get him (or me) on the right path. Once my past self reads this letter, he will (hopefully) take action on my advice, train, and become in-comprehensively strong. The John Phung you see today will be puny and weak in comparison to the alternate John Phung...if my plan works.

Yes, I know what you nerds are thinking. This will violate the temporal prime directive and alter the current timeline. But if that's what it takes to make significant leaps in strength, then so be it.

Dear John,

It's me, you.

This is future John Phung from 21st century in the year 2014.

I am writing to tell you that despite being exposed to weight training at an early age, I only started training serious at age 30.

Currently, at age 34, our current maxes are:

While I'm sure this will seem impressive to you, let me assure you, it is not. There are individuals out there much smaller and stronger than I am (in the past and present). But you have the potential to become much stronger than I...imagine if you (or I) had started training seriously at your age. Your strength would surely eclipse mine.

We have screwed around too much in the weight room and have nothing to show for it. This letter will provide you guide on what to do and what not to do. Read this carefully, and apply the knowledge you will gain in the future to your current training:

  • Listen to your elders, especially if they have more experience and/or they're stronger than you are. Including me.
  • Don't waste money on bodybuilding supplements. In the future, a lot of the crap sold will prove to be ineffective. I started taking bodybuilding supplements AFTER squatting 400 lb, benching 300 lb, deadlifting 500 lb and overhead pressing 200 lb. Beat that, if you can.
  • Focus on the fundamentals. For the lifts: squat, bench press, deadlift, and overhead press, all with full range of motion. Incorporate paused and non-paused reps, along with belted and non-belted lifts. And none of this half rep stuff you see everyone else doing. The fundamentals have built strong men in the past, present and future. Everything else is mostly noise.
  • Success comes from focused, sustained effort to a measurable goal.
  • Egg yolks are fine! Don't waste Mom's money by throwing out the yolk.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Better sleep = better recovery.
  • Getting strong boils down to this: add more weight to the bar, and lift it. There will be a lot of different methods, systems, programs and templates in the future describing different ways to get stronger. The one thing they have in common is that they all prescribe adding weight to the bar, sooner or later.
  • Understand intensity, volume, and frequency, and figure out how to manipulate them to continually make progress.
  • Success leaves clues. Look for patterns, common denominators.
  • There will come a time where something called the "Internet" will grow in popularity. It's like a series of tubes connecting computers together all over the world. No, it will not be a fad like some people think. It will become a gather place for a variety of topics, including strength training. But be wary of "forums" and "Reddit". There will be a lot of self-proclaimed anonymous experts who think they know it all, but in actuality, do not. Listen to those who walk the talk, not those who talk (or type) the most.
  • In those bodybuilding magazines you have, keep an eye out for a guy named “Anthony Clark”. Notice his grip in the bench press. Practice this inside a power rack. You will figure out and master the “reverse grip bench press”. Don't worry about what other people say about it. They are morons.
  • Also, pay attention to Ed Coan, Kirk Karwaski, Fred Hatfield, and other top powerlifters, along with articles written by Marty Gallahger.
  • Stop buying Muscle & Fitness, Flex, and other bodybuilding magazines. Look for “Powerlifting USA”.
  • Focus on lifting with a belt, wrist wraps and weightlifting shoes (if you can find them. If not, just wear dress shoes for now – something with a hard, flat sole with an elevated heel. Don't squat in running shoes).
  • Track your training and document your progress. Track your personal records (major lifts, variations and rep ranges from 1 to 10), and your daily training. You should keep this written in a paper notebook instead of a computer. Those floppy disks will be obsolete soon and replaced with other devices. Paper will still be around, even in the 21st century.
  • Learn critical thinking. Pick up the book “How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life” by Thomas Gilovich (this should be available in your time. Check the library), and “Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time” by Michael Shermer, which will come out in 1997. It'll help you cut through the bullshit, which really piles up in the fitness industry over time.
  • Buy the soundtrack Conan The Barbarian on LP record format. Copy it to cassette and listen to it on a Walkman during your workouts. The cassette will die off, but vinyl records will still exist in the future for some reason. Oh yeah, don't buy too many VHS tapes either, that's going to go the way of the dinosaur too.
  • If it hurts, don't do it. In other words, if you feel an injury is going to happen, don't "man up" and try to push through the pain. It's not worth it. Better to fight again another day than to spend many days nursing an injury and growing weak.
  • Study the top lifters in the world in powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting. You may have to go to the library and find some books about these topics.
  • Test things out for yourself. See if it works, based on your efforts, rather than blindly believing in what's written in a magazine or elsewhere.
  • Don't buy clothes that are too tight. You won't grow any taller, but you will exceed 200 lb.
  • You might want to save those baggy rapper-wannabee jeans you have. They may fit more appropriately in the future.
  • Train your neck. You have a big head, and a thick neck will “even things out”. It also looks more intimidating.
  • Deadlift with a “hook grip”. It will hurt at first, but man up and get used to it. I'm sure it hurts less than a bicep tear.
  • Pause your warm ups at the bottom position. It's an easy way to sneak in paused work into a training session.
  • Star Trek will be cool in 2009, so don't be ashamed in watching Star Trek on TV. Star Wars is still cool today.
  • Don't take sex advice from a virgin. On the same note, don't take lifting advice from some dude who clearly doesn't lift. Some people just want to feel smart.
  • Don't bother wearing gloves to lift weights. People in the future will make fun of you asking if it matches your purse!
  • You can hit a body-part/perform a lift more than once a week, contrary to what's written in magazines.
  • Set aside the “Weider Principles”. Instead, know this:
    • GAS Principle (General Adaptations Syndrome)
    • SAID Principle(Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands)
    • Progressive Overload
  • The core lifts will develop your core. If you want to get an even stronger midsection, do this: L-sit chin ups/pull ups, ab wheel roll-outs, dragon flags and weighted sit ups.
  • Squat depth: if you're having problems squatting low (I'm talking calves touching hamstrings), do this: squat all the way down, with your feet flat on the floor, and just sit there. You know, just like how your Viet friends squat when they're taking a smoke break or eating noodles. Hold it there as long as you can, taking breaks when you have to. You can distract yourself from any discomfort by playing video games at the same time.
  • Find a powerlifting competition (they're called “meets” for some reason). Enter it, and compete. Get out of your comfort zone. Don't be a fucken pussy.
  • Don't be afraid to fail. Fail forward. But fail safely.

That's it for now.

More instructions will follow, along with winning lottery numbers.


Future John Phung

P.S. Poop before you squat or deadlift.



Now, all I need to do is get a DeLorean DMC-12, invent a flux capacitor and time circuits, obtain some plutonium (or Mr. Fusion + garbage), assemble it into a time machine, drive it 88 MPH into the past, send this letter to myself in the past, and I'm set to become a muscle sphere with a 2500+ lb total.

It seems like every other PR video I upload, there's always a comment or question about what music I'm playing in the background.

Everybody has their own person preferences for choice of music to listen to during a workout. Powerlifters seem notorious for playing some sort of heavy metal music, but personally it's not my thing. There's something about the constant screaming that doesn't appeal to me.

I prefer epic battle music, which is mostly instrumental and has a little bit of incomprehensible vocals thrown around here and there.

Conan The Barbarian

There's something about beating drums and trumpets that brings up images of warriors in a far off land in a distant past, preparing for some glorious impeding battle. A battle where you have to give it your all, or die in the process. You know, stuff you see in fantasy movies or anime.

The idea of preparing for battle parallels the moments before attempting to set a new personal record in the squat, bench press, deadlift or overhead press. More specifically, preparing to blast (or grind) through a sticking point that’s unique to each lift, which really seems to be where the “battle” takes place.

During my warm ups, I’ll listen to some interviews or something educational. Or sometimes nothing. I don’t need a high level of arousal when warming up, but when the top set of the day approaches (which, these days is a PR attempt), my focus begins to narrow…and the real battle is just on the horizon.

I’ll usually start playing some music during the last few warm up sets, in order to get in the zone prior to lifting a weight that I've never lifted before for a given number of repetitions.

Anyhoo, my entire PR Music playlist is here. But here's my current top 10 list of training music to get psyched and pumped up to prepare to hit a new PR:

1. Conan The Barbarian Theme

2. Conan The Destroyer Theme

3. Riders of Doom (From Conan The Barbarian)

By the way, that's Franco Columbu with the painted nipples at 1:08.

4. Deidara Theme Song (From Naruto Shippuden)

5. Emergence of Talents (From Naruto Shippuden)

6. Kokuten (From Naruto Shippuden)

7. Ip Man Theme Song

8. Legends of Azeroth (From World of Warcraft)

Dat nostalgia…

9. Seasons of War (From World of Warcraft)

This was used in the cinematic trailer for World of Warcraft.

10. Sasori Theme (From Naruto Shippuden)

Sometimes, getting too hyped up leads to sloppy technique. If I feel I need to relax and get even more focused on the task at hand, I'll play something slow.

Now, crush some PRs!


Weigh In

  • 1st attempt: 100.5 Kg (221.565 lb) * PR!
    • Bodyweight PR. Note to self: Google how to stop gainz.
  • 2nd attempt: 99.9 Kg (220.2418 lb)
    • Removed singlet, shirt and socks. Made 100 Kg weight class.

Bench Press

  • 1st attempt: 160 Kg (352.74 lb)
  • 2nd attempt: 175 Kg (385.809 lb) * PR!
  • 3rd attempt: 182.5 Kg (402.344 lb) * PR!

Full Meet Report

So I competed at a bench press only powerlifting competition yesterday. I had known about this meet for a while now, but I was undecided whether I should do it or not until last Tuesday.

I figured I should do this meet because it was probably going to be the only competition I would do this year. On top of that, it's within walking distance from where I live.

And I'm not usually surrounded by strong people who lift heavy weights (at least, not in real life), so it'll be nice to be around a bunch of big, strong beefcakes all wearing tight-ass singlets.

Lastly, it gives me something to blog about!

Meet Details

Held on Saturday, August 23, 2014.

Backyard meet that's located about 20 minutes from my home...20 minutes of walking that is!

Weigh ins at 11:00 AM, rules meeting at 12:00 PM and benching began at 1:00 PM.

Meet Preparation

Well, for my 4 day meet prep, it was pretty much this:


That meant no benching, and no pushing myself up from a prone position.

Reason why is it was after Tuesday's bench training that I decided to do this. My triceps were pretty fried from reverse grip benching 370 lb x 3, followed by 330 lb x 7.

So, best bet was just to rest and hope for the best on the platform.

For the rest of the week, I rested on Wednesday, squatted on Thursday, and rested again on Friday (normally train 5-6 days per week).

Also, because my current training revolves around hitting some sort of personal record everyday, I'm used to maxing out for 1 or more reps on a regular basis.

Rack Height

Looking over the old CPF meet report, my rack height was “6”. But watching the videos, “6” seemed too low, so I'm going to try something higher. I'm used to unracking the bar by myself, even with a reverse grip, and one of the keys is getting the height of the J-hooks high enough so that the arms are almost locked out.

Mark's video from last year’s No Frills bench press meet, it looks like an “8”. I'm guessing our arm length are more or less the same, so 8 should be good.

Possible Attempts

Anyways, possible attempts were:

  1. Opener: 160 Kg (352.74 lb)
  2. 2nd Attempt: 175 Kg (385.809 lb)
  3. 3rd Attempt: 182.5 Kg (402.344 lb)

A Note On Weight Selection

I think I read from Dave Tate about opening with a 3RM, hitting a PR on the 2nd attempt, and then going for broke on the 3rd attempt.

I was thinking about opening at 150 Kg or 330.7 lb because it would be similar to my last paused reverse grip bench warm up set. It's also the same opening weight that I used last year at the last powerlifting meet that I competed in.

Considering the fact that I'm stronger now compared to last year, and got 7 reps with 330 lb earlier this week, and my 3RM is currently 385 lb, I decided to open with something a little heavier.

However, I felt a little conservative because I haven't really been practising paused benching on a regular basis, and I would be benching on an unfamiliar bench without sandpaper duct-taped onto the bench, so I decided to go with 160 Kg (352.74 lb) as my opener.

The 2nd attempt is 175 Kg (385.809 lb). This would mean a 0.809 lb PR LOL.

The 3rd attempt at 182.5 Kg would be breaking the 400 lb mark. Wasn't very confident about this even though I can touch-and-go bench 400 lb for a double, and current 1RM is 415 lb (without a pause).

Another option I was thinking about was opening with 170 Kg (374.786 lb) with a REGULAR GRIP, then reverse grip the rest of the attempts in order to get a PR on the opener and 2nd attempt.

The Weigh In

I hit a bodyweight PR on my first attempt when weighing in, which was 100.5 Kg. Goddammit! A puny 0.5 Kg over the 100 Kg weight limit.

Took off my shirt, singlet and socks.

My second and final weigh in attempt was a nice 99.9 Kg haha. Good enough to compete in the 100 Kg weight class!

The last time I competed was in the 90 Kg weight class. I am not looking forward to cutting weight to make 90 Kg in the future.

There was no weight cutting for this meet, since it's more or less an informal, backyard driveway garage lifting competition with a 1 hour weigh in. I'm happy because cutting weight is a pain in the ass, and all I want to do is lift some weights.

In fact, I actually tried BULKING HARDER for this meet just to make sure that I could bench the most I possibly can during the competition! Wanted to be as big and bloated as possible, while still being able to weigh 100 Kg.

Bench Shirt

Another concern was having my back slip on the bench.

I made sure that I wore a shirt that I had PR'd in on the bench, so I went with my tight, white Marc Ecko Star Wars shirt:

Warm Ups

Tried to keep it as close to my regular warm up weights as possible:

  • Walked 20 minutes to meet location [heavy breathing]
  • 135 x 5
  • 225 x 3
  • 275 x 1
  • 315 x 1

The Lifts

Opener: 160 Kg (352.74 lb)

Easy, as expected.

2nd Attempt: 175 Kg (385.809 lb)

Easy, not as expected.

+0.809 lb PR!

3rd Attempt: 182.5 Kg (402.344 lb)

My man Adam Wathan offered to chalk up my back before this attempt. I felt like I walked out of a cloud of smoke after haha. Easy, definitely did not expect 400 lb to move this fast.

Afterwards, Adam told me he “put some ‘roids in the chalk” LMAO. Died.

Looking Back At My Warm Ups Attempts

Going into the meet, the attempts that I initially choose seemed wise.

Considering that my max paused reverse grip bench press was 385 lb, and my max touch-n-go reverse grip bench press is 415 lb, going for a small PR on the 2nd attempt on an unfamiliar bench with no sandpaper duct-taped onto it, and lifting in an unfamiliar environment seemed to be the right thing to do.

Also, going for something just over the 400 lb mark on the 3rd attempt would be +15 lb on my paused 1RM, so it seemed like an aggressive but doable weight.

But the headshake of disapproval from the judge on the right of the video (Rich “Tiger” Singh) says it all: Should have added more goddamn weight to the bar!

In hindsight, looking back at the videos, I should have went a little heavier. At least 2.5-5 Kg more on my 3rd attempt. Or maybe all attempts.

If I had access to the Delorean time machine from Back To The Future, I would drive it 88 miles per hour, and accepted to lift in 2 divisions (originally registered for open and sub-masters, which a recent rule changed would have allowed me to lift twice), giving me a total of 6 attempts on the platform! That way, I could be conservative for the first 3 attempts, and just keep on adding weight for the consecutive lifts.

Or I could have done a regular bench press for the first 3 attempts, and then switch to the reverse grip on my last 3, allowing me to PR in both variations!

Unfortunately I don't have access to a time machine, so that's not going to happen anytime soon.

What’s Next

The next CPF meet in Ontario will be October 25, 2014 all the way in Newmarket at the Concord Fitness Club. Most likely not going to do that one, because it's a lot further than 1.4 km walking distance from my home. My mind might change, so we’ll see. If not the October 25th meet, then something local in 2015.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing, and hopefully not add anymore bodyweight. Don’t want to get too big.

And big thanks to Bruce McIntyre for running this meet! I think the No Frills bench press meet is going to be a yearly tradition for me now.

Weighted Vest

August 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

I have a new weighted vest that increases weight automagically over time.