Archives For starting strength

Believe it or not, but it’s been exactly 2 years since I first started taking strength training seriously.

That is, setting goals, having a plan, working that plan and keeping a record of my training.

I was about 183lbs at the time, and this is where I began:

Old_Training_Log (1)

Check out the training logs I kept in my Moleskine notebook while I was training and living in Bangkok, Thailand 2 years ago. Man, I can barely read my own handwriting!

Fast forward 2 years and ~20lbs later, here are my current personal bests:

Here are some random thoughts, opinions, lessons learned, and observations I have accumulated over the past 2 years:


  • I should have started earlier.
  • The best time to train is after you take a crap.
  • 2 exercises per day can get great results.
  • Having a plan is key. I never have to go to the gym and not know what to do. You know what they say, failing to plan is planning to fail.
  • 5 sets of 5 reps for squats is a great stamina builder.
  • You don't need bumper plates to do power cleans.
  • You can deadlift more by making yourself shorter (ie. by taking off your shoes).
  • Injuries are educational. If it hurts, don’t do it. Figure out a way to train around injuries.

Big Box Gym Observations

  • “What supplements do you take?” seems to be a common question.
  • The overhead press is the manliest looking lift that rarely anybody does in the gym (that I’ve been in).
  • In my experience, it seems as though men & women stare at those moving big weights more than the guy with big muscles.
  • Guys pay more attention than girls to other men with jacked, muscular defined bodies.
  • Naked dudes walking around in the change room seem to be a North American phenomenon. I did not see this while I was living in Thailand…except for one guy. I think he was new to the gym and did not know that female and transgendered janitors regularly go in and out of the men’s change room.


  • You don’t need supplements to get results. I didn’t start taking any whey protein, creatine or other bodybuilding supplements until well after I squatted over 400lbs, benched over 300lbs, deadlifted 500lbs, and put on >10lbs in bodyweight.
  • Eating a light breakfast before lifting feels a lot better than eating a heavy breakfast.
  • I wouldn’t be where I am today without a rice cooker or slow cooker. Next upgrade: pressure cooker!

Success & Motivation

  • Discipline is required for the first few weeks. After that, it becomes a habit. In other words, it becomes "normal"...and it would be abnormal not to do it.
  • Success comes from focused, sustained effort to a measurable goal.
  • Continued progress and always trying to break my personal records is motivational.
  • Motivational pictures aren’t that motivating to me. Seeing videos of other people lift insane amounts of weights, or simply beating their own personal bests are more motivational than words on photos.

Random Stuff

  • Don't reinvent the wheel. By following a program, at least in the beginning, can probably get you better results than trying to do something on your own. Modifications can be done down the road.
  • Don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Especially from anonymous keyboard warriors on forums and Reddit.
  • Test things out for yourself.
  • There’s more than 1 way to skin a cat.

A killer interview and some awesome articles I've read this past week:

  1. Starting Strength Series : Marty Gallagher Interview (Part 3) with Mark Rippetoe & Marty Gallagher
  2. A Tip For Reducing Back Pain During the Deadlift by Stevo
  3. I Will Condition by Paul Carter
  4. Tweak Something? by Brandon Morrison
  5. Train Like A Grown Ass Man by Greg Robins

I’ve only been performing progressively heavier, below parallel squats with a barbell on my back on a regular basis since around November of 2010, and have noticed some unintended, unexpected and unwelcomed side effects.

If you’re thinking of training with weights, perhaps embarking on a program that calls for below parallel squats with a barbell on your back while increasing the weight on a regular basis such as Starting Strength, 5/3/1, Stronglifts 5x5, or any other squat centric training program, you might want to take a look at this list of side effects I've experienced before you dive in:

1. Favorite Jeans Do Not Fit

Before I dedicated myself to training seriously, I was a size 32. I used to have an old favorite pair of jeans that fit me PERFECTLY. It was a pair of Levi’s 527 low boot cut jeans (apparently boot cut jeans make you look taller). It wasn’t too tight, and it wasn’t too loose either.

In fact, back then almost all my jeans were around size 32. They were mostly bootcut. I had a few size 33-34 jeans as well. I remember those size 34 jeans being too loose, and reminded me of my youth where everyone wore baggy jeans.

These days most of my size 32 jeans do not fit. The only size 32 jeans that do fit are my Levi’s 569 loose straight jeans, but even they’re tight on me now!

Now, my most comfortable and new favorite pair of jeans are my size 34 DKNY Madison boot-cut jeans, which only a few years ago felt too loose. And even now, they’re starting to feel tight.

UPDATE: I just discovered that my new favorite jeans now have a rip in the crotch.


Thank you, squats.

2. Ripped Shorts

Ripped Shorts From Squats

The bottom position in a deep, ass-to-grass squat does no favors for your favorite pair of shorts.

It’s not uncommon for people to hear a loud ripping sound in the middle of their set of squats. I’ve heard it before, and thankfully the hole in my shorts wasn’t that big. But when I heard the rip, there was a momentary lapse in concentration: my focus went from squatting the bar up, to “dammit I just ripped my shorts!”.

Thankfully I train at home and there was no one around to laugh at me, but I’m sure other people who train at a gym surrounded by strangers haven’t been so fortunate.

It’s distracting and potentially embarrassing.

3. Stretch Marks


I’ve seen stretch marks on my legs, hips and buttocks before squatting 3 days a week, but now they are even larger and more pronounced than than ever.

It looks as though the skin on my butt and legs have been pierced and ripped by the claws of some wild animal.

They say lifting weights make you look good naked, but with all these stretch marks on my ass, I’m not so sure. Unless you like tiger stripes.

4. Underwear Feels Too Tight

I wear briefs. I like how it makes everything feel safe and secure. All my underwear were medium size.

However, one side effect of squatting 3 times per week is that your butt gets bigger. A big butt takes up space in your underwear, leaving less space for everything else. For guys, this anterior compression from the underwear due to an enlarge posterior is an uncomfortable feeling.

And not only do squats make your butt bigger, but it also makes your legs bigger. This is a problem for my boxer briefs, because now that my legs are thicker, there doesn’t seem to be enough leg room. Everything is tight, and seems to ride up no matter how long the legs on the boxer briefs are.

Not comfortable.

5. Become Agitated When People Do Not Squat At All, Do Not Squat Deep Enough Or Do Not Squat Properly


When I first started learning the back squat and actually made progress, I began to see how other people around me were wrong.

I found myself shaking my head in my own mind at those who exercise at the gym all the time, have a massive upper body but never squat!

If if they did, it’s usually on the Smith machine performing quarter, or at best, half squats.

I used to have to restrain myself from yelling offering unsolicited advice to unsuspecting strangers to squat deeper, correct their form, or use the squat rack.

I can’t tell you how annoyed I used to be when personal trainers never tell their clients to perform an honest ass-to-grass squat in the squat rack.

And don’t even get me started about those who curl in the squat rack.

Fast forward to today: I have accepted the fact that not everyone will squat properly, squat using a rack or even squat at all.

With time and experience, I have developed tolerance to gym rats and curl bros and have accepted them for who they are.

I am now at peace.

If you’re on a training protocol (such as Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5x5, or Texas Method to name a few) which instructs you to add weight to your lifts on a regular basis, then there will come a time when you WILL get stuck.

In other words, there will come a point where you cannot add any more weight to the bar, even though you can complete 3 sets of 5 reps (Starting Strength) at a particular weight.

This usually happens when you try to increase the load by 5lbs (and on lifts such as the overhead press or bench press, simply because there are less muscle groups involved in those exercises compared to the squat or deadlift).

The smallest Olympic plate at a gym is typically 2.5lbs. Adding 2.5lbs to both sides of an Olympic bar increases the load by 5lbs. What this means is even with the smallest possible weight available at a gym, it will be difficult to keep on progressing simply because 5lbs is too big of a jump.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine someone named “Bob” who can squat 200lbs, and overhead press 100lbs (both exercises for 3 sets of 5 reps). He’s on the Starting Strength training program, so linear progression (a fancy way of saying “adding weight every time you train”) is the name of the game.

For Bob’s next training session, his plan is to squat 205lbs and overhead press 105lbs.

The squat, going from 200lbs to 205lbs represents a 2% increase.

Whereas the overhead press, going from 100lbs to 105lbs would be a 5% increase.

Which do you think would be easier?

The 2% jump in weight for the squat will probably be manageable, however, a 5% jump for the overhead press would prove more challenging to achieve 3 sets of 5 reps. In fact, the extra 5lbs on the overhead press might be too much, and Bob might not even reach a set of 5 reps. He’ll hit a wall and plateau.

I’m sure this is a familiar story...I’ve experience the same situation myself many times (at different weights).

So how can Bob keep on progressing and continue to get stronger?

In my experience, there are 2 ways to keep on getting stronger (assuming that sleep, diet and recovery are fine):

First, is fight at the weight you’re stuck at until your can complete 3 sets of 5 reps (or whatever set/rep scheme the training program calls for).

What I used to do is use the weight I’m stuck at and work at it week after week until I could finish 3 sets of 5 reps. Sometimes this would take a few weeks; I would struggle at completing just 1 set of 5 reps, and maybe only hit 4 or 3 reps during the next 2 sets. After week or so, I would eventually hit my target of 3 sets of 5 reps. But here’s the thing: using the same weight over and over again really kills the momentum of getting stronger every training session.

The other solution is micro-loading with fractional plates.

Rogue Fractional Plates


At first I was hesitant to buy the fractional plates from Rogue Fitness simply because it was so damn expensive for such puny weights! ($65 for only a total of 5lbs of Olympic plates).

I’ve read people making homemade fractional plates from chains, but I decided on fractional plates from Rogue, simply because the cost of going to the hardware store to buy the chains, cost of the chains and buying a new kitchen scale to weigh these chains would cost more in time and effort.

These tiny weights have made a big impact on my training. Now, instead of trying to increase the weight by 5lbs, I can increase the load with as little as 0.50lbs.

There are 4 different plates:

  1. 0.25lbs x 2 = 0.50lbs
  2. 0.50lbs x 2 = 1.00lb
  3. 0.75lbs x 2 = 1.50lbs
  4. 1.00lb x 2 = 2lbs

I like the fact that I can go from 0.50lbs to 5.0lbs in half pound increments. I also like that each weight is represented by a different color (I’ve seen some fractional plates that are all one color - chrome).

Carrying Fractional Plates Around


I used to take 2 sets of the Rogue fractional plates with me to the gym. At that point, I’ve found that I could still make progress by increasing the load by 2.5lbs (that’s 1.25lbs on each side of the bar), so I only brought half of the set with me: the 0.75lb red plates and the 0.50lbs blue plates.

An extra 2.5lbs in my gym bag wasn’t too much to ask.

I weaved the strap of my fanny pack inside the 2” holes of the fractional plates, and carried it over my shoulders. I probably got some weird looks (”why is that big short guy carrying baby weights?”), but I’m not interested in what other people think...I only want to get stronger!



My goal is simply to get stronger, and microloading with fractional plates have helped me reach person records in all my lifts. After all, a 500.5lb deadlift is bigger than a 500lbs deadlift.

The Rogue fractional plates has helped the most with the overhead press and bench press, especially early on where a 5lbs increase became too big of a jump.

Psychologically I think it helps as well. Hitting a wall and getting stuck at a weight for weeks on end sucks. Especially when before it felt as though linear progression was going to happen forever (I wish!). Even adding 0.50lbs to the bar kept the momentum going and the belief that I am getting stronger...a little bit at a time.

What I Didn’t Like

What I didn’t like is that on some of these plates, somehow the paint has chipped off and the metal has show signs of rust.



I’m not sure how the paint chipped off, and I’m not sure if it’s even possible to prevent paint from coming off any weight lifting equipment for that matter since you’re banging metal on metal all the time, but the rusting is probably my fault, since I stored them in a humid basement.

In the future I may end up painting over this rust with some rust resistant paint from Tremclad or Rustoleum.


If you’re serious about getting stronger, then the Rogue Fractional Plates are among the best investments you can make. Tiny increment in weights as low as 0.50lbs will break plateaus, get unstuck and ensure that you’ll keep on progressing and keep on getting stronger.

At first glance it’s seems like a significant investment $65 for a total of 5lbs.

But if you’re like me and you’re pushing yourself to get stronger and break personal records, you’ll probably use fractional plates on every other workout (at least) for the rest of your life.

So $65 for something that will last years and get a lot of use over the course of your life is definitely a bargain.

Check it out here: Rogue Fractional Plates

Alternatively, there’s the Iron Woody fractional plates. The non-metric version is a bit cheaper than Rogue’s (probably because it’s not made of the anti-tank metal that Rogue uses), but I’m sure it’s just as effective.

Preparing for Standing Overhead Press

Preparing for Standing Overhead Press

Power clean

62.5 kg (137.5 lbs): 3,3,3,3,3


157.5 kg (346.5 lbs): 5,5,5,5,5


77.5 kg (170.5 lbs): 5,5,5,5,3


  • Yawning a lot after squats. Thinking about changing from 5x5 to 8x3
  • Triceps felt fatigue as the set of presses progressed. Maybe because of the dips last Friday?