My Journey with Strong Lifts

For the past 10 weeks I’ve been following a weight lifting program called Strong Lifts.  Now, when you first land on their website you’ll see phrases about getting ripped and gaining all sorts of muscle.  That’s all good stuff (and true) but it’s not why I decided to give it a go.


For the last year or so I’ve been hammering away at CrossFit 5 days per week with a recovery style workout on Saturday with my Exodus brothers.  In other words, I was usually exercising 6 days per week.

Now, the nature of CrossFit is to keep things “constantly varied” which is why I was able to attend my local CrossFit box Monday through Friday.  The programming was excellent and very rarely was I totally “destroyed” by the end of the week.  One day we’d lift… the next we’d do a short 8 minute metcon… the next we’d do some awful 20 minute aerobic based workout. But, again, I was able to hang with the younger guys week in and week out.

But, eventually, my 45-year-old body started to show signs of overtraining.  I was getting sick more than I had in years… mostly annoying colds, nasal congestion, and coughing that would linger for weeks.  I was also beginning to get the “workout blues” from time to time and just wasn’t feeling great from an emotional perspective.

Now, to be sure, I am not knocking CrossFit or the box I was going to.  I still believe functional style workouts are incredibly valuable…. but, at least for me, I was overdoing it and needed a change.

Enter Strong Lifts

I had heard about the Strong Lifts program from my buddy Taylor Marshall and decided to give it a go for at least 12 weeks.

There’s a free app available that does all the programming for you and allows you to log your results.  It’s also a “smart” app in that it will adjust according to your results.

I had done all of the lifts before and knew what my 1 rep maxes were.  As such I was able to enter this info into the app which is how the app figured out where I should start.

Two Workouts Three Times per Week

There are two different workouts in the program.  One workout has you back squatting, benching, and doing barbell rows.  The second workout has you back squatting again, then doing overhead strict presses, followed by deadlifts.  They have videos to help you learn correct form along with TONS of written content.

They suggest you do these workouts 3 times per week.  But, even still, this means you will back squat 3 times per week and do one of these workouts twice.  I decided to do these workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Introducing 5×5

As far as the rep schemes go every movement, except the deadlift, is to be done in a 5×5 manner.  In other words, you do 5 sets of 5 reps.  And, to make things interesting, assuming you were successful with all your sets and reps for that movement in the previous workout, you will add 5 pounds to the bar every workout.  Put another way your back squat weight will increase by 15 pounds every week!

A Little Boring to Start

Now, I will say… I struggled a little the first few weeks since the app had me start with very light weight.  It was easy, easy, easy and, quite frankly, a little boring.  But I took that opportunity to really focus on good form and technique.  I video taped myself and even asked folks like Mike and Taylor to comment on my form.

It Ain’t Boring Anymore

Fast forward to this morning.  I am up to the most weight I have ever back squatted for reps in my life.  After each set I am literally out of breath and have to rest for around 3 minutes before the next set.

I’ve also set personal records for overhead strict presses and while I still have room to go on the other lifts everything’s getting heavy!

Slipping in a Metcon Here and There

Now, I do need to confess that I have slipped in a medium intensity CrossFit style metcon in here and there.  I usually jump on my new Rogue Echo bike and sling a Kettlebell around when I do these workouts.  But I am not going crazy with these other workouts since, like I said, the Strong Lifts workouts have gotten real the last few weeks!

Oh, I also added strict pull-ups (5 sets of 6) to one of the workouts to make sure I didn’t lose them!

What You Need to Do Strong Lifts

I am doing the Strong Lifts program at home since I have this rack, a 45# barbell, and several hundred pounds of bumper plates like this.  Also, since I usually lift alone I bought these spotter arms that I can adjust accordingly when I bench and squat.  Benching, in particular, without a spotter can be deadly… so don’t do it!

Now, if you don’t have a home gym you can definitely do Strong Lifts at your local globo gym.  I would just look for a gym with a squat rack or, even better, a power rack.  I recently traveled to Canada and found a globo gym close to my hotel and was able to get all my lifting in.  You will get strange looks from the folks doing their curls for the girls and leg extensions… but, hey, it’s all good!

Feeling Strong & Refreshed

And while I have definitely gotten stronger the last few months… I also feel great physically and mentally.

Lifting heavy 3 times a week has given my body, and central nervous system, a chance to catch up.  And while I haven’t done any blood work I’m quite certain my cortisol levels and inflammation have decreased which aren’t a bad thing when it comes to topics such as naturally increasing testosterone!

Another massive bonus to working out at home is that my kids often come out to the barn and work out with me.  I absolutely love this since they’re learning to care for their bodies far earlier than I did!

My Plan After Strong Lifts

I haven’t quite decided what I will do once I finish this initial 12 weeks of Strong Lifts.  I may keep going.  As the weight gets heavier, and reps are missed, the app apparently adjusts to different rep schemes like 5 sets of 3.  And, eventually, the weight only increases once per week… not every workout.  The app will also de-load the weight accordingly when you hit a plateau.

But I’m pretty confident I’ll also begin to work in more metcons… but, one thing is for sure, I’m not going to go hard for 5 days in a row like I had been.  I may experiment with 2 or 3 days on, 1 day off with Sunday’s always being off no matter what.  I will keep y’all updated.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

p.s. As you have likely noticed… Mike and I aren’t blogging as frequently due to time constraints and raising awesomely huge Catholic families!  Soooo…. if you feel called to help us out guest posts are ALWAYS welcome!  Just contact us!