How I came to weightlifting
The idea of starting to workout was in my head for a while. Everybody says - once you hit your 30s mark, it's better to start taking care of your body. Otherwise, you may not get to the moment when you could finally enjoy your 401k.
I also wanted to look better, more fit (and who wouldn't?). It's common knowledge that the best way to achieve that is, well, gym!
The problem was - how to start? Gym seemed intimidating - there're various machines, there're dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells - how do I know which to use, how do I know I use them properly?
So, I put aside the gym idea and decided to start with bodyweight exercises. I really liked the idea of bodyweight exercises. There was something in the approach you only use your own body to get stronger. Elegance and simplicity of it attracted me.
I googled a bit and found the book of Mark Lauren - "You Are Your Own Gym". It had good reviews on Amazon, and there was a nice phone app that would tell you how to do exercises and what they should be. There were 10-week programs, it all looked fun, so I started working out three times a week, using the phone app that accompanies the book.
In about a month, my motivation started to go down. I began to skip workouts, and in about one more month I finally quit. I only went til the 8th week.
The workouts in that app were pretty challenging for me, but the biggest issue was - I wasn't feeling I was getting stronger. Bodyweight exercises are pretty hard to progress on. The idea is that you progress by switching to more challenging versions of exercises (like you start with incline push-ups, then horizontal push-ups, then decline push-ups, then one-arm push-ups, etc.), but the difficulty bump when you go from one version to another is so big, it's hard to actually make it.
At the end of the 8th week, I was pretty disappointed - the workouts didn't get any easier, I was exhausted after each workout, and I didn't feel I got stronger. My motivation finally died, and I quit.
Now I realize two months are not really enough to see any progress, but back then, I was expecting magical transformations in my body, and when I didn't see them, I got quite frustrated.
One year passed. I write software for a living, and I was reading Michael Snoyman's blog - he mostly writes about the programming language Haskell, but he also had a set of blog posts about lifting and health.
I find those kinds of articles very trustworthy - fitness is not what he sells, it's just his hobby, and he's also a software engineer, so I find his experience very relatable. After reading those articles, I was very pumped and decided to start weight lifting as well. He recommended Stronglifts 5x5 as a simple weightlifting program to begin with, and I decided to give it a try!
I read the site, read the exercise descriptions. It all made sense, and it was quite simple! The idea is that you do the so-called 5 "compound" exercises (they work a wide range of muscles of your body) three times a week, increasing weights each day. The exercise descriptions were veeeeery long and very repetitive though, he was repeating the same things and the same principles over and over and over again - no wonder there're like 20 thousand words per each exercise. But if you google something like "How to do deadlifts" you'll get some good videos at the top of search results explaining how to do those with proper form within 3-5 minutes.
Then, I had to choose a gym. I had Anytime Fitness, LA Fitness, and Planet Fitness in 15-minute drive distance around my house, and Planet Fitness was an obvious winner because it was cheap as peanuts - $10 per month! I was going to visit it first, and if it doesn't work for some reason - visit Anytime Fitness and LA Fitness.
Planet Fitness surprised me quite a lot. The gym itself was huge, it got all those fancy machines, but there was no single barbell! No power racks, no squat racks. Even no dumbbells. But rows and rows of empty treadmills, I think five smith machines, some other weird-looking equipment... Stronglifts program required a power rack and a barbell, so I had to pass on it.
LA Fitness was even bigger. It was a massive 2-story building with a pool, basketball court, tens of treadmills again, and two power racks with barbells, with a line of 3 people for each... The chance of staying in line for bench presses like it was in 2010 for iPhone 4 was not super exciting, so that was a pass too.
Anytime Fitness was a cozy small gym with not-so-cozy pricing. There was one squat rack and one power rack though, two barbells, a rich set of dumbbells. And the main thing - there were no people. I was alone. The whole gym was empty. At 5pm. On Tuesday. That means it's empty pretty much all the time. That was a big deal for me - to ensure I won't lose any time staying in line and waiting while somebody is hard working on their curls staying in a rack. I got my wallet and subscribed for a year.
I started to visit the gym three times a week, strictly following the Stronglifts program. It was definitely way more fun than "You are your own gym". It was maybe too easy first (since you literally start with an empty barbell), but that would give me time to adjust, get into the habit of visiting the gym, work on proper form. But the most fun part was that I felt progress. At first - every day, then maybe every week, or even every couple of weeks, but my numbers went up and up. I saw that upwards graph in the Stronglifts phone app. Each time the weight I lift goes up, it feels like a little win, and it gives me that endorphin shot. This is addictive. I find it very hard to keep myself motivated for long-term goals - like I will look great if I keep doing this for the next 2 years regularly. I mean - yes, probably, but if not - I'll have hundreds of hours spent on nothing. And that suspicion eats you. But here - you successfully completed your 5x5 of bench press - done, you got your weight bump for the next workout - you feel a win. And it's awesome.
In about three months, I hit my first deload (when you have to reduce the weight on a barbell because you couldn't accomplish 5 sets of 5 reps for an exercise). But still, I was able to progress. In about three months more, I hit a plateau and just kept deloading and getting to the same level, not being able to increase weight anymore.
At that time, I was at:
- 185lb squat 5x5
- 150lb bench press 5x5
- 105lb overhead press 5x5
- 130lb barbell row 5x5
- 260lb deadlift 1x5
By that time, I was already reading a lot of articles related to weightlifting, was hanging out on /r/fitness, and found probably the best introduction into weightlifting - thefitness.wiki. I really like how short and to-the-point is all the material there. On Reddit, people mostly criticized Stronglifts 5x5 for being strongly skewed towards squats, and at the same time - praised 5/3/1 programs by Jim Wendler for being a balanced program. thefitness.wiki recommends 5/3/1 for Beginners as a starter, so I picked it up.
It worked great! I liked that the pace is slower, but you steadily keep increasing weights every three weeks instead. I got used to Stronglifts 5x5 app though, it was simple yet very convenient - it increased or decreased the weights when appropriate, had all the necessary functionality. But it was designed specifically for Stronglifts 5x5, and you can't adjust it to any other program.
I wanted to find an app I could use for a long time, even if I change programs. I wanted to be able to tweak programs if necessary and couldn't find anything like that. Other apps were either designed for one specific routine (GZCLP, 5/3/1, etc.) or had a pack of popular routines, but none gave full flexibility in program editing. And it makes sense - to make it possible, you have to have full-grown, Turing-complete programming language built-in. I could do that. I'm a software engineer, so I can write an app with a built-in specialized programming language that allows you to express any possible weightlifting program. It will be shipped with popular weightlifting programs and will provide UI to make simple modifications in the routines. But, if you want to create something entirely new and nothing like before, you can always get to the lowest level and use the scripting language - Liftoscript!
After about six months of building it during my spare time, it resulted in Liftosaur! I use it for tracking my lifts since April 2020, and it goes great (though I'm obviously biased). It also motivates me to keep working out since I could think of some feature, then implement it in the app, and then try it out during my own workouts.
I now have a way better picture of what it takes to start weightlifting, and if I started today, I'd probably start with the Basic Beginner Routine and would follow the thefitness.wiki advice to switch to 5/3/1 for Beginners or GZCLP after three months (I wrote about it in my last blogpost)
Lifting weights is super fun. You feel powerful when you lift heavy weights, and you get your little wins pretty often. It's fun to chase numbers (the weight you lift, the reps you could do, etc.). There're many health benefits too, but it's hard to quantify them, and they look more like long-term goals, which I have a hard time to really care about. And you're looking better and better in the process (though that transformation is very slow, it takes years to really see the difference, so again - more like a long-term thing. If you see somebody sells you a three weeks program promising you'll look better at the end - it's a scam, you won't).
So, here I am, 1.5 years in for now, and hopefully, it's just a start.