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Mike’s Story

Mike’s Story
October 29, 2018 Dan Raimondi

This month marks Mike’s first year of training with me. I asked him to write about his experience over that time. 

My First Year of Weightlifting

by Mike Richard

At the age of 37, I had never seriously touched a barbell before in my life. I would go to the gym sporadically and I would do what I already knew how to do. That usually meant time on the stationary bike, treadmill or swimming laps in the pool. Once in a while, I would try out one of the dozens of weight machines that were there, but I didn’t really even know how to use those to any meaningful effect.

 

Last fall, I stumbled across some YouTube videos featuring Mark Rippetoe. He effectively made the case for barbell training as the superior way to gain strength and increase one’s quality of life. His explanations for the necessity and superior efficacy of barbell training as well as the proper techniques for doing so were eye-opening. I decided that I should give Rippetoe’s ‘Starting Strength’ method a try. I watched many of his instructional videos for each of the main lifts, but I realized I would prefer to have a coach teach me the lifts in person. Yes, it would be more expensive than a gym membership, but I saw it as an investment in educating myself.

 

There are very few Starting Strength Coaches nationwide as it is a very difficult credential to attain. However, I was happy to find that Fargo had its own Certified Starting Strength Coach. I was even more pleasantly surprised when I realized he was the only one within the six nearest states to mine. I took this as a sign that I should not pass up the opportunity. So last October, I reached out to Coach Dan Raimondi to set up a free consultation. I did not have any concrete numerical goals at the time. I just wanted to learn to lift weights and get as strong as I reasonably could. After that initial session, I started training with Dan three times per week. The five-minute commute from my garage to his then garage gym was truly a blessing that I did not take for granted.

 

The first few sessions were easier than I expected. I was certainly challenged as we figured out my baseline of strength, but I was not wiped-out or drenched in sweat after each session. Dan taught me to squat, bench press, overhead press, and deadlift. At each and every session, we would add a little bit of weight to each of these – usually 5-10 lbs. I knew from the many Starting Strength testimonials that consistency was one of the most important factors in getting stronger. So I made sure that I did not miss any sessions. As my competence in the lifts progressed, I moved from training with Dan three times per week to once per week. I would complete the other two weekly sessions on my own.

Photo by licia marie photography (www.liciamariephotography.com)

 

Eventually, all lifters reach a point where progress at every session is no longer possible. There will come a day when you start failing to lift the added weight you loaded onto the bar. This is the point at which one moves from being a novice lifter to an intermediate lifter. Since those initial ‘novice gains,’ Dan has put me through a number of smaller training cycles to continue progressing as an intermediate lifter. During the intermediate period, progress is no longer attained daily, but rather weekly, then monthly, then once each training cycle. Simply put, as one advances in their lifting experience, the strength gains are harder and more infrequent to come by. I’m still at the stage where improvement comes every few weeks.

 

Dan sends me my training plan every Sunday by email and I still lift with him once per week at his new training facility in Fargo. This really helps me in two primary ways. First, it keeps me compliant. Life gets busy and sometimes it is tempting to let training take a back seat to other things. Having that weekly session adds accountability into my training routine. Barring illness, I do not skip training sessions. I find a way to stay on track because I know Dan will look at my training log and ask how my training went. I don’t dare say “I haven’t trained this week.” Second, training with Dan each week has helped me keep good lifting form. His regular feedback prevents me from developing bad habits. This is important to avoid injury and to maintain lifting efficiency over the long term.

 

I’ve learned that lifting weights is fun in many ways. Barbell training requires you to do a very difficult thing. Putting a really heavy weight on your back and squatting it down and then up is a sure-fire way to focus the mind. This time of singular focus is rare in today’s age of constant connectivity and distraction. I really enjoy my lifting sessions because I am required to put all of my daily stresses and distractions aside.

 

It’s also rather fun to log each day’s results in a notebook and watch the numbers go up consistently. On day one, Dan had me squat 95 lbs for 5 reps and it was really hard. I recently squatted 375 lbs and was about as hard. Same effort, but four times the weight. That cannot happen without small incremental improvements day in and day out. My training log is concrete proof of the reality that small, but consistent, improvements accrue to become quite significant over time.

Photo by licia marie photography (www.liciamariephotography.com)

 

The tangible health benefits weightlifting has brought me are not only fun but life-changing. Last year, I was going to the chiropractor about once every month or two. I would “throw out” my back to the point that I often couldn’t walk upright. The constant pain would be unbearable. The chiropractic adjustment would solve the pain for a while. But eventually, I would throw it out again. I have not had any more back issues at all since I started weightlifting. It stands to reason as my back was weak before and it is strong now. The changes in my body composition in the last year also allowed me to apply for a health insurance discount. The higher muscle mass and lower body fat percentage that lifting brought about now save me about $100 each and every month in smaller insurance premiums.

 

Daily tasks are now really easy. I can work outside all day splitting logs and wake up the next day good as new. In the past, it would have wiped me out for days. I can carry 40 lb bags of water softener tablets from the car to the basement four at a time now. Before weightlifting, I could carry just one bag at a time. I can even beat my wife at a chin-up contest, which was definitely not the case before since I couldn’t even do a single chin-up!

Photo by licia marie photography (www.liciamariephotography.com)

Lifting heavy weights requires great balance. As you slowly increase the weight, your balance slowly improves as well. Over time, the difference is very noticeable. I do not specifically train cardio very often. However, my cardio capabilities have also vastly improved simply through weight training. As the weights went up, I would sweat more and more. I now finish almost every lifting session pretty soaked and sweaty.

 

For all these reasons, weightlifting has become a way of life for me. When traveling, most people look for the best restaurants in the town they are visiting. I still do that too. However, when I travel, I now look forward to finding a really good gym to train at. In addition, I have recently decided to turn my extra garage into a home gym to make training even more convenient. I truly understand the appeal and benefits of weightlifting now and I plan to continue doing so for as long as I can. I might even enter a powerlifting competition at some point just for fun. I have come a long way in one year. I am excited to see how much more progress I can make in the next year as well.