A Chapter in my Strength Training Journey – COVID19

by Mike Ford | May 27, 2020

As a global sales manager, I spend a lot of time on the road – at least I used to before this COVID-19 thing. Typically, over the last four years since my first NLP started, I have averaged 6-8 weeks of consistent training, followed by 3-4 weeks of travel. Often it was home for 2 weeks and gone for 2 weeks. So how could I possibly get stronger?  Simple, follow the recommended practices in Starting Strength. I know, I’ve been “working out” for years, so I should at least be an intermediate and maybe and advanced lifter doing complex blocks or waves or something, right? Wrong. Plain wrong. After those years of lifting, my max squat for a single was 225 and my deadlift never got over 315. 

Today, was a good day, even though I didn’t follow the program. It reinforced my continued goals and validated the process. For the first time ever, I squatted 295 for a single, the most I’ve ever lifted, and I felt like I could have gone a little further.  Big deal, right? – 295 isn’t much. Why are you taking the time to write it down? Because the program works even when you work around life. That’s why. 

Through all of the travel and NLP restarts, the strength gains were there, just slower than if had I started in my youth. There it is, the simple point of this article. At 49 years old (5’10”, 205lbs), I am still getting stronger despite life always being in the way. The biggest difference between the last four years and all the prior years: consistency and sticking to the program. That’s a much more complicated statement than it seems, but also, it really is that simple.  

In 2013, I found myself entering my 40s overweight out of shape. That last part is critical to understand. Most people go to the gym to “get in shape.” Almost all of us start there; I spent three years “getting in shape” but not getting stronger.  Admittedly, I had to get my diet in check as well, and that resulted in dropping from 230 something to 165. Not overly conducive to getting stronger, but I was still in the exercise mentality and I did hire one of their personal trainers to help (eye-roll).  

One day in my globo-gym, as I was doing my 3 sets of 15 on the bench, I watched two different people in the squat rack. First was the classic “bro” who went straight to 2 plates and proceeded to “squat” making lots of loud noises while not moving very far in any direction. After this display, another more nondescript lifter went to the rack. He worked through a few warm-up sets and then proceed to add what seemed like plate after plate until he reached his work set of 465, which he squatted to depth for several sets. It was a firsthand show of real strength.  

He wasn’t a bro, just a normal guy. I wanted to be that guy – strong, without looking all jacked up. I was, after all, in my 40s, so being jacked wasn’t really an option I thought about. But could I actually get stronger, like that? I did some research and found Starting Strength, and plotted a new course. The workout before I had tested myself and managed a wobbly quarter squat of 205. While I had worked out for years, I decided to reset everything and try to follow the program.  That lasted four weeks before I had to travel for work. How was I ever going to get stronger with life getting in the way? 

I read the blue book, ordered PPST2 and PPST3 hoping to find a program for training around work. I even met with SSC Paul Horn, who said stick to the program but get your form straightened out first.  I followed his advice, along with the good advice available on the SS website (one of the best free resources available for true training!). After shorter layoffs I only reset minimal amounts as prescribed, and each time I traveled too much I accepted the bigger reset and began a new NLP after testing my lifts to see where they started slowing down.

  That in a nutshell is how I have trained for the last four years. I have stacks of training logs to show the slow progression, as well as the years of “silly bullshit” before.

Exercise log (top) vs Training Log (bottom).

NLPs (that’s right, plural) followed by bouts of travel, holidays, and life. But, with each reset, I was a little stronger each time. This year started off with an annoying two weeks in, two weeks out travel schedule. In addition, I had some facial surgery planned for early March, so I focused on fitting in as much training as possible before being laid up for a couple weeks.

  Then, COVID-19 arrived. While COVID-19 has ruined many lives and the political response has impacted the economy, it offered me a new opportunity. With my travel reduced to nothing and stay-at-home policies rampant, I had the chance for the most consistent training that I’ve had in years. Add in a sufficiently equipped garage gym,and I was ready to make some progress.

Garage gym.

The surgery had repaired a severely deviated septum, which I’m sure helped my breathing, but the training consistency finally showed. Since March, my work weights have continued to go up following my latest NLP restart. Somehow the reality that my work travel might not return for quite some time hit me really hard, and it was affecting my mental state; that’s really what drove me to write this article.  

So I decided that today I was going to challenge myself by seeing just how far I had come with my training. I also needed to validate an “outrageous” deadlift goal I set for myself last fall. After going through my warmups, I worked up to squat 295 for a single – the most I have ever squatted. My head is now clear. Nothing like a barbell threatening to staple your ass to the floor if you don’t focus to bring some mental clarity.

By not shuffling programs, but sticking to the plan of small incremental increases, I’m stronger than ever. That’s the real point here.  For all the times people ask, “Which program do I do now, I just got back from 'x'?”  It’s simple, the same one you should have started with. I may never become more than an advanced novice, but I know what keeps building strength. As for that deadlift goal, I’ll be turning 50 in February next year.  Before that happens, I am going to pull a single for 500lbs. When I originally made this goal, it seemed more like a dream.  I just hit a PR on my squat and am progressing smoothly into the high 300s for my deadlift work sets, so it is realistic.

mike for deadlifting at valens strength

Deadlifting at Valens Strength.

It just takes consistency and hard work, not a different program. And I know life will try to get in the way, but as long as I stay on track and put in the work, it will happen.

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