Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World


From Sick to 600 Pounds in 13 Months

by Dave Joksimovic and Matthew Moore | July 05, 2018

dave joksimovic deadlifts

May 5th, 2018.  Syracuse, New York. I walk up to the bar.  I check my foot placement, and start to wrap my straps around the knurling. I was thinking about pulling this bare handed, but there’s a slim chance I might place and I don’t want to take the risk, since this strongman meet allows the use of straps. There’s a lot going through my mind.  I’ve already pulled 500; it was fast but I rushed my setup. After that I took 550, my most recent training PR.  I’m strapping myself onto 600 pounds of steel and iron, and a small amount of doubt starts to creep in.

I’ve watched a few guys who have trained for this for years longer than me try, and fail. I bring my shins to the bar. I take in my air and set my back as hard as I can, I need to be patient. I start driving my feet into the floor. I can feel my back start to round, my vision blurs, but I keep pulling. It’s slowing down, but the audience and other lifters start yelling. There’s a little bit of a hitch, fine, this isn’t powerlifting. Finally, my knees lock and my back straightens. The judge yells “Down!” and drops his hand.  I hold it just a half-second longer.

Just over twelve months ago, I barely knew how to deadlift.

My journey to strength is a somewhat unconventional one. As I write this I am now just over a year into my training career. In September of 2016, about seven months before I started to train, I was at around 315 pounds of bodyweight, and any kind of exercise was nonexistent. I knew it wasn't good, that I was unhappy with myself, and that I needed to do something.

Unfortunately for me, I got started the way that most fitness “gurus” would have you believe is the only way. After spending hours every day on a treadmill and cutting out every carb I could bear, I managed to strip off over 100 pounds. I thought it would be a revelation, and that I would find happiness in my newfound “health.” At my lowest, I weighed 198 pounds. What I found was not what I expected. I was skinny, pale, probably had an eating disorder and I was hopelessly addicted to a number on a scale. This was not happiness – I was a train wreck.

It was around that time that I began searching for something new, something that would allow me to focus on a goal without killing myself day in and day out. Through James Yeager and Matt Reynolds I heard about a program called Starting Strength. Four compound lifts, three days a week, three sets of five, add 5-10 pounds every time. You eat for performance, and you don’t punish yourself for doing so. No way this would work, I thought, it seemed too easy. But at that moment I needed “easy.”

My novice progression was a troubled one, as I'm sure many are. I admittedly hadn’t read Starting Strength, and just assumed I knew what I was doing because I saw the program on some website. At two weeks in my bench stalled. I had no real idea how to set my starting weights, so I had just picked arbitrary numbers. I started over, still not correctly in hindsight, but better. I started off with a 150x5 squat, a 225x5 deadlift, and a press/bench that were probably (definitely) too high. I started slowly increasing calories until my body weight started to come back up. My diet consisted of mostly lean meats, rice/potatoes, and lots of fibrous vegetables (also peanut butter, probably too much peanut butter).

I would say my training was a decent example of your typical self-guided linear progression (LP). From there it was your typical self-guided LP. I had plenty of help from coaches like Bill Hannon, and several on the forums, but translating some of that good advice to physical fixes was hard for a “motor moron” such as me. I managed to trudge on through a few resets, and eventually finished my LP with a low 300s squat, a high 300s deadlift, a mid-200s bench, and a high 100’s press (the press has always treated me well).

It was at this point I found myself not sure where to turn, and I ended up crossing paths with Matthew Moore on a strongman-oriented Facebook group. Matt was an aspiring coach who was quite a bit stronger than me, had competed in Strongman, and was looking for some experience. I signed up to be a guinea pig, and he started coaching me through my late novice phase and transition to intermediate programming. We continued forward with some hiccups (a shoulder injury that caused me to miss exactly one day of squatting) into September, when I first officially dipped my toe in the water of competitive lifting. Thanks to Matt’s help, in early September 2017 I walked into a room with six experienced powerlifters, and held my own well enough through four strongman events to tie for third place, though I ended up taking fourth after a tie-breaker grip strength event.

Towards the end of December 2017, Matt thought it would be an appropriate time to test some maxes, and I began a taper towards a mock-meet where I would test all four of my lifts back to back. At less than a year of training age, I walked away that day with a 425-pound squat, a 225-pound press, a 315-pound bench press, and a 500-pound deadlift. I did end up pulling 540 that day, but with a hitch that would have earned me red lights at any powerlifting meet, I was elated either way.

Soon after, I registered for CNY’s Strongest Man and Woman 2 coming up in May.  Excitedly I asked Matt what the prospect of pulling 600 would be at the meet. He was optimistic, but remained cautiously skeptical, and cautioned me as well. That didn’t stop us from immediately beginning working towards the goal of deadlifting six plates with only five months to train. 

The months leading up to the meet were not without speed bumps. I came down with a bad case of bronchitis at one point. I was so sick that I missed two days of work, but I still trained. Mucus was literally being pushed out of my sinuses by the end of a heavy set. Shortly after that I caught a case of food poisoning that cost me ten pounds of body weight in a weekend and I missed one training day. I would get food poisoning yet again just a few weeks before the meet and lose another five pounds of bodyweight. Still I carried on. I weighed in the morning of May 5th at 237 pounds, attempted a 265-pound clean and press, squatted 475 for 5 reps, pulled a full size quad cab pickup with a full trailer for 34 feet, loaded a 305 pound atlas stone, and pulled 600 pounds on my max deadlift.

So exactly “how” did I get here? 

Dave’s Programming

What I like most about coaching Dave is that without question, he’ll put in the work. It doesn’t matter what I prescribe, how much weight is on the bar, or whatever life throws at him, he’ll put in the work without fail. In the entire time Dave and I have been working together he’s missed maybe 2 or 3 training days in about 10 months, one due to bronchitis (yet he continued training through most of the illness) and the other due to family reasons. I emphasize this, because I believe what he’s accomplished speaks more to his consistency in the gym and in his nutrition than the programming/form checks I’ve provided as a coach.

Like Dave mentioned, we started working together because I was looking to get experience as a new coach and Dave needed some guidance on how to proceed. By this point I had read the 3rd editions of Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and Practical Programming for Strength Training. I had been applying those programming principles in my own training with some success and was eager to get my hands on a trainee who would be willing to be a lab rat. I would come to learn a whole lot from coaching Dave and seeing the model work so well.

I started off by running Dave through an abbreviated linear progression. He mentioned earlier that he had a bit of a troubled self-guided LP, so I figured the best thing to do was start him off right by running a correct novice LP and getting some kinks out by dialing in his form. It wasn’t long before we switched over to an advanced novice LP. Dave made decent progress ending with a top set of squats somewhere around 350 before we made the jump to intermediate programming.

It was during this initial period when I observed that Dave was a hard-nosed trainee, the type of guy who would muster up Herculean efforts to grind through a set of five that probably should have stopped at three, and finish reps that most clients would quit on. I once saw Dave grind out the last rep on a set of 5 presses that lasted eight full seconds. I knew that Dave enjoyed putting in max effort in the gym, so I decided to program for him in a way that took advantage of his mentality, but not absolutely destroy him in the process. In short, it looked almost exactly like the template on the top of pg. 152 in PPST3 – a 4-day upper/lower split that utilizes both intensity and volume work on the same day.

Dave's Intermediate Programming

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Intensity Press

Intensity Squats

Intensity Bench

Intensity Deadlift

Volume Bench

Volume Pulls

Volume Press

Volume Squats

 

 

 

Conditioning

At first, Dave’s training was very simple. We started his Intensity sets at 1x5 at about a 5% reduction from his top sets on advanced Novice LP and upped the main volume stimulus from the 3x5 of the advanced Novice LP to 4x5 at about 10-15% less than the intensity set that week. My guiding principle here was not to let volume day get too grindy. After all, this needed to be productive work since it functioned as the overload event Dave needed to adapt to. The Intensity sets were meant for more of a “medium” stress and let Dave set PRs 4 days a week in the gym – a huge psychological advantage especially for his personality type. Intensity day gets a lot of attention, but the real work for the weekly programming was done on the volume sets.

At first, this was simply adding 5lbs to the bar each week to the 4x5 volume sets, taking care to note the speed of the bar on the volume sets. Once that last set started to look too much like a limit set of 5, we backed off about 10% and added another set of 5, rinse and repeat. Once we got to 5x5 on the volume day, we started rotating through the rep ranges on the intensity sets each week. We “ran out” the Intensity day by going down the ladder of rep schemes of 1x5, 2x3, 3x2, 5x1, 3x1 in order to keep PRs rolling along. I didn’t want these to be bone-on-bone grinds either (sometimes they did...oops) and when it was clear that it was a limit set, we dropped to the next rep scheme while continuing to add 5-10lbs to the bar each week.

Dave responded well to this type of training, but at some point 5x5 across just wasn’t enough stress to keep things chugging along, so we started including variations of the main lift in place of the intensity sets. Some of the variations we used to mimic competition lifts were pin squats (for a dead stop axle bar squat he’d face in competition) and paused deadlifts (he’d have to pull on a whippy DL bar and his setup and patience off the floor would have to be perfect). I also had him pin press from forehead height and close grip bench. If I recall correctly, this was about the same time he was pulling 500 for five singles on his intensity sets. After the programming change the 5x5 volume sets still functioned as the main stressor, but using variations allowed us to focus in on some of Dave’s problem areas.

From the programming side of things that’s about it. Nothing crazy or special, no magical combination of sets/reps or intensity/volume – just a lot of hard work with very few missed workouts. Dave’s consistency in the gym and adhering to some broad programming principles is responsible for his success in this relatively brief amount of time.

That’s it. That’s the recipe for success. Dave is not a genetic freak. He wasn’t a prior D1 football player, doesn’t have an impressive vertical jump, isn’t terribly coordinated, but Dave does have a strong will, desire to succeed, and the ability to set goals and stick to them for a long period of time. Consistent effort made it possible to go from pulling 225x5 to 600x1 in 12 months.


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