What’s Up in The Pleasant Box: Summer 2022 Lifting Program

A detailed look at my current lifting program, along with a hefty dose of self-reflection.

Jul 15, 2022
About a month ago, I was feeling quite lost in the gym. It happens.
The truth is consistency is king for developing strength and muscle. Variation has its place. But, programs tend to work best when you stick to them for some time.
“Some time” could be a month, or 6 weeks or 3 months… some would say, go as long as you are still progressing on the program.
This leads to some repetitive days in the gym. Normally I don’t mind.
There is something meditative about meticulously moving through your reps. Increasing the weight on the bar or the quality of movement week after week. Sometimes I see it as a dance. A choreography to master. 
And as we all know far too well, results don’t show after a day or a week. 
Again, normally I don’t mind. I’ve come to enjoy and trust the process. 
But occasionally, I get bored and anxious about what I’m doing and if it’s working. 
When this happens, I try to push through. Sometimes the boredom fades quickly. Or I’ll give myself some freestyle days, but return to the plan quickly. 
A month ago, none of that was working. 
Then I got sick and went 10 days without lifting. As if the universe was saying… oh, you're bored? Let me remind you of what it’s like to not be able to lift.” 
I’m being dramatic. Yet, it was a great reminder that I love lifting and movement in general and it’s a damn treat to do it. 
Being sick also gave me some down time to reflect on why I was feeling lost. 
I listed my problems and came up with solutions: 
  1. An optimizer at heart, I was constantly worried my program wasn’t perfect. So I decided to stop worrying. Check.
  2. I admitted I couldn't do it all at the same time. I picked a primary goal and got comfortable with secondary goals taking a back seat. Yes, I want my “engine” to stay strong and I want to get stronger. But what I really want is bigger muscles: bigger shoulders, bigger legs, bigger abs. If I had to pick one goal to rule them all right now, well, I have to admit, I’m in BRO MODE. 
  3. With that said, I do want to optimize my program for general health goals. I’ve heard too many researchers express the benefits of touching your max heart rate at least once per week so I make this a priority. Not to mention I truly enjoy conditioning work. 
  4. Which leads me to the fourth issue. I was trying to cram everything I needed into a 7-day cycle. So I googled why we have a 7 day week and couldn't find any compelling biological reason so I’m now on a 9-day cycle. 
  5. The day before getting sick, I had listened to the Huberman Lab podcast on the importance of play. I realized I don’t explore enough. So I added in a new hobby for novelty: artistic jump roping! 
  6. Lastly, I acknowledged that building muscle takes time and instead of asking my partner if my delts looked bigger today (as opposed to yesterday when I last asked), I decided to get Dexa scans so I could stop second guessing if I’m actually building muscle.
To summarize. 
My primary goal right now is hypertrophy. I want more muscle. I do enjoy a good long conditioning workout regularly. And I need more play in my life. 
I started scaffolding out a program to meet these needs. 
  • Four lifting days: 2 upper body and 2 lower body + shoulders
  • I led with upper body so I can do back to back lifting days. If I started with leg day, I would probably need a rest day on day 2. 
  • My rep ranges and volume are high which is required for muscle growth. Everything is 6+ reps. I shoot for at least 20 sets per muscle group per week. 
  • I paired shoulders with legs so I can train them more frequently. I also skew at least one of my conditioning workouts to be very shoulder intensive (grow delts grows). 
  • I did my best to ensure I’m bending my knees, hinging my hips, pushing, pulling and generally moving in most planes. I could be better here. 
  • I make my conditioning work high volume, muscle endurance style circuits to give my legs and shoulders more attention. I have fun dreaming these up.
  • On rest days (and most days), I try to walk at least 30 minutes if not longer. 
What does this look like in practice?
Here’s a downloadable look at the program. Or follow along on Instagram.
Every week I go up in weight, sometimes reps, or if needed, I stay put and clean up my form. Progressive overload for the win. I’m also continuing to use palm cooling to increase my performance - I intend to write a follow up on this very soon.
I use my conditioning days to freestyle a bit. While I have a rough set of them mapped out, I adjust weekly based on how I’m feeling. Here are a couple recent examples.
If you think I’m missing something or you have better ideas, please do share! 
I’m three weeks into this program. Barring insightful commentary from the ether, I’ll stick with it for 6 weeks before shifting around movements. I’ll get another Dexa scan at the 6 and 12-week marks, and will report back progress. 
If I may, I’ll leave you with these lessons that I am taking away from this self-reflection: 
  • Be clear on your goals and their order of importance. 
  • Build a program based on scientifically-proven principles. 
  • Incorporate what brings you joy. 
  • Break a few rules. 
  • Add in some play. 
  • Track and measure progress. 
💪 Thank you for reading.