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Simple Weight Lifting to Build Strength

My inspirations for starting to lift weights

I played hurling and Gaelic football competitively until about 18, but I never did any serious weight training. I started thinking about weights for two reasons: 1) my girlfriend at the time was able to lift a savage amount of weight – very good technique and very high weight lifted to body weight, and 2) I had been reading books by Nassim Taleb, such as Antifragile, where he talks about how weightlifting – specifically, doing small amounts of heavy lifts – is particularly good for strength while avoiding the wear and tear of repetitive exercises like running.

Not the original inspiration, but I have been reading Balajis Srinivasan lately ( and his approach to life is health, truth (as in understanding of the world), and then wealth – in that order. I think that’s one reasonable approach and v

A simple approach I use for weightlifting

I have a few rules I followed for weightlifting:

  1. Three lifts. I mostly just do the three main lifts:
    • Benchpress (lying on my back using my arms to push up a barbell with weights),
    • Squat (barbell across the back of your shoulders and then squating down), and
    • Deadlift (lifting a barbell with weights from the ground up to a standing position with arms down over the thighs).
    • The above three cover a lot of muscles. I do mix in some rows, overhead presses and pull-ups to hit some antagonistic/opposite direction muscles.
  2. Empty bar first. I always do a first set of lifts with no weight on the bar. This is to check I have the safety bars on the weight rack in the right position to catch the barbell if I fail on a lift.
  3. Three sets of three repetitions. I do each lift with full weight (the most I can lift) three times, take a break for a minute or two, and then repeat that process two more times to give three sets of three lifts. This is considered high weight, low reps and is considered good for strength but not the optimal approach for looking ripped like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
  4. I don’t lift to failure. A lot of weight lifters will increase weight or number of lifts until they fail with a lift and the weight is caught by the safety bars. This might be optimal for getting strong fastest, but I think it comes with some risk of injury. Instead, I lift a weight close to my limit, but if I find a lift very hard, I’ll stop and either reduce the weight or move on to the next lift.

I’m not qualified or anything in weight lifting and the weights are heavy and I can see from doing it that – used the wrong way – weights can cause a bad injury. When I joined a gym there was a free lesson, so I used that to go through the lifting technical I do with someone trained.

Progress over eighteen months

In the graph below you can see my progress on weight lifting over 18 months on the three main lifts. On the y-axis you can see how much I’m lifting relative to body weight – which I think is not a bad way to think about things. My goal is 1X on bench, 1.5X on squat and 2X on deadlift. These are somewhat respectable targets for someone wanting to be strong, but certainly far from competition level.

In terms of the graph below, the x-axis isn’t evenly distributed in time, so gaps of time where I took breaks (due to COVID) aren’t obvious unless you read the dates. For me, the main notes are:

  1. My benchpress was already decent and I started near to my 1X bodyweight goal.
  2. My squat was the weakest and took some work to bring from just above 1X up to 1.5X.
  3. My deadlift also wasn’t epic and took about seven months to get from about 1.4X bodyweight up to 2X bodyweight.

A few reasons I still like doing weight lifting like this

  1. It’s quick and less boring than running on a machine – doing high weight and low repetitions means a good session in less than half an hour.
  2. My back feels stronger – hard to tell for sure, but I think my posture is better and I don’t remember having any back trouble over the last year and a half. I’m short so that probably helps, but I think I’ve fewer issues now since lifting weights.
  3. Concentration – it takes a lot of mental focus to lift heavy weights. That takes my mind away from other stuff that I would be thinking about if I was just jogging. I think that focus is probably good.


Side Notes:

Sidenote 1: I once met the Kildare footballer Dermot Earley (junior) at the Stand House hotel gym in Kildare. It was probably around 2007 and he was towards the end of his career (The Stand House has closed since.). I wasn’t sure what to say to him but we had a quick chat and I remember him saying the following about weights: “Remember to do some work on the legs”. I don’t think it was specifically a comment on my legs.

Sidenote 2: I’m not aware of data supporting or contradicting the claim of wear and tear with with highly repetitive activities. One injury that does come to mind is elbow injuries in baseball – often fixed with Tommy John surgery. Generally, my rough sense would that nearly any form of exercise is probably good.

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