Fitness Starting Strength

Starting Strength Update – Week 4

So this is week 4 of my attempt at the Starting Strength program, and I can report one big positive and one big negative.

The Good

The good news first: I’ve increased my strength dramatically, pretty quickly. Yesterday I easily deadlifted 225. Easily. Probably could have thrown another 25lbs on there but some anorexic looking chick decided she was going to use the Smith machine that I was setup right next to. Talk about awkward.

The Bad

Unfortunately I took week 3 off for two reasons:

  1. Major neck pains. I can’t recall if I blogged about this already but a few weeks ago I broke down and went to my doctor in hopes he would send me for an MRI. I tried it before and chickened out (I’m claustrophobic). That was 4 years or so ago and at the time the idiot neurologist that sent me for the MRI said it wasn’t really necessary because he was certain I had a pinched nerve and no matter what the results of the MRI there wasn’t anything he was going to do about it. So of course when I went into the tube, which apparently was NOT an open MRI as I was told it was by the hospital when I made the appointment, I panicked and chickened out. It was easier knowing I didn’t *have to* get the results. I’m confident I’d stick it out this time around, but to my surprise my doc said he thinks the problem is some mild arthritis in my neck and he sent me for an x-ray, which confirmed it. That was the beginning of week two of the Starting Strength program, so I pushed forward and kept adding more weight with each workout, as prescribed. The last workout that week, I was really struggling with the squat weight. The next day my neck was hurting on the left-side versus the usual right-side, so I took it easy for a few days, and it remained annoyingly painful for a full week+. I still feel it some, but not nearly as bad.
  2. Flexibility. Yup, it’s still a huge issue and is stopping me from making more progress quickly. But it’s forcing me to realize that stretching before the lifts is just not only an option but a necessity. So yesterday, my first workout back from the week off, I modified Starting Strength to something I can do:
    1. Warm-up by walking on treadmill for 10 mins
    2. Deep squat stretching
    3. Deep arm/shoulder stretching
    4. Workout, but aside from a couple of quick warm-up sets (one very little weight, one medium weight), I have abandoned the way too many warm-up sets that SS prescribes, because it was taking close to 2 hours to finish a workout when you consider the stretching I needed to do.

The trouble is finding the stretches that really work for me. I’m going to continue to refine and hope to report back more progress and specifically a routine for stretching, as I’m certain I can’t be the ONLY person struggling with this! Hard to believe that I’ve been working on this since May and I’m still so inflexible.

7 replies on “Starting Strength Update – Week 4”

Hi Mark, hope all is well with you. One quick question: Are you finding that you need more carbs on heavy weight training days? I’ve been low carb for a bit over 2 years, and just started hitting the weights HARD a few months ago. I’ve hit a wall, and nothing seems to bring me back up to par except carb loading. BTW, I eat TONS of fat (fat to protein ratio is 3:1).

Hi Dave,

I have a confession to make: ever since the past Christmas holiday season, I’ve been indulging in ‘carb loads’ fairly often, about once per week. It started with a weekly Ben & Jerry’s ice cream : ) I no longer do that but I do have a junk/’cheat’ meal once or even twice per week now. Without it, I don’t think I could have kept weight training. And, fortunately for me, I haven’t gained weight as a result. That said, I urge anyone else to tread that line with caution. I’ve seen too many people fall off the wagon after a single french fry! : ) But you’ve been low-carbing for 2 years so you my be fine.

For me, the carb intake that I can tolerate is directly proportionate to the intensity level of my exercise (which makes sense). I’ve always hit a wall when working out *hard*, or lifting heavy. I’m convinced it was the glycogen not being replenished in time. I know, I know….Peter Attia, Phinney, etc. will say that once you’re fat adapted you don’t need to eat carbs to workout. But it just isn’t true for me.

Particularly for weight training. Now, it *could* be that I simply needed to up my caloric/fat intake even more. I don’t know. I’m not as scientific/rigid about this stuff as I may come off as on this blog : )

And unfortunately I’ve been completely without exercise for the past 2 weeks due to a horrible achilles tendonosis problem I’ve been struggling with for almost 3 months now. After seeing a sports medicine specialist, he put me on a completely different treatment of complete rest, cushioned heel inserts, and only a couple of light stretches per day. I’ve seen definite improvement but nowhere near healed. I have a follow-up on Monday with him. He said at the first appointment that if it’s not pain free by Monday then it will be time for an MRI. I’m sure it will not magically heal up by then.

Good luck with your training. I hope to get back to it myself soon if I can get this achilles issue healed up : (


Mark, I’m sorry to hear about the achilles tendonosis. That’s a tough break. I hope that your condition quickly reverses toward full and complete recovery.
Thanks for your timely response. There was much good info in there. I am convinced that carb “loading”, “cycling”, or whatever we may call it, is the way to go. Insulin is a powerful hormone with it’s own anabolic properties, and at the higher intensity I’ve been training, I really feel that add those carbs is the only way to really kill the weights again.
I’m doing a little experiment with this over the next two days, and will let you know how it works out.

Thanks again, and get well very soon!

Hi Mark,

Well, it worked! I loaded up on carbs the last two days, and just finished my workout (chest and arms). I had a terrific workout for about 65 minutes straight and got stronger throughout. What a relief to find the answer in simple glycogen replenishment!

BTW, how’s the achilles tendon doing??


Awesome to hear! Yeah I’ve found ultra-low carbing (well, less than 30g per day) is a sure-fire way to drop weight for me, but it can make it very tough to workout with high intensity. Eating low carb primal was pretty easy for me – until I decided to take my new-found energy and go to the gym : ) I was fine until about 2 weeks in of doing cardio I decided to do weightlifting. A M-W-F upper/lower split, as prescribed by the trainer at the gym. The first session went okay. Then 2 days later I go for the 2nd and I flat out bonked. Lethargic. Wiped out. It continued, as I stuck with for a couple of weeks. I kept scouring message boards online looking for answers and all I got was conventional wisdomers saying carbs are the only energy source, contrasted by the low carbers saying you don’t need carbs to workout. I even went through ~5 months of CrossFit usually not breaking 75g per day of carbs.

It simply wasn’t enough. Perhaps my body just doesn’t restore glycogen as efficiently/fast enough. Whatever, I just know that when this achilles heals up completely I am going to hit it hard again and will either do a major carb refeed once per week or just up the carbs some.

Speaking of the achilles – about 2 weeks ago I ditched the minimalist shoes and bought some Brooks Adrenaline GTS’s. These things have some humongous heel height to them. Wore those for a week and there was some improvement but not much. So then last week I took the sports medicine doc’s advice (I should have listened to him right away) and bought some padded heel inserts.

Now it feels like I’m falling forward while I walk, but it has slowly been reducing the pain/inflammation ever since. Each day I feel less pain in the morning when I wake up. In fact, the last 2 days I’ve resumed doing some cardio work (elliptical – definitely can’t run). I need to get back to weightlifting and likely will this weekend. I go back to see the doc on Monday. He said the last time I saw him that if the pain isn’t gone by the next appointment it would be time for an MRI. I’m looking forward to the MRI, though pretty concerned about it. But at least it will be an answer. He said if it is ‘micro-tears’ causing the pain then I’ll just need to continue with the rest. That’s fine if that’s the case -I’m at an acceptable level of physical activity now with these padded sneakers and heel inserts. I have a 5k that I’d like to run with my daughter (she’s a 4th grader in a girls running club). It’s a once-per-year thing and I ran my first (and only) 5k with her last year and loved it. I’ll be really bummed if this isn’t healed up by late May, which is when her next one is.

So, in a nutshell – it’s much improved this week. Conventional wisdom on the internet is that the extra heel height is the last thing I should do – they say I should be lengthening/stretching the tendon and not shortening. When I went to the running shop the guy told me the same thing – that I shouldn’t be shortening the tendon. But then he asked who my doc was and he knew right away and said he trusts that doc and I should listen to him. So hopefully I’m on the right path. I’m certainly in much better spirits about it now, being able to at least get a workout in without causing more pain/damage.

Thanks for asking!


Hi, Mark,
Man, I’m so glad to hear there is some improvement everyday for you! That’s awesome. I had a fall back in 2000, when an old scaffolding system collapsed, and I fell aprox. 16 feet to the ground. I suffered a Liz-Franks fracture/dislocation of my left foot. The splint they made for after surgery me caused my left tendon to atrophy and my calve muscles on that side were small and like Jell-O after about two weeks. I got really aggravated at this and started stretching that tendon by walking with a cane. Well, today I have full range of motion, no pain at the 4 incision sites (thanks to low carb!!), and calves are just about the same size, and have been for years. I can do heavy calve (or is it calf?) raises with ease, and the same strength both sides.
I’m a praying man, that’s just who I am, and everything I’ve asked for has been granted! I am blessed to actually be here today. There were so many ways I could have been killed in that fall, impalement was # 1.

I too think very little of conventional wisdom, hence why I went low carb 2 years ago. It’s great that you are willing to do whatever it takes to get well. I know that 5k with your daughter is very important to you, and it will be awesome to hear that you did, in fact, make it!

My workout consists of M-W-F workouts now, which I change up to give the sorest muscle group more time to heal (whichever that one may be 🙂
I like compounds AND isolation, especially for arms. Since I’ve been working out off and on since I was 14, the ol body remembers where it was, and gets back to that starting point nicely with some hard work. Then it’s onward and upward (hopefully!).
I’m by no means conventional during any given workout either. I just feel my way through on weight, sets, and reps. I’ll alternate grips on isolation exercises to target inside, outside width/growth. Some say this doesn’t work, but it does for me!
I do legs once a week and try to really bomb them with squats, walking lunges, stiff-legged DL, and or DL. If they are really sore by the next workout, I’ll swap out the next days workout with them (if that makes sense).

When you start training heavy again, maybe you could begin with some machines, then ease into free-weights upper body only. Just to give extra time for that tendon to repair. All squat and lunge-type exercises push with the heel, and I’d want to be plenty sure of the tendons integrity. That MRI will help you know when that is.


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