Weight training

When I started

With Laurence Shahlaei.
One of the world's strongest men.
I'm the small one.
I was still in primary school when I would go around lifting things. It was in my DNA. I was naturally strong.
I had no idea what I was doing. But I'd lift stones or anything else I could.
By the time I was nine I could lift a thirty-three pound gas cylinder above my head a dozen times.
I started actually lifting weights for real in high school, where I was one of the strongest pupils and stronger than most of the adult male teachers.
I remember when I was thirteen arm wrestling a male teacher who was in the army part-time. He eventually agreed to declared it stalemate.


My medals as of end of 2014.
I've lost some weight since then.
And some facial hair.
In my youth I was seriously into bodybuilding. I was a member of NABBA (National Amateur Bodybuilding Association). I was so ambitious that I took out life membership so I suppose I still am a member.

I started serious bodybuilding training at seventeen. When I started I weighed eleven stone. I was thin and I had a natually high metabolic rate which meant I had to eat enormous quantities of food to put on weight.

This is not a good thing if you want to be a bodybuider.

But I trained hard four to six days a week and ate everything in sight. I'd eat / drink four dozen eggs a day. Drink half a gallon of milk, one or two steaks and a whole chicken every day.

I trained and ate like this for eight years. By then I was seventeen stone with a forty-six inche chest and seventeen inche arms. Cold for those who know what I mean by that. So I had size and strength. I could leg press 1,000 lbs in the gym.

By the time I turned twenty-five I decided to pack it in. I knew I was not going to win anything. The fact is that if you are not willing to take drugs you have no chance!

How often the ambitions of innocent youth are squashed by the harsh light of the real world. Okay I have to admit that I also liked all the eating too much. Pre-contest dieting was HELL! So I put it all behind me. Well the hope of ever lifting a trophy anyway. I continued to train.

I managed to retain a lot of size for several years. When I first met my wife she could only just get her arms around my chest - she had to pick her spot. (She now tells me I'm not the man she married :)

But I did start to loose size. Not having the impetus of an upcoming contest just doesn't give you the drive to train as hard.


My first competitive lift/medal.
1st place master 2 bench press.
2014 MAX POWER championships.
All three lifts.
1st place master 2
Fast forward many years and I am now in my late forties. A new member of staff where I worked told me about how he was a competitive powerlifter. As we talked more about this I started to realise that here was a sport very close to my heart, that I could compete in without the pre-contest dieting.
With his help I joined the NIPF (Nothern Ireland Powerlifting Federation).

Up to then all my training (for the last thirty years) had been bodybuilding, which is usually sets of eight to twelve reps and exercises to hit the muscle from as many different angles as possible.

Powerlifting training is very different. It is lower reps, typically three to five, concentrating on the three lifts with much fewer other exercises (which is powerlifting terms are called 'assistance work'.)

You are training to purely get stronger.

So I had to relearn almost everything. A bodybuilding squat is very different from a powerlifting squat. It took me six months to make this change. To retrain my muscles.

I found that I very much enjoyed the training and competing and for the next three years I became national champion and record holder in all three lifts, squat, deadlift and bench press.

Five by five (5x5) across

My second competitive lift.
1st plase master 2 deadlift.
During the first six months I used the basic five by five (5x5) routine. This is a basis of all powerlifting. You do some warm up sets uptill you reach your working weight and then aim to lift this five times, and then after a five minute rest another five times, until you have lifted it for a total of twenty-five reps (5x5).

If you make it you add some weight on next time. Maybe five pounds / 2.5 kgs. Next time you might only get 5x5x5x4x3. You keep going workout after workout until you get twenty-five rep (5x5). Then add more weight.

Now this is a very brutal form of training, but it gives you a tremendious base of strength and conditioning.

Eighty-twenty (80/20) powerlifting

1st place master 2 deadlift
After six months I was beginning to stall on this and was looking around for something new. After a lot of research I came across a routine which is known as 80/20. It is based on a theory known as Pareto's Law.

This states that whatever activity you are engaged in eighty percent of the results will be made from twenty percent of your effort. So the trick is to find the most productive twenty percent and put all your effort into that.

In powerlifting terms it mean but all your effort into the three lifts and nothing else. Not even assistance work.

I was very dubious about this, you need some assistance work. But it kept nagging at me so I decided to try it. The results were amazing. Within a couple of months I was doing 5x5 deadlift with 165kgs.

Without doing any other work I was able to put everything I had into the lifts which mattered.

I was now at a level where I could viably compete.

5/4/1 powerlifting

Powerlifting article in MENSA mag.
After six months of 80/20 I was once again starting to stall and started looking around for a new routine.

I came across a very popular routine by world famous powerlifter Jim Wendler called 5/3/1.

It consists of doing set in the five, three and one rep range. One workout you do three set of five, next three sets of three and third, one set of five, one set of three and one set of one.

The weights used are based on your current one rep max for each lift. So you know exactly what you are aiming for each workout. A cycle lasts one month. Then you add on weight. Five kilos for lower body and two point five kilos for upper body.

I studied this routine for some time and thought I knew it well enough to program it for myself. But it wasn’t until I read Wendler’s book that I fully understood it. So my advice – buy the book.

I really loved this routine and used it for many months.

Until -

Brain tumour

Article in Mourne Observer October 2013
In september 2013 I was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which I talk about here. For the next two years it did not cause my any great problems. However in 2015 it definitely did. I had to stop competing as I couldn't even train.

I couldn't do any form of exercise, let alone training, for a year and a half.

As I started to feel better (at time of writing this it is August 2016) I had to realise that my former training routine was just no longer viable.

Post tumour training

2014 Deadlift championships.
1st place master 2
I had to find something suitable for my age and new state of health.

I won't go into detail of how I found it. Take too long.

I listened to and watched Mark Rippetoe, who is a former competitive powerlifter and now world renowned coach. Like me he is in middle age - okay late middle age and knows how this affects lifters, and how they need to alter their training accordingly.

I had always assumed that training for older guys would be higher rep, but as Mark specified that is the opposite of what we need. We need low reps - five and much reduced frequency. Mark alternates Monday between Squats and Deadlifts. So he does each lift twice a month.

Also you can't train the same muscle twice a week as you can't recuperate.

Week one

Day one

Squat 5 x 5 heavy.
Superset of wide and narrow grip chins.

Day two

Bench press 5 x 5 heavy.
Press 4 x 5 heavy.

Week two

Day one

Deadlift 5 x 5 heavy.
Superset of wide and narrow grip chins.

Day two

Bench press 5 x 5 heavy.
Press 4 x 5 heavy.

Repeat . . .

Giving up powerlifting!

I tried the above routine for two months and had worked up to five reps with 350lbs / 160kgs. Not what I used to be able to do but getting there.

However I started to notice that the tinnitus was getting worse and also the hyper-sensitive eardrum was coming back.

My own intuitive feeling on this was that the immense pressure that lifting such weights puts on your entire body was putting pressure on the tumour.

The tumour is a growth inside my head and is exerting its own pressure. The added pressure of the weightlifting was aggravating it.

This was confirmed during a talk with my doctor.

So I had give up the powerlifting. This was a big life change for me. But you have to role with the punches which life throws at you.


Bench Press Championships.
22 February 2013
1st place Master 2
Deadlift Championships.
30 March 2013
1st place Master 2
RAW POWER Championships.
All three lifts.
22 November 2013
1st place Master 2
Deadlift Championships.
22 February 2014
1st place Master 2
MAXX POWER Championships.
All three lifts
31 May 2014
1st place Master 2

Mark Rippetoe videos

I've added the below videos because anyone wishing to do weight training / powerlifting can get no better guide than these.

Mark Rippetoe on making gains in your forties and beyond

Transcript of the interview 'Mark Rippetoe on making gains in your forties and beyond' in pdf format

Mark Rippetoe - How to low bar squat

Mark Rippetoe - Bar position in the low bar squat

Mark Rippetoe - How to deadlift

Mark Rippetoe - How to bench press

Mark Rippetoe - How to press


I intend to continue weight lifting, but as opposed to powerlifting or training, I shall adopt a simple weight training exercising routine.

Three sets of 10 reps of each exercise, concentrating on the main lifts (squat, deadlift, bench, press) with a light warmup weight with short rests (1 minute) between sets. Just something to keep my muscles toned and lean.