I did it! My longest “program” rotation to date. I did 5.5 months of Cathe‘s STS. If you are new to this blog or STS or my blog posts on STS, go back to the very first post where I explained what STS is: STS Overview and Prep, in order to understand some of the references in this post. I created that post before doing STS–in fact, when I was in the prep stage. And STS requires a lot of prep. However the prep pays off–big time. I will be honest. I am not new to lifting weights and I felt pre-STS that I was pretty advanced for a home exerciser. In addition, I did Xtrain right before I did STS and it went a long way to increasing my strength. But STS took me to new levels that I had not really believed possible. I never thought that my Bowflex Select Techs would ever not be heavy enough. They are currently still heavy enough, btw–but I am planning on doing more rounds of STS and if the strength gains continue (and I don’t know why they wouldn’t) a 52 pound dumbbell will not be heavy enough for me for some of the back exercises. By the end of STS, I was using 50 pound dumbbells for some leg work, 45 pounds for some back work, 40 pounds for some chest work and 20 pounds for some tricep work. And we aren’t even discussing barbells. Before I do STS again (more on that shortly) I am purchasing more barbell plates.
However, just like I stressed in the intro to STS many months ago, in order to get such dramatic results you have to do the 1RM testing. If I had not done it, I know I would not have lifted as heavy as I did. And I say this as someone who assumed when I did 1RM initially it would not be giving me any “surprises.” I thought I was well aware of how heavy I could lift. I was not. The amount of weight the workout cards sometimes instructed me to lift was not an amount I thought I was capable of lifting. And yet I did it. Not every single time, granted. There were some that I had to change (usually shoulder work) and others that the workout card program clearly figured incorrectly (a calculator fixed that problem). But overall, performing 1RM testing is the science behind the strength results I achieved in STS. That, and of course the amazing workouts Cathe created.
First, let me say that every Mesocycle is challenging and difficult in its own way and, just as described, they are very different–leading to lots of muscle confusion! Let’s start with Mesocycle 1: Endurance. For these workouts you are lifting 60-70% of your 1RM. The workouts move very fast. Little rest time between sets. You do a lot of push ups and pull ups, and you rotate through muscle groups in each workout. They workouts are exhausting. This is also the mesocycle I had an “issue” with 1RM for lower body. I used 1RM and by the end of Mesocycle 1 I was using 45 pound dumbbells for lower body work. I gained weight and my thighs blew up, so I stopped using 1RM for lower body in the last two mesocycles and that fixed the problem. But this scared me away from doing Squat Rack Legs in Mesocycle 3. Overall, by the time I finished Mesocycle 1, I was lifting heavier than I ever had in my life. This was completely unexpected. I honestly thought I wouldn’t truly be pushing myself until the end of Mesocycle 2.
Though Mesocycle 2 was very difficult and challenging in it’s own and different way, it did give some relief from Mesocycle 1. And that is due to longer rest periods between exercises. Meso 2 changed things up in different ways, too. Every week of Meso 2, she hits the muscles in a new way. So you are not just increasing your weight, but you are using new techniques to get the best possible results. The point of all that is due to the focus of these workouts: hypertrophy–or building muscle. I would have to say that at the end of the day, my favorite upper body workouts occur in Mesocycle 2.
Mesocycle 3 is where you go heavy–80-90% of your 1RM and boy is it challenging. This is where the big point of the entire program culminates at the end–you are stronger. These are longer, slower workouts with more rest time between sets. They are also set up push-pull fashion to reduce rest time, but the rest periods are still pretty long. Nevertheless, if you are using 1RM like advised, the rest time is well needed. I used at least half of it for set up time (changing barbell plates, redialing Select Techs, putting on/taking off weighted gloves). Of the leg workouts, Plyo Legs were my favorite lower body workouts of all of the mesocycles. Tough, tough, tough! But so very effective.
There is some dissappointment for me because I did not do Squat Rack Legs. But no worries, because I already have a plan for when I will do STS again and when I do it, I will do Squat Rack Legs with Mesocycle 3. This leads me to what I learned from STS and how I plan to use it in the future.
I have Cathe to thank for so many things (never met the woman personally btw–but she has changed my fitness life); not just her amazing workouts, but the support she provides to the community of people who have found fitness through her. Her forums are amazing. I have met amazing people (virtually) and learned a great deal from Cathe and from her followers that frequent the forums. They are all pretty smart. I could go on and on about this, but it will detract from the point of this post, so let me get back on topic. On this amazing forum, Cathe posts monthly rotations and she also answers questions. Well, in at least one instance, she posted a long term rotation in response to a question someone asked. Ever since I came across this rotation I knew I was going to attempt it at some point. It is a “bodybuilding” rotation using Cathe strength workouts. And, of course, STS is the main component to this rotation. Before I continue, here is a link to Cathe’s Bodybuilding Rotation.
As you can see, this rotation was created in January 2012–pre-Xtrain. Because of this and one other factor, when I do the bodybuilding rotation, I am putting my own spin on it. First, before I touch on this other factor, the question was posted to Cathe about using Xtrain in her bodybuilding rotation. She suggested using the Burn Set workouts since the other strength workouts really don’t fit into a “body building” rotation. The other factor that will affect how I modify this rotation has to do with a dicussion on the Cathe forums from members who have done STS multiple times. They feel that because of the structure of STS, the way to get the most effective results from it is to do it pyramid style: Meso 1, Meso 2, Meso 3, Meso 2, Meso 1. This is 5 months not counting recovery weeks. So, when I do STS again (current plan is November 2013) it will be done pyramid style–then I will continue on with Cathe’s bodybuilding rotation, inserting some Xtrain and ending the entire rotation with her actual Pyramid workouts. So that’s the plan.
There is one other way I plan to use STS workouts and this is about to go into effect. As I mentioned previously, each month for many years Cathe has created a monthly rotation using her workouts. A very popular one is called Rock Bottoms. She has now created two Rock Bottoms rotations and has plans to create a third one this year. Well, though I’d love to wait for a new Rock Bottoms rotation, it will interfere with the bodybuilding rotation I plan to start in November. So I am planning to modify her latest Rock Bottoms rotation to include her newest workouts. If you click on the Rock Bottoms link, you will see this is an advanced and tough rotation–and it uses STS Plyo Legs. I love Plyo Legs, so yay!
So that is the wrap up of my 5 months of STS. I love it. Best program I have purchased to date and one I plan to use repeatedly. Will I do 1RM again? Probably not for the November 2013 rotation. I will use my final Meso 3 weights and plug those into the 1RM calculator. I will of course have to do 1RM for Squat Rack Legs (that review should be going up in January/February 2014). But for the final STS at the end of the Body Building rotation I will probably do 1RM testing again, since the point of that rotation is strength and hypertrophy, which means I should be stronger by the time I get there.