A Tale of Two Wendler Waves

In December, on returning from a four-week vacation to India, one marked by considerable dietary indulgence and a non-existent workout routine, I found myself out of shape. As I made my way back to weightlifting, I found my strength and confidence considerably diminished. Over the next few weeks, I struggled to retain some form and to approach my former numbers in the major lifts (the squat and the deadlift looming especially large for me). But there was no getting away from it: I was weakened and needed to build back up.

In mid-February a new lifting cycle began at my gym, Crossfit South Brooklyn. We were given a choice of doing a Wendler 5/3/1 cycle (fully described here) for the squat and deadlift or doing a 2×10 for the former and a 1×5 for the latter. I opted for the Wendler cycle; I’ve done it before and quite enjoy the challenge of its max-rep sets.

But before I began, I had to settle on what my starting training max–ninety percent of the one-rep max–would be. I knew I couldn’t use my older 1-rep max for this calculation. We tested our squat one-rep max shortly before the lifting cycle began, and I had to swallow my ego and admit my best numbers were down by thirty pounds or so. Last year, I had squatted 305, but this year, the best I could manage–early in February–was 275. I hadn’t tested my deadlift one-rep max (a very old one is 325), but decided I would use the same number–275lbs–for it. It wouldn’t matter if it was a little light; I figured I’d just get a little added volume on my rep-outs.

The following were the prescribed weights for a one-rep max of 275 and a training max of 247.5:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 160lbs x 5 173lbs x 3 185lbs x 5
Set 2 185lbs x 5 197lbs x 3 210lbs x 3
Set 3 210lbs x 5+ 222lbs x 3+ 235lbs x 1+

Some creative rounding up and down gave me the following table instead:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 165lbs x 5 175lbs x 3 185lbs x 5
Set 2 185lbs x 5 195lbs x 3 205lbs x 3
Set 3 215lbs x 5 225lbs x3+ 235lbs x 1+

My numbers for the first cycle were as follows:

Squat repouts in third set: 215×21, 225×15, 235×12

Deadlift repouts in third set: 215×14, 225×12, 235×12

You will notice my deadlifts begin weaker than my squats and then slowly catch up.

For the second three-week cycle, which we began without going into a deload week, I changed my one-rep max to 285lbs, which led to a training max of 256.5. This gave me the following table:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 166lbs x 5 179lbs x 3 192lbs x 5
Set 2 192lbs x 5 205lbs x 3 218lbs x 3
Set 3 218lbs x 5+ 230lbs x 3+ 243lbs x 1+

Again, some creative rounding up and down gave me the following:

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3
Set 1 175lbs x 5 185lbs x 5 195lbs x 5
Set 2 195lbs x 5 205lbs x 3 215lbs x 3
Set 3 225lbs x 5+ 235lbs x 3+ 245lbs x 1+

My numbers for the first cycle were as follows:

Squat repouts in third set: 225×20, 235×15, 245×14

Deadlift repouts in third set: 225×17, 235×16, 245×15

Again, my deadlift numbers start off weaker and then catch up and go just beyond.

Despite these repouts being the best I have done at these weights, I do not know if my one-rep max is back up to its former levels primarily because I do not know how well these gains at lower weights translate into gains at higher weights. But, I do know that spending as much time as I have under and over the bar has helped me regain a great deal of confidence in squatting and deadlifting. A long repout rapidly becomes a test of form and breathing technique as well; the ones I have performed over the last six weeks have provided ample opportunity to work on these.

Much more work remains to be done on both these lifts; all in good time. I’m in for the long run.

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