12 Weeks o’ Lifting

QUICK OPENING NOTE: I’ve been documenting some of this on Instagram at @edgamester, in case you’re thinking about trying it out for yourself 🙂

For the last 12 weeks I’ve been doing a strength-based routine designed by Alexander Faleev. It came to my attention via an article written by former Soviet Special Forces physical training instructor, Pavel Tsatsouline, which was shared by the Grand Master of Mastery, Tim Ferriss.

Faleev claims that his programme will add 110-175lbs (50 – 80kgs) to your lifts within one year. Instead of perusing the comments section and trying to work out whether it would work through SHEER FORCE OF OPINION, I jumped straight in and tried it out.

I added 140lbs (63kg) onto my lifts within about 10 weeks.

It was easy – and it was FUN! Also – for the record – my lifts weren’t exactly bad to start with.

Faleev’s Programme

You can find the full article here, but the actual programme goes thusly:

Monday: five sets of five squats
Tuesday: five sets of five bench presses
Wednesday: five sets of five deadlifts
Thursday: five sets of four light squats for technique (80% of Monday’s weight)
Friday: five sets of four light bench presses for technique (80% of Tuesday’s weight)

Practice one lift per workout, stretch, and get out.

It’s simple, and that’s the point. It takes about an hour to complete (including the mandatory 5 minute rest periods between sets) so I can always fit it into my day. In 12 weeks, I’ve only missed a few sessions – all of which I have manged to fit back into the week at some other point.

It’s also not enormously fatiguing, which means I can continue with my other training and activities without over-training or performing poorly at events. The only element I haven’t stuck to is Faleev’s demand that I compete regularly, because all the meets were already fully booked in my weight category (74kg / 161 lbs).

My Progress

Despite spending the first couple of weeks trying to establish how much weight I should be lifting, I have seen some decent results:

Squat: 145 – 175kg
Bench press: 112 – 125kg
Deadlift: 195 – 220kg

Those figures are semi-reliably based on the following training notes:

Squat: 145kg – 175kg

Week 2: 5×5 at 120kg (max 145)
Week 5: failed at 5×5 at 135kg (max 155)
Week 11: 5×5 at 150kg (max 175)

For powerlifting, competition depth is the point at which the upper hip joint passes below the knee. For my preference, that isn’t deep enough – so my squat training has been a balance between lifting heavily enough to make my powerlifting competitive, whilst also trying to hit full squat depth as often as possible.

As much as I like powerlifting, I’d rather lift 10% less and keep full mobility. Not that those things are mutually exclusive, I’m sure.

Squat Technique Changes

Wrist Flexibility: my stupid smashed up wrists really (REALLY!) hurt for the first few weeks when I tried to hold the bar in the most effective position. I had to do a fair amount of wrist mobility and flexibility to eliminate this for both the squat and the bench. It’s getting better.

Bar Grip: I’ve learned to pull my elbows in and forwards, to keep my whole body tight with the bar. It was a little intimidating to start with (to be pulling the bar into my body), but it really helps. I’ve also started using a thumbless grip – because I LIVE LIFE ON THE EDGE!

Breathing: although I was successfully pushing my stomach out into the lifting belt, I wasn’t doing the same with my lower back. This was resulting in an exaggerated arch in my already overly arched back, which was affecting my stability. I have since learned to push out backwards as well as forwards – which I appreciate is a very strange thing to picture.

In my final week, I completed 5 sets of 3 at 155kg with decent depth, decent speed with decent breathing. I call that progress. (Article continues below this oversized video!)

155kg Squat

A video posted by Ed Gamester (@edgamester) on

Bench Press: 112 – 125kg

Week 2: 5×5 at 95kg (max 112)
Week 3: failed at 5×5 at 100kg (max 118)
Week 10: 1 x 125kg (max lift)

Bench was – and still is – my weakest lift by far. I’m still chasing a Class I lift – let alone a Master. I also screwed up my training by accidentally jumping to 110kg before completing 5×5 at 105kg. That meant I spent three weeks struggling with the wrong weight, before realising and dropping back down to 105kg again.

In week ten I got frustrated with my slow progress and tested my max. I hit 120kg and 125kg in swift succession, yet could still only manage sets of 4 at 105kg for the final two weeks. It’s a mystery.

Bench Technique Changes

Posture: I am steadily developing ‘the arch’ that powerlifters use to improve stability and minimise the distance the bar has to travel. I honestly don’t know if this has any practicality outside of powerlifting – or whether should focus on a different strength-gaining technique instead. It seems to be helping.

Foot position: I’ve started planting my feet below my hips, because my stupid short legs mean I can’t get good purchase on the ground if they are any farther down. I’m still learning to push through my feet during the lift – it feels odd.

Hand position: my grip is now much, much narrower. Initially, I felt very unstable and my lifts plummeted. Now they’re on the way back up, I feel much more stable and my lats ache after a session, which means I must actually be using my back during the lift – which is good news. The narrow grip has also taken a load of stress off my shoulders, which is a blessing.

(Article continues below this next oversized video!)

Ugly 125kg Bench Press

A video posted by Ed Gamester (@edgamester) on

Deadlift: 195 – 220kg

Week 1: 5×5 at 160kg (max 193)
Week 2: failed at 5×5 at 165kg (max 195)
Week 12: 5×4 (including one set of 5) at 190kg

I haven’t changed my deadlift technique at all. I make sure to focus on my back and shoulder blades before I lift, but otherwise I just sort of grab n’ go. It seems to be working.

I have, however, been wondering whether I should do fewer sets at a higher weight. Instead of 5×5 which involves working around 81-83% of max, I could do a single set of five or three which would be 87-93% of max. Deadlift is, after all, a truly maximal lift. Why do anything if not TO THE MAX?

Lots of people support the idea of a single heavy set, mainly because it features in the Stronglifts 5×5 programme. What people seem to forget is that Stronglifts puts deadlifts immediately after 5×5 squats – hence why they only do one set.

Unlike Stronglifters, I have a whole day for deadlifts and therefore lack an excuse to only do one set. Whether my sets should be 5 or 3 (or 2) reps, however, I have no idea…

What I do know for certain is the 5×5 has been working just fine for me, and I really don’t care about the details.

(Article continues YET AGAIN after this final video…)

190kg Deadlift

A video posted by Ed Gamester (@edgamester) on

What Next?

So what now? 5×5 has definitely worked for me, so do I carry on with it or – now that I’ve made improvements to my technique and basic strength – should I start using heavier lifts? I won’t be doing reps at powerlifting meets, after all. Anecdotally, at least, strength training seems to be most effective when lifting above 90% of your maximum; a weight I can lift for five sets of five is probably only around 83%.

I could try sets of three, which would be working closer to my max but involve doing eigh sets to get the same amount of reps (and therefore practise) into a workout. Then again, Faleev said 5×5 will yield 110-175 lbs in one year – which gives me 9 more months to see where I end up!

As enjoyable as these 12 weeks have been (and they have been great – I’ve genuinely loved every lift!), I do miss my ‘functional’ training. I think I might spend my light days (Thursday and Friday) really drilling jumps, rolls and movement, to make sure I stay athletic and not just ‘a bit stronger than average’.

Finally: I’ve just purchased some lifting shoes. I did all of this training barefoot (apart from some benching), but have realised that’s not allowed at competitions. Alas. It’ll be fun to see what difference some footwear makes, but I’ll still only judge myself by what I can do with my body alone. A Guildsman doesn’t rely on trinkets and trinkets in order to be strong. That’s why we don’t run Tough Guy in a wetsuit.

I’d love to read some other stories of lifting progress, and what people are learning in the process. Using Instagram for the first time has shown me how many other people are working hard on their lifts every day, and I’d love to see more about everybody’s progress 🙂

About the Author
Ed Gamester is a silly man who lives in the United Kingdom. He is the harbinger of Ghost Squad, singer of Gay Bum and author of A Rum Run Awry. He fights, kills and dies for TV and films, and gallivants around the place wrestling, drinking and lifting things for glory and profit. Where Ed treads, there stamp the boots of the Guild. Ed does not wear glasses, but feels this photograph makes him look more intelligent and artistically talented than he is. Feel free to contact him: he is disappointingly affable.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply