Exercise is a pretty big part of my life. I credit swimming pretty consistently throughout junior high school and high school for a big part of my personal and academic discipline at the time and for just letting me eat as much as I wanted without consequence. Since college though, I’ve largely stopped swimming. Chlorine is pretty tough on skin and hair. And frankly swimming takes too much mental willpower and it’s just exhausting in an only somewhat satisfying way. TL;DR Swimming hurts too much.

Instead, for the past four years, I’ve been lifting weights on and off. I started really going to the gym the summer of my freshman year while I was in New Haven doing research for a biomedical engineering lab. New Haven was so hot and quiet that summer that I couldn’t wait to go to Payne Whitney gym because 1) it had air-conditioning and 2) there were people there. Looking back, it’s kinda funny that a lot of people (PhDs, postdocs, and poor undergrads mostly) went to the gym to get their daily dose of human interaction. Research is a very tough life.

During that summer, I mostly only used machines and dumbbells. It wasn’t until sophomore year that I really started with barbells, doing the Stronglifts 5x5 program. I’ve kinda done this program on and off throughout college and made a small bit of progress.

Since I’ve started working in rural Kyrgyzstan, one of the biggest perks of my job is easy access to a gym. The gym isn’t anything special— it has a bench, one decent Olympic 20 kg barbell, one ok 10 kg barbell, four 20 kg plates, four 10 kg plates, two 5 kg plates, two 2.5 kg plates, two 1.25 kg plates. Notice that I didn’t say it had a squat rack (more on that later).

The environment here is quite conducive to lifting (and thank goodness, because it’s been so important for maintaining sanity). First, not too many people really lift (students have a pretty full schedule and there are only about 70 of them total) so I usually have the gym to myself. Second, the Central Asian diet is pretty protein heavy so it’s probably not that difficult to hit proper macros. Third, I eat in the dining hall so it’s pretty easy for me to eat consistently and I can get seconds and thirds. Throw in the fact that I now also eat breakfast(!) and I have a decent diet going.

Thus, for the past three months, I’ve been doing a modified 5x5 pretty consistently. Because I don’t have a squat rack, I’ve replaced a back squat with a power clean and front squat. Here is my progress from late August to mid-November (almost 3 months).

Weight: 63 kg (139 lbs) to 64 kg (141 lbs)

I’d like to think that this small increase is due to body recomposition and not the fact that I skipped breakfast everyday for months prior and thus wasn’t getting enough calories to increase weight. But both are viable options.

Power clean: bare barbell (20kg) - 75 kg (165 lbs) for 5x 1 reps

Basically had to power clean to do front squat. My clean for is still terrible (poor triple extension, low rack position mobility) but I’m glad that I basically went from nothing to 165 lbs.

Front squat: bare barbell (20 kg) to 75 kg (165) for 5x 5 reps

My front squat isn’t too great yet either (low rack position mobility, torso not super upright since I’m just squatting in flat shoes.) Because I can’t power clean more than 75 kg consistently, I’m stuck at 75 kg. But I’m pleased to have improved this new lift by around 120 lbs in 3 months.

Bench: 60 kg (132 lbs) to 72.5 (160) for 5 x 5 reps.

I’ve been stuck at 72.5 for quite a while (a little over a month). But my form has improved, as I now utilize a more aggressively arched back.

Deadlift: 70 kg to 112.5 kg (248 lbs) for 1 x 5

I deadlift double overhand because alternate grip feels weird and I don’t want to tear my bicep tendon. Hook grip has really helped me get past two plates, which is where my grip strength typically failed me before. I’m still making linear progress in this lift but hook grip hurts :(

So that’s been the past 3ish months. I think I’m now switching to PPL now because progress has been stalling and I want to get some more volume and shorten my workout times. We’ll see how that goes.