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The Road to 500 | Marty Fox Leave a comment

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The Road to 500

by Marty Fox | January 09, 2024

In early 2020, after the gyms shut down, I was approached by a friend
of mine to use my squat rack and barbell. I had a pretty modest setup
that I kept in my shed. I would have to assemble it in the driveway
and disassemble it after every workout. On rainy days, I had a small
tent that was starting to get a few holes in it over the years. My
friend asked me how much weight I had in my set. I had about 455
pounds total, including an assortment of bumper plates. “I’ll
bring over a couple hundred pounds” he said. He was a powerlifter,
probably 6 feet tall and 230 lb, squatting and deadlifting in the
600s. We did squats and deadlifts that day. The most notable thing
I remember was during the warmups when he was squatting three plates
at the same speed as I was with an empty bar.

I had never seriously
considered competing in powerlifting until I talked to John that day.
There was a local meet coming up in about 3 months, and I decided to
sign up with him. In return for letting him use my setup for a couple
weeks while he acquired his own equipment, John gave me some
programming and form coaching. Although I was progressing pretty
rapidly in all three lifts, the only number I cared about was the
squat. I wanted to squat 500 pounds.

That spring into early
summer, I hammered those lifts day after day, squatting heavy up to 4
times per week. I did competition form, paused squats, high bar, low
bar, you name it. My knees and shoulders were in constant pain, but I
persisted and so did my numbers. The closer we got to the meet, the
closer I got to 500.

The meet was canceled
because of the circumstances of that year, but they couldn’t cancel
my goal. I did a mock meet in my driveway the same day at the meet
would have been, fully dressed out in my competition singlet to
simulate the same sense of accomplishment I would have gotten. My
first squat was 465 pounds. It went up smooth, barely a struggle.
Next was 485. It went up too, but a little slower. 500 was my third
attempt. All of my pain and strife for the last 12 weeks was about to
pay off.

I listened to the good
part of my favorite song and amped myself up. I stormed up to the
rack, aggressively grabbed the bar, stomped my way back a couple
paces, and took a giant breath. I lowered myself into the hole and
then started my ascent. But then I got stuck. I pushed for what
seemed like an eternity, but the bar wouldn’t move. I gave up and
dropped back down into the hole, bent forward and dumped the bar on
the pins. I had failed.

After the mock meet, I
had abandoned my programming and started aimlessly working out with
no discernable goal in mind until one day I injured my back doing
front squats. I took my recovery slow and did a lot of thinking. It
was about that time that I stumbled upon Starting Strength. I
carefully examined the form and when it came time to get back under
the bar, I tried to do so with the Starting Strength method. That
fall, I ran through my Novice Linear Progression and by that winter,
I had transitioned to the Texas Method.

I was back in the low
400s when I split my routine into a volume day, light day, and
intensity day. Every Friday the weight went up 5 pounds. It had
turned into a weekly mental routine. Every Monday I would slug my way
through 5 decently heavy sets of 5, knowing that my numbers on Friday
would increase by 5 pounds every single time. Wednesday, even being a
light day, was still a mental struggle because I knew that even as
beat up as I felt from Monday, I had to get under the bar to keep my
progress moving into Friday. But then every Friday, surely enough, I
would get under the bar and go up 5 more pounds. I looked forward to
it all week.

Despite my steady
progress, getting through that winter was rough. I was a new father
with a second on the way, so it was pretty common for me to push my
workout until after my son had gone to bed. There were plenty of
Monday workouts that started at 8 pm and lasted until close to 11,
still having to assemble and disassemble my squat rack in the
driveway. There were Monday nights that winter in the high 30s and
raining, where I may not have slept well the previous night or eaten
enough, and the weight on the bar felt more like intensity day than
volume day. But I would still get out there under that tent with the
frigid rain water dripping through it and do my 5s well into the

It paid off. By spring,
I had dropped from a set of 5 on Friday to 3s, and then singles. Once
I hit singles, it became an obsession. I would video all of my lifts
to meticulously check form, and would splice videos together to
compare bar speed from week to week to see exactly where I needed to
focus mentally or crank up the afterburners. I did my 5s on Monday
and hit my singles every Friday for the next seven weeks, and went
from 465 up to 495, five pounds at a time. That next week was the
moment I had been waiting almost a year for. I did my 5s on
Monday like I always did, and it was a struggle as it always was. I
did my light day on Wednesday like I always did. And then Friday came
around, and so did the moment of truth.

I ran through my
warmups and loaded 500 pounds on the bar. I set up my camera and
invited my wife out to cheer me on. I was dressed in the same workout
clothes as I had worn all year and everything else about that day was
the same as any other Friday. I pulled my knee sleeves up, tightened
my belt, chalked up my back and hands, and walked up to the bar. I
gripped it the same as I always do, wiggled my shoulders into
position, took a deep breath and lifted the bar off the rack. I took
the same four baby steps back into position, and took another deep
breath. I lowered myself into the hole and started my ascent. This
time, I had the same focus and drive as I did every single Friday for
the last 22 weeks. Despite it feeling heavy, I pushed on it and it
moved. Before I knew it, I was standing again. I walked forward and
racked the bar. Turning back to my wife, I shrugged my shoulders and
all I said was “Easy.”

I had done it. My one
year journey ended with me squatting 500 pounds. Or did it? The next
week I squatted 505. And the week after I squatted 510. And in the
following two and a half years, I’ve had several layoffs and
work-ups and have since run my numbers up over 500 pounds a few
times, and 500 came without fanfare, with no awards or accolades. So
what was the point? Sure, I set a goal and I achieved it, but it
taught me something else that I didn’t realize at the time. The
gratification that comes with lifting weights doesn’t come from
hitting that big number. It comes from that last set of 5 on Monday. The phrase “Life is a journey, not a destination,” might be
cliché, but when it comes to strength training, you really do have
to embrace the challenge and enjoy the ride.

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