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Kodiak Bears Birthday Milestone
Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

The Bear Workout was the result of foolishly asking an actual strength coach for a workout to “make us as strong as possible while still sort of being able to move well.” The various updates to it are here, here, and here. The workout is posted in those links. This is the final installment in the series.

  1. We sort of realize we needed to wrap this up, even if we’re not going to stop lifting weights or even using the program. So start with us over a four-hundred pound deadlift this past Saturday, looking at it on the floor of the gym and experiencing deep, deep anxiety because...well, because that’s not much weight, really. And when something is not much weight, well, it makes it so much worse if you don’t lift it, because it’s like blowing a 20 yard field goal, missing a layup, or breaking your arm on a simple cartwheel. No one has ever laughed at someone missing a 700 pound deadlift, or at least didn’t live to tell everyone how they laughed at a man missing a 700 pound deadlift. (Even if they survived initially by outrunning that man, they were eaten by him later.)
  2. It’s a big lift and you can’t cheat it. Deadlifts are the landlord of lifts, which is why you can’t avoid them, and also why you can’t ever really like them. Over the course of doing the Bearded Bear workout since February, the point was never really maxing out or powerlifting. The point was to get stronger, sure, and to get bigger—bigger in the kind of theatrical way that made people ask if you’d just gotten out of jail, stumbled into a duffel bag full of off-brand steroids, or were bulking up for a fight with a mythical animal trapped in your basement that the gypsy said you and only you could defeat.
  3. That part happened. None of our shirts fit after a while, so I had to buy a bunch of new ones to accommodate a new set of traps I didn’t have before, and a chest that hadn’t even been this size back when I spent my entire senior year at Florida getting beer-swole off Miller High Life and bench press. (Nothing else, mind you: Just bench press. Being 21 is so, so stupid.) My ass barely fits in my pants after squats, and people sitting next to me have on multiple occasions commented that I “hurt to bump into.” I don’t think that’s a good or bad thing, unless you’re looking to hold down the back of a car that tends to fishtail with some extra weight. After five months of steady work, I can definitely help with that. I also accidentally headlock people now when I try to put an arm around their shoulders. As with anything, there are tradeoffs, and one of them is accidentally headlocking your friends.
  4. That whole part, in fact, is pretty easy, provided you do a few things reliably and consistently. These are very unglamorous, repetitive things a certain kind of brain can learn to love without too much thought. Dips are one. Oh my dear lord, dips are the best. They make everything in the Boat Muscle category of your body enormous, even if you’re only doing them bodyweight. Dips are stupid easy to do, and sometimes I’d do extra ones just because they felt good. That’s kind of sick, but here we are. Heavy single-arm rows are also a blessing, and will help your back turn into a proper side of beef. Like deadlifts, they’re mean, uncheatable, work like crazy, and you’ll kind of hate them the whole time you’re doing them because gravity never stops pulling, and also because you’re just sitting there looking at a sweat spot on a bench the whole time. It’s not the most glamorous exercise, but it will give you actual lats like nothing you’ve ever had, and help you avoid I.L.S.
  5. I.L.S. is a term coined by a co-worker’s husband to represent the tendency of dudes to walk like they have lats even when they demonstrably do not. This phenomenon usually occurs in January, immediately after the first post-holiday workout of the year. I.L.S. is real, and can be combatted with heavy single-arm rows, chin-ups, deadlifts, adequate recovery diet, or just walking like a normal person who admits they’re lat-less.
  6. Do all that and whatever you’ve got in the workout, eat enough protein to make you hate eating protein and anything else, try to get 30-45 minutes of walking/light running, and you’ll become a perfectly manageable moving traffic barrier of a human. But what if I don’t want to eat? You will. It’s unavoidable. Work out enough and sleep correctly and you will wake up wanting to tear down a moose using nothing but a spork and a bad attitude. There are vegan lifters out there and I have nothing but the utmost respect for them because how. Howwwwww.
  7. Don’t tell me how, actually: I don’t want to know, because I will never do it, because at one point in this whole experiment I was fixing a big-ass piece of salmon for dinner, and reader in the middle of a workout called “The Bear Workout” I literally picked up a piece of fish and bit a chunk out of it because I felt like doing it. I have no worms I know of and experienced no intestinal distress afterwards, but it could have happened. The point is a.) You’ll probably need animal protein and need it in theatrical fashion, and b.) I’m a gross, face-first kind of person, and it’s too late to do anything but admit that and try to make it a strength on the personal resume.
  8. All that happened, and I’m definitely more bearlike. But I also got stronger. My squat went from a 350 to a 385 max. The overhead press went from a pretty weak 170 to a solid 185. (This doesn’t seem like a lot over five months, but the one thing that never really goes away when I don’t lift is the overhead press, the one lift where by design I seem to be able to throw up a decent amount of weight without trying too hard.) I benched 300 pounds for the first time in my life, and that came after years of getting within range and balking off it due to injury or fear. The rep test for deadlift—lifting 360 eight times—came out to something like a 450 max.
  9. Even the conditioning helped. Just for fun I wanted to see if I could run a steady treadmill mile in under ten minutes. I clocked it just under that—a 9:58—but for a 41 year old barely trying to stay steady-state ready, it wasn’t an atrocity, and I was probably good for a 9:30 without too much trouble. Full disclosure: An eight minute mile would have reduced me to puking ribbons, and is something I’d like to work on in whatever I do next. (Which, for football season, is probably a whole bunch of 5/3/1 with more conditioning thrown in, because it’s easy to track and not too demanding on the schedule. Which is busy.)
  10. That’s all fine, but actually pulling 400 was something I’d only done once about nine years ago, when every part of my body was nine years younger, and I was in the best shape of my life, and I was definitely not terrified of parts flying off my body like a windmill disintegrating in a hurricane-force wind when lifting. It got in my head, especially because deadlifting can feel like being teleported instantly into the deep stage of a free-dive. The pressure is instantaneous and total; the only way out is to go up or sink to the bottom.
  11. The number isn’t even impressive. For someone at my weight—around 230 right now—it’s even weak. But it’s my number, and it’s what I had to work with after five months of bear-type living, and I couldn’t feel bad about it before even failing because some things are true whether you want them to be true or not. This is where I am; this is what I can do. I will not know what I can do unless I test it; If that test is passed, you move the bar a little further out into the frontier. If you do that, you should be moderately happy about it, and not deny yourself that little bit of completely arbitrary happiness. You should be, even for just a second, happy about this.
  12. I pulled it. It was easy, and I’ve been sandbagging my deadlifts badly this whole time. But still: I pulled it.