Asking and Answering Some Questions about My Weight Workout History: Part 2

Before we get into the remaining questions about my workout history, I’m curious about whether anyone has seen weight workout data visualizations that you like anywhere.  I’ve been looking online and I’m surprised at how few there are out there, compared to the many cardio data visualizations that I find (e.g., run or bike workouts overlaid on maps).  The majority are from people tracking progress on one or a few major lifts over time.  If you have seen weight workout visualizations that you like, please feel free to leave links to them in the comments.

I left a few questions unanswered at the end of my last post about my historical workout data, including these two:

  • How many total pounds did I lift per exercise or body part per training period?
  • What does my last month or year of workouts look like compared to past years?

Of course, I needed to do some cleanup work before I could accurately calculate the total pounds lifted per exercise or body part per training period.  I described how I used the JMP Recode platform to consolidate exercise names and group exercises into body parts in this post on the JMP blog.  I had used different names for the same exercises over the years in my training log, so this cleanup step removed those kinds of redundancies from my data table so I could summarize more accurately.

I have been using a Total Weight Lifted calculation to track total pounds lifted, which takes into account the weight I used, the number of reps I completed, and whether it was a one-weight barbell or machine exercise or a two-weight dumbbell exercise.  I collapse sets with identical weights and reps used into a single row and keep a separate column that summarizes how many sets I completed. Below, you can see a screen shot of my table containing these and other variables:

Table example 3-2-15

I calculate Total Weight Lifted for every row in my data table using a JMP Formula column by multiplying the variables you see in the Formula box below:

Formula column 3-2-15

Once JMP has calculated the total weight lifted for every row in my table, I can summarize the total pounds I lifted by workout, by exercise name, body part, and body zone to track my training volume poundage over time.  I can create tables that summarize weight lifted at the exercise, body part, or body zone level, or just work with all the data and summarize it graphically while I visualize it.

I find tracking a total weight lifted metric to be very useful because I vary the number of reps I do of different exercises as I move through different programs.  Whether I work in a low or high rep range will naturally impact the amount of weight I use for a given set of an exercise, so calculating the total weight lifted for sets in different rep ranges gives me a way to compare across sets where I used different weights and reps, and a way to assess my overall training volume, or compare how much weight I lifted in specific rep ranges over time.  For me personally, I’m more interested in overall training volume than maximizing the weight I am using for certain primary major lifts.  I would liken this to a runner focusing on overall training time as opposed to their best 5k or marathon time.  I’m not training to compete as a strength athlete, and I have tested my injury limits with certain exercises and I don’t want to go near them for fear of sustaining an injury that would force me to slow or halt my training altogether.  But especially now that I’m tracking my workout data so closely, I so want to continue to monitor my progress.  Total weight lifted seems like a good metric for me because it helps me assess my overall training load as I move through different periodized programs.

By the way, if you’ve never heard of workout periodization, it is the idea that working muscles at different weight amounts and in different rep ranges helps maximize muscular growth and development while reducing the chance of injury.  Strength training research shows that working in lower rep ranges increases strength and development of type II/fast twitch muscle fibers while working in higher rep ranges increases muscle endurance and development of type 1/slow twitch muscle fibers.  Both muscle types have the potential to increase in size, so if that is of one of your goals, then obviously you want to work both types of muscle fibers to maximize your results.  Brad Schoenfeld and others have researched and published on this topic.  While there is a lot of weight training research out there, a lot of it doesn’t apply to me since it’s done in populations that aren’t like me at all, like young, male, largely untrained subjects. Since Brad focuses on the experienced lifter, I pay close attention to his work!  I’ve always liked his writing since back in the days of edition 1 of Sculpting Her Body Perfect, and I really respect that he recently got his PhD after many years in the industry and has become such a prolific publisher in this area.

How many total pounds did I lift per exercise or body part per training period?

Since I keep track of all my training sessions, and have mapped exercises to primary body parts, I can summarize how many total pounds I lifted each year from different programs in a stacked bar chart by primary body part.  Below, I show total pounds lifted by body part for the three main types of programs I have done recently.  I think it’s interesting to note how much less lower body work I do in Adonis workouts than in Venus workouts, as evidenced by smaller proportions of total weight lifted for Glutes, Hamstrings, and Quadriceps.  This pattern is very much in keeping with the philosophies of those workout programs.  The focus for Venus is building up shoulders and hips while Adonis is primarily focused on increasing shoulder/upper body measurements.

Total weight lifted by program and body part and year

I can also look at this same graph by month.  The height of the bar summarizes overall training volume, while the different sections show how much weight I lifted for each primary body zone.  Looking at 2014 and 2015 alone, it’s interesting to me that March was a high training month the past two years.  This makes sense as the weather gets nicer and I tend to make more trips up to the gym.  You can also see in the Quadriceps category that I’m doing a bit more leg work in the gym with the addition of workouts at the new SAS gym.

Total weight lifted by month and year

I thought I’d take a few minutes to mention how using a total weight lifted metric has impacted my training.  I find that knowing I will be calculating this metric on my workout data later helps me to push and complete a few extra reps.  By comparing total weight lifted on various set/rep combinations, I find that using a slightly lower weight and doing more reps usually will be more impactful in terms of total weight lifted, so I tend to work in the 7+ rep range more often than I train in lower rep ranges.  I have started adding in exercises I have done in the past where I tend to use more weight like leg presses, barbell deadlifts, and barbell bench presses, with the knowledge that those exercises will add more weight to the total amount for a given workout.

Now, for answering the question of what my last month or year of workouts looks like compared to past years, I am again primarily looking at total weight lifted. Now that I have all of my April workouts entered, I can look across them all and compare them to past workouts I have entered data for, summarizing by the month or week of the year.  I grouped upper body parts and lower body parts together to simplify the graph:

Weight lifted by zone across history

Although it is missing data from a couple of April workouts that I haven’t entered yet, the graph above reveals March and April 2015 to be among my highest volume training months yet.  I didn’t do quite as much lower body work in April as I did in March, but my training frequency was much improved after a pretty dismal February.  If fact, if I look across all the data that I have entered so far, it’s pretty common for me to have a high volume January, then drop off in February before the pre-summer activity ramp up begins in March.  February tends to be the worst winter weather and I find it harder to get motivated to get outside to walk or head up to the SAS gym for extra lunchtime workouts!  Since I got my FitBit Charge HR in March, I have been aiming to get to my 10,000 step per day goal, and that really requires a walk somewhere in the day.

It’s obvious from this graph that I am doing quite a bit less leg work in recent years than I did back in grad school.  I have mentioned before that I used to do heavy leg and calf presses and a lot less upper body work back in the late 90’s. Although my total weight lifted volume is similar between now and then, my current workouts focus much more on upper than lower body work. However, depending on what program I am doing at the time, there may be more or less lower body work included in it.

This program to program variation is apparent when looking at the workout-level data too.  I created the following graph to show the day to day variation in total weight lifted by body zone for different program types.  On the left, the first ascending bar chart series shows all workouts during 2014 and 2015 from the Adonis workouts I did, ordered by amount of total weight lifted.  Again, the green is total pounds lifted for upper body and the blue is total pounds lifted for lower body. Compare that to the next section on the right, which is for Venus workouts, and you can see how much more lower body work those include than the Adonis sessions.  The third section is for workouts from a Density training program I was doing last December and January.  It had lower body work on certain days but was mostly upper body, and was quite high volume. The rest of the sessions on the far right are from random body part split (BPS) or other workouts I made up along the way.

Total Weight lifted by day and program

If I add a line for set volume, you can see that my upper body volume is pretty consistently about 3-5x greater than my lower body training volume, with few recent months (e.g., the dismal February) being exceptions to that rule.

Upper and lower across all months

I’ve been training a long time and my legs are already fairly muscular, so I don’t need to do much leg work from a shape perspective.  With limited training time, I have determined that working my calves a lot like I did in the past is pretty pointless, so I prioritize training other areas and almost never do a calf-specific exercise.  The muscle I have in my calves isn’t going away-walking and biking seem to be enough to maintain the muscle there without requiring specific weight training.  I’d rather spend most of my time on shoulders or back or chest in the gym.  As I continue to train and incorporate more lower body work using Hammersmith leg press machines at the new SAS gym, I’ll be assessing whether I do see any visual changes along the way.  But since I’ve been training so long, I really don’t expect to see much change in my muscle structure going forward in any area.  Everyone reaches a natural limit as far as carrying and building skeletal muscle and I suspect I’m near mine.  Any changes in look are more likely be determined by carrying higher or lower body fat percentages rather than lifting efforts.  At least tracking my data helps me to stay motivated to maintain what I have!

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