As a lifter, I love training with a crew. Nothing will get you more physically prepared to lift big weights than a group of like-minded individuals. A great crew will get you competitive for a meet, and weekly PRs aren’t uncommon.

But what happens when life gets in the way? As a father, graduate student, aspiring coach, and personal trainer trying to make his mark, there isn’t a whole lot of free time left to get to the gym. If your crew is regimented on lift times, this means you’re left out in the cold.

As a result of my less than ideal situation, I’ve had to improvise and modify training to fit the people (or lack thereof) into my training. This article is a brief overview of what I’ve implemented to maintain the heart of Westside but achieve the goal of living through a workout. The biggest challenge in training alone isn’t staying motivated or working hard. It’s applying maximal effort safely and effectively.

Dynamic effort
Speed work is easily implemented without a training partner. The weights are modest (50–60 percent), and the use of chains or bands can add variety. Basic speed work and accessory work could look like this:

DE bench press
Bench or variation, 6–8 X 3
Upper back, 3 X 10
Shrug movement and triceps, superset together 3–4 X 10–15

So here’s a workout from early January…

DE bench press, used 135 lbs plus three chains, 8 X 3 with varying grips
Pull-ups, 1 X 10, 1 X 8, 1 X 8, 1 X 4
Bar shrugs, 315 X 10, 225 X 15, 185 X 20  superset with 4-board press, 3 X 12 medium grip with 225 lbs
Ab Wheel, 3 X 12
Prowler sprints, 4 runs at 50 feet, low handle down, uprights back

Lower body training is similar, but I like to add some mental challenge or rep effort to the workout to keep the intensity high.

DE squat
Box squat, parallel box with buffalo bar, 315 lbs for 6 X 2
Tire flips (400 maybe) X 10 superset with glute ham raise for max reps (5–6), 3–4 sets
Reverse hypers, 3 X 10–12
Sit ups, 65-lb dumbbell X 12–15 for 4 sets

Again, dynamic effort work is easy to implement. The challenge is with max effort work. I don’t have a fear of big weights. I fear my form going to shit with big weights. Because I don’t have anyone to coach my sitting back, video becomes a key assessment of form. This used to be a problem, but most cell phones have a video option these days. Use it to check form. Gear use can be a challenge, but you just need to time it as best you can. Closer to meets, I schedule lifting to take place with a crew on designated days. This starts to occur about six weeks out for the bench and three or four weeks out for the squat and deadlift.

Warning: If you have new gear, use a spotter and get the shit right. Make the time to get it seated and get used to it. You can’t get strong in traction.

Now, on to the lifting…

Max effort
Max effort is just that, only tweaked a bit to make a soloist survive. Squats are done in a wave format, so I tend to go from three to one over a three-week period. This tends to let me push the weights, not risk immediate death if everything goes wrong.

Here’s a sample training session for lower body:

Warm up: Sled drags for 50 feet with 90 lbs; facing front and back

Safety bar squats, 3RM target of 415; bar X 5, 95 X 5, 145 X 5, 235 X 5, 325 X 5, 385 X 3, 415 X 3, 415 X 3

Glute ham raise, body weight, 4 X 6–8
Back raise, 4 X 8
Side bends, 4 X 15

Rest periods were two to three minutes, depending on how I felt. For the following week, I did 2 X 2 with 435 and then 2 X 1 with 450 the week after that. Flexibility was built into this program because if the first target set was hard, I could either lighten or simply cut the last set. Some weeks you’re strong and some you just try to make it to the end.

Upper body is more of a challenge, but I’ve discovered that the best way to attack this is with various lifts and rep challenges. I tend to stay in the 2– 3 rep range to maintain shoulder stability and incorporate my back, which is my major problem in terms of getting better technically under a heavy bar.

Bench press
Warm up, 45 X 5, 135 X 5, 165 X 5, 185 X 3, 205 X 3, 225 X 2, 250 X 1, 250 X 1, 260 X 2, 265 X 2
Floor press, 205 lbs for 5 X 5

The following week I added a set and one rep to this exercise. This progressed for three weeks and then I started over with a different movement.

2-, 3-, 4-boards, 1 X 6–8 for each, medium grip using 225 lbs for all sets
Side laterals, 3 X 12
Grappler press, 4 X 8
Dips, 4 X 6 using chains or bands to add resistance
Ab roller, 4 X 15

The biggest challenge with the upper body was watching volume to ensure that I didn’t go overboard. The increases are small, but the weights do increase over time.

Again, this is just an idea of what to do when all you have is yourself. Speaking for me, I can get motivated very easily, and I hate to miss a training session.  I hear the reasons to avoid training regularly from co-workers, clients, and coaches. Yes, training partners help, but with a little effort, even alone you can succeed.