Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Sine Wave of Strength

Strength training exists on a Sine wave. I believe this to be the case with drug-free lifters beyond the novice stage of training. This is not a major concern for general exercisers,this is something for those that train with the specific purposes of strength,power and hypertrophic adaptations.

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According to Mark Rippetoe “a novice lifter is a trainee who is so unadapted to the stress of lifting weights that he can make progress as rapidly as he can stress himself and recover, a process that actually takes no more than 48-72 hours.”

My current program requires 4 days per week and engages four of the five basic barbell exercises found in Coach Rippetoe’s famous Starting Strength program. Unlike Starting Strength, my program focuses only on one core lift with 3-5 assistance exercises per session. The intent of my program is to increase absolute strength (I.E. the most weight I can lift for a single repetition.) therefore my sets and rep schemes differ greatly.

SIDENOTE: In my opinion Starting Strength is one of the books that should be considered mandatory reading for new personal trainers entering the field…unless they plan on skipping the development of strength and focusing more on general exercise.

After three weeks (12 sessions) CNS fatigue symptoms began to manifest. Broken Sleep,Lack of appetite,Although morale seemed good, I often felt flat.Decreased or stalled performance. Sub-maximum loads felt far heavier than they should have.

I would like to note that overtraining is an INDIVIDUAL THING. For me it was three weeks before my Sine Wave altered. Another person might be able to go 6 weeks without issue, another might not be able to finish a week and some wont even be psychologically able to attempt this type of training. You have to know yourself, or your coach needs to be the attentive type.  A number of people likely don’t overtrain (as it takes a fair bit of hard work to reach a level of overtraining) they under-recover,under-eat or under-sleep.

A one week de-load was taken. I maintained my training schedule and continued training the core lifts but using different variations,lowered loads,greater volume and switching the assistance exercises to ones that work the same segment or muscle group. I continued eating the same amount of food as I do on my high-intensity days and worked to get my sleep schedule back on point.

In many exercises during my de-load I worked well into the Hypertrophy(Bodybuilding) range and 100 to 200 reps in an exercise wasn’t uncommon. To another trainer it might appear as if I was doing some form of a “Bro Lifts” program. Personally I viewed it as restorative, both physically and psychologically.

Within my first week back to the high-intensity training (1-3 rep range) I hit personal records in all core lifts including a lifetime record in the military press. I actually broke two Military Press PR’s, one based on volume and the other on absolute load…I broke my self-imposed rule and chased a second PR on a single exercise.

I have two more weeks remaining in this cycle and will decide at that point where the next logical progression should head. I have already created a rough draft of one or could try running another three block on my current program.

Fit Shaming

Fit Shaming is something relatively new to me. The first time it happened I was also accused of being a fat shamer. Neither of which is a good thing.

Based on one persons opinion, I’m a vain bastard who’s  entire life revolves around that the gym. That I’m incapable of relating to any other subject and only socially acceptable within a gym, or with others just like me.

They never met me.
They don’t know me personally or professionally.
They know zero about my background beyond that which is publicly available…if they even bothered looking into it.

Therefore, I don’t concern myself with their opinions.

That said, Fit Shaming interested me enough to look into it.  My immediate thoughts were that it amounts to simple jealousy.

Having paid attention to things over the last month I realized both fit shaming is more common than I knew. Although I think some things may have been taken out of context, the effect these words can have on a person is serious nonetheless.

An obese lady posting photos of her healthy meals and occasional mini-videos of her training efforts during her weight loss journey.  She gets flack on her form (which in my opinion truthfully isn’t bad) and received some very mean comments. Thankfully those supporting her seem far more common. Some are on weight loss journeys of their own and are ahead or well-behind this lady. Their relative standing and starting weight means far less to me than their intent and drive to succeed.

A 30 something year old mom of two training for a physique competition. This means she will eventually be getting on stage in front of others wearing a bikini only slightly bigger than a thong cut. She gets called vain…and that she’ll look like a dude. Interestingly this is coming from other women of similar age.

Being honest, the lady already looks really good. She displays the confidence to sport a bikini now and has a vision of being on a stage with other ladies of varying ages as her “I made it here” moment.  It is honestly a relatively short moment on stage and the training getting there bears no resemblance to the actual event. She’s driven by that image, and thankfully other bodybuilders have been helpful with physique and posing needs.

A 40’s male Deadlifting his current maximum 135lbs. He is training for a 2x Bodyweight Deadlift goal. I can only estimate he presently weighs well over 200lbs, which doesn’t make for a light Deadlift goal by most standards and a long training process.

300lbs by itself is more than many men will ever pick up in their lifetime. 

He gets told to stop living in the past, that his form sucks (There sure are a lot of internet lifting judges out there), that at a present 135b maximum 400lbs is a dream and that he’ll hurt his back. Other lifters older and younger, male and female,bigger and smaller give him lifting tips to help him out.

The common themes I’ve observed is this:  The strong support the strong, the weak hate the strong.  

To those being Fit Shamed:
You’ll always have people taking their shots. They just can’t pull the trigger themselves.

Their bravery is internet based, and they can’t be you. Deep down inside their sorry-asses know it.

Tomorrow you will be slightly closer to your goal than you are today. Where will your shamers be? Behind a computer looking for things to b!tch about that’s where.

To the Fit Shamers:
I leave you with a quote from a legendary strength coach.

“Are those who critique prepared to train beside men (MTC: and women) like these for even a year and see what they go through?

Then, and only then would someone appreciate the work and sacrifice that these lifters make.”
Louie Simmons, Westside Barbell

Dawn of the Dead(lift)

In the past I’ve written about the differences between training and exercising, and that things that exist in the former that don’t in the latter.

A recreational runner and a competitive runner both run, but view their efforts differently.

A person attending Yoga one day per week is not same as the person that revolves their day around beloved mat time.

A person randomly moving around weights is not the same as a strength athlete, bodybuilder or power lifter.

As I deal primarily in strength I will limit myself to this area. In strength training one works towards a specific physical adaptation. In the Iron game this can be hypertrophy (muscle mass with an eye towards symmetry), strength (how much you can move), power (how explosively you can move an object) or control (such as in gymnastics.)

Inevitably during this process of acquiring strength there will be days where the weights win. Accept now that this day will eventually happen. It is what you do afterwards that is of importance.  Your decisions, or lack thereof, can spell the difference between future success or potential injury.  This is training, unlike exercise there is a goal beyond what happens today.

The other day the weights won.

My current Deadlift training day calls for the following:
1. Deadlift specific mobility warm up.
2. Ascending Deadlift singles-triples. Each rep gets progressively heavier, breaks are fairly short. Focus is on technical quality per rep.
3. Deadlift Back Off set 1×10-15 at 65% 1RM.
4. Axle (Fat Bar) Deadlift 3×3-5.  This is a grip challenge for those with smaller hands. The fat smooth bar has to be crushed in order to be hoisted.
5. Deadlift Rack Pulls (Just at Knee) 1RM+20% 3×3. This is exposing me to loads beyond which I can presently lift full ROM.  Despite the distance these lifts can be extremely taxing.

No straps or belt are used, although I have both in my bag just in case and the double overhand grip is kept until the hook grip becomes a necessity.  Based on the first few week of the cycle I’ve already gained 20lbs/9kg on my previous double overhand grip limit.  I’ve done no other specific grip training during this period.

It was the 5th Single that I failed to even get to the bar to break off the floor. It wasn’t even close to my previous max and only 20lbs/9kg heavier than the 4th single. A second attempt 5 minutes later led to the same failure.

Things felt much heavier than they should have felt. My breath was short and my nose bled. I haven’t failed rep in quite some time as I approach loading (adding weight to bar) sensibly, possibly even on the conservative side.

After my failures I made the sensible, although unpopular decision to call it a day. Despite the abbreviated nature of the session I logged my lifts as I always do.

I want that day to be recorded.

My personal training log entries have a way of eventually making it to other trainers or my athletic clients. They benefit from my successes as well as failures. In the case of my failures, how to avoid them or how to recover and rebuild from them.

SIDEBAR: Just because something worked for me doesn’t mean it will (or won’t) work for someone else. The application of training principles is whats being shared and it gives a starting point that can be drawn from.  Reviewing the process I am sometimes able to spot flaws that I didn’t previously see that would apply broadly and not just to myself.  

I’ve reviewed the events that led up to that day and came up with a few possible answers.

A. Not enough sleep the night before.
B. Not enough fuel (food) pre-training.
C. Possibly under-recovered from previous days lifting. The previous sessions all hit new performance levels in load,volume or technical quality.
D. Possibly a bad lift set-up position.
E. Possibly just an off day. This was the first day in several months where I couldn’t complete a lift,set or session.

An “out there” possibility is that my mind, in an effort to protect the body, prevented me from doing something that would cause harm.  Deadlifts by nature are very psychological lifts and the failure of the first attempt led the to failure of the second attempt.

This is training. We don’t do this to just to burn calories or get sweaty. The details, thought process and approach differ.  Regardless of training modality we train to become the Creations of Strength that we were designed to be.

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30 Days of Naught(?)

PREFACE: The below mesocycle is part of an annual plan for an experienced lifter with specific lift goals. This is not a general fitness, weight loss or bodybuilding plan. It is my hope that readers will be able to interpret training data to see the less obvious gains that training can provide.

I recently completed a 30 day mesocycle designed to increase performance. My programming typically runs 4-6 weeks depending on training frequency, specific adaptation, goal vs. where I presently stand and relative intensity. Four, and sometimes up to six weeks is what I have found to be optimal for myself. Pushing past six weeks without a de-load (a 5-10 day period of lighter work) has had negative consequences in the past and don’t intend to revisit any old (or meet any new) lifting injuries.

The Basic Breakdown

Day 1: Power. Low repetitions at 85% rep maximum. Squat,Bench Press and Deadlift. Bench Press and Overhead Press alternated weekly. In the event a PR (personal record) was hit the set was discontinued. This is a self imposed rule I put in place for my own safety. Typically sessions would be 5 or less reps per load.

Day 2: Hypertrophy. High volume at 70-75% rep max. Accessory lifts utilized to strengthen weak areas in given lifts. Sets of 3-5, and reps from 8-15. Although I recovered quite well, this was the training that took the most out of me.  In thirty days I adapted pretty well to that level of volume.

Day 3: Strength. 5 sets of 5 reps undulating loads as needed. I’ve noted a natural wave in my lifting over time and since I’m not competing in any strength sport I have the patience to ride things out.  I am well-adapted to to the 5-10 rep range.

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At the end of my 30 days I reviewed my training data there were the initial observations:
– Only a 10lb/4.5kg improvement in the bench press.
– Disproportionate (and somewhat modest) increase in upper body mass compared to the lower body. (Confirmed via InBod measurement, my favorite T-shirt and Gym Bro props)
– No 1RM above whatever the plan called for was attempted even on great lift days.
– Strength Day and Power Day sometimes seemed to nearly mimic each other.

Basically I only seemed to have gained a small amount of strength and a little extra mass to my upper body.  On the surface my numbers were not highly impressive given the work and time invested. Was my 30 Days for Naught?

No, the details matter.

30 Days (for me) was a good length for this program given where I started from.  In the winter I may run a 6 week trial of this program with adjusted loads.

– No training injuries. I honestly felt like I could have lifted almost every day. My elbows plagued me quite a bit last year and they longer seem to present a problem even on the most demanding lifts.
– No missed training days and only one recorded failed lift.  Actually  I simply didn’t attempt a fifth rep one session and count it as a fail. It’s not that I tried moving a load and failed to lock it out. Not missing a training a day is a big deal, the hardest part about training is actually getting to the gym.
– I had two days which I deviated from the plan due to fatigue.  I simply lowered the planned load and increased volume as able. I left the gym feeling better than when I walked in.
– Increased my 85% RM output and decreased set density. I could do more work in less total time.
– Technical improvement in all four lifts. Tracking data shows acceleration.bar path and force production greatly improved in the Deadlift and Overhead Press which indicates greater lift efficiency and starting strength.
– Increased warm-up set loads. I comfortably warm up 10-20llbs heavier than before, so total tonnage per set and session is higher.  I didn’t set my loads “low” initially as they were appropriate for me when I started the 30 day cycle.

In my opinion those are all signs of progress.

FullSizeRenderNo, I wasn’t baking a cake.

Leaks and Tweaks

The lions share of my clients training revolve around three tools; Bodyweight, Kettlebell and the Barbell. Bodyweight allows for equipment free training. Kettlebell can limit things to a single tool and the Barbell allows for progressive loading across a great range.  The principles of training apply regardless of the tool used and each presents certain advantages and limitations.

That said, I will use whatever tool is necessary or best suited for a particular client and their needs.

I am currently training my basic barbell lifts (Back Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift and Military Press) with specific targets for each. The last month has seen gains in all lifts, but more importantly new insights into each technique. As well as I thought I knew them, I still have much to learn…at least when applied to myself.

An  “energy leak” is a term I picked up from StrongFirst and roughly translates as a place on your body where energy is being needlessly lost during a lift. Poor elbow positioning for example,compromises each of the compound lifts and could potentially lead to injury due to compensations or risky joint angles. Minimally, a leak increases the inefficiency of a given movement and treads the line between safe and unsafe.

SIDEBAR: Based purely on conversations in the gym it seems elbow issues are on the rise.  Barring past injury, poor technique can often be attributed.

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This is why we Deadlift.

In some circles the Deadlift is considered the easiest compound movement to teach and is the lift capable of handling the greatest loads. It is learned before the Kettlebell swing is introduced, required learning for the Olympic lifts, a staple in Strongman training and a fundamental human movement pattern.

My goal is to perform 3 repetitions at twice my heaviest bodyweight (AKA Fat Chris) which would be a 360lb/164kg Deadlift. This is presently the lift which I am plugging leaks and tweaking my program to address my needs. Twice bodyweight doesn’t mean I’m strong, it just means I’m not weak.

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Iron Addicts Las Vegas Wall of Power requires a male to deadlift at least 300lbs/136kg over bodyweight just to get on the board. 300lbs by itself is more than many humans will ever lift.

As of today, (7.3.16) I am 87.5% of the way to my Deadlift goal. At 90% my leaks could change as load changes things. I could potentially reach my target in spite of my leaks, but I consider the long-game and the potential for injury. Further, I wouldn’t progress a client until these leaks were addressed.

Tweaking a program could be required when dealing with leaks.  In some cases a total program re-write may have to occur, it depends on the size and relative complexity of the leak.

The most common Deadlift leaks seen in others in the absence of past injury or structural issues:
The Feet/Ankles: Lack of driving into the ground, deadlifting in running shoes, Lack of mobility.
The Knees: Too much knee bend, essentially squatting the bar up.
The Hips: Too low or too high, mistimed hip drive, bucking the bar up (“Kipping Deadlift”) or essentially stiff legged deadlifting the bar up when this wasn’t the intent.
The Lower Back: Rounded
The Upper Back: Rounded
The Shoulders: Incorrect positioning over the bar, slack in shoulders,re-slacking between repetitions,shrugging the bar up.
The Head/Neck: “Pez Dispensing” the head during the lift.
The Arms: Slack, triceps not engaged,trying to involve them in the lift, re-slacking between reps.
The Wrists/Fingers. Weak grip, Poor grip technique, never switching sides on alternating grips.
Somewhere above the eyebrows: Ego or lack of self-confidence. The weight is too heavy for them or they think it is too heavy for them.”
A number of these leaks stem from poor, or less than optimal initial set-ups. Imagine a Dog a taking a poop and you’ll have a visual for a very poor Deadlift set up.

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Working above the knees rack pulls for some lower back targeting. It’s only a few inches but quickly becomes exhausting work and helps train the grip.

My current leaks
Upper Back too rounded on set up.
Hip drive occurring too soon and I wind up bullying/stiff leg deadlifting the weight up.
I’ve had my leaks confirmed by a veteran powerlifting coach. Review of past video indicates my leaks are consistent.

My programming tweaks
I happen to be starting a new cycle anyhow and the intent this phase is plugging my leaks while developing my other strength skills. I have added T-Spine mobility drills to my training and active recovery days along with Farmers Walks as a finisher to help build the full body strength needed for the Deadlift. Considering the leaks are consistent across loads it suggests that the motor pattern was grooved slightly off in the first place.

Upper Back Rounding: I am working sets of five progressively heavier single reps along with various position rack pulls. The focus is on proper torso position in the start phase and making my opening rep and fifth rep look identical in performance. Video is taken and analyzed for form,velocity,acceleration and force output.

Hip Drive is a matter of timing and volume of perfect practice. This is an advantage of working with single reps. Even non-elite, but highly experienced and capable lifters occasionally mistime lifts, so I’m keeping good company.

I have no problems repeating a load and wont die if I don’t PR something in a particular session. I just need to be better than I was last session and continue inching my way to my goals.