Thursday, September 7, 2017

Strength on the mind

I have been thinking about why I do the power lifts, why someone who doesn't want to be a powerlifter would want to, why focusing on upper body or isolation exercises is inefficient for a “novice,” etc.

(“Novice”, for the purposes of this post, is not someone who is necessarily new to, or inexperienced in fitness, but rather someone for whom linear progression (LP) is still attainable. If a lifter is able to recover from a workout in 24-72 hours, and repeat a lift from that workout, but add weight to it, and still complete the workout, then he or she is said to be making progression in a linear fashion: graphing weight lifted over time creates an upward trending straight(ish) line. (It will not remain straight, obviously, as diminishing returns sets in, and linear progression is exhausted.)

I am not a personal trainer, a doctor, a physical therapist, or fitness professional, nor do I have any formal training in any related field. These are my thoughts based on my personal experiences, the personal experiences of those I know who have tried many different approaches in the gym, and reading many many articles, some even scholarly/peer-reviewed.

I personally, anecdotally, have been working out one way or another for 22 years.  I have listened to every gym bro, every coach or wannabe fitness guru, read a ridiculous number of articles in magazines designed to sell you something rather than actually get you fit or strong, and I have tried them all.  Through the years I have taken time off of being consistently in the gym often enough to "reset" back to the beginning that I am a bit of a self-proclaimed expert on what works for "novices."  Additionally, over the years I have also had several workout partners of varying ages, sizes, fitness acumen, goals, genetic predispositions, and yes, even genders.  Again, these weren't controlled scientific environments, and are anecdotal in nature, but I think I have enough experience.

This will be written in a stream of consciousness sort of babbling manner – I have neither the time nor inclination to organize or proof-read it to any great degree, but I welcome comments and will engage with them. I also am happy to be corrected and learn from you.

The nice thing about lower body workouts, especially free-weight exercises that focus on functional, multi-joint systems rather than isolating muscles, is that they benefit the whole body in several ways.

Like with anything you wish to build, your body needs a good foundation - a literal and a metaphorical foundation. Full body strength, what should be the goal of any person trying to get stronger and healthier, begins from the ground up. Even shoulder presses and bench presses, properly performed, will have the feet on the ground, contributing to one degree or another. Upper body strength requires a strong upper back to maintain a healthy balance and avoid injury. A strong lower back is required to balance out and support a strong upper back. A strong core and strong glutes are necessary for a healthy and strong lower back... and so on to the hamstrings, quads, etc. And just like any good building, you don't focus on the beautiful windows, vaulted ceilings, etc. and THEN put down the foundation once you got everything else, you start with digging the hole and pouring the foundation.

Doing a back-squat will work your quads, your posterior chain, and your core – all things needed for a strong foundation. But additionally it will also help work your shoulders somewhat indirectly, just keeping the bar on your back. It will work your upper back, keeping your shoulders back and form tight, as well. It is a proper full body workout, to a degree, and any shoulder press or rows you do will be positively affected by a regular dedicated back-squat.

Similarly the Deadlift will strengthen your posterior chain, core, but also strengthen your upper back, your traps, and your grip, which helps with wrist and forearm strength.

Isolation exercises, besides being inefficient with time and energy, also are ineffective when you consider the stabilizing muscles that get left out, or need to be hit with their own exercise. And, even if you do hit them with their own exercise, the synergistic benefit of those muscles being practiced and worked together as a system is lost – this forfeits a hugely beneficial aspect of your workout.

Then, there is the metaphorical foundation... Your body responds in many different ways to stimuli. When it comes to your body's reaction to physical exertion, one of the ways is chemical/hormonal. The chemicals and hormones your body needs to recover from, adapt to, and build muscle after a workout, are produced based on, and in proportion to, the type, amount, and intensity of that workout. For example, your body will adapt and respond differently from a set of wrist curls than it will a set of rows or deadlifts... not just the caloric output and the specific muscle(s) worked, but much more. One hormone, as you well know, that your body will naturally increase its production of in response to a workout, is testosterone. The amount it increases, and the duration of time it remains increased, is often in proportion to the size of the muscle being worked, and the degree to which it was worked. One single set of 5-10 heavy deadlifts, which involved many large muscles including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and back muscles, will stimulate this hormonal response much more effectively than several isolation exercises. But, because that change in body chemistry will affect the whole body, when you do upper body exercises the next day, those muscles will be recipients of the beneficial increase in testosterone that was stimulated the day before... so, contrary to what may be intuitive on the face of things, squatting and deadlifting will actually help increase your upper body strength indirectly as well as the direct effect already discussed.

Additionally, your body is the result of eons of evolution. The way your body bends over to pick something up, or squats down under a load, is the way it PREFERS to do it - nay, the way nature/God DESIGNED it to do it. Your body recognizes these stimuli, and responds/adapts accordingly. When we work our bodies as systems – in so-called “functional” movements – our body responds better than when we sit in a machine that restricts our movements to single joint exercises leg extensions or hamstring curls.  As a novice, you not only need adapt your body (or re-adapt it, if you've been out of the gym a while, and are again a novice according to the above definition) to the basic, systemic movements before moving on to other assistance workouts, but your body will benefit from them more than the extraneous movements.

Furthermore, when in the novice stages, the weight we put on our bodies when doing all the multi-joint exercises, including the upper-body movements like standing press and bench press, as long as we are using free-weights, our stabilizing muscles are engaged sufficiently for them to get the workout they need.  The idea that we need to get the smaller, weaker points of our muscles developed before we do the big movements betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of how our bodies work: the big movements will be moved primarily by the bigger muscles, but our smaller muscles, and stabilizing muscles, still get worked, and because there is more weight on the bar, they will get worked, most times, better than lighter movements designed specifically for those smaller muscles.  Because our bodies are able to adapt quickly due to the relatively low weights of a novice, there is no need for three movements isolating the anterior, lateral, and posterior heads of the deltoid, for example. Rack pulls and paused stiff-legged deadlifts are unnecessary for someone who can still make 10, 5, or even 2.5 pound jumps in their conventional deadlift every other leg-day.

So, we've discusses how hitting our lower body more frequently will actually directly and indirectly benefit the entire body. We have discussed how multi-joint systemic movements are superior to isolation exercises.

It should be mentioned also that novices are leaving a LOT of progress on the table when they only devote a single day per week for legs, one for shoulders, one for back, etc. You are able to handle doing both Shoulders and Squats on the same day, or both Bench and DL on another, for example. And, if you're doing multi-joint “functional” movements, then you're saving time from doing several isolation exercises to hit the same muscles, and therefore you'll have time to do multiple muscle-groups in a single session.

One objection I get to these thoughts about hitting our muscles hard, heavy, and often, progressing and adding weight as often as we can, often from women, is that they don't want to get “big” or “bulky.” What people don't understand is that most women's hormone profile and genetics are insufficient to bulk without purposely designing their program (AND DIET) around such a goal. If you look at the women in Crossfit, many of them still look VERY feminine, and those that do not are VERY purposeful in their programs and what they put into their bodies.

Some of my points are covered in this video from Mark Rippetoe, and it is very much worth listening to.  It just came out the other day - very timely.  If you're not trying to get as strong as possible as quickly as possible, and/or if you have health concerns that have gotten you to a point where you like your diet, please ignore his part about a gallon of milk a day (GOMAD)... his point remains: your protein and caloric input has to exceed your expenditure if you're to build muscle, so you are probably not eating enough.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Year and a half later....

Well, another injury, and also the drama and depression that comes with a divorce, and here we are back at square one - again.

I sold all my workout equipment.  I moved out.  I have been working two jobs.  I have been lazy and feeling badly for myself.... basically lots of excuses - some more legitimate than others - and here I am.  I got a gym membership last month, and have been coming pretty consistently.  Weights/strength are progressing.  I have so far to go to be close to where I was 2 years ago, but right now I feel pretty good and motivated since the weights are moving in the right direction.

I probably won't update this blog much until I get back to where I was, but I felt like posting something.



Friday, April 15, 2016

Press PRs: Three and One Rep Maximums

I missed the Press double @ 217.5 on Monday, so I decided to try again today... and what to you know, I got a TRIPLE for my troubles!
So, why not try for a new 1RM PR, while I am it? Don't mind if I do!


Upset that I failed on 217.5x2 4 days ago, I wanted to try again.  Rep 2 went up easily enough that I decided to go for 3... and GOT IT!

An impromptu 3RM at my previous 1RM meant I HAD to go for a 1RM PR, right?  Heck yes it did! Loaded 245 onto the bar (accidentally) did some quick math, realized my mistake (I wasn't getting 245 tonight, no way), and put 235 on, instead.  It was a perfect weight... just enough grind to be barely possible, without the doubt that I might have been able to do more - the perfect attempt at a true Max Single!

It was a good day for Press!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

22 Squats for 22 Veterans

According to some statistics, 22 veterans take their own lives every day.  I am taking Untamed  Strength's Alan Thrall's challenge to do 22 bodyweight squats to raise awareness of this stat.  I am putting the end of Five Finger Death Punch's video for "Wrong Side of Heaven" at the end of the video to make this a bit more valuable than a simple act of slacktivism, so please watch it all the way to the end.

I hope you will like and share this video.  I am hoping you'll go to Alan's channel and like and share his video, and subscribe too, if you like his content.  Check out Five Finger Death Punch's powerful music video, as well.

Thank you to all those have served, are serving, or are family of those who are serving.  God bless you, and God bless The United States of America.








*As a student of one of the best political science statisticians in the country, I have to acknowledge that I know the 22 stat is pretty far off the mark.  But it doesn't matter, so please don't comment about it.  The point is clear: even 1 a week is far too many, if the reason is they didn't get the help they need, and should have had access to.  I am okay with this statistical error, if it helps.  You should be too.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Majorly Frustrated





On August 27th, 2015, this happened.
I have not been pain-free for a full 24-hour period since. I have considered the possibility that I may have herniated a disc, or something like that.

If you have read my recent posts, you know I took quite a while off, then tried to get back to it, had more pain, so I dropped Squats, DLs, and Cleans, to focus on Bench and Press. After over a month of this, I added them back in with a MASSIVE deload. There has been discomfort from time to time, but nothing to make me think this wasn't something that I couldn't live with... until today.

I will back up to a week ago: I learned that my city was going to have a powerlifitng meet. Most of the "local" meets are over an hour away (the one I competed in back in 2012 was 3+ hours away), and so the prospect of having a local meet got me excited. I knew I wouldn't be ready to compete in it this year, but the idea of it rekindled the desire I have to compete again in the near future, so I decided to see how heavy a moderately heavy feeling set of five would be on the squat. I got up to 245 and felt fine, but decided to not push it further. That night, I had some discomfort, but nothing alarming or out of the ordinary. That was Tuesday. Today, I tried for 3 sets of 5 at 250, but after a single set I was in quite a bit of pain. I skipped the other two sets, did some light DL (1×5@215), with no real increase on pain.

I think it may be time to see a doctor.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

ZZZZzzzzzz

Well, rehab is going much better than expected, but not as well as hoped.  My back has been in significantly less pain than normal, but there is still some discomfort while doing lower body exercises, and for a short while afterward.

Starting Squat, DL, and Cleans at 135, 185, and 95 pounds respectively, and then only going up five pounds each workout with Squat and Cleans, and ten pounds with DL, is INCREDIBLY boring.  The temptation to jump more is immense - almost irresistible - but the idea of hurting myself further is abhorrent enough to keep me to be rehab regimen.

One thing that used to make me feel better, but has actually only made things worse in recent months, is cracking my back.  The feeling - nay, the FEENING to crack  my back is constant and nigh on unbearable.  I have only given in a couple of times in the last several weeks, and I think that may also be contributing to the diminished pain (the resisting, not the few times I've given in)... but the need and compulsion to crack my back has not ebbed even remotely.

Bench 3x5@260 went ever so slightly better than expected (I got a sixth rep on the third set - it was a grinder, and my shoulder hurts now, though), so I anticipate going through with my planned deload on Press: starting 3x5+@175 tomorrow.  We'll see how it goes.  I will probably work my way up to a 200# single for an OWU, just to keep the joints and muscles accustomed to the heavy weight.

Monday, February 22, 2016

REALLY Slowing down; Press Failure

I got five reps on the first set of Press at 195, but sets two and three saw only 3 and 2 reps. I gave serious thought to going for 195 again on Friday, but I think I may deload (maybe to 175?). I think my desicion will be heavily influenced by my performance on Bench. If Bench does not stall, my ego should remain sufficiently intact enough for a 20lb deload on Press. However, if I stall on Bench, too, I may feel the need to prove something, come Friday. I know - I am nuts.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Slowing down; Micro loading.

Squatting hurt less after 140 and 145, and Power Cleans didn't hurt at all. But this morning I woke up with a lot of lower back pain, but it is hard to tell if that was more from Squats and Cleans yesterday, or weird sleeping positions last night/this morning.

My break-neck speed, progressing through Bench and Press, has slowed down considerably. I went to micro loading press last week, and went to micro loading bench this week. The planned weight for my last bench workout was 260, but OWU at 265 (I was planning a second heavier OWU, but decided against it) felt really heavy, so I went to 257.5, just in case. It felt heavy, as well. Sleep, diet, adding lower body back in (albeit ridiculously light), or other factors I can't think of could have contributed to it, but whatever the reasons, I don't want to push it so I am going to just take it easy with microloading.

I am back to hating the squat - mostly because my inflexibility causes me pain while squatting and I feel silly squatting such light weight - but I am looking forward to getting my DL numbers back up. With the 300lb Bench goal in the bag, I am itching to push Squat and DL past 400 and 500 respectively... I will have to make an extra effort to keep patient and not let myself push too hard or too quickly, so I can stay as healthy as possible. I must avoid all 1RM tests in Squat and DL until my work sets are to 375 and 475 respectively, I will never jump more than 5 pounds in the squat or 10 pounds in the DL, and I will begin micro loading much sooner than I normally would.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

[sigh] Will the pain ever go away?

I squatted.  It was light... like 135 pounds light... and my back hurt the next morning.  Not a lot, AND the heating pad I have been using nightly broke a few days ago, so that could be it... but I am still very unhappy.  We will see what tomorrow brings when I squat 140, and DL 185.


Bench and Press continue to improve.  Tonight I did 200x4 on Press which is a HUGE PR!!  The planned workout was 3x5@192.5, but - as usual - I am an ADD riddled fool, so I threw 200lbs on the bar and tried for five.  I failed, and that failure (plus some bad form in set 2, and insufficient rest before set 4) caused me to miss rep five in the final work-set, but I am still counting tonight as a win.

I went back down to the planned weight of 192.5 and got 5, 5, and 4.  I am going to continue micro-loading to 195 next Press day and see what happens.

*BONUS* I had very little pain between my shoulder blade and lower neck/upper back/spine, where I had LOTS of pain last press session.  This is VERY encouraging!!

Still doing five pound jumps in Bench - not micro-loading yet.  I got 3x5@255 on Saturday.

Here is a video of today's Pressing: