Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Reconsidering Assistance Work, Part 1

Somewhere along the way, we've only paid lip service to the SAID principle and forgotten the its true meaning. We speak of working on "sticking points" and "weaknesses"--lockouts for the triceps and extra hamstring work on the GH bench. Some people use these as excuses for exercise variety instead of just doing the hard work that is required to make real progress. Others, truly find success working these areas. The rest of us may just be confused.

But the reality is, great poundages have been hoisted on simple programs, probably more so than all the advanced programs combined. I say "probably" because I am no Iron Game historian--I just a casual follower.

After spending almost 2 years re-mobilizing--for lack of a better term--my body, I can say definitively that movement feels different--better, and yet sometimes strangely harder. I am writing this after completing the first day of my new training program, and although relatively high in volume (75 total work reps), my legs feel shakier and more taxed than I can recently remember and from doing very simple exercises--Snatch Grip Deadlifts and Front Squats (Separated by Military Presses).

From my vantage point on this side of "re-mobility," it is fair to say that trainees mistake lack of strength, or "weak links" for lack of mobility. Mobility work is by strictest (and admittedly newest) definition strength training. We tend to separate the two, but whether you're performing back squats or shoulder circles, you are providing your brain with proprioceptive input--one just happens to be loaded.

So far, we're just talking theory, so let's get down to brass tacks and look at a very simple exercise: the Squat.

Traditionally, the Squat is categorized as a "quad dominant" movement. Indeed, in the latest Strength and Conditioning Journal from the NSCA, they spoke of research using EMG analysis regarding muscle recruitment in the squat. Surprisingly, very little activation was reported in the hamstring musculature. I say "surprisingly" because now during the "re-mobility" period it seems they are one of the only muscle groups I feel after a squat session! At this point, I need to clarify that the squat they defining is not a full Olympic squat or a Westside-style power squat--it is an "athletic" squat, which is very similar to the traditional powerlifting squat.

Now, back to the hamstrings. What is the major difference between my experiences and the latest findings in the research? Well, for starters, I am an experiment of one, if you don't include my clients, who also perform mobility work and squat. Secondly, and here's the part I'm trying to sell, mobility work, especially Z-Health mobility work, changes everything. And by everything, I mean EVERYTHING.

Let's look at why a scientific study in a well-thought of journal would consider the squat a quad-dominant exercise. Traditional performance of the squat dictates a tight arch in the lower back with an upward eye position. These two variables alone are enough to eliminate the contribution of the hamstrings during the squat. Let me explain. The upwardly- fixed gaze usually results in the trainee fixing his eyes on one spot on the wall and keeping them there for the entire performance of the lift. This means the head and neck will rotate about the eyes resulting in cervical hyperextension. This movement causes compression of the cervical vertebrae and results in what's known as the arthrokinetic reflex. This reflex inhibits muscular recruitment when a joint becomes jammed. Cervical hyperextension inhibits the proper recruitment of the hamstrings as hip extensors during the squat, thereby shifting the load primarily to the glutes (for a little while, until that tight arch catches up to you--but more on that in a second or two) and the lumbar erectors.

But it gets worse. The tight arch in the lower back initiates an anterior pelvic tilt, which shortens the hip flexors, inhibits the recruitment of the deep abdominal wall (thus exposing the spine to potential harm), and pre-stretches the hamstrings and gluteals, which at first, doesn't seem like such a bad thing. Three things are actually occurring here:

1. When a muscle shortens (contracts) it's antagonist relaxes. This is called reciprocal inhibition. As the hip flexors shorten, the hip extensors relax. This would normally be a good thing except in this case, your spine is under load. So something needs to counter that anterior pelvic tilt which is busy compressing your vertebrae from L3-S1. Normally, this "something is supposed to be your gluteals, which act as a neutralizer against the pull of the hip flexors during the squat. This leads us to the second point:

2. Leaving a muscle on stretch, through passive or active means, decreases force production by up to 30%. That's huge! What's that got to do with squatting? That tight lumbar arch you're initiating when you squat is putting those glutes and hamstrings on one long stretch, decreasing the neural drive from the brain to the muscles effectively weakening them both during the squat and in the long run. But wait--it gets even better!

3. Adaptive Shortening. Sounds like some form of Crisco and it can be just as bad, if not worse for your long term health. That tight arch shortens your hip flexors which happen to be your psoas, illicus, and rectus femoris at a bare minimum. If proper hip mobility is not restored, these muscles remain short and then tighten keeping that pelvis in a permanent anterior tilt. This causes a permanent decrease in neural drive to the hip extensors (gluteals and hamstrings) which in turn leads to sensorimotor amnesia (use it or lose it). This of course causes problems all over the body, not just at the hip and low back, but also at the shoulders, thoracic spine, and neck, at a bare minimum.

Monday, December 24, 2007

5 And 1

...those are the numbers of significance from my last training cycle.

Upon closer examination of my training, it appears I can push it hard for five weeks, followed by one week of active rest.

Before Z, I couldn't get a bead on how my body would cycle. Recently, I've concluded that each microcycle can last about 10 days before a change and/or deload period, within the larger 5 week macrocycle.

Upon closer investigation, it appears that I one microcycle can last approximately five training sessions before I need to change it. Over this past cycle I noticed that after these five training sessions, I need to take an extra day of recovery--active recovery--Z-based.

One week ago today, I had my last heavy training session of that cycle. Since then, I've done two kettlebell workouts and one Olympic lifting session. The amount of muscle growth that I've seen this week has surprised me--Once again proving that even the simplest of programs can produce results in advanced trainees.

I'm applying these parameters to my next macrocycle, with the emphasis still on hypertrophy and strength. The last one yielded approximately 7lbs. of quality muscle. It'd be nice to see that much again. If that's the case, the end of the next cycle will put me almost on top of 230lbs. This means if I can keep everything timed appropriately, I could very well be 240lbs by the end of March.

Christmas dinner should help that along nicely.

This particular cycle I'll focus on Front Squats and Snatch Grip Deadlifts. I couldn't pull heavy and Back Squat heavy on this last cycle. I haven't decided exactly the loading parameters yet, but they will be based around 3s and 5s.

Getting back to Christmas, Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Make A Difference--Give Your Strength To Someone Who Really Needs It

It's Christmas-time again.

Which means most of us are trying to figure out exactly what our loved ones need. In case you're stumped, here's an alternative.

This year, why not make a difference in somebody's life who really NEEDS your help?

Why not donate money to a charity in a loved one's name. That way you honor your loved one and really help someone else in need. Everybody wins: You feel better about yourself; your loved one is honored; and someone gets something they need.

If you're stumped for ideas, try your local halfway house, food shelter, or HERE.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

30lbs In 72 Hours

Something told me when I designed the 3rd phase of my squat cycle that my frequency had to change--I just wouldn't admit it to myself at first. I'm glad I did.

Here's a recap of the cycle I put together. It's highly scientific and I'm absolutely sure no one has ever seen anything like this let alone done this before so you'll want to pay close and careful attention (he said, tongue-in-cheek, thus once again proving there is "nothing new under the sun").

Phase 1: Accumulation: 5x5, 2 minutes of rest, 3 days per week--approx 2 weeks
Phase 2: Intensification: 5x3, 3 minutes of rest, 3 days per week--approx 2 weeks
Phase 3: Realization: 3x3, 5 minutes of rest, 3 (?) days per week--approx 2 weeks

I had a hunch that I wouldn't be able to stay on Phase 3 for longer than 4 training sessions, as the higher the intensity (with regard to load, not effort) the quicker I adapt.

My goal was to get back into some sort of squatting "shape" (Hey, "round" is a shape...) by using 2 key indicators: 315lbs/5 x5 with a 2 minute rest and a 3RM of 405lbs. (Don't ask me how they correlate in my head, but for some strange reason they do...)

Anyway, I didn't realize how accurate my predictions about the "realization" phase would be: The heavy loading was very taxing on my NS and I found I couldn't squat every 48.3 hours but instead had to push it back to 72 hours. This all came in the form of a gut check around the 48 hour mark and I had to listen to my intuition--which in this case was what my body and mind were telling me. Each time, I decided to wait another day. And although I was tired, I became more efficient as the load increased within the training session, with each set being better than the former.

Yesterday, after a very demanding 48 hours and losing 5-7lbs in the same time frame, I decided I was ready for 405. I can't explain how, I just knew it. The previous three training sessions were as follows:
  • 363lbs/3 x5, 3 minutes rest on Sun, 12/9
  • 345/3, 355/3, 365/3, 5 minutes rest on Tues, 12/12
  • 355/3, 365/3, 375/3, 5 minutes rest on Fri, 12/15
And then last night's, 12/17:

365/3, 385/3, 405/3, 5 minutes of rest

The third rep of 405 was a little off. Looking back, I could've squeezed out a 4th rep if you made me. However, with the heavier loads, my form would falter a little bit--I'd kick the neck into extension. Once I would drop the chin back to neutral, I could drive my elbows forward again and stand up pretty explosively. This is something to work on for the next BSQ cycle.

Anyway, from an RPE standpoint 375/3 on Friday was about an 8.5 and last night was about a 9 or so. As I figure it that's approximately a 30lbs jump in 72 hours give or take a little bit on the RPE scale. Not bad, especially given the loss in bodyweight, which of course means very little except for leverage.

How'd I do that?

Obviously it's my outstanding program design skills--or then again, not.

The reality is Z-Health has taught me how to make my body more efficient in almost all movement. The more Z I practice, the easier movement becomes for me. Not only that, it makes the re-acquisition of old movement patterns that much easier. It was only about a month ago that I hit that 315/5 x5 while I was in FL. I've also noticed immediate improvements in the expression my leg strength while on the platform. It just feels lighter.

Interestingly enough, I was also able to break many of the rules of training, like load cycling of individual exercises within the training session. The other 2 exercises I used were the barbell military press and the weighted chin-up. Usually, it is prudent to pick one heavy, one medium, and one light exercise each day, cycle the H-M-L through exercises. I did not. I was able to lift continually heavier and heavier each training session. Last night's MP culminated in 205/3. Certainly nothing to write home about, but more than I've been able to in a long while, perhaps upto 3-4 years ago. Not only that, the squat load should've taxed my NS to a degree to prohibit an RM on the MP--which technically it was not--I think there was another 10lbs in there for another 3 reps.

The Z-Health is fascinating to play around with strength acquisition and expression. I have no doubt based on my current experience that I will achieve all my athletic goals. Although, technically speaking, this is strength re-acquisition. Although I might be able to counter that with the argument that my current squat mechanics are dissimilar to my pre-Z squat mechanics. Either way, it provides food for thought and certainly hope for the future.

One more thing I forgot to mention--last night's squats were pain free. I've NEVER squatted 405 pain free. That's a great feeling.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What Is Strength?

As long as I can remember, which is back in Virginia, age 4, hanging from the washing line uprights in my back yard with my next door neighbor trying to do a pull-up, I've been fascinated with strength. It wasn't until I was wrestling in high school that I truly understood the depth of that fascination.

Lately, I've been testing my strength in all sorts of ways I didn't expect, and very few of these involved weights.

So, what is strength?

The ability to lift the heaviest possible weight from the floor?

From the floor to overhead?

To lift a fixed weight as many times as possible in a given time period?

To run the fastest?

To run the furthest in the shortest time?

Some combination of the above?

Is it just for yourself?

Can you give it away?

Can someone take it from you?

Can you impose it unwillingly on others?

Is it like money in the bank?

I think it can be all of the above and much, much more.

As I have experienced it, I've come to realize strength has a very simple definition:
The Ability To Overcome.
It doesn't matter how you test it, it's whether you overcome the obstacle that's the measure of your strength.

I've also come to realize that strength is required for many, many things. Here are some of them:
  • To overcome temptation
  • To honor others
  • To honor your commitments
  • To turn the other cheek
  • To run from temptation
  • To run from evil
  • To stand and fight evil
  • To fight when you don't feel like it
  • To not fight when you do feel like it
  • To fight when you should and not fight when you shouldn't
  • To keep going no matter what the cost
  • To be courageous
  • To speak the truth even when it's uncomfortable
  • To love even when you don't feel like it
  • To withhold your love even when you desperately want to give it because it would be wrong to do so
  • To be accountable for your actions
  • To be honest
  • To defend those in need whether they know they're in need or not
  • To be humble
  • To admit you're wrong
  • To be gracious
  • To accept the praise of others
  • To protect yourself
  • To protect others
Those are just some of the things strength is used for.

I don't think I fully understood the meaning behind the title of my blog, Chasing Strength, when I chose it. Now I'm starting to...

So where does strength come from?

I'm sure there are many answers.

Some get it from addictions. Some get it from their significant other. Some get it from their kids. Some get it from competition. Some take it from others by force or coercion.

But I've come to realize there is another place--a better, safer, cleaner place.

The Bible says we are all created in the Image of God. So I can only assume after studying religion and philosophy in college and some theology since, that we are inherently born with a certain amount of it because God is Strength.

When I feel weak, I remember some of God's promises to me:

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go."

Joshua 1:9
And probably my favorite:

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;

31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

This begs at least two questions:

"Why are we designed in God's image to be strong?"
"Why are we designed to renew our strength in God?"

John Eldredge sums up these answers to these questions in his book, Wild At Heart.

To give my strength, God's strength, to those who need it.

For me, one of the places I receive my strength is on the platform.

It has become a place, one of the best places, to connect and meet with God. It has become for me, a holy place--a place set apart. This is why weightlifting is so important to me. It draws me close to God. It gives me strength.

I can't believe it has taken me 12 years to get here.

Thank God I have.

Monday, December 10, 2007

THIS Is How Well Z-Health Works.

Finally, Videos of the Meet.

Here's 120kg Snatch.

Here's 140kg Clean and Jerk.

Sorry about the poor quality. I'm not a techno-kinda-guy so the fact I'm posting this is tech-ie enough. Betsy actually filmed the DVD while it played. Not perfect by any means, but certainly good enough for the point to be made.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

2475kg. 15 Reps. 20 Minutes--Plus or Minus.

Or 165kg (363lbs)/3 x5 sets. After Snatches. After Cleans. Hardly anything to brag about, yet, a milestone. It's been at least 3, probably 4 years since I've lifted this.




At least three words to describe how I feel about it.

It went relatively well. My last rep was a little suspect as it felt like something, right glut med maybe, stopped working.

It shouldn't be this hard, though. But, alas, therein lies the joy--overcoming the struggle. I was experiencing a little more mental discomfort than I normally care for as I approached this training session, which I guess can be expected: Over the years, these weights started playing havoc with my nervous system--startle reflex without knowing it.

But tonight, everything felt smooth once I got under that first set. I am experiencing a weird, almost eerie calm during this type of training. I've never experienced it in the past--except of course at the meet last month. Peace of God I guess. I distinctly remember feeling very "grounded" underneath the bar--I could feel my whole foot--both of them--on the floor with even pressure between them throughout the each rep. Very weird. Everything's firing in the order in which I assume it's supposed to fire. And the best part: Pain free. I guess that's why I approached this session, and some previous ones with a little bit of trepidation--because in the past they caused so much pain.

The crazy thing was that this must have been tougher on my CNS than I thought--probably from an emotional perspective--because after dinner, and even throughout really, all I wanted to do was go to sleep.


Today's Monday. Last night I crashed hard. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I've been relatively tired all day and I've been sucking on the B5's.

No major soreness except for the traps. Left glute and right adductor are more sore than the rest of the legs. Sign of a good training session and I know with these types of loads I am really starting to cement my new squat style.

Really looking forward to tomorrow's training. Starting to think about the next cycle too. Perhaps I'll switch over to FSQs and I'm going to throw in some Snatch-grip DLs. Can't seem to mix these with the heavy BSQs--yet.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Defining Yourself As A Result of Understanding Life...

I love movies that speak to my heart: About Struggle. About Adventure. About Good and Evil. I loved this the first time I saw it. It's from Rocky Balboa. Rocky is talking to his son. It's a perfect example of what fathers are supposed to do and the power of one man to speak life and truth into the life of another.


Friday, December 07, 2007

Almost There.

Almost back to baseline.

For me to start feeling "strong," or at least semi-strong, I need to be able to hit 185kg/405lbs on the BSQ for a triple. I should be there in about 16-17 days. Not a lot of weight for sure, but like I said, this is "baseline."

I've been very impressed with how my body's responded to this last squat cycle. My strength has come back very quickly. Dr. Cobb was right: Once we removed the compensations it would return very fast. So, I'm actually looking forward to his next prediction: A 30% strength increase above previous bests. That would put me on the medal stand at Nationals. I sense this to be true by the speed at which my strength has returned. We'll see.

This week has been a bridge: I decided to go with the 5x3 since the 355/5 x3 on Sunday was a 9 on the RPE scale. Last night I hit an easy 345/3 x5 with 3 minutes rest. Sunday will be 365/3 x4-5.

Then Tuesday starts the 3x3 with 5 minutes rest. True strength training. My favorite.

Bodyweight's staying up too--holding pretty steady around 220lbs pretty routinely. Time to eat more.

Going to the platform tomorrow. Should be even more fun now that my leg strength is returning.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Resistance and Momentum

...Really are the keys to growth--Any growth.

There's a group of "enlightened" individuals in the strength training industry who dictate slow even tempos while training to avoid momentum while lifting. They also eschew any ballistic lifting seeing it as too dangerous and derived almost exclusively from momentum to be of any real benefit to strength trainers. However, the late Dr. Siff pointed out all movement begins with momentum, no matter how slight.

And as it is in the weight room, so it is in life.

Apparently, I've been burning the candle at both ends without knowing it, which explains the lack of blogging for the last 9 days. I was at our friends house last Saturday for dinner, had 2 Newcastle's with dinner (I usually only have one or some wine) and then spent 45 minutes or more in the hot tub after dinner. I was done for. I don't know what it was exactly, but it seemed everything fell apart. When I got out, everything hurt. I don't suppose it helps that I don't fit in the hot tub--I have one of those extra long torsos which makes staying fully immersed a little difficult and causes you to scrunch down. Somehow, Sunday, I was able to train--barely after sleeping at least 10 hours. Monday through Wednesday I don't remember much about, only that I was hyper-loading Vitamin B5 in an attempt to keep my brain working without slurring my words or transposing words in sentences or completely blanking out mid-sentence.

It was bad. Very bad.

Tuesday, I had to go home mid-afternoon and take a 90 minute nap. Training was the furthest thing from my mind.

The only thing that kept me going in my business was momentum. (And my clients' graciousness I suppose.) When you've been training clients as long as I have, it seems you can do this almost on autopilot, unless of course somebody throws a wrench in the works. Fortunately, no one did.

This was a form of resistance for me. And for the first time in life, it seems I didn't get upset about not training. I relied on the momentum I had generated in the last month or so to carry me through the rest of this cycle. So on Thursday, after 3 days of barely doing any physical activity, including Z, I climbed back under the bar to hit Tuesday's squat session. The weight, 325lbs, felt like a ton of bricks and I wondered if I were about to get crushed, even though the previous Friday's 335 felt like a hot knife through butter. I banged out the program, a 3x5 with 3 minutes rest. The last set my CNS finally got the message and woke up.

Life is the same way I recently discovered. If I just move despite the resistance, I build up momentum and start moving closer toward the goal. Too many of us forget this valuable lesson and give up at the first sensation of strain or discomfort.

Yesterday, I went to the platform and banged out some very easy, very light snatches and cleans, just to get moving.

And today, I climbed under the bar again at my studio, where the weight always seems heavier than anywhere else, and faced the resistance. The resistance took the form of doubt this time--doubt that I had the energy to do the work. It turned into an exercise of faith and then a process of worship of my Creator. Tonight's session was 355lbs or 160kg, depending on where I decided to train, for a 3x5 in the back squat with a 3 minute rest. 315 felt heavy but do-able. So as an exercise of faith, in order to overcome the resistance of doubt, I used the momentum I had created and knocked off my first set. It felt relatively easy and my technique was certainly better than it was on Thursday with 3olbs less.

The second set was challenging.

And the third set was pretty unbelievable.

To be honest, I don't know where the strength came from. This is a new paradigm in training for me. I just step out, squat down, and trust that my body will have the strength to stand up. My mind isn't even part of the equation it seems. Or perhaps it's my emotion. Whatever the case, it's new and different. No psyching. Nothing. Just down and up. And down and up.

I think success in life, however one measures it, is as simple as that: Using the momentum of getting moving to overcome any resistance which in turn makes you stronger, and much more likely to achieve your goal: Take the mind out of it--Don't think, just do.

Tonight's training:

A. Back Squat: 355/5 x3; 3 minutes rest
B. Military Press: 185/5 x3; 3 minutes rest
C1. Chins: Bdwt/6 x3; 60 secs. rest
C2. 2 Hand Swings: 130lbs/10 x3; 60 secs. rest

Tomorrow I may do some light KB complexes for recovery and definitely some Z.

I shall decide on Tuesday whether to keep going for a second cycle of 3x5 or make a quick switch on the fly for a transition week of 5x3 before the 2 week taper of 3x3. I'm assuming my body will know by then.