Thursday, December 11, 2014
WOW! It's been 3 months since my last blog!! Who am I?!?!
Well, I am many things, but right now, I am a man fascinated by what our minds and bodies can accomplish when we are mentally and emotionally focused.
In my last blog (did I mention that it was written over 3 months ago!?!), I talked about how I wanted to shift my focus from "working out" in the gym to "practicing." Practicing lifting heavy things and swinging kettlebells. The disctinction being that when I go to the gym in a "working out" mentality, I go there with a set goal, I go there to tucker myself out, and I go there thinking, "OK, let me get in there in make it through this workout"
Many of you that have been my SP bud for a while now have known that I've been very enthusiastic about my workouts these past few years. I've enjoyed the hell out of lifting weights, kettlebell workouts, spin classes, you name it, I'll tear it up in the gym. I even competed in a bunch of amatuer Powerlifting Tournaments and finally passed the 1000 lb mark last June (see blog bit.ly/1nD2u5j )
But as the weights got heavier in training, I slowly came to dread going to the gym. The fears were momentary, fleeing in and out of consciousness as I walked to the gym and changed in the locker room. Crazy thoughts would pass across my mind; "Oh man, this one is going to hurt today" or "Sheesh, I don't know if I can lift XXX lbs today" or the perennial "Why am I doing this to myself?"
The next day, I'd proudly proclaim how I nailed a workout, how I loved being sore the day after, how satisfied I was with working to muscle failure
Next time, I'd go in anyway and lift hard. I created 1, 2, and 3-month long lifting plans, carefully cycling in weeks of heavy lifts interspersed with days of lighter "de-load" weeks. Some days I'd go in and nail the days' program, other days, I struggled and beat myself up for not making all the programmed lifts of the day. And God forbid I should get sick or not make it to the gym a certain day for that would throw off my entire program!
So about 3 months ago, after much reading (more on that later) and soul searching, I decided that I needed to change my approach. I needed to stop thinking about "getting in a workout" and to think about how to practice a skill. I wanted to shift away from making exercise a traumatic experience and to approach it like learning any other skill; playing an instrument, painting, or dancing....none of these are associated with physical pain, but each one improves with daily practice. Treat strength like a skill.
I've been reading a lot about daily practice, the idea that to get good at something you should do it every day. This is in sharp contrast to what I've read in mainstream media about how you should work each body part to failure on different days of the week, then, after 5-7 days when you're recovered, go back in and blast your legs, arms, chest, shoulders, etc. You do squats to failure on Monday, shocking your legs with an intensity that will cause them to adapt and grow, then spend the rest of the week doing the same to other body parts, giving your legs a break till next Monday, praying that the zombie apocalypse doesn't happen on Tuesday morning.
So lately, I've been reading a lot about how Russian and Bulgarian weight lifters train and it's very different (Oh my God, I may have to make amends to Stasi Guy!). Their concept is that you should develop the practice of lifting every day, getting your body accustomed to the movement through repetitive training. You pick the lifts you want to get good at and do them every day.
I also read a book called "Squat Every Day" by Matt Perryman. As its title suggests, he advocates the same approach based on his study of Russian and Bulgarian weight lifters. But he adds a few twists.
The first is to re-evaluate our whole concept of what fatigue and overtraining means. He asks, rightly, what part of us is fatigued...is it our muscles, is it our joints, or is it our nerves and emotions, our brain responding to the work.
The second twist is that he states that doing the same lifts every day leads to fewer injuries. Training the movements every day keeps our tendons, ligaments and joints in shape as much as our muscles.
The third and most important twist is to watch our emotional state of mind. That getting all revved up and anxious actually drains our energy and makes recovery even tougher. We should train in a calm state, clearing our minds, getting our bodies used to the heavy loads.
And that is the real key....to get used to lifting heavy weights on a regular basis so that they're not so traumatic when we go in to the gym.
So for the last 2 months, that's what I've been doing. I'm averaging 5-6 days/week going in and squatting, benching, overhead pressing, and deadlifting heavy weights.
Now the final twist, to make this sustainable, is to not go in and do 3 sets of 5 at a heavy weight. Instead, the point is to establish a "Daily Training Minimum" the lightest heavy load that I can go in on any given day and lift....one time.
For me that's about 85-90% of my max from my previous Powerlifting meet. I go in, do a few warm up sets building up to that daily training minimum....and I lift it one time.
Over the course of a week, I'll have lifted that heavy weight about 5 times, not to mention all my warm-ups prior to it. On days I feel good, I might lift the weight 2 times (2 sets of 1 rep)
I spend a fair amount of time getting calm at the bar, getting into a relaxed state before I squat, press, or pull. I know that the whole purpose of picking the daily training minimum was so that I could go in on a good day, a bad day, a sick day, or a busy day and lift that weight one time. I remind myself of that...then just do it, focusing on getting the form right, staying calm, and exerting myself just enough but not to the point where I'm all psyched and wound up.
Then I give it a score.
The next big twist is to give yourself a score based on your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). It's a 6-10 scale where you ask yourself, could I have done one more rep, two more reps, 3 more reps, or no more reps. Depending on where I'm at, if I felt I could have done 2 more reps, I add a little more weight to the bar and try again, then give it another score as above. When I get to the point of no more reps, or even if I say yeah, I had one more rep in me.....I stop.
This adds up to a lot of weight over the course of a week, but no one training day is that hard. If I'm tired or rushed, I do the daily training minimum and I'm done, no fuss, because I know I'll be in tomorrow to do it again.
And the results....well as I add weight based on my RPE, I find I'm Squatting 315 lbs about 2-4 times a week, Bench Pressing 255 lbs 1-2 times/week, Overhead Pressing 155 lbs 4-5 times/week, and deadlifting.....well deadlifting is different.
I deadlift every day, but I only go heavy with it about twice a week. Unlike the other lifts, deadlifts start from a dead stop with the weight on the ground (hence it's name). With all the other lifts, there's a little bit of gravity helping you on the way down and you can actually use that to help you squat and press.
So with the deadlift, I go heavy twice a week (about 315 lbs). On other days I will do 2-3 sets of 225 to 275 for 3-5 reps, again adjusting based on how I feel that day. The important part is to practice the movement. Last week I deadlifted 365 lbs and the guy next to me looked over and said, "Man you made that look easy!" Of course my ego demanded I add another 20 lbs to the bar, but I had reached my RPE limit and called it a day....curbing ego is a big part of the practice mindset.
And oh yeah, I'm still swinging kettlebells and doing Turkish Get-ups. I'm pretty comfortable swinging a 70lber for 3-4 sets of 10 swings and I'll do 1 or 2 Turkish Get-ups on each side with the same KB as well.
The result is that I feel amazingly stronger, more confident, and a lot less anxious about any given training day. Instead of concentrating all that training into one day on one body part, I have spread it out over the course of a week....I'm actually lifting more in a given week, but the effect of any one day is less....the key is dong a little bit every day.
We'll see how it goes. My next Powerlifting meet is at the end of February. My goal is to start each lift with my max from the previous meet...and at this rate, I think I can make that easy.
Till next time....have a great night Spark friends!
Wednesday, September 03, 2014
Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers, believes that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve Mastery in any field.
That's about 4 hours every single day for almost 7 years.
For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about what it means to master certain skills. I'm a pretty goal oriented person; I like setting tough, but achievable objectives and building a plan to get there. This has helped me immensely in my personal and professional life.
Many of you know my story....pack a day smoker for over 25 years, then I decided to quit and take up running. I went from couch potato, huffing and puffing my way around a high school track to first time marathoner in about 9 months. I ran 5 more marathons in a 3 year period, then suffered an injury and took up cycling and weight lifting. I stopped riding when we moved to Virginia last year when I gave my bike to our older son in North Carolina.
I did however stick with the weight lifting and set a goal to lift a combined 1000 lbs between squats, bench press, and deadlifts sometime this year. I finally achieved that at the end of June.
So now I don't have any big goals and I feel a little adrift. I got into Kettlebells back in February and they are pretty freaking awesome. There's no real gold standard to shoot for with Kettlebells. There's an outfit called Strongfirst ( www.strongfirst.com/ ), that has a pretty tough certification involving timed Double Kettlebell Swings, Double Cleans, Double Presses, Double Front Squats, Snatches, and Turkish Get-ups. It's an instructor certification, which I really don't need (I'm pretty much a hardass when it comes to instructing....I make Stasi Guy look like the Sugar Plum Fairy. This has helped me immensely in my professional life, but only gets me in trouble at home when I try to pull that sh!t on SWMBO!)
These last few weeks, my focus has been on mastering the skill of lifting heavy things and putting them back down. The amount of weight is kind of important, but I'm most really interested in HOW I'm doing the lifts or swinging that kettlebell. I try to make sure that my form is really perfect, that I get down low in the squats, that I pause for a moment with the bar on my chest for the bench press, that I'm really conscious of using all the right muscles when pulling up a deadlift.
Same with the kettlebell. I'm way more interested in making sure that every swing is perfect, strong, & powerful, stopping only when my form goes to hell. Sometimes that's only 5-6 swings, sometimes 20 or more.
Now I will say that today, for the first time, I finally did a Turkish Get-up with a 72 lb Kettlebell! I've been struggling with this bad boy for almost a month. At first, all I could do was hold that beast over my head, my shoulders and arms shaking as I tried to keep it stable. But today, everything felt just right and I decided to go for the full monty. I warmed up with a 53 lber, then heaved that 72 lber in the air.....and up I went.
Forgetting everything I said above about keeping good form, I looked pretty much like a gawky, newborn foal trying to stay stable against this thing called gravity. But I took a quick break then tried it again. If my first attempt was ugly, my second was an abomination!
But it felt great! Afterwards I just laid on the floor gazing up at the gym ceiling, feeling the peace that angels must know when they're allowed to gaze upon the divine countenance of God!
That's when it hit me....I could be happy practicing just like this the rest of my life. I can have goals....or I can just practice.
I'm always focused on having a goal, a number to shoot for, a distance to run, a time to beat, a weight to lift. I go to the gym to workout, to work up a sweat and burn some calories, then come log the minutes onto SP.
What if I were to just....practice....practice lifting heavy things with the best form I can....practice swinging these heavy kettlebells gracefully and with maximum power. What if my goal should be to stay with that 72 lb kettlbell and just practice perfecting my TGU form, going fluidly from position to position.
It's kind of a zen thing....meditation and contemplation with action. The numbers are a good guide, but what's really important is to find that sweet spot where maximum effort is balanced with perfect form and tight mental focus.....Mastery, where movement becomes art.
We'll see. Maybe I just have too many endorphins still coursing through my system....I'll have to come back and read this blog in a few weeks or months to see if it still makes sense to me!
Have a great night Spark friends!
Sunday, August 03, 2014
So, when we lived in Florida, I worked out with a trainer for over 3 years straight. Many of you remember I affectionately referred to him as "Stasi Guy", a sadistic brute of either East German or Russian origin, he grew up learning advanced torture techniques somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. He had no soul and put me through endless tortures under the guise of helping me "get in shape". I hated him, yet I kept going back, 3x/week for 3 years.
When we moved to Virginia last year and I developed my own personal training program based on my 3 years with Stasi Guy. Even on my own, I kept hearing his thick Slavic accent in my brain, egging me on whenever I felt like quitting, "Vat izz dees? (What is this?). U must doo tree more reps before vee moof on! (You must do three more reps before we move on!)"
Well about 2 months ago, I hired a new trainer, thinking I'd found someone with whom I could perfect my kettlebell technique. Somehow, he (let's call him "granola-eater"....I haven't been able to find any better way to describe him) pulled off a successful bait and switch on me, because in 3 months we haven't once touched a kettlebell, but have instead been doing all sorts of mobility and range of motion drills. (see blog bit.ly/1s16SJW )
Yesterday, I read the Current Status of one of my Sparkbuds, NancyAnne55, where she said something about how her trainer had made her do some crawling type moves, which I thought was pretty cool, because just the other day, a guy in one of the on-line kettlebell forums I hang out in mentioned the benefits of doing crawls as well. (see video bit.ly/1s1uGNU )
How much more karma do I need!
So when I showed up for today's session, I told granola-eater that I'm going to start my next round of Strength Training to get ready for another Powerlifting meet at the end of October (see blog bit.ly/1nD2u5j ).....and oh by the way does he know anything about how to do crawls.
He almost chokes on the mouthful of trail mix in his mouth. As he washes it down with a sip of some frothing mocha latte cappuccino crap from Starbucks, his eyes light up and he launches into a tirade of, "Oh my God Yes! Do you mean Bear Crawls, Panther Crawls, or Spiderman Crawls? Watch!" and dives down to floor to give me a demo of 3 different and painful ways in which you can contort your body on the ground
I look down at my shoes, shake my head and mumble, "I don't know, dude, I just heard they were good for you."
Now he becomes super-animated, on some trail mix/caffeine high and says, "OK, here's what we're going to do, to get you ready for your Powerlifting meet, we'll do some deadlifts, some Spiderman Crawls, and some ball slams!" (I didn't like the sound of that last one, but decided to get my mind out of the gutter)
"What's a confortable deadlift for you, a number where you'd feel good doing about 6-8 reps?"
Now he was in my territory.....this is where the Lion pounces on the Gazelle!
I shrugged my shoulders back a little, "Well, I did 395 lbs at the end of June (see video bit.ly/1qIEifg ). I'd be OK doing 255-275 lbs" I said as I man-stared right into his 20-something baby blues.
"Hmmm, OK, tell you what, let's just shoot for 225 to make it easier to load the bar"
The Lion was about to enjoy the feast!
At one end of the gym, he sets up a bar with 225 lbs for deadlifts and at the other end he places a 20 lb slam ball.
The Lion is wondering what kind of crazy evasive move the prey just pulled.
"OK, so here's what we're going to do, I want you to do 8 deadlifts, then Spiderman crawl to the slam ball, give me 8 ball slams, then run back for some more deadlifts"
"Yeah, OK.....what's a Spiderman crawl again?"
He gives me a demo....here's a picture and a video I found on Youtube ( bit.ly/1qTftCk )
The Lion's wondering whether or not this gazelle is worth it....maybe I should turn around and go after that one I saw limping at the end of the herd
Anyways, I chalk up my hands and crank out 8 perfect deadlifts with 225 lbs.....piece of cake. Then I contort myself into a pretzel on the ground and start Spiderman crawling over 20 yards to get to the Dynamax Slam Ball. By the time I stand up after the crawls, I am out of breath. I pick up the 20 lb slam ball, thankful to be doing some more strength moves.
But after slamming that thing down as hard as I can just 5 times, I am beat. I finish up 3 more then saunter back to the deadlift bar.
Granola-eater is still nursing his frothing mocha latte cappuccino crap, peers over his rimless glasses and says, "OK, take a minute to catch your breath, then let's do this again."
I am seriously starting to hate this guy.....fond memories of Stasi guy begin to form in my mind, like an abused child remembering only the good times in an abusive household.
I gird myself up for another round, finish off the 8 ball slams, and make it back huffing and puffing.
Hands on my knees, my head hanging low, I look up at granola-eater and plead with him, "Please don't make me hate deadlifts.....they're my favorite exercise....I don't want to associate them with these traumatic memories"
He chuckles into his frothing mocha latte cappuccino crap, almost horking some through his nose, "You're fine, just take a minute and keep going"
We did 8 rounds of that insanity.....it felt tike the universe just slowed down and focused all the pain it held into those tiny few minutes from when I picked up the bar for that first deadlift to throwing down the last slam ball.
Finally, we were done.....the whole session took less than 30 minutes.
As we unloaded the bar, I looked over at Granola-eater. "Dude, unless you're going to give me some massage therapy for the remaining 30 minutes of our time today, we're done!"
"Ok, that sounds fine. You did really good. I can see that was a challenge....oh by the way, you need to renew your lessons before next week"
As I walked down to the desk to charge up another 5 sessions with this madman, I told myself it wouldn't be too late to just make a beeline for the door, find another gym to workout at on Sundays and never look back.
But no, I renewed for another 5 sessions, telling myself, this was all good for me, this was all good for me, this was all......
So, maybe the problem all those 3 years I cursed Stasi Guy out under my breath, wasn't really about Stasi Guy....maybe it was me....maybe I just secretly hate anyone who trains me....maybe it's not them....it's ME!
Have a great night Spark friends!
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Admit it Spark friends, when we were kids, more always meant better.....hell even today how many of us secretly believe that more is better than less....
.....come on raise your hand and admit it!
Many of us are here because more food was always better than less food, more dessert was better than less dessert, more lazing around was better than less lazing around, etc, etc, etc.
Maybe the only thing that contradicted this thought was......
Less exercise was always better than more exercise.....hell, no exercise was just damn fine (at least it was by me, your story may be different.....but was it really?)
Well many years ago, at the tender age of 47, I decided to reverse my body's decline. I stopped smoking and started running. At first I could barely do a 1/4 mile at the track. I huffed and I puffed and slowly began to extend the distance.
Being a lifelong Type A kind of guy, it wasn't long before I got the running bug and decided that if a 3-mile run was good, then 5 miles was better.....but really, I should shoot for 10 miles. But if I was going to do that, why not a half-marathon? Half-marathon? Why the hell not just go for the Full Monty and train for a full marathon.
More is always better than Less
A few years ago I started lifting weights and shifted from Running to Strength Training. I started barely able to squat, press or deadlift 50-100 lbs, then slowly got the hang of it (with the help of a sadistic trainer who had some ties with various former Soviet Block interrogation agencies!). All of that was good, but late last year I decided to take it up a notch and began competing in some Amateur Powerlifting Competitions. The Gold Standard there is to be able to lift over 1000 lbs between squat, bench press, and deadlift.....and I finally achieved that last month (see blog bit.ly/1nD2u5j ).
More is always better than Less
But a strange thing happened as I trained for my last powerlifting competition......I trained less
I trained for shorter amounts of time and with less weight......but I trained more frequently
Instead of spending 90 minutes in the gym, doing 5 sets of 10 repetitions with various leg exercises, then the next day spending 90 minutes in the gym, doing 5 sets of 10 repetitions with various back exercises, and the next day, spending.......you get the picture
Instead, 3-4 days a week for about 45 minutes, each day I focused doing the exercises that worked the most muscles, but I did only 2 sets of 5 repetitions, and I did them with between 60-80% of my max limits. At the end of each rep, I asked myself, "OK, can you do that again tomorrow?" If the answer was yes, I continued. If the answer was no, I stopped.
Doing it this way, I ended up working out my whole body more frequently during the week, but to keep myself from burning out, I actually dialed the volume down a few notches.
Less heavy, but more frequent workouts......Hmmmm. Could Less be better than More?
Well the results speak for themselves.....In June I lifted 50 more lbs than my previous competition in February and finally crossed the 1000 lb barrier.
So what's my takeaway from all of this? Well I'm an avid reader and researcher, and have been finding plenty of good discussions and experienced people that advocate working out in a sustainable manner, getting away from no pain, no gain, and constant soreness to working out in a manner where you always have some gas left in the tank at the end of a workout, enough so that you can do the exact same workout the next day and the next. Workout just a little less hard, but workout more frequently
Bodybuilders and Olympic Lifters keep pushing the limits because they live in a totally different realm of training and experience.....I am not one of them. I just want to keep getting better and better, and to stay injury free while doing so.
So I'm trying something new....micro-workouts.
Before I get into that, let me say that I fully intend to keep working out in the gym. I've recently fallen in love with Kettlebells (see blog bit.ly/1kJ7CT7 ) and so will continue training with them. I'm also going to start back up with the Strength Training in August (I took a 1 month break after June's Powerlifting Competition).
What I'm going to do (I actually started doing this Monday) is to incorporate some micro-workouts into my day.
Here's the deal. I don't know about you all, but I have a job that keeps me seated most of the day. During my morning & afternoon commute, I walk about 15-20 minutes each way. I get up and stretch my legs some during the day, but aside from gym time, I'm pretty sedentary most of the day.
So Monday, I brought my kettlebell and ab wheel to work
For the last 3 days, every hour on the hour (almost), I close the door to my office (yeah, I'm lucky to have an office....this might be tough to do in a cubicle farm) and do 20 one-handed kettlebell swings (10 left and 10 right) and 10 ab roll-outs
These go real fast, less than a minute. They're somewhat intense (explosive is more like it). At the end, my heart rate is up some and I'm breathing a little heavy, but nothing major.
So far so good. I feel good and balanced. My thinking is that 90 minutes of activity in a day, followed by 22.5 hours of sedentary living isn't a good balance. Maybe a little more constant activity spread out through the day is a better way to use our bodies.
Let me know what you think Spark buds, can less can be better than more?
Have a great night!
Thursday, June 26, 2014
Here's my 395 lb deadift...my last lift of the day at the 25 Jun Powerlifting Competition where I totalled 1005 lbs.
Not bad for a 54 year old adult onset weightlifter!!
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