Sunday, May 30, 2010

Managing fatigue with a change to a circuit routine

I am fast approaching a rest week in my usual training cycle, and I slept lousy Friday night.  I had scheduled a 16kg Rite Of Passage Heavy day on Saturday but expected to complete around 2 5-rung press ladders, a set of 5 chinups, and maybe 250 swings.  That's the state I was in.  I was sore, I was tired, and I had carried a crick in my neck for nearly a week.  Instead, I broke personal records in total number of swings, Military Presses, and weighted pullups (my first ever 5 reps +15lb).  These were significant increases in total volume on the worst practical day I could have tried it.

I had been reading mc's fine columns on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness lately, trying to approach both the pinch in my neck and the soreness that was scheduling my rest week.  The research strongly endorses cardio acceleration before exertion both to quicken recovery and to minimize strength loss, moreso than massage or stretching or cool-down, even more than contrast water therapy afterward.

I remember discovering, quite by surprise back in January, that I could do more pullups in circuit training than in longer sets of pullups, nearly twice as many total in a workout.  I didn't have an explanation at the time, but the familiar way my lats simply freeze up on me when they've had enough has led me to believe it was an issue of recovery and not capacity or strength.  What follows was an application of circuit routine design to manage fatigue and recovery.

My usual cycle in an ROP press day works as follows.

Turkish Get-Up: 1-3 on each side during warmup
Begin circuit -
+ 5-rung MP ladder
+ 5 Goblet Squats
+ Pullups if they are on the day's schedule
+ 2-3min active recovery, including overhead walks with each arm

Repeat circuit until 5 total
Swings: 24/min 2H alternating with 20/min 1H for 8-12min total

I made a change this weekend after reading the research on cardio acceleration before heavy lifting.  I was really concerned about pushing long when I could feel the onset of a rest week.  All I originally intended with this design was to raise circulation before lifting so I could complete 2 or 3 ladders without wearing out.  Keep in mind that, at each single step in this schedule, I expected to complete about half the total volume that I eventually logged.

Turkish Get-Ups: 3/3 during warmup
5 weighted pullups +15lb
Begin circuit -
+ Swings: 24/min 2H, then 20/min 1H (2min)

+ 5-rung MP ladder
+ 5 Goblet Squats
+ 60step overhead walk on each arm (roughly the perimeter of my gym's rooftop)

+ 1-2min active recovery (shorter than usual)
Repeat circuit to 6 total
Swings: 24/min 2H, then 20/min 1H for additional 4 sets each

When all was said and done, this was the first time I had completed 6 ladders of 5 rungs apiece.  I had also completed a total of 440 swings @16kg in 20 discontinuous minutes; my previous best was 400 @12kg in 20 straight minutes almost 5mos ago.  There was a rotation built into this routine of lower pull with cardio, upper body dynamic press, lower body press, upper body static press, and walking for recovery.  After adding 8min of traditional swings at the end, this was accidentally a pretty well-balanced workout.

Completing consecutive sets builds conditioning and stamina, where a full recovery between sets trains strength; this is common knowledge.  I cannot say I felt "rested" between 2 sets of swings and a press ladder, but each ladder did stagger less from fatigue than usual.  I actually found a second wind and a smoother form after the third complete ladder.  The grip failure I usually struggle with in long sets of swings did not come up until the last minute or two of the entire day.  The intermittent swings kept my heart rate up, kept my muscles perfused with blood, and managed the single limiting factor in most every movement in my routine.

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