Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crashing through barriers

There's a quote common to the Iron Radio podcast that I like, "crashing through barriers". One of the show's regulars frequently greets skinny-weak new clients with instructions to gain 20lb immediately, by any means necessary, and maintain that weight while they get strong until further notice. It's radical, but it has worked again and again. Losing weight is just eating less and walking more. Anybody can lose weight, but building lean body mass is expensive and time-consuming and limited by things like age, genetics, and endocrinology.

My weight crept up and down for almost 3 weeks while I (only) slightly overate and my lifts went nowhere. I even spent the week of Thanksgiving with a family member in the hospital, running around, carrying stress, eating cafeteria food. It wasn't until after Thanksgiving that I finally broke the inertia.

March, 2013 - 151lb; 185lb back squats, low bar, 1 set 5 reps
Nov 10, 2013 - 154lb
Nov 17, 2013 - 159lb
Nov 28, 2013 - 157lb
Dec 02, 2013 - 161lb; 185lb back squat, high bar, 5 sets of 7
Dec 05, 2013 - 164lb; 185lb back squat, high bar, last set, 15 reps

Before various readers question why I'm doing full squats instead of half squats for KB jerk (because squats), why I'm outside my weight class (temporarily), why I'm not running (torn calf), or why I'm not following the Lupatin and Rudnev paper (blogged about it) on mass and max strength, just don't. You know who you are. Don't.

I couldn't launch the green bells overhead when my legs got tired. I couldn't straighten my spine and breath in the rack. I was 147lb, against my will, for 5 years. My L5/S1 disc was loose. Today, this session, this bodyweight, all that is drifting further behind me.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

21-day Squat Challenge Report, Fall of 2013

I finished 21 straight days of squat on Sunday, 08 Sep. I posted an early introductory piece a couple weeks ago, and this will be a summary of how it went. While this idea of high frequency training, even daily near-maximal training, is common to the Olympic weightlifting paradigm, I have to credit Nick Horton for this particular challenge. (,


First, I came into this fresh off a kettlebell sport season, only two days after a meet and a road trip. I had not lifted heavy in months, so I began with a 4-day warmup. I also had a multi-pronged need to maintain some upper body work, so the outline for the first 2 weeks follows.

A - back squats Squat Nemesis, 50 dips, 50 cable rows
B - front squats Squat Nemesis, 100 cable rows

The last week only had one day of front squats, as I tried to emphasize the heavier movement. My triples and fives at the end were done until I lost bar speed, as I do tend to grind heavier weights.


I hoped my 1RM numbers would increase more. I did see my volume shift toward heavier weights, even though my 1RM did not move.  The 21-day graphic below does not show my 4-day break-in or my front squat days. My front squat days were more therapeutic than heavy, and they were never heavy enough to include in the overall stats.

Blue - total volume for the day, divided by 100 to fit within the scale. Varied between 4,000 and 6,700lbs.
Red - volume expressed as multiple of that day's 1RM.  Increased from 20x to 33x by the end.
Orange - percentage of each day's total volume in Zones 1 and 2 (>70% and >90% of each day's 1RM). Began around 62%, ended at 75% on highest-volume days.

My overall volume fluctuated as expected. I quit hitting heavy weights entirely around day 10, both front and back. The last 5 peaks show my volume increasing, both in raw numbers and as a multiple of 1RM, indicating more work done heavy. I also just quit doing work sets in Zone 3 entirely. My warmup strategy changed drastically, and the last few days wasted very little time or volume.


What I need is speed, and I think I know how to address that. I grind squats out of the hole, ever since my leg injury a few years ago. This may not be easy, but it will be worth it.

My back has never felt better. You really cannot overtrain the upper back. This has changed my ideas about recovery and work capacity, and my press motion is still good. I will row every time I'm at Elite Fitness, at least twice per week.

I'm resuming kettlebell training this week, with barbell work for assistance. I'd rather not bore the world with columns about how I did the same 4 workouts for the next five months, so I'll update at milestones. See you on the platform in February.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

21 Day Squat Challenge, Fall of 2013

One of the more disruptive training ideas I've come across in the last few years is high-frequency training. I stumbled across Nick Horton and his 21 Day Squat Challenge some months ago, and the idea intrigued me. There are a few groups of athletes that train daily, and their recovery capacity is something I just completely lack. I have a few months before I compete again, so the time is ripe for change.

I started this on August 19 as a sort of jump-start for my offseason GPP.  I'll be using the author's "Volcano" ramp and "Classic Nemesis" intensifier (references), alternating back/front squats and dips/chins+cable rows daily. (I have never had enough upper body mobility or strength.) This program has a lot of sets and build-up, so my maxes are usually 205 back and 175 front by the time I get there.

Horton and others define 4 intensity zones as shown below:
  • Zone 1 – 90% of max to 100% of your 1 rep max (B185+, F160+)
  • Zone 2 – 70% to 89% of max (B145+, F125+)
  • Zone 3 – 50% to 69% of max (B105+, F90+)
  • Zone 4 – 49% and lower (B105-, F90-)
The first 4 days were all Zone 3, until I got my movements back under me. The goal is to have 70% of your total weight moved done above 70% of your day's max. I'm also observing that by the time I hit a 3RM, I probably can't add any more weight for 2RM and 1RM. That ends up being 3-2-1 at probably the same weight, then the intensifier sets. This week's work looks like this.

Tu: back squats, dips
3-2-1RM: 3@195, 2@195, 1@205
(zones start at 185, 145, 105)
3@Zone3: 145,155,165, 185
5@Zone2: 115,115
- Dips: 6,5,5.9,10,7x5 (70)
Notes: 6175 total, 31%/zone1, 38%/zone2, 31%/zone3
155 is my new "out of the hole" weight. Almost missed 3rd 195. Dips felt great, almost 2.5x my usual volume.
W: front, chins
-> goal: 5000lbs, posted on Facebook
3-2-1RM @175
(zones start at 160,125,90)
3@Zone2: 3@125,135,145,155
2x5@Zone3: 2x5@95
Chins: 5,3,5,3,4
Rows: 15,15,10,10
Notes: 6110 total, 25%/z1, 43%/z2, 32%/z3,
Maybe do 5k back w 20lb increments, 4k front w 15lb increments. This took a whole 1:15. Need to be fresher when I hit 1RM and not be here all day.

I have never squatted 6000 pounds in a day before, let alone by front squat. I've also never done this volume of full-bodyweight dips before, which should help my lockout. I've read that the upper body can take a tremendous volume. This will be interesting to monitor, as these exercises don't exactly degrade before they stop.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Prepping for the 2013 GA State KB Sport Championship

So the Georgia State meet is this weekend, and my last blog post was about me treating a back injury. I restored prone cobras to my routine, with good results. I also found a way to take a nap with a light traction on my shoulders and upper back, and I woke up pain-free. I've had to do some maintenance to prevent a relapse in what was clearly a compromised system, but the results have been good.

See you all there on Saturday!

M LC Density
LC 3'/2'r amrap @24,20,16: 10,15,18
2x16kg J: 10/1' x2
KB SQ: 2x20kg 5,5
Prone cobras: 2x25
Stretch, notes: tried rest before clean instead of after; didn't help 24s as I expected it would. 
Tu body work and a WALK
Check. Feeling good.
W LC 5' Test
20/5': 29 or 30
1mi walk/jog and stretch: check.
Stretch, notes: not bad. Done without visible clock, 6rpm felt rushed or at least poorly regulated. Most people work without a clock to follow their breathing. I work with a clock to regulate my breathing.  Interesting.

Friday, July 12, 2013


I've overhauled and remodeled my online presence a bit. Registered my domain, made entries for my blogs, etc. They're still back there for anyone who has the old URLs at the hosting service, but at least it's all organized now. As I'm in technology as a profession, this is still kind of a half-effort way to do things, but it's free and the end product is okay. I'll be posting much more often now. Enjoy.

Myself -
My training -

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Speed kills

Met with my coach over the weekend to review a few small issues and one or two big ones. Many thanks to Scott Shetler of Extreme Conditioning and Fitness. I only see Scott a couple times a year, but he always makes time and always finds little things that I and other trainers have missed.

I need to work on speed. I'm strong enough for the lifts, but I'm not fast enough between positions. I hate to go back to this so often, but most of my speed is in my feet, not my knees. This also clearly shows that my strength training, while useful, has trained me to be slow. My squat training will be different for awhile.

Ironically, I'm about to have to trade deadlifts for swings and cleans.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Smallest Winner, Biggest Loser

There's a difference between fitness and sport: sport has winners and losers. Yes, it's noble to set a goal and test yourself, but you could do that alone in the park. You paid $49 to pin on a number and join a crowd. As Jerry Seinfeld said, the New York Marathon is "a man from Kenya, a woman from Norway, and 20,000 losers", and you actually paid money to be one of them. That is no longer about fitness, unless you have 19,000 close friends you like to run with.

All alone at 65kg
The iron sports are segregated into weight classes, so a small meet may give a gold medal to every competitor. A large meet may have 10 golds, silvers, and bronzes, and a Best Lifter trophy that usually goes to a heavyweight or a visiting champion. While I've never actually earned either of these places, my thoughts today are about the silver and bronze.

I have a confession to make: I have a competitive side. I may not have a terribly motivated constitution overall, so this may be more of a selfish streak or a need for approval. My current pursuit in kettlebell sport highlights the conditions that I am middle-aged, a late starter, and teensy. There is virtually nothing I can do about those facts. I've come to know most of the region's competitors around my size, so I can predict weeks in advance whether I'll medal at a meet based on its Facebook page.

Winning for the first time at 70kg
For more than 2 years, I've been alone in the lightest weight class. You can barely imagine what it's like to stand on the platform with no competition and no hope of Best Lifter, year after year. It shouldn't matter, but it does to me. In a meet this Spring, I finally outscored a competitor in my own weight class and 3 heavier athletes lifting the same bells. That was the first time I've had direct competition, and oddly the first time I haven't felt like my certificate read "Participant". I'm sorry for how shallow that sounds, but it's honest.

There is this certain challenge to one's self-esteem when you stand out for your novelty instead of your achievement. I've lifted the same bells as much heavier guys and made ranking scores multiple times. But I never beat anyone fair and square, never won Best Lifter, and never lifted the heaviest bells. I am honored to have earned some respect, but even respect can stick in your throat.

My August meet recently changed affiliations to an organization that uses 10kg-wide weight classes instead of 5kg-wide, and requires me to move up to 24kg bells. I did not see this coming. A local Candidate for Master of Sport has been roped into my weight class, probably along with several other larger guys. This wider class will likely contest both silver and bronze. (We couldn't beat Dunn with a tranquilizer gun and a head start.) I have to move up to 24kg bells to compete at all, so there's a deadline on that open-ended goal I've been chasing for over a year. My Summer suddenly seems less mundane, and this upcoming meet will probably be the best thing that's happened to my training in years.