Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tis The Season For Excuses

'Tis the season for excuses, is it not? "The Holidays" has come to include this autumnal ritual where people resign themselves to putting on 10 pounds and breaking all their good habits, then making New Year's resolutions to lose the 10 pounds again. The sheer elegance of the system impressed me, and I felt compelled me to share some of my favorite holiday gym excuses. Enjoy, and may your several upcoming holidays be happy and safe.

The Cold

I run with my dog, a short-haired breed with nails that curve downward if not tended regularly. I generally do his nails outside, which is inconvenient. And, running a short-haired breed in freezing temperatures is questionable at best. Honestly, my cardio suffers all winter long, right through the December Holiday 5K and the upcoming 4mi trail race in January, which must be scheduled explicitly to burn off gravy. What does not suck in the winter time is bundling up in my $7 Russell fleece and spending an hour in the squat rack.

The Food

I love turkey. I love football. Eating a turkey leg with my bare hands in front of a football game is a Christmas gift in itself. Fortunately, the lack of cardio and abundance of squats makes the winter feast days a prime bulking season. I put 12lb on my frame and 20lb on my squat last time I spent the winter under the bar. Then, my company has this annual Wellness Challenge in February where people get points for doing cardio, tracking meals, and losing pounds. So, I have an organized 4-week cut to get lean again once the weather starts to turn. Awesome!

The Fluffy Shame Of It All

You take just Thanksgiving week off, and you return to the gym with no stamina and no energy. Everybody else is quicker and leaner and oddly much younger after your three-day absence. The inertia of getting started is a deal-breaker for a lot of people, requiring that we internalize some truths about ourselves and our view of ourselves.

I'm too old, and I started too late. Gyms are full of 20-somethings, exercising like it's part of some elaborate mating dance. But for every man my age in the gym at 6am, there are a thousand more hunched over, stumbling into their day on ibuprofen and caffeine. I am forging ahead through my forties, outperforming the version of myself from my thirties. I am not challenging the 20-somethings; I am challenging time itself, like some gymno-physicist superhero.

This takes too long. Most people take 40 years to reach age 40, then want to be 35 again in 4 weeks. Change takes time and consistency. Chances are that you got overweight over a course of 10 years. You will not reverse all that physiology and build a new you in 3 months; think more like 3 years of hard-fought change and a lifetime of new habits. None of the reasons that you're in the gym today play themselves out overnight.

Everyone else is better than me. Yes, they are. I have accepted the notion that someone in this gym today can outlift me. I also have friends who are national and world medalists in their sports, whom I will never outperform, ever. The point of surrounding yourself with superior people is that you rebrand your inferiority as your room for growth. This is why trying to lose your fatness before going to the gym in front of the skinny people never works. Shame is bottomless. Acceptance is a foundation. I know I'm not the best, but I will never see myself as the worst again. There's simply no excuse for that.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What is useful

Over the years I've taken interest in sports whose athletes appear to be specialists at what they do. Gymnasts and rock climbers for upper body. Weightlifters (the sport, not powerlifting) for lower body. Boxers and kickboxers for whole-body quickness. Boxers also run for conditioning, but running is boring. Trail running, those people are crazy. 30-mile races in the mountains, some of them tethered to two Siberian Huskies. If you want to compensate for the boredom of running, be a dog sled. The point is that you may not be able to define physical artistry, but you can know it when you see it.

Bruce Lee famously said, "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own". That can be hard to do in a formal sport, but it's easy to do when you train simply for your health. There are, in a sense, best ways to exercise different movements, and they're not all with the same implements.

Any good day is enriched by heavy squats, so these were two sets picked out of today's 5x5 session. I've been doing 5x5 at 195, 83% of 1RM. I'll practice this for another session next week, then test a move up. I've been walking out partials with 265 to acclimate to the feel of a heavier bar. It's a matter of time before I do sets with 225 and get that "two plates" notch on my belt.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Finally, it comes to this

I set the bells down in December of 2014 due to persistent lumbar back pain. I've trained Biathlon again this last month, hoping to compete at Great Bells of Fire in October. I think my longest Snatch set ever, with any bell, was some 50 per hand before my left arm went numb. This season of rehab helped me score 12kg/45+45/6' and 8kg:100+104/10' this month. That's after not snatching since 2011. I'm actually doing Snatch as a cool-down at the end of my regular workouts, on purpose.

Then there's Jerk. The first time I racked two bells mid-Summer, my lower back hurt. Over the last month, I've had to do twists and stretches between 3' Jerk sets and the rest of my workout. Today's 5' test yielded 40 reps (a good Jerk score for me), carpal tunnel pain in both hands, and lower back pain. My spine was actually popping and realigning itself during squats later, which was as ironic as it was unnerving beneath the bar. But, it underscored that I've been needing therapy work to undo one exercise so I could complete my other exercises.

I won't be returning to the Kettlebell Sport platform. I know that barely interests maybe a half-dozen people, but it's still important that I put these words in print. I'm 46 years old. I lift barbells and run trails and enjoy a variety of calisthenics, all without pain. I was never good enough to compete with 24kg bells, the international men's standard, and it's simply not for me anymore. I'll be unloading extra bells, keeping singles from 8kg to 24kg, and moving on with actually taking care of myself. That is our first priority in the gym, after all, to move and feel and be better.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Yes, squats everyday

My doctor put my shoulder on rehab for 4-6 weeks after my PRP injection, trusting me with my own therapy. So if you can't polish your guns for awhile, what better alternative than a cycle of Iron Samurai Nick Horton's "21-Day Squat Challenge". A nerve got pricked during the blood draw and bothered me almost two weeks. My restless sleep post-procedure cost me two days. Then I went on call. This was never expected to be 21 straight, but I planned 3 wks of almost daily exercise with a heavy-squat emphasis.

Before formally starting, I pre-tested 185 triples and 135 tens. My previous best efforts were a 245 single and a slow, ugly 225 double, plus a 165 front squat, which I honestly have never trained very often. So that's where I started: a 165 FSQ and a 245 BSQ from two years ago. Barely 17 days in, running Volcano plus Classic Nemesis, this has been good for me. Here's a clip of today's last heavy double.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Chronic vs Acute

I have always had a range of motion issue in my left shoulder. I've observed it since my teen years, so it's not related to kettlebell sport or bench press or old age or any cause that would be called clinically acute. I move better than I did 10 years ago, even 2 years ago, though with a little soreness. It would be a mistake to point at my movement and say "Ah-hah! All that (whatever) you do is bad for you". There's already enough of that in the world from people up on their motorized cardio pedestals.

On March 23, I developed a soreness that wouldn't go away during a pressing movement. This was following a published program, with sets of 20 at the previous step and sets of 3 at this step. It really shouldn't have been a problem. It recurred a few days later, and it reappeared after a month of therapy without pain. This is an acute clinical problem, at which you may now point.

So, the chronic problem seems to be arthrosis. The shoulder is an imprecise assembly from person to person, even from limb to limb, and I reinforced my issue with years of right-handed tennis. Some athletic disciplines retract the shoulder down when lifting, "packing" the joint for stability. Others actively shrug for stability. Packing my shoulder down gives me a very stable handstand-touchdown position, but it aches. I can do it sitting at this very keyboard: up, down (ouch), up, down (ouch). It's something I'll have to live with.

My acute condition is a partial tear of some cartilage and a muscle over the front of the joint. The cartilage is not bad enough for surgery, but the muscle has been sore for months. I got platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatments today, which should promote healing in the muscle tear. I am extraordinarily sore, and I want cinnamon rolls. I've read that the soreness will come and go for a month or more. The cinnamon rolls are not conclusively documented.

Furthermore, I am off pressing, pushups, KB jerks, and KB snatches for 4-6 weeks. I may as well write off the two KB meets in my area this Autumn, as I'll only have a few weeks to train from scratch. I am cleared to squat, row, crunch, curl, probably deadlift, most anything I want to do except push and press overhead. I was enjoying training KB biathlon again, but the market is primed for meat futures. See you this Halloween; I'll be the one making Aquaman look good.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Apparently an entertainer assaulted a coach in a gym with a kettlebell this weekend. I've seen it shared and re-shared on my social media feeds, unfortunately even by some kettlebell athletes and trainers I know. Apparently this is what "kettlebell" means now; it's what that rapper threw at that guy that one time because barbells, plates, dumbbells, Indian clubs, and ab wheels weren't at-hand. Thank goodness it wasn't a jump rope; imagine the impact to grade schools everywhere.

This story was on ESPN SportCenter today during my lunch hour yesterday, but I didn't see one mention of the US National Women's Soccer Team winning its World Cup match against Colombia. It was a difficult game, and Megan Rapinoe got suspended (for a truly questionable call) from the upcoming match against China. That's sports news. That's something a nationwide TV audience should be interested in, on an all-sports TV network.

I'd like to acknowledge www.cnn.com for listing this story under "Entertainment". Not that assault is entertaining, but at least CNN sorted out this tabloid chaser from the innocent people being actually victimized with fists and guns and abduction and bigotry in their other reports. This incident drew charges of assault with a deadly weapon, battery, and "terrorist threats". For academic reasons alone, I want to hear what he said that escalated this from A&B to terrorism.

I don't have a good ending to this. That this shiny person gets this kind of attention when real news doesn't just irritates me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Back into KB biathlon training

Two weeks ago, I resumed lifting kettlebells after a six-month hiatus. I'm focused on biathlon and light weights at the moment, along with a little strength and mass work to keep my weight up. My joints feel pretty good, except for one shoulder I'll get into later. (It has an MRI scheduled.)

2/wk KB Jerk, BB squats, pushups, inclined rows
2/wk KB Snatch/Swing, BB press, rows or chinups, running

What's important to me in my training right now is that I continue to move well without pain.

My weight finally settled at 160lb, and I'm still able to do chinups and run miles. It's not all just baggage. I'd like to make 165-170 first, the lean out to make Aquaman for Halloween.

I stopped lifting KBs in December when racking doubles gave me lower back pain. After six months of work, the very first time I racked double bells again, my lower back hurt. I'm giving this the Summer, if that long. If it doesn't work itself out, then my body is not adapted for KB sport and I should quit forcing the issue. Needing to heal between competitions and ramp up again is ridiculous.

Americans default to Long Cycle when they don't have the flexibility for Biathlon. We Jerk because Snatch irritates our shoulders and hands. We Clean between Jerks because our rack hurts. Then we call ourselves Long Cycle Specialists. I have resumed training KB sport lifts, with Biathlon. If it doesn't work itself out, then my body is not adapted for KB sport and I should quit forcing the issue.

Lastly, these six months have shown me that I respond very well to medium-intensity strength work and running. I hurt my shoulder with a partial one-armed pushup, but close-grip pushups suit me just fine. That 80% intensity range is a sweet spot. I'm cleaning 135 and squatting 205 for sets and running 2-3 miles, and it feels great.

This should feel great. I don't have time and energy in my life to spend healing between exercise irritations. I'm truly done with that. If it doesn't improve me, I'm done with it. I need to move well more than I need to win a trophy. I don't win trophies anyway, so... there's that.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


There's enough written about high-intensity, high-frequency training to skip some of the introduction. Weightlifters do it. Runners do it. I have tried to do blocks of it in the past, with little success. The usual issue is sleep. My rest and recovery rate supports lifting 4 times per week, 3 times per week if I run a couple of days. This has been the case for a long time.

This particular week, I've had vacation, so it was worth a try. I've slept well, and I've exercised the last six days. I've added 20lbs to my confident, anytime squat triple. I've added about 20lbs to my power clean, mostly for lack of experience with that lift. I've run three times, alongside my dog and my wife on her bike, which has been great fun for the lot of us.

I'm not sure whether this will carry into next week when I resume work, but it was great to be able to start without work in the way.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Of all the stupid things

It was pushups. Pushup progressions leading toward one-armed pushups, but pushups nonetheless. It couldn't be trail running or kettlebells or ("deep") barbell squats. It was a pushups progression that finally broke the limit.

March 23, I did short sets of half-depth one-armed pushups, as in Convict Conditioning or any number of other programs. I had worked up to this with weeks of close pushups and uneven pushups, hundreds of total reps. I felt confident to try sets of 3 to half depth, but I was naive. I noted the discomfort in my log, then rested from presses and did lighter lifting and therapeutic work through April and early May.

This shoulder is misaligned when overhead, pinched when across the body, and sore in front flexion. It's not necessarily even weak; I'm not unable to lift. Stretching, Indian clubs and stick work, external rotation drills with small weights and bands, scapular retractions: I've done everything I could to reset the impingement and give the joint room to move. It hasn't worked. What bothers me most is that this is still uncomfortable when I passively manipulate the arm, not just when I engage the muscles. That makes me worry about connective tissue.

I'll see my doctor on Friday. We have a good working relationship, and he knows I try to stay athletic. I'm expecting this to prescribe an MRI, and I'm uneasy at how that will turn out.

Monday, April 27, 2015

I'm not certain how this was scored, but I believe we won

Park? Hot dog? Definitely the park!
Kilo and I did a fun run over the weekend at the Bark In The Park Top Dog Festival. The schedule included Ultimate Air competitions that I've seen on Animal Planet and displays from several pet adoption shelters. After the fun run, we got treats at every other table and this cute little frisbee that's in bitty shards at the house. Nonetheless, it was pouring rain and 56F, and attendance was thin. I didn't see more than a dozen dogs with families at the hour the events should have started, and we were all spectators.

So, I've seen Kilo get bored of ordinary jogging until there's someone to follow. I've seen him run half a mile alongside a perfect stranger. I thought running with a pack out in the grass would be great fun. There were pits and labs and hounds, all eagerly play-bowing and trading wild strings of slobber, but only one other obvious human runner with a happy-looking cattle dog at the starting line. The course was a simple 1mi path around the farm, which we were welcome to lap as many times as we wanted. I expected maybe two laps.

The boy took off at a gallop, pulling me by the waist. I stopped him once to pee and poop and let the pack catch up. Thank God for the water buckets and waste baskets at every corner; you don't know volunteers until you know volunteers manning a dog poop station in the rain. By the first mile marker, we had passed the crowd. I believe we finished first, not that it was timed or rewarded in any way. Kilo got pets and cheers and a little textile travel bowl that barely accommodated his muzzle. The lady and the cattle dog wheeled into a second lap, so I cheered Kilo back onto the path.

This was where it got interesting. We had resumed a little late, and the first quarter-mile was clear. By 1.5mi, we had lapped this festive little white foofie and started to reel in that cattle dog again. There was a brief exchange of greetings, canine and human, and Kilo pulled me on. He had no interest in running "with" the cattle dog; he wanted to outrun the cattle dog! We finished clearly out front on that second lap, greeted by more cheers and petting, and he was finally done.

I had no idea Kilo had such a competitive streak. He is his mama's boy. I'm sure the Dog Whisperer would have volumes to say about the whole thing. He's enthusiastically social, fearless, and tolerant within certain limits that he firmly defends. He clearly had the highest play-energy of the dogs in the fun run, matched only by this one enormous lab mix that wanted to wrestle in a familiar way (made its owner REALLY nervous) but couldn't run worth a darn. There was a blue pit bull terrier that wanted to play but wasn't allowed to join the run, which was a shame. It would've been hilarious to see those two dragging me laps around the field by a leash.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Goal #1, coming through

5 paragraphs, numerous articles linked for references, and some footnotes. Half about weight, half about shoulder.

Dan John has a famous quote, which he may have gotten from Dick Notmeyer: the goal is to make sure the goal remains the goal. I set myself a physical training goal this year, and it is gradually, glacially pushing other goals aside: put on 10lb of lean weight. My greatest failure these last few years has been squeezing goals like this in between scheduled kettlebell competitions. Unfortunately, none of my goals ever meet those deadlines. This year, the remainder of this year's goals are on indefinite hold behind #1.

First, I don't ever want to be feeble again. It gets hard to defeeble yourself after around age 30, even harder if you've been forcibly befeebled by injury or illness. In 2008, I lost 15lb in a week and took 5 months to put just 11lbs of it back on. Over these last two months, I'm a slightly fluffy 9lb bigger, doing weighted pullups and trail running twice a week to monitor the burden of the extra weight.

I had to learn to tolerate the bodybuilding-ness of this goal because it serves a good purpose. This article discusses how muscle size is the only long-term factor we can change to make continued strength gains. (1) This Dan John article proposes that middle aged people need hypertrophy. Lastly, there was a peer-reviewed study by Brad Schoenfeld comparing the effects of training short, heavy sets versus longer, middleweight sets. The muscle growth observed was roughly equivalent in the two groups, but the middleweight group needed significantly less rest and recovery. (2) I wish this were more widely discussed, frankly. I should have stumbled across this years ago.

Second, the last few weeks of this training has isolated an old problem in my shoulder, one I've lifted "around" in a compensating way. Get this: it's easier for me to do 20 diamond pushups without pain than 20 regular pushups. (3) So, I give up; it's time to regress all the upper body work and address this. It may take months or a year to pick up where I left off, but I'll never get beyond where I left off if I don't address this. All I know is that I've 30 years of posturing around that shoulder and 100,000 reps of crooked kettlebell work that I have to defeeble.

So I'm testing a few weeks of self-guided rehab before engaging my doctor. My doc is very sports-minded, and we have a great working relationship. I just don't want to pay for PT unless I absolutely need help. This shoulder article by Dr David Ryan goes into great detail and gave me a few great movements to start with. This morning's session felt positively spastic, like trying to get a football jersey over a sweater. I am so asymmetrical. Mark Reifkind said once, "rehab is training". It's important to remember that. There's no shame in feeling better and moving better, even without a better bench press.

I'm also squatting. That's going great.

(1) Brief practice daily and long practice twice-weekly both add up to thousands of repetitions and neurological mastery in the long term. A person's bone length and tendon attachment points are not modifiable by exercise and only cause a fraction of the difference among humans that they do between humans and other species. Studies show that strength champions differ greatly from laymen in muscle belly size, and that is the only factor we can actually change. 
(2) Read the fine article for more detail; it's legit. I don't need top-end strength for kettlebell sport. I also don't have a 4-post power cage to do top-end work safely, and I train alone in a backyard shed. I totally should be doing sets of 10, where I can see failure coming, instead of 1RM tests.
(3) Diamond = thumbs and optionally index fingers together, forming a diamond shape. DPUs move the load from pecs and delts to the triceps and are supposed to be harder. Ergo, I am stronger with my triceps than with my pecs and shoulders combined. My all-time best overhead press was 110lb, ugly, but I can do 20 bodyweight dips at 155lb.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Days without squat injury: 1900

So I purchased a set of barbells and a home bench/squat rack a few weeks ago from Steve. I am so happy. I've missed Squat Day these last 10 months without a real gym.

The difference between a standalone squat rack and a power rack is that a power rack surrounds you with four posts and has safety bars on the sides to catch a drop at your knees instead of letting the barbell crush you. Squat racks or stands have just a pair of catches that you have to stand between or fall toward. I have squat stands, with catches about 18" deep. This works for me for two reasons. #1, I do tend to fail forward. (QUESTION: trainer-therapists ready to diagnose my weakness... GO!) #2, I am long past any need to train max singles ever again.

I have only ever dropped one squat in my entire life. I was training front squats, healthy and moving well that day. I beat my max single by 10lb and tried another 10lb. 'Clang!' I had a chuckle at my own expense and resumed squatting smarter loads without a moment's hesitation.

The whole "squats are bad for your knees" myth from a single paper in the 70s, the current "squats are bad for your back" argument trending on the internet, it's all so much chatter to me. I do not discount the value of regressed squat movements for people who need them, but squats have done more to repair me than to hurt me by any measure.

I'm committed to being bigger and stronger when I reach 46 than I was when I reached 45. Traditional "20-rep squats" cycles taught me to dig deep and grind out, but they just trashed me. I'm no longer equipped for that kind of risk and abuse, so I've been looking for more of a minimum effective dose. I'm doing sets of 5-10 now, adding weight weekly to my FIRST set and feeling out the remaining sets as each day goes. So far, it feels good. I haven't come anywhere near a max or a failure, and I'm almost up to my routine working weight from last Spring.

ANSWER: it's my hips. I've got screws in one femur and a foot of scar tissue in the external rotator. If a lift is just utterly too heavy, my butt will squirt out behind me and lock my knees. I need hamstring work. Guessing "upper back work" would be an honest good guess for this particular trick question. If you said "opposite-limb mobility drills", you're not a therapist and you should feel bad for pretending to be one with your clients. People do need doctors sometimes.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A walk in the park

I recently discovered North Mecklenburg Park, which I had driven by a dozen times without taking a look. The park advertises 3.8mi of mountain biking trails. Well, this just had to be done, so the boy and I took a run Sunday afternoon.

So this park had streams with little wooden bridges, hills, and small jumps intended for mountain bikes but hilarious for the two of us connected by a bungie cord. At one point I got completely turned around and recognized a clearing we had crossed on our way in. We were almost back to the car, and we would not be reaching the far end of the park today.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


Two different weigh-ins now, I've been 155.2. That's straight out of bed and bathroom, dry and hungry, 155.2. It's finally a pound over the hump where I've been stuck, and it's not all water and belly fat. The goal has always been a lean 160, so I'm looking at probably 165 before I taper off the creatine and peanut butter.

Right now, for the foreseeable future, I'm not even worried about kettlebell sport. Right now, I'm sort-of bodybuilding, and it actually feels really good. The programming looks a lot like the Greg Nuckols article, "Powerlifters Should Train Like Bodybuilders", and it lines up a lot with Dan John's guidelines for training over age 40. For any younger person who has reached a plateau with their strength or any older person who is looking to make a change, I highly recommend that Nuckols article. I like that strengththeory.com starts their articles with this header, like the abstract of a scientific paper.

What You’re Getting Yourself Into:
~4200 words, 10-15 minute read time.
Key Points1. There are six key factors that largely determine how much you can lift.
2. Of these, muscle size is the only one that’s impacted strongly by training choices in the long run.
3. Although focusing on heavy (85%1rm+) lifting CAN build muscle mass, “bodybuilding” style training is a much more efficient and effective way to maximize hypertrophy.
4. Very advanced lifters may benefit from an increased focus on training specificity, but to make the most of this style of training, it helps to have a solid muscular base first.
I erased and rewrote another paragraph three times. I was beating a perfectly good point to death. The article is worth a read if you're young and stalled or old and trying hard.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The ripple effect

I may have overdone it just a little. I pressed heavier than I needed to, and I knew it when I did it. I made one shoulder sore on the front side. It's also the side I sleep on, so now my sleep is this hybrid of making my shoulder worse and making the rest of me aggravated.

So, I'm missing sleep this week and skipping workouts. I hate doing that, but I never put iron overhead if my mind isn't clear. I'm hoping to sleep in Saturday morning, get coffee, then lift and run.

I also just bought a friend's barbells and squat rack. I was shocked at how awkward and heavy everything seemed to be, even though I routinely handle kettelebells heavier than a 45lb plate. I'm a little nervous and a lot excited about restarting this muscle-building cycle with actual weights. It's about to get real up in here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Until I met the store that had no shoes

I have never considered myself a shoe snob. I began my adult years with one pair each of dress and sneakers, as young men do. When I ran those first few steps in 2009 and my hip seized up around the screws, I became interested in shoes again. I learned to run again in Vibram Five Fingers KSO, and I currently run in Merrell Trail Gloves.

I love my Trail Gloves, as you can see. Unfortunately, I run almost entirely on the road, and you can actually hear Trail Glove soles wearing away on pavement if your music's not too loud. That line has been replaced twice now, and I'm sorting through pages of TG 3 to find the originals in a men's 8 like some weird Amazon scavenger hunt. I thought it would be smart to try on some replacements.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Rousey is right, according to science

I posted this article on steroid use on Facebook the day after UFC 184. It got zero likes, comments, shares, nothing, like it never happened. Following Ronda Rousey's 14-second win against an esteemed and undefeated challenger, the armchair critics rose up in their anonymity to denounce Rousey for fighting someone other than Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino. Cyborg is a known steroid user in another fight promotion, who fights a whole weight class higher than Rousey. Rousey calls steroid use cheating, and the science behind the issue is relevant for even amateur athletes like myself. I beg you to humor me to the bottom of the page, and to click at least one of the links below, the second of which is a peer-reviewed paper at the National Institutes of Health.

Once You’ve Used Steroids, Is It Possible to Ever Compete Clean Again?
Skeletal muscle morphology in power-lifters with and without anabolic steroids.

The fulcrum on which the Rousey v Cyborg story hinges is that the UFC has begun regular testing of all its athletes following numerous test failures by prominent fighters. Cyborg's fans maintain that she hasn't failed a steroid test since 2011, and should be considered "clean". There is this notion in so many sports that if a former steroid user is suspended or passes tests for some feels-right length of time, they will revert to "normal" and be fair competition again among their peers.

This notion is naive and not supported by science. The truth is that there is no suspension, no time out, that returns steroid-modified muscle and bone to its original design. The science shows that steroid use causes permanent changes in muscle fibers at the cellular level. Steroid use under resistance training causes muscle growth, including multiplication of the nuclei that govern protein synthesis for healing and future growth. And, this nuclei count does not go away for "several years", according to Eriksson and colleagues. A former user can return to training years later, and their muscle fibers will respond to training more intensely than an unmodified athlete.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Playing the long game

This season's training has been part of a long game. I focused on one-armed KB work, abs and back, and running for 8 weeks. My tolerance of the 24kg bell on my joints is much better now than a month ago, and I completed my first full set of 24kg OALC (30/30/10'). Whether I compete in May is no longer really a priority, but it does remain on the list of happy coincidences if things play out right.

I resolved this New Year's to put on 5 pounds of lean body mass. This is a standing order in the background of my training, at my age, with the issues I invested these 8 weeks into. Too many seniors break bones in simple falls or wither away during a routine illness. I lost 15lbs in a 5-day hospital stay once, in the so-called prime of my life. Ironically, my company has an annual Wellness Challenge every February, in which I set a goal to cut 9 pounds to a ripped-for-me 145. I reached a stable 148.5, plus or minus the morning paper. I'm content with the result, and this was lean enough to rebound.

In Mass Made Simple by Dan John, Dan recommends leading into a bulking cycle by getting really, really lean first; I've done that. I'm adapting the programming for the progressive calisthenics and KB sizes I have on hand. I'll won't match 1.25BW in the squats, but I can complete the complexes and squats under loads heavier than my competition KBs. (Double-KB squats are their own peculiar core challenge, so I'm counting them.) I'm actually excited.

April 15: 165lb, then a leaner 160 with double-24kg overhead press and high-rep squats.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day, 2015

I got you some swole and ripped; I hope you like it.

Seriously, though, I've been 4wks on a rebuilding period in my training. All my KB work has been one-armed. I've done high volume work in recovery and calisthenics, and my overhead looks really good now. I get uncomfortable in my hands and wrists at 24kg and up, so my next goal is a 10' OALC set with 24kg before I even load up doubles again. If I compete in May or don't, it's fine with me. I want this as a milestone.

About a week ago, I developed this odd, familiar pinch in the hip with all the metal. It felt exactly like my post-op IT band irritation from 2009. I'm still trying to get rid of it, but it makes my legs a little asymmetrical and did cause some blowback in the other leg. I've had a couple of short runs with the dog, but no serious heavy-workload or long-distance work.

Lastly, the company has an annual wellness challenge in February. I'm on a team with three office mates, putting my diet and workout logs into an app for internet points and pieces of flair. I started at 154lb and a goal of -1lb/wk loss to an eventual 145 in mid-March. It's anecdotally believed that gaining programs work better if you get lean first, so I may shoot for a lean 155 by April.

So, I found these in my closet. They're a little vintage, but I did wear them a couple years ago.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

2015/01 notes on GPP

Good 3mi run today, plenty of calisthenics, and some club work. Three good KB sessions this week, heavy one-armed drills and 7-8' sets with lighter bells. I almost skipped Monday, but I couldn't have justified Brisket Day at the BBQ place if I hadn't worked out. Worth it.

This cycle has been a welcome change. I'm believing in basic GPP checkpoints more and more as time goes on. Numbers like fifty unladen squats (rock-bottom, not almost parallel), twenty pushups or inclined rows, a 3mi run; none of these are remarkable, but they highlight this notion that we are first and foremost athletes.

I find that my level of comfort and health follows my general physical prep. Every time I take a month to peak for a KB meet, everything gets a little sore. Suddenly I can barely do 10 pushups or a pullup. There's no reason for me to waste myself more than a couple weeks anymore, not at my level of competitiveness.

It's caught my attention in some online clips of Russian group KB training that their warmup looks like my High School P.E. class warmup from 30 years ago. Where generations of athletes have trained under scientific scrutiny for the glory of the Motherland, they still warm up with joint circles and pushups and running laps, along with their sport work. Granted, these clips were group training for a younger crowd, but most of us are better suited to beginners training than to the daily routines of world champions in their prime. We just don't like to admit it. I'm neither a champion nor in my prime, but I'm pushing a PR pace at the 9' mark with lighter bells right now. And, I'm not in pain.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Almost rested

I actually felt fresh enough last night that I set my alarm early for a workout by mistake. By "set my alarm", I mean I had also setup heaters in the kettlebell shed and prepped to turn in early. I was fresh. I wasn't sore, I wasn't dreading the next day in any measure at all. It completely slipped me that I was off Thursday.

So, today I didn't exercise. I've done a little back work and some time in the squat position, but that's not unusual. Kind of excited about lifting tomorrow. Should be nice.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 New Year's notes

I don't usually bother with New Year's resolutions. But, if I were to make a list this year:

Gain 5lbs and make it stick
Finally take up drinking
Win-or-quit my sport
Start practicing guitar
That got a lot of clicks on Facebook, but I did say last Autumn that I was no longer going to travel and spend money to lift 20kg bells, alone in my weight class, for a participation certificate. I skipped two meets last year, one of them in easy driving distance. With the West Coast Classic on the horizon in just 5 wks, the green bells are killing me, so I'm not going. And, I'm okay with that.

We use words like periodization and cycles (micro- and meso- as well) a lot in our short-term planning, but not so much in our long-term. I can do 6-wk cycles in a powerlifting program for years on end and not feel any of the grief I feel when a continuous 3-mo ramp-up to a KB competition doesn't get me a win. And, that's a bad perspective. I set PRs on the platform in February, May, and October of 2014, one of them with 24kg bells. There is nothing wrong with that. That these last 10 weeks did not get me to another PR is not a failure. It just indicates that this cycle is over and I need to start another one.

This is an off-season, time to get stronger and get some coaching and aim for the ATC Throwdown in May. The first priority has to be health, and my current state of boo-boo indicates that this cycle is over. I've got some technique work and some body work and a lot of running on the horizon, and I do enjoy all those things. I wish a healthy and happy New Year to everyone, and best of luck to all my friends lifting at WCC next month. I'll see you in May, at a ripped 149lbs and a new PR, if all goes well.