Monday, September 7, 2009

Whoof, been a while.

Not that I haven't been working out, but my consistency in journaling the workouts has been lacking. Thing is, I haven't felt that it's all that interesting to write entries like:

Day 60 - leg still hurts, still doing rehab and mobility exercises. This still sucks.

So okay, I've been back to doing real lifting for - well, 3 weeks now, for some values of real lifting. Like I was complaining to Jim Smith of Diesel Crew the other day, my my flexibility is shot and form on my lifts has turned to crap, and the weights I'm pushing are almost ridiculously low.

Still, I'm doing it and as I would tell anyone else - so what if your weights have gone done down? Apply some consistency, focus on form while doing the lifts, add weight to the bar each workout when you complete all the target reps with good form, and you'll be lifting respectable weights soon enough.

In other news, I'm taking pure math this semester at Uni - mostly because there wasn't any relevant programming courses going on and I could use the practice. Even if pure calculus is rarely used in most day-to-day programming outside of specialized science applications.

Ah, well- I've got a pretty light course load which leaves me more time to play around on PubMed and other databases; and the university is kind enough to supply me with fulltext access to just about every medical database online which is potentially dangerous for my inner information sponge/geek ;)

Some notes on today's workout:

Warmup: Mobility drills from Magnificent Mobility.
Workout:Starting Strength (2nd edition), workout B.

Squats: ramping 5@132lbs, 5@176 to work sets 3x5@198lbs
Military press: ramping 1x5@88lbs to work sets 3x5@100lbs
Power cleans from the hang position: ramping 1x5@110lbs to work sets 5x3@121lbs

Finish: eating my own Dog Food - the circuit workout I made up for Abbey.

5 Pushups
10 Mountain climbers
10 bodyweight squats

Discussion: I'm using the Starting Strength template again rather than something more advanced 'cause I want/need to get the lift numbers up to snuff as quickly as possible and a basic barbell program is the way to do it. Could have gone with the "stripped" 5x5 template instead, but this program is an old and comfortable friend that I know just about how it'll go when I'm doing it. Numbers are up 11lbs on all the lifts from last week with better form which means I'm at least on track to getting back to semi-respectable weights within this lifetime. Depth and form was better on the squats today, though I'm wondering if I should strip some weight from the bar and practice form more before I develop bad habits I wouldn't tolerate in anyone else.

Low-calorie food for thought anyway.

After doing the heavy lifting I went and did the conditioning finisher I designed for Abbey - I could probably have done a few more rounds if I'd done it first, but there's no way I'm going to do a metabolic circuit/conditioning workout before the heavy lifting.

I still did 15 rounds in the allotted 20 minutes. Beat that, if you can ;)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Okay, getting back on the road.

Rehab sucks. Just does. So does not training for realses; while you can do a lot with just diet and being sensible there's no denying that the body was made to be used and I just feel like crap when I'm not properly working out.

So okay; I haven't been doing anything really workout-wise since my surgery; some rehab and single-leg training doesn't count. Neither does that Pavel Tsatsouline concept I've been playing around with of sub-maximal high-frequency training. I've gone from 4-5 chinups being a bit hard to 10 being just on the edge of uncomfortable over the past two weeks which is nice, but it's time to get back to doing something a little more training-like.

At the same time, it's been a while so it's important to not overdo the beginning either; I'm not as much of a fan of being crippled by DOMS as I used to be.

Some notes on today's workout:

So today's workout I've kept pretty simple: in addition to the chinups at intervals throughout the day. (I've done 3 sets of 9 reps and one of 10 so far) Front squats supersetted with military press, 3x10/3x5; same weight (95lbs or thereabouts), which is barely a warmup for squats and a decent working weight for military press.

Back squat: 5@135lbs, 3x5@176lbs. - which is 'decent for a first workout after damn near two months off, but nowhere near my working weights before the leg surgery. I could easilyy have gone higher to be honest but meh, tomorrow's going to suck enough as it is with DOMS from first serious leg workout in forever ;)

I've been spending the down time productively though, with watching coaching videos from Dan John, Mark Rippetoe, Dave Tate and a whole bunch more people and I've tried a few new things for both setup and walkout today. And yep, I've learned that I've been doing a less than optimal setup/walkout- one of the reasons I felt like I could easily have done more today was on account of how tight the new setup felt; from the lift off the rack to returning the bar I was a lot more stable through the whole lift and increased stability translates into more weight moved.

Actually, I felt like I was gaining stability through the whole squat set which is unusual; the last set of five reps went through with a whole lot more power and drive than the first set. A function of gaining confidence in the new setup with weight on the bar instead of just doing setup and mobility drills with an unladen bar or a broomstick I think.

Finished off with a few sets of 20-rep dumbbell swings with a 50lbs dumbbell; I'd have used a kettlebell if I'd had one but the dumbbell probably works reasonably well to get a slight metabolic finisher to the workout. By rights I should have done power cleans from the floor, but I didn't feel up to that; it's a little late/early in the day to be doing an exercise that demands a high degree of coordination.

Overall, a pretty decent start I think; let's just see how I feel in the morning - that's when I'll know if all that rehab work has worked ;)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Useful fat loss workouts - More random thoughts.

For the macro picture, you want to do some strength training, some HIIT, some traditional cardio from time to time, and a bit of flexibility training. The fine details of exactly how each part of the complete program is structured varies according to sports-specific and individual needs.

Craig Ballantyne wrote this home bodyweight workout that I've been passing out as an example of what you can do for a workout without using weights, his stuff is pretty decent if you're in the target demographic. That is, you're not practicing for sports-specific performance in anything, you're looking for a reasonably minimal workout routine that'll get you a base level of fitness for life.

I've only chatted with him a couple times online, he strikes me as a decent guy and his workouts are legit. You don't actually need to buy his pre-made routines though, you already know what's in there: antagonist supersets of compound movements and some HIIT, plus count calories. And of the two counting calories count for more when it comes to weight loss, there's no way on God's green Earth to out-train your diet.

One reason for buying a pre-made routine from someone else is something Dan John spoke about a while back; there's less thinking involved. Which is where Turbulence Training comes in. But if you have sports-specific goals that go beyond generic fitness getting workout ideas from TT that you then have to go in and modify to work with what you actually training for strikes me as an unnecessary step where you'll just wind up paying extra for no reason. Since you probably won't be able to use Craig's stuff as is, I mean - if you could use it as is TT isn't bad, his workout designs are in the same space as Alwyn Cosgroves' from The New Rules of Lifting and The New Rules of Lifting for Women so they'd fit right in if you're looking for something in that space that isn't by Cosgrove.

But if you've got sports-specific goals you're going to have to do a lot of work to adapt anything you pick up to you own use anyway, so you might as well skip that step and go straight to getting some sports-specific material instead.

'course, there's other considerations as well - I'm consistently running into a lot of shoulder issues with people who've been sitting at a desk for a few years and used a mouse. Shoulders with limited mobility, improper stability, dysfunctional movement patterns, rotational deficits and other problems are seldom candidates for heavy loading. If you have mobility/stability issues, more than a current injury you need to train around, here's a shoulder rehab protocol from Jimmy Smith you should be using then if you can't get to a physical therapist to give you an individualized routine - start with no weights at all for a runthrough to see how your shoulder holds up.

That, plus the YTWL exercise is a good combo for shoulder rehab, you'd use surprisingly low weights on either to have a training effect. My preferred YTWL runthrough uses 8 reps of each letter before moving on to the next, and it's perfectly acceptable strength training for a beginner to just use your arms with no weights at all ;)

The reason I call TT good for base fitness but not necessarily good for sports-specific performance is that it lacks specificity. When it comes to sports-specific performance you're better off with an exercise program that's designed specifically around exercises with a high degree of athletic transfer from your workout to your sport than a generic fitness routine. If you don't have a specific sport you're practicing for, you have limited training time, and you're looking to get into good all-round condition with a combination of strength, aerobic and anaerobic fitness and flexibility TT or NROL/NROLW would work awesome.

If your goals have a bit more specificity to them it's often a better strategy to train each component separately; "Starting Strength" for any strength goals, a combination of steady state and interval training for endurance, and yoga for flexibility for example. The downside of a program like that is that while it'll get you better results than a combination workout will, it'll also take quite a bit more time.

You'd probably devote as much time to each individual component (20-60 minutes depending on activity, 1-3 times a week, 4-6 hours total) as you would to one of the combination workouts. If you've only got 2-3 hours a week to squeeze in a workout that's not a very useful approach just from a time management perspective, even if you'd see better results from a pure fitness standpoint.

Keep in mind that muscle/body size is entirely down to your diet - if you're training for strength with low-rep training and keeping calories in check you'd look more like little 97-lbs Suzanna who's about 50% stronger than me pound for pound than Jessica Biel. Or you'd look more like Gisele who's known for rockin' the Romanian deadlift at Peak Fitness. As long as calories are kept at maintenance or slightly lower there's no growth signal to your muscles, while the strength training preserves what you have and adds to bone density and neural tonicity of your muscles.

If you're doing a generic medium-high rep workout (10-15 reps) with a slight calorie surplus (350-500kcal/d) there is a growth signal to your muscles - and you might be able to 2-4 pounds of muscle in a month if you're male, about half that or 1-2lbs per month if you're female.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some thoughts on what constitutes a useful workout.

Bad information about exercise physiology isn't restricted to the pink dumbbell set of Shape, bodybuilding comes with its own share of non-physiological idiocies, and I've wasted plenty of time on crap workouts myself. At the time, body part splits seemed logical, I saw the nice charts and graphs of recovery and protein synthesis. But I didn't stop to think about the concept of "population specificity" - was I actually part of the group of people this applied to, or was that just wishful thinking on my part?

Everything you've read is not wrong, but it's used out of context. In most trainees with less than 5-10 years of training background and without an ass full of steroid needle tracks, muscular protein synthesis returns to baseline within 48 hours after a single bout of resistance training.

Exceptions exist, but they are rare.

It's why the Starting Strength model is far superior to body part splits for beginners and intermediaries. After a few years of training when you're closer to your genetic limit for strength and muscle size and you're interested in hypertrophy training as opposed to function, then a split program makes sense in context, since you're close enough to your genetic limit to need more training volume for a particular muscle group than what you can get in with 3xwhole-body; going to a push/pull or upper/lower 2xweekly for a total of 4 weekly sessions then makes sense.

But if you look at something like DC training, Westside Barbell, Bill Starr's 5x5 and a whole host of other models for very advanced athletes you'll see they're also using 3xweekly sessions just like starting strength, it's just that they're using weekly, monthly and even yearly periodization schemes to inch a little closer to their genetic max.

The bodybuilders you see in Muscle&Fiction and other magazines sure as heck didn't start out with a split routine and got anywhere; beginners shouldn't be looking at what advanced athletes are doing now after 10-20 years of consistent training, they should be looking at what that athlete did to get to that point in their training career.

Of course split routines work too, for a given value of work. It's just that they take longer and deliver less results than a whole-body routine performed 3xweekly for the novice, beginner and intermediate trainee. In my book, slower, inferior results isn't exactly worth recommending.

Context-dependent though. If you have a) 10+ year of lifting experience, and b) hypertrophy-oriented goals, body-part splits are a useful training methodology and will deliver superior results in that specific training parameter - for that specific population. Everyone else just aren't strong enough yet to be able to train with a high enough load to make body part splits a useful training modality.

(Body part splits are in general outdated as a training methodology even within bodybuilding, and it's certainly gotten a well-deserved kick out the door by most strength coaches. Push/pull-oriented workouts or movement-oriented workouts focused on basic compound exercises with assistance exercises to strengthen weak muscles in a particular kinetic chain deliver more results in less time.)

Interesting fact: did you know that adding an isolation movement to a compound movement that works the same set of muscles do not improve muscle growth? Once you've maximally stimulated muscular protein synthesis in your triceps by performing a set of close-grip bench press at 85% of your 1RM, the addition of triceps extensions or pressdowns won't lead to more muscle growth. Once you've done your chinups and rows, your biceps will have had all the stimulation they need to grow and adding more in the form of bicep curls won't make a meaningful contribution to your training.

Well, for a beginner, that is. A more advanced athlete may need more training volume to stimulate muscle growth if that's a goal for your training and there's a limit to how much heavy loading your joints can take which is where isolation and assistance exercises come in. And split routines, because getting in sufficient volume takes time and there's a limit to how long a meaningful hypertrophy workout is.

But even if your goal actually is bigger muscles, up until you have that base level of strength you'll have better long term results from focusing on mastering the basics.

If you're just starting out the best advice I can give you is to pick up a copy of Mark Rippetoes' Starting Strength book.

I've been doing this for a while and I still pick up on new things when I go back and read through it and "practical programming for strength training".

In other news, I'm trying a Pavel concept for my current workout - I'm "greasing the groove" on chinups. Legs seem to be more functional again after the surgery but with the layoff period I think I'm going to stick to bodyweight exercises for a week or two until I'm convinced everything works.

The combination of chinups, pushups, dips, and single-leg stepups doesn't cover everything of course. But it does help get prepped for more; I have remarkably little interest in crippling myself with DOMS if I can avoid it. Assuming no funny business from the leg, I'll be back under the bar squatting in a week or two ;)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Training A. - and some thoughts on exercise philosophy

I have a favorite set of exercises for the beginner (Starting strength) and with coaching A. right now who has mobility restrictions out the wazoo in a shoulder I can use exactly one of them; the rest he'd risk permanent disability trying to do until we've addressed his shoulder issues. So no benching, no squatting, no military press, and no power cleans for him - if I was married to the method I'd have thrown up my arms and told him he was uncoachable.

Instead, I've laid out a set of substitute exercises, put him on some mobility drills, had him do some shoulder stability work, and prodded him to go see a physical therapist. Which he is doing today at long last - and in another month I hope to have his shoulder where he can attempt a pushup.

Keep in mind that all exercise methodologies and protocols (Pilates, yoga, weight lifting, Curves, boot camps, classical calisthenics) are only useful when you look at them as tools to reach a specific goal.

There are people who do need to use Pilates or the equivalent as introduction to body mastery; who have no business even looking crosswise at a weight until they're comfortable enough in their own skin to have a feel for how to move. Physical therapy and rehab patients can use a similar methodology and there are people who've seen a fair degree of success by using Pilates to transition from rehab and PT to a more normal function level.

The issue I have with all these methods is that people tend to pick out one method or training protocol and declare that this is all you need to achieve Real Ultimate Fitness!!!Zomg11!!11!!

This annoys me.

It's doing yourself a disservice when you can't separate your goals from the methods used to reach them - some methods work to reach some goals, some don't. When there's a mismatch between the goals you want and the methods you want to use to reach them, we have a problem.

Then it's time to re-evaluate the goals you have, or the methods used to reach them. No matter how much you like Pilates, it's not going to help you get in shape for that 10K run, and no matter how much you like Olympic lifting it's not going to be enough to get you faster in the swimming pool.

When you're doing this re-evaluation some people find that they like their method so much they're willing to give up pursuing their stated goal in other to stay with doing the same thing. Which is fine; as long as you know the trade-off you're making.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Back in the saddle - or on the floor as the case may be.

Well, had the stitches out, came home, and promptly fell asleep on the couch for 4 hours.

Yeah, this whole surgery thing is a drag; second time this year I have to take a workout break to heal from incisions. Well, I guess what Dan John says is true - "surgery is nature's way of telling you to slow down". Even if technically I did volunteer for both to correct a few points of pain rather than them being necessary for injuries.

Anyway, talked to the nurse who took out the stitches and I'm allowed to do upper body work, but I need to wait with the leg work until at least next week and preferably until my leg's fully healed.

Well, doing upper body is better than nothing, soo...

Some notes on today's workout:
Warmup: not much.
Tested clapping pushups, did a couple and then thought better of it.
Pushups 3x20
Renegade rows 3x10 ea. arm, @50lbs
Dumbbell floor press, 3x10 ea. arm @50lbs.

Easy does it, when starting back up. Well, last time I didn't take it so easy when jumping back into the squat and wound up walking like a geriatric for nearly a week, so I thought I'd try to be at least a little smarter and start with some light(er) weights. Leg still hurts even if the compression bandage held up; but yeah, I'd have been screaming in pain about now if I'd tried any funny business in my squat rack I think. Leg's throbbing badly enough as it is just sitting here after using it isometrically for the pushups and renegade rows.

Well. Still good to be back in training even if I'm going to have to limit myself as far as exercise selection goes until the holes in me heal completely.

Monday, May 4, 2009

So what does fitness mean anyway?

I've been a little sedentary lately - who knew having your leg cut open and the varicose veins pulled out would hurt quite that much?

In retrospect I suppose I should have expected something of the kind; but meh - still worth it in the long run I think and the stitches come out Wednesday ;)

I've been in a slightly retrospective mood today - I've been moderating the Fitness forum on for a few years and made some great friends - some who've moved on, but I still remember them fondly; got and given a lot of help in the process, lost 63lbs of fat and gained a fair few pounds of muscle, maintained my loss for a year. Oh, going back to school was a big thing too, and has been keeping me busy from time to time, but... yeah; I've discovered new passions in the course of this.

And I am still thinking that - yeah; I should do more to make people see that Fitness is not one thing. It's about answering the question: "What do you want to be fit for".

Choose to be fit for your life. It's not about how much you squat or bench press, it's not about how fast your run or how high you jump, it's not about how many goals you score or the medals you collect. It's about being alive and being comfortable in your skin and feeling capable of living joyfully in your body.

I think this gets lost sometimes.

It's not about looking fit; it's about being fit - for your life.

So tell me - what does fitness mean to you?