Of Goals, and the Most Efficient Route

Zack Dechant, of the fantastic Strength & Conditioning-themed blog, Sports Performance Training, knocked another one outta the park a while back with this aptly titled post, More is Better? It’s a keen observation of the coaching community’s tendency to fall back on tradition – on what “worked” last year, or last decade – versus doing the heavy lifting of running those traditional concepts through the critical analysis grinder.

Of course, it’s not just over-burdened S&C coaches who are guilty of this practice.  Even if the only person we train is ourselves, it’s easy to fall-back into sleepwalker mode.  If you’re still rockin’ the 80’s clown-pant gym-wear look, blasting through 4 x 15’s in the DB kickbacks “for killer tris” and eating 6, perfectly timed meals and 2 bags of rice cakes a day (no fat!), then it might be time to put your own “truths” under the spotlight of some serious, critical analysis.  Is the path that I’m currently following the most efficient route to achieving my goals? We should all be asking ourselves this routinely, placing not only group-think but, (and probably most importantly so) what we consider to be our own “knowledge” under the greatest of suspicion.

The following is a snippet from Zack’s post that is think is especially pertinent, here; make sure, though, to check out the entirety of Zack’s post, as it is a true gem.

“…one reason Charlie Francis, famed sprint coach, loved the Olympic lifts was due to the high amounts of motor unit activation.  Instead of spending an hour or more in the weight room after a sprint training session with exercise after exercise, Charlie felt they could hit the majority of the motor units within the body with a few Olympic movements and get out quick.  This way the majority of their time was devoted to adapting to their speed sessions, with the weight room serving as an accessory to the ultimate goal of being faster.  He didn’t want to impede results by fatiguing athletes even more in the weight room.  Often times, they might only perform one or two exercises depending on how their track session went.  But in the end it he still utilized minimal volume that could produce the results he was after.

Hypothetically, if an athlete can achieve the same goal necessary with a 50% reduced workload then it is a far more efficient route to take.  Not doing so takes much more energy.  We don’t want this when that energy could’ve been used for the adaptation process…”

Of course we shouldn’t all flock like crows to everything new and flashy, either, nor should we become stunned into inaction via contraction of the “analysis paralysis” virus.  Keeping up with the latest in applicable research is certainly to be encouraged; however, we never want to fall into the “data mining trap”, or of “being blinded by science” and automatically assuming that, just because certain results were produced in a lab environment, that they should (by virtue of being born of “learned” minds) trump solid empirical evidence shaded to the contrary.   Training is an art, yet the best artists in this medium are adept at knowing both how to integrate relevant and useful science, and what ought to be left to the wayside; useful fodder for debate, perhaps, yet next to useless in real-world application.

And Speaking of Goals and Efficient Routes –

Great article by Bryan Krahn and Christian Thibaudeau, Thibaudeau on Ramping, over at, the site that causes me mad (mad, I tell you!!) surges of cognitive dissonance, T-Nation.

Is your goal strength, hypertrophy, metabolic conditioning, generalized health and well-being, a combination/ratio of all of the above?  Whatever your goal, make sure your plan of attack is the most efficient route to get you there.

Yeah, it happens to me too… –

You head into the gym with a plan, and then have to alter that plan on the fly.  Hey, it’s all good – chalk it up to the God’s of randomness nudging you to change things up just a bit.  You didn’t want to fall into a rut anyway, did you?  Thought not.

For whatever reason, everyone and their mama decided to descend upon the YMCA weight room Tuesday evening, so I had to bust-out a little creative juggling; this is what I ended up with:

clean-grip barbell power snatch (from the floor): 7 sets of 2, approximately 10 secs between sets.  Speed emphasis.  135 lbs

then:

front squat (full range of motion, i.e., ass-to-grass): 135 x 5; 165 x 5; 185 x 3; 195 x 2, 2, 2.  Very little recovery between sets; maybe 1 minute or so, if that.

…followed by a nod Mike Mentzer, and his brand of HIT:

machine flye: 165 lbs x approx. 10 reps, (4,0,4,0 tempo) to positive failure + 10-count continued push; followed immediately by:

weighted dips, single-set-to-failure: 45 x 6 (4,0,4,0 tempo) + rest-pause x 3, 3, 2, 2 (3, 0, x,0 tempo).

Why “to failure” in the upper-body movement, and not for the legs?  Inroad is both systemic and localized.  That said, I won’t totally inroad my lower body unless I’m quite sure that I won’t be biking or running (sprinting) for the next few days (at least).  Quite simply, this is a best-fit compromise between maintaining lower body strength without digging such in inroad hole that I can’t perform well in the other lower body-intensive activities that I enjoy.

Thursday evening explosives –

A basic explosive superset on tap for this session.  Emphasis was on speed and perfect form.

whip snatch to overhead squat: bar x 10; 95 x 3, 3; 115 x 2; 125 x 2; 135 x 2, 2, 2; 140 x 1, 1

straight bar muscle-ups (reg.-grip, pull-up variety): bodyweight x 2 for each of the 10 rounds

The Guacamole, Ham and Cheese Omelet, and Givin’ Up a Little Strength to Get a Little Endurance

First up, the guacamole, ham and cheese omelet.  Nothing special here, except for the use of duck eggs — if you can get your hands on these things, by all means do so!  Big, beautiful yokes — and so tasty!  The photos below are pre and post fold; free-range ham steak strips, your favorite guacamole recipe, and Trader Joe’s raw milk cheese.

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I’ve been spending A LOT of time in the fixie saddle lately, and one thing’s for sure as a result — my front squat strength has taken a hit.  This is both a cumulative result (due to the total “saddle time” miles put in), and an acute issue — riding long, hard and fast prior to a front squat workout  doesn’t bode well for pushing big numbers — relative to my winter, low mileage, front squat numbers, that is.   The thing is, you can’t constantly dose the body with endurance demands AND expect it to maintain huge strength numbers.  And, hey, I’m cool with that; it’s an accepted compensation, and I don’t obsess over it.  The flip-side of this is that back when we rolled into the early spring, my front squat numbers were great, yet I couldn’t sprint (bike) around the block without my quads falling into lactate paralysis.  The take-home point here is that my “strength with which to endure” is still way high relative to the demands of cycling — which makes me a much more proficient cyclist — it’s just not “high” with respect to wintertime lifting highs.  The other point to consider here is that I’m an athletic generalist — if I were a competitive Oly lifter of course, this wouldn’t at all do, and all that fixie riding would have to come to an abrupt end.  In the end, we all have to choose our loves, and our poisons.

The other issue here is time.  I’ve only got so much time to devote to working out, and since my quads absorb the bulk of my riding punishment, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to batter them again (at the expense of under-working the rest of my body) in the gym.  This is where having access to an Efficient Exercise-like facility would be oh so nice.  In such a facility, the time cost involved with maintaining (and more likely, even bettering) my quad strength during the riding season would be minuscule.  But you gotta roll with the tools you have on hand, and not look back, right?  Right.  Hey, I’m just sayin’…or bitchin’, however you want to look at it  🙂

You’ll notice that I worked some power cleans into the Friday evening session   I haven’t done these in quite a long time — so long that my thumbs got hammered from the hook grip — and so I thought I’d begin feathering them back in by starting off very, very light and working out all the technical issues.  I  don’t have access to bumper plates, or even a good place to do the Oly derivatives, but I make do as best I can.  So if you’re keeping score at home, I need access to (1) an Efficient Exercise-like facility, (2) a nice lifting platform with bumper plates, and (3) a city with a rich fixie culture.  Sounds like I need to figure out a way to get down to Austin, huh?

Friday Evening’s Iron Session –

front squats: 135 x 5; 165 x 3; 185 x 3; 205 x 2; 215 x 1, 1, 1, 1, 1
followed by,
power cleans: 135 x 5 sets of 5

then a superset of,

explosive rack pulls: 225 x 3; 315 x 3, 3, 3, 3
weighted parallel-grip pull-ups: 45 x 5; 70 x 3, 3, 3, 3

Explosive rack pulls: I set the rack pins so that the bar sat right about knee level, took a clean grip (with straps), and ripped off 3 full and explosive triple extensions.  The difference between this and low pulls is that the elbows remain straight — in other words, the bar doesn’t travel any higher than “full shrug” level.

Saturday’s Gym Session –

This following a long hard stint in the saddle:

As a superset –
incline single-arm dumbbell press (on a Swiss ball): 75 x 10; 85 x 7, 7; 90 x 7
single-arm dumbbell row: 125 x 5; 130 x 5, 5, 5

Single-arm db presses on a Swiss ball allow for proper scapular movement.  Remember from this post that this is a big reason that I prefer push-up variations to pressing from a bench for the horizontal push motion.  I like to do these in a power rack, or near some piece of equipment that I can grab with my off hand.  At the top of the press I twist slightly to the off-side so as to bring the weighted-side scapula off the Swiss ball — imagine attempting to eek-out an extra inch or so in height out of the movement.  This also taxes the core quite nicely.

I’ll be huckin’ it around downtown Raleigh today (after brunch with my darling daughter at the Irregardless Cafe), so if you see a big guy on a black Biachi fixie, give me a shout.  Better yet, join in on the ride!

2/7/10, Easing Back Into Things

What better way to climb back in the saddle than with some ass-to-grass front squats and explosive GHRs?  I’m amazed at just how “heavy” a not-so-heavy weight feels after having been away from the gym for a while.  The CNS, I suppose, adjusts accordingly – ramping-up/down as required so as to accommodate for perceived “threats”.   The same type of adjustment occurs when an athlete moves up a rung on the competitive ladder – i.e., adjustment to a new, higher intensity level, an increased “game speed”.  Soon enough, the CNS adjust, and the new higher-intensity, increased speed becomes the new-normal – until the next step up, when the process repeats anew.

Today’s workout came at 1PM, following a 10 AM meal of a 3-egg, bacon and cheese omelet.  I didn’t perceive much difference one way or the other (vs working out in a fasted state) as far energy or strength levels are concerned, which I believe bodes well for my body’s ability to maintain a high energy level even under fasted conditions.  Yea Paleo.

So, how does one attack things when he hasn’t been in the gym in over a week?  Walk in, drop the gym bag, immediately pick up a pair of 105lb DBs and hit two back-to-back sets of 180 yd. farmer’s walks, each completed in less than 2:10 secs.  Nice little pre-warm up.  I followed that up with 5 or 6 sets of light overhead squats to get my body uncoiled.  I’ll do quite a bit of these in the days to come, as OHS are one of the best dynamic stretch/warm-ups I know of.  Then it was on to the day’s fun:

Front squats (all ATG, very strict, no form break)

Wave 1

135 x 5

175 x 4

185 x 3

190 x 2

205 x 1

Wave 2

195 x 3

205 x 2

215 x 1

GHRs (each rep explosive – no form break, no grinds)

10 sets of 3s at 40 lbs.

Post workout meal?  Some beef roast and 1/3 stick of raw butter.  Total calories and fat/protein composition?  I have no idea, and don’t care to investigate.  The amount of roast was just what was leftover in the fridge, and the amount of butter was simply deemed “a decent amount”, and cleaved from the stick.  How’s that for weighing and measuring?  🙂

A Pair of Back-to-Back Workouts

“…Philosophers and ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the heart…”

~ Rush

Hat tip to Richard, at Free the Animal, for reminding me of my own freewheeling Rush days with this post. Ah, those wondrous, glorious days of no responsibility 🙂

Throwing the body a down-and-in curve ball

I don’t normally perform hard-core workouts back-to-back, as I think it is unwise on so many levels.  However (and, as there is an exception to every rule), my upcoming schedule is such that I’ll have plenty of time to recover over the next week (with no access to a full gym and/or weights of any sort, until January 6th). The main reason I don’t recommend doing this (tough, back-to-back workouts) often,though, is that it can quickly result in overtraining, and an eventual state of under-performing, injury, and just an overall run-down, irritable and depressed feeling. Now there are a couple of tricks that can be used to “minimize the negatives” in this scenario, but I don’t like to push my luck all that often.  An overtrained state is much like an addiction, in that it sneaks up and ties you down before you realize just what the hell is going on.  It also takes — I can say from personal experience — a long time to recover from an overtrained state.  Just say “no”, kids!

OK, enough evangelizing, moving on…

Both of these workouts were completed in approximately 40 minutes total time, and both were performed on an empty stomach, with the last meal prior to each of the workouts having come 11 hours before hand. Here’s how I divided the workouts over the two days in question (and remember, I knew ahead of time that I was going to go “back-to-back”, so there was a little more pre-planning here than is my usual):

Tuesday:

  1. Heavy Front Squats x 3, 3, 3, 2, miss, 1

  2. Heavy Power Curl (from the floor) x 3, 5, 3, 3, 3, 3

I did these in superset fashion, with a full recovery between the execution of each exercise.  The emphasis on “heavy” means that I skewed toward the strength end of the modality spectrum, at the expense of speed (and overall power output).  In other words, the front squat reps were “ground out” as opposed to “snappy”.  The power curls were done at a weight that was just shy of what would have caused poor form.  And I added a little spin to the front squat, to ramp up the difficulty even a bit further. Initially, I set the pins of the power rack at a level that would accomodate a front squat at a one-quarter depth. Then, starting with a weight that was highly challenging for three reps in this range (actually, the weight was challenging just to un-rack and hold), I progressed, set-by-set (and while keeping the weight constant), by sequentially lowering the pins prior to the start of each subsequent set. I continued in this manner until I finally hit a set (and a squat depth) where I “bottomed-out” and failed to complete a single rep. In other words, on the first set I managed 3 reps at a pin height consistent with what would be considered my quarter squat depth. I adjusted the pins prior to the next set so that they allowed for another couple of inches or so of squat depth. So on and so on I went, until I finally hit the “fail” point which, incidentally, wound up being right about at the thigh parallel-to-ground depth. Then, for the final set, I raised the pins back to the last “good rep” depth, and did another single there.  This final set was indicative of my working philosophy of “never ending on a failed attempt”.  This is something I was tought at a very young age, and a philosophy I’ve employed in every sporting event and training scenerio.  I’ve also coached others in this way.  I don’t want to start treading on Anthony Robbins’s territory here, but consistantly ending with accomplishment works.

I’ve found that the Power Curl works well in combination with a heavy front squat, with the combination of movements being complementary to one another; it’s also quite taxing to the hips, core and lower back.

Wednesday:

I woke up feeling pretty damn sore from Tuesday’s heavy bout. Performing squats the way I did (progressively lowering the squat depth, set-to-set, while maintaining a consistent working weight) on Tuesday is a good way to trick your body into going well beyond what you’d normally be able to do if you were to perform the usual set/rep method of maintaining a constant depth while increasing the working weight set-to-set. Anyway, this resulted in a good bit of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) throughout my core, hips, and upper and lower back. I expected as much, though, with the amount weight that I was pushing in the movement. In any event, I decided to skew more into the power realm (bringing the speed element back into play) with Wednesday’s workout so as not to pummel my body with back-to-back similar modalities. This, in effect, serves to “minimize the negatives” associated with the performance of back-to-back (or same day splits, for that matter) workouts, at least from a neurological standpoint. Here’s what I did:

  1. Dumbbell Snatch + Split Jerk x 3, 3, 2 (each arm)

  2. Muscle-up (on gymnastic rings) x 2 full muscle-ups (+2 additional dips), for 3 sets

I did the above two exercises as a superset for three rounds, then I hit a total of 5 additional singles in the DB Snatch/Split jerk, each arm (full recovery between each rep, swapped arms each rep – i.e., L (recover), R (recover), L (recover)…). I wound-up fairly pressed for time by the workout’s conclusion, however, I did manage to squeeze-in a quick steam/cold shower contrast to help speed my recovery. As of this writing (Wednesday evening), I can tell you, though, that I’m pretty much toast, and in no shape for brining in the new year!  The time off will be much appreciated.

In Health,

Keith