Thursday, December 1, 2016

FIRST STRONGMAN CONTEST AFTER ACL RECONSTRUCTION: THE TRAINING


It’s been a long time since competing.  My last competition before this was 10 Oct 2015.  It was at that competition that I ruptured my ACL, tore my lateral meniscus and partially fractured where my patella and tibia meet during a sloppy 775lb yoke pick-up.  I received ACL reconstructive surgery on 10 Nov (they weren’t able to repair the meniscus, so they trimmed it out as best they could), and since that time have been healing and recovering.  In true fashion, I was training the entire time between injury and surgery, and then resumed training 2 days post-op, but it was 5 months and 22 days post op that I was cleared to train the injured leg for real, and it was about another 2-3 months before I got my strength levels back to about 90% of where they were.  I found out about this contest about 3 months ahead of time, and rapidly transitioned from recover/off-season work to in season prep and training.  The week OF the show, the contest lost it's sanction, got canceled, and then a new venue picked it up, so it was going to be interesting to see if any of the training paid off.  Listed below is how I trained for what the events were supposed to be.

EVENTS AND TRAINING

This show was something of a mixed blessing, as none of the events were my strong ones, so my ego couldn’t get in the way.


Event 1: Last man standing max axle clean and press (Wessels rules)

Up until this point, I was purely strict pressing, as I didn’t want to cause any knee trauma by dipping for the leg drive.  I was using 5/3/1 and focusing on getting my axle strict press numbers high.  Once I found out about the show, I had to relearn how to push-press, but I didn’t want to give up all the progress I had made on strict press, so I stuck with hitting the bare minimum reps for 5/3/1 sets before transitioning to push pressing out of the rack.  This would fatigue me for push pressing, but that was by design, because it meant limiting how much weight I put on the knee.


The bigger obstacle to overcome was the continental.  At my last show, I moved up a weight class, had to continental 245lbs, and couldn’t get it to my chest.  It was an eye opener, and prior to my injury something I was going to dedicate myself to.  Now, I had 3 months to figure it out and get it good.  I LIVED the continental the whole time.  For the first month, I would continental all of my push press sets on my press day, and then I’d rotate in a max weight continental on my squat day AND I would perform a weekly 10 minute EMOM workout of continentals, starting with triples and working my weight up until I could on my manage doubles or singles as weeks went on.  In the second to third months, I’d cut out the continental on the press day, but kept everything else the same.  This went a LONG way toward establishing my proficiency with the movement.


I also performed all continentals elevated from mats, because we would be performing the press with tires, so I wanted to get used to that movement.

By the time I was done training for the show, my leg drive had gotten better, but was still lacking.  Never ended up locking out 255, which was going to be my second attempt.


Event 2: Deadlift medley: barbell, frame, axle with tires and farmer’s handles (progressively heavier)



Weights were 405, 455, 465 and 525. Like all deadlift events, I didn’t train specifically for this one.  I had been doing axle ROM progression work because the axle forced me to use lighter weight than a deadlift bar would, so I stuck with that.  I would do more warm-ups with a mixed grip versus straps to help train myself for the axle portion of the medley, but otherwise I figured I’d show up strong and try to be fast, as was usual for me.


Event 3: Yoke 80’



Comp weight was 525lbs.  This was baby weight for me in the past, but my first day back to the yoke, 320 felt like a million pounds, and I was SLOW.  All my time spent learning footspeed had vanished, and I was starting over from scratch.  I would alternate weekly between yoke work and key carry medleys (event 5), with a reverse prowler drag finisher for each day to help bring up conditioning.  For the yoke, I would not move up on weight until I was certain I could maintain the footspeed I had with lighter weights.  I finally got smarter on moving events, and learned that it’s better to be fast with light weights than slow with heavy.  With a month out from the show, I managed to finally work up to comp weight and feel confident with it.  It was a lot of sweat work and eating humble pie.


Event 4: Hercules hold



Initially, I had planned to rig up some ghetto solution to simulate this, but everyone I talked to said that grip strength was the limiting factor beyond anything else, so I just decided to hammer that rather than spend my training time simulating.  I was already cranking grip hard with all the continentals and mixed grip axle work, but I also brought back timed DOH holds using the axle on my deadlift days.  I ALSO brought back timed crushes with the Captains of Crush grippers.  I would warm-up, and then just do 2 sets per hand holding in the squeezed position for max time.  I figured the axle was getting the thumb, and this was getting the fingers, and with all that I’d be covered.

By the time the show rolled around, I could hold a CoC #2 closed for a minute per hand.


Event 5: 3 Keg Carry Medley (75’, 50’, 25’) followed by backwards sled drag (75’)



Weights were 175, 200, 225 and 365 respectively.  I had a 100lb keg, a 182lb keg, and a 200lb sandbag at my disposal.  I had been doing some carry medleys prior to this, but once again, I wanted to learn how to be fast and light before I got slow and heavy.  First few runs, I’d double up with the 100lb keg and then end with the 182, and eventually I worked my way up to using the 182 for all 3 runs.  I was using a distance of 50-60’ the whole time rather than trying to figure it out, and I’d do suicides back and forth to help simulate fatigue.  For the sled drag, I used a prowler, and would load the kegs onto it at first before transitioning to loading it with 2 100lb plates or more.  I really tried to learn how to dig deep, drive hard, and learn back with all my weight to really get the sled moving.  There was a 90 second limit on this event, and having seen other shows, I figured that, even if I couldn’t be fast enough, if I could be tougher than everyone else, I could still place high simply by finishing the event.  I knew it was going to absolutely suck, but I ran some intense medleys in practice to prepare me for it.


---

I'll be competing on Saturday and will post the results, no matter what they are.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

CRAZY AS A MATTER OF HABIT

The other day, I read a few folks on a forum I visit discussing my training/training log.  Specifically, they were discussing the amount of effort and intensity I bring into my training, and how it was a level they never felt they could personally obtain, whether through volition or otherwise.  I’ve been called “beast”, “crazy”, “a machine”, etc etc, and in all of these instances I am always a little puzzled.  I don’t feel like I’m doing anything that anyone else isn’t doing; I’m just training hard and doing what it takes to succeed.  However, the further I analyze my own past and the success of others, the more I come to terms with the fact that my sense of normalcy is fundamentally warped, and that this stems from a consistent practice of abnormality.  Essentially, I’ve made a habit of being crazy.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
I mean...not THIS crazy

Norms are traditionally a product of culture, society and upbrining.  In general, what we consider normal tends to be a product of what we are exposed to on a consistent basis, and those that dwell in a consistent location tend to develop somewhat homogenous norms.  Everyone has, more or less, the same concept of what is normal.  This bodes well when it comes to fitting in with society, not being an outcast, and receiving many of the perks of the social contract, but it unfortunately doesn’t serve one well who DOES wish to exceed beyond the levels of average.  Average is average; it’s how we define mediocrity.  Greatness exceeds average, which means it is, by definition, weird, and outside the realm of normalcy. 

What does this mean for a trainee who wishes to move beyond normalcy?  They need to engage in a consistent habit of abnormalcy in order to set that as one’s new personal norm.  We must create our own norms outside of the currently accepted ones, and we must be our own source of exposure to serve as self-reinforcement.  The more we engage in those abnormal activities, the more they seem normal to us, until our sense of what is normal is so fundamentally off base with society that we lose the ability to even understand that it IS abnormal.

Image result for elevation training mask
Make no mistake; this guy KNOWS he looks like a douchebag

Like building up a tolerance to poisons, one must start with small dosages that gradually increase as tolerance builds.  Probably one of the simplest and most well structured ventures into new norms would be the time tested Super Squats program.  It pushes you past your comfort zone, but guides you by the hand the entire way.  Once you come out the other side of those 6 weeks of Hell, you’ll be a new person, and well on your way towards setting some new norms.  From there, you simply keep the momentum going.  Training through sickness and injury, training in extreme heat and cold, 2 a days, 3 a days, conditioning sessions that make you vomit, blowing out blood vessels and capillaries, etc etc.  It’s an arms race of insanity, and the only solution is escalation.

The question that always arises in these situations is how to start, and the answer is another time tested secret to success; fake it until you make it.  Contrary to what the internet would have you believe, bravado isn’t inherently a negative thing.  Certainly it is annoying, but for a trainee seeking to establish some new norms, it can be just the thing necessary to make that first step.  You don’t have to be born crazy; you can just pretend until it starts to stick.  Buy your own hype and believe you really are unstoppable, convince yourself that you have what it takes to be just like those you idolize.  First you have heroes, then you BECOME the hero, but there is no shame in engaging in a little imitation along the way.

Image result for awful cosplay
But at least put in SOME effort

The more we practice being crazy, the more it becomes habit, and in turn the more it becomes our first instinct.  It’s self-perpetuating; we practice being crazy so often that, when the time comes to decide, crazy becomes the natural instinct, which reinforces being crazy even further.  Eventually, one need not fake it, because one has had such consistent practice that it IS “normal”.  Now, this is a bit of a razor’s edge, because eventually the decision point will come where you really SHOULD back down and act “normal”, but your instincts will guide you closer to the fire than you should go.  Self-awareness goes a long way but honestly…you’ll get much further always betting on crazy than you will always hedging your bets.  Even one blown out ACL later, if I had to do it all over again, I’d have rather stuck with being crazy than back down and be normal.


…and that is probably just a sign of how far gone I am.    

Saturday, November 19, 2016

QUESTION EVERYTHING

I find that many times, in matters of training, there are many things that we consider good and bad.  The good are those things worth pursuing and the bad are those things that we should avoid.  However, these good and bad things are simply assumed, and more precisely presumed whenever matters of training are discussed, and it artificially and arbitrarily influences the way that discussion and advice is vectored.  I argue that it is the imperative of all trainees to question everything and assumed nothing when it comes to becoming bigger and stronger.

Image result for squatting on a bosu ball
This guy coulda done himself a favor if he bothered to ask his trainer "why?"

One of the most pervasive and destructive assumed evils in training is that of injuries.  For some reason, it is always a given that injuries are “bad” things, and therefore all training should be based around remaining injury free.  I have even witnessed some trainees argue that being injury free is the MOST important thing about training.  This is insanity.  The most important thing about training is meeting the goal of your training, and if your goal is to be injury free, I cannot see any reason to even ENGAGE in training.  Simply driving to the gym puts you at an INCREDIBLE risk of getting into a car accident, resulting in massive injury and possible fatality.  Additionally, the shower is one of the most dangerous places in the home, with an incredibly high risk of slipping and cracking your skull, but not showering after training could result in some sort of bacterial infection, so you’re pretty much screwed there too.  I haven’t even begun to address the potential for risks associated with actually performing any manner of training, but needless to say, life is a deathtrap.  If injuries are to be avoided, so is training.

WHY are injuries bad?  What makes them worth avoiding?  Because they make us feel bad?  Folks, this is called hedonism: the avoidance of displeasure and pursuit of only pleasure.  There is no room for the hedonist in training, as those unwilling to endure misery will not prosper.  Or are we claiming that injuries will ruin our ability to train/compete?  How then, do we explain the cases of Matt Kroczaleski, Dave Tate, Brandon Lilly, Louie Simmons, Dorian Yates, etc etc, all lifters who excelled to some of the highest echelons of their endeavors while suffering catastrophic injuries along the way?  Are we willing to believe that the recreational lifter who works a desk job is somehow going to injure themselves even worse than these individuals while lifting substantially less weight with lower intensities less frequently?  Are “career ending injuries” actually career ending? 

Image result for Brandon Lilly squat injury
If this dude can come back from this, I assure you that your tendinitis will be fine

Instead, I offer the reality that we do not consider injuries inherently bad, but simply instead as something that “is”.  Injuries are a fact of training as much as they are a fact of simply existing.  If we vector our training to avoid injury, we vector our training to avoid training.  We should instead train the way that makes us bigger and stronger, and be at peace with the fact that, yes, we will most likely get injured.  Once the injury happens, we simply adapt, overcome, and heal, giving us an opportunity to become stronger in many ways.  By declaring all injuries universally bad and worth avoiding, all we manage to do is make ourselves weaker overall.  Once we allow ourselves to be willing to be injured in the pursuit of greatness, we stand a much better chance of achieving our goals.

In contrast, we are also told many things are good, and find ourselves pursuing them because they are good…but what MAKES them good?  Mobility is constantly espoused as a good quality, one we should always be in the pursuit of, to the point that entire books, websites, seminars, and CAREERS have been dedicated to the furthering of mobility…but Jesus, how mobile do you really need to be to lift some weights?  How mobile was Paul Anderson?  Look at him squat; dude’s hamstrings ran into his calves and he couldn’t get down much further than that.  Good enough for a gold medal and some of the strongest feats a human could ever accomplish, but the internet would have you believe he needs to work on his mobility until he can squat ATG.  Look, if you want to be a contortionist, mobility probably SHOULD be your primary focus, but if all you wanna do is the big 3 or run with some kegs, you probably don’t need to spend a whole lot of time getting mobile.  You can get mobile ENOUGH, but why spend time getting more mobile when your goal is to get big and strong?

Image result for Paul Anderson squat
When your "ATG" is powerlifting legal, and you're just so goddamn strong it doesn't matter

The supplement industries have been bamboozling us in this same way for decades as well.  Pre-workouts increase performance in training.  Is that a good thing?  Really?  Why?  Why are we trying for maximal performance in training versus competition?  Why not build up our baseline of strength in an unaroused state that can be easily replicated and tracked in order to ensure progress versus constantly training in varied states of arousal via stimulants that make training difficult to evaluate?  Is doing 3 more reps as a result of being overstimulated necessarily better than 3 fewer reps when you’re at rock bottom?  And this is one of the more easily understood “goods” out there.  What about the more obscure stuff that supplement companies promise you under the assumption that those things are good?  Increased pumps?  Do I want that?  Scientifically formulated to increase base levels of testosterone by over 40 points?  Is that good?  The most high tech arginine delivery mechanism legally available?  What the f**k does that even mean?!

The only “good” here is that which helps you accomplish your goals.  Escape morality here; you’re allowed moral relativism when it comes to your training.  The goal posts ARE allowed to move, good and bad ARE malleable and influenced by external factors, and YOU are the decider of it all.  Don’t let alone dictate what is good and bad for you; question everything that is told to you and force THEM to justify it.

Image result for socrates drinking hemlock
What's the worst that could happen?


And be prepared to piss a lot of people off in the process.  That’s a lesson Socrates learned.