Friday, August 19, 2016

ADVERSITY JUNKIE

Hello.  I am your author, and I have a problem; I am addicted to adversity.  I don’t know when it all started, but I know I’m too far gone now.  I’m always looking for my next fix, and I’ve lost money and my health in my pursuit to satiate my addiction.


On the plus side, no one can accuse me of neglecting my mobility work, because my knee goes all over the place


I’ve spoken countless times on how I don’t enjoy training.  Some people seem to, and it confuses me.  Training for me is just something I do to meet my goals.  What I enjoy; what I NEED, is to overcome adversity.  I NEED to be behind the 8 ball.  I NEED to have the odds stacked against me.  I NEED to push myself too hard, too far, to fall, crash, burn, and rise up from the ashes over and over again.  I’m not truly living unless I’m barely alive.

THIS is the mentality that has allowed me to succeed in lifting, and as much as I wouldn’t wish my disease upon others, my observations lead me to believe that some folks could stand to share a little of my addiction.  Many seem to take to lifting to AVOID adversity.  They are hoping that lifting will REDUCE their chances of injuries, that being stronger will make life EASIER, and that fundamentally they will engage in less hardships by becoming bigger and stronger.


Image result for charles atlas punching bully
Sure, now you can beat up the bully, but you also found out that your girlfriend is a psycho


In reality, this is living by the sword.  As much as I hate comparing lifting to war (as it cheapens the efforts of those fighting) the truth is that a warrior who is not regularly engaged in battle becomes soft and weak.  If one wants to be hard and sharp, they must constantly be fighting, struggling, on the verge of defeat, so that they can be pushed to and redefine their limits.  If you constantly exist in your comfort zone, you will never exceed yourself.  One must be pushed to, and occasionally BEYOND, their limits.

This, fundamentally, is why I have zero fear of injuries.  In truth, I enjoy being injured.  Not in some sort of masochistic way, but more because I love having yet another opportunity to become stronger, better and greater: to overcome.  Yeah, it sucks at first when I can’t train exactly like I used to, and I get pissed off and sulky for a minute, but then I just start planning my recovery and comeback.  I love figuring out how I’m going to train with a ruptured ACL, or a blown out hamstring, or a torn labrum in my shoulder.  I love rigging up ridiculous contraptions in the gym to work around injuries.  I love when people ask me if I have started lifting again and I tell them “I never stopped”.

Image result for the hulk that's my secret
In my head, it was like this, but they probably just thought I was an idiot

One must seek out challenges and constantly overcome them in order to continue to improve themselves.  Nietzsche called this concept the “Will to Power”, and stated that this drive actually exceeded the will to live, and was in truth the compelling force of all action in the world.  It operates under the premise that, in nature, all creatures have an inherent drive to assert their power over another, and as power grows, so too does the challenge that the creature seeks.  One’s power does not grow through avoiding adversity and conquering small challenges, but instead from facing harder and harder challenges, until eventually one expires from undertaking a challenge that was too beyond one’s limits.  Death is simply the instance when one’s Will to Power exceeds their ability.

This means always trying to bite off more than you can chew.  It means having too much confidence.  It means having an unrealistic expectation of your abilities and facing challenges that any reasonable being would deem insane.  It’s training while sick, injured, extreme cold, extreme heat, no sleep, no food, and expecting nothing but greatness from yourself.  It’s HOPING that something goes wrong so that you have yet another chance to overcome and prove you are better.

Image result for up the creek without a paddle
"Awesome; an opportunity to work on my breaststroke"

This isn’t healthy. It’s not smart.  It’s an addiction.  These are the words of an addict, who is blinded from reason by their need to get their fix.  One needs to understand that before engaging in this process.  The people trying to find the balance between progress and maintaining their health and longevity are always going to err to the side of caution and only end up dipping their toes into the waters of insanity.  While I’m chasing my self-destructive addiction and looking for the next stupid obstacle to overcome, they’ll be healthy and well and pain free in their old age

…but I wonder if they’ll ever be strong.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

ON FREQUENCY



I have observed confusion regarding training frequency often enough (HAH) that I feel it’s time to address it as I understand it.  This won’t be anything new in terms of the ideas I’ve expressed, but I feel it will help frame the subject in a manner that will make it more understandable.

Image result for Ridiculous physics equation on chalkboard
Ya know...something like this

A prevailing belief at the moment is that frequency of training a movement is the primary determinant in building said movement.  One must squat frequently in order to build a bigger squat, one must deadlift frequently in order to build a bigger deadlift, etc.  This is why programs like Starting Strength are popular for beginner lifters and Smolov popular for non-beginners; they have on frequently performing a lift, so they are good at building said lift.

This understanding creates confusion when analyzing programs with low frequency of lifts.  Plain vanilla 5/3/1 has you perform each lift once a week, Westside doesn’t have you perform the competition lift UNTIL the meet, DoggCrapp takes 2 weeks before you come back to a lift, etc etc.  These programs WORK, and people can’t understand HOW.  How can you possibly improve the squat if you aren’t squatting?  The answer always boils down to steroids and genetics, and this is simply the lazy way out of the problem.  There is a real answer, and it’s far simpler, yet not easy.


Image result for Juggernaut punching hulk
Beating the Hulk is simple; just punch him hard enough. No way is that easy though.

We once again have arrived at the topic of skill vs strength; two ways one can improve the lift.  Performing the movement frequently greatly improves the skill in performing the lift.  This typically results in dramatic increases in the amount of weight moved, as one rapidly improves their skill at the movement and gets better and better at it with such frequent practice.  It’s like practicing and instrument; the more you pick it up and play the scales, the better you get.  However, skill can only be so perfected before one has reached the point of diminishing returns, which is why we eventually witness plateaus and, in most cases, regression after one has “overpracticed” the movement through frequency.  Eventually, repetitive motion injuries set in and it is time to reduce frequency in order to recover.

So the other way to improve a lift?  Strength, as we mentioned earlier.  How do we improve strength?  By strengthening the muscles involved IN the lift itself.  Now, popular internet folklore would have you believe that the best assistance movement for the squat IS the squat.  This is once again the work of people who don’t like thinking.  These people misunderstand the difference between strength and skill.  When given the task to make their squat stronger, they simply interpret that to mean “squat more weight”, so they pick the avenue that results in rapid improvement; skill work.  Strength takes TIME to develop.  Strength doesn’t accumulate rapidly, which is why most folks don’t like to build it.  It’s unrewarding to get stronger, and most folks would rather get better.


Image result for Squatting on a bosu ball
Or this I suppose

This is how programs like 5/3/1, Westside, DoggCrapp, etc, all improve the numbers on lifts; they make STRONGER lifters, not necessarily BETTER lifters.  These programs are more focused on improving the muscles involved in the lift and developing the ability of the trainee to strain and grind.  These programs tend to be rife with assistance work that isn’t at all similar to the movement being trained.  Westside is especially notorious for this, with lots of sled dragging, reverse hypers, glute ham raises, etc, all to build the posterior chain. DoggCrapp is a “bodybuilding program”, but I benched the most I ever did in a powerlifting meet while I was following it, and many followers report amazing strength gains while following it.  Even though the movement isn’t being practiced much (if at all), the muscles involved are becoming STRONGER, and as a result, improvements on the lift are observed.


Why can’t it be both?  Why can’t it be that frequency ALSO builds strength?  Well, as already discussed, too much frequency is a bad thing.  Repetitive motion injuries are common (look up all the horror stories of people following Smolov and having the hips and knees of an 80 year old…and they consider that something to be proud of), and performing the same max effort movement for more than 3 weeks tend to result in burnout, while changing things around keeps your body fresh.  One other significant point to consider is this; if you perform ONLY the squat to improve your squat, you will always strengthen the same strongpoints and neglect the same weakpoints.  If the movement does not change, neither does the stimulus, and you will eventually reach the point where your weakpoints are holding back your ability to employ your strongpoints.  If your squat style emphasizes your hamstrings and downplays your quads, eventually your quads will be too weak to allow you to recruit your hamstrings, because your squat style has done NOTHING to bring up your quads.  However, if you run a cycle of front squats, or reverse sled drags, or god forbid leg extensions, you will actually strengthen your neglected area to the point that you can tap further into the potential you’ve built.

This understanding is necessary to intelligently make decisions regarding training.  Too many people oppose a program like 5/3/1 for a beginner because it “lacks frequency”, but this is an amateur understanding of the process.  A beginner that employs a program with low frequency of movements might observe slow improvements on the amount of weight moved, but this doesn’t indicate a slow progression of strength built.  The strength may not be REALIZED as quickly as possible…but why does that matter?  Why is it that the same beginners who say they have no interest in competing are all locked into this weird pseudo competition to see who can squat 225lbs first?  You can “maximize beginner gains” at the start by rapidly practicing a few movements before you eventually plateau and HAVE to spend time in a dedicated strength BUILDING phase OR you could just build strength while also getting some practice in and just keep up the increases at a steady pace.  The “slow” progression of programs like 5/3/1 is simply the process of building strength as you realize it, which means you can just keep training for an almost indefinite period of time while observing steady increases in the amount of weight moved.


Image result for vincent dizenzo overhead press
I mean...it worked for this guy


I mean…doesn’t that sound awesome?

Friday, August 5, 2016

REST TIMES: A THEORY


Rest times are yet another hotly debated topic in the world of lifting that I honestly feel are fundamentally misunderstood by the general populace.  This of course is not alarming, as pretty much everything is misunderstood when it comes to training.  Its right up there with rep ranges and their effect along with the notion of a “hypertrophy routine” vs a “strength routine”.  As is typically the case, I believe that people are misunderstanding the effect for the cause, and in doing so are actually retarding their progression in their attempt to manipulate rest times for their own benefit.  Let’s explore.


Image result for ferdinand magellan
I mean, what's the worse that could happen?


The currently en vogue believe is that your rest times determine the outcome of your training.  Super short rest times (30 seconds) are more beneficial for conditioning, short to moderate rest times (30-90 seconds) for hypertrophy and long rest times (3+minutes) are for strength.  Yes, this looks just like the rep range nonsense.  Instead of thinking that it is choosing how long we rest that affects our progress, let’s instead analyze this as though it is our progress that affects how long we rest.
Think about Mariusz Pudzianowski for a second (if you’re like me, this wasn’t difficult, as you were probably already thinking of him.  Maybe even a little too often).  Of the many qualities he possessed, probably the most noteworthy was his conditioning.  Dude was an animal, and seemed absolutely tireless in his efforts.  While other strongman would be sucking down oxygen from tanks after the truck pull, he’d be partying with the spectators and yelling Polish into the camera. 

Image result for mariusz pudzianowski dancing with the stars
This photo was taken 4 seconds after the fingal fingers event in 2005
Now, ask yourself; does a man like this require long rest periods in his training?  Even with heavy weights, did Mariusz need 5+ minutes to recover?  Or was he ready to go in 2 minutes?  Well hell, if he could recover in 2 minutes where other people took 5, how much more work could he get done in a workout?
Is the lightbulb going off?  If you’re resting 5 minutes between every set, and let’s say that each set lasts 30 second, that means, in an hour, you’re going to be able to accomplish 10ish sets.  If you’re resting only 2 minutes between sets, this means you’ll be able to get in over twice as many sets.   And hey, what is that thing that’s really important for hypertrophy?  It’s volume, right?  Well hell, seems like short rest periods allow for more volume in a workout, which is a surefire way to get some more hypertrophy. 

Image result for spinal tap 11 

So why are long rest periods associated with strength?  Reference the many discussions I’ve had on the difference between building strength and peaking it.  When we build strength, our volume is high, and when we peak it, volume tapers off while the intensity rises.  When you are resting for long periods of time, you by default reduce the volume (assuming training for the same amount of time as previously with the higher volume bloc).  This forces peaking to occur, regardless of intent.  You have reduced the volume, which prevents the building of strength and only allows for the peaking of strength to be possible.
This is why prescriptions to artificially increase rest periods to facilitate recovery are ridiculous.  An athlete failing to recover between sets does not need to reduce their workload; they need to increase their conditioning!  Their recovery is failing, so recovery needs to be addressed.  Failure to address recovery in turn means failure to continue to grow, as the only available avenue at this point is peaking rather than building.


Image result for back to the future peeping tom
Peeking can have dangerous consequences
An alternatively proposed solution is to simply reduce the load to make it so that one can recover quicker between sets, but again, this is not addressing the fundamental issue at hand here, which is recovery.  Volume is not simply the number of total reps performed but the amount of total poundage moved.  If I can squat 500lbs for 5 reps with a 5 minute rest per set, reducing the workload to 300lbs for 5 reps with 2 minutes rest per set would mean that, in the case of the former, in one hour of training I would move 25000 vs 30000 in the case of the latter.  However, what if that lifter instead brought up their recover to the point that they could instead squat 500lbs for 5 reps every 2 minutes?  Instead of trying to manipulate the weight to fit the rest period, try to manipulate your ability to recover WITHIN the rest period.
The sheer act of resting 1-3 minutes between sets is not enough to facilitate growth; it’s what we do WITH those shorter rest periods that matter.  Less rest means more time to work within our allotted training window.  If you only have an hour to train, and it takes you 6 minutes to recover from a set of squats because your conditioning is shot, you’re simply not going to get a whole lot of volume in the workout.  This is doubly so if you’re so hardcore that you think anything above 5 reps is cardio, because it means that, along with very few worksets in your workout, you’re performing too few reps to accumulate any sort of decent amount of volume.  On the flipside though, if you’re diligently employing short rest periods to get in more volume but you still have crappy conditioning, you’re STILL not going to get in a lot of volume, because despite the fact that you’re getting in an absurd amount of total reps, your poundage will be minimal.  You need to be able to recover well with HEAVY weights to get the sort of volume that promotes growth.  Your 2 solutions here are to either train longer or improve your conditioning so that your training density is greater.

So what is the solution?  The obvious of course is to improve your conditioning (as I have bemoaned throughout my writing here).  Additionally, embrace the super/giant set in your training.  Don’t waste your rest periods; do SOMETHING to accumulate some volume.  Chase all of your upperbody work with a set of rows, curls, or band pull aparts.  Perform your ab work in between your squats.  Warm-up for one exercise in between your worksets for another.  ALWAYS be moving in your training.  The text messages can wait, you can swipe right later (right?  Left?  I am barely aware of what a Tinder is), the silent judging of the other gym patrons can happen another day, finding the perfect song on your MP3 player will be put on hold, just keep moving and accumulating volume.  Eventually you will reach a point where you can perform 90% efforts within 2-3 minutes of each other, and your ability to accumulate volume will become legendary, yet you’ll STILL have time outside of training to have a social life because you aren’t in the gym for 4 hours.


Image result for texting in the gym
I suppose you could always save the texting for during the workout

Or you could take an hour to do 15 reps.  I’m sure that works well too.