Archive for the ‘Bill Starr 5×5 Intermediate Programme’ Category

It’s been a while since I’ve had to make a blog post – there has been a lot going on.

Third year exams are no joke. We timed it so that we’d take two weeks off after six weeks of hard work, allowing for complete recovery. Then, when the exams were finished, we’d be able to test our new 1RMs that week.

However, this threw up a few issues.

First – two weeks off shouldn’t ever happen…ever. In the two weeks you’re “off”, you’re meant to de-load (working between 60-70% of your capacity). However, we decided to take one entire week off and train at a de-load level the next week as we had a hell of a lot of work to do for our degrees. Call it an example of “real life” getting in the way of strength training!

Second – Post exams is an atrocious time to be testing anything for the following reasons:

– you want to unwind
– you want to SLEEP
– you’ve been sitting on your ass for extended amounts of time (immobility will seize you up*)
– your diet has slipped
– you’re in party mode

All of this added up. We weren’t physically or mentally anywhere near prime when it came time to test the 1RMs.

We only managed to find time this week to test the Bench and the Bent-Over row…though the gains were obvious, we feel we could have performed a LOT better had we not been sleep deprived, under-fed, dehydrated and inflexible.

Gains were as follows:

Sean

Bench – 85kg to 90kg
Bent-Over Row – 90kg to 102.5kg

Ross

Bench – 90kg to 95kg
Bent-Over Row –  80kg to 90kg

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Compared to what we know our bodies are capable of, it was a let-down. We’re never short of mental ability – there was no time spent testing where we weren’t giving an absolute best effort, but the circumstances clearly took their toll on our bodies. We both made attempts 5kgs above our best result and each time, the bar would rise but the lock-out never came.

All together, we’ve decided to sack testing the 1RMs for the rest and to get back to training as hard as possible on Monday, where we embark on a new programme using the “Ramping Method” which I’ll detail on Sunday evening.

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What we’ve learned from the testing week:

– You’ve got to be prime to get prime results
– Celebration season is not a prime time to test anything…
– Life is about priorities. For the last two weeks, the priority has been passing exams. What’s important is getting back on the horse when the time is there again. Though we did train in the second week as planned, we didn’t spend time cooking the health/energy food we usually eat, nor did we sleep half as much as we needed to. As a result, we had two weeks of poor fuel and body care leading us into a test week…and I’m not even detailing the coffee abuse.

It’s worth noting that the stress of exams itself is a total energy sapper – the key is to never stop exercising completely and to get up off your chair every now and then to move…stretch, run, squat, whatever, just never stop moving for too long. You’ll sleep better, above all things!

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Are “test weeks” really necessary?

We wanted to test in order to convey the gains we’d made by comparing them to our original numbers…however a very important point is that when you’re busy “showing” strength, you’re not busy “building” strength. The two weeks necessary for complete recovery and the test week itself is time spent not challenging your body and, therefore, not making gains. I’m not knocking de-load weeks, they’re absolutely necessary, but test weeks themselves aren’t actually necessary to see that you’re getting stronger. It should be reflected in the training itself (for example in our 5×5 regime, I squatted my old 1RM 3 times in the last session).

Due to this, it’s unlikely that we’ll be “testing” again any time soon…time to get back to what we love doing – training!

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* – When you’re sleeping, the tissue in between your muscles (fascia) seizes up and constricts movement. Ever notice how you get up and feel less mobile than when you went to bed? It’s not just cold/inactive muscles, it’s physical tissue binding your musculature. Some leading physicians believe this is a huge factor in “age related immobility”. How do you combat this? Stretching. What were we not doing for two weeks? Stretching. We were sitting on our arses (at least for the first week) with our faces buried in books.

Get up, get moving, get mobile. (Sounds like a cracking advert)

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It has been a hard six weeks.

When we began this programme, we knew there would be hardship, failures and dips in the road – no plan survives contact with the enemy (often being yourself). However, we also knew there would be progress.

The progress is evident in the numbers. The blog and the numbers/performance details we’ve logged have given us clear evidence that lifting heavy things and lifting heavier things over time makes you better at…lifting heavy things!

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I’ll discuss the data in a bit – first, the last day of our Bill Starr 5×5 Intermediate Programme experiment:

All exercises were intended to be 5×4, 3×1, 8×1.

Today was shaping up to be terrible. Irritations from all facets of life, work that needed to be done and we hadn’t found time to eat much at all during the day. I also felt sufficiently dehydrated, enough cause me bother, so I’d been trying to “catch up” and felt just shy of bloated again. We had both slept little through the week and last night had been no different…so we turned up to the gym underfed, tired and a little nauseous.

We entered the gym a little later than usual and so wanted to make sure we got the really challenging work out of the way first, that being the squat. Warm-up was simple – the usual walk to the gym, some goblet/cook squats, some squats with the barbell alone and some plyometrics.

The 5 rep sets were technically on point for both of us…there was definitely something in the air. We’d been psyching each other up for an hour or two beforehand…we went on with the work on the basis that we hadn’t come all this way to fail on the last day and we owed it to ourselves. I find it helpful to remind myself that in any given situation, if someone’s life was in danger (be that my own, a friend, family member or even stranger), the adrenaline kick-start would be enough to fight a roided up polar bear/Deadlift a clown car – so squatting the weight on my back IS possible…my body CAN do it, the only thing holding me back is my mind telling me it’s too hard. Thus, not wanting to see myself as a coward, I feel obliged to give it a maximum effort regardless of how weak/ill I feel. To make extraordinary gains, you need to make extraordinary effort. A bit of my own philosophy on life here, but if you take away the idea of an omnipotent God, heaven or divinity, all that there is in life, in its entirety, is your story. When I die, whatever happens next, no one knows – but they will know that in my time here, I gave 100% of my effort when it counted and I never gave in. The search for progress (in any area of life) is one of relentless perseverance, 100% effort and intelligent approach. I may offend at times, I may falter and I may fall, but part of my story is that if I’m at Point A and aiming for Point B, anything in my path will be met with absolute dedication, unrelenting tenacity and an attitude that condones bleeding from your eyeballs. Some people are born with this kind of state of mind – I was one of the lucky ones who learned it.

With all of that said above, we knew that the 3-rep set was going to happen and with solid form. The gym was empty. I stormed back and forth for a few moments and allowed heavy metal to seep from my iPod to my legs. I felt confident – the weight sat there just begging me to move it. I focused all of my energy for a moment and stood under the bar, took it upon my shoulders and stepped back…one deep breath, a balanced descent and then, inches below parallel, I fired both of my legs up. 1 rep down. Breathe out, big breath in, down, depth and BOOM, drive and there we go – 2 reps complete. Now, the last rep – failure did not even creep into my head. Breathe out, big breath in, down, deep as possible and then full throttle towards the ceiling…I was firing on both of my legs as hard as possible whilst keeping my back strong and steady, yet the bar moved oh so slowly…that is the sticking point. This is the spot where mental anguish forces you to either drop the weight and admit defeat or you overcome yourself and power through where your mind simply says “impossible”. I chose to give my mind the middle finger and finish my final 3-rep squat set of the 5×5 programme. My left leg buckled somewhat when I was attempting to re-rack the weight, but thankfully this isn’t part of the exercise.

No challenge is worth doing if the grand finale doesn’t scare you.

Ross followed the same path. Unrelenting effort, hammering out three fully formed reps with an audible battle with the final rep…the following 8 rep set was a doddle, but still painful…again, something we’re just used to doing.

15 minutes to complete the bench press and bent-over rows.

1st, Bench. We decided to cut out the 8 rep set and the 2nd of the 5rep sets to save time – the important point was that the 3-rep set was complete and we were safely warmed-up. As expected, well-formed reps with weights that surpassed anything we’d previously lifted.

For points sake, we both shifted 2.5kgs less than our 1RM for the 3-rep set and both of us felt prepared for more.

2nd, Bent-over row. We opted for the same set/rep changes. I maintained a full grip. Ross actually by mistake ended up lifting 5 Kgs heavier than he had planned to and didn’t compromise form. Progress!

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Next up, we’re taking a full week off, then having a week of extremely light work with some recovery based plyometric work…or “Neural Charge” as Chris T calls it. The week following, we’re testing our 1RMs again.

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I’m running out of time and will discuss the numbers in a post in the coming few hours (or week), but the important point from today is the following:

– Your life story is all you’ve got. What do you want to be remembered as?

That is all.

Evening blog viewers, Ross here!

Can I first say that I apologise if I have caused offence to any one of the staff members of the ISE after my show of frustration on Tuesday. They were doing their job, and rules are rules. I respect that, and always will. However, you must understand the frustration at not being able to train. I have always been taught to be humble, and even though frustration can kick in during the heat of the moment, I will always be humble. To this end I again apologise for any undue offence, it was not intended.

Before I give you the low down on today’s session I’d first like to address a comment that was posted on ‘Day 16 (part 2)’. The comment raised the issue of going to the gym and not having a goal or a plan. (Please check out the comment if you wish). The basis of this ISE user’s argument was that if you head to the gym without a plan, if your aim is to lose weight for example, then that’s fine, and that having a plan isn’t for everyone. So here is my take on things:

With regards to training with or without a plan. I have seen all too many times a person who is, as Joe Bloggs (this will be ISEuser’s pseudonym) says, obese or lazy come into a training environment without a plan and never come back. There is no benefit to this. As Sean said in his reply, consistency is the key. The goal does not need to be complicated, and neither does the plan. But to come into the gym and sit on a machine once every month and do a couple reps, or walk on the treadmill for 10 minutes is not going to work for anyone. Consistency and commitment will work. Short of self sacrifice, there are few things you can do to better yourself without consistency and commitment: doing a university course, learning to play the guitar, losing weight, getting stronger. All of them take consistency and commitment. Without these two things you will get nowhere fast, and the chances are you won’t even get there slow. Having a goal, having a plan to reach that goal, and having commitment to the plan to reach the goal – these are fundamental to achievement. Man didn’t stumble onto the moon by accident. The moon was the goal, and it took a plan and commitment to that plan to get there. A fairly grandiose example yes, but nevertheless it is a sound principle. Get a plan, and great things are possible. I am sure you can appreciate this. It is pointless to not have a plan. That said if your plan for going to the gym is to walk around in a tight t-shirt and pose for half an hour flexing your ‘guns’ – you can’t say they don’t exist – then I have no respect for what you are doing. If your goal is self improvement, be it getting fitter, stronger, or healthier, then I welcome you with open arms and I will aim to help anyone of you as much as I can – to plan, or to train.

Thanks for the criticism man/mannette, we appreciate any and all comments. Good, or bad. And if you ever feel like training with us, just ask. We would be glad to have you.

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And so on with the session…

I will start with my induction. As I said in a previous post it was basically: ‘this is a thing…that is another thing…please put the things away when you’re done’. I will give my inductor his due though, he was friendly and seemed happy to help – a good man for anyone who doesn’t know what they are doing. (He is the one who looks like an actual athlete, by the way). So once he had finished I began my workout.

First I started with the light squats 4×5 (finishing comfortably with 102.5kg). These where lovely and deep. So deep in fact I couldn’t go any deeper or ass and floor would be one (and with the amount of testosterone filled gentlemen sweating in that gym I’m happier with my ass not touching the floor).

Next came the military press 4×5 (35, 42.5, 50, 57.5kg). These were solid. Pushing out the last two where great fun, but confidently raised high – definitely showing gains.

Finally the Deadlifts (capital D). 4×5 at 80, 97.5, 115 and 132.5kg. These were superb, strong, confident and no grip issues at all. The only issue I had was with the last rep when my form was not perfect. It wasn’t bad, the weight was steadily moved with no worries, but my spine started to curve slightly. But overall I am happy with my performance, very good session with some food for thought…

After the session was over I took some time to think, and I have come up with the conclusion, that the current limiting factor for my squat and my Deadlift is the lack of strength in my back. Remembering past sessions I realised that I have never felt any real burning effort come from my legs, it has always been my back feeling weaker and not up to scratch with the rest of my body. To this effect, when Sean and I start our new training block we will address this issue with accessory work and ‘encourage’ my back to catch up. Identifying weaknesses and improving them is essential to better and safer performance.

So my notes from the day:

– Inductions are a waste of time if you have “common sense” – (quote from inductor dude). Being able to ask for advice is a far better system and should be incorporated.

– Go deep, go high, go heavy.

– Get a plan, it is the only way to move forward fast.

– Identify weakness. Make weakness stronger.

 

Thanks for your time you beautiful viewers!

 

Train hard.

Ross

 

Today was the second last session of our 6 week Intermediate 5×5 plan – I hit the gym myself seeing as Ross can’t use the ISE until Thursday, when he’ll do his session. He’ll post his mid-week session up tomorrow.

Anyway, 5×4 – Light squats, military press, Deadlift.

Squats – what a freakin’ revelation…I spend about an hour/two every day looking at training videos online – eyeing up different techniques, what works, what doesn’t, what’s harmful, what’s helpful. I’ve been obsessed with getting an extremely heavy squat because in my eyes that meant extremely strong legs…the problem is, with power lifting techniques, the main aim is shifting as much weight as humanly possible in a squatting motion, not necessarily training your quadriceps ability to contract against resistance…

That may sound strange, but what I’m saying is that the wide stance takes the tension off of your quads and places it more so on your hamstrings/hips/posterior chain…that’s not where I’ve been wanting my tension to be held (atleast not as intensely). Those muscles tend to be stronger, hence why you can squat more with the powerlifting technique.

So, I’ll finsh this week on the powerlifting style then when we begin training with new 1RMs mid-April, I’m switching to what’s considered a high-bar olympic style squat. In picture form:

I’m going from this style:

To this style:

The reason I’m doing this is because of my own theory of lifting for general strength…Horizontal push/pull, Vertical push/pull, Quad based legs, Hamstring based exercise…at the moment, I’ve been doing too little quad based work – I’ll have this fixed for our next training plan. More on the idea behind this concept later, busy at the moment.

Military press – hugely improved technique since last week. I felt as though I was hoisting the weight up on my last two reps last week where I can say this was all done with the power of my shoulders and core this week. That’s 5 reps at 47.5kg…my 1RM was 50kg when this all began…re-test is going to be absolute filth. Progress brings progress, etc, etc.

A quick reminder on press technique by Mark Rippetoe:

(QUICK EDIT) – Inbetween sets today, I did some plyometric pushes – press up position with my feet on the floor and my hands on the bench, far enough back that my core was challenged, so that the explosive movement was done with the same muscles I use to push vertically…I also grab an empty bar and did some explosive reps. Certainly looks like it helped!

Deadlifts – today they were frankly a nightmare…as usual, my favourite nightmare. The grip was challenging this week in the last set in the last two reps, but that’s to be expected. I wasn’t half as well fed as I was when we had the ridiculous mid-week session not long ago…regardless, the weights went up. I had some pausing inbetween reps on the last set, but it was re-adjusting my grip that had loosened on the way up…still, re-test is going to be ace here too! Some really clear gains in this last week.

I was intending to do some grip work, but the gym closed…woops!

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I bumped into a friend of mine at the end of the night who mentioned an interest in Deadlifting – I only showed him the technique but even his very first repetition wasn’t far off acceptable form…in my eyes, it’s proof that the Deadlift is a very natural movement for people. Natural movements tend to be done by humans more often, so what does this mean for you? Deadlifting will make you stronger at things you do…often! Get on it, folks!

Also, a shout out to the Irish lad who gave a blog some support when I first came into the gym today, the following is in your honour…

aaaaand…

Today’s notes:

– Technique, technique, technique…Hmmm…deja vu.
– Squat techniques – there’s plenty! If you want to be a powerlifter, powerlift…but I’m now thinking that for the average dude who wants strong legs, high bar olympic lifting and Deadlifts are the way to go!
– Never be content with your technique…always try to look for mistakes, even if there are apparently none.
– Pressing anything overhead, keep your core solid – it’s a total body movement.

No time to re-read – peace.

Today took a bit of a twist that threw a curve ball our workout frankly couldn’t catch. We arrived and the fella behind the counter asked if Ross was going to use the SPC (the area of the ISE with the racks, plates, barbells, etc) and he said yes. Now, normally, I’m first in the door and so I grab the code. Today, they swiped Ross’ card which showed he hadn’t signed into the ISE before. Strange to them, but expected by us – I’ve always grabbed the code and he hasn’t had to. So they denied him entry and told him he had to use the downstairs facilities…I was pretty fuming – they’ve seen us in here every 2nd/3rd day for months and now they seemingly can’t remember? Fair on the guys behind the counter, they’re doing their jobs, but a guy entry to something they’d been using for months was pretty peaving. But alas, protocol is protocol…to gain entry again, he’d have to have a gym induction which is hilarious at the ISE – Ross details this later. No coaching offered to these new lifters who assume they’re Ronnie Coleman now they’re allowed to use the “man gym”.

Anyway, instead of completing the day’s work (yesterday’s bench and bent-over row), Ross had to use the “standard gym”…anything in blue is written by Ross Lang, they training partner I’ve been working with for the last few months.

First of all, let me start by expressing my disgust at the inexperience of the staff at the ISE. It is their policy to demand that each one of their members enjoy a brief induction into the strength performance centre or SPC as we fondly know it. This induction is said to involve the phrases: ‘this is the door’, ‘this is a cage’, ‘this is a barbell’, ‘and these are dumbbells’. Without wanting to sound ungrateful, a blind monkey with a speech impediment could conduct this induction; and it would take a blind monkey not to see these fairly obvious facts. So, the induction is pretty pointless if you know what you are doing, (or have at least a monkey’s brain). But for those poor people who don’t what they are doing then what the fuck is the point of the fucking induction if you don’t even tell these unfortunate individuals how to lift safely? Quote from the ISE website: “we’re assuming that your technique is good and this won’t be part of the induction”. Our blog talks a lot about common sense, but outside of this blog I see very little. ISE, how embarrassing must this be for you?

 

Alas, rules are rules (experience or no), and so I was required to conduct myself in the standard gym downstairs, with the machines, and the recliner bikes, and the swiss balls, and the posers wearing Hollister… But I’m a resourceful boy so on I went and tried to stick to the game plan as much as possible, and the session turned out as follows.

 

A quick warm up with some classic rage tunes, to get back into the zone, and then to the cables for some bent over rows. I tried to mimic the weight that the bar would be as closely as I could. This roughly worked out as 5×40, 5×50, 5×60, 5×70, 5x82kg.

Next came the bench press (the cables were quite frankly insulting for this): 5×40, 5×50, 5×60, 5×68 (this maxed out the cables, and so I had to turn to the ridiculous machine to up the weight) 5×85, 5×95, 5×110, 5x130kg (this is when the machine maxed out and I wasn’t even breaking a sweat – this implies either that I am very fucking strong, or these are not accurate values and what is more there is no requirement for stabilisation = fucking balls).

Finally, feeling unsatisfied I decided that some squats may heal my soul. However, even though it is the best machine in the building it is just not the same as standing under 135kg raw. There is no pain, no emotional involvement. It would be comparable to fucking a cheap slut down at the docks – hollow, dirty and felt like cheating. I was ashamed. But alas, I had to make do. 5×80, 5×100, 5×120, 5×140, 5x160kg (then the machine maxed out). The numbers seem big, but there is no requirement for technique or stability. It made me sick(er).

 

When Sean eventually made it down the stairs, he found me sitting there at the machine cold, unchallenged, and displeased. I had missed a session in the SPC, but I had tried to make up for the work and not miss out on gains, however, nothing in that gym was comparable to a cage and a bar with some heavy weights on it (well, that’s not entirely true, there were still bicep curlers…). That gym is for standard people with standard aims, no ideals of strength are to be found in that gym. I want to move forward, constantly improving, constantly challenged. In a cage I find those challenges, but in what is our local equivalent of ‘globogym’ all I find is disappointment, dissatisfaction, and despair (and dildos).

It’s quite clear Ross was pretty pissed off. It’s worth mentioning the ISE were in the right (for their own sake at least). If one of us were injured (walking in the front door inappropriately, thinking a barbell was a toothbrush and dumbbells were treadmills) then the blame would fall on them…of course, seeing as everyone’s technique is “good”, they’re not liable for people who are brand new to lifting killing themselves. They offer some lifting classes – I’ve never seen a single one take place, nor have I ever seen the “Strength and Conditioning Coach” ever do anything more than speak to frequent members. Ah well, a man can dream…if you’re reading this because you landed here by pure chance but happen to be in Dundee and wanted to train up there, but were just too confused about where to start, for the love of God, let us know – we’ll gladly help you with the knowledge we do have…free of charge, free of bias and free of bullshit.

I went to the SPC in order to finish yesterday’s work – bench and bent-over rows.

Bench was a big gain – 80kgs for 5 reps with absolutely minimal pause. Lightyears away from the 77.5 failure 2 weeks ago. Though I’d imagine rage played a part! A kind soul obliged when I asked if he’d spot me for the exercise (ensure I wasn’t going to break my neck) which was appreciated. He won’t be reading this, but thank you, again. I feel my benching is technically apt – I’m enjoying the exercises here and feel it’s been one of my most relevant gains, following years of only pulling in a rowing world…God forbid we did any antagonistic work, eh, Pete? (Personal joke, apologies).

Bent over rows were more challenging than normal as my back was aching more than usual – a day spent in front of a computer will do that to you. Regardless, the work was completed and I was satisfied.

I then went to join Ross and complete some pull ups down stairs…focusing on eccentrics as usual.

5 pull ups (2 fingers)
5 with 3
5 with 4
5 with a full grip

Then the gym shut.

Noted lessons:

– Know your gym protocol…
– This gym is our only choice…the staff are inexperienced, the inductions are a waste of time and the ethos can be considered “menopausal” at best.
– Try your damn best to make do with what you have…endure the company (iPod is a God-send) and the limited facilities – you can only row with the oar you’re holding.

The following is a post made by Shelby Starnes today on T-Nation (which looks like a gay porn site) but his suggestions here are pure gold:

“Stop talking about yourself (nobody is listening)

Stop wearing sweatshirts so you look bigger, or tank tops so people can see your muscles (if you’re muscular, people will be able to tell regardless of what you wear)

Stop trying to impress others (start trying to impress yourself)

Stop following the herd (start making your own trail)

Stop lifting with your ego (start lifting with your heart)”

Check out some of his other inspirational posts HERE…worth checking daily.

For the record, I still don’t condone lifting for aesthetics outside of “de-runting” yourself…that is, going from skinny to the point you feel depressed to “acceptable”. If your build is distracting you from daily life, get bigger…if you want to be the size of a bus…or rather a bus stacked full of people running on an RC-Car battery, then fire away, but I think you look ridiculous and so do women everywhere.

 

 


Today was shite and good and everything in between. I’m a bit pissed off but anyway, here goes.

Ross napped ’til late (having slept very little the night before in order to fill in some paperwork that will never be read) and awoke feeling pretty crap. He hadn’t eaten much and wasn’t in the mood to train. Regardless, he went ahead with it. I’d had a good day – well fed, well watered and a decent sleep.

We get there and begin warming up (total body joint loosening, some gentle dynamic stretching and a few plyos) until a rack becomes free. By this point, seeing as our arrival was late, we had 30 minutes to complete our workout…not something we deemed possible.

We began with the biggest load of the day – Squats.

We were thoroughly warmed up and I felt all was going to plan. Beginning the squats was easy – I felt completely in power. Then, we hit a bump in the road that turns absolutely everything on its arse…

Ross is hits his 4th set (usually completed with relative ease) and gets to rep number 3 and can’t complete another rep – stopping just above parallel on rep 4, letting the safety bars catch the weight. This is weird. We spoke about it and he lets me know he’s not feeling it today at all. Keep in mind this is a dude who after being ill for 3 weeks stepped outside of his door on his first day of return to exercise and decided he’d run a marathon just for kicks – having never ran one before. “Giving up” isn’t an option – especially in a set that doesn’t go anywhere near maximum (15kgs less than the max  rep set of that day).

So what are the likely issues?

– Diet (barely eaten today, barely eaten over the weekend I’m told)
– Sleep (deprived + still in a drowsy state)

However, even at that, he can normally at least last until the final set. As such, we’re keeping an eye out – I’m thinking an illness may be looming around the corner.

I managed through and reached my final set. After some psyching, it was go time…

Rep 1 – Spot on
Rep 2 – Spot on
Rep 3 – Not perfect, but in bounds
Rep 4 – Spot on
Rep 5 – Did not reach parallel

Now, this pissed me right off. The overall set was solid, but being shy of an “excellent set” on the last rep made me want to throw a horse into a furnace. What’s worse – I thought I’d done fantastically until Ross told me about that last rep. I felt I’d performed an excellent set, whereas the last rep made it “OK” at best. Not something I was content with. To me, this indicated the value of having a training partner…my bets is I leaned further forward so as to take more weight on my back than in my legs – compensation, a cardinal sin and a technical blunder. Usually I’d complete another rep in order to make up for it, but my legs were genuinely hammered.

This issue made me take a look at my squat technique in more detail. I’m quite sure I have very poor thoracic extension (and general thoracic flexibility) as an old injury often causes my back to go into spasm if I over extend. This made thoracic extension flexibility drills dangerous for me…unfortunately, it’s just something I had to avoid or else I wouldn’t be walking for a few days. The resulting change means I have a less than perfect posture when squatting – lessening the weight I can shift and putting extra strain on my back/hips. Not ideal. To remedy this, I’m putting the tennis ball to good use. Time to start smashing my back with some myofascial release (rubbing your muscles with stuff – aiming deep into the muscle). While I’m at it, time to see a qualified physio…

Ross carried on to do a few reps at a reduced weight, but he wasn’t performing anywhere near optimum at all.

We  intended to carry on with the session, but ran out of time…
We’ll be back tomorrow to complete Day 16’s work.

Remember though – technique can always improve, but you absolutely have to work to the best of your ability within the technical abilities you DO have. What are you going to do otherwise? Just not exercise? The only way you’ll improve a technique is by doing that technique more often, as best you can, with a way of pointing out where you’re going wrong – mirrors, coaches, training partners, etc.

 

Day’s findings:

– Training partners can give you a real insight into your performance.
– Eat, sleep and be merry.
– Keep track of time…
– Technique can ALWAYS improve – do what you can, when you can and never sell yourself short.

Had I not discovered that last rep was off, I’d be as happy as larry at the moment. Instead, I’m sitting here thoroughly pissed off at my performance. I’m rectifying this on Friday in a vicious format.

Having typed the word “down” several times, the word has lost all meaning. Strange phenomenon, isn’t it? Title sounds like the beginning of a games console cheat code…

Anyway…

Today was the week 5, end of week session – 5×4, 3×1, 8×1.

We managed to grab a rack relatively quickly today, despite the gym having quite a bit of traffic.

We began with the squat. The usual progression over the 5 rep sets was manageable. We both performed a few plyometric reps (2/3) between sets (jump squats/frog squats (basically an explosive goblet squat)) and made sure we were both adequately motivated before each set began. I was first up when the 3 set came along and felt very pleased when I was finished. The movements were deep, well-balanced and challenging. Quick note on squat technique – Big breath in at the top/on descent, keep your chest big, hold that breath and drive with the legs…a lot of people advocate breathing out when you’re on the concentric phase of an exercise, but I disagree based on the following principle:

If your car breaks down and you need to push it off the road, when you get behind the car (resistance), you take a big deep breath before you make the effort (concentric phase)…in that situation, where you’re naturally pushing in a real life scenario, would you exhale as you push the car? No, you’d hold your breath, increase your abdominal pressure and turn your face red. Therefore, naturally, when you’re lifting against heavy resistance, your own body is telling you to hold your breath to exert the more force. Thank you Mark Rippetoe for that analogy.

My own 8 rep set went ahead as planned also. It’s challenging in quite a different way – more pain than the higher weight of the 3-rep, but less mentally challenging. The pain is something I know I can work through (years of rowing under a masochist coach), but the heavy weight is different…it’s not that your body can’t shift it, it’s you telling yourself the weight is just too heavy.

Today’s squatting challenges came from Ross’ inability to give up. Basically, his stubborn dedication made the squat session take up 3 times as long – but you can’t fault the effort. He progressed through he initial sets with relative ease, but the 3 rep set was a different matter. He performed 2 initial reps (one absolutely spot on, one a little more shallow) and then crashed out, letting the safety bar catch the weight on the final set. He sat under it for a while and tried to shift it, but no luck was had. So we stripped the bar, and set it up again, just so he could finish that one last rep. He did, but it was admittedly short of the depth he had performed on the first repetition.

However, this “failure” wasn’t actually a failure of strength. It was a failure of technique. He had commented that the bar felt off-balance on his back from the beginning of the set, but that he thought he could handle it…alas, we reiterate an important technical point – balance yourself! An exercise has a beginning, middle and end – each part requires your absolute attention. The weight was shifted more so to one side than the other, which created a very awkward effort requirement when he began to drive with his legs. It was apparent in the lift itself as instead of him getting up halfway and then dropping the bar, he got up half way on one side and three-quarters on the other. As such, after finishing that one rep to make up for the failure, he performed his 8 rep set…I offered him another opportunity to shift the weight he had failed to lift in the 3 rep set…just for one rep…he obliged – my mistake for asking. He went through almost 10 attempts, all to no avail. However I was willing to let it slide for 2 reasons:

1 – if he DID pull it off, it could prevent a potential confidence crash
2 – though he didn’t realise it, he was doing heavy loaded eccentrics – something coaches commonly use to allow athletes to get used to increases in weight

He’ll find that out when he reads this. Anyway, I have no doubt he’ll pull off Monday’s 5 set, but the starting position must be balanced!

Next up – bench press. We both finished the 3 set feeling ready for more (further showing an improvement in my own strength over the last two weeks, as the weight was 2.5kg heavier than before and lifted with ease).  Technical points – keep yourself balanced and retract your shoulder blades…picture yourself shrugging, but instead of moving your shoulder upwards, move them backwards.

Bent over rows followed and went ahead as planned. I changed my grip today, going from a finger grip (holding the bar only with the fingers, no palm contact) to a standard pronated grip (overhand, held in palm) and felt as though I was a lot stronger. It’s good news, as I’ve been lifting against increasing resistance with a “weaker” grip – I’ll smash my 1 rep max here.

We finished with some grip training work –

Focusing on concentrics:

5 pull ups – 2 fingers
5 pull ups – 3 fingers
5 pull ups – 4 fingers
5 pull ups – full grip

Focusing on slow eccentrics:

5,4,3,2,1 – pull ups, full grip.

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In other news:

– Breathe in on the eccentric, HOLD through the concentric.
– Technique, technique, technique! Leave yourself as little room for error as possible and reap the benefits!
– Bench press – shoulders back.
– Experiment with some alternative grips. Every weight you lift which requires you to grasp something has a grip strength aspect to it…your body is an entirely interconnected system – any weakness along the way will lessen your performance. That’s when other muscles start to overcompensate and injuries/muscle imbalances occur.

Christian Thibaudeau shows his method of integrating grip strength into your routine – HERE.

Next week is week 6 – our FINAL week in the 5×5 plan and the hardest yet…I’m well up for it!