Thursday, March 25, 2010

Today's Workout (Thursday 3/25/10)

Another lovely day hanging out with Mr. C2 Rower.

5 warmup intervals of 200m row with 60 seconds rest. Pace increased from 2:07/500m to 1:50/500m. Then a single Tabata*. That was it. I got 996 meters in the Tabata - anyone have any idea if that's good? It seemed pretty good to me, getting 996 meters in only 2 minutes & 40 seconds of rowing, but it also includes the "after row" - the amount the boat keeps going after you stop rowing. While not a significant amount in any given rowing effort, it can add up to a lot of meters in 8 intervals. But man, that smoked me. Rested 5 minutes, did some light overhead squats, called it a day. Now I look like this:

*For those who don't know, a Tabata is an interval workout wherein you perform as many reps as you can for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest. Repeat 8 times, for a total of 4 minutes in this type of 20/10 work/rest situation, and you're done. If you've done it properly, you shouldn't need, much less want, to do anything else that day. Except perhaps vegetate on your couch. The key is to do Tabata with total body movements. Doing Tabata Presses or Situps isn't bad, it's just so specific to a local muscle that you don't get the same training effect that you do when doing Tabata with, for example, Thrusters or Front Squats or C2 Rowing.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Death of the Squat?

A few months back, Mike Boyle officially pronounced The Death of the Back Squat.  Now, if you, me, or Joe P. Lifter did that, our buddies would laugh and ask what particular form of leaf we smoked this past weekend.  But Boyle is a highly respected name in the world of strength and conditioning.  He has decades of experience in the industry, has worked with hundreds of collegiate and professional athletes, and literally thousands of industry professionals look to him for cutting edge methods and strategies in training.  If that weren't proof enough of his standing, try this: his website is even linked to the right under "Fitness Stuff I Read."  So when Boyle spoke, people listened.  Naturally, when a big name like Boyle disses "The King of Exercises," endless discussion will ensue in online forums everywhere.

My gut reaction in this case was to disagree with Boyle, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why.  I commented on it on Joe Schafer's blog, but hadn't put my thoughts together yet.  Now that a few months have passed, I can explain why I still disagree a little more clearly.
One thing before that though.  If you're on of those "Wolf, who do you think you are to disagree with an industry giant like Boyle?" people, stop reading now.  However, if, like Maimonides you can "...accept the truth from whatever source it comes..." then read on and evaluate the opinions on their own merits, not based on the relative famousness of who said them.  (ps who said my 20 years of formal religious education are being wasted?!?)

Boyle's main argument is that in a test, his athletes could do a lot more than 1/2 their Back Squat (BS) weight for way more reps when they did a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) instead.  Therefore, it must be the low back that is the limiting factor in BS strength, not the legs.  Therefore, do RFESS instead.

The first reason I don't like this is that it is a balance dependent exercise.  Boyle himself says it takes 4-6 weeks to learn to properly do this exercise, but even once mastered, it's still balance dependent.  I don't like the thought of an exercise that is supposed to increase strength (not endurance, not balance, not agility etc... but STRENGTH) being dependent on balance.  Now, you could argue back that based on the evidence Boyle presents, that may be true but the balance dependent factor is still less than the low back weakness factor.  Fair enough, so let's get to that point.

Boyle might have tested on a wide variety of athletes and populations, but the only thing he offers in his video are high school athletes, seemingly from the same team.  Is it possible that children of this age in general have better development in their legs than lower backs, and that test is invalid because that doesn't hold true for adults?  Or that such a conditioning is a function of their sport-specific body imbalances, since they all seem to be on the same team?  Or both?  Or maybe it's a function of their training until this point, which did not adequtely develop low back strength?  Boye has said himself in the past that he is not a fan of traditional deadlifts and doesn't include them in his programs (I heard him say that myself when I went to hear him speak for 8 hours back in November, 2007).  Could that account for a lack of low back strength?  I'm not saying definitively, but all of the above are other possible explanations that could account for the phenomenon Boyle noticed.  I'm not sure why he chose to exclude them.

Another factor, and one that I think is a stronger point than the above questions, is a simple little insight I knew, but didn't know I knew until I read it in Dan John's Never Let Go.  (As an aside, I have to thank my aforementioned friend "The Schafe" for turning me on to Dan John just a short time ago.  Dan is simply awesome.  His writing style really resonates and he's got a ton of personal experiences peppered with great stories in which to deliver top notch content.  Highly recommend.)  Mr. John is talking about training one side of the body at a time on a program he calls "One Exercise a Day, One Hand a Day," and he makes the point that most people can use 60-70% of their two-handed max using one hand.  Why?  "You still use both legs, your back, and stabilize like crazy with the off arm."  I personally know this because I can press a 48kg (105.6 lb) kettlebell with relative ease - it requires a hard effort, but I can get it right up - whereas doing a BB Press with 211 lbs is a lot slower to go up and requires an effort closer to my max.  Does this mean we should only do single arm presses, or that single arm presses work the delts better than the BB Press?  Of course not, just that there are other systemic factors to take into account.  Apply this to the Squat and's not necessarily that the single leg version (RFESS) works the leg any more than the traditional Back Squat; it's just that all the other body parts are still contributing their double share of effort (entire torso, upper back, back leg), picking up some of the slack for that single leg and helping it along.   Especially the rear foot!

Additionally, traditional BB Back Squats are plain old harder than the single leg version.  There's no argument about that.  Because you can load so much more weight (even if Boyle is right about this point and you can't load double what you could in a single leg version, you can still load a LOT more total weight), the systemic response is that much greater.  Many more muscles - namely, the ones on the other leg - must be recruited, which, along with the greater overal load that the body has to bear, should lead to a larger hormonal response as well as a greater cardiorespiratory effect.  Since both sides are being used, and the overall load on the torso is much greater as well. 

The mental toughness factor shouldn't be discounted, either.  Rippetoe talks about this a lot in Starting Srength as well as Strong Enough?  Many people avoid squatting simply because it's damn hard and there's no way to cheat (except not going as deep as you should, but if you're strict on depth, there's no way to get that bar up besides being strong enough to do so.  You can bounce a bench press off your chest, you can swing a bicep curl till it almost becomes a crappy-form reverse grip clean, presses can easily become push presses - but you can't cheat a squat up).  The heart pounding, oxygen deprived, why-the-hell-did-I-talk-myself-into-this-ness of the traditional BB Back Squat can't be replicated by the RFESS.  Trust me, I tried.  Fatigue in the working leg - check.  Heart pounding, oxygen deprivation, total body meltdown - no check.  The RFESS's are hard, to be sure, but not as hard.

Here I admit that I wander into the murkier realm of opinion but I think an athlete needs that mental toughness in the 4th quarter, the 3rd period, the sudden death overtime - as much as they need the theoretical bit extra leg strength (that again, may or may not actually be gained with the RFESS version).  A parent needs that at 3am when their baby is crying, the dog just threw up all over the brand new leather sofa, and they have to be up at 5:30 am to be on a conference call with London about tomorrow's huge deal deadline.  Probably more than they need any extra leg strength.

So even if low back/torso IS a limiting factor, Squats would still have a super important place in any total body strength program. 

Also, there's this little doozy: simply no way an football player who has Boyle SS'd 250 for 5 sets of 5 (let's say) on each leg is as prepared and ready for a crushing hit from a linebacker as a football player who has BS'd 425 for 5x5.  Again, I use those numbers because for the sake of argument to give him the benefit of the doubt that he's right in the first place about BS vs RFESS in leg strength. Again, this is still debatable.  But in the video, Boyle says his main aim is always injury reduction.  With all those Hockey and Football players he trains, I'd have thought this argument would be foremost on his mind.  The torso and overall system will be so much better trained and able to receive and take a big hit from having 400 something pounds under load while squatting, than it will with 250, even if the legs get less direct development.  This is not an argument against RFESS, but a definite argument in favor of keeping the BS in the program.

So, are we looking at The Death of the Squat. I quote: "So instead of trying to guess at what my logic is, check out this video where I explain exactly why I think you should cut squats from your strength training programs." Cut Squats??? The exercise that produces a superior hormonal response, coordinates more total body movement, requires a much stronger core (I hate that word, I'll post on that soon, but for now let's agree to use it for convenience) than the single leg version, even if you're right about the leg strength argument (which is debatable, as above)?!? You've gotta be kidding, Mr. Boyle!

Now, if you're a Personal Trainer who only gets two, maybe three hours per week with a client if you're lucky - not a strength coach working with athletes for many hours consistently every week - which one do you think is more time efficient, to work the most bodyparts, induce the greatest total systemic response, burn the most calories, etc... in the least amount of time.  I think the answer is obvious.

So, despite my relative lack of fame in comparison to the great strength coach, Mike Boyle, and the fact that thousands of coaches and trainers don't pay to come hear me speak, I must respectfully disagree with him here.  And I think I'm right.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Never Attempt This Workout Unless... either hate yourself or are the masochistic type.

Modality: C2 Rower
Format: Row a lot
Details: Row 200m x 4, 1min rest building up in pace from 2:10 to 1:50
            Row 37s on, 45s off*  for 10 repeats at the following paces:
Rounds 1-3: 1:45
Rounds 4-6: 1:42
Rounds 7-9: 1:40
Round # 10: 1:35

Rest 90 seconds and then attempt an all-out 500m.  I did mine in 1:30.2.  Then I died, had an out of body experience, and came back.  Still figuring out if I'm masochistic or just hate myself.

Note: If you are a professional rower, this workout will be like a warmup.  Next time, try it the day after rack pulling 435 for multiple sets across, and doing lots and lots of rows and chins.

* Nothing magic about 37on, 45off.  I started a couple weeks ago with 30 on, 45 off, and have been adding 2-3 seconds to the "on" part every 2-3 workouts.  That's all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Current Program

I decided to shoot off a quick post about my current program, mostly because doing so gave me the impetus needed to sit down and actually organize it properly.

After 4 weeks of GPP/General Conditioning with linear progressions, I'm nearly back to the strength-endurance levels I had before my myriad injuries of 2009. I began a program this week that I thought of based on The Texas Method, with some variation, of course. Don't want to be accused of copy and pasting!

The nuts and bolts of my program are summarized in the following chart:

Monday: Lower Body Volume; Upper-Push Strength; Upper-Pull Power

Wednesday: Upper-Pull Volume; Lower Body Strength; Upper-Push Power

Friday: Upper Push Volume; Upper-Pull Strength; Lower Body Power

The volume workout is 3-4 exercises for 3-4 sets of 5-12 reps (I know this is a lot of variation, but I'll give an example below); the strength workout is 3x3; the power workout depends on the application (Oly lifts vs plyos etc...). Every day is a total body workout, but each movement group gets worked in a completely different way (high volume, medium intensity; low volume, high intensity; low-ish volume, high-intensity explosive).

Now, before I get lots of gripes about how Lower/UB-Push/UB-Pull is a poor way to categorize movement, or how doing a strength day 2 days after a volume day is idiotic, or how could I possibly even think about doing a strength workout for one movement after already doing a volume workout for a different movement...I KNOW! Roger! I'm just trying this out, ok? I like to experiment with different combinations, and never claim I have found the perfect mix. I think questioning traditional (and not so traditional) wisdom is a good thing, and for some reason I have yet to figure out, I don't have a pool of 1,000 healthy adults willing to volunteer for my next exercise study. So I'd rather guinea pig myself than my clients. You can all wipe the rage-induced spittle from the sides of your mouth now.

As an example of Mondays workout (again, refer to chart above), I did lower body volume, upper-push strength, and upper pull explosive. This meant the following:

3 sets of 10 across BB Back Squat
3x5 sets across BB Front Squat
3x10 sets across Cable Pull-Through

3x3 BB Press. Planned on sets across but had to lower weight after realizing I'm not as strong as I should be.

3xfatigue (ended up being 8, 8, 7) Explosive Pullups with hang-time.

All exercises done after brief foam rolling and a dynamic warmup, then build-up sets to my working weights in the various exercises.

I finished with a few rounds of stair sprints and called it a day.

Over the course of the week, pushing and pulling are more or less balanced, I'll be getting in plenty of lower body pulling on strength and power days, more vertical then horizontal pushing, and on lower body power days, I'll be doing O-lifts & plyos. While O-lifts are definitely total body movements, I categorized them under lower body because that's where they they tax me most acutely, even while working everything else as well. (As an aside to those who want to do more "core" work: Try overhead squatting your bodyweight for 5 sets of 5 or 3 sets of 10 or 8 sets of 3, or whatever. Then tell me if this requires more or less "core" strength than 20 twisting abdominal whats-its on an ovular squishy thing*.)

On the off days, 2-3 times per week I'm doing conditioning work with sprints and the rowing machine. No LSD (long, slow distance).

I'm curious to see if this method succeeds in increasing all the aspects I'm actually working (hypertrophy, strength, power), or if it will epically fail because I'm trying to do too much at the same time. Or maybe for some other reason. I'll let you know after 4-6 weeks!

* Note: I cannot actually Overhead Squat my bodyweight even once. This is because a) I am weak and b) I haven't worked hard enough to correct certain mobility issues that make it difficult for me to get into the OHS position. Therefore, you might wonder how I am qualified to make this claim about OHS vs twisty ab-thingies. Well, I've OHS'd 135 for 3x5 and that was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay harder on the aforementioned "core" than any twisty squishy abby thing. I figure adding 100lbs wouldn't make it any easier.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

OK Fine, A Smidgen of Actual Content

For my first content post, I've decided on a rant. Hexagonal (or octogonal, or whatever-gonal) plates. I just don't understand why they are made, at all, ever.

I know that bumper plates are more of a labor intensive specialty item, so I understand the need for a cheaper, easier to manufacture plate. These plates should work fine for most applications other than Olympic Weightlifting. But why go out of your way to cast a mold with a strange, multi-sided shape? Especially since such a shape makes it much more difficult to use said plates to Deadlift off the floor (aka actually Deadlift). The hex plates are hard to line up and you can't roll the bar to adjust to your foot position. They're no easier to grab, they weigh the same, they're neither sturdier nor longer lasting. Can't really deadlift with them. I'd think just making a circular shape mold would be easier.

So, readers far and wide: anyone have any idea why plates are ever made this way? Is it just so dumb jocks like me can sound smart by using quadrisyllabic words like "hexagonal" to feel better about ourselves???

If you think this is a cop-out for a "content" post, you're absolutely right. I didn't get any of the answers I wanted out of LOST tonight, and am in the mood to complain.

Me, A Blog?

I finally decided to start a blog today. "But Michael," all you Curious Readers out there in Curious Reader Land are thinking right now, "why, after years of silence, have you decided to open up your priceless fitness thoughts to the rest of the world?" Well Curious Reader, I'll tell you. 'Cause I loves ya!

I walked into the locker room after my workout this morning at the fine fitness facility for whom I am employed, expecting to take a quick shower and get back to work. Problem: a gentleman sprawled out, taking up an entire bench, 8 lockers wide, one of which happened to be mine. Now, when I say sprawled, I mean seriously Wal-Mart/McDonalds/Home Depot strip-mall urban spraaaaaawled. He was sitting on the bench without a care in the world; atop and astride a mound of six towels (these are extra large, extra absorbent, luxury towels...I manage with one per shower); somehow still dripping all over the floor, despite his towels. I gave him The Look And Nod (which, as everyone who has ever used a locker room knows, means "sorry but I have to get in uncomfortably close to you to get to my locker/stuff). He looked at me with pure disdain, as if I had just simultaneously insulted his mother and euthanized his dog. He moved glacially, at the speed of sloth; after about seventeen minutes, he had moved enough so I could slide in and get dressed. I took about 60 seconds and got out, the entire time feeling my sprawled out buddy trying to obliterate my soul with his eye lasers from behind. And what happened to Sprawly aka Towel Guy? He's probably *still* in there, dripping away.

This wonderful incident got me thinking about how many silly ridiculous things I see every day at the gym, which usually get me pondering various fitness topics. I mean, if this kind of ridiculousness happens in the locker room, can you imagine what cuckoo craziness ensues when people actually work out?!?

So, while the format of this blog will most certainly NOT always be based on crazy stories from the gym, that is probably what got me thinking about many of the topics I'll eventually post about, either directly or indirectly.

"Gee whiz Michael, that sure was a swell story!"
Thanks, Curious Reader.
"But where did you come up with that ingenius title 'I Lift, Therefore I Am?'"
O' Curious Reader, how curious you are! Don't worry, I'll tell you that, too.

Last year I had to come up with a one-liner to put as my "fitness philosophy" for a trainer bio we were putting up on the wall at my gym. I was sort of in the middle of a rant (to myself; I talk to myself a lot. Silently.) about how The Masses come in and do Cardio on the elliptical for 20-30 minutes, 2-3x per week and look the same and are never happy with their results. I was frustrated by hearing yet one more person say that they preferred the elliptical to resistance training because "I don't want to bulk up." Oh, but you DO want to remain in the same saggy baggy skinny-fat body you've had for the past thirteen years? Right. Just then, the one-liner "I lift, therefore I am" suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. Or a 25 kilo bumper plate. Whatever. Anyway, I thought it was clever and I used it. I figured inspiration like that only comes around once in a lifetime. Well, unless you are the type of person who gets hit by 25kg bumper plates often, in which case you may want to consider investing in a helmet or lifting coach, possibly both. But assuming you're not that type of person (after all, you're smart enough to be reading my blog) I was saying, since inspiration like that only comes around once in a lifetime, I used it for the blog, too.

If you don't like it, you can sit on a mound of six luxuriant towels and drip while you cry about it.