Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting into the next phase

I'm in the middle of week 11 and have one more week to go to end the first cycle of my training.

As I said before in my original plan description, the first cycle/period would be a strength-focused one. I followed the Stronglifts.com 5x5 plan but with a Starting Strength twist by ditching the supplementary exercises (no push-ups, pull-ups, planks, or crunches - all good exercises, but not in the Starting Strength program) and I swapped the inverted rows with power cleans. I still kept the 5x5 method over the 3x5 one simply because I believe that pushing past the 3x5 and doing two more sets of five would appropriately push me further without killing me. Thankfully, my believe paid off.

Another twist to make guys like Zach Evan-Esh of UndergroundStrengthCoach.com and Josh Henkin of Sandbag Fitness Systems proud is that I used a sandbag for pretty much the whole damn time (there were two sessions where I did use the barbell at home since I had days off and the sandbags are at the office).

Numbers-wise, here's where I'm at right now doing the 5x5 (these are not Max Rep numbers):

Back Squat: 195 lbs
Bench Press: 100 lbs
Power Clean: 100 lbs
Deadlift: 220 lbs
Military Press: 100 lbs (although I did do a 3x5 @ 120 lbs)

I have another week left. Unless I stall, I should be looking at:

Back Squat: 220 lbs
Bench Press: 115 lbs
Power Clean: 115 lbs
Deadlift: 260 lbs
Military Press: 115 lbs

Again, these numbers are not 1-Rep Max, but doing a 5x5 (or 1x5 for the Deadlift).

Also, I found an appropriate strength calculator for my 1 Rep Max and I was a bit ambitious using Ron Shaul's numbers at first. I'm confident I'll get there in the future, but for now this is what I found:

1RM Standard Calc: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/weight.htm
240 lbs male


Squat - 258 lbs
Bench - 193 lbs
Military Press - 129 lbs
Deadlift - 322 lbs
Clean - 186 lbs


Squat - 316 lbs
Bench - 236 lbs
Military Press - 162 lbs
Deadlift - 370 lbs
Clean - 228 lbs


Squat - 431 lbs
Bench - 323 lbs
Military Press - 193 lbs
Deadlift - 503 lbs
Clean - 310 lbs

Since I'm a novice, I'm approaching the 1-Rep Max limits rather quickly and I can do some maintenance heavy lifting as the weeks go on to keep it or not lose a majority of it.

And yes, I'm at 240 lbs at the moment. So within the entire program, I gained 5 lbs. However, the weight gain seemed to have stopped after the 8th week and my body shape has changed quite dramatically. My waist is a bit smaller, I can see my abs more and my chest and back are much more broader. Arms are a bit bigger and my quads & calves (as always) are solid as rocks. Overall more dense and durable. So, even though my weight is moving in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go, I'm turning more bulletproof. My last few runs aren't beating me up.

Speaking of runs, my mileage isn't very good. Minimum mileage has been zero. Max has been 16 miles per week. Longest run has been 12 miles so far. However, I'm still confident that I'll still get through the Seattle Ghost marathon (or 50k, still haven't officially decided yet) on November 28th. Some of the reduction in miles has simply been due to not running mid-week. After my lifting the previous day, I just felt too tired to run the following day. I'm just a lame-excuse machine, but I plead the "listening to my body" amendment. But as I said, there is still time and I'm still confident that I'll complete the run.

One thing with my runs is that I temporarily abandoned doing any kind of hardcore speedwork (no CFE-style runs). My body wasn't tolerating them and my form broke down hard during them compared to just running easy, tempo, or fartlek style. It could also be a time-issue with when I do these runs since I noticed with myself that I do better with my runs that are speed-intensive if I do them as one of the first things of the day instead of the last things of the day when my body has been chewed through the daily grind that's life. But I'll probably re-incorporate them back in if I'm able to sometime down the road depending on how things go.

So what's next after Oct 24th and the strength cycle ends? The strength-endurance cycle begins. Now, this is where things get a bit tricky. I could have gone from doing strength work into doing power-endurance (aka Work Capacity) workouts like the ones you typically see with CrossFit or other similar workouts where you do task-based and/or go against the clock. However, it boiled down to whether I wanted to:

1.) Lift fast but heavy with little rest. A good example of this is a task-based workout that involves multiple sets of lifts, little rest between sets, and an increase in weight if you tackle that next workout.


2.) Lift fast as many times as possible, but not necessarily heavy. Good example of this is a person pulling off a Fran workout at the typical Rx'ed weight. A very strong lifter will treat that 95 lbs barbell like it's air and get through the workout fast and the only thing that could slow them down is either bad pull-up strength (which is not very likely) or if they do a "Heavy Fran" and jack up the weight of the barbell and/or load some weight on during their pull-ups.

So I had to decide if I wanted to increase my work capacity and do more in the same time or increase my strength and the endurance/stamina to lift heavy instead.

Matt "Wiggy" Wiggins put this down when commenting on Density Training here:

Density Training is very beneficial because, depending on how it's "tweaked," it can accomplish a fairly wide variety of goals at one time. Coupled with extra calories, it can result in muscle and overall weight gain. Used with high sets with low reps, brute strength can be increased.

If rest periods are kept short, strength-endurance is benefited. If a fair amount of reps are used (say, perform 50 reps of a compound movement in 20 minutes), work capacity and overall conditioning are increased.

I figured that for the moment, strength-endurance was more important than power-endurance. Added bonus, my strength-endurance work will make it more possible for me to do power-endurance work better & faster. Although this explanation does give CrossFit's methodology and design some sense since a great deal of their workouts are tied to Work Capacity and it seems that "doing more in less time" does promote better overall fitness.

So now that I know what to focus on, the workouts that I have to do are proving to be a bit tricky to plan. I already know to do Volume + Minimal Rest + Heavy Weight. The question is what workouts should I do? I decided that I should still focus on the basics. Taking a page from the CrossFit Strength-Bias program, I opted to focus on Squats, Deadlifts, and Overhead Presses. No bench press, no power cleans. I also decided to have Mondays still used as the standard strength days, basically following the same 5x5 template, but seriously extended out. So what does this look like?

Week A:
Monday (Strength) - 3x5 or 5x5 Squat, 3x5 or 5x5 Overhead Press
Tuesday - Run
Wednesday (Strength-Endurance) - 15x2 or 15x3 Squat, 15x1 or 20x1 Deadlift
Thursday - Run
Friday (Strength-Endurance) - 15x2 or 15x3 Squat, 15x2 or 15x3 Overhead Press
Saturday - Long Run
Sunday - Rest

Week B:
Monday (Strength) - 3x5 or 5x5 Squat, 1x5 Deadlift
Tuesday - Run
Wednesday (Strength-Endurance) - 15x2 or 15x3 Squat, 15x2 or 15x3 Overhead Press
Thursday - Run
Friday (Strength-Endurance) - 15x2 or 15x3 Squat, 15x1 or 20x1 Deadlift
Saturday - Long Run
Sunday - Rest

The starting weight will be at 65% of my predicted 1-Rep Max and my rest times will be 60 seconds. Each workout will decrease the rest time by 10 seconds. When I get to a 20 second rest successfully, the weight will increase by 5 lbs and the clock resets back to 60 seconds again. The strength part I'll do my best with, but I have a feeling that I won't progress but be maintaining more than anything...but who knows?

Also, in addition to the lifting, I'll be focusing on my push-ups and pull-ups at home (another reason why I ditched the bench press and power cleans). So while I'm doing this strength-endurance stuff at work using the sandbags, I'll be following http://hundredpushups.com/ and http://twentypullups.com/. Similar to other programs that build strength-endurance like Recon Ron and even Grease the Groove (although GTG is meant to be done throughout the entire day, having access to a pull-up bar at the office is impossible...otherwise, I would have done that instead). So strength-endurance lifting at work, push-ups and pull-ups at home at night. The pull-up and push-up programs are only 6 weeks long (8 for the pull-up program for me since my test sucked and I could only squeak out one pull-up), but with the chance of any kind of setback, I can repeat a week or two during this cycle.

With my running during this time, I expect to be doing more volume due to various events from November to my "A" race in August (about 1 ultra per month). Based on my past performance, doing about one race a month gets enough aerobic conditioning in to where it has made me a bit faster at the same distance at other events. When I did my first 6 races in 6 months (four 50k's with a 50 miler after and then a marathon), my times were relatively improving compared to the difficulty of the previous event. When I didn't do as much volume, I suffered (my last two Mt Si ultra runs being a prime example of this.)

Crossing my fingers on this one! Let's see where this next cycle takes me!

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