Thursday, November 29, 2012

Being an Idiot on Smolov Jr

In the lead up to Christmas, I feel like doing something stupid.

Smolov Jr, while I haven't attempted it before, appears not to be a program for the faint of heart. Most program I see involve using the same lift/muscles only once or twice a week. Some programs I see (mostly beginner programs) train the same lifts three days a week, but the volume and/or intensity usually isn't too high, so it's fairly easy to tolerate that frequency. The sensible thing to do is that as volume and intensity increase, frequency should decrease. Smolov Jr doesn't do that. Instead, it has you performing the target lift 4 days a week, using the following loading pattern:

Monday 6x6x70%1RM
Wednesday 7x5x75%1RM
Friday 8x4x80%1RM
Saturday 10x3x85%1RM

That first week doesn't exactly sound like a walk in the cake. But fear not, because you don't have to do the same thing next week. No, next week you get to add 5-10kg onto each of the above working sets (5kg on bench press, 10kg on squats), which is so much better, right? And on the third week of the program, you add another 2.5-5kg on top of the previous 5-10kg jump. There is a little bit of sensibility built into the program, though, and that's the fact that there isn't a 4th week to it, so you might get to sit around, recover, and seek forgiveness from your body.

Smolov Jr is designed to be used on squats or bench press, although it's not usually recommended that you attempt it on both lifts at the same time. I did mention wanting to do something stupid, didn't I? Because during the next 3 weeks, I plan on training both squats and bench press with Smolov Jr. I must be some kind of idiot.

It's also recommended that Smolov Jr be performed with lots of knife-and-fork curls, for progress and recovery. I, however, have not seen my abs since 2009, and don't plan on bulking again until I see them. So long as I'm skinny anyway, I'm keen on not being skinny-fat, which I've become in recent times. Performing Smolov Jr while in a calorie deficit is generally regarded as a bad idea. So I'm doing it.

I foresee two outcomes for this grand act of stupidity.

1. I become awesome.

2. I earn the grand honour of being pointed and laughed at, while people tell me this:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Lifting History (Part 2)

Over 2008 and 2009 I became a personal trainer. In 2010 I read Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. These days I don't think SS has gospel-grade merit, however it is a good place to start training and spark you're interest in strength sports, and it's what got me started on semi-productive strength training. On the forums (where I learned of SS), most guys seem to feel that on SS you should get to about 300/200/400lb on the big 3 in 3 months on the program. That never happened for me, and unlike most guys who complain about the program not working for them and ask stupid questions on the forums, I actually read the book, repeatedly, and implemented it. I don't want to pull the hardgainer or genetics card (which I think held me back for the first 6 years of training; I at least made some progress when I stopped crying that I don't have the genetics to be bigger or stronger), but I suspect that being so skinny all my life didn't put me at much of an advantage, and there are probably still some mental barriers hindering my progress from years of believing I couldn't ever lift half the weights I can today. Anyway, I didn't make the amoutn of progress on SS that a lot of guys report, although I did make some progress on the program, which is a good thing. In fact, 2 years later, I've only recently hit my first 3-wheel squat, as seen below:

I weighed in at about 69.5kg on the day, which I'd like to report is part-way through a cut -- I got up to 74.9kg at the start of September.

Since Starting Strength, I've done a few different intermediate programs, including Madcow's 5x5, Wendler's 5/3/1 and the Texas Method. I've found that I need more than 1 work set on most exercises to make progress, presumably because practice is good for strength and volume is good for muscle mass. I've tried different rep ranges, including 10's, 8's, triples and singles, and for a brief stint this year, I even did 20-rep squats and AMRAP bench presses, which I've got a video of below:

I've played around with high bar and low bar squats. Had I not done so I think I would have hit my first 3 plate squat a year ago, but I did, so that's that. I've played around with focusing on powerlifting and with focusing on olympic lifting. Turns out I'm even worse at olympic lifting than powerlifting, so I may not be doing much of that again, but here's a video of me awkwardly snatching 40kg. I did say at the start of this post that I'd be incriminating myself, and all video evidence of me ever trying out the olympic lifts is incriminating evidence against me:

I've discovered that I prefer to do my front squat Anderson style. And I've heard that this is good for olympic lifting, but I suck at olympic lifting, so don't take my word for it.

I've tried out different grips on the deadlift, and now like training with a hook grip, which I've pulled 150kg with the week prior to my 160kg mixed grip DL (see the video with the 140kg squat), even though my entire deadlift "training" for 2012 has reaked of this horrible affliction.

And now that I've undoubtedly bored to tears anyone who's accidentally stumbled across this page, I think I'll hit the "publish" button at the top of the screen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

My Lifting History (Part 1)

What better way to start this blog than by incriminating myself? So, as far as the training side of things goes, here's my life story (I should note that at all times I've had a life outside of fitness, but I'll skim over those details today).

When I was 8 years old, I was a skinny kid, weighing in at about 25kg. When I was 11 years old, I was still a skinny kid, being taller and still weighing only 25kg. That's not an exaggeration. I was bullied a lot. Being skinny was not the reason why, although I can't say it helped the situation. I copped more slack from adults than from children about my weight, but the kids made sure to give me hell over everything else. Around the time I turned 12, I was fed up with being skinny, so I did the only thing a 12 year old boy knows how when faced with such a problem: push ups, dumbbell curls, sit ups and chin ups. Notably, when you weigh 25kg, you don't have a lot of mass to move, so I recall being able to do 20 chin ups (although they were probably partials with horrific form) in a set; not something I've ever achieved as an adult. I didn't know anything about the need to eat in order to get bigger, but somehow still managed to grow all the way up to 32kg over a couple of months -- now I almost didn't look like I had 2 days left to live.

I made Anne Hathaway, dieted down for her role in Les Miserables, look pretty well fed.

The first time I stepped into a gym, I was 15, and by now I was all the way up to 45kg, at a height of about 165cm, giving me a BMI of 16.5, making me only underweight, instead of severely underweight. I was reluctant to go to the gym before I first arrived there, because in my mind the gym was where people went to lose weight, which I certainly didn't need to do (I might have looked anorexic, but I wasn't actually anorexic). I was only given a 1-month membership as something complementary to my parents' memberships, so it wasn't enough to achieve anything, but it did get me hooked. When I turned 16, I got my first 6-month gym membership, and have (with a few exceptions) been a regular ever since, giving me 8 years of experience to draw from.

Now, I have 8 years worth of experience, but do I have 8 years worth of progress? HAH! No.

In my first year of training, I quickly learned what the gym staff called good technique on most of the exercises I performed. I would now describe my technique back then as "safe," for the most part. Not all of it was safe, primarily when it came to instructors trying to impress me with new exercises. The first time I was taught an Arnold press, it wasn't really an Arnold press, and I'd like to thank that instructor for every shoulder issue I've had since. Also, if my technique on the bench press was safe, the fact that I was a 16 year old male negated that fact. However, for the most part I was doing exercises in a way that wouldn't hurt you; but wouldn't help you much, either. This general pattern, along with constant program hopping (not out of boredom, but because I bought into the lie that you have to change your routine every time it stops making you sore, because if you're not getting sore anymore you must have stopped responding to the exercise; let me repeat that that's a lie, and it turns out that if you don't get sore, you may still be progressing in size and strength), continued from my 16th birthday in 2004 through 'til the start of 2010. Around 2005-2006, I became unhealthily obsessed with my physique. Although I was skinny, my small frame didn't look bad with such a small amount of weight on it, and I had more muscle definition than I've had at any other point in my life. But I was also the most insecure I've ever been about my appearance. In hindsight, I've learned that perfection is a moving target, and if you look for faults in yourself, you will always find them, so I can't stress enough the importance of keeping your head in check while you're on your own fitness journey. It took a forced 5 months or so off from the gym at the start of 2007 to get myself to relax a little about my appearance, and return to training later inthe year for the right reasons: health.

I liked the idea of not ending up like this.

At the start of 2010 I was 171cm/5'07" tall (I think if I'd known more about how eating is actually good for you when I was 16, I'd have been taller -- I stopped growing as soon as I started consistently training, which is much more likely due to insufficient nutrition than my growth plates breaking, since the latter is a fracture, and the only fracture I ever received as a teen was behind my ear when a friend kindly punched me in the side of the head) and 62kg/136.5lb, giving me a BMI of 21.2. I'd been sitting around this weight since mid-to-late 2008; around the time I turned 20 I stopped being underweight for the first time in my life. A lot of guys aren't happy until they're huge. But for me, just being at a normal bodyweight was a huge achievement. Now there was even a chance that I might win in an arm wrestle against a 12 year old girl. As an aside, when I was 14 I lost an arm wrestle against a 12 year old girl. So if you're busy feeling miserable because you can only bench 300lb, count your blessings. The first time I benched to my chest, the empty bar was my working sets, and they legitimately were working sets.