I restarted my weightlifting program exactly 30-days ago and during that time I’ve performed 14-sessions.  While I was inputting my squat data into my phone at the gym today I noticed something interesting/awesome.  I had re-achieved the previous 5RM PR that was in my recording app from the last time that I was lifting weights.  For those of you who don’t know a “5RM” is a “five repetition maximum” (generally shortened to “five rep max”) which is the heaviest weight that you can do for five consecutive repetitions.

(Note: Technically I suppose that a 5RM would be the most weight you could do for five repetitions in a single set, but for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into here I don’t do maximum rep testing – for the time being.  Therefore in this particular instance the 5RM we are talking about is the weight that I use for my work sets, of which I do three across.  Which is a long way of saying that today I squatted as much in my workout as I did the last time I squatted before the last time I quit.  Um . . . let’s just move on.)

That is pretty awesome because I remember when I achieved this level of strength the first time I was quite pleased with my performance.  Another reason this got my dopamine flowing is because I feel like I got back to this level quickly without hurting myself or rushing my progress by making too large increases.  Did I really get back in form faster than I first achieved it?  Or was my mind memory playing tricks on me.  My curiosity was aroused so I went into my weight lifting app and pulled out the data that it had in it for my back squat.  Coincidentally, the data went back to 24 September 2013, almost exactly a year ago!  So of course I made a chart.  Here it is:

squat chart

I like this chart because it shows the last time I got to this level and this time, with the gap in between.   Now I’m not excited that the gap is there, but it’s nice to quantify before, “not during” and after.  Just seeing this chart and the start-overedness of it reinforces how much I want and need to maintain a workout program over the long term.  And my performance potential if I did so.

Now let’s look at the two actual training periods and compare them:

Side by side Squat 5rm

The biggest takeaway for me from these two charts is consistency.  I don’t depict it well here because the Excel formatting is just too hard but the chart on the left which shows the first period of weight training represents a number of missed workouts.  You can also see during that period I repeated at the same weight several times.  Also, the increases in weight are inconsistent.  I jump by 30# and then 20# and then 5# and then 10# and so on.  All told it took me 72-days to advance from 3 sets of 5 across at 135# to 3 sets of 5 across at 255#.

In the chart on the right – which shows the current progression – it only took me 27-days to get from 135# to 255#!  There were no missed workouts and with one exception I was very patient, consistent and conservative in my weight increases.  I definitely feel that this gave my body a better chance to recover, adapt and prepare for the next weight increase than the herky-jerky increases in the first instance.  Finally though, I think that I was much better prepared mentally this time around.  As with so many things in life it is the unknown that messes with our heads.  The second time through anything is easier just from knowing what to expect and knowing what you can do.

The big question now is what does the chart look like from here through the next thirty days?

Back on the Horse: How to get back into the gym

Weightlifting.  I like weightlifting.  I enjoy it while I’m doing it.  I like the way it makes me feel both during and after the training sessions and I like the outcomes of it (increased strength and muscle mass).  And yet until about a month ago I had not done a single weight training session in calendar year 2014.

Why, or more accurately, why not?  For the same reasons we all don’t do something or anything.  Laziness, inertia, rationalization.  But for weightlifting there was another deterrent: not wanting to start over.  You see, at one point in my on-again, off-again training regimen I had gotten my strength in the core lifts up to a fairly respectable level, but after six months (more really) of detraining effect I suspected – reasonably enough – that most of that strength had atrophied.

Now a lot folks, particularly testosterone driven manly-men like myself would go back into the gym, pull out their workout log (you do have a workout log right?) and try to throw up the last weight they lifted, notwithstanding that they did that weight over six months ago.  And most of those guys would have hurt themselves, either acutely or by generating enough post workout soreness to derail whatever routine they planned to initiate.

But I’m smarter than that.  At least occasionally.  In this case I needed a multi-faceted solution.  Facet the first: I needed to overcome my general inertia and just get myself back in the gym.  Facet the second: I needed to do so without tempting myself to overreach, hurting myself and derailing my comeback.  Facet the third: I needed to establish a pattern that supported the eventual transition to my desired training frequency and pattern.

The problem with having a multi-faceted requirement is that admits of lots of excuses and overthinking which of course is the procrastinators bette noir.   So I approached it thusly: first, I committed to what the workouts would look like.  This eliminated concerns that I would try to do too much (i.e. too heavy on free weight barbell exercises) and also made my plan concrete (which makes it more tangible and more likely to be executed). I decided that I would start going back to the gym by doing a very mild machine-based workout.

This is something that I’ve done before and this is what it looked like:

–          Chest press machine supersetted with lat pull downs

–          Leg press machine supersetted with the shoulder press machine

–          Optional: sit-ups or other abdominal work between sets

–          All exercises done for 3 sets of 10 reps each

Pretty simple right?  Exactly.  Short, boring, simple, clear and yet, more strength training that I had been doing for the entire year.  This is one of the big mental hurdles I face: if I can’t or am not planning to do the “real deal” or the whole enchilada I tend to mentally scoff and say to myself “whatever, that’s not even worth doing”.  In other words I’m an optimizer and a completionist.  Which is another way of saying that I’ll take any excuse to pontificate on what right looks like but won’t go out and actually do a workout that would benefit me but isn’t optimal.  I would be that this is one of the most pervasive rationalizations used by people to NOT workout, especially those who “used to be in great shape”.

So how did my plan work out?  It got me back in the gym doing SOMETHING/ANYTHING which was better than the NOTHING I had been doing.  And I have to admit, it worked well.  As I’ve talked about here before it had the tremendously powerful effect of lowering the bar.  Instead of facing this tremendous wall of obstructions (inertia, indecision about what workout to do, frustration about how low I was going to have to restart on my lifts in my “real” lifting program) I had a very low barrier and no uncertainty/excuses.  I committed to going to the gym and executing a perfectly doable, reasonable program.  The fact that the workout was machine-based and low intensity didn’t matter.  All I was doing was going back to the gym and sweating.  Something/anything is better than nothing.

My goal with this program was to workout M-W-F (which is my normal routine when I’m doing a “real” program).  I never got to that level.  Doesn’t matter.  I did two workouts a week for three weeks (never on the same two days of the week in any of those weeks) and then went on a pre-planned two week vacation during which I didn’t lift once.  And then when I got home I didn’t go to the gym at all for a week.  But during those three weeks of working out I got back into the habit of going to the gym.  I got a “fix” of the enjoyment I get from working out and I began to transition back into a normal routine.  I never tried to use heavy weights but gradually as I worked out I began to replace the machine exercises with their barbell based equivalents; not all at once or even in a regular progression.  As I got comfortable or bored with the machine I would swap in the barbell exercise – always using a very light weight.  Presses for the shoulder press machine, bench press for the chest press and so on.  In this way, after my vacation and after the one week without working out I eased myself back into doing the old Starting Strength exercise program.

And so far I’m in my fifth straight week of it without missing a day.  And I feel great.

Muay Thai #1

A couple weeks back, before I left Thailand to relocate permanently back to the US, I finally did something that I have been promising myself I would do for at least a year: took a Muay Thai class.

This was actually my second muay thai session while I was in Thailand.  A few months ago I went to a little local muay thai training facility after work and did an hour session.  The facility was run by a former professional kickboxer, a Frenchman of African descent.  His gym was very local, meaning that it was open air, the walls were mostly cinder blocks and chain link fence.  There was one boxing ring (muay thai ring, I guess), a handful of heavy bags of various manufacture and design including one upper-cut bag and at least one long bag.  There were few fans, jump ropes, hand wraps, gloves, kick and punch target pads and that’s about it.
I got there about five forty-five (I had been told the session started at six).  There were a couple of Thai’s there and an equal number of farangs.  Two Australians and a Frenchman, I believe.  Plus me.  There appeared to be a mixture of long time students and new folks, dilettantes who were there for the fitness aspect and others who were seriously training for actual fights, which they run in Pattaya a couple times a week.
The term session is perhaps gives what happened a greater sense of structure than it deserves.  There seemed to be trainers there – the owner and two Thai instructors – but no one gave any instructions or guidance.  No one told me specifically what to do and all the other guys just kind of did their own thing.  So I jumped rope for a while and at some point the owner told me in broken French-English to start hitting the bag.  So I grabbed a set of wraps off a rafter where they were hanging and drying, wrapped up and started warming up by shadow boxing and hitting the heavy bag.  After a while the Thai instructor who had been working with one of the experienced farang fighters with pads in the ring dismissed him and indicated to me that I should get in the ring.  I wasn’t sure he knew I was a newbie but I got in and we went about five rounds with him using the pads to lead me through some punches, elbows, kicks and knee strikes.  He did a fairly decent job of instructing considering he knew only a few fighting specific English words, but in that context brief demonstrations and lots of repetition work pretty much as well as language.
He was pretty impressed with my limited Thai skills, another sad testament to how little effort any of the foreigners in Thailand put into learning the language.  Anyway, after we went our rounds in the ring he sent me out and brought another guy in.  I was again left without any guidance so I went and practiced some of the tips I had gotten in the ring on a long bag and when I got bored and irritated at the lack of organization and instruction I packed up and went home.
Next post I’ll talk about my second and more satisfying muay thai session . . .

2012 Activity Summary

Capture
This is a summary of my Garmin Connect data from 2012.  It would have been nice to do a roll-up like this at the end of 2012 and then create a coherent set of goals or plans for 2013 . . . but that’s not really how I do it.
As you can see from the above tables, the first half of 2012 (H1) was pretty slow for fitness activities while the second half (H2) was pretty awesome.  I’d have to go back and look through my blog posts to be sure but I’m willing to bet that the change happened around the time that I stopped “asking myself if I was going to workout that day” and just started “telling myself that I’m working out everyday” and then figuring out how to make it happen.
That success continued (with a few slumps and lags) into the first half of 2013:
 Capture2
Capture3
You can see the effect of both the  carry-over momentum from a strong H2 2012 and also of those “slumps and lags”.  H1 2013 was significantly better than H1 2012, but not as good as H2 2012.
I actually sat down and pulled all this data back at the end of June and was going to use it to create a number of workouts/time/distance goal for the second half of 2013.  The intention was to get H2 2013 back up to the frequency and intensity of H2 2012.  But I’ve taken so long to get around to writing this (with some legitimate justification and with even more sheer laziness) that I’m now deep into H2 2013.
And frankly, without looking at the data, it hasn’t been good.  Plus my computer is still in transit from Thailand and I’m not smart enough to figure out how to upload my Garmin data from my watch to my Connect account on my girlfriend’s computer without uploading it to her account.  So all my workout info is trapped on my watch for now.  Therefore, my plan is as follows.
I am going to wait until the end of September.  By then I should have my computer here and be able to upload my data.  I’ll collect my Q3 information for 2013 and see how badly I’ve fallen off the pace compared to the same time last year.  Then I’ll make a plan and some goals (frequency/distance/etc.) for Q4.
Another thing to consider is that I have a March 2014 . . . event . . . on my horizon and if I start training for that event it will constrain my previously freewheeling workout “program” since I’ll have to prepare for a particular event which will require specific things and prohibit others (due to time constraints, recovery requirements, injury concerns, etc.).  So we’ll have to see how that works out.
In the meantime my goal is to quit making excuses (see previous gym rant) and get my butt back into gear to workout consistently.  I have to keep reminding myself of the fundamental truths (two of several anyway): something – anything! – is better than nothing and sweating every day is essential to continued good mental health.

Over a year (and avoiding it)

I was editing my Training Record spreadsheet again (I do that a lot), and I noticed that it has been a year (more now) since I did my very humbling diagnostic CPFT/APFT.  Obviously my laser-like focus and monk-like commitment to achieving the 375 CPFT is nothing to brag about at this point.  Neither is the now week-old commitment I made to doing another diagnostic to gauge my current condition.  I was going to do the Sunday before last  . . . but didn’t . . . and still haven’t.

I have – of course – iron clad “reasons” that I haven’t done it yet.  These include things like “life” and “I’m getting into a good workout routine and don’t want to disrupt it”, etc.  But the real reason is that full effort CPFT’s are uncomfortable and I’m avoiding that discomfort.  But I really do want to buckle down and knock it out.  And while I know that I’m nowhere near a 375 scoring level, I can guarantee an improvement over last year’s diagnostic.
In that pathetic performance I eked out forty-five push-ups; now I do fifty push-ups every morning before breakfast just to grease the groove.  I only ran a 16:28.  That’s an 8:14 pace for two miles.  I cringe at the shame of it.  A week or two back I ran a 5K (that’s 3.1 miles for you Imperial folks) at a 7:47 pace.  Not sure where I would come out on sit-ups, but at a minimum I don’t think it would be worse than I did last year.
So it’s not fear of doing poorly (well, TOO poorly) that is keeping me from doing it.  It’s just laziness and dislike of max effort discomfort.  And the fact that I’m getting into a good running/lifting rhythm and don’t want to mess it up.  But I WILL.  Here’s the plan: I’ll lift again today and Friday, run on Thursday and take Saturd . . . crap.  Just realized this weekend is not a good time for this because I’m going up to Dallas to link up with my brother and watch an Army football game.
New plan: regular workouts this week, including a run on Saturday morning.  Enjoy the football game on Saturday, relax on Sunday, recover and rest up on Monday, diagnostic CPFT on Tuesday and back to our regularly scheduled programming on Wednesday.
Boom.  Done.  Next Tuesday be on the lookout for a new CPFT score update.  And maybe some embarrassing videos as a bonus.

Civilian gyms really suck

I’ve moved back to the United States from my tour abroad.  I did a surprisingly good job of keeping up my workout routine during the 1) transition period in Thailand, 2) the actual travel days and 3) the transition period (on-going) in Texas.

I’ll post some Garmin Connect calendar pictures to show how I did overall once I have my computer back and can upload my Garmin data and input my manual activities.  Could be a while.  In the meantime you’ll just have to trust me.  My bikes went into the household goods shipping but I’ve been running, swimming and even lifting regularly.  Yes, I started lifting again.  The cardio/pushups only thing I was doing bored the crap out of me.  I’m not abandoning the CPFT goal, but I’m going to have to approach it a little more gradually.  First thing I need to do is another diagnostic.  I’m way overdue and really have no idea where I stand right now compared to my first one.

But I’m getting off track.  The thing I wanted to say – as evidenced by the title – is that civilian gyms suck.  Since I got to Houston I’ve been trying to find a place to workout.  All I need is a somewhere with enough free weight equipment to do a standard Starting Strength workout routine.  Squat rack, some Olympic bars and a pull-up bar.  A lap pool would be nice too.  The problem is that all the gyms in Houston (and I’m guessing everywhere else in America) have “cardio plus one of everything” syndrome.  They have a HUGE warehouse-style building absolutely packed to the gills with 50 treadmills, 50 stationary bikes, 50 elliptical trainers, 5 each of three other alternative cardio machines, 1 or 2 rowing ergs, and one of EVERY SINGLE NAUTILUS (or Hammerstrength) MACHINE EVER DESIGNED FOR EACH BODY PART.  Then they have one squat rack, two each bench press, incline bench press and decline bench press and a handful of flat benches in front of the mirrors by the dumbbell racks.  Want to do three inch range of motion weighted ab crunches?  There’s a machine for that.  Interested in working out your thigh adductors?  There’s a machine for that.  Want to do high angle, mid angle or low angle seated back rows?  Machine, machine, machine.

Want to do the most fundamental and effective weightlifting exercises in the world and which should form the foundation of pretty much every human being’s strength training program?  Sorry, there’s only one squat rack in the whole building and some “bro-ski” wearing Beats headphones is doing 15 sets of shrugs or bent over rows (with terrible form) in the squat rack.  Well, it’s not ideal, you say to yourself, but I’ll go do my deadlifts first . . .  Except that there are no “loose” Oly bars.  Every single one is assigned to a bench press station.  And even if you manage to steal one off the bench without getting treated like a common criminal there is no section of floor in the entire facility large enough to set up for deadlifts because the entire place if crammed full of ridiculous machines.

It’s very frustrating.  The Girlfriend and I are looking for a rental house and it would be really nice to be able to put a squat rack with a Oly bar in the garage and not have to deal with this kind of stuff.

Indecisiviness

I worked out on Monday and Tuesday because I was feeling a lot better (relative to my cold).  My run performance on Tuesday wasn’t great and I coughed and hacked and sneezed up about a gallon of phlegm afterwards.  But I haven’t managed to kick the last lingering effects of the cold.

I’ve got some congestion and hacking cough left.  Because of that – and because of my inherent laziness – I took today off and didn’t lift or run (either of which would have been acceptable workouts).

But I’ve decided that I can’t go without regular workouts any longer.  Who knows how long it would be if I waited until I was 100%, unquestionably, perfectly healthy again.  I’m health ENOUGH.  I’m going to go ahead and pick back up with normal workouts tomorrow.  No health related excuses.  Hopefully I work through my last symptoms without a relapse.

Never stop running, because getting started again is miserable

For me running is difficult and unnatural that this statement is true even after just a week.

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.48.10 PM

I ran this evening for the first time since I got sick two weekends back.  And while it FELT okay, the same level of perceived effort was 2-minutes slower over 4-miles than just two weeks ago.  Oh, the damage done.

Another health related item of note is that over the ten days or so that I wasn’t working out to to active illness or active recovery I actually lost weight.

Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 10.49.10 PM

Turns out that not having an appetite and feeling to poorly to go out to eat bad food actually has effects.  As you should know by now, I don’t really care much about my weight and none of my goals really have any connection to my weight, but I have a fancy ANT+ scale and it makes graphs in my Garmin Connect so from time to time I feel the need to show them and say something about it.  So, voila.  Another 5-pounds or so and I’ll be close to the weight I boxed intramurals in my Firstie year at West Point (that’s senior year for you civilian college goers).

Back in the gym

So just as I was getting back into a good rhythm and building the oh-so-important positive inertia, I got sick.  I spent about four days in a good solid feverish cold.  So obviously during that period I wasn’t working out.  Then I took a few extra days to make sure I was over it and wouldn’t cause a relapse by exercising too hard too soon.

Then I just skipped today because I was lazy (the bad inertia was in full swing).  But by eight o’clock at night I was going insane from antsiness so I went down to the gym and did my standard four exercise weight lifting routine for when I’m just trying to get some general exercise (bench press, pull up, leg press, standing military press).  Then I threw in some bicep curls because of reasons.

It was good.  Totally a “anything is better than nothing” type of workout.  I was planning to get up and get a run in tomorrow morning but the beauty of time zones means I have a conference call at 0630.  Which means that tomorrow’s workout is going to happen at some to be determined time.

I also know that I still owe my second half of the year goals post.  Working on it.  I’m playing around with charts and data in Excel and have gone down a rabbit hole.  I’ll try to get something interesting, clear and SMART soon.

How sick is sick enough?

To not work out?  That’s the question today as I woke up with a fever and sore throat combined with general body aches.  I made the executive decision after significant hemming and hawing to skip my planned run workout for today.

Now, 15-hours later, I feel slightly better but still not close to 100%.  I think it was a wise decision to hold off on the workout.  I’m especially bummer because I was in a good rhythm and I was looking forward to working out today.

Here’s hoping that I can shake this bug quickly and get back on track.