May 2004 archives

May 2, 2004

Happy camper returns

Filed under: General

My good man, how much protein is there in this Brunello?I’m back from a great vacation in Tuscany that was capped off with a very happy event (official announcement). After an overdose of medieval culture and a suitable amount of wine tasting, I am now really looking forward to getting back to training again tomorrow. It will be back to Westside for the bench. Not yet sure how I will tackle my squat/deadlift training, depends on how my back feels. I forgot my precious tennis ball at home, with the result that my trigger points stiffened up quite a bit. Sleeping in beds of varying quality didn’t help much either. Luckily, Sanna’s elbow came to the rescue after it became obvious that tennis balls are a scarce commodity in the Tuscan countryside.

May 3, 2004

Beam me up, Scottie

Filed under: Workouts

One bar - three handsTime to face it. My bench is stuck. Has been since New Year’s Eve, when I blasted up 97.5 kg/215 lbs thus ending a nice upward streak that saw me add 22.5 kg/50 lbs to my bench in seven months since my bench journey began in May. Ironically, New Year’s Eve was also saw the beginning of the competition to guess how much I would bench by June 2nd, 2004. Having benched that same 97.5 kg/215 lbs a few times since but no more, it seems that the $15 US dollar Amazon gift certificate will go to my fiancée who had the most conservative guess of 112.5 kg/249 lbs. With some luck I might be able to eke a little closer to that, but I am having a hard time seeing how I could boost my bench that much in 4 weeks. Especially in light of the fact that my attempt to better my floor press PR of 100 kg/221 lbs failed miserably today (VIDEO, 1 M).

Actually, it was not that miserable. 95 kg/210 lbs came up easily enough and 100 kg/221 lbs would probably too if it weren’t for the fact that I spent a couple of seconds hovering the 102.5 kg/227 lbs just slightly off the floor first. At least I have not grown weaker, even though I have started benching with a slightly wider grip (pinkies at rings instead of a little on the inside).

So what do I make of this? Am I crying every night when I go to bed because my bench has grown stubborn? In the final analysis, this is the name of the game. Constant rapid improvement just does not happen 24/7, year in year out. If it would, even if just in my case, I would be outbenching Gene Rychlak in a few years, with no bench shirt, no drugs and long arms to boot. Instead there are periods of progress and periods of consolidation, even occasionally regress. When I began powerlifting a year ago I would have been thrilled with the thought of being able to bench 100 kg/221 lbs only one year later. Come to think of it, I still am. I need to work through this dry season, strengthen what I can, enjoy lifting and… booom! There will be rain. And that, will make me feel better than I would if progress was something that came on a silver platter.

There might be no silver platter, but there is always the infamous silver lining, which is that I will be able to try a lot of new things in my quest for a bigger bench. I expect chains and triple max attempts on the JM Press to enter the scene at any time. My newfound motto is this: “when in dire times, be grateful for the hand that comes from above”. Amen.

ME Bench, 3 May 2004

Note: I’ve forgotten my training notes at the gym, will complete this outline later.

several groove-up sets
1 @ 95 kg/210 lbs
0 @ 102.5 kg/227 lbs
0 @ 100 kg/221 lbs

Standing shoulder press off pins (chin height):
worked up to 5 @ 55 kg/122 lbs if memory serves

Chest-supported T-bar row:
worked up to sets of 10,8,7,5 @ 55 kg/122 lbs or something like that

A few reps with 45 kg/99 lbs and a few more reps with 40 kg/88 lbs

Total training time: A mystery.

May 5, 2004

Gordian knots

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

Untie this!Back to Westside for the squat/dead workouts as well. Preliminary, I am striving to at least do the max effort day while keeping the dynamic day as an option if my back is up to it. I think I might be able to box squat, which I find easier on the back than normal squatting. After my back completely locked itself up last time I did freeweight squatting in March, I figured I would play it safe and do Smith squat for a while before starting to work with Mikesell. Indeed, Smith squats served me well one month after I ripped my back.

Smith squat I did. But not for long. Felt some acute discomfort already at 60 kg/133 lbs. Taking what I perceived to be the rational path, I aborted the squatting and started hauling 10 kg/22 lbs plates up to the second floor for my makeshift reverse hypers. Could feel my gluteus and back tightening up at this point, so I dashed down to the locker room for my trusty tennis ball. After doing a quick perverse looking trigger point massage for the gluteus, I felt ready to begin. Went well. Before I knew it I had completed the workout that is by now becoming my fallback routine, the Happy Back Workout&reg, when I am hurting. Armed with a set of fully loaded batteries, my friend and occasional training partner Måns made my digital camera sing and filmed all exercises (VIDEO 3.2M).

Mixed up my protein shake and headed for the sauna. While drying myself I happened to catch a glimpse of my shoulders in the mirror, and noticed that my shoulder girdle appeared to be slanting to the right. The more my body cooled down, the more the pain in the lower back increased. Sitting on the bus, I decided that this was the last straw as I refuse to be hurting five months after my initial injury without a battle. As soon as I got home I booked an appointment to a private highly regarded back clinic, Selkäcenter, for tomorrow afternoon. By this time my body was already slanting heavily to the right indicative of what I think is a protective cramp caused by my body trying to protect the old injury, which I now believe is probably not quite healed. Challenges abound.

ME Squat/Deadlift, 5 May 2004

Smith machine squat:
6 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs (back discomfort - aborted here)

Reverse-hyper, done off hyper bench with weights between legs:
30 @ bodyweight
15 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
15 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
15 @ 30 kg/66 lbs
15 @ 35 kg/77 lbs

Ball crunch:
20 @ bodyweight
10 @ 5 kg/11 lbs
10 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
10 @ 12.5 kg/28 lbs
10 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
30 @ bodyweight

Seated calf raise:
worked up to 8 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

Total training time: about 90 min, which included trigger point massage etc.

May 6, 2004

McKenzie - the final solution?

Filed under: Rehab

Waking up this morning the cramp from yesterday had eased a little, but I still looked like one crooked bastard. Unlike yesterday, I was actually able to bend to the right a little. Needless to say, I did not go to work today. Instead I stayed home and felt grateful that I had an appointment with a back specialist in the afternoon.

I was met with a friendly greeting at the clinic, the kind of service uncommon outside the private healthcare sector. The waiting room was filled with pictures showing off acrobatic feats and healthy spines. I can see how some patients might become a little depressed by this after struggling to reach the clinic with an aching back, but I liked them for what I presume was the reasons they were put there in the first place. Help just around the corner. But then, I assessed my pain level as a modest 5 on a scale of one to ten on the registration form… With a major nerve impingement the trapeze dolls could have been in grave danger.

The therapist, a guy about my age, was inspiring and talkative. First we sat down and went through my injury and treatment history. I had actually prepared a somewhat detailed outline that I handed him. Thanks to this blog, it was a breeze to write down exact dates and details that otherwise would have been but foggy estimations.

Underwear time! He had me do repetitions of ten bending in different directions in order to assess whether a certain movement aggravated or lessened the protective response and pain. After I finished a movement his trained eye scanned me for minute changes in posture. He had me bend forward as far as I could go (painful), backwards (felt surprisingly good afterwards), to the left (so so) and to the right (not painful).

He told me that he was assessing me using the McKenzie method, which he proceeded to outline in some detail. If I understood him correctly, he explained that the fluid nucleus of the discs can be displaced causing overstretching of soft tissue around the vertebrae, which in turn would cause pain. The task of the assessment movements is to determine in which direction the spine has to be moved in order to counteract, and ultimately correct, the displaced fluid nucleus. After it was clear that extension (bending backwards with hands clapped around the lower back) caused relief, something that apparently is usually the case, he had me lie down on the table.

First he checked my mobility, such as seeing how far forward he could lift my legs before pain set in while I was lying on my back. Lifting the right leg it started hurting in the back first, with the left it was the hamstrings. After giving him an affirmative answer to the question of whether the osteopath had adjusted my spine, he also had me lie on both sides in turn and he pushed down hard on the leg bent on top. He didn’t do it with quite as violent leverage as the osteopath had, and I could not feel any cracking. I got the impression that he felt that it was way too early to do any heavy adjustments, but these quick jerks showed him that my back is elastic and responsive.

He then turned me on my stomach and had me do ten repetitions of pushing my upper body up with my arms as far as it would go (known as the cobra position in yoga). Then this was repeated in what he called a banana position, where the feet were pushed to the left and the hip to the right (hip away from the pain that is primarily to the left of the lower back). Indeed, I felt like any ripe banana in this position. It did not feel half bad.

Concluding a visit that had lasted a leisurely 40 minutes or so, he wanted to know whether I would be willing to come in for further sessions. Although my wallet is not as full as I’d like it to be, I naturally said yes. We booked a time for next week’s Tuesday, when another therapist will test me on various exercises in their rehab room. The idea here is that she will form her own opinion independent of his and then we will together think of a suitable approach to healing. “Scientific”, I remarked. It might be a McKenzie approach or something else; preliminary he told me that my case shows some deviation from the standard case.

In the meantime, he told me that I should do repetitions of ten in the banana position once every hour and any of the other movements we had tested that felt good. Self-assessment is key in this phase.

This visit left me feeling quite good. Although I confess to having hoped that he would crack me straight (in retrospect I can see why this would not make much sense at the moment, cf. Vince’s excellent comments) and felt a little tender from all the end range of motion movements, especially the forward bending that made me hurt at the spot of the original injury, I was very impressed his thoroughness and willingness to listen and discuss. He agreed with my thoughts on trigger points and was very encouraging when it came to my training. Before the visit I had visions in my head of him shaking his head when he heard that I injured myself doing a good morning (”stupid stupid”), but no. He also agreed that I could well continue my bench workouts as normal, although I might consider going a little lighter than singles. I mentioned doing reverse hypers and that they did not seem to aggravate my condition and he gave the green light for those as well. Not that I feel like doing any of those, or any benching for that matter, before my body is upright again.

This continuing back pain saga is inducing a split personality… On the one hand it sucks that I haven’t been able to go for any deadlift or squat records in five months, but on the other hand I am intensely intrigued by this opportunity to learn more about how my body works. I am now doing things with tennis balls and banana shapes that I could not have dreamed of before. I also hope that these posts might be of some help to others with similar injuries, while functioning as a gentle reminder to the healthy among you. Lift strict, learn what you can ahead of time and never hesitate to consult professionals. I for one will be very happy about this knowledge once I get old enough to walk around with a cane. Perhaps I won’t even need one.

May 7, 2004

A photographer’s fitness blog

Filed under: General

Although he is not (yet? hehe) doing strictly powerlifting, Scott Bird’s fitness blog is well worth a read. With cameras having become standard gym equipment for many, chances are you might also find something of interest on his front page.

May 9, 2004

Going bananas

Filed under: Rehab

B-A-N-A-N-A        Every hour, every day
        I hit the floor to combat decay.
        On the floor I twist and extend
        I am the banana, or so I pretend.

This piece of sub-standard poetry goes merely an inch of the way in conveying my happiness about being almost straight again. The protective cramp is not totally gone yet, but today my right shoulder is drooping just slightly. I saw some improvement already Saturday morning, but I regressed almost to square one after I dropped my credit card while shopping for eggs and some milk. In an effort to look half normal, I went down on one knee to pick it up with the result that not only my back tightened up, but also my abductor muscle on the left leg (at first I feared I had caused muscle damage, now I suspect it was merely a cramp). Took a while to limp home and do the banana extension again.

This morning I was nearly straight, but I had the worse pain yet quite evenly distributed over the lower back. Before it had been almost exclusively on the left side. This is actually a good sign according to the McKenzie method, named after its founder New Zeelander Robin McKenzie. The theory, known as the “dynamic internal disc model”, is that back pain is generally due to the fluid nucleus of the discs being displaced, causing them to put pressure on surrounding nerves or the disc annulus itself (article about how the discs work). Sometimes the pinched nerves cause pain to radiate down into the buttocks and/or legs, sometimes it is more local like in my case. By assessing which end range movement (bending as far as one can in one direction) lessen pain for the patient (usually bending backwards, i.e. extension) and having the patient do this exercise frequently throughout the day, the displaced fluid material should gradually return to normal. As the pressure on the nerves is gradually decreased, the pain will tend to move away from the periphery of the legs and buttock towards the center of the back after which it should disappear completely if the end range movement is continued. As McKenzie has made clear in one of his books that I borrowed from the library, Treat Your Own Back, that pain might actually increase during this process.

Now, pain does not centralize for all patients, in case of which there is a problem that should be dealt with by other means. The McKenzie method has actually shown to be effective both in separating patients with disc problems from patients with non-disc problems and in determining whether the disc annulus is intact or not.

The elicitation of pain “centralization,” an improvement (favorable change) in pain location in response to repetitive end-range testing, typically occurring with only one direction of test movement(s), predicts a high likelihood of successful response to conservative care, even in the presence of neurological deficits. Irreversible conditions are characterized by symptom aggravation by all directions of testing, including the absence of the centralization response, predicting a poor response to non-surgical care. In those whose pain is unaffected with similar testing, evidence indicates the pain is likely nondiscogenic. A dynamic disc model has been described as a possible model for these varying pain responses. Insight into annular integrity of symptomatic discs is also provided using this repeated end-range/pain response (McKenzie) assessment.
Wetzel FT, Donelson R. The role of repeated end-range/pain response assessment in the management of symptomatic lumbar discs. Spine J. 2003 Mar-Apr;3(2):146-54.

In fact, McKenzie has even been shown to be more effective than MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) in this regard, which might explain why my back therapist thought a MRI was not necessary at this stage.

The McKenzie assessment process reliably differentiated discogenic from nondiscogenic pain (P < 0.001) as well as competent from an incompetent anulus (P < 0.042) in symptomatic discs and was superior to magnetic resonance imaging in distinguishing painful from nonpainful discs.
Donelson R, Aprill C, Medcalf R, Grant W.: A prospective study of centralization of lumbar and referred pain. A predictor of symptomatic discs and anular competence. Spine. 1997 May 15;22(10):1115-22.

At this point in my treatment, the aim is to see how my back reacts, which should help provide some clues as to what the continued treatment should look like. I believe I probably have some soft tissue problem left from December, so even when pain is gone there will probably be some healing left to do. I am not yet a 100% sure that the pain is centralizing for good, but I do know that the banana extension helps ease pain tremendously.

If I am straight tomorrow, I might go ahead and do my ME Bench workout. If in any doubt, I will rest instead. It seems like the biggest changes in my posture takes place during the sleeping hours, at least thus far. It actually feels a little bit like Christmas to wake up and get in front of the mirror to see whether there has been any improvements. In the spirit of this, I bid you good night and good back health!

Further reading:
Louis Kuritzky and Jacqueline White: Extend Yourself for Low-Back Pain Relief. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, vol 25:1, January 1997.

May 10, 2004

Visit to another doctor

Filed under: Rehab

fab rehab“Rest for back pain is an advice of the past, be up and about”, the doctor told me in Finnish with a German accent. “I’m writing you a muscle relaxant and a pain killer, both commonly used in sports medicine where it is essential that medication don’t affect mental functions. Even if you need to work, these will keep you sharp. You might get some stomach pain though”.

But let me back track. The doctor’s call for activity was not news for me. It was actually the very same advice that made me return to work today despite my hip still protruding to the left with the drooping right shoulder as the most visible side-effect. Everything went well until I had to do some sudden twisting movements to deal with an unexpected situation. Presto! The body let me know that I should leave its friend, Mr. Lower Elmore J. Back, alone and punished my actions by deepening the cramp. The Leaning Man from Pisa and so on. Advice taken, I should be in a more predictable environment if I want to avoid regress.

Thus I journeyed to the occupational health clinic to get me some sick leave and a physician’s referral to the back clinic (i.e., a letter recommending I get some physical treatment for my back), which in our Finnish welfare state allows me to get some of the money for this private treatment reimbursed by the state.

After a quick ten minute wait, the doctor received me. After asking me the standard questions, observing me bend in different directions and having me walk on my toes and heels, he had me lie down on his table. With therapy tables quickly becoming part of my daily life, I could not help noting that it was the standard light brown model. He twisted my legs, lifted them, and knocked my knees and ankles with a stereotypically tiny hammer to check my reflexes. Not surprisingly, he concluded that I did not have any serious disc or other problems, but was suffering from a muscle related cramp. “Lumbago!”, said the printer.

He gave me the physician’s referral I so craved and prompted me whether 6-10 treatments should be enough. “It works like a prescription. If you give me a call we can extend it if needed.” Hope not.

I also got a general guide for people suffering from back pain that described suitable exercises, essentials like how to best get out of bed and what movements to avoid. The best advice was to hold the nose while sneezing. A useful little leaflet, from where the skinny lads accompanying this post are ripped. Aren’t they adorable?

It was then he started talking about the medicines after first announcing that he would give me ten days of sick leave. He prescribed 30x2 mg of tizanidine (Sirdalud®) as a muscle relaxant and 30x50 mg of diclofenac (Diclomex®) as a pain killer. The pain killer can be taken as needed, with the muscle relaxant taken either one to three times during the day or just before sleep. As I don’t want to mask my pain too much, I plan to take the pain killer only upon waking up when my back is at its most painful and stiff. Since I tend to straighten up during sleep, I will also try popping 4 mg of the muscle relaxant before going to bed to begin with. Tomorrow, I can consult the other back specialist I will see about how they recommend I use these medicines if at all.

Needless to say, today was no time to do a ME bench session. Hoping to be able to speed bench on Friday though. Until then, you will have to bear with this Powerlifting Rehab Blog. Take a pain killer twice daily if you need it.

May 11, 2004

Weak at the core

Filed under: Rehab

oooooooh...!!!The muscle relaxant did its job and pushed me over the edge. After being a rightist for the last six days, my body is now straight again! The back is still in a volatile state, but nevertheless, this was the perfect day to graduate to the next level by another visit to the private back clinic, this time to the exercise room.

The physiotherapist (known as physical therapists in the United States and Canada) figured my problem to be disc related judging from the positive effects of the McKenzie extension protocol on both my pain and protective cramp. She asked me a lot of detailed questions about my training and how I stretch various key muscles. “How do you train the stabilizing muscles of the back?” was the most tricky one. “Well, I do these exercises known as pull-throughs and reverse-hypers”, I replied immediately sensing the inadequacy of my answer. “That’s good, and you should continue doing those, but these exercises only focus on the major surface muscles in the back.” Pointing on a plastic spine model she continued, “The core muscles I am talking about attach to the vertebrae themselves and help stabilize the spine region. These deep muscles are mainly activated as a final resort when we lose our balance and need to be trained in that manner as well”. I had a flash of sudden enlightenment.

She taught me a number of exercises that either used quick repetitive motions with light dumbells or a swiss ball (aka stability ball) to induce a labile and rapidly changing environment that should force the core muscles to fire. Many of these were surprisingly heavy and my poor unsuspecting body was shaking like a leaf. She said that it is quite individual how easy it is to get them to activate, but these should do the job. I then got to hang upside down on an inversion table to stretch the back, while she prepared me an exercise handout using PhysioTools, a Finnish program very common in the health care sector. As I was a little misaligned again when she took me down, she concluded that I should probably avoid upside down hanging for now. She then told me to do the exercises 2-3 times a week, focus on stretching the hams, gluteus and quads, and continue doing the McKenzie extension program, but gradually starting to do the back extensions with a straight back instead of in the banana style. “In two weeks, we can meet again and I can show you more advanced exercises using pulleys and such that allow you to further overload the core muscles.”

I suspect this consultation will forever influence the way I train. Training in a labile environment is not in itself a novel concept for me, recall the ball presses I’ve done, but I never understood this in terms of hitting completely different muscle groups that are central to spinal stability and thus essential for injury prevention. The physiotherapist confirmed that it is an unfortunately common scenario that injury occurs when the strength of the large surface muscles outgrow that of the core ones close to the spine. I’ve just discovered the weakest link of my chain, one that I before did not even realize existed.

See me fall of a swiss ball in tomorrow’s special rehab clip.

May 12, 2004

Big balls of fire

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

labilityFirst swing at the rehab and core training program I got from the physiotherapist yesterday. The first movement had me shaking 3 kg/7 lbs dumbells rapidly up and down while spreading the arms. Contrary to what the major shoulder burn might suggest, the whole point is to activate the core stabilizers by causing the balance to rapidly shift. Just look at my midsection in today’s video clip (5.8M) and you’ll see what I mean.

I then found myself balancing on a swiss ball, which again forces the core muscles (usually defined as the multifidus and the transverse abdominis) to switch on and off to keep the body upright on the unstable surface. The ball proved to be much firmer than the one I tried this on yesterday causing me to avoid the anticipated nasty falls. Wasn’t much of a challenge at all [sigh]. Walk outs, the next exercise, was quite the opposite. Walking out with feet on a suitably low ball while trying to keep a neutral spine (not bent forward nor backward) and then alternately raising hands and feet off the ground was heavy work. Five reps later I did not know whether to make my 96 kg/212 lbs of bodyweight, my weak core muscles or my injured back the fall guy. Also started thinking ahead about how it would feel doing this with a 50 kg/111 lbs plate across the back…

Then it was on to lower body ab twists with feet on the ball. After frying my abs with walk outs, 20 reps to each side was easy. Still, with no support from the arms folded over the chest, I did feel like I was about to tip over at any time. Next, I did static holds with arms on the ball by first tipping the ball right, then left and finally back (can’t go forward) for a 15 second hold at each position. Me shake, ball shake. Big shake.

Neural mobilization (aka neural flossing), a controversial method to maintain or restore the mobility of the neural tissue in relation to its surroundings developed by David Butler of Australia, was next. If I sit with my back firmly against the wall I cannot extend my legs fully. But if I clasp my arms behind my neck and bend forward at the upper back I can. Sanna has been craving Butler’s book for the expanding health care section of our library for some time now, so will probably read up on this at some point.

A quick ten reps of non-banana back extensions and that was that. Capped of with some partner assisted hamstring stretching (my back wouldn’t accept it for the right leg though), gluteus stretching and quad stretching.

Overall, this was an interesting workout. The dumbell shaking aggravated my cramp, but the subsequent ones felt really good and actually helped normalize my posture again. Leaving the gym, I had a dull pain smack in the middle of the lower back. Writing this I can definitively feel more pain than before the workout, but this is probably to be expected. Will repeat this workout on Sunday, perhaps even on Friday in conjunction with my speed benching if I am not sore. Ciao!

Back rehab & core strength workout, 12 May 2004

Muscle activation (shaking dumbells): 8½ @ 3kg/7 lbs
Core balancing on swiss ball: about 60 seconds
Walk outs with feet on swiss ball: 2x5
Lower body ab twists with feet on swiss ball: 20 reps to each side
Static ab holds with arms on swiss ball: 15 seconds each to right, left and back
Back extensions: 10

Total training time: Forgot to time in the excitement… ;-)

May 14, 2004

Happy birthday!

Filed under: General

The circle closes. It’s been a full year since I started this blog on May 14th, 2003. 169 entries. Not counting the month I spent in China, this makes for an average of one post every other day. Let me tell you, this is a lot of work. If it weren’t for the fact that the number of regular readers is steadily increasing and several of you have been very supportive via e-mail, this would be a good opportunity to lay down the pen. God knows, I could use some more sleep. It’s not like I don’t have zillions of other things to do either.

To me, this project still appears meaningful, valuable even, as a lasting contemplative record of the powerlifting experience of a genetically average drug-free lifter. Potentially, this blog could have turned out to be either totally dry or soaked in monotony. “Today I did 5 sets of X, 3 sets of Y and failed on one set of P. Felt good.” Repeat 169 times. Sleepy yet? In order to be interesting, a blog of this kind needs to look outside the immediate workout, to touch on larger issues that are relevant to a larger readership. It is at this intersection between theory and practice that the strength of this genre lies. Analysing sticking points against tangible data is very different from just complaining about them in general, as is trying different forms of therapy (trigger points, adjustments and stability training) on a real world injury instead of just discussing what can go wrong in the back and what can be done to fix it. The diary format also makes the process very transparent for the reader (charts help though). Hype doesn’t last long in this kind of writing.

I don’t profess to be a master of this genre, but quite honestly, I think this blog has of late actually become borderline readable. It might have something to do with me maturing as a web writer and becoming more willing to reveal a life behind the mere technicalities of the sets and reps. Or perhaps, it is because just writing down sets and reps now appears boring even to myself…

With the level of continuous effort needed to keep up writing month after month, I would not continue doing this if there weren’t anything in it for me. As I started this journey, I wrote that

[a]lthough I hope someone out there will find this an interesting read, I am doing this as much for myself. I’m new to blogging, but I have this stubborn idea that this is an effective way of self-reflection, more so than simply scribbling in the training diary.

I am researching things more thoroughly than I would if I were not trying to explain things to others and am thus learning a great deal in the process. I am leaving behind a gold mine of information on my training and my thoughts that would otherwise soon be forgotten and thus rendered useless. I am receiving very valuable feedback from some of you readers, that has proven invaluable in removing some of the blinders that I erect around myself and has prompted me to explore new avenues.

I think I better stop here before I end up debating the existence of God or something equally metaphysical. I guess I just wanted to express my amazement that there are actually people out there who seem to enjoy reading my blurbs, some of which I have had the great pleasure of getting to know via e-mail. Thanks to you I am willing to continue this project for the time being (no warranties though).

But before I go, here is a quick list of things I am planning to do during the next few months: diet, incorporate stability training on a more thorough scale, try chains, start to do GPP and renovate Toffe’s Gym to make it more suitable for powerlifting training. I hope you will enjoy participating in the ride as much as I am eager to find out what this next year has in store for me.

NOTE: I am back blogging this to the correct date. The two workouts that I have done since will appear after I get back from a short two-day trip. The short of it is that the rehab is going great!

Other angle on speed work

Filed under: Workouts

After the Prilepin bench program interlude, it is time to add speed benching back into the mix. This time around, I am going to deviate from the standard Westside style of speed work and try the form of speed work JM Blakley recommends on his XTM Bench video in an effort to achieve better bar path consistency.

Sadly, I am unable to consult Blakley’s video because it has mysteriously disappeared. I’ve literally searched for it for hours, and as my desperation deepened Sanna joined the search. No, it’s not in the video machine or under the fridge. At this point, the most likely scenario is that someone broke into our apartment via the toilet pipe, snatched the tape from under the mess on my desk and then base jumped down the balcony. I have now reluctantly come to accept that it has gone to bench press video heaven. I guess it is as good a grade as any, that I am now seriously considering buying another copy, if only for the great footage of the JM press.

I do recall the gist: start out with a slow rep, then a little faster rep, then a little faster… then BOOM!, BOOM!, BOOM! bang out reps as fast as you can. I am pretty sure it was 7 reps in total, but don’t remember if it was 3 or 4 all out reps. The formula I am going to follow is one slow rep, one normal speed rep, one rep faster than normal, and then three all-out BOOM! reps. This is basically normal Westside speed benching (three bench reps with as light a weight needed to complete them within 3 seconds, usually 50-60% of current max), but with three introductory reps. I think Blakley’s rationale was that the introductory reps would teach the body what is really fast. My main appeal with this stems from the simple observation that it is quite difficult to throttle the bar up at maximum velocity while retaining a consistent bar path unless you are an experienced bencher. Granted, I’ve gotten a lot better at it, but as chalking the middle of the bar has revealed, my consistency varies a lot from set to set. What I am thinking is that the introductory reps will give me a chance to practice perfect groove with increasing speed until exploding as fast as I can. If it helps my body understand what real speed is, then all the better.

Did eight sets of Blakley speed benching with a conservative 50 kg/111 lbs. The first set produced a perfect line, but the others left a lot to be desired. Guess Blakley speed benching cannot immediately solve rustiness from not having done any speed benching since February (that long?!). Also dared to do some swiss ball dumbell benching being careful to lift the dumbells on a bench one by one before grabbing them for the next set and having my training partner rerack them for me.

After no heavy chest work for a couple of weeks, this workout felt great! Nearly every set pulled me out of alignment, but a couple of end range extensions put me straight again. Decided that I would stop the workout immediately if this failed. It didn’t. Then did the rehab program again, minus the muscle activation and the neural mobilization, both of which I think made me hurt last time around. I was leaning to the right as usual when I was walking home, but on the whole this workout exceeded my expectations.

DE Bench, 14 May 2004

Blakley speed bench: 8x6 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
Stability ball dumbell bench:
12 @ 16 kg/35 lbs
7 @ 24 kg/53 lbs
4x5, 7 @ 30 kg/66 lbs

JM press: 6,6,5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Lying cable curl: 5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs (back complained on this one)


Core balance: c. 2 minutes
Walk-out: 5,4
Lower body ab twists with feet on swiss ball: 20 reps to each side
Static ab holds with arms on swiss ball: 20 seconds each to right and left
Back extensions: 10

Total training time: 86 min

May 17, 2004

Pounded meat

Filed under: Workouts

Was really sore after the DE bench workout on Friday. Convinced myself that this did not matter and set up to incline bench for triples. Ended up leaving 80 kg/177 lbs on the chest. Burst that bubble.

Tried some pulldowns, but the back was not ready for these quite yet. Back to assisted pull-ups. A new record on the walk-outs saved the day.

ME Bench, 17 May 2004

Incline bench:
7 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
3 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
0 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

Pulldown, close-grip: 6 @ 90 kg/199 lbs (back pain, stopped)
Assisted pull-ups, wide grip:
7,6,6 @ 45 kg/99 lbs assist
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs assist

Seated cable L-flye: 15,12 @ 10 kg/22 lbs


Core balance: c. 2 min
Walk-out: 2x6
Ab holds: 2 sets of 20 second holds to right and left
Lower body ab twists with feet on swiss ball: 20 reps to each side
Neural mobilization: 10 reps
Back extensions: 10

Total training time: ?

May 21, 2004

Joy to the World!

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

Had to drag my behind to the gym today. Once there, the music (AC/DC, imagine that) combined with a bottle of Andrenalyn stack transformed me into a well-oiled training machine. The Blakley speed benches, which I now did in classic Westside style for nine sets with three sets for each grip width, went a lot more smoothly than last week. Most things felt great today, even did some one-handed rows in a ultra-strict slowmo fashion on the Kraftwerk one-handed row machine.

Also decided that from now on, I will start to do more bicep work. After starting to powerlift, I have usually done something like zero to three sets of direct bicep work a week. This might be enough for powerlifting, but the fact that I used to curl with 24 kg/53 lbs dumbells easily during my bodybuilding days but am now struggling with 18 kg/40 lbs gives some reason for thought. Could also use a little more volume on the front of my arms to balance the growing triceps. I have almost forgotten how fun training the biceps is.

As usual, I did my rehab work at the end of the workout. Finally adjusted the training day counter in the sidebar (this way –>) so that it now shows the correct workout on the correct day. As you might have noticed, I am doing the standard Westside four day split, but with benching on Monday and Friday. The reason for this is that my training partner is usually training on those days, so assistance is readily available for benching if need be. Since I have gotten into the habit of doing rehab after every workout, the Sunday DE squat day is in practice a rest day until I can box squat again.

My back is doing a lot better now. I seem to be straight and I can move normally at last. Like McKenzie suggests in his book, I have cut back on the frequency of back extending, but am still doing them several times a day or as needed. For the first time, I could also do assisted hamstring stretching for both legs without the back complaining. A week ago I could stretch the right leg, but could not even get a mild stretch in the left before it started hurting like h*ll in the back. The sweet taste of progress. On Tuesday, it is back to the back clinic for what will probably be the last consultation before I am on my own.

DE Bench, 21 May 2004

Blakley speed bench: 9x6 @ 55 kg/122 lbs
JM press: 5,5,5,5,4 @ 42.5 kg/94 lbs
Kraftwerk one-handed row: 2x7 @ 100 kg/221 lbs (ultra-strict)
Lying L-flye: 8,5 @ 8 kg/18 lbs, 20 @ 4 kg/9 lbs
Incline hammer curl: 5x5 @ 18 kg/40 lbs
Lying upper pulley cable curl: 12 @ 50 kg/111 lbs


Core balance: c. 2 minutes
Walk-out: 7,5
Ab-holds: 2 sets of 25 second holds to left and right
Lower body ab twists with feet on swiss ball: 20 reps to each side
Neural mobilization: 10 reps
Back extensions: 10

Total training time: 110 min :-/

May 24, 2004

Skipping lightly over that

Filed under: General

Same melody as last week: still very sore from DE bench day. I could go in and do some delts and rehab, but since I also have an appointment at the back clinic tomorrow I figure it is more sensible to stay fresh for that. Instead I take you over to the news room for the latest links.

Remember the video clip of Marko Patteri squatting hands free? Here’s pictures of two guys doing a tandem squat using a single belt courtesy of Ålands Kraftsportklubb, Finland.

Was also reading Scott Bird’s fitness blog and found a tidbit about Bruce Lee’s back injury, like mine, stemming from a good morning. Apparently it was done with his bodyweight of 135 lbs without a warm-up. One site went so far as to draw a direct causal chain between this injury and his early departure.

This was the cause of the back injury, led to his constant use of painkillers & eventually contributed to his death by drug overdose.

Don’t know why it has been hiding from me for so long, but finally discovered Jan Baggerud Larsen’s Laserdonut Swiss Ball & Powerlifting Lunacy site. Watch Inzerman save the day, read words of wisdom from JM Blakley on weight gain or discover an experiment that attempts to combine plyometric depth jumps with the use of the Swiss ball to see if the instability of the ball will increase the sympathetic neuromotoric synergism between the two lumbomechanical modalities. Be forewarned, there is a lot of other wacky stuff there as well, some of which may be little over the top depending on your taste.

Finally, redefining the meaning of raw, here is a picture of weightlifter Pisarenko squatting courtesy of Tom Goegebuer. Another pic here.

May 25, 2004

Rehab consultation, Episode II

Filed under: Rehab

lower cable twistsTwo weeks have passed since I got my initial stability routine. During this time span I have gone from having a protective cramp pulling me out of alignment and having a hard time moving normally to regaining normal mobility and posture. And best of all, this change took place during fairly strenuous core muscle training that I would not have dared to do if it weren’t for the fact that they were prescribed to me. The first workout made me hurt more, but after that it has been all downhill.

Today I got some sense of the proportion of the hill. The back therapist told me that I can expect my discs to be fully recovered within another six months, provided I don’t do anything stupid. By that time, I will also have much strengthened core muscles that will go a long way in preventing this from happening again. The mind-set I have know is one of conditioning as opposed to brutal bar bending singles. Squats, like other main squat/dead lifts, will start figuring in my routine in this context, as will an emphasis on GPP (don’t worry if you don’t what that means, I will get back to that when I start sled dragging sometime this summer). Although I should be able to train my upper body much as normal, some of this new thinking will no doubt rub off on that as well; can’t wait to try JM presses on the swiss ball…

Today’s consultation was focused on helping me build my arsenal of stability exercises. First up was bodyweight squats on a balance board; hard at first, doable in the end. She then took me through various cable movements, including some twisting exercises. She assessed my degree of muscle activation in these by holding her hands on my lower back, concluding that my left side is working at full capacity, while the right does not get fully activated (a neurological problem I will address in a later post). Then she tried another neural mobilization exercise on me, but as that mainly stretched my inflexible calves she dropped that one. I was also asked to show her all the exercises from the previous rehab program, some of which she modified to make a little harder. “It is obvious you have done these quite a lot”. Small ego boost there.

Regarding the McKenzie extension protocol, she said that it would probably be enough if I continued doing them lying down before hitting the bed every night. But I should continue the habit of bending backwards standing now and then, especially following prolonged sitting, driving and such.

We agreed that I would come in for a follow-up visit on 20 July, which would allow her to assess whether my muscles have regained their balance or not, and help us talk about how to proceed vis-à-vis squatting and such. Tomorrow then, I take my rehab downstairs from the stretching area into the heart of the gym.

May 26, 2004

I am unstable

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

ball, ball, ballBroke the routine and did my ME bench workout today as my two latest attempts were foiled by too much soreness from the previous DE bench workout. With a ticket to Metallica’s concert in Helsinki on Friday, I am somewhat likely to skip Friday’s DE bench workout anyhow.

Forgot my latest rehab workout instructions at home, so took the ball thingy to its extreme and did the whole bench workout on it (VIDEO, 4.5M). My training partner Måns came up with the idea of taking the ball to the rack for benching. Pin presses were suitably unstable and more difficult than on a normal bench, JM presses might actually have been a little easier on the ball in spite of the bouncy ride. Also tried doing side raises kneeling on the ball, which was a little easier than I had thought. Still, I did have to adjust my balance continuously lest I throw the dumbells through the roof. Finished off with dumbell curls sitting on the ball. A great workout. I wonder if benching on a stable bench will not feel a lot easier if I keep this up…

If you try this, make sure you have a burst proof ball (will not explode, but deflates slowly if it breaks), have the pins set so the bar cannot implode your chest even if you drop the bar and see that the ball is certified as being able to handle the load.

ME Bench, 26 May 2004

Close-grip bench on stability ball:
10 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
8 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
6 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
5 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
2 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

JM press on stability ball:
6 @ 30 kg/66 lbs
8,8,7 @ 40 kg/88 lbs

Pulldown, wide-grip (slow): 2x6 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
Side raise, kneeling on stability ball: 10,15,15 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Seated dumbell curl, sitting on stability ball: 6,6,5 @ 18 kg/40 lbs

Total training time: 70 min

May 28, 2004

My server is unstable

Filed under: General

For the last day or so, my pages have been slow to load. Downloading my training clips also takes forever and a day. This has to do with my web host loosing one of their main connections. You will have to bear with this for another two days or so until the host has their new line operational.

Edit 1 June: The hosting company now has their new line up and running, meaning speed should be mostly back up. If you tried to download the ball benching clip from the previous workout earlier but gave up after facing a torturous 1 KB/s download, the coast should now be clear.