July 2004 archives

July 2, 2004

Medium effort

Filed under: Workouts

To make up for the drowned ME SQ/DL workout, I decided to superset that workout with today’s DE bench work. Today’s weather was an interesting blend of fiery showers intercepted by brave rays of sun. As I had an evening train to Helsinki to catch, I had no choice but to get underneath the bar at 4pm. The first three sets were done under a cloudy sky, the next few ones in rain and then suddenly, sunshine again. Then repeat. For what it’s worth, here’s the weather forecast for Vaasa, Finland on which Toffe’s Gym is so dependent.

With a sizeable sleep deficit and a rain drenched squatting platform, I did my lunges with caution. After 9 sets of lunges, supersetted with 9 sets of speed benching with chains, I was feeling tender enough. Some pull-up negatives and board balancing and that was that.

DE Bench + ME SQ/DL, 2 July 2004

9 supersets:
      Speed bench, close to wide grip: 9x3 @ 57.5 kg/127 lbs + one 1/2″/13 mm chain per side
      Front lunge, alternating: 9x10 @ 26 kg/57 lbs

2 supersets:
      Pull-up negatives, wide-grip: 2x5
      Balance board standing: 2x2 minutes

Total training time: 33 min

July 7, 2004

The usual reppin’

Filed under: Workouts

Back in Helsinki as in back to glute ham raises. As of yet, I haven’t come up with a way to do these at Toffe’s gym, but perhaps I can use the pins for leg support once I get that rack built. The mini bands I ordered from Elite Fitness Systems precisely one month ago haven’t arrived yet, which is strange considering that they were to ship within 24 hours by airmail. Otherwise this would have been a prime opportunity to try band-assisted GHRs. The ball bearings on the lying squat machine were too fried to allow for more than one heavy set, but otherwise this was a decent workout.

ME SQ/DL, 7 July 2004

Pulley assisted glute ham raise (GHR): 6,4,3 @ 30 kg/66 lbs assist
Push-up assisted glute ham raise on stability ball: 3x5
Kraftwerk lying squat, one-legged: 5 @ 70 kg/155 lbs, 5 @ 90 kg/199 lbs


Muscle activation, lat pulley: 30 reps each of facing, right and left @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Upper body cable turn: 30 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
Lower cable twist: 25 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 12,6
Reverse-hyper, done off hyper bench: 2x30

Total training time: 50 min

July 9, 2004

Extension treatment

Filed under: Workouts

After two weeks of chain rattling on the speed bench, the unchained bar was almost a supersonic blur today. The usual nine sets later, I wanted to do something I haven’t done in ages. It boiled down to dumbell floor presses, illegal wides or rack lockouts.

Picked lockouts off the fifth pin knowing that their slight recovery demand would allow me to go heavy without putting Monday’s max effort bench work in jeopardy. Besides, I was quite curious to see what kind of tonnage (haha) I would be able to budge after not having done any heavy lockout work in over half a year (did 120 kg/265 lbs in December, with a 130 kg/287 lbs PR from November when done as the first exercise). I soon found myself with a traction problem as it was hard to dig the feet into the floor wearing only socks, having left my training shoes back at Toffe’s Gym. Still, the 120 kg/265 lbs take off was defiantly smooth, so jumped straight to the record weight of 132.5 kg/293 lbs. Got the bar to bend promisingly, but no more.

The initial disappointment wore off once I realized that I had indeed not done much to try to get a stronger lockout. And why should I? I don’t have a lockout problem and don’t use a bench shirt, so my bench stands little to gain from building the lockout as I cannot get anything that heavy off my chest in the first place. That being said, lockouts are fun and a good way to overload the ever so essential triceps. Those with lockout sticking points must be happy people. The rest of us go back to more essential exercises, while trying to figure out what to do about the longer and longer training times. The obvious, perhaps?

DE Bench, 9 July 2004

Speed bench, close to wide grip: 9x3 @ 57.5 kg/127 lbs
Close-grip rack lockouts, 5th pin:
       5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
       5 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
       3 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
       1 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
       1 @ 110 kg/243 lbs
       1 @ 120 kg/265 lbs
       0 @ 132.5 kg/293 lbs
       0 @ 130 kg/287 lbs

Pulldown, close-grip: 3x8 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
Seated cable L-flye: 7 @ 15 kg/33 lbs, 16 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
Lying cable curl: 10,7,4 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Pressdown: 20 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Plate curl: 6,4 @ pinching 5kg+2.5kg/11 lbs+6 lbs plates
Holds with barbell collar attached to lower cable @ 15 kg/33 lbs

Total training time: 98 min (gaaaaah!)

July 11, 2004

Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men

Filed under: General

Louis Cyr, taken from Jowett's The Strongest Man that Ever Lived.Got an early morning (well… 10am) text message from Måns who enthusiastically raved about this site, and with good reason. Sandow and the Golden Age of Iron Men: The Online Physical Culture Museum is a gold mine of old texts and images dating from the late 19th and early-mid 20th century. Although Sandow is the masthead, the site is also sprinkled with gems ranging from legendary Canadian strongman Louis Cyr (left) to Charles Atlas and his infamous muscle mail courses. The texts are soaked with the physical culture ideal of the time, where men and women were enlightened to the joy and aesthetic well-being that ensue once proper vigorous daily exercise and healthy habits are embraced. As Sandow himself puts it,

Its an astonishing fact that 90 per cent of men and women die without taking up half the good gifts of life that lie within hand’s reach. A well-developed body implies a well-developed brain, and for a full enjoyment of life both are absolutely necessary. There is, of course, no royal road to strength; but the high road is so plain, and the journey so pleasant, that, once pointed out, it can hardly be missed.
Eugen Sandow, 1902: The Gospel of Strength According to Sandow; Introduction.

This is a museum in the true sense of the word, that provides a fascinating insight into what cutting edge training meant at the turn of the 20th century when early strongmen looked back towards Greek ideals while working their chest expanders. Now it is time for me to head for the gym in order to combat Blaikie’s dire warning as he talks of the half-built boy whose kite flying and other pastimes ensure that he grows up having

[…] had nothing of yet of any account in the way of that systematic, vigorous, daily exercise which looks directly to his weak points, and aims not only to eradicate them, but to build up his general health and strength as well.
William Blaikie, 1879: How to Get Strong and How to Stay So; pp. 30.

In a way, some things never change. A BIG thanks to Roger Fillary and Gil Waldron for allowing us to realize this with their fantastic site!

Second rehab program taped

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

twist, but avoid the shaking

Next week I am scheduled to meet with the back therapist again, so it was high time I got my current rehab routine on video (2.7M); the first entry-level program clip is here. Was happily unaware of the fact that the gym is closing 7pm Sunday, which helped me dig down and train fairly “fast” as I arrived at 6.30.

The rehab routine calls for balance board standing and squatting as the first exercise. Since there is no board at the gym and I am not quite ready to stand on a stability ball, these are not on tape. Should have replaced them with kneeling on the ball of course, but alas my memory…

Some quick key notes on the exercises: on both the muscle activation and the upper pulley twist the objective is to try to keep the waist stable and non-moving, for which purpose there need not be a dung load of weight. In contrast, on lower cable twist the idea is to get a large twisting motion in the waist to occur, which, according to my therapist, will train the rotators et al. in a much more functional way than any of those waist twist machines found in gyms (I call it the ab twist machine). Note that the arms should move in close to the body on these; save the full swing for the golf course. A big rotation is also the aim of the walk outs, i.e. turn with the arm. Finally, on the ball hypers the sole of the feet need to be against a wall, otherwise you’ll tip over.

Tomorrow, ME Bench. The rack lockouts I did on Friday did indeed not cause much soreness, but did not think far enough to realize that the massivish overload for the shoulders would cause them to tighten up further. Frantic thumbsaver action going down.

Rehab, 11 July 2004

Muscle activation, lat pulley: 30 reps each of facing, right and left @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Upper body cable turn: 30 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
Lower cable twist: 25 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 12,8
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x20 @ 5 kg/11 lbs
Ab holds: 60 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: 25 min

July 12, 2004

Bad bench day does wonders for grip

Filed under: Workouts

native grip toolsAll the desperate thumbsaving in the world could not have gotten me in top shape for this workout. As I dug my fingers into my pecs in contemplation, I also noticed that I had some deep soreness remaining there… from the speed benches (no!!!!) I presume. Fighting reason, I did much the same thing as when I was up against the same predicament two weeks ago; hit the bench and started close-gripping. Got a grindingly inefficient double with 90 kg/199 lbs, then did a half hearted attempt at 95 kg/210 lbs. The left shoulder made it very clear that I was not to push this one up. Might need to skip DE Bench this week to let this clear out. Brain re-activated.

If my bench workout was non-exciting, the grip work that followed was the polar opposite. After some wrist curls, I played around with different grip setups. The gym does not have any loading pins, but a pushdown handle worked well for holding plates. Took a chrome plated 10 kg/22 lbs dumbell and attached it to the pushdown handle, holding a 5 kg/11 lbs plate, with a wire (left, top), and then wrapped my fingers around the top end of the dumbell for holds. Worked great! After doing reps and negatives on my CoC grippers, I tried pinching weight plates with the gripper (left, bottom), both thin metal 0.5 kg/1 lbs plates and thicker 2.5 kg/6 lbs plates. You really have to keep the gripper tight to keep the weight from falling, but I suspect strap holds are even more challenging.

Me like forearm pump. Over at Power&Bulk you can find others with the same perversion.

ME Bench, 12 July 2004

Close-grip bench:
       10 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
       5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
       5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
       3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
       3 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
       2 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
       0 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

Lying dumbell triceps extension: 10 @ 18 kg/40 lbs
Pulldown, wide-grip: 6x6 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
Behind-the-back wrist curl:
       6 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
       4 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
       6 @ 50 kg/111 lbs

Seated cable reverse wrist curl: 10,8 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Various grip work; dumbell end holds, CoC grippers… about 15 minutes

Total training time: 55 min

July 14, 2004


Filed under: Workouts

The weather was the kind of cloudy stuffy concoction that leaves you sweating profusely without even seeing the sun’s sidekick Ray. By extension, everybody was walking around the gym looking mighty soaked. I jumped right in and had the usual with dessert, while having distorted fantasies of training in the rain.

200th entry. Time flies, again and again.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Please note that this workout was powered by pasta carbonara.

ME SQ/DL, 7 July 2004

Pulley assisted glute ham raise (GHR): 4,8,5,5 @ 30 kg/66 lbs assist
Push-up assisted glute ham raise on stability ball: 2x6
Reverse-hyper, done off hyper bench: 2x30
Ball crunch: 30 @ bodyweight, 10 @ 5 kg/11 lbs


Muscle activation, lat pulley: 30 reps each of facing, right and left @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Upper body cable turn: 30 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Lower cable twist: 20 @ 25 kg/55 lbs
Walk out with side twist: 13,9
Hyperextension on stability ball: 2x30
Ab holds: 50 seconds right and left (short rest in between)
Back extension: 10

Total training time: 60 min

July 15, 2004

Off on a tangent

Filed under: General, Rehab

Scott has an interesting update on Bruce Lee’s good morning injury that goes into deeper detail on matters such as his recovery process than his earlier entry. Based on his reading of the process, he wisely suggests that he should add more low back work to his routine, which has evolved into a very powerlifting oriented mode over the last months, and goes on to note that

[Bruce Lee’s injury] certainly doesn’t dissuade me from using Good Mornings to their fullest extent. As with any exercise, Good Mornings are only dangerous if performed incorrectly (which may be due to tiredness or a brief loss of concentration, as much as poor technique); although there is a little more at stake than with other exercises such as a Barbell Curl.

Although I think Scott has the right idea here and I agree with the general gist of his statement, I would like to add that proper form boils down to a lot more, specifically neurological and muscle balance issues, than outwardly doing the exercise 110% correctly. Based on these observations, I think I have fairly good grounds for urging some caution with this exercise, while offering my own good morning injury as a good example of what happens when one goes too heavy on them too soon. This is a long one, so bear with me.

Acquired joint control

Let me begin by using McGill’s discussion of an injury that occurred while he was conducting a study on deadlifting powerlifters (Cholewicki, J. and McGill, S.M. 1992: Lumbar posterior ligament involvement during extremely heavy lifts estimated from fluoroscopic measurements. Journal of Biomechanics, 25(1): 17-28).

[U]sing video fluoroscopy for a sagittal view of the lumbar spine, we investigated the mechanics of power lifters’ spines while they [dead]lifted extremely heavy loads. [..] During the lifts, although the lifters appeared outwardly to have a very flexed spine, in fact, the lumbar joints were 2-3 degrees per joint from full flexion. [..] This explains how they could lift such magnificent loads (up to 210 kg, or approximately 462 lb) without sustaining the injuries that are suspected to be linked with full lumbar flexion. [..] However, during the execution of a lift, one lifter reported discomfort and pain. Upon examination of the video fluoroscopy records, one of the lumbar joints (specifically, the L2-L3 joint) reached the full flexion calibrated angle, while all other joints maintained their static position (2-3 degrees short of full flexion). The spine buckled and caused injury. [..] [T]his unique occurrence appears to have been due to an inappropriate sequencing of muscle forces (or a temporary loss of motor control wisdom).
McGill, Stuart (2002): Low Back Disorders, Human Kinetics: pp. 124-125.

Although only round-backed/hunched over good mornings seriously flexes the spine (bending over), it is quite clear that the difference between injury and success can boil down to such small matters as keeping correct form on the vertebrae level itself by skillfully contracting each joint. This kind of form is not visible to the naked eye and is to a high degree an acquired neurological skill that becomes exponentially more vital the more vulnerable a position the spine is in. And in the case of a good morning, the spine is in an extremely vulnerable position indeed (even compared to a deadlift).

Structural imbalances in the spine

Furthermore, as Vincent Scelfo has pointed out, injury can also be caused when there are small misalignments in the vertebrae, especially in the upper back. When I went to see the osteopath in April following the good morning injury, my upper spine was indeed a mess. I was also told that this is very common with people who lift weights. In my case, three of the upper back vertebrae had locked up preventing full motion of these joints. Outwardly the form might look divine, but if the spine is not properly aligned things can easily go awry when you bend forward with a barbell on your back.

Muscle imbalances in both strength and endurance

Imbalances between the large surface muscles is also asking for trouble. For instance, strong hamstrings and a strong static abdominal contraction is needed to keep the package properly together. Otherwise, you will not be able to sustain the proper position in the good morning with heavy loads, even if you think you are outwardly following the exercise instructions to aT. As Louie Simmons puts it in the context of the squat, you need to be biomechanically sound.

To become biomechanically sound, you must have proper muscle control. Very few people have great form. If your back is weak, you will bend over, causing bad form. If your glutes and hamstrings are weak, it is hard to sit back properly. If your abs are weak, you will be weak in the bottom and fold over.
Louie Simmons: Analyzing Your Squat Workouts.

The stabilizing core muscles around the spine also need to be strong enough to support the individual vertebrae during the lift, especially in the eventuality that the major surface muscles can’t cope with the load. After discussing the deadlifting injury reported above, the authors go on to note that the risk of this kind of injury increases when there is high force developed by the large surface muscles, but only low forces generated by the small intersegmental muscles (i.e. the core muscles are weak) OR even when all muscle forces were low (such as when picking up a pencil from the floor) following a demanding job. Bringing the core muscle strength and endurance up is precisely what the rehabilitation for my good morning injury is all about, as my therapist feels I have weak core muscles compared to the large surface muscles (based on my initial performance on the stability ball exercises I tend to agree…).

What needs to be realized when discussing muscle imbalances in regard to the good morning is that a lot of the supporting muscle tension required is of a static nature. For example, much depends on whether you can maintain a strong supporting contraction of the abs during the length of the set, i.e. muscle endurance. Absolute strength, i.e. how much weight you can crunch, matters a lot less in this regard. A couple of days ago, I was rewatching the Squatting Secrets video. On the tape, Louie talks about how both setting up for the squat and squatting itself requires continuously flexed abs. His remedy? Weighted straight-legged sit-ups in a low pulley with a static hold at the top (if you think sit-ups are all bad, you might want to read this entry).

Indeed, low muscle endurance of the stabilizing muscles correlates with a higher injury risk in many studies, although I am not quite sure how applicable the results are to max lifts. For example, in another study by McGill et al. they state that

[P]eople, from patients to athletes, must be able to maintain sufficient stability in all activities - with low, but continuous, muscle activation. Thus, maintaining a stability ‘margin of safety’ when performing tasks, particularly the tasks of daily living, is not compromised by insufficient strength but probably insufficient endurance, and probably insufficient control. [..] Having strong abdominals does not necessarily provide the prophylactic effect that had been hoped for - but several works suggest that endurable muscles reduce the risk of future back troubles.
McGill SM, Grenier S, Kavcic N, Cholewicki J. 2003: Coordination of muscle activity to assure stability of the lumbar spine. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2003 Aug;13(4):353-9.

… Breathing

Interestingly enough, in yet another study discussed in McGill’s book (Cholewicki J, McGill SM.: Mechanical stability of the in vivo lumbar spine: implications for injury and chronic low back pain. Clin Biomech 1996 Jan;11(1):1-15.), elevated breathing was also linked to bad motor control.

In our clinical testing we observed similarly inappropriate motor patterns in some men who were challenged by holding a load in the hands while breathing 10% CO2 to elevate breathing. (Challenged breathing causes some of the spine-supporting musculature to drop to inappropriately low levels in some people[..]). These deficient motor control mechanisms will heighten biomechanical susceptibility to injury or reinjury.
McGill, Stuart (2002): Low Back Disorders, Human Kinetics: pp. 126.


Based on the above observations, I would make the following tentative recommendations for the good morning. Take them for what they are; loud late night musings and blatantly broad generalizations of a man who is neither a doctor nor a powerlifting guru. In the final analysis, it is you who is ultimately responsible for how you decide to approach the good morning, if at all. This is how I would do it based on my current understanding. Comments and corrections are welcome!

1. Fine grained motor control comes only with a great deal of practice, so it is imperative that one does the exercise for some time with perfect form while not going so heavy as to risk injury due to the very lack of this control in the first place. This of course applies to all exercises to a varying degree, but with the good morning it is especially critical due to the vulnerable position. Perhaps a full year of doing the exercise with sub-maximal weights, say 50-70% of your hypothetical good morning max, before starting to go to failure?

2. Lack of strength in some of the major supporting muscles, such as the hamstrings, and weak core muscles, such as the multifidus, greatly increase the risk of injury. Furthermore, a lack of strength endurance (on the order of 30-60 seconds or so, this is no marathon) in these same muscles also increases the likelihood of injury. Therefore, both the strength and short time endurance of these muscles should be improved before going heavy on the good morning. This strengthening can probably be accomplished by doing a well-balanced routine during the year of doing sub-maximal good mornings. It is critically important that this routine includes not only absolute and dynamic strength exercises (glute ham raises, pull throughs, reverse hypers etc.) but also static exercises (ab holds etc.) AND core muscle exercises (recall that they are only activated when we are about to lose our balance, so this means labile environment training, i.e. stability/swiss balls, balance boards etc.). GPP, such as sled dragging, ā la Westside should also beneficial in building up local endurance in a powerlifting specific way.

3. Consider seeing a joint mobility specialist every once in a while (the osteopath suggested once every few months I think) to see if your spine needs to be adjusted as having misaligned vertebrae will increase the risk of injury, especially in the good morning. As misaligned vertebrae are often related to muscle tension, massage of tight muscles should also be beneficial (the more often the better).

4. Don’t do very high reps on the good morning as it will make you more tired, and will hence make you breathe quicker, which has been proven to decrease motor control. I’ve seen the same recommendation made along pretty much the same lines for the deadlift, i.e. keep the reps low to keep form good. How low to go is perhaps subjective, but perhaps no more than five reps a set. A few quality reps with 100% concentration will always be safer than 20 reps done in a sloppy fashion.

If we assume that these recommendations are valid, then it is painfully clear how unprepared I was to start going heavy on the good morning within a month of making the transition to powerlifting. As per the advice of my therapist, I am now making up for that by strengthening the core muscles, but there is indeed still much to be done on this front.

At this point, I am still unsure about whether I will ever again do good mornings for singles or even triples. Looking through the entries of my pre-injury max lifts on the good morning, fear of the lift shines through.

Decided to go for good mornings, but stop well short of ripping my back in two.
9 June 2003: 2 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

A triple at 90 kg/199 pounds was about as much as I dared to do without a power rack.
16 June 2003: 3 @ 90 kg/199 pounds

Rechecking the exercise description at Elite Fitness, where it says to stop “slightly above parallel”, makes me think that perhaps I should stop a little earlier. Going down that deep is plain scary.
22 September 2003: 3 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

After watching the Westside deadlift video, I came to understand that good mornings are done with pushing the glutes back and slightly bending the legs instead of just going down like a jack knife with straight legs. It sure feels about 5% less dangerous to do them the former way…
10 November 2003: 5 @ 100 kg/221 lbs

The thing is that good mornings felt nice and dandy up to about 80 kg/177 lbs, i.e. about 10 kg/22 lbs less than bodyweight. Anything heavier than that, and the strain on the lower back put me in fear zone. No matter, I would just acknowledge the fear and go for it. Still, this makes me want to add a final parting thought:

5. If you constantly fear injury on the good morning, it will happen sooner or later. By following the previous advice, perhaps you can rationally conclude that the exercise is now safe (it should feel a lot safer too if your supporting muscles etc. are freaky strong), and go for it. Perhaps this is the ultimate indicator of when you are ready to max on the good morning?

July 16, 2004

Off to Sweden

Filed under: General

Going to our neighboring country for the weekend, so no rehab work on Sunday.

July 19, 2004

Inspired by Swedish meatballs

Filed under: Workouts

somebody help!After seeing nothing but one Swedish buffet after another for three days, it was good to get back to the gym. Having massaged my left shoulder into submission, I decided to mess with my bench. Frequented the usual neighborhood, with a stiff single at 95 kg/210 lbs. Then jumped straight into three-board presses with a close grip. 100 kg/221 lbs was easy enough, but 105 kg/232 lbs jammed just after lift off. Same old story. Am seriously thinking about giving JM Blakley’s 4x6 program a go to reinject some structure into my benching. With my singles being stuck, perhaps I should focus on upping my 6RM for a while. JM’s program also has heavy singles built-in, so unlike the Prilepin bench program I did in March/April, I am hoping that this would allow me to retain the touch for heavy weight. After all, the program of the man who coined “If you think there are plateaus you’re wrong!” can’t be all wrong.

ME Bench, 19 July 2004

6 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
2 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
1 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

Three-board press, close-grip:
5 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
3 @ 80 kg/177 lbs
3 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
1 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
0 @ 105 kg/232 lbs

T-bar row, chest-supported: worked up to 5x5 @ 55 kg/122 lbs
One-handed kneeling cable side raise: 9,8 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
Pressdown: 10,6 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
Grip work: dumbell end holds with 10 kg/22 lbs dumbell + 5 kg/11 lbs plate, CoC grippers, CoC plate holds, plate curls pinch gripping a 5 kg/11 lbs and a 2.5 kg/6 lbs plate

Total training time: 90 minutes

July 20, 2004

Fun at the clinic, take three

Filed under: Rehab

Karate Kid?I’ve come to eagerly anticipate the visits to the back clinic and today was no different. The usual preliminaries had me report that I’ve felt some minor morning pain on the right side of the low back when moving between beds this summer, but that otherwise rehab work was fun and progress very tangible.

High on today’s agenda was to determine whether the muscles on both sides of my lower back where now contracting equally or whether the right side still had problems. The therapist kept her hands on my low back while I was going through the exercises from the previous rehab program and was as pleased as I was; the contraction was now good on both sides, although she noted that I still had less muscle mass on the right side. This, in combination with the occasional lingering pain, proves that I am not quite among the living yet, but she felt that I could soon start working on my squats and deadlifts again. I am to begin with an empty bar and slowly move back up. Hurrah! She also thought my decision to begin doing lunges was sound.

Then for the fun part: new exercises! Out came the balance board again, and she asked me to try standing on it with one leg. After the initial disbelief, I was surprised at how relatively easy it was; yes, I was waving both arms and legs frantically, but this was not Mission Impossible (come to think of it, it wasn’t no Around the World in 80 days either). Quelle surprise when she told me we were going to start doing exercises this way. She handed me a small dumbell and had me do small circles with it going in different directions, again to make the core muscles work harder to keep me from falling off. I lost my footing a couple of times, especially when I tried standing on the right leg with the dumbell in my left hand. She said that this is probably because I am left legged and right handed. Left legged? Never thought of that. I indeed seem to be left legged: this is the leg I use when I need to jump high, this is the leg I’d rather find myself standing on a balance board with, and this is the leg that used to deliver the strongest kicks in my martial arts heyday.

The fun didn’t stop here. Bending over to touch the board with the opposite hand was next, again done standing one-legged. I was not a graceful sight. This was also the first time that the therapist started apologizing for being a bit rusty as she hadn’t done these exercises in a while. As this tune was repeated during later exercises again, I knew that I was indeed being bumped up to the advanced level. I’m starting to think that if therapy is boring it is the wrong kind of therapy; these exercises are among the most fun things I’ve ever done in a gym. Lunges next, where I was to use the free leg to step back into a lunge and then explode back up.

Then it was time for stability ball fun. She got up on a ball straddling it on all fours, and then proceeded to extend one leg back and the opposite arm forward. This was harder than it looked. Walk outs next. Recall that my first rehab program combined them with a straight arm and leg lift, while the second program introduced a twisting component by having me rotate the trunk by lifting one arm out to the side. Now I was to induce rotation by letting the ball slide sideways and rotate in against the movement by lifting the outermost leg. This was a fairly hard thing to do since the ball was not merely unstable but also in motion. It was still something of a shock to find this exercise listed as ‘Olympic level’ in Rick Jemmett’s excellent Spinal Stabilization book.

Fun fun fun. Side bends on the stability ball were not too hard, after a stable enough position was found with feet braced against a wall that is. She wanted me to tell her when the exercise started becoming difficult. This was around the ten rep mark bending towards the right, but much higher for the left, which is consistent with my general injury pattern.

Remember the neural mobilization exercise? After she determined that I had no problems with it anymore, she asked me to try it holding my toes. No pain, so am to do this for reps of ten. Regarding the old exercises, she noted that I am doing them quite explosively (hey, I like to think I am a powerlifter). Nothing wrong with that, but she said that it would be good if I did one set of both the low cable/plate twists and the hyperextensions slowly to stress the muscles differently. Point well taken after I tried.

As we were done with the consultation, she told me that the physician’s referral still allowed for one more visit within a few weeks if I wanted. As far as she is concerned there is no longer any direct need for consultation, but I was welcome to visit the clinic if I wanted to. As I’ve come to view this whole core training thing as a long term project, I told her that I will probably come see her in a few months just for the sake of getting some new ideas to play with. A few hours later, Sanna and I were leaving Helsinki behind on a train bound for the summer cottage and Toffe’s Gym.

July 21, 2004

Nocturnal rehab

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

hey ho!

To get some space for today’s amateur acrobatics, I dragged my balance board, stability ball, a 3 kg/7 lbs dumbell and a 10 kg/22 lbs plate down to our large wooden platform originally built for my brother’s table tennis needs. He used to compete on the national level dragging home quite a few trophies at that, but now my dad uses it as a work platform to make wood chips out of branches for his gardening needs. After pushing some of the debris aside, setting up the camera and igniting Motörhead’s live album I Got Mine, bought today for a couple of euros on a sale, I was finally ready to have a virgin go at my new rehab program. It was 11.40pm, but saw none of the bats that sometime swirl around decimating the needlessly large mosquito population.

The one-legged balance board exercises were difficult, but, like yesterday, I managed to do a few reps even standing on the more shaky right leg. I did as many as I could in a row and kept going until I got the needed reps. When it was time for walk outs I changed pace with another metal umlaut band that I also bought cheap, Queensr˙che’s Rage for Order. This was also when dusk started setting in, which come low plate twists made for bad light conditions. At the height of summer you can’t really see any difference between night and day (midnight-2am is your average cloudy afternoon, further north the sun shines), but now the beautiful summer nights are slowly giving way for the pitch black nights of August here at latitude 63° 4′ 0N. Did the neural mobilization exercise out on the quay where the light was better. Had to wrap a plastic bag around my feet to get them to slide easily against the wooden boards.

Even if the nights are getting darker, the water is only getting warmer now that we finally got some summer temperatures here in Finland. It did not take much mental preparation to jump into the 20 degrees Celsius water. A gentle steam danced on the calm water as it met the chilly air.

The video (4.2MB) is here. If it gives you a good laugh, all the better. There is one mistake in the clip; it says the lunges are alternated, but obviously they are done single-legged. Since I’m on dial-up, I’m too lazy to fix it.

Rehab, 21 July 2004

One-legged balance board standing: 2x2 minutes
Muscle activation standing one-legged on balance board: 2 minutes @ 3 kg/7 lbs
Balance board lunge: 2x10
One-legged toe touch on balance board: 2x10
Arm and leg extension kneeling on stability ball: 2x10
Walk out with trunk twist: 10?
Side bends on stability ball: 15
Low plate twists: 2x25 @ 10 kg/22 lbs (first set slow, second normal aka fast)
Neural mobilization holding feet: 10

Total training time: Dunno.

July 23, 2004

His hobby is heavy

Filed under: General

The Saginaw News has a piece on our favorite chiropractor and NAP world-record holder Vince Scelfo. He sure has the right attitude to lifting:

“I think now I’ll continue competing as long as I can,” Scelfo said. “I see no reason why I can’t keep going for a long time. If I can keep myself relatively injury-free, why not? There was a lifter in Northville who was 68 and I’ve heard of a man in his 80s.”

The piece also says that Vince has plans for a quarterly symposium, Keys to Increasing Strength, in which he plans to cover the concepts of body balance along with training and nutrition. The article has his phone number if you are interested. I’ve never met Vince, but based on our e-mail correspondence and his generous advice, I think nobody would regret attending. If I were any closer, I would sign up now. How’s that for a hint?

Thanks to Scott for letting me know about this article that came up on a Google News search for powerlifting.

Forest Hulk goes Blakley

Filed under: Workouts

Decided to do a 180 degree and switch to JM Blakley’s 4x6 program for the bench as I threatened before. Not an easy decision as I love the singles oriented Westside system, but as I have been unable to increase my 1RM in months on most exercises it is time I tried something else. Even though my max is stuck, I think I stand a good chance of adding some weight for reps. As it is now, I think my 6RM for the bench is around 77.5 kg/171 lbs-80 kg/177 lbs. Now if I could get that up in the 85 kg/188 lbs-90 kg/199 lbs range over the next few months it should give me a solid base to finally tip my 97.5 kg/216 lbs single over the 100 kg/221 lbs hill. Only time will tell if this was a good move. The worst thing that can happen is nothing, which is pretty much what is happening now.

This also means that I say goodbye to the chains for a while before they really got a chance to prove their worth. With only one speed workout remaining here at Toffe’s Gym before I begin working again, this is probably a sound decision for now as using chains in the gym in Helsinki is out of the question. I’ve played with the idea of moving to a gym with chains, but quite frankly, I would love to put some more weight on my bench without resorting to using them as much as I like rattling them around.

Began with the accessory day, which requires that I do two accessory exercises for the bench in the 4x6 fashion, i.e. begin with a weight I can handle for six reps on the first set and then work with this weight until I can do four sets of six after which the weight is bumped up one notch. The JM press was a natural choice, but had a tormented time trying to decide whether to pick floor presses or bradford presses for the second exercise. Finally decided in favor of the bradfords, but as soon as they go stale I hit the floor. My weight choices were right on the money for both exercises with the first set of six being an all-out effort. Next week I return to these and simply try to add at least one rep somewhere in the three sets that clocked in below the magic 6 rep mark. Structure”R”Us. In that spirit I close with a few quotes from the man himself with the hope that they will instill the proper spirit among the troops before they change their mind and run back to camp Westside prematurely.

What’s the fastest way to a big bench? I get asked that all the time. “What’s your rush?” I respond. Building a big bench (or any substantial amount of strength in any lift) requires time. But nobody wants to hear that and nobody wants to wait. […] Do less?better. Put all your energy into totally mastering a few things rather than making almost un-noticeable headway in many things. Keep it simple and show real, tangible progress in only one thing. This allows you to put all your energy in a concentrated area. Once you’ve seen substantial gains, move the focus to another aspect. One thing at a time you see growth. After a while you will have it covered! I know this sounds like the whole “it takes time thing” again but really, like a great wine or a fine cigar, some things will not be rushed!
J.M. Blakley’s Top Tips For The Bench Press

Those of you who read this closely will no doubt see some contrast with the Westside smorgasbord approach. In the final analysis, the philosophical differences are intimately tied to different approaches to loading. The central nervous system can’t handle loads above 90% of max for more than 2-3 weeks on any given exercise; Westside solves this by constantly rotating exercises thus allowing max weights to be used constantly, while Blakley tackles this by not going that heavy in the first place instead electing to let each exercise work its magic for as long as it works for reps of 3-6 before switching with some heavy bench singles every week in the 85% or so territory. I can’t deny that I feel more sympathy with the first approach, but when big steps don’t work taking baby steps might just be worth trying.

Blakley accessory day, 23 July 2004

Bradford press: 6,4,4,4 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
JM press: 6,4,4,4 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Pull-up, wide-grip: 4x6 negatives
Seated dumbell power clean on stability ball: 3x10 @ 10.5 kg/23 lbs
Standing barbell curl:
      5 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
      10,8 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Plate pinching: 2 sets @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs
Captains of Crush: supersetted Trainer with gloves (6,3 reps) and Trainer (30, 25 reps)
Plate pinching: 1 set @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs

Total training time: 65 min

July 25, 2004

Donkey calf machine unveiled

Filed under: Workouts, Handiwork

homegrown donkey calf raisesIn my quest for spinal stability and grip strength my calves have disappeared in the shadows. From here on I pledge to remedy that. After some lunges and the standard rehab work, I thus removed the plastic that has protected my homemade wooden donkey calf machine from the last two winters. It looked as solid as the day it was built. Quite a lot of weight can be moved on this one, so worked up to four sets at 226.8 kg/501 lbs, which is about as much as I can load on it unless I get more big plates. Back in my bodybuilding days, when there were less plates at Toffe’s Gym, I used to have the nearest person jump on my back for extra resistance. But with only a few workouts left here this summer I don’t think that will be an option.

And now for something completely different… NOT! A clip (1.29MB).

ME SQ/DL & Rehab, 21 July 2004

Lunges, alternating: 3x10 @ 30 kg
One-legged balance board standing: 2x1 minutes
Muscle activation standing one-legged on balance board: 2x1 minutes @ 2 kg/4 lbs
Balance board lunge: 15
One-legged toe touch on balance board: 20
Arm and leg extension kneeling on stability ball: 10
Walk out with trunk twist: 12
Low plate twists: 2x10 @ 15 kg/33 lbs (first set slow, second normal aka fast)
Side bends on stability ball: 20
Neural mobilization holding feet: 10
Donkey calf raise machine: worked up to 10,10,9,8 @ 226.8 kg/501 lbs

Total training time: 70 min

July 27, 2004

Purchasing power rack and bench material

Filed under: Handiwork

metal und woodAlthough somewhat later than planned, a suitable opportunity to embark on the power rack and bench upgrade for Toffe’s Gym finally presented itself as a neighbor was kind enough to lend us his trailer. Yesterday, after driving off a decade of metal junk and other waste to the tip, we took a detour via the junkyard. As I had bought my chain there a few weeks ago, I knew the owner had a batch of suitable iron pipes for sale dirt cheap. Besides costing a mere fourth of the retail price, the only difference between the junkyard and the hardware store was that these came with a very thin layer of surface rust. After a quick polish and a layer of paint, they will be as good as new.

For the power rack I bought 60x60mm/2.4x2.4″ pipe with a 3mm/0.1″ wall thickness for the main frame, two pieces of 30mm/1.2″ iron rod for the support pins, and some larger pipe and thick strips for the adjustable uprights. In a gothic twist, I decided I wanted a monstrous bench and bought a 100x150mm/3.9x5.9″ pipe with a whopping 10mm/0.4″ wall thickness for its main frame. I suspect the finished bench will weigh close to 50 kg/111 lbs, but in return it should be safe to use even for those 400 kg/884 lbs benches that I like to do in my dreams. In fact, another customer I spoke to was buying the same pipe for use as the main support beam for a large roof… The junkyard guy was willing to cut the pipes into pieces according to my requirements for free, but since he used gas the rough edges will need to be trimmed before welding. At a total of 140 euro, the price was not half bad considering that I should now only need some paint and bench padding. An hour and a boat ride later, the pieces lay spread out on the wooden platform I use for my ball work. As both triceps and delts were still tender from the initial shock of the first Blakley accessory day on Friday, this was all the exercising I did.

Today it was time for the lumber yard. Dad needed material for renovating the interior of our old wooden boat, a former life boat on cruiser, and I needed boards for the base of the power rack. I found some suitable 97x20mm/3.8x0.8″ boards at a suitable discount price of 0.8 euro per meter/3.2 feet plus some 155x55mm/6.1x2.2″ support beams for some 3 euro per meter/3.2 feet. Paid 40 euro for all 50 meters/164 feet of wood. Everything is impregnated and should thus easily last for a decade or three. As I loaded the boards on the trailer I had flashbacks of when I slugged my lumber around using public transport. Life is easy now.

On Sunday, the welding timetable is going to be agreed on as another of our neighbors is going to come over. He has his own construction company and has agreed to send over a welder to both replace some windows in our main house and weld the gym equipment. Sunday is also the day Sanna and I need to go back to Helsinki as my vacation is over, but the plan is for me to come back some weekend to assemble everything. Needless to say, I need to prepare some very clear instructions for the welder so I don’t return to find the uprights welded upside down or the rack sawed down to a midgety 1 meter. I will do some preparatory work on the platform in the next few days - since the rack is going to be secured with concrete underneath the base I cannot do too much before the rack is welded and put in place. Plans etc. will appear later.

July 28, 2004

Rehab express

Filed under: Workouts, Rehab

With some mighty glute and ham soreness still lingering from the Sunday workout, I did a slightly abbreviated rehab routine today. Added ab holds, this time with only one leg on the floor, to reinject some static work into the routine. These were hard, but not as hard as the arm and leg extensions kneeling on the stability ball. With these, the ball is prone to make a run for it when you least expect it.

Rehab, 28 July 2004

Ball crunch: 30
One-legged balance board standing: 2x1 minutes
Muscle activation standing one-legged on balance board: 2x1 minutes @ 2 kg/4 lbs
One-legged toe touch on balance board: 20
Arm and leg extension kneeling on stability ball: 10
Walk out with trunk twist: 14,10
Ab hold, one leg on floor: 2x20 seconds

Total training time: 30 min

July 29, 2004

Ode to the squat rack

Filed under: Handiwork


Vogelpohl’s new video

Filed under: General

It is finally here… Chuck Vogelpohl’s XXX video sells for $53.95 VHS/$59.50 DVD at Elite Fitness Systems, and has been available at the Westside Barbell site since July 16 where it is also slightly cheaper. Besides being the reigning WPO middleweight champion - with a world record 450 kg/992 lbs squat, a 165 kg/364 lbs bench and a 370 kg/816 lbs deadlift - he also has one lean physique for being a powerlifter. Not going to order it quite yet, but this one is definitively in my pipeline.

July 30, 2004

Good gains - no trace of rain

Filed under: Workouts

As the squat rack has been replaced by a construction site, I had to use my soon to be demolished Weider bench as my Bradford press den. Despite this less than ideal setup that had me straddling the bench, I added a good 3 reps over to the previous Blakley accessory day. The JMs went even better; added six reps over three sets and got the magic 4x6 - next week I get to up the weight! Hopefully my muscles knew what to expect this time around so that soreness does not foil Monday’s JM Bench day like it did last week.

I should be really grateful for being able to do this outdoor workout at all; pretty much the rest of Finland has been drowned in heavy rain, almost literally. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the amount of rain that has fallen over the last few days amounts to roughly twice the long-term average for the whole month of July! Needless to say, things are really a floatin’. More rain has been predicted for the weekend… but not here. This means a raspberry picking excursion into the woods tomorrow in the morning and some more power rack preparation in the afternoon. It is a good thing that Toffe’s Gym is located in the archipelago outside of Vaasa, commonly known as the “sunniest town in Finland”. That being said, rain has been a common bedfellow this summer even here.

Blakley accessory day, 30 July 2004

Bradford press: 6,6,5,4 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
JM press: 6,6,6,6 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Pull-up, wide-grip: 4x6 negatives
Seated dumbell power clean: 3x10 @ 11 kg/24 lbs
Standing barbell curl: 3x10 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Plate curl:
         right 1, left 0 @ 10 kg/22 lbs
         7,6,6 @ pinch gripping 5 kg/11 lbs and 2.5 kg/6 lbs plate

Total training time: 66 min