2005 archives

January 4, 2005

My powerlifting year 2004 (condensed version)

Filed under: General

2004 is on the first floor, 2005 to your rightIf you know where this blog is, carry on. If, on the other hand, you need a convenient excuse for not threading into the voluminous archives or want a frameable big picture of the Under the Bar experience 2004, this is it (no refunds).

“This continuing back pain saga is inducing a split personality”

If there is one thing that has dominated this blog for the past year it is the well-advertised good morning injury that I sustained in December 2003. Initially things looked quite bright: the swelling and bruising indicated only limited internal bleeding and the acute phase, where I was unable to sit for any length of time, passed quickly enough to allow controlled leg work two weeks later. January rolled in to the tune of fairly heavy zercher and box squats, while I did my best to repress lingering doubt from my mind and, consequently, blog. In the only heavier squat/deadlift workout of February, I still noted a cold sensation at the injury possibly indicative of bad blood flow and scar tissue. In a whim of self-delusional lunacy, perhaps caused by a feeling that “four months ought to be enough to heal whatever I got”, I did some heavy deadlifts in March. Felt some real fear doing that and consequently embarked on a more controlled comeback with lighter weights. In spite of this, things changed for the worse as the left side of the lower back went into a cramp in the middle of a squat putting even pulldowns two days later out of the question.

I finally conceded defeat and saw an osteopath who declared my vertebrae a mess and then adjusted my back. I felt great, but the next day the pain had migrated to the right side. In the midst of a Saturday stroll the pain suddenly intensified. After having limped home, Sanna, a licensed massage therapist, checked me for trigger points and found some on the gluteus and one on the right calf. We concluded that they were probably the effects of other muscles becoming overstressed trying to protect the injury while compensating for the imbalance in musculature. Aggressive trigger point massage with a tennis ball several times daily lessened the pain somewhat. At this point I received an e-mail from chiropractor and powerlifter Vince Scelfo, later a NAP world record holder. Vince, who had just suffered a good morning injury of his own, broadly supported our conclusion with some very enlightening comments about how adjusting displaced vertebrae without fixing the underlying problem would just lead to them being pulled out of alignment again. This was precisely what a second visit to the osteopath showed; everything was again out of place, but on the bright side I appeared to have regained some of the natural curvature of the spine, the adjustments were easier and I had less tense gluteus owing to the trigger point massage. He figured I would be all right and would not need to come back. His optimism was somewhat reassuring, but at the same time it was clear that I was feeling a lot worse than in January/February. Squats and deads being unthinkable, I focused on doing what I had coined the “Happy Back workout” consisting of makeshift reverse hypers and weighted ball crunches.

Sleeping in odd beds and walking a lot during a 10-day trip to Tuscany in late April/early May fried my trigger points again. In a second lunatic moment, I figured Smith squats would be safe, after all, I did them weeks after the injury without ill effects. Not so now, as some acute discomfort appeared already at 60 kg/133 lbs. I abandoned the movement for makeshift reverse hypers, but they only aggravated the pain. Catching a glimpse of myself in the dressing room mirror I noticed that the protective cramp had caused me to become all crooked with the shoulder girdle slanting heavily to the right. The further from the injury I got, the worse my condition seemed to become. In this classic moment of despair, I booked an appointment with a highly regarded back clinic for the next day.

The therapist had me bend in different directions in order to assess whether a certain movement aggravated or lessened the protective response and pain. He told me he was assessing me using the McKenzie protocol and asked me to try doing ten reps of back extensions every hour to help shift displaced fluid nucleus in the discs. I also saw a doctor at the occupational health clinic to get some sick leave; ended up with the predictable muscle relaxants, pain killers and good advice. Six days later the cramp was gone and I returned to the back clinic for exercise advice. This visit turned into a major revelation as I was introduced to the concept of core training to strengthen the deep muscles that stabilize the spinal region… suddenly I was immersed into the shaky world of stability balls and balance boards. Between May and June, the programs gradually increased in difficulty and intensity going from simple walkouts via various cable exercises to one-legged work on the balance board. Even did some all-out benching on the stability ball and tried side raises on the balance board. Just say rehab wasn’t too boring anymore…

In mid-August, after three months of core rehab and nine months after the initial injury, I felt ready to begin the slow climb towards pre-injury weights on the squat and deadlift. Began by doing box squats and deadlifts as speed work, but the back rebelled against the ridiculously fast rep speed induced by the puny 40 kg/88 lbs on the bar by again going into a nasty cramp. To make things even merrier, the adductors and calf muscles joined in making standing and benching painful. It took a full month before the leg pain cleared up and yet another month before I regained my rehab enthusiasm with a vengeance. Before I knew it, I had repped with 80 kg/177 lbs on the good morning, had become preoccupied with excruciating squat analysis and even loaded 120 kg/265 lbs on my back for kneeling squats.

Whether the push back to max effort squat/deadlift work will be successful this time is one of the big question marks for early 2005, but so far I’ve been feeling better than at any point during the past year. I also hope this little case study into a good morning back injury will help someone out there steer clear of the mistakes I made; basically, had I known what to do after the injury, not to mention before the injury (never to early to begin core training), I would not have aggravated my problem for the 6 months that followed. Still, I have no regrets as this episode turned into a very enriching learning experience. I think I also have less fear about lifting injuries now… a back injury is painful, but it is not death.

“Time to face it. My bench is stuck.”

By the end of 2003, I had increased my bench with 22.5 kg/50 lbs over the seven months that had elapsed since I converted from bodybuilding to powerlifting (that with a month off for a trip to China). In a sudden twist, gains ground to a halt and the quest for a 100 kg/221 lbs bench became the other defining theme of 2004. I managed to break that barrier in January on both close and wide grip floor presses, but that was it. After even Patrick Nyman’s well-respected bench routine failed to increase the max, I finally faced the facts in early May. After a brief Westside benching interlude, where I experimented with speed work both JM Blakley style and with chains, I declared the hunting season open and embarked on Blakley’s 4x6 bench program figuring that if I can’t get my max up then perhaps I could try to increase the repping weights instead and then go for a new max. I had some issues with both my back and overtraining on a modified version of the program, but by mid-December my 6 rep max had jumped from 77.5 kg/171 lbs to a solid 85 kg/188 lbs. And best of all, I had benched 102.5 kg/227 lbs on 1 November. Seldom has anybody been so happy about gaining 2.5 kg/6 lbs over ten months! By the end of the year, I had decided to embark on a hybrid Westside routine and began the cycle by blasting up 110 kg/243 lbs off two-boards, a 15 kg/33 lbs gain compared to what I mustered in February 2003. As I have usually benched as much off my chest as off the two-boards, this bodes well for my next bench max attempt in early 2005.

The year 2004 was not a great benching year, partially attributable to the aforementioned back problems and perhaps a mental barrier at benching two plates, but at least it had a happy ending (I’ve heard of people getting stuck for years). I also need to thank Mike and Scott for helping me improve benching form, which will serve me well as the weights continue their climb in 2005.

“I got a good laugh at the customs when I heard that they had classified the package as ‘golf equipment’.”

From the blog’s standpoint, the most enriching purchase of 2004 was definitively the Canon Powershot A80 digital camera we bought in January; the year saw a whopping 56 video clips and countless pictures being posted. Also got, or made, some stuff for Toffe’s Gym: all-weather Balance board, stability ball, pair of 1/2″/13 mm chains and 30 kg of rubber coated Olympic plates. My training arsenal was strengthened with the following: Thumbsaver massage tool (for my sore shoulders), a pair of Jumpstretch mini-bands (for makeshift glute ham raises), Rolling Thunder with loading pin , wooden pinch grip block, board serving as back rest for pin presses, Casall balance board, powerlifting belt, Captains of Crush No. 2 gripper, and weight releasers (the last few items were bought in December and have not seen much action yet). Got a number of books, magazines and videos as well, the most notable being Blakley’s XTM bench video, Westside Squat workout tapes, The Kennelly method benching book, Bench press by Dr. Judd Biasiotto, Brent Mikesell’s Hardcore powerlifting video, a bunch of EliteFTS manuals, Jeck’s stonelifting book and, best of all, a subscription to MILO. Whoa, that’s a lot of stuff!

“Training blogs seem to be sprouting left and right.”

When I began this blog in May 2003 it was a lonely existence. If there were any other powerlifting blogs out there at this time, I sure couldn’t find them. Imagine my joy when I discovered one by Chris McClinch from October; two months later it had, unfortunately, turned belly up. In 2004, things were much different and I gradually found myself in the company of other powerlifting bloggers. In May, I discovered Scott Bird’s fitness blog; started in January with a general fitness orientation, Scott began lifting in late March and gradually shifted focus towards pure powerlifting Westside style under the name Straight to the Bar. In August, Westside Barbell surprised by putting up its own group blog, which consists almost exclusively of posted workouts without commentary. In September, reader Marie Rochat, later a WABDL world record holder in the deadlift, dedicated a blog to her training under the name Barz-a-Bending. At the end of the year, I suddenly found myself reading a bunch of new blogs including Jamie Jamieson (started 13 November), Skinny Bastard Training Log dedicated to Olympic lifting (started 1 August), Lift n’ learn (started 30 November), Stinn’s Workout Blog (started 10 December) and Chris Green’s Training Log (started February 26). That’s a total of eight blogs right there, if you don’t count Chris McClinch’s new blog, The Thinking Lifter, that hasn’t seen any updates since it was born in November. It feels good to be a part of this small spiderweb of PL blogs that hopefully will not be decimated by the high mortality rates of blogs.

“The only friendly hamburgers are homemade.”

Nutrition. Now here’s topic that received very little coverage in 2004! Behind the headlines the munching went on much as usual. Continued with my totally sugar free lifestyle, made sure I got 30-50 grams of protein at all major meals, took my multiminerals as a good boy and shook my postworkout shake like a crazed monkey after every workout. Ate plenty of omega 3 for much of the year and also tried creatine pyruvate (didn’t work for me). My new interest in red wine, that ripened into full fruition during our trip to Tuscany, was probably the most drastic nutritional change of 2004. I’m still a very moderate drinker with a glass or two a week.

“The patient ones among you will be rewarded. Eventually.”

…aka the things I said I would do but didn’t (complete with excuses expansion kit): diet (no need to as I dropped my weight from around 97 kg to a current 93 kg/206 lbs by doing nothing else than walking around at work), sled dragging (back dead), work with squat king Brent Mikesell on my squat technique (back deader than dead), write more reviews (just blogging workouts eats all my time), build a power rack for Toffe’s Gym (not my fault, the welder didn’t show up despite me buying all the hardware and unearthing huge rocks at Toffe’s Gym). Out of these, I vow to do a bit of everything listed in 2005 except for the diet bit. That’s a maybe.


January 5, 2005

Announcement: Time out

Filed under: General

From now on, I will post weekly workout summaries instead of going workout by workout. In a worst case scenario, this might mean only one update a week unless I have some news, reviews or links to post. My main reason for doing this is that we are expecting our first child in February. As a very excited father-to-be, I want to put my priorities straight even before I’m too sleep-deprived to blog several times a week. Once I have more time on my hands I will reconsider my posting schedule, but until then I hope you will bear with me.

January 7, 2005

Anatomy of a weight releaser

Filed under: General

Ready to be unleashed

January 9, 2005

Week 1: Weight releasers and unstable curls

Filed under: Workouts

Training week condensed, take 1. Will prefix all the workout summaries with the week of the year, perhaps I can fool some new visitors into thinking these are the number of weeks I have been training. Will also be posting only one video even if there is footage from several days, look for it at the end of the summary or try clicking any images from training sessions, I usually link those straight to video footage if available.

Monday, 3 Jan 2005: Squat/Deadlift

Did the usual speed squatting, this time with a newly acquired powerlifting belt. No, I’m not about to budge just yet from my beltless lifting ethos but will use it on box squats to facilitate correct midsection tightening as prescribed by Dave Tate:

First, expand your abdomen as much as possible. When you pull air into your body it should be into the diaphragm, not the chest. Expand you belly and push it out against your belt. This will stabilize and support the lower back and not elongate the spine. If you’re having a hard time trying to figure this out, then wear your weight belt one notch loose and push into it with your belly so it becomes tight.

With the new routine dictating a pull every other week, I did rack pulls next. Worked up to a modest 110 kg/243 lbs from below the knees. Not that I couldn’t have done more, but this is the heaviest loads I’ve placed on the low back in a loooong time, so I’m doing the sensible thing here for once.

Box squat, 13″: 5x2 @ 50 kg/111 lbs (belt)
45′ hyperextension with cable: 3x10 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Barbell side bend: 3x8 @ 45 kg/99 lbs

Total training time: about an hour

Wednesday, 5 Jan 2005: Bench

110 kg/243 lbs descent, 100 kg/221 lbs ascent

Ever since last week’s two-board press max effort rollercoaster, I’ve lived in suspense. The triceps got predictably mega-sore and it was questionable whether the sauna-massage-tiger balm regime would do much to make them ready for another bench session in seven days. Come Wednesday I still had some light soreness left, but having paid a steep 85 euros for a pair of weight releasers I felt ready to rumba. The primary target of the day was a new close-grip PR of 105 kg/232 lbs with an added 10 kg/22 lbs on the releasers for a 115 kg/254 lbs descent. After I, presumably, would make that weight I would ditch the releasers and feel the lightness of 107.5 kg/238 lbs. Thus, besides making my body acquainted with a bit heavier weights, the releasers would also serve a grand psychological purpose (releasers can also be used for speed work to build reversal strength).

Started adding the 10 kg/22 lbs releasers (2.5 kg plates + 5 kg releasers) at 80 kg/199 lbs. Once I hit 100 kg/221 lbs, a new PR weight on the close-grips, I first started doubting the descent as I had never lowered 110 kg/243 to my chest before and the slight swaying of the releasers could potentially take me seriously out of groove. Not surprisingly, my fears led to an overspotted first set but it served to reassure me that 110 kg/243 lbs was no problem. With no spotting hands between me and the bar this time, I went for it again. After the releasers jumped off, the bar first dipped left as I pushed up then it went right (if you look closely at the picture series above, you’ll see why). I was nowhere near my optimal groove, but got it up. Then attempted 105 kg/232 lbs with a 115 kg/254 lbs descent, but it didn’t go. Neither did 105 kg/232 lbs without releasers. Tried some board presses for the secondary movement, but shoulders were too fried so went straight into some pressdowns instead.

The initial disappointment of only making 100 kg/221 lbs was quickly replaced by contentment. After all, the suboptimal groove of the lift and the extra heavy descent made this 100 kg/221 lbs a tad special. As for the descent, I’m pretty sure I could have handled 125 kg/276 lbs to 135 kg/299 lbs (one article I found by Matt Brzycki stated that a fresh muscle can usually handle about 40% more on the eccentric lowering phase). If going for a truly max lowering, which is probably not needed and a sure shoulder killer, there should be ample safety precautions as the weight will more or less free fall down on you if you can’t handle it. Take whatever your max bench is, then add 40% more. Scared yet?

I’ve linked to it before, but for a bit more hardcore weight releaser footage than my video (4MB), see this clip of Ano squatting with bands and releasers.

Close-grip bench press with weight releasers:
              worked up to 70 kg/155 lbs
              1 @ 80 kg/177 lbs + 10 kg/22 lbs releasers
              1 @ 90 kg/199 lbs + 10 kg/22 lbs releasers
              1 @ 100 kg/221 lbs + 10 kg/22 lbs releasers
              0 @ 105 kg/232 lbs + 10 kg releasers
              0 @ 105 kg/232 lbs
Pressdown in lat pulley: 10,10,6 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Wide-grip pulldown: 3x10 @ 90 kg/199 lbs

Total training time: 45 min

Friday, 7 Jan 2005: Accessory

Had a very short night, a morning nap really, and having breakfast an hour before a 2pm workout was not optimal. To save my precious breakfast, I opted for supersets instead of the normal circuit. But before that I did standing cable curls on the balance board for the first time… a bit shaky, but easier than with free weights since the cable does provide a bit of support. These, along with Måns’s ingenious weighted spiderman rows and Wednesday’s weight releaser action, are of course on this week’s video (4MB).

Rope pull: 3x10 @ 45 kg/99 lbs
Cable curl standing on balance board: 4x10 @ 60 kg/133 lbs
2 supersets:
            Incline sit-up: 12,11
            Hyperextension on stability ball: 12,8 @ 15 kg/33 lbs
2 supersets:
            Lower cable twist: 12,12 @ 35 kg/77 lbs
Arm and leg extension kneeling on stability ball: 10,10
2 supersets:
            Plate curl: 3 @ 10 kg/22 lbs, 12 @ 7.5 kg/17 lbs
            2″ wooden block pinch grip: 8,8 @ 15 kg/33 lbs

Total training time: 63 min

Desperate times call for desperate measures

Filed under: General

Have you ever had the feeling of just being off to bed only to notice that there are a) no eggs, cottage cheese or meat in the fridge and b) no tuna on the shelves? With increasing desperation you scan for the less obvious stuff such as canned beans. None found. Just as you start to contemplate whether to drink a liter of milk or go through the effort of frying up some meat from the freezer, you remember that old bag of yucky whey protein powder that refused to mix with anything, at least in a shaker. Some blueberries from the freezer, milk and a mixer to the rescue! Aaah, now one can retire knowing that protein, probably well past its best before date, is floating in the veins. Good night.

January 11, 2005

Everybody do the leg press!

Filed under: Uncategorized

Scott Koffman filed a $9.2 million suit Thursday in U.S. District Court against BYU and a conditioning coach. He claims he suffered three herniated discs from being forced to use too much weight while performing an elevated leg press in September 2001. Koffman claimed when he tried to take off some weight, he was stopped by Justin McClure, the assistant strength and conditioning coach. He alleges McClure, who is named in the lawsuit, called him a vulgar name, added another 100 pounds and ordered him to lift. Koffman suffered the spinal injury on his first repetition, the lawsuit contends.
Pitcher claims injury ended pro prospects (August 27, 2004)

The above story, pitiful in its own right, prompted Razorman to post the safe way to use a leg press to the Dr. Squat message board.

1) Take leg press machine.

2) Melt into molten steel.

3) Pour into weight plate molds - or preferably, extrude into cylinders and mill to precise tolerance weight plates.

4) Recover some of the remaining steel and extrude into a bar.

5) Cut knurling into bar.

6) Place bar over shoulders after loading plates onto bar.

7) Squat, like God intended.

I learned about this while reading Skinny Bastard Training Log and promptly realized that this gospel needs to spread like wildfire for the sake of all lost gym souls. Speaking of which, hopefully Koffman got himself a ball and a balance board… career over? Why? ;-)

January 12, 2005

English section at Westsidebar.net

Filed under: General

The Finnish powerlifting forum Westsidebar.net just started a few English sections (scroll down) in close collaboration with Metal (Ano will be around). In my opinion, this forum is among the best out there (and that’s putting it fairly mildly) and a nice alternative voice to the US dominant forums (prepare for culture shock). It will be interesting to see how regular forum members will get involved with the English side of things. Only one way to found, eh? Everyone’s invited.

January 17, 2005

Week 2: Ride the lightning

Filed under: General

Monday, 10 Jan 2005: Squat/Deadlift

box dutyThe days of sleeping 12 hours a night are over. Sleep deprivation draws near.

If I had to pick one word to describe today’s workout, it would be “reassuring”. After doing the usual speed work, this time with 60 kg/133 lbs, I pyramided up to a 110 kg/234 lbs slightly below parallel box squat (13″). This rep looked fairly good; in fact, sat back a lot more than on the speed work. Embarrassing as it is, this is only 5 kg/11 lbs less than my recorded pre-injury PR off the very same box. Wisely decided to leave PR breaking for the next heavy box session two weeks from now, because a) I was squatting outside the rack to accommodate the widened stance and b) play it safe from a back standpoint (although I do feel it can now take most anything I can dish out in good form on the box). Since I’m just returning to heavy squat/deadlift training, I hope I could reap some beginner’s gains this year and see a hefty increase in weights. I need it before I outbench my squat. Now THAT would be embarrassing. Three plates off this box is my next goal.

Box squat, 13″ (belt):
            5x2 @ 60 kg/111 lbs
            worked up to 1 @ 110 kg/243 lbs
            4 @ 95 kg/210 lbs

Good mornings off pins (mid-stomach):
            worked up to 10 @ 80 kg/177 lbs

Hanging leg raise: 10,7,7,6

2 supersets:
            Rolling Thunder reverse cable curl: 6,6 @ 20 kg/44 lbs
            Captains of Crush: 8 @ I + negatives with II

Total training time: about an hour

Wednesday, 12 Jan 2005: Bench

box dutyOh la la! Had been feeling ready to bench for much of last week, but waking up today I had some VERY tender pecs (felt like the pectoralis minor). What is strange is that I have no idea what caused it, the only thing I can come up with are the hanging leg raises I did on Monday… and even that takes a leap of imagination involving hunched shoulders and possibly green men from Mars. I wanted to go for a new bench max today, but instead felt obliged to get the sore pecs out of the equation with three board presses. I don’t regret it for a second, because I put up a new shiny PR by doing an easy 120 kg/265 lbs before failing with 130 kg/287 lbs. After a year of nothing, I am in heaven. In a matter of a couple of weeks, 100 kg/221 lbs has gone from being something big to a good weight to stop over by to gauge the form of the day. Continued with some floor presses, but was fairly beat after having pyramided down following the 130 kg/287 lbs attempt.

Next week, I will put in some much anticipated dumbell work over at another gym to give the system a rest from all the heavy singles. Then time for a new bench max I suspect.

Three-board press:
            worked up to 2 @ 100 kg/221 lbs
            2 @ 110 kg/243 lbs
            1 @ 120 kg/265 lbs
            0 @ 130 kg/287 lbs
            0 @ 125 kg/276 lbs
            0 @ 122.5 kg/271 lbs

Close-grip floor press:
            worked up to 3 @ 90 kg/199 lbs
Lying dumbell extension: 7,5 @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs
One handed-lat pulldown (kneeling):
            2x6 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
            2x12 @ 30 kg/66 lbs

Total training time: about 70 minutes I guess

Friday, 14 Jan 2005: Accessory

Today’s workout was plain fun (aren’t they always?) as I discovered stiff-legged deadlifts on the balance board (found them in my head). If you’re looking for a very functional low back/hamstring movement that feels like deadlifting in a rowing boat in the middle of a storm, this is IT. Don’t expect the weight to always come up in a straight line, it won’t. Definitively not for core beginners. Will take a clip of these at some point. For now, you will just have to live with this week’s clip (5.6MB).

Also did some fun stuff for the biceps. Haven’t done down the racks since I was a bodybuilder, but now I am shamelessly employing bodybuilding methods to pack some size unto the front of my arms to match the triceps that march to the tune of relentless pressing. In case you didn’t now, down the rack involves working your way down the dumbell rack by picking up a lighter pair of bells every time you hit failure. I usually keep dropping till I reach a weight that I can suddenly crank out 10-20 reps with. At that point the muscle has usually gone numb and could use an oxygen break.

Pulldown to head: 3x15 @ 70 kg/155 lbs
Incline dumbell curl, down the rack (all sets below done in succession without rest):
5 @ 21 kg/46 lbs + 1 @ 18.5 kg/41 lbs + 3 @ 16 kg/35 lbs + 3 @ 13.5 kg/30 lbs + 6 @ 10 kg/22 lbs + 10 @ 8 kg/18 lbs (total: 28 reps)

4 circuits of:
        Standing cable crunch with 3 isometric holds of 5 seconds: 5 @ 30 kg/66 lbs / 7,3,3 @ 40 kg/88 lbs
        Upper body cable turn: 25,25,25,25 @ 50 kg/111 lbs
        Stiff-legged dead on balance board: 10,10,10,10 @ 50 kg/111 lbs

Rolling Thunder holds: 2x30 kg/66 lbs

Total training time: 52 minutes
        Circuit 1: ? min, circuit 2: 5:05 min, circuit 3: 3:30 min, circuit 4: 4:20 min

January 18, 2005

The Reinvention Tour

Filed under: General

Alberto Caraballo, a familiar face over at GoHeavy.com and a reader of this humble blog, opened his own shop aptly titled The Reinvention Tour. In my twisted mind, I take the name as a gentle reminder that lifting is really about rediscovering what so many lifters before you have learned for themselves. Be that as it may, yet another supreme reason to get serious about RSS.

January 20, 2005

“Bring your own equipment” redefined?

Filed under: General

brimming over

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