My powerlifting year 2004 (condensed version)
If 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.
AND THAT’S ALL I’M GOING TO SAY ABOUT 2004.