Looking back at 2005
2006 and the world is still in one piece. A new year is always a juncture, but I can see no major changes to how business is run here at Under the Bar. Like last year, here is a look back at my powerlifting year 2005.
An unforgettable 4kg moment
The birth of Rufus on February 19th was the definitive highlight of the year that impacted my training in many ways.
For one thing, I started posting weekly workout summaries. I have liked that a lot, and despite it not always being enough to keep the ball rolling, I feel it helps structure the blog. More containers are not always better. The weekly workout summary remains standing at least thus far. Blogging is rewarding, even more so when I no longer feel the urgent need to get every workout online as soon as it happens. A guy setting a modest PR in a gym somewhere in the middle of the night can hardly be classified as breaking news, can it? Even so, I will try harder this year to keep relatively up to date, backblogging is neither cool nor my idea of stressfree blogging. Speaking of which, The Guide to Stress-Free Blogging in 2005 by Benjamin Adam is a good read for any blogger who feels there is more to life than a blog (scroll down, only available via the Wayback Machine since the original domain has been unplugged).
I also had less time to train. The victim of this was largely dedicated grip work, one of the hallmarks of the preceding year. Training was also increasingly done on a sleep deficit. Not always because Rufus didn’t sleep, he actually slept fairly well, but because I still felt I needed some time of my own. The only place to take that time was to deduct it from my sleep. Despite some pushes towards sleeping a regular seven or eight hours, sleep deficit has been a dominant theme throughout the year (as in three to four hour nights). When I finally started training at the, dare I say legendary, Metal Gym in late September, we agreed that I would mainly train between 22pm and midnight. This way I could catch as much of Rufus’s waking hours as possible. This arrangement has generally been great, but the downside is that I am not home before twenty minutes past midnight (if Måns drives me home) or 1am (if I take the nightbus). I need to get up at 6am to 6.30am to get to work in time since I have to commute through much of Helsinki to get to the school. You do the math.
Luckily, there is much more to life than powerlifting. While time has not been plentiful for neither lifting nor blogging, this past year saw me exercise my full right to the state-subsidized paternity leave. I was home eighteen days after Rufus saw daylight and the whole of November. In the year 2006, Under the Bar is sure to become toddlerfied as we have agreed that I will stay home full-time for a year beginning this fall. I have no illusions about that not being very much like a full-time job, but I couldn’t be waiting for it any more eagerly! That of course means Sanna is off to work. That might also mean that I get to train at a bit more sensible hours. Perhaps that will be the time when I start mingling with the elite lifters of the evening shift. If that doesn’t put fire under my cushion, nothing will.
“…the pain is still with me”
The year began on an optimistic note. After sustaining a major lateral shift of the hip in August 2004, I had slowly began the climb back up towards where my progress was abruptly cut short due to a good morning injury in December 2003. In late March, I embarked on the very low-back intensive 10-week Coan-Phillipi deadlift program with a view to smash 140 kg/309 lbs, a mere 5 kg/11 lbs from my conventional deadlift PR set in November 2003. In spite of horrendous deadlifting form, I got through the program. I never got 140 kg/309 lbs, but did reach a satisfactory 135 kg/298 lbs that I documented with my first dual angle videoclip (1.8M).
A month later, I visited the back clinic once more to assess my back health following the very strenous training bout. The therapist concluded that I had a minor protective lateral shift and cracked me straight. A mere four days after the visit, my back cramped up again during a workout (picture with lines added for emphasis). Based on what I now know this was inevitable, but I believe the manual upsetting of my spinal vertebrae made it happen sooner rather than later. I started doing the standard rehabilitation that I knew far too well by now. It cleared up some, even allowing me to max out on the squat. A month later, in late August, the full payload was delivered in the guise of a full-blown lateral shift. Limping into the back clinic once again, I was told that there was nothing structurally or neurologically wrong with my low back, i.e. no traces of the original good morning injury. That was the good news. The bad news was that my spine seems unable to handle the “abnormal levels of compression” it is subjected to under the bar causing acidic disc leakage to come into contact with the adjacent nerves, thus causing the shift. In a way, dealing with an injury that could be rehabilitated was more easier to grasp than the fact that my spine is simply not hardy enough for what I’m doing. Blame it on my years as a hobbyist programmer or whatever. Rehab seemed pointless, just took a whole month off lifting to heal physically and mentally.
Not ready to give up, I was back in the gym in late September. The logic seemed self-evident. The big weight exercises (squats, deads) is where the largest amount of compression is. Hence avoid them if the back feels at all stiff and instead strengthen the living hell out of the core/midsection region in the hopes that it will help keep stuff better in place. I spent nearly two months doing heavy midsection work, such as weighted side bends and reverse hypers with a good stretch, but despite some illusions to the contrary, I was slowly getting worse. I was able to do some light squatting, but by early November my back hurted too much to do even standing cable crunches.
That’s when it dawned on me to seek help at the Elite Fitness Systems’s rehabilitation QA. I ended up exchanging two rounds of questions with Michael Hope who pointed out what I now hope was the missing link: the spine is very compression resistant per se, it is when compression is combined with flexion (forward bending) that things go downhill fast. This suggested that squats, where there is little flexion but much compression, was the way to proceed, not all of those accessory exercises, even reverse hypers, that caused a lot of flexion with much smaller weights. He also suggested I take up heavy bag work to force my body out of the limited plane of motion provided by the lifts in the gym, which prompted me to take an extended tour down memory lane to my time as an avid martial artist. The rest, as they say, is history. On 26 December, stomach still filled with Christmas goodies, I finally broke my two year old box squat PR. Imagine how that felt.
Whether this means I am back on track towards becoming a real three-lift powerlifter remains to be seen. Let’s just say that 2006 began on a very optimistic note.
A short bench pressing story
Not going to go into frenzy over my benching in 2005. I have managed to dislodge a few assistance exercises out of the rut my bench has been stuck in, notably putting up 105 kg/232 lbs on the decline bench and the floor press. I also consulted briefly with Sebastian Burns of Metal Militia fame, who even graciously sent me one of his bench pressing DVDs for free. Tripling 170 kg/376 lbs off the six boards as part of a 27 seven set Metal Militia board pressing session was probably the most whacko thing I did during the whole year. The poor low-grade bar never recuperated from the bending. I still consider myself lucky for not injuring my unsuspecting wrists.
The aforementioned recurrent back trouble and sleep deficit are probably part of why my bench has been progressing so slowly. Still, I am more and more convinced that it has more to do with certain strength imbalances in my body, notably regarding the rear and front delts and the biceps. I began pounding my shoulders with 5x5 on the behind the neck press already before the Achieving Structural Balance craze swept over the known powerlifting blog universe in, but the test indicated my biceps were really sub-par and that the behind-the-neck press, external rotations and incline bench were barely adequate. I got the behind-the-necks up from 5x5 @ 50 kg/111 lbs in early July to 3x5 @ 57.5 kg/127 lbs in mid-August before the lateral shift put the breaks on my good gaining streak. The press-centric raw bench program I sewed together after my layoff sought to address the weak incline bench, weak shoulder strength and weak bicep strength. I have been doing some decent progress on that, but this might not be enough, especially not for the biceps. After things stall, I will consider turning my accessory bench day into a pure weakpoint session and skip all the crud. Shoulder pressing, back work, cuff work and more than a few sets of biceps work might make the cut better. On max effort day, it is also time to start maxing out on various forms of shoulder pressing much more frequently.
The past year also saw the introduction of specialty bars into my training as I began training at Metal gym. For the squat, I got access to a real GHR (as much as I loved the original Soviet version), a reverse hyper, a Westside camber bar, a Manta Ray and whatnot. For the bench, it has been mainly about the two inch camber bar that I like a lot. The year 2006 will also see me start to leverage more chains at least for my benching. Need to get some speed under the hood.
“…building a power rack in a forest demands a surprising amount of work”.
The whole scale renovation of my forest gym, Toffe’s Gym, into an outdoor powerlifting haven was scheduled for the summer of 2004, but since the welder never showed up, it got pushed over the winter. Not wanting to waste any outdoor training time, the first thing I did upon arriving at the summer cottage was to contract a new welder for my power rack and bench. This involved dragging all the iron to them instead of them arriving to the iron, but in the end it was worth it. I posted an extensive review of this very extensive project with a ton of pictures and cost details.
The renovation at Toffe’s was not limited to “just” the power rack and heavy-duty bench. One of the things I did while waiting for the rack to be welded was to dig a weight pit, which later turned into a concrete version as I used left-over concrete from the rack project. I also built an adjustable heavy-duty squat box, as my original 13″ box has emigrated to Helsinki, and a decline attachement for my new bench that I posted a sweet PR with. Too bad it turned out that the decline bench press might be one of the worst exercises for my back. A rubber mat also found it’s way to Toffe’s as Måns and I returned in October for a legendary night-time outdoor session.
The renovation project very nearly drained the treasure chambers, but did buy some powerlifting miscellanea as well. I began an ambitious project to read the main body of the literature behind the Westside system. I did a bit of reading during the summer, but fell woefully short of my goal to finish by the end of the year. Being able to catch up on reading with a sleeping son in the lap turned out to be a short-lived illusion. The new deadline to finish this reading project is end of 2006. This deadline is officially tentative.
I also got some videos and DVDs, most notably both EliteFTS Exercise Indexes and the Westside Barbell Reactive Method and Special Strengths tapes. On the equipment side, I got myself a set of weight releasers for the bench that I’ve only used once so far… Still, the best thing of all was the 20GB iPod friends and family gave me for my birthday in September. Being able to carry around my full metal collection in the pocket has not been bad for training inspiration.
There’s a lot of other things I could say, such as mentioning that I saw the insides of quite a lot of new gyms in 2005 or that the year came with an even bigger explosion of new lifting blogs that I didn’t have much time to read or that… This is where the train stops. If you want the full monty, you can always read the yearly archive for 2005. Having made peace with the past, it is now time to look forward. Hope you will enjoy the ride!