23 April 2011

Run and You'll Only Die Tired, The Science

At this point, I think, the "evidence" behind the supposition that humans are naturally predisposed to long distance running has been thoroughly debunked.  From an anthropological standpoint it's nonsense, and from a training standpoint it's even moreso- running long distances is fucking ridiculous.
(if you missed the previous installments of this series, they're here, here, here, and here)

Low-intensity/high volume training raises cortisol levels, reduces testosterone and GH levels, causes harmful oxidation, and can disrupt immune system function and cause whole body inflammation, which is an anathema to any hard-training motherfucker who's ever considered moving into a cave to revel in their hatred of the human race and lift insane amounts of weights while wearing a fur loincloth and banging a similarly-clad cave girl.  ( Daly et al, De Vany 100, Faigan 267)  If that's not your cup of tea, running might be, as is hemp clothing, "Kumbaya", and any food product composed of soy.  Given, however, that low intensity exercise like jogging is our hormonal Anti-Christ, it makes sense that we do what we're really suited to- alternately walking and sprinting. (De Vany 98)
On second thought, there's no reason a cave girl should be clothed at all.

Happily for me, the most metabolically efficient, and natural way to go about running is also about the only way you'll see me run.  My personal preference is to go to a track (for ease of timing) and sprint the fuck out of the straightaways, and then walk or do what people in the Army call the "Airbone shuffle", which is essentially simply looking like you're jogging while moving at the pace of a crippled snail.  A mile to a mile and a half of that and I'm cashed, but it was interesting, increase my VO2 max far faster than steady state running would have.  Additionally, studies have shown that sprint trained athletes maintain a GH level 10 times that of baseline for an hour following their workout, which confers far greater anabolism and protein synthesis than endurance athletes are able to achieve.(Di Pasquale 29)
Sprinter Dwain Chambers seems to have gotten a hell of a lot of anabolism out of his sprinting workouts.

Though my favorite may not be yours, the message remains the same- interval training is eminently superior to steady-state cardio, and there are plenty of studies to prove it.  On top of the studies, there's anecdotal evidence- Randy Couture, for instance, long considered the best conditioned athlete in mixed martial arts, doesn't even mention steady state cardio in his training book, Xtreme Training.  Instead, he recommends damn near every kind of training but typical endurance fare like jogging.  Similarly, and thoroughly surprisingly, Triathlete Magazine's Essential Week By Week Training Guide spends more time detailing and promoting interval training than they do steady-state work, which appeared to be included just so triathletes would know how much it fucking sucks before race day.
In the aforementioned training guide, Triathlete's workouts rely tremendously heavily on intervals, which they classify into four categories:
  • speed- very short, high intensity workouts to increase speed
  • lactate- longer, medium intensity workouts designed to increase aerobic capacity
  • threshold- longest interval sessions with much lower intensity "sprints" designed to increase overall mental and physical endurance
  • power- generally very similar to speed workouts, but with added resistance (either changing the gear on the bike or increasing elevation to build strength
Intervals, Triathlete maintains, are necessary to increase max speed, efficiency, and athletes' ability to recover.  Without them, they maintain, you're fucked.  That falls right in line with every bit of evidence I can find on the subject, as a study have shown that the Tabata method increased aerobic capacity 4% and anaerobic capacity nearly 20% more than the steady-state cardio training group over 6 weeks. (Tabata)  For those of you who've been living under a rock, the Tabata method involves doing virtually anything for 20 seconds of balls-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest 8 times in a row.  I've done these with overhead presses and front squats, and they're fucking brutal.  The rest periods on Tabatas are shorter than the typical interval workout (which has a rest period roughly equal to the sprint portion), which makes them far more brutal... which makes them far more efficacious.
Sprinting does a body good.

If you're interested in interval training, I suggest you read up on it, as it comes in about as many disparate permutations as porn does, and ranges in usefulness in much the same way.  I personally love the aforementioned sprint-the-straightaway-walk-the-curves training, in addition to Tabatas and Fartleks (which is simply light jogging over varied distances interspersed with random bouts of sprinting.   A reader who trains people for PT tests in the military has a vastly different take, however.  He combines running with some type of contrast, threshold runs, and a weekly two mile run (and the sick motherfuckers who liked to participate in 5k runs would replace their 2 mile run with a 5k).  The running workouts usually followed  a max effort workout, so that all runs were completed while fatigued.  The running workouts themselves started with a 1 mile run with different movements during the run...high knee, heel to ass, etc, to work on mobility. After one week of that, he had them run with contrast, so trainees would wear a weighted vest of 25-70 pounds and run a half mile as quickly as possible. Then rest and repeat, totaling 3 half miles. This apparently sucked shit, but was key to improving their 1.5 mile times.  He combined this with days of long sprints and optional distance runs to get pretty impressive time improvements in his trainees.  His weekly workouts consisted of:

Benching- 3x9
Bench-like movement- sets of 2-6 totaling 30-50 reps
Body weight upper body movement done for what we call ASAP- usually 60 reps DIPS ASAP. so 60x1, 30x2, 15x4, and so on...
Back work

ME movement where they would do doubles and eventually just work up to heavy doubles...more of  DE day ending with heavy lifts. 
Heavy barbell hamstring movement- sets of 2-6 until 30-60 total reps is met. usually we used dimmel dls, rdl, clean pull with shrug, anything like that with a bar. 
another hamstring movement for reps- ghr, band legs curls, reverse hypers
"Fatigued run" 2-4 half miles. 

Tues-Run Workout
Half mile with 40 pound vest for men, 25 for women

ME bench movement-
Barbell movement 2-6 reps
Heavy body weight movement- dips, pushups, hand stand push up...trainees must add resistance and perform 2-6 reps until reaching 30-50 reps

Thurs- Squats and Running-
20, 15, 10 in the back squat and run 400s in between 

Box squat- doubles, light
Repeat of Monday
no running.

Saturday morning- optional 5k
Although he failed to mention them, I think it's safe to say there were likely handstands and dozens of cameras involved in each workout.

He's gotten tremendous results out of this Crossfit-esque combination of 5/3/1 and running, though I would not recommend it for the average strength trainer, due to the fact that "same day training impedes development more than concurrent day training of strength and endurance."(Zatsiorsky 166)  This is due to the fact that the conflicting demands placed on your musculature during a combined endurance and strength training session impede the body's ability to adapt.  This, in turn, may lead to a decrease in muscle fiber size, which is a big bag of bullshit.  (Ibid)  Obviously, for the military types listed above, improving their musculature was not priority number one- endurance was.  

Frankly, I could give a fuck about endurance training, as I move quickly through my workouts and detest running.  Should you find it absolutely necessary to do some endurance training, make that training intervals, as they kick the fuck out of traditional, steady state cardio... no matter what a pack of filthy, scrawny Indians might have to say otherwise.
... and if you're planning on doing endurance training so you can outrun shit, you might as well make yourself strong enough to beat it with your fists and feet.  Bears can outrun you, and can outclimb you as well.  As such, spend your time lifting weights and fuck all that running nonsense.

And for those of you who were bitching, fear not.  There shall be no more cardio posts.  The next two will be a continuation of the Find A Way Forward and one on Captain Kirk.

Couture, Randy.  Xtreme Training.  2010.
Daly W, Seegers, Rubin DA, Dobridge JD, Hackney AC.  Relationship between stress hormones and testosterone with prolonged endurance exercise.  EUR J APP PHYS.  2005 Jan 93(4):375-380.
De Vany, Athur.  The New Evolution Diet.  2010.
Di Pasquale, Mauro.  Amino Acids and Proteins for the Athlete:  The Anabolic Edge.  2nd Ed.  Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2008.
Faigan, Rob.  Natural Hormonal Enhancement.  2000.
Fitzgerald, Matt.  Triathlete Magazine's Essential Week By Week Training Guide.  New York: Warner Books, 2006.
Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1996 Oct;28(10):1327-30.
Zatsiorsky, Vladimir.  Science and Practice of Strength Training.  2006.

18 April 2011

Find a Way Forward

Everyone hits a snag when lifting, be it a plateau, injury, or simply stagnation. In my estimation, the vast majority of lifters simply quit when they hit the wall, while another significant portion of the populace continues to press forward in a completely identical manner to what got them mired in the mud in the first place. Anyone who's ever gotten stuck in mud or snow knows that spinning your wheels rarely gets you out of the shit you're in- instead, you have to try something different to get you out. For whatever reason, that analogy never occurs to half the people in the gym, as they're so wedded to the program that once worked for them they refuse to deviate therefrom come hell or high water. You also have, of course, the kids who jump from program to program like they're a middle school girl with a new favorite song every 60 fucking seconds. Either way, both groups end up whining like fucking bitches when they cannot make progress, and lash out at anyone who does as having cheated in some manner, rather than reexamining the bullshit they did to get them stuck and finding another way forward.
Ironically, the face one makes when Max Hardcore gets a chick to ram her fist up your ass and the face one makes when hearing Rebecca Black's "Friday" are exactly the same.

Clearly, the latter group is fucking retarded, and hardly bear mention, much less an in-depth investigation of the nonsense they employ in the gym- blame the entirely fantastical affliction ADD, MTV, or whatever bogeyman you want, but there's no getting around the fact that some people simply suck balls, no matter how fucking hard you try to blame their behavior on some external and ultimately bullshit excuse. The former group, however, generally seems to suffer from loss aversion. On its face, having a sensibility that amounts to a fear of losses might seem eminently reasonable, as few people want to lose at anything they do. The phenomenon of "loss aversion" however, is actually a fear-based emotional response to external stimulus, in which people overreact to perceived losses. People tend to "sacrifice a little bit to avoid a potential loss" (Brafman 18), and in doing so limit the shit out of their own potential due to their irrational fear of failure. For this reason, people will often stick to programs that worked for them in the past, in spite of the fact that they're making little or no progress. A similar phenomenon is referred to as "chasing the loss", which focused on avoiding losses rather than maximizing gains. You'll find evidence of this phenomenon all over the internet, which is lousy with idiots who proselytize cookie-cutter programs and decry any and all deviation therefrom, claiming that everyone should do the same mediocre bullshit because of it's purported universal success... however minuscule, mediocre, or otherwise generally unimpressive. They completely ignore the fact that those who always are the ones to grab the brass ring took a lot of risk doing so, and rarely (if ever) took the "tried and true" route to accolades and immortality. (Brafman 28)

Dirt Diva- Living proof that you probably want to take the road less traveled... at least to the stop before Crazy Town.

Clearly, I'm not into the tried and true, but I know for a fucking fact I don't always have all the answers, either. Last year, after 3 months of 10+ workouts a week, at least 4 of which consisted of squatting, I found that I looked awesome and kicked fucking ass at squatting, but hit a gigantic wall at full speed, face-first, and kept on pushing for a while. I developed a pretty impressive knot in the IT band in my right leg, and found that continuing to squat with the protocols I had been using merely exacerbated the problem. Thus, I essentially became a modern day Sisyphus, pushing a big assed rock up a hill with my face, one legged, and yelling the entire time about what bullshit it was that my body had the audacity to defy me in a quest so idiotic that even the cast members of Jersey Shore would take pause at its display.
Zombies or robots? Fuck that. These are the harbingers of the apocalypse.

I began doing a ton of research into methods for eliminating that knot (and I'm sad to report I found jack shit), but in my research happened upon two studies that showed that:
  1. quick descent on the squat increases the rate of musculoskeletal loading, so athletes should descend quickly to maximize their rate of descent, and
  2. following a strength exercise immediately with a power exercise increases test levels drastically, so training strength exercises followed by power exercises appears to be the most effective way to increase strength and power.
This intrigued me, because I had not been training full range-of-motion lifts, and had only been working power lifts, rather than strength. In case you're unaware, sports scientists have broken down types of strength into different categories. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, for instance, breaks down strength into three types (Science and Practice 147):

  • maximal strength (grinding strength, like that in powerlifting)
  • speed strength (explosive strength, like in Olympic weightlifting or plyometrics)
  • strength endurance (repetitive cyclic shit like rowing)
Conversely, Yuri Verkhoshansky and Mel Siff separate strength into five distinct groups (Supertraining 151):
  • Isometric strength (static holds)
  • Quasi-Isometric strength (low velocity, powerlifting style)
  • Strength-Speed (more explosive, but still low velocity)
  • Speed-Strength (explosive at intermediate velocity)
  • Explosive strength (explosive at high velocity)
For me, pre-exhaustion always=leg extensions... and you know how I feel about leg extensions.

Though I had never really considered any of this, I knew it, as I'd read it in Science and Practice of Strength Training a couple of years ago. I'm not sure what's more sad- how far behind the East we are in sport science, or the fact that I'd completely discarded this bit of knowledge. I'd chalked that shit up to the "pre-exhaustion" bullshit bodybuilders always carry on about, and have always considered to be a giant pile of horseshit. Besides, I figured, I'd just kicked a decent amount of ass at that powerlifting meet, I had no need for anything but quasi-isometric and isometric/maximal strength.

In my conceit/loss aversion delusions, I ignored Zatsiorsky's recommendations for structuring one's workouts with this priority:
  1. Main sport exercises
  2. Dynamic before slow exercises
  3. Larger groups before smaller
This, of course, makes perfect sense, and I'd ignored it due to a fear that if I stopped what I was doing, I'd backslide and lose the progress I'd made. Luckily, I got to the point by January that full squats or ultra-heavy partials were completely out of the question. Thus, I was forced to make a change, and I did.
My leg, saying to me: "Oklahoma kid. That's me. I'm the Oklahoma kid. You fuckin' varmint! Dance. Dance. YAHOO, YA MOTHERFUCKER!"

In an effort to work on my flexibility and hopefully stretch out my IT band (which ended up working), I started doing rock bottom jump squats. Initially, I just focused on doing sets of 5 with 135, in an effort to get a good stretch and really explode out of the bottom. On days where my leg wasn't acting like Joe Pesci in every fucking scene of Goodfellas, I followed that with a few sets of partial front or back squats. The number of sets varied based up on feel, but usually went along the lines of 3x5x135, 3x3x225. I didn't actually get back to a 315 jump squat until early March, but given the amount of shit my IT band was giving me, I felt pretty good with my progress.
"Soviet studies show that utilization of explosive lifts prior to maximal efforts increase the likelihood of Jamie Koeppe spontaneously materializing in the vicinity of a lifter by 64.7%" (Verkhoshansky 864)

In the next installment- how I changed my mindset, more science behind how this works, the workouts I did to take my 5RM on jump squats up 50 lbs and get my 1RM on them up to 375. Here's a teaser trailer for the vid, and the next actual blog will be the conclusion to the running series (finally).

...and yes, that is a Zombie Jesus tshirt. 

Siff, Mel, and Yuri Verkhoshansky. Supertraining.

12 April 2011

The Fascination With My Footwear, Part 2

I'm posting this simply because I know that for some reason, you guys seem to give a shit about what I wear in the gym.  As such, I thought I'd let you guys know about my new love in the way of shoes- the New Balance Minimus Trail.  These shoes are what Thor would wear if he decided to go running, and make the Nike Frees seem like something that a drunken kindergartener would create out of clay for a hobo who wanted shoes designed to work with his iPod to track his movements while weighing marginally less than the same volume of lead.  In other words, these things are the tits.  They've got microbial insoles, which means that they aren't kicking after wearing them all day without socks, they don't slide on your feet, have much greater structural strength (so your feet don't roll in them while squatting heavy either), a sewn-in tongue (which I love, because the tongue on every other shoe slides to the side all fucking day long like it's a black guy leaning over the center console of his fucking Escalade), better soles (made by Vibram), and they're so light you don't even know you're wearing them.
I'd say more amazing things about them, but it'd just sound like I was trying to verbally fellate the creators of these wondrous shoes.  Which I am.  I intend to get the non-trail version as well because I love these things so much, but for now, I rock the shit out of the MT10s (and will likely get a pair of the Women's ones so I can get them in a color other than the ones I have and orange.  Since I switched to these, I've hit a single on jump squats with 375 and constantly feel astonishingly spry for a guy, which is impressive for a guy who does so little athletic movement that I make Chris Farley seem agile by comparison.  Are they magical?  Hell no, but they do rock the fucking bells.
They'd both wear them... if they weren't dead.

Ditch the Chucks and get with the Minimus.

02 April 2011

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love the Zercher, #2

As a forewarning, I've only been doing Zerchers for a couple of months, so I hardly consider myself a pro at them. I am, however, completely sold on them as an exercise, and have made them a mainstay of my workouts since perhaps the middle of January.  Thus, for anyone who feels it necessary to decry my weight choices in the following vid, suck it- they're coming along.
Triple H has my back.

Zerchers, insofar as I understand it, are more of a class of exercises than one specific lift.  The "official" Zercher lift, however, is a very specific exercise outlined by the USAWA in their rule book.  Ed Zercher, the progenitor of this badass exercise, was one of the earliest competitors in the USAWA, where he competed well into his 80s... a hard motherfucker indeed.  According to the USAWA and Ed Zercher, this lift is correctly done this way:
"The bar starts on the platform and at the lifter’s discretion the bar is deadlifted to a position where it may be supported on the knees or thighs. Feet placement is optional, but the feet must be in line with the torso. The lifter will then bend down, with the bar resting on the legs, to a position in which the lifter is able to secure the bar in the crooks of the elbows. The lifter will then stand erect with the arms bent and the bar fixed at the articulation of the upper
and lower arms. The lifter’s arms may be inside or outside of the legs. The hands may be locked together. Once the bar is motionless, the legs straight, the body erect with shoulders upright, an official will give a command to lower the bar. The bar must be returned to the platform under control for the lift to be complete. It is acceptable to drop the bar once it is below the level of the knees provided that the hands follow the bar to the platform."(USAWA Rule Book, p. 54)
Bill Clark, founder of the USAWA, doing a full Zercher with 405.

I gave that lift a shot in the video at the end of this post, and it was actually a hell of a lot of fun.  I intended to modify the lift, for the purpose of emulating (as best one can with a barbell) a stone lift, by using the deadlift form of Bob Peoples, the first 181lber to deadlift 700+.  Bob had perhaps the most unique deadlifting style ever, for which "round-backed" is a description that undersells the true state of affairs about as much as calling Gabourey Sidibe a horrible, disgusting landbeast only marginally smaller than a rhinoceros.  In other words, Bob Peoples specifically and pointedly utilized form so offensive to the denizens of Bodyspace that were they to witness it they'd pass out from a sudden rise in blood pressure resulting from trying to scream "fake plates", "he'll die a cripple", "STEROIDS!", and a mountain of other poorly written defenses for their pathetic PRs while simultaneously masturbating furiously.  For those of you who don't know, Peoples lifted with empty lungs and with a round back- he'd exhale fully, round his back and raise his hips, look down, and then pull.(Dezdo Ban)
Though I kept this form in mind, the beginning of my Zercher lift really amounted to more of a contemptuous snatching of the weight from the ground.  Once I hit 365, this became less contemptuous, but I did the full lift only after an hour and a half of rack work, so my arms were pretty worn out.  That was actually the first time I'd tried it, but it's definitely well worth the price of admission.

Other Zercher lifts:
Zercher Squats:  These are typically done out of the rack with the bar at a bit over waist height.  You unrack it, drop like a fucking stone into a full squat (until your elbows hit your legs), and then rerack.  For those form Nazis out there, there's no "perfect" depth on these, because this is a partial version of the full lift.  Thus, anyone who has shit to say about your depth can suck it.  Refer them to the pic above.
Bottom Position Zercher Squats: Frankly, these are more like deadlifts than squats.  Set the pins so you're starting at the bottom of the lift and stand up with the weight.  These are my favorite way to do the lift.
Partial Zercher Squats:  Another favorite, these will whoop your ass like you are Rampage Jackson and the lift is Pride-era Wanderlei Silva.  You'll leave the rack bloodied and broken, but unbowed.  I'll be sorer than Annabelle Chong after setting a world record for days after doing these, but I fucking love the shit out of them.
Zercher Deadlifts:  I've seen a variety of knuckleads do these online, but have no interest in trying them.  They're a ridiculous version of the full zercher lift and require you to have the flexibility of a young Jean Claude Van Damme.  It's not 1990, and I've no interest in wearing pegged acid wash jeans with the waist pulled up to the bottom of my ribcage.

If you look around online, you'll see that there are a hell of a lot more Zercher lifts out there.  People have concocted shit like the Zercher yoke walk (which is a nice analog to Conan's Wheel), Zercher farmer's walks, Zercher good mornings, and a variety of other crazy shit.  No matter which of them you do, you'll definitely be getting a full body workout, and your biceps and upper back in particular will get the shit kicked out of them.  As you can see in the vids
Is it stone lifting?  Nope.  It is, however, one of the manlier lifts you can do, a damn good stunt double for the stone lift, and a hell of a good way to waste a Saturday afternoon in the gym... and yet another pair of cargo shorts.

Todd, Terry.  Bob Peoples and the Roundback.  THE TIGHT TAN SLACKS OF DEZSO BAN.   http://ditillo2.blogspot.com/2008/03/bob-peoples-terry-todd.html

USAWA Rule Book.  http://www.usawa.com/rule-book/