When I was younger you would have quickly gotten a "yes" with a capital "Y" if you asked me should you go to failure. On the surface it seems like common sense. If you want maximum results, you need maximum stimulation of the muscle. You can't get much more stimulation than the point were you can't do another rep. This is commonly called muscle failure. Well, now that I'm a little older, experience has shown me the problems with the above logic.
First off, true muscle failure is hard to reach. You have to go deep inside the warrior zone where maxims like "no pain, no gain" were spun. It hurts, and most people I see in the gym get no where near muscle failure. They just don't have the pain tolerance necessary to reach it. Pain tolerance can be increased though. Which brings me to my second point.
Chasing after maximum muscle stimulation by going to failure is risky. When you're only 20 something years old, and still have those teenage mutant ninja warrior healing powers on your side, it is much easier to throw caution to the wind. But after you have more than one or two blue moons under your belt, the prospect of being laid up while you heal at a snails pace gives you a different prospective on what is an acceptable level of risk.
The thing that makes going to failure risky is the fact that there is a very thin line between maximum stimulation and injury. Thin lines are easy to cross. Going to failure usually causes injury due to the stress being transferred somewhere you don't want it. A little break in form at the end of a set is normal. By a little, I mean maybe a little arch or a little swing, but a total breakdown of form only abuses the joints. The most commonly abused joints in the weight room are the lower back, the shoulder, and the knees.
I am not opposed to going to failure or as near to failure as my pain tolerance will allow on certain occasions. I will explain those occasions in just a bit. There are three lifts I never take to failure though. Those are the three tried and true staples, better known as the deadlift, squat, and bench press. I'm speaking more to your average 50 year old than I am to your average powerlifter in his prime right now. I've been laid up with back injuries from both the deadlift and the squat. What I've learned is that the moment your form starts to break down in the deadlift (usually this is the low back rounding out), put the weight down and terminate the set. With the deadlift, always finish with one rep left in the tank. I do pretty much the same thing with the squat. If it took so much effort to get the weight up on the last rep that I'm unsure if I can get another, then I won't go back down with it to try and get one more. The possible gain is not worth the possible risk. What about if you have a spotter though? No thanks bro. I don't need you up against my backside while I'm already about to pass out. I would certainly take the spot on the bench, but because I train alone, I rarely take the bench press to failure.
So when do I take it to failure? Well, this morning I realized how much my attitude has change since I first started lifting weights. When I first started I couldn't get big and strong fast enough. I wanted it all, and I wanted it quickly. Now I see weight training, not as a way of achieving a perfect physique, but as a way of maintaining a perfect functioning physique for the rest of my life. I'm in it for the long haul. It doesn't have to come quickly, and I refuse to abuse any part of my body just to grow muscles faster. That is robbing Paul to pay Peter. All those big muscles will be worthless at 60, 70, or 80 years old when the joints and tendons that hold them together don't work any more. I have developed more of a Milo approach to weight training.
Milo of Croton was a champion wrestler and famous soldier. Among the ancient Greeks his strength was legendary. As the legend has it, he developed his great strength by picking up a baby calf and carrying it on his shoulders everyday. The calf grew and so did Milo's strength. Eventually the calf grew to be a full grown ox and Milo grew strong enough to still pick it up and carry it on his shoulders. The secret locked in this simple story is the power of slow steady progression. It starts easy and gets harder slowly over each workout. I have only one goal every workout. That is to do more than the previous workout. Sometimes that is just one rep or a couple of pounds. Sometimes it's three reps or ten pounds. Other times, for reasons to numerous to count, it takes a maximum effort just to equal the sets and reps of my pervious workout. That's when I will push it to failure if need be. It's pretty simple. I believe I should get better each workout, or at the very least reach the same level of work. I no longer believe you have to train to failure, but sometimes you do have to get real close to it.
My, my, my, how time is flying by! March of 2014 is already on us, and I'm only 3 weeks out from stepping on an INBF bodybuilding stage once again. I would much rather do men's physique, but I'm just not ready to hang up the posing trunks just yet. Speaking of which, I got my new trunks in the mail a couple of days ago. I opted for the GASP pro posing trunks on Bodybuilding.com, and I'm so glad I chose them over the cheaper ones I've worn in the past. Even though the GASP trunks are smaller, they actually fit better. The bigger cheaper ones felt like I was wearing a tourniquet. The comfort and quality of the GASP trunks comes to about $70 with shipping. True to my experience though, you may not always get what you pay for, but you never get more than what you pay for. I think these GASP trunks are worth the extra cost.
I got a call from the show's promoter yesterday. I hadn't scheduled the required polygraph testing. INBF rules state you have to be drug free for at least 7 years and requires you pass a polygraph to that fact before competing. Only available time left the day before the show is 11:45 pm. Looks like that Friday before the show is going to be one really long day for me.
There are some other things I need to lock down fairly quickly as well. I need hotel reservations and a spray tan appointment. I'll get to those the first of next week. I finished my morning ritual today, but just don't feel like doing much of anything else today. Initially I had planned on taking some progress pictures today, but I'm not feeling like that either. I think I'm just going to clean up around the house a little, go get next weeks groceries, and put everything else in park for the rest of the day.
I didn't set any personal records today. I was just thankful to be able to get in the work considering how I've been feeling the past couple of days. Saturday was the worst. Couldn't even finish my morning ritual. By noon I was clogged and still cold while wearing sweats and wrapped in a blanket. I had those painful kind of sneezes. The ones where the muscles in the side and back feel like they are being pricked with needles as you sneeze. I started feeling better on Sunday. This morning I was feeling well enough to get in my complete morning ritual and my scheduled gym workout too. It was a little tough to breathe during my morning ritual, but by the time I hit the gym I think the nasal decongestant started doing its thing. I took advantage of the empty holiday gym to film a little video.
I don't ever remember having so much snow in North Carolina as we've had this week. Bad weather, messy roads, and gym closures played havoc with my workout schedule. I had to juggle a few training days around, but I finally got back into the gym yesterday. It was busy. I guess I wasn't the only one in town trying to preserve the week's training. It wasn't too bad though. I had a about a 5 minute wait until I got a free rack and platform. I wasn't feeling quite as fresh for yesterday's snatch session as I was for last week's. Turned out to be an extremely tough workout just to make last week's poundages and reps. My form was actually smoother though. The Olympic snatch is heavily depended on technique. Not having a big reserve of strength yesterday forced me to smooth out the technique. That was a bonus. Improved coordination, maximum muscle stimulation (judging from how difficult it was to walk from the gym my to the car), and the mental toughness required to get through it made for the best workout of the week by far.
I started sneezing and had a runny nose before going to bed last night. Took a dose of NiteQuil, but still didn't sleep very well. I actually woke up at 2:59 this morning. Laid there and watch the alarm go off at 3 am. before getting out of bed. I was feeling a little groggy from the NiteQuil. Got on the scale, made a cup of black coffee, and checked my body fat level. Body fat measurement was up one percentage point this week. Another unexpected side effect from the bad weather. Stuck in the house with my wife and daughter I found myself eating what they were eating. I didn't see that one coming, and I will have to guard against that from now on.
I got busy with my morning ritual. I had to stop my flexibility work a couple of times to blow my nose. The face down stuff just clogged my nose off completely. I took a nasal decongested and got it finished. I just didn't have the juice to get busy with my essential kung fu moves though. I decided to go back to bed and try it again in another 30 to 45 minutes. That didn't really work. As soon as my head hit the pill, my nose closed up. I just laid there breathing through my mouth like one of those big mouth bass fish people stick to their walls. Shortly after laying down, I got right back up again.
I flat out cancelled the rest of todays training at this point. On top of the soreness from yesterday's workout, was an over-all dull body ache. It is wet, cold, and damp outside this morning. Pretty much how I was feeling too. I opened up a can of chicken soup. I'm feeling better. Going to start tomorrow's rest day today. Maybe catch up on some reading. I'm thankful to have made it through this week, and I'm holding on for a better one next week.
Currently, I don't repeat the same workout in the gym until the following week. It's hard enough just to remember what I had for dinner last night. No way I'm going to just hope I remember what I did weight, set, and rep wise for each exercise a week ago. My training log is my workout partner and coach. It eliminates the guess work and motivates me to out do my last workout. I strive to always make some increase in weight, sets, or reps every workout. This is easy on the days when I feel strong. Other days it takes a max effort just to equal the numbers I recorded for the last workout. On those days, not doing less may not be progress, but it does maintain momentum. Bodybuilding is about progress, and my training log is the objective measurement of it.
These days I've gone high-tech and use a training log app on my iPod to record most of my workouts. I still carry my low-tech, trusty and true log in my gym bag however. The app works for the standard exercises, but to record the non-standard stuff I do, I go back to my old school method described in this video I made about five years ago:
The Wisdom of Mr. Sam "Sonny" Bryant, Jr.
1. "People keep asking me when are you going to retire. I say never, more people die retired than they do on the job working."
2. "People have the misconception that age makes you old, but I realize it is a state of mind that makes you old."
3. "Age is just a number that gives most people a reason to be lazy and not to do anything."
4. "I keep telling people it's the inactivity and the thought processes that make them old."
5. "If you start thinking you're old, your body will feel old. Then you will start acting old, feeling old, and you're old."
6. "I just want people to recognize that it can be done. That they can do it."
7. "I see a lot of young guys older than me. Because that's their lifestyle. That's what they've chose to do."
To over eat is too hot, to under eat is too cold, and the just right porridge is hard to know from a book. You must taste each for yourself. Having a calorie or macro target is a good place to start, but somewhere down the road you have to look at how your diet is effecting you as an individual. Given the same level of physical activity a given level of calories may be too much for some and too little for others. It took me a while to learn that it doesn't matter how it effects this guy or that gal, it only matters how it effects me. Took a while for this to click.
Prolonged over eating is what brought me to this site to begin with. Like the average person these days the effects of over eating are only to apparent. Even if your goal is to be big and muscular, if you over eat you may get big, but you will still be fat. I've been to the opposite extreme too. Trying to get as lean as possible, I had been under eating for too long. I did get ripped, but I also got too skinny. Neither fat nor skinny happen over night. It takes months, depending on the individual variables, of consistent over eating or under eating to reach either extreme.
I'm going to call the pre-contest diet strategy I'm currently using the Goldilocks technique. I'm tracking my bodyfat percentage on the same day of each week to determine the answer to one question: I'm I eating too much, too little, or just right? The just right is the sweet spot. The point where I am still increasing or maintaining muscle mass while lowering bodyfat. The weekly bodyfat percentage will be the proof. If my weight is down and the percentage doesn't decrease that will be a bad sign. Especially if I'm feeling tired and drained, that's a good indication that I'm eating too little. If my weight is up and my bodyfat increases, that too is a bad sign. Probably need to eat less.
Granted this is more art than science, but I ain't afraid of those bears. Let's just see what happens.
Question: What do you call the set that you feel you have to pray to get every rep? Answer: Salting with Fire.
Question: What do you call all the sets leading up to the salting with fire? Answer: Preparation of the Heart.
The full Olympic weightlifting style snatch has become my new favorite exercise in the gym. You body parters will find the snatch a hard one to classify. It doesn't fit in with back, legs, or shoulders because it works all of these and more. After today's salting with fire my posterior chain is cooked. The posterior chain is a fancy way of saying the booty and the muscles above and below it. Feeling them in a new way right now. Along will my shoulders, neck, and chest. I want to nap. I have no doubt that I've just worked my whole body to the max.
On the diet front I added a fat burner to my supplement stack this week. Trying something new. I plan to do a supplement video when I get the time. The addition of a fat burner and one intermittent fasting (IF) day a week has resulted in about an 8 pound weight loss since Super Bowl Sunday. Re-mixing my IF strategy too. I'm going to stick to only one day a week as long as the body fat is coming off. I'm also going from noon to noon rather than dinner to dinner. That's what I did this week. I made lunch at 1130 on Tuesday my last meal and then didn't eat again until noon on Wednesday. Nearly a five pound weight loss in one day. (I don't expect to see those kind of numbers every week though. Edit: Lord forgive me for this statement, and keep all such faithless words far from me.) Pretty happy about making up for the ground lost last weekend.
Circumstances are the ingredients, thoughts are the spices, and life is cooked up in the kitchen of time. If what you're cooking is stinking, get rid of the rotten thinking. We often have little control over our circumstances, but we can control what we choose to think about those circumstances.
Let the seas be what they may, but through the Spirit we can control our thoughts. I believe I can do all things through Christ Jesus. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The Source of all things. The Almighty God is my keeper and I will abide in Him.
Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Revelation 1:8 (NKJV)
8 ?I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,? says the Lord, ?who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.?
Revelation 4:11 (NKJV)
11 ?You are worthy, O Lord,
To receive glory and honor and power;
For You created all things,
And by Your will they exist and were created.?
Psalm 121:5-8 (NKJV)
5 The LORD is your keeper;
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.
John 15:1-5 (NKJV)
15 ?I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
5 ?I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
I probably didn't feel quite as bad as the Denver Broncos or their fans this morning, but still far from my normal feeling good self. I got on the scale to see that Super Bowl Sunday left me 5 pounds heavier! As of today I'm 49 days out, and I made great progress last week toward getting lean. Yesterday was not quite as bad as a crushing defeat in front of millions of people, but diet wise it was still a swift kick in my program.
Naturally the tendency was to beat myself up about it mentally. I felt like just sitting around in the huge 5 pound puddle of spilled milk all around me. A couple of years ago it would have taken me a few hours to dump the negative thoughts and feelings. This morning it took me less than five minutes. I've learned that the easiest way to keep any mole hill from becoming a mountain is to get back on track as quickly as possible. The first thing I did was to stop looking at my goal of being stage ready that was now further away than it was yesterday. I turned my focus on just what I needed to do today. Finished my daily ritual and increased the poundage in the gym this morning on the final sets of both the bench and curls by 10 pounds. It was an awesome first workout of the week.
In hindsight I can see exactly where the 5 pounds came from. A few slices of pizza, a few chips, and a few handfuls of popcorn for starters. Then there was the fact that most of the day my butt was planted on the couch watching TV, and I got no where near my 100 oz of water for the day. Hmmm, a few junk carbs + an increase in sodium + a less than normal activity level + a huge decrease in water intake = a 5 pound After Super Bowl Bloat! Yeah, I won't be doing that again for a while. Temporary lost of sanity. Back in focus after an out of control re-feed. Though I wouldn't advise anyone to try anything pre-contest like I did yesterday, here is a golden nugget to hold onto just in case you find yourself in need: Sometimes the eyes have to be taken off the desired results and re-focused on the proper execution of the process. Stand firm. Let not the passing rain dampen your feelings.
After cutting the cord completely a few years ago, I just signed up for cable TV again last week. First thing I realized is that I didn't really miss anything the whole time I went without cable TV. Second thing I realized is the necessity of a DVR if you are going to sit down in front of over 200 channels. For the following reasons:
1. Flipping through all of those channels trying to find something worth the time it takes to watch is itself a huge waste of time.
2. Even when you are successful at finding something to watch, commercials are bad for your health. They create a want for something you never new you wanted, and probably don't need. They get you thinking about eating something that tastes good, that is obviously not good for you, even when you are not hungry.
3. Primetime might be 9 pm eastern, but that's my prime sleeping time. I don't care who it is or how important it is, I will chose sleep over TV everyday of the week.
I was really trying to spare the extra expense of having a DVR, but for the above reasons I see no way to avoid it. So I spent 30 minutes standing in line at the local cable office this morning to get a DVR. No more flipping through channels, commercials will be fast forwarded, I will watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it. I may not be able to control the weather, but with a DVR I can control the television.
I wasn't worried about the snow putting a damper on my workout schedule this morning at all. Today was an active recovery day, so I had no problem doing all of today's daily grind right here from home. Don't fret if the snow ruined your plans to hit the gym today. Snow is the spice of winter. Make today fun and pick up the training tomorrow.
My morning ritual left me contemplating why Moses wasn't allowed to cross over into the promised land (see Numbers 20:7-12). God told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses struck the rock with his staff two times. That's it. On the surface the punishment doesn't seem to fit the offensive. I suspect it was more the spirit in which he struck the rock than it was the actual act itself. "Must we bring water from this rock," is what Moses said. I think it is clear from the Scriptures that "we" is referring to Moses and his brother Aaron. So it wasn't just for striking the rock, but for not acknowledging God that they missed the opportunity of going into the promised land.
The "thorn in the flesh" given to Paul to keep him from exalting himself also comes to mind (see 2 Corinthians 12:6-9). And we are given the two examples above to keep us from the enemy's trap of getting us to exalt ourselves. Not with something that you are weak and no good at. This attack comes in an area where you are strong. Where you have perhaps been gifted. Sounds just like a sly snake doesn't it. To take what you have been given by God to glorify God, and tempt you to use it to glorify self instead. "Watch and pray," says the Captain of our soul (see Matthew 26:41). Watch and pray.
After working this out, I put together a new tune, dug up a pair of old boots, and got busy with a little tai chi in the light of a brand new snow day.
I don't do yoga. It certainly appears to be an effective type of exercise, but it's just not one of my favorite flavors. Not only will you never see me in a room full of people laying on my back with my feet up in the air trying to tie my body parts into pretzels, but I don't do yoga in the privacy of my home either. Why? When the poop hits the fan, my back is against the wall, and enemy paratroopers are falling from the sky, I don't want a yogi by my side. I would much rather have a master of kung fu. I know none of that may ever happen. You can take the man out of the army, but you can't take the warrior out of the man.
Certainly there are plenty of moves that are similar between various types of yoga and kung fu. I am not knocking anyone who practices yoga. Some of the stuff I've seen is quite impressive. The point of this blog is not which is better, the point is that you should be doing some form of one or both of these systems. One of the most important things I've learned over the past few years is the importance of less intense types of exercise such as tai chi. It only takes a few months of high intensity weight training alone before things start to hurt, break, and get sore where you don't want them to be sore. The gentler forms of yoga and kung fu work the body in the opposite direction from the contracting and bunching of the normal work in the gym. Promoting health, flexibility, and strength across the whole spectrum. Not only will you feel and move better, but I also believe my kung fu practice has increased the effectiveness of my weight training.
Try balancing the yang (weight training) with a least as much ying (yoga or kung fu) and prove it to yourself. Keep in mind that you don't need to be able to stand on your head or break bricks with your fingers. Make time for some form of easy exercise that is challenging, but keep it easy, light, and feeling good to balance out the harder training designed to over tax the body to build size and strength.
A little less than two months out from the Iron Eagle Pro Qualifier. When the alarm went off a 3 am this morning I got out of bed feeling really sore from the extra reps I got on Thursday. I got to bed a little passed my normal time last night, and I was still feeling tired this morning. I decided to take advantage of the fact that it is Saturday and got back into bed. I woke up again at 5 am without the alarm clock. I got out of bed still feeling sore, but I was no longer tired. I didn't really feel like getting busy with my morning ritual though. Thankfully this doesn't happen often, but it does happen.
Sometimes when you don't feel like working out it's just laziness, and sometimes your body needs to rest. Best way I've found to determine which is which is to get started. If after five minutes you're still dragging and don't feel like it, pack it up and go rest. If after five minutes things start to flow, you've saved your workout. It felt good to get it done this morning. When this happens so will you. Feel good about getting your workout done even though you didn't feel like it. For success is built from the bricks of many such small victories.
I was in one of those big box bargain stores yesterday looking at books. 60 Days to six pack abs, lose a pound a day for the next 21 days, and many more with equally fantastic sounding titles. They all had a common theme of some fitness goal to be achieved in "Biggers Loser" like light speed. Utterly ridiculous and misleading in my opinion. Fitness is a road not a destination. You can call them fitness goals, but it is better to think of them as fitness milestones. You reach a milestone and you continue to the next. Reach the goal of a six pack in 60 days and then what? What is common from a herculean effort to achieve a super transformation in 60 or 90 days is exhaustion. Crossing the finish line with arms raised in victory, but needing to sit down and rest. Often this sitting and resting lingers far too long, and what was quickly gained is quickly lost.
There is a more excellent way. Fitness starts the very day you make even one positive change to improve your health and continue in it. The effect of years of many positive small changes consistently held will eventually yield the abs, the leanness, and the healthiness promised by all the bestselling books of today. You just can sell that though. It is just not sexy enough. It is slower, but it is also sure and longer lasting.
A 90 day shock and awe campaign to get things started is fine, but keep in mind that it's the benefits of a fitness lifestyle that you are really seeking. Work to put some pieces in place so that when the initial challenge is done you continue along the path of fitness.