Lifting Philosophy

29 Mar

When one is talking or writing about lifting there are three levels that you can focus on.  The most granular level is execution, how should you perform the movement?  Stuff like hand positioning and back arch in the bench press, initiating a turkish get up with a hip roll, or keeping your knees out during a squat are all at the execution level.  The next level above that is programming, which exercises should you do, how often should you do them, and at what intensity?  A huge proportion of fitness writing is focused on these sorts of questions, dumbell vs barbell bench, 5 sets of 5 vs 3 sets of 8 vs 8 sets of 3,  supinated vs pronated grip pullups.  Questions such as these are all important to consider, and I will write extensively about my opinions on them in the future.  Today however I wanted to discuss the third, most general, level that I like to refer to as the strategic or philosophical level.  This basically boils down to, given a goal or set of goals, what is the most effective style of training to achieve that goal or goals.

In my case I have 3 general goals.  First, achieve and maintain a high level of absolute strength, second, remain explosive and flexible enough to perform basic to intermediate gymnastics and bodyweight movements, and third, maintain body fat and symmetry at a level where I can be “stage-ready” with a maximum of three months notice.  I don’t think anyone would argue that these aren’t fairly common goals amongst the gym-going population.  Pretty much everybody wants to be stronger, more athletic, and leaner/more muscular.  Thus, even though the particulars of my training may be excessive for many people, largely due to the outlier nature of my specific goals, the principles that I consider when I make my programming decisions should be applicable to a wide range of trainees.

There are the three principles that form the basis of my personal lifting philosophy.

  1. Big, compound movements should be the focus of your programming, and the majority of your energy should be spent performing them.
    For the natural, i.e. not drug enhanced, lifter there is a plethora of research to support the assertion the the most effective way to gain strength and add muscle tissue is by moving heavy weights over a relatively large distance.  Say you take two genetically identical trainees, have trainee A do nothing but bench presses and weighted pullups, and have trainee B do nothing but dumbell bicep curls and tricep extenstions over a 6 month timespan.  After those 6 months their arm sizes will be very similar, but trainee will have also developed a more muscular chest,  a thicker back, and wider shoulders.  I’m not advocating completely ignoring bicep curls, because I do bicep curls and calf raises and other exercises that are considered useless by the “functional” exercise crowd.  However, you can be damn sure that by the time I bust out my Fat Gripz and start getting my glory swole on I’ve already spent some serious quality time with the pull-up bar.
  2. To progress beyond a certain level, you must perform exercises in the sub-5 rep range with maximal effort.

    After a trainee has been lifting seriously for 6-12 months they will have exhausted most, if not all, of their “newbie gains”.   At this point if you want to get bigger and stronger you’ll need to increase your maximal strength, and the only reliable way to do that is by lifting at or near your strength limits.  This is, at best, an acquired taste.  Doing a 1 or 3 rep set to (technical) failure hurts, the first few times you do go that hard it’ll hurt in a variety of new and exciting ways.  But it’s the only way to force your body to adapt to higher loads.  Lifting this heavy every time is not advised, even the most powerlifting focused templates, particularly Westside and 5/3/1, incorporate significant lifting at higher rep ranges.

  3. Supplements will never, ever, be an effective substitute for a high protein, whole food, diet.

    This isn’t truly a lifting principle, but proper nutrition and recovery are absolutely essential to get the most out of your time in the gym.  As the saying goes, you can’t out-train a shitty diet, and no amount of creatine and BCAAs will turn a shitty diet into a good one.  I’m not saying that you should avoid everything that comes in pill bottles and plastic tubs.  I am an evangelical user of vitamin D and fish oil, appreciate the convenience of whey protein powder, and have even begun to dabble in pre-workout.  But if you asked me to choose between those, and my egg, chicken, and steak habit I would take the more conventional food without hesitation.  Supplements, when used appropriately, enhance a good diet.

Barring a major shift in goals, these are the principles that the fitness focused posts on this blog will reflect.


Time to blog?

27 Mar

I guess it’s probably time for me to get around to explaining why I started this blog, and what I hope to accomplish.

The primary reason that I’ve started writing, is that outside of the 6 months leading up to a national election my job is pretty boring.  It’s easy to get pumped up for a Presidential, or even a couple good Senate races, but the day to day of building databases is real fucking dull.  I’ll probably write a post in the near future about why I’m not particularly interested in any of the 2013 races, but suffice it to say that I’m going to be able to budget a significant portion of my time and energy towards non-political pursuits over the next year or so.

Long story short, I’ve got to find something to do with my time, and working out is my major non-political interest.  I love the feel of a heavy barbell in my hands, I love the feeling of accomplishment after doing something I once thought impossible, and I really really love the endorphin saturated state a good hard workout puts me into.  The related incentive to eat a staggering amount of meat and eggs is a major bonus.

As most people who know me personally would agree, I’ve pretty much maxed out the amount of time I can spend at the gym.  That leaves thinking about the time I spend at the gym, something I already do a significant amount of.  Most of the aforementioned thinking just dissipates into the ether, occasionally manifesting itself into an acronym heavy gDoc laying out some rough programming, or an IM conversation with one of my equally fitness obsessed friends.  In the past I’ve found that forcing myself to write about a topic helps me to identify logical inconsistencies and solidify a path to implement my theories.  So ideally writing about lifting a few times a week will give me some insight into what I’m doing wrong, and maybe even what I’m doing correctly.

Once I’d decided that writing about lifting was going to be the most productive and beneficial use of my time, blogging seemed like the natural medium to do so.  One of my friends has been blogging about her experiences with distance running(, go check it out, she’s much better at this than I am), and she seems to find it helpful, so I’m hoping I do as well.  Also, I figure there is at least one person, MAYBE even 2 or 3, in my social circle who has an interest in lifting and is curious about what I do in the gym and why I do it.

That’s not to say that the sole topic of this blog will be fitness related.  It’s highly likely there will be the occasional post on beer, politics, or some really nerdy shit that I’ve been into lately.  Since I expect the daily readership of this blog to be essentially indistinguishable from the number of people that hit the link on Facebook/Twitter accidentally I’m going to use that as an excuse to write about whatever the hell I want to.

tl dr; Work boring, like lifting, writing about lifting helps lifting, why not blog?

Anabolic Cooking – Part 1

26 Mar

Since every fitness blog has to have posts on food, I guess I’ll jump on that bandwagon early.  I’m currently trying to rebuild the muscle I lost in my pre-show cut, so my current diet isn’t exactly clean, but it is very protein heavy.

My favorite bulk protein sources are chicken, and eggs.  they’re both relatively cheap, easily available, and there are lots of options when it comes to preparing them.   I want to emphasize that last point, because when you’re eating enough chicken and eggs at every meal to qualify as a minor poultry genocide, plain chicken and hard-boiled eggs can get real fucking boring, real fucking quick.

My favorite way to prep lots of chicken at once is to chop it up into bite-sized pieces, and cook it up in a big frying pan.  Before I dump the chicken in I’ll splash a bit of olive oil in, and add some seasoning.  It’ll look something like this.

IMAG0098For this batch of chicken I used black pepper, red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and a shitload of garlic powder.  I also shredded up some pepperoni, because this is a bulking phase and I like it.  It usually takes about 15-20 minutes to cook it through thoroughly.  I generally overcook it a bit, because I’m paranoid about food poisoning, and there is a non-zero chance that some of this chicken will spend a bit of time in my gym bag between refrigeration periods.  After I’ve cooked the chicken to death and let it cool for a bit I bag it for eating over the next few days.

IMAG0103I generally use a 1-cup measuring cup to parcel out the chicken for two reasons.  1) 1 cup of chicken seems like a reasonable amount to eat in a single sitting, and more importantly, 2) it was the first measuring cup I found in my kitchen.  I live in an epic multi-bachelor pad, I have no real excuse.  For the record I don’t really believe in food measuring/weighing under normal circumstances, this will be the subject of a future post.

Now that I’ve got a fridge full of ziploc bags of chicken, I get to eat it!  This particular concoction is perfect for breakfast.  I’ll whip up a few eggs in a bowl, and then dump in a baggie of chicken.  It looks like this.


Super appetizing, I know.  The laziest way to go, which is definitely the option I’m going to take pre-coffee, is to microwave the mixture for about 40 seconds at a time, stirring between zaps, until the eggs are mostly dry.  The eggs will come out hot enough that a noticeable amount of moisture will evaporate off by the time they’re cool enough to eat, so be careful not to over cook.  As soon as I’m satisfied that I’ve cooked the eggs thoroughly enough to ensure that I won’t get salmonella, I dump them onto a toasted english muffin and sprinkle some cheese on top.  The end result looks like this:

IMAG0106Attractive? No.  Best breakfast ever? No?  Massive pile of protein? Fuck yes.  And to be honest, that last one is what I really care about.


Hello World

25 Mar

I’m going to skip the traditional raison d’etre first post and just get right into a rant of the day.  I’m okay with doing this because this is my blog, nobody is going to read it anyways, and first and foremost my hip hurts.

It hurts real fucking bad.

I just got back from my first attempt at doing a real Deadlift workout in about 2 months.  During my preparation for my first bodybuilding contest, which will be the subject of at least one future post, I pulled most of the muscles in the low back/glute/hamstring chain on my right side and was unable to perform Deadlifts or Barbell Squats.  Now that I’ve spent a couple of weeks recuperating, and getting my blood sugar and body fat back above prison camp levels it seemed like a good idea to start lifting heavy again.

This did not go well.

I got up to 315, which is ~60% of my pre-cut 1RM, and was barely able to get it off the ground.  Grip felt fine, back felt fine, left leg felt fine, but my right hip was just lagging.  Lagging to the point that I could feel my pelvis fall out of level after 2 reps.  Because I’m stubborn, and kind of a moron sometimes(FYI, this will be a recurring theme on the blog), I kept lifting.  Sumo stance seemed to be slightly less excruciating, so I stuck with that, and ended up doing 11 reps over a total of 5 sets.

This was interspersed with a fair bit of grunting, groaning, gritted teeth, and over all shitty behavior.  Luckily the gym was mostly empty so nobody gave me too many dirty looks.

I finished the workout with some Bulgarian Split Squats, working up to 5@175, which made me feel better mentally, but may not have been the smartest idea I’ve ever had.

I’m going back tonight to do some accessory work, and one of my trainer buddies has promised to floss band my leg.  I may burst out in tears, and will certainly scream a little bit, but I’m hoping that I should be a little looser and healthier by the time I hit legs again on Thursday.

As I’m typing this my pre-workout/advil cocktail is wearing off and my IT band feels about as tight as a guitar string, so I’m going to stop writing before this post degenerates into a string of profanities.