Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Integrating the non-lifting part of training

Time to update how training is going, as I finally overcame my inertia an started training outdoors regularly (so the public park right in front of my home has again the odd show of a guy who twice a week paints a circle in a corner and jumps inside it to propel an iron ball as far away as possible, jogs dutifully to recover it and starts all over again). I could measure (with a surveyor tape I was given as a gift last Xmas) what I’m putting, and was somewhat disappointed, as I thought I would be above 13 meters, and I’m slightly under 12, not goddamn awful, but not regional championship level, as I hoped. Well, it is what it is, and better to know where I really stand than to fantasize in la-la-land. The good news is that I know what to strive for and that I have a means to reliably measure progress.

Unfortunately, that progress will need to be much slower than what I originally planned, as my “bad” knee is giving me some hard times. Although I’ve been shot putting twice a week for some weeks now, slowly increasing volume (number of total puts) and intensity (I’ve gone from using a 14 pounds shot to the official 16 pounder) I’ve reached a point where the joint not only aches an awful lot for the following 24 hours (something I can live with), but it gets quite inflamed, to the point I can not bend it more than 60-70º, impeding me to squat (although I could both power snatch and power jerk, so may be I could also work around it). Come to think about it, the motions I have to go through when shot putting are not the gentler one when you lack a meniscus, as when you are right handed (as I am) it is precisely the left knee the one that receives the full weight of the body after the initial jump, and then has to turn while it propels the shot. So as the absence of the meniscus let the condyles of the femur rest directly above the head of the tibia, the turning probably grates them (and whatever synovial fluid is still inside the joint) causing the subsequent inflammation and pain. A little doodle may help clarify:

Paraphrasing an unforgettable Secretary of Defense of the USA, you go to put with the body you have, not with the one you would like to have, so I’ll have to make do with this, crappy knee and all. Only I’ll reduce the number of total puts per week (I was doing 5 standing and 15 gliding twice a week, I’ll emphasize more the standing ones, as the lack of previous jump puts less pressure on the knee) and look for additional ways of increasing explosiveness (jumps to a box, and more jump squats). I’m not overly concerned by the lack of technique training, as I’ve seen when I’ve videotaped myself that my technique hasn’t degraded that much (I was concerned that, having bulked up in the upper body, my center of mass may have shifted slightly upwards, but it seems that my leg size has also grown, enough at least to compensate and allow me for the exact same pattern of movement). I did a back of the envelope calculation the other day, and I´ve probably putted more than 15,000 times in my life, so I would expect the motor pathways to be grooved enough by now.

Now a last reflection I wanted to share, and this is what the title of the post refers to, has to do with the integration of a more or less traditional lifting program and a more sports-oriented one (in my case it is shot putting, but it could be any other sport that benefits from having greater strength and coordination –that is, any other sport). As Jim Wendler used to say, when you put something in your training, assuming you were serious about it, you need to take something out. What a huge truth that is! Before I started to regularly put I was doing a 3-days a week split, but the two first days were so demanding that I always ended up splitting them in two so I could keep the intensity high enough, so my 3 training session somehow ended up being 5 sessions, like this:

Day 1.1
Day 1.2
Day 2.1
Day 2.2
Day 3
High Bar Back Squat: 5x8,7,6 as heavy as possible
Power snatch:
Alternating 5x2 w 8-10x1, as heavy as possible
Front Squat: 6x5,4,3 as heavy as possible
Power clean: Alternating 5x3 w 6x2 w 1-2 top singles
Jump squats: 5x3 w 50 kg
Close Grip Bench Press:  6x6,5,4 as heavy as possible
Behind the neck snatch grip push press: 5x5,4,3 as heavy as possible
Alt paused presses w 90% of what I used on day 1.1 with pin presses w 110% (keeping close grip)
Push press: 5x5,4,3 as heavy as possible
Farmer’s walk: 3-4 30 yds walks w 71 kg (in each hand)

Pull ups: 6x4 supersetted w push presses

Chin ups: 6x5 supersetted w push presses
Suitcase carries: 6-8 30 yds walks w 71 kg (use straps if needed)

First thing I tried to do was just insert the throwing & sprinting days right after day 1.2 and 2.2, so I would do some physical activity every single day of the week (a recommendation of James Steel for old guys like me: train every day, shorter, more intense sessions). Sounded great, worked horribly. Even before the bad knee started killing me most major muscle groups and joints were bitterly complaining (to a point in which I could not sleep well because of all the aches). And there was no way I could train every single day (there is this little thing called job, plus frantic dissertation writing, plus wife and kids wanting to do things together). So, nice as it looked on paper, I switched to a true 3-days a week lifting routine (reducing sets and reps, and not going so heavy) with 2 days for putting and sprinting, something like:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
High Bar Back Squat: 3x6 at a RPE 8
Back overhead trhrow: 5
Behind the neck snatch grip push press: 4x3 at RPE 8
Back overhead trhrow: 5
Jump squats: 5x3 RPE 5
Close Grip Bench Press: 4x5 at RPE 8
Standing put: 5
Alt pull ups w chin ups, 5 sets, 5th to failure
Standing put: 10
Clean & Jerk:
6x2 at RPE 9
Power Snatch: 5x2 kinda heavy
Gliding put: 15
Front squat: 4x4 at a RPE 6
Gliding put: 10
Farmer’s walk: 6-8 30 yds walks, as heavy as possible

Hill sprints: 10
Alt paused bench press and pin press (closed grip) 4x4 at RPE 7
Hill sprints: 10

Which seemed to work fine, until the problem with the knee showed up. I hope to alleviate it reducing the total number of throws per week (may be increasing a bit the sprints in exchange, I’ve found I had lost a lot of running capacity, and some fast running is good for the body AND for the soul), but probably it will be a bit of trial and error until I find more precisely what my body can withstand. The key lesson I’ve taken is that “as heavy as possible” (or “as fast as possible”, or “as long as possible”) takes a toll on the organism, and at my age I can afford to do it only so frequently, not certainly every single day.

So at least until September I intend to increase the total reps per week judiciously without adding much in the way of additional plates, even fractional ones, whilst trying to keep the total time per session constant (or even reduce it a little). The variable I will be manipulating, then, is density, trying to fit more volume (through increased reps) in the same time. If I succeed, I have zero doubts I will have grown stronger and, with a minimal transition, I will be hitting big numbers in the main lifts in the fall (when I’ll decide if I go for the planned weightlifting specialization, and seek some lessons from an experienced coach, or move back to powerlifting). 

Finally, I’ve also started to change my eating patterns, from “I’ll gobble up whatever I find in my vicinity, lack of hunger and awful satiety be damned!” to a more sensible “I’ll only eat to the point of feeling moderately satisfied”. I’ve started loosing some weight, but at this point I’d rather take some kilograms off the knee than hope that the additional mass may help me send the shot farther. As I already knew, but had not acknowledged forthrightly, joints (knees and ankles, even hips in some unfortunate cases) are the weakest link when it comes to bearing increased loads, and there are some aspects of health (having functionally, mobile joints is one of them) it is not worth to sacrifice for a marginally improved strength. 

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