Tuesday, 30 June 2009

10-Minute Sprint Session - True Value for Effort

Location: Outside My Apartment, Birmingham, UK
Date: 30th June

4 x 10-15 second sprints. 30 - 90 seconds rest between.

Total time: 10 minutes.

Post Workout Meal: none - I fasted until dinner.

It's about 800 metres round our block. After a brief warm-up indoors, I sprinted for 10-15 seconds, then walked while I rested, then sprinted some more. I did this until I got back to the start. Turned out this was 4 sprints.

I am reading The Primal Blueprint at the moment and it inspired me to do a bit of sprinting between Body by Science sessions this week. The great thing about sprinting is the sheer value you can get from such a short time and the fact you can do it anywhere, anytime. I had 20 minutes spare this morning and I turned the whole deal around in that time.

Of course the thing that makes sprinting so good is the high intensity. I find it helps me to imagine I am being chased by a wild animal or dangerous human. During the final 5 or 10 seconds I try to give it absolutely everything I have, which often results in some audible grunting. Fortunately it is usually too early for anyone worth worrying about to be around.

I also make a point of stopping before my legs become exhausted. For years my legs were in a permanent state of semi-fatigue from assuming that unless I ran until my legs were like rubber I would not get fitter.

Recently I have preferred swimming between BBS workouts because it does not leave my legs as weakened and threaten recovery; but I am going to omit the leg press from Thursday's BBS session as
on Sunday I am taking part in a mountain run (Skiddaw in the English Lake District.) So it was an opportunity to sprint yesterday without worrying about recovery for a Thursday leg workout.

In previous years I have run Skiddaw - but this this year I will be walking, now that I eschew steady state cardio. I still think I can perform relatively well given the terrain - I will explain more about that when I post an account the race and hopefully some good photos.

Depending on how I feel afterwards, I may also skip leg extensions on the following BBS session. Whether running or walking, ascending and descending 931 metres over a 9-mile course in under 2 hours is going to cause some damage.

...and since Doug McGuff & John Little talk about much longer periods of rest that a week sometimes being necessary, I am comfortable with that. It will be interesting to see how I perform when I return to the exercise.
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Thursday, 25 June 2009

Body by Science Workout Week 3 - Important Rules and Lessons Learned

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 25th June

Third proper week on the BBS Big 5:

Week 4* Week 3 *Week 2Week 1
Seated Row115
Chest Press90
Overhead Press60
601:38601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press270
2503:02230, 2704.312002:57

TUL = Time Under Load

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 100 minutes later.

Total Time: 28 minutes

I am still getting used to this routine. I wanted to start seeing progress by week 3, but there are too many variables to stabilise for it to be possible to gauge it properly just yet. Some good lessons and rules established or learned this week:
  1. Decide next week's weights this week: I will decide what weight to do the following week at the end of each session rather than the start of the next one, so the experience is still fresh in my mind and I can make a more recently informed decision.
  2. Train in the sweet spot: I am not training in the 90 - 120 seconds sweet-spot range for chest press. I should have dropped the weight from last week but chose not to, assuming that an immediate strength gain would take me into the sweet-spot. In fact I was a few seconds less on the TUL. Next week I will drop the weight, as you can see in the week 4, planned column.
  3. Have a rule for when to increase the weight: I will increase the weight only when TUL gets higher than 2 minutes for an exercise.
  4. Get a feel for the exercises: this week is the first I have really got a feel for how I want to perform these exercises - the speed and effort at different points of the movement, and how to ensure it is slow and controlled. So next week I will feel able to replicate that.
  5. Record the equipment settings: I recorded the positions of the seats and other mechanisms for each machine, so I can ensure that is also consistent from week to week.
  6. Record total workout time: this variable will obviously dramatically affect performance. Currently my training partner and I are watching each other do each exercise. In a couple of weeks, when we both feel comfortable with timing ourselves and how to perform the exercise, we will just follow each other from machine to machine, effectively reducing the rest time to nothing. Naturally there will be a downward jump in performance, more pronounced later in the workout.
The pulldowns time was a guess last week anyway because I forgot to start the timer, so I am not too concerned about the apparently worse performance.

Last thought: I felt more comfortable with legs this week. It was still very painful, but I think I am mastering it. I will keep adding weight until I get below 2 minutes, but am hoping the extra 20 pounds will do it next week.
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Monday, 22 June 2009

Swimming Session (& How to Get Rid of Lifeguards)

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University
Date: 22nd June

8 x Underwater length, 30-60 seconds minutes rest between each

About 1 minute rest

2 x Front crawl length, 100% effort, roughly 30 seconds rest between each

Total time: 15 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: this an hour later.

It was nice to get back to an intense workout and pure breakfast after the mayhem of last week's binge.

Amusingly, the lifeguard dude approached me today after my fourth underwater length and said

Do you mind me asking what's going on with the underwater swimming, mate? It's just making me nervous.

I told him that I'd done it before and was not going to drown on him. I started explaining that it was a good way to get some intensity to a workout without muscle fatigue, but before I could get into why I wanted to avoid muscle fatigue (Body by Science etc) and the supposed growth hormone release of breath holding, he developed a glazed expression, and quickly said

No worries then

before rapidly withdrawing to his perch.

Note to self: to get rid of pesky lifeguards, and other fitness establishment attendants, try telling them about the latest fitness thinking. Works like a charm.

Oh - and I've updated the underwater lengths page to include some stuff I do around hyperventilation before each length, posing the question, is it a waste of time?
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Thursday, 18 June 2009

'Real' BBS Week 2 - Iterating Towards the Right Weights

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 18th June

Second proper week on the BBS Big 5:

Week 2Week 1
Seated Row1002:15803:08
Chest Press1001:17901:28
Overhead Press601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press230, 2704.312002:57

TUL = Time Under Load

Post Workout Nutrition
: chicken, nuts and raw broccoli + cauliflower, 5 hours later.

Total Time: 27 minutes

As you can see, I am 'settling down' with the correct weights - but I still have problems with the leg press. I had to shift the weight upwards after about 3 minutes because it seemed like I would never reach failure. My training partner pointed out I was driving past the sticking point too quickly, rather than maintaining a consistent, slow speed, so this may also have contributed. It is also difficult to know how far to push out before starting to 'lower' the weight. With these standard machines the quads seem to get a rest even when not fully locked out so I am inclined to reduce my range of movement. I will take another look at the book, which does cover this.

One other minor mishap this time was that I forgot to start my timer before the pulldowns. So that time is a guess.

I have started recording the total session time. This last time it was 15 minutes. This time it was 27 minutes, because I had my training partner with me and he doesn't have his own timer at the moment.

Clearly the speed with which you transition between exercises affects the intensity of the session and the likely strength on all but the first exercise. We plan to be more efficient once we are 'in the groove' so that I can move onto the next exercise while he is performing the previous one.
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Thursday, 11 June 2009

Week 1 of 'Real' Body By Science Workout - Ouch!

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 10th June

First proper week on the BBS Big 5:

Week 1
ExerciseEstimated LbsLbsTUL
Seated Row60803:08
Chest Press50901:28
Overhead Press4080, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press1502002:57

TUL = Time Under Load

Post Workout Nutrition
: this, 45 minutes later.

The Estimated Lbs were the weights I guessed at on Monday. As you can see I was quite wide of the mark in most cases - once I started each set it became obvious I had misjudged how long it's possible to continue a set for for a given weight, so I quickly adjusted the weight upwards.

Even with these adjustments, the only one I got absolutely right was Chest Press. I messed up with Overhead Press by going to failure on a weight that was way too heavy, so doing it again with a lighter weight that was still too heavy. I think I will go for about 60lbs next time.

Three key lessons from the session:

1. Getting the right weight: it will take a few sessions to settle on the right weight and be in a position to gauge real progress.

2. The machines do matter: Doug McGuff talks about Nautilus machines being the best for this because the resistance they produce changes at different points in the muscle contraction to make it a smooth movement and preventing the typical sticking points from hampering progress. I was acutely aware on Leg Press and Overhead Press of these sticking points, so it is clear that the Cybex machines at my current gym are sub optimal.

3. It hurts! I had forgotten how painful going to failure can be. Once I am used to the intensity again, no doubt it will become like a friend.

Funny how things can see-saw - when I first started training it was machines. Then it had to be free weights and it was all about going to failure during absurd bodybuilding routines. Then I was determined to avoid failure and stick to bodyweight routines without failure. Now I am back on the machines, going to failure. The truth is out there...
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Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Preparation for REAL BBS Workout &Elliptical Tabata

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 8th June

Light Bodyweight Activity
Swing-Assisted, Uneven Muscle Up - 1
Basketball rollout experiment - balancing the hands on a second medicine ball
Tuck Front Lever - slowly into position, held just for a few seconds, then slowly out

BBS Preparation
Then on each of these exercises I tested a few different weights to establish which one would take me about 90 seconds to reach failure (see videos below for how these exercises are done):

Seated Row (60lbs)
Chest Press (50lbs)
Pulldown (90lbs)
Overhead Press (40lbs)
Leg Press (150lbs)

Finisher: Tabata intervals on elliptical machine. Enforced 60% effort.

Post Workout Nutrition: Had planned to wait until dinner, but 4 hours later gave in and had this. Not something I am proud of, since that crappy chicken from supermarkets undoubtedly had a pretty ropey life.

Okay, so now I know the real deal on the Body by Science workouts. My previous workout diary entries, billed as Body by Science workouts 1, 2 and 3 were not really BBS workouts, which I did mention at the time.
Correct Body By Science Technique
Yes, I was...

1. Limiting myself to once-weekly strength training
2. Sticking to one set of 5 major compound exercises that covered the whole body

...but having read further in the book I now know that

3. Taking each exercise to absolute failure over a 1-2 minute period
4. Measuring progress according to increasing the TUL (Time Under Load) for a given weight
5. Spending at least 5 seconds on the 'up' and 'down' of each rep

...are also key.

I have now posted a full reference to the Body By Science Big 5 Workout under the circuits category, including videos of Doug McGuff doing the exercises. Body by Science Big 5 Workout.

So today, I decided I would play this by the book and buy into the whole deal - which means also using machines rather than free weights, as this makes controlling each exercise easier. I won't go into the detail here. I will perhaps cover an aspect of the rationale in future posts.

So I now have a plan for Wednesday, when my first REAL Body by Science workout will take place.
Bodyweight Exercises
In the meantime, today I did what you are supposed to do between BBS workouts, which was some light 'skills' work - in my case bodyweight exercises. I just wanted to confirm I can still do a muscle up, albeit with swinging and that the front lever is no less taxing than before. The basketball rollout experiment, by the way, was extremely taxing. I was not able to perform the movement itself - simply trying to balance on two balls was a challenge in itself - try it.
Elliptical Tabata - Don't Bother!
Since it was a day for experimenting with new ideas, I also tried tabata intervals on the elliptical machine. My rationale was this: it employs several major muscle groups through the pushing, pulling and leg movements. Swimming and rowing also do this, and I find them to be excellent tabata exercises because I can reach high intensity without fatiguing a particular muscle - just what we are looking for in an activity between BBS workouts.

However, the nature of these elliptical machines is such that it takes too long to get up to full effort and then down again for tabata or any other serious interval work to be possible. The use of momentum-based mechanisms means that it's almost as much effort to slow the damn things down as it is to get them going - by the time I got it to stop my 10 seconds rest was up!

Well, obviously, I hear many of you cry. Okay - I guess I didn't think that one through :)

More on Wednesday.
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Thursday, 4 June 2009

Poor Sleep Leads to Lacklustre BBS Week 3 Workout

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 4th June

1 set of Raise-assisted handstand push ups (2 plates) - 5 reps, 1 failure (more or less same as last week)
1 set of Weighted chin ups - 5 reps @23.75kg (same as last week but harder last rep)
1 set of pistols - 7 on each leg (didn't do last week)
1 set of Dumbbell Bench Press - 5 @32kg, a sixth with help (2 FEWER reps than last week)
1 set of Basketball rollouts - 10 (same as last week)
1 set of Romanian Deadlift - 3 reps @125kg (5kg more than last week but 2 fewer reps)

Finisher: Rowing intervals: 3 x 1 minute@100%, 1 minute rest between.

Total Time: 25 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: None - still eating one meal a day in the evenings.

I was knackered when I walked into the gym today so was not surprised when I performed no better than last week. In fact I was weaker on bench press - but this may be because I skipped legs last week which comes directly before.

The problem might be 5 consecutive nights of poor sleep. I suspect this destroyed any gains that may otherwise have been realised by the plan I am following. See the week 1 post for details.

The rowing was an afterthought. I was so annoyed at feeling weak, I decided to take it out on the rowing machine. After the 5 minutes was up, the gym supervisor kindly popped my eyeballs back in their sockets. The bloody minded part of me had decided I would punish my body for not letting me sleep and perhaps tire it out so much that I would definately sleep tonight...

Tiredness aside, now that I am into chapter 4 of Body by Science, I am starting to realise that this workout only shares a few characteristics with BBS:

- I am training once per week.
- I am sticking to 5 compound exercises.

There is a whole area around set and rep execution I am about to read about. This may lead to a very different week 4 workout. In the meantime I must decide whether to do any non-strength workouts in the intervening time. If my sleep continue to be this poor I cannot see it would be a great idea.
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Monday, 1 June 2009

Swimming HIT Session

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University
Date: 1st June

4 x Front crawl length, 100% effort, roughly 30 seconds rest between each

About 2 minutes rest

3 x Underwater length, 1-2 minutes rest between each

Total time: 15 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: none - still running on this from last night. In any case, I am experimenting with one meal per day at the moment - I will blog about this on PNLL soon.

This was a bit more structured than the session I did two weeks ago. But I have come to realise that the way this pool is set up, I will never be able to determine exactly the intervals between lengths - there are simply too many people in each 'section' swimming clockwise lengths at a slow pace. It's the swimming equivalent of a row of cardio machines.

So I kind of jumped in and out of the plodding rotation at moments when I could do a sprint length or underwater length without catching the person in front. This is exactly the kind of randomness we should welcome. The important thing is that I left the pool feeling like I had swum for my life.

I've said it before, but I will say it again - front crawl sprints, if you can do them, can be better even than running sprints.

With running sprints, I always feel like my legs give up before my lungs. Maybe I am not so good at balancing my workouts - my squats or box jumps may interfere; whatever the reason, with front crawl sprints, you can drive all four limbs with maximum effort but seemingly not fatigue any one of them preferentially.

If I had done 4 running sprint intervals at 100% with 30 seconds rest between, my legs would have felt it all day. Today they felt fine. I certainly won't stop running sprints - but will continue to judiciously use swimming as an alternative when my legs need some recovery time.

Was I Allowed to Workout This Intensely Today?

This was a 'filler' workout between my once-weekly Body by Science workouts. I explained a bit about why I am doing BBS here. I have just read chapter 1 of the book. What I am not yet clear on is how intense the between-workout sessions can be. When I get to that part of the book, I will let you know.
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