Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Body by Science Session 7: Some Progress Despite Halving Rest Time

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 27th July

Seventh BBS Big 5 session:

Week 8*Week 7*Week 6Week 5Week 4Week 3Week 2Week 1
Seated Row120
Chest Press95
Overhead Press60
601:28601:37601:49601:37601:38601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press310
3002:012903:242802:12260-2503:02230, 2704.312002:57
Total Time
14 mins25 mins25 mins22 mins28 mins27 mins
Rest period
11 days6 days8 days7 days7 days8 days
Finally finding the sweet spot for leg press. Much less rest, so not surprised by overhead press suffering. Previous week's overhead press gains may have been due to slower reps. First real signs of progress now that I have stability on the weights.
Still finding it hard to judge the right weight for leg press.Struggled to find right weight for leg press. Still finding the correct weight for all exercises.Had to change weight with overhead because misjudged it.

TUL = Time Under Load; Red = got worse; Blue = improved; Black = weight changed

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled eggs + strawberries, one hour later.

Total Time: 14 minutes.

This week I was sans training partner, so I was able to whistle through the exercises with 60-90 seconds rest between each.

Surprisingly, despite slashing the total workout time in half, I still made progress on chest press and did not disgrace myself on the pulldowns, which I always find particularly taxing as the third exercise.

Another important factor may be the rest time - since I have just returned from a 10-day holiday, this session took place 11 days after the previous one. I have created a 'rest period' row in the table so I can also monitor this.

I suspect the real casualty of the reduced rest period was shoulder press, where I once again appear to have lost ground. However, I intend to be patient with this one. Clearly, as Don pointed out in the comments on session 6, this exercise uses the same muscles as chest press, so there is an inevitable effect of the exercise sequence. Next week I will be back to the normal resting time and it will be interesting to see the TUL for OH press.

I am finally getting to grips with leg press - I have the right seat setting, am sticking to wearing the Vibram Five Fingers during these sessions and seem to have found my weight at around 300 lbs. Still not quite in the sweet spot, but 310 lbs next time should get me there.
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Sprints, Hikes and Swims in the Pyrenées

Location: Val d'Azun, The Pyrenées, France
Date: 20th - 23rd July, 2009
Day 1 - Sprints and a Hike
Having been in Paris for a few days at the start of our trip, I was due for some intense exercise. I was conscious that I would be doing a lot of hiking in the Pyrenées, but nevertheless wanted to do some hill sprints. So I chanced it and did some intervals on the first morning.

With each successive interval, I progressed my way up this shaded path (which looks flat but was actually a significant incline)...

...and did a last one on this grassy clearing.

The intervals were:

10 - 15 seconds (60 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (60 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (120 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (90 seconds rest)
10 - 15 seconds (90 seconds rest)
30 seconds

Total time: 8 minutes, followed by a light jog downhill to return.

I finished off with the two stretches recommended by Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint (sitting on your haunches and hanging), which took about a minute.

This was the first sprinting I had done in my newly acquired Vibram Five Fingers Flow shoes - and it went fine.

Later, we went for a 5-hour hike, when I wore my Vibrams again - for the first time on a hike.

It was supposed to be 3 hours, but we went somewhat awry with our navigation. The paths failed to adhere to their supposed pattern on the map, so as map-reader-in-chief, I was not popular with Mrs M, who had psychologically budgeted for a lesser effort. It was also very hot.

We don't know the couple in this photo - I just thought it made a good shot. It was taken at 1600 metres, which was where we hiked to (from 1000).

Day 2 - Hike and a Swim
The hike was a two hour hike up to Lac de Gaube and back. The scenery was fantastic and the ground was a perfect further testing ground for hiking in the Vibrams, given the increased rockiness of the path. It proved to be an enlightening experience - it totally changes your approach to walking. There are certainly trade-offs - you can't just stomp down with your heel with every stride...but I loved it. More on the this in a separate post.

At the lake it behooved me to have a dip, in spite of the coldness of the water. I sprint swam to roughly where the darker blue water starts, then sprint swam back. By the time I got back, perhaps a minute later, the cold was already starting to bite. I was treating this as training for September when I want to swim across the lake at Buttermere, which is about 300 metres at the narrowest point.

Day 3 - Speed-Hike and 'Assault Course'
In the morning I couldn't resist speed-hiking part of the route we hiked to on the first day. We had found bilberries there and I was determined we would have more for breakfast.

The whole trip took 90 minutes, including 30 minutes of picking. There were points where my heart rate probably strayed above 75% of my max (135-ish), but for the most part I kept it in the 55%-75% recommended in the Primal Blueprint. I checked this by stopping and counting the beats for 10 seconds then multiplying by 6. Crude but adequate.

I ran back down, but of course this was easy from a cardiovascular perspective - although more of a challenge in terms of foot placement. As I mentioned earlier, with the Vibrams you can't just blunder forward with heel-first foot strikes.

After breakfast, we went to an 'adventure' centre. Here they have created a tree-top playground with zip slides, rope ladders, nets and other more sophisticated assault course challenges. There were difficulty levels from green up to black. Here are some of the 'red run' challenges:

Mrs M persevered until about halfway through the red run. We were, of course, attached to an overhead cable via a harness at all times, so there was no danger of death unless we failed to follow procedure. But much of the action took place at 30 or more feet above ground and this made her nervous. Also, there was an increasing need for upper body strength to complete the challenges. The challenge two pictures up was where she bowed out.

I then sought permission from the supervisors to try the 'black' run. There are some pictures of this below. Now that Mrs M has the camera, we have shots of me actually doing it.

This last one was a killer. By now I was starting to get muscular fatigue. Moving from rope to rope required me to support my weight with one arm because I had to remove and add both feet from/to the foot-discs at the same time or they would immediately tip.

I was on the course for 3 hours.
Day 4 - Light Hike
On the final day we hiked to another lake, where my desire to swim was thwarted by a sign warning about something we could not entirely decipher. There was clearly some kind of dam at one end so we supposed it was theoretically possible to get sucked down if you were stupid enough to swim at that end.

It did occur to me to have a sneaky dip at the far end without any danger whatsoever, but Mrs M's reaction to this proposition indicated it would be more trouble that it was worth. This was the river leading out of the lake (behind me when I was taking the photo.)

As I say - the Vibrams were a big hit. I hardly took them off all holiday. More on that in a future post.

One thing that struck me about this 4-day exercise stint: I never felt run down. I attribute this to two things: better sleep, less stress. This has brought home to me the value of these things.
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Thursday, 16 July 2009

Body by Science Session 6: Did My Vibrams Affect Leg Press?

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 16th July

Sixth BBS Big 5 session:

Week 7*Week 6*Week 5Week 4Week 3Week 2Week 1
Seated Row120
Chest Press95
Overhead Press60
601:37601:49601:37601:38601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press300
2903:242802:12260-2503:02230, 2704.312002:57

TUL = Time Under Load; Red = got worse; Blue = improved; Black = weight changed

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled organic eggs + strawberries + cinnamon, one hour later.

Total Time: 25 minutes.

I was only 6 days since the last session this time, but I did feel rested nevertheless.
Shoulders Problems
I am making nice progress on the pulling exercises, as you can see, but shoulders continue to be a problem. I can't get past the third rep, and suspect that I improved TUL last week by doing the movement more slowly. Next time I will get my training partner to ease me through the sticking point, the see whether the following week I improve the unassisted time.
Vibram Five Fingers
I still haven't cracked the leg press. I though I was approaching the right weight for the 90-120 seconds BBS sweet spot, but it all went wrong this time. During the set I found myself wondering if I was ever going to fail.

Two possible reasons:
  1. I think I got the seat setting wrong - so the range of movement was less, which would make it easier.
  2. I was wearing my Vibram Five Fingers for the first time. I noticed my calf muscles were hit much harder than usual, so perhaps my quads were getting more assistance?
Mountains and Swims
It will be 12 days before the next session because I am going on holiday to the Pyrenese. I hope to return with photos and tales of mountain excursions and wild early morning swims.
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Monday, 13 July 2009

Swimming HIIT Session - In and Out in 7 Minutes

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre Swimming Pool, Aston University
Date: 13th July

5 x Front crawl length, 100% effort, 30 - 60 seconds rest between each

Total time: 7 minutes

Post Workout Nutrition: scrambled egg, kiwi and cinnamon, an hour later.

This was tough. I genuinely gave each length everything I had, making a point of throwing every bit of aggression I could muster into the final metres even when I was running out of steam.

I used to do tabata front crawl sprints which seemed somehow easier, but I think if I am honest about the tabatas, I was not really going 100% at the start because I knew I had 7 more to go.

Having just finished Mark Sisson's The Primal Blueprint (review on Pay Now Live Later) I am newly motivated to exercised at that I am being chased by a wild animal level.

For the rest of the day I was at the cusp of feeling as if I had overdone it, but ultimately pulled through. BBS session 6 on Thursday so plenty of rest for a couple of days.
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Friday, 10 July 2009

Body by Science Session 5: Verifiable Progress

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

Fifth BBS Big 5 session:

Week 6*Week 5*Week 4Week 3Week 2Week 1
Seated Row115
Chest Press95
Overhead Press60
601:49601:37601:38601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press290
2802:12260-2503:02230, 2704.312002:57

TUL = Time Under Load; Red = got worse; Blue = improved; Black = weight changed

Post Workout Nutrition: none - fasted until dinner.

Total Time: 25 minutes.

This BBS workout was actually 8 days since the last one, for practical reasons. As you can see, I improved on the three exercises for which the weight remained the same...and the TUL for those on which the weight was increased was certainly good enough to imply improvement.

So I have noted that it's possible 8 days is a better recovery time. However, I will continue with 7 days for the time being.

I wasn't sure whether to do legs this time, after the hammering they got on my recent mountain walk/run; but they did feel fine this morning so I risked it - and I'm pleased to report that it felt like the right decision once I got into the exercise.

Since I exceeded 2 minutes on chest press, pulldown and leg press, I will increase the weights next week to the values under week 6 in the table. It can be difficult to judge the correct weight increase, as demonstrated by my continued failure to get my leg press TUL below 2 minutes.

I am also finding pulldowns tricky to judge. During the set it's tempting to think that as long as I get close to my chest with the bar, I haven't reached positive failure. I then have to decide how close I must get it to my chest for it to count as a valid rep.

That aside, I feel this has been the first week where genuine, verifiable progress has been made.
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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Skiddaw Fell (Mountain) Race 2009 - A Gruelling Walk

Location: Skiddaw, The Lake District, UK
Date: 5th June, 2009

I have run this race in previous years, and it has been a pretty gruelling affair: 90 minutes of sometimes relentless plodding ascent, followed by bone shattering free-wheeling back down the hard slate paths. Yet what superb views, clean air and an all round great experience.

So this year I resolved to take part but walk. This does not always put you at quite the disadvantage you think, given that beyond a certain steepness, trying to run is self-defeating and walking is the more efficient mode.

I wanted to keep my heart rate in the 55-75 range, as suggested my Mark Sisson in the Primal Blueprint (full review coming soon on Pay Now Live Later). The idea is to reap the benefits of low level cardio without the damage of higher level, 'steady state' cardio.

So here is a brief account of the race in pictures and my battle with a septuagenarian for not quite last place.

An hour before the race I ate this. Stewed pieces of offcuts from a set of lamb organs I chopped up the day before and cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Basically just protein and fat. Looks gross, but tasted great, even though it was cold.

This is the start. This shot gives you an idea of the number of people participating. About 150 total. Only the real enthusiasts do this race. At this point I was beginning to realise that whilst on other races walking vigorously might keep you two thirds of the way down the field, it was not going to happen here.

Some great views on the way up...

This was the 70+ guy I was following, or who was following me. Before the start we chatted briefly when he spotted I was carrying a camera. He told me that on his last race a young man had kept stopping to take photos, allowing him to overtake - only to then catch him up again immediately afterwards. You have to take your hat off to someone who can run up and down a 3000 foot mountain at that age.

...and sure enough, the same happened with me. In this photo he can't be seen because he is now behind me. This was the start of the worst ascent, Jenkin Hill. It takes 20 - 30 minutes to get up. There is simply no relief from the gradient during that time. Some run, some walk, some alternate between the two. Either way, by the time you get to the top, you have invariably used a chunk of reserve. I was deliberately trying to keep my heart rate low by throttling effort, but at times I think it well exceeded 75. I just wanted to get to the top so it would be over.

Looking back at the valley from near the top of Jenkin Hill.

After a while, you start to see the front runners careening back down. It's a good idea to get out of their way - a head-on at that speed would cause some damage. I couldn't help scrutinising their faces with a sense of fascination - I can remember what it felt like to be running the race at that intensity. Most had their own distinct pattern of dried saliva on their face, some were grunting from the impact of the descent and most had an expression of grim determination.

There's a flat section between Jenkin Hill and the final ascent - in the distance is Skiddaw. I had underestimated the length of this and other previous flat sections, and lost a lot of ground to the runners here.

This was the view as I approached the top...

...and the view at the start of the descent. I allowed gravity to take me down. This meant I was walking some sections and running pretty fast on certain sections - but I was not making any effort to attain that speed; but the effort of controlling myself - i.e. avoiding spinning out of control - was at times significant. I do wonder how fast my heart was beating.

Finally, the finish - this the view from behind the line after I had come in. As you can see, there was no one there at this point! A total of three more came in eventually, I think, including the septuagenarian, for whom, perhaps, the descent necessarily had to be taken a little slower.

How did my energy fare with the almost zero-carb pre-race food? Pretty good.

I felt less destroyed than on previous races where I had run - but it was not the walk in the park I had expected.

I think I am going to buy a heart rate monitor. Don't get me wrong - I don't plan to use it whenever I workout and start obsessing about keeping my heart rate down. I just want to get an instinctive feel for what it feels like to be exercising at certain levels.

...and in any case I like the idea of putting myself through this kind of experience now and again, even if I do stray into steady state mode. I did no training for the event, other than the sprinting, swimming and weight training of recent weeks. I consider it equivalent to a hunter gatherer having to move camp by travelling over some mountains quickly before it gets dark.
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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Body by Science Workout Week 4: Getting into the Sweetspot

Location: Woodcock Sports Centre, Aston University
Date: 2nd July

Fourth proper week on the BBS Big 5:

Week 5*Week 4*Week 3Week 2Week 1
Seated Row115
Chest Press90
Overhead Press60
601:37601:38601:4480, 700:35, 0:25
Leg Press260
260-2503:02230, 2704.312002:57

TUL = Time Under Load

Post Workout Nutrition: this, 60 minutes later.

Total Time: 22 minutes (shorter than usual due to skipping legs).

This week I skipped legs, due to the upcoming mountain race I talked about in the sprinting post earlier in the week.

I am going to highlight improvements in time for a given weight in blue, worse times in red, and where the weight has changed, leave it black.

As you can see, I improved on pulldowns and very slightly got worse on shoulder press.

The good news is that all exercises are now more or less in the 90 - 120 second sweet spot and I am starting to get that 'feel' for exercises and the dynamics of the effort. I feel ready to make some progress.

As you can see, the only weight I plan to change for next week is an additional 5lbs onto pulldowns since I exceeded two minutes on that exercise.
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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

ROM - Gimmick or Ahead of it's Time?

Remember this?

I was today reminded of its existence by this post on Real World Strength Training.

The ROM looks and feels like a marketing scam; but having in recent years embraced the HIT concept and in recent months read Body by Science and started putting into practice the 8 - 12 minutes per week concept, suddenly I am looking at the claims of ROM's makers in a different light.

Has anyone ever seen or used one of these things? I am now wondering whether my perception of the product, based on the sensationalist marketing and low quality website, as a gimmick or scam, is unfair. Could it actually a product with some merit?

I haven't had time to look at ROM website in detail, but thought I'd throw this out there for comments... ... Read more