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Mastery and Practice Part 2....lift calmly

Thursday, December 11, 2014

WOW! It's been 3 months since my last blog!! Who am I?!?!

Well, I am many things, but right now, I am a man fascinated by what our minds and bodies can accomplish when we are mentally and emotionally focused.

In my last blog (did I mention that it was written over 3 months ago!?!), I talked about how I wanted to shift my focus from "working out" in the gym to "practicing." Practicing lifting heavy things and swinging kettlebells. The disctinction being that when I go to the gym in a "working out" mentality, I go there with a set goal, I go there to tucker myself out, and I go there thinking, "OK, let me get in there in make it through this workout"

Many of you that have been my SP bud for a while now have known that I've been very enthusiastic about my workouts these past few years. I've enjoyed the hell out of lifting weights, kettlebell workouts, spin classes, you name it, I'll tear it up in the gym. I even competed in a bunch of amatuer Powerlifting Tournaments and finally passed the 1000 lb mark last June (see blog bit.ly/1nD2u5j )

But as the weights got heavier in training, I slowly came to dread going to the gym. The fears were momentary, fleeing in and out of consciousness as I walked to the gym and changed in the locker room. Crazy thoughts would pass across my mind; "Oh man, this one is going to hurt today" or "Sheesh, I don't know if I can lift XXX lbs today" or the perennial "Why am I doing this to myself?"

The next day, I'd proudly proclaim how I nailed a workout, how I loved being sore the day after, how satisfied I was with working to muscle failure



Next time, I'd go in anyway and lift hard. I created 1, 2, and 3-month long lifting plans, carefully cycling in weeks of heavy lifts interspersed with days of lighter "de-load" weeks. Some days I'd go in and nail the days' program, other days, I struggled and beat myself up for not making all the programmed lifts of the day. And God forbid I should get sick or not make it to the gym a certain day for that would throw off my entire program!

So about 3 months ago, after much reading (more on that later) and soul searching, I decided that I needed to change my approach. I needed to stop thinking about "getting in a workout" and to think about how to practice a skill. I wanted to shift away from making exercise a traumatic experience and to approach it like learning any other skill; playing an instrument, painting, or dancing....none of these are associated with physical pain, but each one improves with daily practice. Treat strength like a skill.

I've been reading a lot about daily practice, the idea that to get good at something you should do it every day. This is in sharp contrast to what I've read in mainstream media about how you should work each body part to failure on different days of the week, then, after 5-7 days when you're recovered, go back in and blast your legs, arms, chest, shoulders, etc. You do squats to failure on Monday, shocking your legs with an intensity that will cause them to adapt and grow, then spend the rest of the week doing the same to other body parts, giving your legs a break till next Monday, praying that the zombie apocalypse doesn't happen on Tuesday morning.


So lately, I've been reading a lot about how Russian and Bulgarian weight lifters train and it's very different (Oh my God, I may have to make amends to Stasi Guy!). Their concept is that you should develop the practice of lifting every day, getting your body accustomed to the movement through repetitive training. You pick the lifts you want to get good at and do them every day.

I also read a book called "Squat Every Day" by Matt Perryman. As its title suggests, he advocates the same approach based on his study of Russian and Bulgarian weight lifters. But he adds a few twists.

The first is to re-evaluate our whole concept of what fatigue and overtraining means. He asks, rightly, what part of us is fatigued...is it our muscles, is it our joints, or is it our nerves and emotions, our brain responding to the work.

The second twist is that he states that doing the same lifts every day leads to fewer injuries. Training the movements every day keeps our tendons, ligaments and joints in shape as much as our muscles.

The third and most important twist is to watch our emotional state of mind. That getting all revved up and anxious actually drains our energy and makes recovery even tougher. We should train in a calm state, clearing our minds, getting our bodies used to the heavy loads.

And that is the real key....to get used to lifting heavy weights on a regular basis so that they're not so traumatic when we go in to the gym.

So for the last 2 months, that's what I've been doing. I'm averaging 5-6 days/week going in and squatting, benching, overhead pressing, and deadlifting heavy weights.

Now the final twist, to make this sustainable, is to not go in and do 3 sets of 5 at a heavy weight. Instead, the point is to establish a "Daily Training Minimum" the lightest heavy load that I can go in on any given day and lift....one time.

For me that's about 85-90% of my max from my previous Powerlifting meet. I go in, do a few warm up sets building up to that daily training minimum....and I lift it one time.

Easy Breezy!

Over the course of a week, I'll have lifted that heavy weight about 5 times, not to mention all my warm-ups prior to it. On days I feel good, I might lift the weight 2 times (2 sets of 1 rep)

I spend a fair amount of time getting calm at the bar, getting into a relaxed state before I squat, press, or pull. I know that the whole purpose of picking the daily training minimum was so that I could go in on a good day, a bad day, a sick day, or a busy day and lift that weight one time. I remind myself of that...then just do it, focusing on getting the form right, staying calm, and exerting myself just enough but not to the point where I'm all psyched and wound up.

Then I give it a score.

The next big twist is to give yourself a score based on your Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). It's a 6-10 scale where you ask yourself, could I have done one more rep, two more reps, 3 more reps, or no more reps. Depending on where I'm at, if I felt I could have done 2 more reps, I add a little more weight to the bar and try again, then give it another score as above. When I get to the point of no more reps, or even if I say yeah, I had one more rep in me.....I stop.

Pretty simple.

This adds up to a lot of weight over the course of a week, but no one training day is that hard. If I'm tired or rushed, I do the daily training minimum and I'm done, no fuss, because I know I'll be in tomorrow to do it again.

And the results....well as I add weight based on my RPE, I find I'm Squatting 315 lbs about 2-4 times a week, Bench Pressing 255 lbs 1-2 times/week, Overhead Pressing 155 lbs 4-5 times/week, and deadlifting.....well deadlifting is different.

I deadlift every day, but I only go heavy with it about twice a week. Unlike the other lifts, deadlifts start from a dead stop with the weight on the ground (hence it's name). With all the other lifts, there's a little bit of gravity helping you on the way down and you can actually use that to help you squat and press.

So with the deadlift, I go heavy twice a week (about 315 lbs). On other days I will do 2-3 sets of 225 to 275 for 3-5 reps, again adjusting based on how I feel that day. The important part is to practice the movement. Last week I deadlifted 365 lbs and the guy next to me looked over and said, "Man you made that look easy!" Of course my ego demanded I add another 20 lbs to the bar, but I had reached my RPE limit and called it a day....curbing ego is a big part of the practice mindset.

And oh yeah, I'm still swinging kettlebells and doing Turkish Get-ups. I'm pretty comfortable swinging a 70lber for 3-4 sets of 10 swings and I'll do 1 or 2 Turkish Get-ups on each side with the same KB as well.

The result is that I feel amazingly stronger, more confident, and a lot less anxious about any given training day. Instead of concentrating all that training into one day on one body part, I have spread it out over the course of a week....I'm actually lifting more in a given week, but the effect of any one day is less....the key is dong a little bit every day.

We'll see how it goes. My next Powerlifting meet is at the end of February. My goal is to start each lift with my max from the previous meet...and at this rate, I think I can make that easy.

Till next time....have a great night Spark friends!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • JULIAMOONCHILD
    Of course, I know nothings at all about weight lifting and therefore have nothing on the subject to contribute. Lol .... not that you need a contribution from moi. emoticon

    However, when it comes to getting one's self to a better place mentally and emotionally, how vitally important that is, aside from how vitally important good physical health is, as well, and how mental and emotion health affects every blessed thing we do in life - whether workouts or just plain day-to-day living, I can most definitely relate.
    Anywho, while I don't life weights -yet - I think your research and your brilliant new approach to your fitness plan is exactly what you needed to do. It is working! emoticon

    Glad to see ya back blogging! emoticon
    1917 days ago
  • no profile photo CD4876431
    Makes sense:) How has training been going?
    1920 days ago
  • HAKAPES
    For me, what works, is to focus on one single habit/skill to develop. Usually, I downscale my initial idea, and this way, it becomes dead simple, and my success rate becomes very high. Then, I can build easily on that.
    1927 days ago
  • STRONG_SARAH
    Thanks for writing this, it's really interesting. I agree with your approach, and how you feel better lifting more often of less weight. I think I'll rethink my strategy too.
    1937 days ago
  • JUNEAU2010
    I love the idea of working on a skill. That may help me get over my lifelong mental block against exercise.
    1938 days ago
  • WOUBBIE
    Wow, you have learned so much and every word rings true! Well done, my friend!
    1938 days ago
  • BERGBA7
    Turkish get ups with a 70lb kettlebell - that's quite something!
    emoticon
    Very healthy philosophy if you ask my humble opinion. I am all about doing something every day as well. I compare my physical workouts very often to how I train my vocal folds for singing.
    emoticon
    I know that might sound weird but my singing training is a lot like my workouts. If I would only sing the most difficult arias of the repertoire 3 times a week and rest on the other days I would not get very far and really risk injuring my voice on my training days.
    It is also true that we have to test our maximum from time to time. But on 6 days a week we need to train and get into the routine of things.
    I am very curious to see how your "test" will be going.
    emoticon emoticon
    1938 days ago
  • BEATLETOT
    So happy to see your blog! Wonderful!!! I know you told me what gym you go to, but I've forgotten. I'm moving back to Springfield sooooooooooon!
    1939 days ago
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