Thursday, March 8, 2012

Squat gains, presses just chilling in neutral

I mean, I did gain a TINY bit in my push presses--basically, instead of failing out at 4 reps at 65 pounds, I was able to do two sets before I needed to scale down to 60 pounds. So, ten reps over four is a tiny improvement.

My squats went both well and not well. They went well in that I increased weight to 95 on my last set. My sets were 75, 75, 85, 85, 95. However, it was all sort of uncomfortable form-wise. The gym was really busy when I went (I need to get it through my head: do not go between 4 and 7!), so I had to wait a good 15 minutes for a rack, then when one opened up it was a squat cage rather than the slanted deadlift rack I usually like to use. Squatting inside the cage is of course safer, but I just feel weird and boxed in. No like.

Also, I was battling the lovely side effects of my Special Lady Friend, who has rolled into town with a minimum of headache this time around, but has brought with her the usual bloating and more-than-usual sad feelings. It's not as fun squatting heavy weight when a) stuff is shooting out of your uterus in a downward trajectory that the squat is, anthropologically speaking, designed to enhance, and b) you cried at a Sleepy's Mattress commercial in the car on the way to the gym.

Waking up to HIIT

I've devised a new way to squeeze in my HIIT, which always seems to fall by the wayside: do it immediately upon waking up.

This little workout will be done daily, for time:

Warmup of 2min jump rope and 5 sun salutations
150 rep challenge: 25 pushups, 25 squats, 25 tuck jumps, 25 rollups, 25 burpees, 25 leg lifts

I split the workout into 5 rounds of 5 reps each, because I hate when one move at high reps completely depletes a muscle group; it just means that form is sacrificed for the rest of the moves. Also, it allows me to move through the workout pretty much unbroken, whereas doing 25 burpees in a row would have me pausing to gasp for breath every other burpee after around #11.

This morning I did this whole thing (minus the warmup) in 11:17. Tomorrow I will attempt to beat that time, and so on and so on. My ultimate goal is to do this in 6 minutes.

Tuesday's lifting session was good. I did deadlifts and pullups. Scaling back my deadlift weight to work on form was a really good idea. I did 135 the whole time and really concentrated on tightening across the shoulders before initiating the pull, and it helped a lot. Not more butt-lifting. I then went over to the assisted pullup machine, which is a really old-school thing with basically just a lever you rest your foot on while doing the pullup, and on the other end of the lever is whatever weight you load. I liked it a lot better than the fancy ones at the globo-gyms, which seemed to do more of the work for me, whereas this is really just a place to rest your foot. I did my 5x5 with 55 pounds of resistance loaded. I'm going to try to cut that by 5 pounds each pullup workout, and in the meantime I'll be doing negatives in between lifting sets during my other workouts. I WILL GET A PULLUP, if it kills me.

Today is a Push day, so I have squats and push presses. Hopefully I'll be adding weight; we'll see how it goes.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Falling in love with lifting

Wow, I haven't updated in a while. A few things have happened since my last post. First of all, I moved to Austin, where I'm currently having a blast. Way preferable to where I was living. Second, I got deeper into the sport of weightlifting, and now consider myself thoroughly obsessed. We're talking, "staying up past bedtime to read lifting blogs even though the number one lifting rule is get TONS of sleep" style obsessed.

I joined an awesome gym here in Austin that's very no-frills, just tons of racks and benches, with everyday regulars lifting heavy. I think there's maybe one treadmill in the whole place. No music, no freezing air conditioning, no makeup-spackled Lululemon bunnies bouncing slowly on ellipticals for their "cardio". Everyone who works out there is really nice, too, and very willing to offer advice, help, or a spot if you need it.

I mentioned a while back that I was doing three sets RPT-style, but I've switched back to 5x5s because I was just feeling like I needed more work on form and more practice with the weekly toll of lifting before I tried a style that essentially has you starting the set with your max load. One of the sites I've come across in my gigantic lifting info-feast is Nerd Fitness, which has a great forum, and whose founder wrote an ebook called Rebel Fitness. I purchased and read the whole thing (it's sitting on my ipad alongside Starting Strength as my current most-read book) and have been scaling back the various lifting moves I was doing for a more streamlined approach that I think is going to build a stronger base of not only strength but skill on the bar. So right now, my lifting routine looks like:

Day A:
Push Press 5x5 (current load: 65)
Squat 5x5 (current load: 85 [I can definitely squat more weight, but my form requires a lot of work due to my tight hips and sway back, so I'm keeping it a little low]).

Day B:
Pullups 5x5 (currently: still cannot do a single one. Am doing a lot of negatives and one-foot assisted pullups.)
Deadlift 5x5 (current load: 155 [I will probably be doing 135 tomorrow, though, because my form on this one is also bad. My fireman friend at the gym helped me correct it last time and I need to scale back the weight to practice.)

I alternate back and forth every other day instead of defining "workout weeks", because I discovered that I just really don't like taking two rest days in a row (usually what happens when I do a MWF lifting schedule). On the off days, depending on how I feel, I'm either resting, sprinting, or doing a quick metcon with my sandbag, kettlebell, or hammer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll say that I also walk River 2 miles twice a day, and have been throwing in a run with her in the morning lately, just because I need to get back into the habit of running for Tough Mudder--nothing long, just a couple miles. I'm going to start adding my niece in her jogging stroller into the running mix, too, because running while pushing an extra forty pounds seems like something that will help with TM training. Lastly, I also ride my bike, not daily, but probably something like three times a week. I mostly go short distances, and usually for utility, like going to the grocery store and hauling back my groceries, or buying dog food/cat litter, or riding to the coffeeshop to work, like I did today.

So, it's a much more active life here in Austin, which suits me fine.

Another great thing about lifting is that skipping a workout is not just unthinkable, it's a huge bummer when forces intervene to make me miss a workout (i.e. the gym closes earlier on Saturday, which I found to my dismay when I showed up at 7 to work out the other day). I enjoy it so much that I look forward to the gym--like, a LOT. So I've been really on top of getting my workouts done.

I'm going to try to be more diligent about posting, but I'm moving again in about a week, this time into the apartment where I will be living indefinitely, so I'll be pretty busy.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lifting, Week 2

Last week saw me do my first couple of lifting workouts comprising all 7 movements I'll be working on. Those movements are as follows:

Bench presses
Shoulder presses
Bent rows
Lat raises

The lat raises are different from deltoid lifts in that my arms are slightly bent inwards, requiring the lift to come more from the lats than the deltoids. I'd imagine there's also some rhomboid and possible rotator cuff involvement. Whereas, deltoid lifts pretty much just work the deltoids, and my shoulders are already pretty large, so in the interest of muscle balance I went for the lat raises.

Here's what I learned from my two lifting sessions last week: I'm not lifting nearly heavy enough. I messaged my go-to lifting advice guy on the MDA forums and asked him if these workouts were supposed to feel easy and fast (they've been taking me ~15-20 minutes), and he said no, and went on to outline the following basic rules:

1. If I require less than two minutes recovery between sets, I'm not lifting heavy enough.
2. If at the end of my third set, I feel like I could do another set, I'm not lifting heavy enough.
3. If I'm just pumping through sets relatively unbroken, I'm not lifting heavy enough.
4. Doing 4-6-8 reps of truly heavy loads is better than 6-8-10 of fairly heavy loads.

Conclusion: I am not lifting heavy enough AT ALL. So with this in mind, I went into yesterday's session keeping the above rules in mind. I realized the difference between what I thought was heavy and what's actually heavy when I played around with different weights on the bar and pretty easily deadlifted a set of my max load from last week--80--without breaking a sweat. It was difficult, don't get me wrong, and required effort, but it was the kind of effort that I've usually put into weights, i.e. "I can do this for several sets and will be pleasantly sore tomorrow". I realized that I have to completely change my idea of what's possible to lift when I'm aiming for max loads.

This time, when I loaded the bar for my first deadlift set, done at max load, I took a shot in the dark and loaded 32 more pounds than last week's "max", to hit 112. This was a very different feeling. I felt ALL the muscles in my body tensing and straining to lift this weight, and I couldn't just do 4 reps like bam-bam-bam-bam-done. I had to pause, take a breath, reposition, and really gear up--really focus on my form and visualize lifting the bar--for each rep. I did the 4 reps successfully, i.e. without failure, and I think that while I made a breakthrough in my concept of "heavy" lifting, I STILL could have lifted more weight. Next week my deadlift will start at 125. I really need to pinpoint what my one-rep max is for each of these moves.

Yesterday, all told, I did deadlifts, shoulder presses, and bent rows, increasing max loads from last week on all three moves--not really impressive, since I wasn't actually lifting my max last week. Shoulder presses were still the hardest. I did 2 minutes recovery between each set, and all told, the workout took me 32 minutes, not including warmup. This is closer to the 45-minute goal, but still falls short, which means--yes--I didn't lift heavy enough. There is such an unexpected learning curve to this, I kind of can't believe it. Lifting heavy things: harder than it looks.

Since it was a lifting day, it was also a low fat-high carb day. I'm starting to get more used to the massive carb intake, but it is WEIRD and HARD trying to regulate my fats, and I usually end up pretty hungry in between meals. My first meal was at around noon and was a Big Ass Salad with spinach as a base and all kinds of vegetables and fruit, some egg whites and a couple of baked chicken breasts, and honey-mustard dressing I made myself (honey, brown mustard, and vinegar--easy and fat free). Along with this salad was fat-free cottage cheese with frozen pineapple and berries. Then for after my 3pm workout, I made this "pumpkin pudding" an MDA-er told me about, with a can of pureed pumpkin, vanilla whey powder, cut up fruit, honey, and cinnamon. I was supposed to eat this, along with two baked sweet potatoes and a pound of cooked ground turkey, as my post-workout meal. I made it through the pumpkin and half of one sweet potato before I was stuffed. I then had pho with the EMS crew for dinner--a perfect workout-day meal, due to the simplicity of broth, meat, and carby rice noodles--as long as I order the kind with leaner cuts of steak. Due to skipping the sweet potatoes, my carbs only hit 174 instead of the goal 200, but my fat was right at 30g, so I did good. I cannot tell you, though, how mind-bending and annoying it is to switch my dietary paradigm twice a week. And I hate having to keep track of fat intake. But overall, it's not as miserable as it was when I started.

Today is a rest day. Tomorrow is my HIIT/sprint day that I'm not supposed to do but that I feel strongly about keeping up. I'm going to do hill sprints for 10 minutes, then a 12-minute bodyweight circuit. We'll see how it affects my Friday lifting session. I have a feeling it will be just fine.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Heavy Lifting Experiment

Forgot to update again, for more than a week! I suck. I did do all my workouts as planned. I was good. Just not good about updating.

Anyhoo-- 30-day challenge is (almost) over, and I felt like moving on to something more interesting (with goals, because I am insanely goal-motivated). Enter HEAVY LIFTING.

I'm not going to lie and say that youtubing Women's events at the Crossfit Games didn't partly inspire this. Those ladies just look so awesome lifting those bars. But also, I wanted to shake up my workout routine, as well as see the effects of such a different style of workout. In my time as a fitness junkie, I've done "typical" 30min steady state cardio/30 min light weight lifting; no results. I've done endurance training for the marathon; NEGATIVE results, and I'll probably never do that again unless I'm raising money for something. I've done HIIT workouts; good but not great results. So now I'm going to move on to a heavy lifting program and see what that does to me. I like experimenting.

After spending SHITLOADS of time scouring Leangains, reading Starting Strength, and lurking on the MDA forums in threads about lifting, I've come away with some good advice and feel confident in starting a dedicated program. However, I don't want to give up HIIT metcons completely, because I do have Tough Mudder coming up and I'll need that cardio conditioning. Doing HIIT while heavy lifting is basically sacrilege, so I'm definitely going AMA by retaining at least one HIIT session a week. Whatever, we'll see how it works out.

As far as diet goes, I'm not changing much; I already basically do the Leangains-style 16:8 fast-feed schedule, just naturally. The only difference is that I'll be adding in carb cycling on the heavy lifting days. So, on lifting days, I'll be eating around 200g of carbs (still no grains, though; this will be sweet potatoes, bananas, white rice, etc) and very low fat (below 50g), while on normal days I'll be doing my usual high fat-low carb deal.

I'm doing two lifting workouts (reverse pyramid style) and one HIIT + hill sprints workout per week, with two days of low level activity (walking and yoga), and two days of complete REST. That will probably be the hardest part--at first I devised a schedule of 5x/wk workouts, alternating HIIT and lifting, but the experts on the MDA forums shot that down REAL QUICK. Apparently with lifting, less is more, and rest is the most important part. Still, the idea of just 3 workouts a week, and basically no cardio, freaks the shit out of me.

I'll be really interested to see how this new style of eating/working out affects me. I know from experience that I tend to build muscle and strength really quickly, but I've never really done much in the way of real lifting, nor allowed myself the carbs to make recovery/strength building really effective. So, we'll see. It'll be an adventure.

Yesterday's workout was my first lifting workout. I following Starting Strength's A workout, which was squats, deadlifts, and presses. I was quickly told by MDA peeps that this was wrong and very ineffective and actually dangerous, doing squats and deadlifts same day. So that won't happen again. But anyhoo, here were my loads:

Squats: 60, 60, 80, 80, 80 (as you can see, I wasn't RPT'ing yet. Also, I think I could have done more weight, but I don't have a squat rack so I'm basically limited to what I'm physically able to lift into squat position. That'll change as soon as I get to Texas and have gym access.)
Deadlifts: 80, 90, 90, 100, 100
Presses: 50, 60, 60, 50, 50 (60 was my fail point; I outright failed the third rep on the third set).

Today is a rest day. Woo! Fasting till noon, then low carb/high fat rest of the day.

Tomorrow I'll be starting the lifting schedule for real, with squats, bench press, and curls, all done RPT-style. Then next Monday I'll be doing deadlift, shoulder press, bent rows, and lateral raises. That'll remain the split from here on out unless I decide I don't like it for whatever reason.

I actually have not yet eaten today. I need to go get food. I've been too busy. RESTING. Haha. No but seriously, I'm already a sore monster from yesterday. And it feels different from my usual soreness. It's like full-body OW.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Long weekend update

Whoops, entirely forgot to update over the long weekend. Lots of working out was had, as well as some good food. Recap:

Saturday I did Week 2 Day 4 on Bodyrock, the Bringing Sexy Back workout. It was tough and good, though again, unmemorable. I keep waiting for another workout as awesome as the punching bag one from last week. I think the main thing I took away from this workout is that the Star Toe Touch Abs are wicked hard and work interesting muscles, so I'll probably bring that back in the abs lineup more often, and also that I am still incapable of doing box jumps.


It's driving me crazy. I just CANNOT make my feet leave the ground at the same time. It's a mental block thing. And it doesn't make sense, because I can tuck jump higher than the damn "box" I'm trying to jump onto! Gah. BOX JUMPS ARE MY EVEREST.

Moving on: Sunday. Gasp, people, I took a rest day. I KNOW. TWO IN ONE WEEK. WHAT. THE FUCK. But really, I think all this extremely clean eating and extremely disciplined working out is making me more attuned to what my body is thinking/feeling, and Sunday, after taking a hilly 1.5 mile walk with my mom and River, and then running around all day doing errands/cleaning/moving out our Christmas tree/etc, I plopped down on the couch around 7pm and just did not feel like squeezing in a workout before dinnertime. Usually I can always make myself do it, especially since it's just 12 minutes I have to devote. So when my brain is just NOT HAVING the idea of a workout, I know it's probably a good day to just take a chill pill.

The other nice thing about eating extremely cleanly is that when you do get to the end of your day and can't squeeze in a workout, it's less "Oh crap, now those brownies are gonna just pile the fuck on my spare tire", and more, "Guess I'll sacrifice any strength gains I would have made, I'll have to really push it tomorrow". AKA, I'm not concerned at all that by not working out I will put on weight. Way less pressure.

K, so, moving on--Monday! That's right, it was a lovely long weekend. Yesterday I walked River and proceeded to veg the rest of the day away in front of my computer. It's so rare that I get a day off. But I did have my rescue shift at 6, and I felt kinda bad for just sitting around the whole day, so I pushed the shit out of my workout. It was great. I did Week 2 Day 5 on Bodyrock, which was a 600 rep challenge called Glory to the Booty. I fucking love the names they come up with.

Shallow note: I love what Lisa was wearing in this workout video. The little cutoff wife beater--so cute. Obviously, way too sexy to be practical in a gym setting, but she looked awesome in the video.

The 600 rep challenge was this:

100 High Knee Skips
100 Lunge kicks (50 each leg) using the Pink Sandbag
100 High Knee Skips
100 squats using the Pink Sandbag
100 High Knee Skips
25 Straight Abs
25 V Abs Left
25 V Abs Right
25 Bicycle Abs

My time: 20:00 ON THE DOT. I think I was more thrilled at finishing with an exact time than I was to finish the workout (not that I'm OCD, in fact quite the opposite, but it was cool to punch the timer button and see a round number). Hah.

This was a tough one. The lunges were by far the hardest part and took the most time--I found that where I was flaming out was in balancing and keeping proper form (90/90, knees over ankles not toes). Holding the sandbag made balancing really difficult. I found it a little easier to switch legs on each rep and just count like "one/one, two/two, three/three" than to do 50 reps in a row on one leg.

The squats were also difficult, but only by way of strength--form and balance were way easier. I ended up splitting up the squats into 4 set of 25, doing 25 high knees after each set. This made the amount more manageable (I mean, are we serious--100 weighted squats?!).

The V Abs KILLED ME. I could only pop out like five at a time. PAINFUL. Will practice those.

After I finished the 600 Rep Challenge, it was time for another of Sean's Weighted Time Trials. This one was cool in that it was only two moves, and the aim was to pop out as many as possible in 3 minutes each. So I did 3 minutes of Bicep Curls and 3 minutes of Bent Rows, and I somehow managed to get exactly 41 reps on both moves, which I found funny. I figured I would far surpass the rows with my bicep curls, because my biceps are pretty strong. Doing either move with that 35lb sandbag was no joke, yikes. I was definitely just popping out sets of 5-7 reps, collapsing for a few seconds, then starting again. I'm actually amazed I broke 30 reps on either of them. It was hard.

Today my arms are SORE. But hey, people, not only do I definitely see some results in the mirror, I also just FEEL way fitter and stronger than I did two weeks ago. Last night climbing on/off the ambulance and carrying bags, it was really apparent. Also, going up stairs is becoming a total breeze.

The quest to attain a pullup continues. I'm on Week 2 of Recon Ron. They're getting easier, but I'm still nowhere near taking my foot off the chair (I'm doing one-legged assisted right now).

Will update later with tonight's workout.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 11

Back in the saddle. Today was a double workout because it was one of Sean's time trials. I actually did the time trial first because it started with sandbag swings and that seemed like a good warmup.

Sean's Time Trial:
15 Sand Bag Swing
15 Sand Bag Up Right Row
15 Sand Bag Press
15 Sand Bag Squats

Yeah, if you're nitpicking here, the one Sean laid out was a little different. But I did a few of the Squat Jump Presses and Lunge Press Side Turns and it just wasn't working out--the sandbag was too heavy for me to be able to do 15 without killing myself, but I didn't want to have to dismantle the bag and change the weight for every move, because that's obnoxious and wastes time (and it's a time trial!). So I scaled the workout slightly to be doable with max effort, and with the full 35 pounds in the sandbag I usually use.

This time trial was pretty good. Pure weight training. I especially liked the upright rows, which incorporated an abs element by having me pick the bag up on one side of my body, row it, then put it down on the other side, then repeat, switching sides every time.

Time: 13:04. Getting faster with these things!

Next, I did Lisa Marie's Hot Wild Ones workout, which was a good workout but unremarkable. Very typical Bodyrock moves, 10:50sec x12.

Sandbag Clean & Press - 10, 10
Squat Leaps - 18, 21
3 Tier Push ups (I did regular pushups because... I'm a wimp) - 13, 16
Leg raises - 25, 18
Sandbag Squat & Press - 14, 16
Handstand - -10sec, -15sec

As you eagle-eyed readers might notice, yes, I changed two of these moves, too. I like to get a solid ab section in, hence the leg raises, and I'm really trying to get a handstand this year, hence practicing.

I really pushed this workout, forcing myself to keep going hard until the beep, even though on certain moves (the squat leaps and the squat & press) I thought I was going to collapse in exhaustion. All my moves showed respectable numbers, except, for some reason, my handstands, which I just could not hold tonight. Tired shoulders? I don't know. I've been doing the Recon Ron pullup protocol the last few days, so maybe that's having an effect on muscle fatigue.

Delicious dinner tonight, even though Giant screwed me by not having any spaghetti squash. I got acorn squash instead, roasted it, and filled it with meaty tomato sauce that I simmered for an hour on the stove. Yumzors. For a special treat, I made an apple and a pear chopped up and sauteed in butter with cinnamon and walnut pieces, and some whipped cream from scratch. I didn't add sugar to any of it, so it was still technically not terrible. And DELICIOUS.