Good Training

Last night I was watching videos of Laura Phelps-Sweatt, the strongest woman powerlifter and one of the strongest humans in the world, training with Gracie Vanasse, and it made me want to move. Problem was that it was 11 o’clock at night, so my options were limited. I call these “girlfriend pushups”:

Watching the video, I realize that I need to focus on keeping a neutral head position so that I don’t cheat off the last couple inches.

Here’s Laura and Gracie doing box squats. Laura stays well below her competition max of 670-775 pounds, so my guess is that she’s training for explosion (with more weight on the bar than my max record in the same weight class, plus green bands for progressive resistance):

Good Training

Since I deadlift heavy every other week and this was not one of those weeks, I took the opportunity to do some box jumps and single leg squats. These light deadlift weeks are probably the most fun I have in weight training.

Having mastered the highest box at the Gold’s Gym where I train, I’ve taken to buying notebooks four at a time to continue increasing the box height every week.

Doing the single leg squats on the overturned stability dome has really increased my balance over the months. I’m strong enough now to comfortably “surf” the DC metro, which is generally unheard of because the relatively modern transit system accelerates and decelerates very rapidly–much faster than the NYC subway, for instance. Maybe I’ll post a fun surfing video in the near future.

Good Training

Pulled 425 for 3 yesterday. That breaks my previous record of 415 for 2 by 10 pounds and an extra repetition, making this decidedly the strongest I have ever been. My lifetime max is 430 for 1, so in two weeks I’ll set a new max by pulling 440. I should get it for two.

Previous training here, here, here, and here.

Good Training

Squatted yesterday. Of the power exercises that I do, the squat is the least intuitive to me. My squat max is well below that of my deadlift. I’m not sure what this means.

Tuesdays are also core day for me and my training partner/girlfriend Caryn Benisch. I usually superset back extension curl-ups with hanging vertical leg scissors. You can watch the latter below.

Good Training

Here’s another one. Just did dips and pullups today. Forgot, as I am wont, to record a lifetime pullup record of 115. But here’s a dip with 175 pounds on the dip belt at 160 lbs. bodyweight:

More Good Training

Time for another training video. Last Friday I deadlifted 405 pounds for 4 repetitions. It’s the first time I’ve handled weight over 400 pounds since 2001, when I set the New York State powerlifting record for my division in the Amateur Athletic Union. I plan to throw 425 on the bar in the next fortnight and go for a new record for 2 (having pulled 415 for 2 in the month prior to my first powerlifting meet).

In competition, I used a regulation straight bar. But I love the diamond bar because it doesn’t require me to drag 400 pounds over my kneecaps.

What’s crazy about weight training is that, as you start getting stronger and lifting heavier weights, new factors start to present themselves. For any deadlift over 300 pounds, any discomfort in my back and legs is overshadowed by the pain of the bar crushing down onto the skin and tissue in my hands. I had to learn a new grip style to cope with the heavier weight, which is why I over-rotate my hands on the bar before squeezing it and re-rotating them back to a natural position. This way I’m squeezing not just the bar but a flap of callousy skin that gets folded over by the twist. It’s just more physical material to hold onto.

Last set of videos here.

Good Training

The acts performed in these videos are the product of years of intense effort and application of knowledge. I hated the thought that the surpassing of these milestones would be lost to posterity so I decided to share them here. There are a lot of fitness bloggers who use their own personal records to motivate others (and to drum up business), so maybe somebody’ll see these and be inspired.

Pullups with 50 pounds of extra weight for 8 repetitions:

Dips with 95 pounds for 8 reps (my foot touches the ground only to serve as a signal to explode up–I don’t rest on it):

Uphill sprints in the snow with an 8 pound weight in my Camelbak:
The latter video was captured just this afternoon.

If you’re interested, the following bullets are some principles I follow in my weight training. If you’re not interested, you can skip to my observations about the difference between civilian and Marine Corps physical training principles in the last two paragraphs:

  • Train your mind and body to work as one unit by developing a winning attitude to match your physical accomplishments. Weight training is a source of drive and inspiration, never an occasion for whining. If you catch yourself thinking anything but positive thoughts about your ability to move iron, stop and replace the thought with an appropriately positive one. Visualize success. Maximize the ratio of your time spent around people who think similarly.
  • Understand weight training as a triad of smartly applied exercise, sleep, and nutrition. Muscles are traumatized during exercise and then rebuilt and strengthened during sleep using consumed protein as their building blocks. Deficiencies anywhere in the triad will show clearly in your results.
  • Train for explosion: Instant and total acceleration throughout the concentric contraction (up). My understanding is that the benefit here is not just from physical emphasis on the fast-twitch muscle fibers but also from development of the neuromuscular system to activate a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers at the outset of the contraction. This has paid off over the years so that after more than a decade of training on and off, I benefit from significant momentum to lift weights that my muscles couldn’t support at a slower speed. 
  • Also, slow throughout the eccentric contraction (down) to put the muscle fibers under load when their cross-section is the thinnest and they are the most vulnerable to damage. Again, muscle fibers are only damaged, never strengthened, during exercise. Given sufficient protein intake, the body rebuilds them stronger during sleep. The more stress the fibers are subjected to in training, the stronger the body will rebuild them during sleep (and given sufficient protein intake) in anticipation of future stress.
  • Train muscle chains to work as functional systems rather than training individual body parts.
  • Maximize valuable training time by combining sets of opposing movements. For instance, I completed the above pullups and dips as a “superset,” with a set of dips immediately following a set of pullups. In Optimum Sports Nutrition, Michael Colgan asserts that this practice also takes advantage of a momentary loss of reciprocal inhibition in which muscle contractions are met with tiny involuntary stabilizing contractions of the opposing muscle. The exhaustion of the opposing muscle in the previous set removes a tiny source of drag on your maximal output, allowing for each muscle group to be stressed further.
  • Lift heavy. This admonition is thrown around a lot but it’s not always fully explained. Broadly speaking, “heavy” means lifting a weight with which you cannot complete ten repetitions until you no longer have the strength to complete them with good form. The “cannot complete” part seems to be a major source of confusion for beginners. They sometimes continue repetitions only until they feel pain or boredom, at which point they are satisfied that they’ve done something. If you can complete ten reps, it’s time to add weight. You should always be striving to set a new personal record. When I’m returning to the gym after a hiatus, I’ll start out for a few months with supersets of 10-12 to get my connective tissues prepared for the stress ahead, then spend a few months doing supersets of 8-10, then I’ll move almost exclusively to large compound power exercises for sets of 2-8 for another few months.
  • Allow sufficient recovery and rebuilding by training muscle systems once per week. If you lift heavy and try to perform the same exercises with less recovery time, you’ll find that you can’t match your previous effort. Muscle spends a lot more time rebuilding than it does being torn down.

I’ve noticed over the years that civilians tend to neglect or underemphasize the mental aspects of training while the Marine Corps tends to do the opposite. So in civilian gyms you’ll see people completing what appear to be sophisticated exercises and programs while remarking throughout to their partner or trainer how weak they are, how much the exercise hurts, and how much they can’t wait to be done. They’ll check their phone and watch the gym television during their sets. They’ll walk up to a heavy set without taking a moment to collect themselves or psyche themselves out.

Conversely, the prevailing culture in the Marine Corps was remarkably cognizant of the mental aspect. “Heart” was a highly valued trait. Unfortunately, this valuation of “heart” was incorporated into a virulently anti-intellectual ideology that eschewed sophisticated (or, depending on whom you were dealing with, objective) knowledge. Ignorance of human biology was enforced under the presumption that “heart” could remove all biological barriers to physical accomplishment. I was commonly subjected to idiotic claims like “sleep is a crutch” and “chow is a crutch” that permanently crippled the physical performance of all who heeded them (including me when I was denied the choice). The result was a force largely comprised of Marines capable of fanatically motivating their underdeveloped bodies to a solid B performance. Glad to be training to my own drum these days.

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