This is why we don’t have nice things

This week I’m in Louisville visiting with family and relaxing. While in this town I have about three different places to go train at and for my Monday heavy squatting I went to the gym where my in-laws have a membership. On the drive over I was thinking about what to write about this week and let’s just say I got some material on this day.

Walking in the gym

Now imagine you are a front desk worker at a respectable gym catering mostly to older white collar individuals and in walks a guy wearing oversized sweats, full beard, unkempt hair, and smiling like a person who is trying to con his way in to the gym. Over his shoulder is his gym bag that has a weight belt wrapped around it and a pair of weird black metal hook braces on the front strap (my gravity boots).

Needless to say I wasn’t surprised when the check in lady was a little less than pleasant, but the other guy behind the counter recognized me from my periodic drop-ins and got me in just fine. I just made sure to smile and be patient while it got worked out quickly.

Key point here is: just be nice. Be friendly and eventually the other person will have no choice but at least be a bit pleasant to you. No point in wasting aggression meant for the barbell on someone doing customer service.

Setting up

Once I got to the gym I started going through my normal warm up and ran in to one of the trainers there that I’ve known for the past few years and usually talk to this time of year. The guy has definitely filled out and has been doing a lot more pulling work. He was setting up for his small group that was doing some lifting and conditioning work in the corner of this gym. I started getting loose and set up a bar to squat with in their Rogue rack and utilizing one of their rogue bars. I wrote a post a while back on different barbells and given the age and spin on their other bars I thought the rogue was best even though it didn’t have any center knurling and was whippy as hell.

Warm ups went well worked my way up to my top set with 475 and got the aforementioned trainer to spot me and put the safeties up. The set went well and I hit the reps solidly, and then aggressively racked the weight.

This is where things went to hell.

The bar then bounced up and down sending the clip off the ending and jumped out of the rack on the right side. At this point the plates start flying off the right side slamming on the ground with all of the softness of 45lbs. hitting the floor. The guy spotting me with lightning fast reflexes caught the bar and pinned it under the hook so that the now empty right side of the bar (compared to the loaded left side of the bar) wouldn’t sail in to the next rack and possibly take someone out.

At this point I’m helping him out with reloading the right side of the bar so it won’t flip. Another trainer comes flying around the corner (since this is a big gym) to make sure everything is ok. The guy holding the bar did me a solid by explaining that the clip failed and it wasn’t my fault. Needless to say I thanked him for catching the bar and noticed a lot of people looking at us with looks of concern for the rest of the time I was training.

Afterwards I check the safety that caught the bar and realize that it is bent and probably needs to be hammered back in to position so it can sit appropriately on a rack. The bar and plates where fine, surprisingly didn’t bend the bar at all so that was nice.

But wait, there’s more.

Bonus: Don’t be that person

I was finishing up after doing the rest of my heavy squats and hit some other accessory work when a girl walks in and puts her stuff down directly next to my workout bag. I think nothing of it and just keep training. She is obviously doing some texting on her phone and sets it down next to my bag seemingly every minute.

I wrap up everything except for my occlusion work. So I walk over to my bag to grab my wraps to get this pain train started. When I lean over to grab my wraps out of my bag I notice her phone is face up and oh wait… she is definitely sexting with some dude and I just saw a whole lot of that guy. Thank god for strategically placed towels.

Now I don’t have the best poker face for when I’m surprised much less shocked. Maybe I shouldn’t have looked, but the dang screen was right next to my bag and I had to in fact reach over her phone to get my wraps. I stand up with my wraps in my hand and I’m sure my eyes twice their normal size. She notices my reaction and then proceeds to mean mug the hell out of me. I smile and laugh and go about my occlusion work while she mean mugs me some more, grabs her phone and scurries out of that part of the gym.

So the lesson here is when sending adult pictures please do your best to at least lock your phone, or face it down, or not be on the texting screen, or maybe not do it while you are in a public space. But, after you get awkwardly observed in this behavior by a random stranger please be sure to angrily look at them as much as possible.

Wrap up

So nothing like a fun session while on the road. When in doubt be nice and try not to break things (though I obviously fail at that on occasion). Also make sure you aren’t on your phone much at all and if you are sending certain photos try and be discrete. Have a happy holidays everyone.

Cheer Hard, Recover Hard

Right now I’m working with the large coed and all girl cheerleading teams at EKU where I teach. They are gearing up for nationals and over the weekend of January 15th-17th they will be competing down at UCA nationals in Orlando Florida at the Wide World of Sports Park. They have nearly set what their entire routine will be and now comes the hard times of running these routines through.

The basics of a cheerleading routine is that they will hit various stunts, pyramids, tumbling, and baskets over the course of about two and a half minutes. Everything they will throw needs to be done to counts (so they all go at the same time) and will be the hardest skills that they can hit as a group. Essentially it is going nearly maximally for two and a half minutes with skills that require a great deal of precision and power. To make this even better is during part of this they will need to be yelling a cheer, which yelling while tired is so much fun.

I can break down the strength and power demands accordingly at some point but the bigger aspect that I want to cover is controlling the stress at this point. The reason for this is they will be doing five to ten total run-throughs of this routine (termed Fullouts) each practice and they will be doing two practices a day of this.

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Example of a cheer stunt. Yes that is me from a while ago.

Note on Stress

Stress is cumulative, the stress you get from training, relationships, nutrition, and so on is all cumulative. So not only do they need to keep in mind how stressful two-a-day practices are, but it is important to keep in mind the other stressors that are or aren’t factoring in their recovery right now. At this point the kids have an advantage that even though they are doing two-a-day practices they will not have to worry about classes, but it is the holidays and that brings its own little stressors (time with family and relationships (eustress is still stress)). The dining hall is shut down (which may or may not improve the nutrition of the kids). The dorms are also closed so some of the kids are now sleeping on couches and outside of their normal living environment.

So with keeping in mind what we know about stress, I’m going to write out the major things the kids can do to help enhance their recovery from the stress of hard training (and life in general) in order of importance (also these will be brief summaries so please ask questions if you want me to elaborate).

SLEEP

This is the number one, 8 hours tends to be the average here, but sleeping more will always help with recovery. Take a nap between each practice if you can. When you are asleep that is when your body is releasing extra growth hormone and testosterone (hormones the help with recovery). That is when you get more sensitive to insulin and really just repair all the damage to the body from hard training. Also, sleep is when you make a lot of new neural connections, and it turns out learning skills for cheerleading is just like learning information for classes. So get as much sleep as you can. Not sleeping enough is bad in general for the body, definitely if you are a rat.

Nutrition

You are what you eat. Seriously, think about that for a moment, your body is simply constructed out of the foods and drinks you put in to your body. Don’t be surprised when you put nothing but crap in to the machine and you get crap performance. Not eating enough of all of the macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) will put you at a disadvantage just like not eating enough micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We could really get down to the gritty little details of the diet, but the simple way to break this down is track how you feel, perform, and how much you weigh. You should be maintaining your weight and possibly decreasing slightly through super hard training blocks like two-a-days, but too much weight loss tells you that you aren’t getting in enough calories to support what you are doing and you are likely losing lean mass that helps you stunt.

Hydration

This comes along with the nutrition, if you aren’t drinking enough water to replace your fluid losses from lots of sweating, you put yourself at risk. As little of a 2% loss of body weight is enough to cause a negative effect on performance, so drink water. Not only does it help cool you down, but it keeps your joints moving accordingly since you will be keeping your enough fluid in between each of the joints. Being dehydrated is also a stressor on the body so once again minimize and control what you can.

Active recovery/Relax

This can be going for a long walk or doing some stretching. Just doing some moving and keeping things loose will help with recovery. Don’t do anything that can add to the stress here (sprints, crazy hard yoga (is that even a thing?)) But go relax and have fun with friends.

Stay clean

Seriously, wash yourself. Stress is cumulative so all the energy your body doesn’t have to waste on fighting off infection and such will make life easier on you. So brush and floss twice daily, and take showers after practice to mitigate any risk of getting a cold or otherwise right when it is time to compete at nationals.

Massage/miscellaneous

These are poor college students so getting Graston or ART is probably out of the financial realm of possibility, but some massage, foam rolling, lacrosse ball work can definitely help with recovery. The key here seems to be finding what works for you since the lit doesn’t agree on which is the best (though the Normatec seems to work, but is far from perfect).

Wrap up

Overall there is a number of ways to help you recover better from training. The goal is to always do your best. Not only do you need to do the hard training, but keep in mind all the different ways you can help your body recover from stress. I hope this helped for someone and if you have any questions please leave a comment and I will get to it.

On the Road Again

Training while travelling on the road

Since I just got back from the road and will be departing town again in a few weeks for the Christmas holiday I thought I would point out what I bring with me on the road to still do some training and how preparation is key. Now a first point here when on the road is I like to think about Pareto principle where the first 20% of your efforts give you 80% of your results. Now this isn’t always the case, but if you at least get in a gym and do your main movements and some basic conditioning you won’t fall apart when you are on the road for a week. So the key I use is to hit my main movement and then get in some simple body building style sets of ten on whatever assistance movements the gym I am at has available for me. On the road I’m not likely to find a Swiss bench bar or a safety squat bar, but I’m sure to find a straight bar so get in the work just not the fancy specialty bar work you typically do.

Training bag

IMG_6776When travelling you will typically be limited on how much equipment you can take with you. Anyone that has been in strength sports knows that over a long enough period of time your gym bag starts to get the be the size of a hockey players equipment bag. I take all that I need in a simple backpack that is small enough to go anywhere with me and yet large enough to not be a problem going anywhere.

Chalk

IMG_9497No that is not a bag of cocaine, but I hear it is a heck of a drug. This fits in a small plastic bag, some folks use a smaller Tupperware container or you can get a rock climbing bag to sit this in. Great for saving your hands and helping your grip on any movement where your hands touch a bar so pretty much everything. Some gyms are not a fan of its uses so I keep the next product in my bag:

Lifting straps

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Wraps are center and the lifting straps are pictured in the bottom right

These are simple short straps that work for any movement. If you find yourself in a gym where chalk is not allowed these are great for saving your hands and giving you a solid grip when pulling. Super cheap to buy and hold up to the test of time.

Light wraps

This is for occlusion work I have been doing recently. I also use voodoo floss bands for this. These obviously can be used on your knee for heavy training cycles to help you squat more weight, but they are light and small and easy to bring along.

Knee sleeves

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Knee sleeves

These come in various strengths and sizes, but these Ironmind knee sleeves hold up to all of the training that I have been doing and are super small and light to travel with. These are great things when you are feeling a little beat up and keep you warm during your training. Definitely worth the money, but feel free to buy heavier knee sleeves to help with your training and knee health.

Tape

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Just enough to not have to answer questions

Simple athletic tape. Most gyms frown upon you bleeding on their equipment so if you open up a shin while deadlifting or rip your hand from pulling without chalk this is a simple way to give yourself some support and cover up the blood quickly.

MP3 player

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Beats listening to Bieber

I don’t listen to “mommy didn’t hug me enough as a child music” when I’m training (that often), but being at large gyms you will be at the mercy of the top 40 list or have to listen by proximity to the spinning class’s music so this is an easy way to mute that out. I’m a fan of cheap mp3 players since I’m rough on them. Charge before you leave town and perhaps have your charging cord with you.

Dip belt

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Old faithful, and yes I put my initials on it.

I like to do weighted pull ups and dips there are a number of ways you can rig things up to work on the road (a later post will cover this) so buying a good dip belt has been worth the cost and it is just as solid as the day that I bought it. Key is it is light and pretty damn useful to have.

Training log

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It was free.

Who really wants to have to remember each little piece of lifting minutia in the back of their minds? Writing down what you do will always help you with keeping track of progress and otherwise. Plus, you can simply know what you need to hit that week and move on.

Not pictured: Fat grips

If you are traveling and you like the grip training effect and how pressing with a fat grip tends to be easier on your joints. These are relatively cheap and once again light so easy to pack with you. There are a number of grip fattening products on the market, these are simply what I have and enjoy using.

Not pictured: Lacrosse ball

Carrying a full sized foam roller or PVC pipe can be a bit much to travel with, but one lacrosse ball to roll out a bit with is easy to bring with you and inexpensive. A baseball or softball can do the same trick here.

Side note: smell

If your dirty Rhebands or lifting shoes are riding in the car with you for hours on end and then stuck in your room with you at night it is safe to say your significant other will likely not be happy about this. So either wash your gear before you go on the road or be sure to store your bag outside on a hotel balcony ledge or in your friend’s back yard so you don’t stink up the place.

Finding gyms

Be nice and friendly and you can find people to train with if you happen to head back to the same cities time and time again at different points in the year. Every time I head to St. Louis or Louisville I know of gyms that I can go train at and people to even train with. If you are going on a trip to unfamiliar places, aside from using the googles, I’m a fan of using powerliftingwatch.com search for gyms function. Facebook is even a viable option and most gyms will at least allow for a drop in visit, but be prepared to pay some high prices for single visits. One thing you can exploit is some places allow for a 24 hour pass so go late one day and early the next, or do two session on the same day if your schedule can allow.

Wrapping up

All this being said I like the line from Jim Wendler of: “when in doubt squat, if still in doubt run hills”. You don’t necessarily need to be in a gym when on the road, go find a hill or football field and just do some bodyweight work. Sometimes I will pack a belt or other gear, but this is all I need for my current programming. If you have anything you want to add or ask feel free to.

Have Belt Will Travel, Home for the Holidays Thanksgiving

So with Thanksgiving being last week I didn’t make any new posts. Why? Well let’s be honest, we should probably just spend our time with our friends and family over the holiday and not reading (poorly) written blog posts about training (also being on our phones during dinner). So, just because I was on the road is no excuse to not do any training. The key here is to keep in mind to get in the basics and the rest will take care of itself. Meaning, I’m not worrying about getting all of my assistance work and various other work. I am however, going to be sure that I hit my big lifts. So the week went initially as: squats (Monday), military press (Tuesday), deadlifts (Wednesday). After this things had to shift due to travelling.

On Thanksgiving Day I was lucky enough to get to train with an ex student of mine (Cam) who has a nice garage gym that he has built in Louisville. We did bench press and other types of assistance work. Cam is personal training people out of his home gym and prepping to compete in powerlifting. The guy has a great work ethic and good grasp of training. He literally made the wooden squat rack by himself and the rest of the gym he is doing correctly by slowly putting everything together in a piece meal fashion. He benched with me and has good strength. He is just starting to learn how to pause so the big thing we worked on was developing tension and thinking about “winding up the spring” in the bottom of the bench. He also is real slow on lowering the bar on his chest, but simple practice and time will improve this and keep him from wasting energy on doing a ten second eccentric. Introduced him to occlusion training which I’m experimenting with right now and all I’m confident with saying about it is it hurts (read burns).

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Cam training trying out the occlusion work in his garage gym
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Cam’s squat rack that he made. 

I then hopped in the car and drove the five our so hours back to STL to see my family. Due to my hips really hating me for sitting in a car so long when I got out my little sister and I did some hill sprints in our parent’s back yard to just move and rationalize the stupid amounts of calories that we would be eating that night. This was really just done to loosen up the hips and have some fun. Did some full squat stretches at the end and various other mobility.

Friday morning went with my little sis to pick up Cue (pseudonym), an athlete I coached when he was in high school who is equal parts strong and intense to train at another high school in downtown STL with the Vulcan brothers. This was a great time with my sis squatting, Cue hitting some light Olympic technique work, the Vulcan brothers both hitting great squats, and the older Vulcan brother’s girlfriend (ginger) hitting some solid squats. My sis is as per the usual had great technique and looked strong. Nothing really to say there other than keep it up. The younger Vulcan was letting the bar roll on his back a bit when he squats and we worked on having him think about shrugging his shoulders back as opposed to up to make him more stable and stronger in his squats. The older Vulcan is strong as hell and did some super maximal partials that the only thing for him to work on was to mimic his normal technique with the partial squat and not change his technique to allow him a better partial lift. You see this a bit with board pressing in the bench press where people will flare their elbows out wide to just lift a bit more, but are not mimicking the full range movement so carryover will not be as great. Introduced the brothers to occlusion training and they both seemed to hate it so that was a fun finisher.

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Training at the high school gym with the Vulcan brothers trying out occlusion here.

Saturday was an old man’s football game at a local high school which was fun to see old friends and run around some. This game is entertaining for me since I was never a good athlete in high school, but now that I still train and such I’m actually a decent athlete in the game. Always good to get out with a group of folks and play a contact sport. I didn’t get to do my typical training today due to the time constraints of a wedding later in the day, but that is what happens on vacation.

Sunday up early to help a cousin of mine move in to his condo. Good guy that always helps out with the rest of us so this was fun and only mildly perilous a few times. Went and drove back home and saw my brother in law for a few before heading to go coach that night and hit a few light sets of push ups and pull ups there to rationalize my existence along with stretching out.

So this was the basic rundown of my travels for thanksgiving. Big thanks again to Cam and the Vulcans for having me out to their gyms. Always fun to train with my little sis and see other old friends. I find the key when on the road to make sure that you prioritize your training to the morning so you have the rest of the day to spend with family. That being said, I do have an advantage that my family expects me to go off and train at one point or another during the day. I’ll put another post up this week about what I pack with me when I go on the road to train.