Month Without Alcohol / Food Journal

A few weeks ago, I decided to go alcohol free in the whole month of March. The reasons are not important to detail here, but it seemed like a good exercise. Today is day 13 without a drink. I like drinking. But I would also like a more optimal state of health and I had reason to believe that drinking wasn’t helping my health. A month off was a gift to my body. It’s harder going without my frequent fine companion ethanol on Fridays (maybe especially so on this unlucky one). But what makes it easier to bear is how amazing I actually feel today. I really feel good. I’m serious. Today was awesome. Alcohol is an insidious friend.

So I feel good about that. But also, I feel good about my food journal. Yes, I am back to keeping a food journal. Six years ago, a different me wrote about his love of food journals on this blog. I had forgotten how much I believe in them, to be honest. I was woken from my slumber by Josh Hillis’ words in Fat Loss Happens on Monday, which I recently started reading. I really do believe in food journals. Therefore, six days ago, I started keeping a hand written food and health journal. The details of my diet, metrics of weight and body size, statements of gratitude about my body, my workouts, doctor’s appointments, and other stuff are going in there.

The journalling is going well. It’s a change for me to use a paper journal. But I am loving it. It never crashes, or does wonky things. It is handsome and feels nice to hold. I’ve kept good track of everything this week, and it’s marvelously focusing.

The Return of Training Board


Not very long ago my dad told me I was starting to look like James Gandolfini, because of the beard. But I knew it was because of my waistline. Now Gandolfini is dead. I don’t want to end up like him.

I stopped blogging here about two years ago. Things went fine for me without the blog in 2013. And in part of 2014.

But the last seven months or so have been kind of bad for my fitness and training, with regress in strength and conditioning capacity, and some physical pain and disability, and loss of mobility.

Does this have anything to do with not continuing this blog? I think it might.

I have come to the conclusion, for my own sake, and for the sake of my family, that it is time to return to keeping this blog.

But why?

I’ve always been ambivalent about blogging my fitness efforts. What is its purpose? Who is the audience? Why make your training log (“gym notebook”) a public, open page? Who cares about the fitness efforts of a middle-aged religion professor?

The answer that has worked for me, has justified this web-journal, is for me to tell myself: sitting down and making my journey open and public helps keep me accountable. So the audience is, ultimately: me. I am my own first and most sympathetic, and most critical, audience.

If you, dear reader, are not me, and yet you enjoy this blog, then, God bless you. You’re welcome to come along for the ride.

The blog used to be called “Training Board” and is now simply titled “Baldwin’s Gym Notebook.” It is written for the public, but I am not seeking fame, fortune, accolades, or anything other than a small corner of the great public forum of the internet, in which I can be permitted to share my own struggles in an open and honest way.

If what I go through means something to you, let me know. If not, don’t let me know. If what I do here bothers you, but you love me and support me (as a real life friend or family member) then actually, I want to know about that too. In that case, do let me know.

So, what’s going on with my training right now?

After a long interval (late September 2014 to the present in early March 2015) I have allowed my training to slide. It started with weird chest pains related to what I thought at first was cardiac disease! Turned out to be mechanical issues with my sternum and left clavicle. I am still struggling with daily chest pain, but the doctors tell me that it’s not deadly.

Then in November, my right forearm started to scream at me every day with debilitating “tennis elbow” (lateral epicondylitis). This causes pain in picking up even small and lightweight objects with my right hand. This too, is still a problem today.

These injuries were only part of what led me away from my training plan. In Fall of 2014 I was also on Sabbatical, and so I often skipped workouts on the premise that I was permitting myself to “rest” from serious training for a while. But this became a habit rather than a dispensation. So the (bad or unhelpful) habit is still with me today.

Upon going back to work in Jan 2015, I continued to permit my training to sit on the back burner. I told myself I was allowing myself to reacclimate to the pressures of work. But I haven’t reacclimated. If anything, things have deteriorated. Work gets harder and harder and as I let my physical fitness slide, I have less and less energy for completing all the tasks that are a part of my life.

So my training hasn’t recovered in this environment; it’s gotten less and less attention and energy from me. This spring, weeks started going by. My body started hurting me in a thousand little ways. My mobility and confidence decreased. And my weight, my weight and waistline increased.

That brings me to this very day. I have determined that I want to take my health, fitness, and body composition back into hand. It is time. Returning to this old blog, and renewing my use of it, that is a part of the plan.

I have abandoned all old goals. They no longer fit who I have become and who I want to be.

I have new, more personal, and definitely more vague and non-specific goals. Yet they fit me well. I am a forty-six year old male human being. A husband and a father first, a son, a brother, a member of a community. A homeowner. A citizen. A professor and a scholar. A busy busy man.

The new goals are as follows:

(a) maintain health, vigor and strength,

(b) train for movement and work capacity,

(c) maximize my physical and genetic potential for longevity, so that

(d) I can be a more reliable person of greater and greater integrity.

Along the way, my guide, at least initially, is Dan John. And even if even he, the ever humane Dan John, would not endorse my goals as goals, they are my goals. And I am going to keep the goals the goal.

Yo, coaches. I don’t need to be told that these vague goals are not real fitness goals. Buzz off. These are health goals, and they fit with the psychological situation I have found myself in these days.

My goal is not to squat 300 or 500 or anything like that anymore. In fact, I can’t fathom, at the moment, why anyone other than me would ever try to advise me as to what my goals should be. Or should insist upon how I should pursue my goals. I have rejected all dogma and doctrine. I’m done with monster military style training and other elite fitness nonsense. Chill. There are basic things that work.

To be sure, in my fitness journey from 2008 to the present I have learned a great deal from such “elite” and specialized styles, but I am not trying to do any of them at the moment.

Along the way I learned tons from CrossFit (2009-2010). I learned a great deal from USAW and Olympic Weightlifting, even becoming a Level I USAW coach (2011-2012). I learned so much from powerlifting and Jim Wendler, following a modification of his 5/3/1 program for at least two full years (2013-2014).

But now it’s 2015. I’ve been reading John, his books Intervention and Weight Loss Happens Monday. Both of which I will discuss in later posts. The program I will be following in days and weeks to come is inspired by the spirit and heart of Dan John, even if I know, deep down, that I am no Dan John.

As of today, I announce the following intentions.

1) Return to blogging about my health and fitness activities and ideas.

2) Keep a private food journal, workout log, and health record.

3) Plan meals and workouts on a week to week basis, and stick to the plan.

So, those are the goals, and those are my intentions.

Let the continuing evolution unfold. Thanks for staying tuned.

My New Program: 5/3/1

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As of this week I am revamping my training program. It’s time for a change, and I’ve been hinting or mentioning that in post after post lately. I have four desires for the new program: (a) It should support a higher level of conditioning. (b) It should provide a routine that can allow me to make consistent and measurable gains in strength over a longer training horizon. (c) It should provide a greater variety of movements, supporting general physical preparedness and hardiness. (d) The workouts should be doable in an hour or less.

The program philosophy that best meets these desires is 5/3/1 by Jim Wendler. This is a famous and widely recognized program that has been used, successfully, to support strength and conditioning, by many athletes.

At its heart, 5/3/1 is an intermediate powerlifting program, designed to help intermediate or even advanced powerlifters simplify and focus their training. It uses sub-maximal weights and higher volume, but promises to keep a lifter in a position to enter competitions and still lift heavy. It cycles intensity in a logical mathematical progression, building in a natural curve of increasing intensity followed by periods of deloading, to assist in recovery and longevity in the program. Yet it is also designed to let powerlifters bring some balance to their programming, including conditioning and “bodybuilding” auxiliary work for symmetry and muscular development.

I’m not a true intermediate, in terms of my strength. At best I’m advanced novice. But at nearly 44 years old, having spent most of my adult life as a slow-distance runner and a skinny-fat academic with a dysregulated diet, I perhaps present a special case for programming. I do think that 5/3/1 is the way to go. It is probably the way to go for most lifters who may not be advanced, but who have advanced past their 30’s and that life-stage where they have a peak capacity for muscle building, recovery, and athletic attainment. In other words, 5/3/1 promises not only to be a young man’s intermediate/advanced program, but an older, experienced lifter’s program too.

In my case I have three days a week to train. That is it. My schedule isn’t ever going back to five days a week, like it was when I got “really into CrossFit.” In other words: I’ve tried “training more” as a path to greater fitness and, it just burns me out. So now what? Well, I’m stronger now than when I left CrossFit (in the spring of 2011), because I’ve been training the basic powerlifting lifts consistently for 18 months. But at this point I’ve played out the various other approaches I’ve tried and I need something that I can follow, adhere to, and make progress with, at least over the next 12 months. Up until now I feel like I’ve tapped out several programs: I did what I could with a simple 3 x 5 starting strength regimen. I’ve tried self-designed “intuitive” beginner linear progressions. I’ve tried maxing out all the time (a “Bulgarian” approach) for about 15 weeks… and in truth I didn’t respond all that well to it. You’ve seen the charts on this, most recent experiment. I got stronger but once I’d stalled out, it was like banging my head against a brick wall. In every case, these non-periodized, high volume, do the basics all the time approaches tend to lead to me injuring myself in some way, getting sick, burned out, bored, whatever; bottom line is, they have stalled out for me.

I have hope for 5/3/1 and, at least during the next year, until my 45th birthday in January, 2014, this is my new program. We’ll compare where I was in Jan. 2012 with Jan 2013 with Jan 2014 at that time.

18 Weeks of Maxing Out Squats, Presses, and Power Cleans

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For the past 18 weeks I have given over my programming to Zach Bijesse, my young friend, who is smart, super strong (he is a superheavyweight class weightlifter), and dedicated to a programming philosophy that is “Bulgarian,” in that it prescribes constant reiteration of the training lifts, at maximal efforts. Usually, the day’s workout prescribed more than I could accomplish in the time I had available for training, involving, ideally, maxing out on three lifts and adding volume in one, two, or all three. This chart, the latest and last iteration in a series of check-ins on the program, doesn’t reflect the volume work, or the overall volume attained, or the average intensity, nothing like that. It does just one thing. It plots my best single rep effort in each lift attained over three workout sessions each week. During a week for which there is no data, it means that for some reason I wasn’t able to attempt the lift, or Zach didn’t program it. There was a brief switch out to Front Squats, not reflected in this chart, a very brief dalliance with deadlifts.

The chart has clear and inescapable implications. It demonstrates the following points. (a) Maxing out Press day after day three days a week got me absolutely nowhere. Yes my press is stronger now than it was at the beginning of the program, but not by much. I peaked out on the press early on, in my sixth week, and then bounced against that glass ceiling for the next twelve weeks. (b) Maxing out on squat continuously helped me to get my HBBS up to where my LBBS was … back in January. I obviously need some other approach to squatting to make appreciable gains in it. Bottom line is: my squat sucks. Maybe I just lack the testicular fortitude to really squat heavy. That may be the case but the bottom line is: this program didn’t bring me a heck of a lot closer to my goal. What it did do was build confidence in me that I can do heavy singles day after day. That’s something. Yet, since I don’t feel much closer to my long term goal of a 1.5 x bodyweight squat (now 315 lbs) than I was last December, I am left underwhelmed. (c) Maxing out my Power Clean day after day got me ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE. In the first six weeks I made about 5kg progress; in the next six weeks I made 1kg progress; in the final six weeks I made no progress, and ended up consistently able to pull only what I’d pulled at the beginning. BOO.

By no means are my results to be regarded as a repudiation of “Bulgarian” training methods. I am the trainee here, and I am responsible for my own results. It isn’t the program, it’s me. There is no denying the validity of the Bulgarian concepts: effort drives adaptation, and, if you want to get better at something, do more of it. Why then didn’t I succeed following Zach’s program?

Well, I think that I might have had better results following this philosophy if I was younger, had more time to train, had better opportunities for recovery, especially sleep (i.e. wasn’t a full time professor and father of small children), and was able to do more like 10 training sessions a week, instead of 3. All these factors limited my gains and, disappointingly so. I know nobody is more disappointed in my failure to thrive on this program than my buddy Zach. SORRY ZACH. But it is where it is.

For me, then, is there any benefit to “Bulgarian” methods? Yes, for about six weeks. I do believe, and this is a well-known truism in the strength training world, that just about any program can bring you good results … for about six weeks. I believe Dan John is the one who made this concept famous. So, if I was looking to boost my numbers in lifts that I was stagnating in, I might, repeat, MIGHT, choose to do a six week program of daily maxes. But then I would switch it up. I see no value in pursuing this method for longer cycles, without interruption. But then, I’m not an Olympic style weightlifter from Bulgaria, or even one of our competitive Bulgarian style lifters at Asheville Strength and Conditioning. I’m just some old professor guy and I have to choose my programs wisely, based on what works for me.

Chart of Maxes during Cycle I

The chart below corresponds to my first five week cycle with Zach Bijesse’s strength programming. For each of the three lifts I have been practicing, the chart lines plot the maximum single rep effort I achieved across three workouts during each of the five weeks of Cycle I.

Chart of Maxes During Cycle I, Aug 6th to Sep 7th, 2012

Chart of Maxes During Cycle I, Aug 6th to Sep 7th, 2012.

As you can see from the data, Zach’s pseudo-Bulgarian approach to programming did help me to increase my working maximum across all three lifts (to PRs of 83 kilos in Power Clean, 135 lbs in Press, and a new max HBBS of 255). The chart for the press looks a little flat, but also looks like I may be building a good foundation for adaptation and further increases in capacity. The trend on the squat looks like it’s going up. The power clean line suggests it will be a long, random walk towards progress in this difficult lift.

cycle I evaluation

I am currently on a 19 week training program, consisting of four cycles of four weeks each, with interstitial “play weeks” between cycles. I have just finished the first cycle (from Aug. 6th to Aug. 31st) and, before I embark on a “play week” I thought I’d post a short analysis of my progress this past cycle.

The following table lists the true working “max” I achieved over the course of the three workouts of each week of my first cycle. Since the whole goal here is just to increase my max or personal best in these three lifts, all that is necessary, for each week, is to look at the bottom line, or rather, the top-of-the-line results.

  Week I Week II Week III Week IV
Squat Max (Lbs) 240 250 250 255
Press Max (Lbs) 130 (PR) 135 (PR) 130 135
Power Clean Max (KG) 79 (PR) 82 (PR) 83 (PR) 81

As the table shows, I did manage to achieve at least one new max or PR every week (my new squat maxes are not true PRs but they are HBBS PRs). I think I made good progress in spite of too many bad workouts, especially in the past week and a half.

In terms of quantifying how much I improved my capacity in the lifts, in just four weeks I added +10 lbs to my previous HBBS max (245, achieved over the summer), +10 lbs to my previous press PR (125, achieved a LOOOONG time ago), and +5 kg to my Power Clean PR (78, achieved over the summer). I want even more! but I’ll take this. Pretty happy.

I look forward to the next cycle, which starts Sep. 10th, officially, although I bet Zach B. will have me working hard next week during my “play” week too.

back on line

I allowed my web hosting account to expire as of 8/17/2012… first time I’d ever done that. I was busy! Oops. Well, I’m back on line now. Did you miss me?

something new…

My Summer Surf Safari 2012 is over. It was four fun training weeks and one play week. All went just about according to plan (I did miss 1/12 of the workouts, though); close enough! as far as training results and body recomposition goes. I am satisfied.

And now I begin a new semester at work, and a new season in the gym, healthy, whole, motivated, and excited for something new.

What’s new is the following.

(a) Zach Bijese is taking over my strength programming. I will continue to program auxiliary lifting and conditioning for myself but I have committed to following Zach for a season. Zach has promised to help me reach my goal of a 300+ lb squat, so, I am looking forward to giving him the chance.

(b) Periodization scheme is as follows. I am still going to be using four week “cycles,” with one week “play” weeks between cycles. These are my “mesocycles.” My macrocycles are clusters of mesocycles. The large-cycle I am working on right now is 19 weeks (4 x 4 weeks, plus 3 “play” weeks) and will continue from today, Sunday Aug 5th, until Saturday Dec. 15th, 2012; the entire 19 weeks is given over to Zach’s strength programming, so, the “play” in play weeks is limited just to what I decide to add or take away from Zach’s plan. I have asked him to respect my need for occasional breaks from hardcore training… but… he’s the coach and… “Bulgaria!” as we are fond of randomly shouting at Asheville Strength and Conditioning.

(c) New Body Recomposition goals are as follows. I am done trying to lose weight for now, in fact, probably for the next 16 months. I am willing to gain weight and go up to 210 lbs by my 45th birthday, in January 2014. I plan to gain between 0.5 and 1 lb of mass per month, while holding waist and caliper measures steady, or while improving these measures. Each “cycle” has a target average daily weigh-in, so I will sometimes need to eat more, sometimes less, to make those numbers. For the first mesocycle of the current macrocycle my target average weigh in is 201, which is (+/- 2 lbs) already where I am, so, all I have to do is eat to recover and to maintain or lean out. Longer term, my goal is to maintain an average of 202 in cycle II (Sep. 9th to Oct 6th), 203 in cycle III (Oct 14th to Nov. 10th) and 204 by the fourth of the mesocycles (Nov. 17th to Dec. 15th). It doesn’t matter what happens in the play weeks, because the target average of the following cycle is what it is, and so, if I have to “lose” weight or bloat going into a month, that’s just what I’ll do. Then in 2013, over a 12 month period, I will probably increase the target weight by a scant 0.5 lbs per month. I may scrap this whole plan if my waist starts to bloat up or my skin-caliper measures “go south.”

That is all!

the last days of Surfing Safari 2012

The final days of our summer trip to Arch Cape were a whirlwind of family and friends… and daily surfing or paddling expeditions. There’s no way to summarize them except in the most cursory way.

Thursday, July 26th. Surfing in mid-AM with Ben Walsh at Indian Beach. It was semi-clean, 3-4 ft waves, WNW. Decent time for a mid-day surf.

Friday, July 27th. Surfing in early AM with Sean McEnroe and Ben Walsh at Indian Beach. A bit later than the previous day. Small, but clean. Fun. Ben took the Big Blue Flame Linden, Sean the 8′ Blue Linden, and I was back on my Super Ugly. I love that board. Later in the afternoon… what a perfect day it was, with low winds and sunny weather… super small waves and clean surface. A few of us took turns paddling out on the kayak out in front of the house. Super fun. I went in just my shorts, crocks, hat and sunglasses. I did flip the ‘yak in a wave near the rocks at Arch Cape but it was no big deal. I even managed to retrieve my hat and glasses from the waves… no problem. :-) I am over my fears about ocean kayaking. Friday afternoon was so gorgeous I ended up hanging out with the family on the beach, digging sandcastles and playing… I could not be bothered to hit my final training session of the training cycle! Barbell Gods forgive me; this was supposed to be a vacation and I took a day off training.

I can’t remember for sure if we went out on Saturday July 28th or not. As I recall it was a situation of “no waves at all” and I called it off at about 6:00 am, and went back to bed. It was a lazy day later on, with visits from the Shipleys and DK with George. Also, my folks arrived.

That Saturday was the last day of my 4 week training cycle… and on Sunday, my “play week” began. I was feeling good about how active I’d been in the last week. Something nearly every day.

Normally Sundays are rest days for me, but this was a surfing safari, so, on the first day of “play week,” on Sunday morning, July 29th, at a pretty low tide, Sean and I went out, he on the kayak, and me on the Big Blue Flame, taking off right out of Arch Cape, and paddling south around the cape into Falcon Cove. Although the swell was down to flat, there were some small rollers in Falcon Cove and we both managed to ride both kayak and board (we switched, half way through) and felt pretty badass for making the 400 meter paddle south and back to check it out.

Monday morning, July 30th, Sean and I did a repeat of the prior day’s surf adventure, this time joined by my Dad, who is 69 years old. What a trooper! He stayed on his Big Blue Flame Linden, then switched to the Kayak, which he seemed to enjoy. Sean stayed on the Super Ugly the whole time and said it did him well. There was less to ride in the way of surf than on Sunday, but it was still fun making the paddle into Falcon Cove. Monday afternoon, feeling kicked from all the activity, and overly surrounded by too many family and friends, I again skipped my planned workout. Anyway, I HAD worked out… just by paddling and surfing. I justified this to myself as an acceptable thing to do during a “play week” where I also happened to be at the beach.

Tuesday afternoon, July 31st, we took the family down for a high-tide mid-day session at Shorties. This was mediocre surfing at best (2 ft. SW swell at 19 seconds… i.e. almost flat). To make things worse, the kids and wives had a horrible time. It was one of the most beautiful days, but the North winds had kicked back up… first time in days… and they didn’t enjoy the mini sandstorms that each gust brought.

Wednesday morning, August 1st, I thought about going out alone. It was a super early morning super low tide, still no waves at all, and the prior day’s N wind had kicked up the surface into a chop. And it was gray. At about 6:30 am I looked out at the shallow waters, choppy surface, gray skies, and flat waves and decided I could deal with being done with surfing for the summer. I suppose I might have worked in a workout on Wednesday, but I didn’t… I let the prior day’s surfing session stand in for that… again justifying it as acceptable during a play week… and also in view that I had to clean up the beach house and travel. I spent all day cleaning, then drove to PDX, said goodbye to Mom and Dad, and flew out of the state.

Alas! All things, good and bad, must come to an end.

Surf Safari 2012

New Four Week Training Cycle begins today, July 1st, and extends until July 28th. Twelve MWF workout are planned, but the main point of the cycle is to surf as many times as possible.

Training plan is simple. Focus on doing triples. Deal with the equipment limitations of being at the beach, which are as follows: I have a jumprope, some rings, an 8 foot pull-up bar, 300 lbs of rusty Chinese iron, and that’s about it. I’ll do RDLs on Monday, Squats on Wednesdays, and Hang Power Cleans on Fridays, plus burpees, presses, ring dips, and chin ups every day. Like my last cycle. I will condition as I feel capable. But surfing could happen on training days or rest days and it will likely leave me WIPED. So no pressure. Not looking to set any PRs this month.

From a body recomposition perspective the point is to not lose ground, and to be more serious and focused than I was, for example, during the last week, this last “play week,” in which I may or may not have gained a pound or two, but during which I definitely didn’t treat myself well.

To that end I have devised three super simple rules that will help me maintain a weight in the 199-201 range, which is where I was at the end of my last cycle.

Rule 1: don’t eat after 8 pm or before 9 am. Duh. Just don’t do it. 7 days a week. Stop with the post dinner, late night snacking.

Rule 2: don’t watch TV or movies. Read instead. Don’t think this has anything to do with body recomposition? Well, my worst behavior around food and skipping sleep is all centered around watching TV late at night. So skip it.

Rule 3: sleep, motherf***er, you got to surf tomorrow.