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.

one arm and a few ideas

If you are in to powerlifting, strength training, CrossFit, or weightlifting, what exercises or workouts would you do if you had only one arm, or had lost the use of one arm for 4-5 months?

Post ideas to comments.

slosh pipes and programming for olympic lifting crossfitters

More stuff I’ve been reading on, for your edification. This week: Dan John on the slosh pipe and Nick Horton’s take on reconciling Olympic Lifting training with CrossFit.

Training Gear: Slosh Pipe

Dan John with another winning article at T-Nation: “The Sloshing Pillar of Pain.” I have got to get one of these in my backyard. Thanks to T-Bone for this tip.

Nick Horton, The Iron Samurai, on Programming for Olympic Lifting and CrossFit

Thanks to Mie on Facebook for pointing out Nick’s blog, and this recent article he wrote on the troublesome combination of Olympic Lifting and CrossFit, “The Odd Couple: How To Combine CrossFit with Olympic Weightlifting.” (Anyone who hasn’t noticed that CrossFitters and Olympic Lifters tend to have problems getting along should just talk to Tamara. Oh well.) Horton has some simple advice on programming for this situation that makes a lot of sense. In fact, Horton, whose gym is out in Portland, Oregon, my home town, seems like an all around straightforward weightlifting badass. Meaning he has his head on straight. There’s nothing superfluous in his advice for those who want three easy steps to Olympic Weightlifting training. But one thing the article makes clear is why people think you can’t combine training for Oly Lifting with CrossFit. Both of these articles are worth your time.

on my programming

Wednesday AM I did an OPT assessment session with coach Corey. It was interesting, and I learned a few things about myself. Although the training stimulus was real enough (involving deadlifts, back squats, and bench presses, plus a number of auxiliary lifts) I won’t record all my numbers here (I have them in a Google doc from Corey). Call it a strength day and call it a minor stimulus.

The OPT assessment looks at your capacity in the basic lifts and movements given very strict limitations regarding correct form and tempo. The result of these strictures is that most of your numbers are much lower than they are in practice in the gym; one is tempted to say they aren’t relevant from the perspective of someone who tracks work based on raw strength numbers (as I generally do). Corey did not put me through EVERY phase of the assessment; some of my lifting numbers weren’t even big enough justify trying certain body weight movements.

My upper body pulling and pushing strength is weaker than it should be, no doubt about it. A lot of this has to do with problems I’ve been having with shoulders and arm pain. Corey says this has a lot to do with problems in my posture and neck position during the lifts, and I know he’s probably right about that. He gave me some movement prescriptions that might help me rehab the ugly left shoulder and that might, over time, correct next problems and address general issues with forearms, etc. It’s all about head position, shoulder position, head position, shoulder position! This is the most important form issue I have to work on.

Corey recommends I do some shoulder work consistently as a part of my warm-ups and says that, in weightlifting, I should prioritize deadlift (with a better form, especially, regarding my head position) more than I recently have. I should do deadlift in preference to or before squats, until the numbers I can put up in both lifts, with best possible form, are closer to squat 100%, deadlift 125%.

Anyway, I’ve taken the results of the assessment under advisement and am moving on and I will be taking them into account. Yes, I have relative weaknesses, and yes I know more about them today than before, and yes, I believe I should work on them! Working on known weaknesses is a no-brainer.

In terms of following up on an OPT assessment, it seems like the prescribed course, that coach Corey might prefer, for example, would be for me to go to private coaching with Corey, while I work on deficiencies. I don’t know how I feel about that. I don’t like the idea. (a) I can’t afford it. (b) For some reason, although I do want my own, individual training plan — and haven’t been satisfied with programming that is targeted at “all the members” of CFA — I don’t particularly want an individualized programming approach that focuses primarily on addressing my weaknesses as OPT defines them. I don’t want to have to stick to a training plan that is more concerned with tempo and form than with raw numbers. I have seen too much progress from trying to follow various linear progressions to give up on them because my form isn’t 100% solid 100% of the time. I don’t think that can be the goal.

So I guess I prefer to continue feeling my own way.

I think it comes down to being a question of what’s fun for me. I need more open gym time, and I need opportunity to enjoy the parts of weightlifting that I find to be fun. And what I find especially enjoyable about it is the pursuit of bigger numbers. Opportunities for training, in terms of available hours per week — those are a limited resource.

I like slower, low volume sessions that emphasize maximal or just under maximal efforts in selected lifts (i.e. Bulgarian method weightlifting). I like working linear progressions in the basic lifts, across a variety of schemes of reps and sets, at defined percentages of your known maximal efforts; I love this form of applied mathematics. I like how it works.

I also love or love/hate the classic CrossFit style workout: short, basic, brutal sessions, combining 2-4 movements, that challenge you to do as much or go as fast as possible.

For me, the ideal programming situation would be: 2x a week of open gym (linear progression in basic lifts and training the olympic lifts), plus 1-2x a week of 30 minutes of strength work (biased towards strengthening weaknesses, perhaps) paired with a 5-25 minute “met-con”. Plus surfing, or skating, or running, or biking, or swimming or something active like that. That sounds like fun.

I’m not at my ideal right now and don’t see quite how to achieve it but I’m thinking about it a lot.

in my prime

I’m excited to be one of what would appear to be nearly 200 competitors at the upcoming Carolina Fitness Challenge. I’m in the master’s category, athlete #201, and I’m one of the 5 over 40 athletes from CrossFit Asheville who are headed down to Durham this week. CFA is poised to dominate the master’s category, I think; we have 5/12 of the masters! We had better dominate.

I am not ashamed to say that I know from experience that at least 3 of those 5 CFA athletes are stronger and faster than me. And the other, well, he’ll give me a serious run for my money. Let’s just say that my goal is not so much “to win” but simply, to do my best.

In order to accomplish that, I’m going to have to do four things. (1) get some more sleep in the next few days. (2) kick this damn cold … runny nose, scratchy throat, inflamed bronchial tubes. (3) maximize my mobility and (4) hopefully in the process overcome residual soreness from my pulled left calf muscle. If I can’t do all four of these things, I won’t be fully in my prime this weekend.

Let me rephrase that. I want to be at 100% on Saturday. I am going to be at 100% this Saturday, thanks to mobility work, good nutrition, sleep, and rest.

After Fasting

I complete my first ever full day fast. In this post I debrief on the experience and consider its effects on my body, mind, and spirit.

Rest Week Reflections

As I enter the last week of my second cycle through the “new plan” (aka the “Never on a School Night” plan), I pause to reflect on, to analyze, and to assess the measurements I have made in the process of my training.