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.

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.

new four week cycle: summer solstice 2012

My new training cycle will be four weeks long, running from May 27th to June 23rd.

The cycle includes the following training and body recomposition goals.

Body Recomposition Goals

At the end of my previous training cycle I got off track with diet, and had a surgical procedure, and ended up flat on my back for a week, eating GORP, and bloating up like a madman. At my peak I had gained 10 lbs from a low that was only three weeks prior! So, the new training cycle is all about tightening up the diet and returning to my goal weight. I started the first day of the cycle at 202 lbs, and will probably end up with an average weight for the week of 199-198 lbs. But my goal is: I will end the four week cycle with an average weight of 195 during that final week. My average waist size and skinfold measure will also decrease, because I will lose fat, not muscle.

The process for doing this reflects my larger motives for training and recomposing my body. Health and longevity are diffuse, but real, long term life goals. So the process incorporates drinking less alcohol (only one day per week!), eating Michael Pollan style (“eat real food, not too much, mostly vegetables”) while still getting my protein, sleeping responsibly, and doing IF. I’ll provide details in my weekly summaries (published Saturday nights).

Training Goals

The training template for this four week cycle is super simple. I am going to focus on doing work with heavy singles on Squat (High Bar, unfortunately), Deadlift, and Power Clean. My medium term goal for the period is to take whatever I can lift in the first week and add 15-20% to that total by the end of the cycle. So, for instance, if I can squat 1 x 230 on Monday of week 1, I’m looking to squat 275 (an all time PR) by week 4. That’s my medium term goals. I’ll discuss these medium term goals in more depth on Saturday of week 1, when I’ve seen what I can do this week.

Also, following Dan John’s advice, I paraphrase, “if it’s important to your development, do it every day,” I will be doing burpees, chin-ups, dips, and presses at every workout. I will also be doing some conditioning at every workout. Those are what Nick Horton would call small goals.

My only relevant long term training goals remain roughly the same as they have since the fall: squat 315 and deadlift 405. I’ve added a few pounds to both goals because, what the hell is the sense of coming so close to three wheels (at 300) or to four wheels (at 400) but not to go all the way? I revised the goals upwards and I believe I can reach them … some day. Those are my long term goals, and I think Nick Horton would approve of them as such, because they still scare me a bit. These long term goals aren’t relevant to a four week training cycle except that my programming has been selected because it may help me progress towards the goal.

The weeks look like this:

MONDAY: warm-up, heavy squat singles, b/p/pu/d, conditioning, and auxiliary optional

WEDNESDAY: warm-up, heavy deadlift singles, b/p/pu/d, conditioning, and auxiliary optional

FRIDAY: warm-up, heavy power clean singles, b/p/pu/d, conditioning, and auxiliary optional


And nothing. That’s the plan! Four weeks. It’s going to fly by.

When I’m done, starting on June 24th, I will take a week between cycles. The next cycle will involve surfing and heavy triples. I know that much. But not much more. So, more on that on July 1st!

the idea of a shorter training cycle

Trial and error. That’s been my training plan and my coach. Really. Because although I have relationships with coaches, and I do a little bit of coaching myself, I just don’t pay anyone else to be my coach or to program for me.

To some ways of thinking, that leaves just me, as coach of myself. But that’s not accurate. Actually, my coach is like a force of nature. I am always trying things out, and often failing to get where I think I’ve planned to go. Because while I always have plans, they rarely work out. I keep making trials, and then wandering off the path in error. Or, I get pushed from the path by random happenstance and accident. I’ve learned to expect this pattern, and even to benefit from it. My coach is thus “trial and error.” He’s relentless. He always says, “do it again.” And he often says, “there is no try, there’s what you did, you’re doing now, and what you’re going to do. That’s all.” So I plan, and I attempt to do X, and do X plus or minus Y, and end up where I end up. It’s important to pay attention to that.

My thinking has changed lately. I’ve rethought the way I go about planning for myself. Over the past three years that I’ve actively pursued “training,” I’ve deliberated with myself about how to periodize my training and how to deal with the inevitable cycles and ups and downs that come when life and training intersect.

I’ve used “training cycles” as defined periods of 8-12 weeks of focused purpose in pursuit of defined goals. But what I’ve found is that a 2-3 month period is just too long. It doesn’t allow for the dynamic nature of life, for the changes that life often brings, without warning. Injuries, illnesses, unplanned events, lapses in discipline, etc.

Experiencing this again and again has taught me something important. It has taught me that I need shorter periods in which to try and remain focused. And so, what I’m thinking now is: I want to try out a year of shorter periods, periods of 3-5 weeks in length.

These shorter training cycles of 3-5 weeks will, I hope, allow me to accommodate life’s shifting forces better in my training. I can choose, ad hoc, to put different cycles back to back, or to repeat the same training cycles, or to add single weeks of rest, conditioning, testing, or rehab between cycles, as needed.

The first of these new, shorter training cycles begins today, Sunday, May 27th, 2012, and continues through Saturday, June 23rd, 2012. It is four weeks long. It will very likely be followed by a week of light conditioning (June 24th to June 30th), and then by a totally different four week cycle while I am in Oregon later this summer (July 1st to July 28th). Another week of light conditioning (July 29th to Aug 4th) will be followed by a third four week cycle (Aug 5th to Sep 1st).

I will discuss, in this blog, each of these periods as they arrive.

good week (week 1 wrap)

So, my second training cycle of 2012 began this past week and I feel great. I just finished the first week of eight planned weeks and I’m optimistic about making tangible progress towards all my goals during the next seven weeks.

Training and Exercise: training wise, I started a new pattern of lifts that I will stick with for the entire 8 weeks of the cycle. I have committed as well to doing 3x per week conditioning. I will likely not be setting any new PRs in squat or deadlift during this entire time, which, at first, would not seem to be bringing me closer to my long term goal of 300 lb squat and 400 lb deadlift. But that appearance would be false. I have reset the deadlifts in order to fix ongoing problems with lower back extension, and I am already making progress in correcting my form. At the end of 8 weeks, if I can stay “on target” with my plans I will be moving a lot of weight and getting ready to do some more serious, PR territory lifting in my next cycle. And in the area of my squats, I had to change everything about how I do them when my right shoulder pain became so bad that Low Bar Back Squat turned impossible. So, it’s the Safety Squat Bar for me, which I love. But it’s different. Problems with extension have always held back my squat as well, so I have dialed back my squat as well and am working on being more strict with myself about how I do the reps. I’ve also bumped up squat volume AGAIN, bringing me to 65 work-set reps a week. I anticipate being much stronger at the end of the period. I don’t anticipate having much to report, week to week, on training during this cycle. So this will be the longest note (unless, as might be inevitable, the unforeseen happens and I have to explain changes) until my final week’s report, at which point I will do some comparisons in all the areas of training and exercise I’ve been doing, by comparing weights and reps in week 1 to week 8. All I hope to report is that I am on track and doing my plan, week after week.

Body Recomposition: my body recomposition goals are simple. And this week, I didn’t experience any measurable changes one way or the other. So, I guess you could say we wait and see. I am about 1.5 lbs above my target weight (avg. weight in week 1 was 196.57 lbs, .3 lbs down from last week), average circumference was very slightly up (very slightly, as in 1/16″ of an inch or so… 0.06″… to 36.56″), and my skinfold in mm was flat (at 10 mm). So, to move towards my goal of establishing an average weight of 195 and to improve measures of leanness, I still have to be careful about overeating. I’m close enough to my target weight that a few days of tight eating and clean IF during the coming week and I’ll probably reach it. And then the question becomes: how I can get leaner while maintaining weight? It’ll be interesting to try.

eight week training cycle for spring

Sunday, April 1st begins a new, eight week training cycle for me. I choose an 8 week cycle of monitoring and reporting this time around because I live and operate on an academic schedule, and I’m more likely to get through the next 8 weeks uninterrupted than I am to get through a 10 or 12 week period without having to disrupt training because of vacation or something. The next cycle after this one will have to take into account the fact that, wherever I am, I’m going to want to be surfing. But I get ahead of myself.

Training Goals: my training goals remain the same. 300 lbs (1.5 x B.W.) squat and 400 lbs (2.0 x B.W.) deadlift. But my training emphasis shifts slightly during this eight week cycle, from striving for pure strength gains to prioritizing form improvement in both deadlift and squat, and recovery for my painful right shoulder. I also add a goal of preparing myself for summer surfing (next cycle), which requires a higher level of conditioning than I’ve been maintaining. My deadlifts have been hampered by a form problem: lumbar rounding during lifts. So I have drastically reset the lift to a lighter weight, to work on extension, and have increased volume dramatically, and plan to include RDLs and supermans as a regular part of working out as well. I will continue to use the SSB for squatting, hoping my right shoulder continues to benefit from the break from LBBS and also that I can use the unique form issues involved in the lift to supplement my quest for control of “extension” in the lower back. I have rewritten my program to put more emphasis on the deadlift and to make room for conditioning. That will become evident as I march through the program over the next few weeks.

Body Recomposition: I still have body recomposition goals, so this is a recomposition cycle. So far, in week I of the new cycle my average weight is a few pounds above my goal weight of 195. So in terms of quantitative measures, my goal for the 8 week period is to reach and then maintain an AVERAGE daily weigh-in of 195 lbs. I have to bring down the average weigh-in somewhat, between 1.86 and 2.75 lbs, to reach that goal. The method is the same I’ve been using: 12-14 hours of IF daily, periodic, ad hoc longer fasting, and generally “clean” eating (= more or less paleo, + limited dairy, alcohol, cleaner grains, and occasional “cheats.”) I made good progress in the last two weeks of my most recent training cycle by cutting out all alcohol for two weeks. So I feel strongly that alcohol needs to be limited to weekends only in this new cycle. I will, however, make exceptions for drinking out with colleagues if invited, on a Mon or Wed evening only. If at any point during the cycle my average weight drops below 195, I will add in a planned weekly cheat evening, most likely Saturdays. Before that time, I will avoid deliberate cheating and try to stay out of the kitchen after dinner. Once I hit and maintain 195, my goal is to continue to see improvement in my waist measure and skinfold measure. If the most recent average measure was 36.4″, I’d like to see that at 35.4″ at the end of week 8. And if my recent average skinfold measure was 10 mm, I’d like to see it at 8mm by the end of the period.

This training cycle runs from April 1st, 2012, to May 26th, 2012. The next cycle after that will be “Summer 2012.” I will write up a weekly report on my progress towards the goals I have laid out here.

week twelve wrap up

I ended my twelve week training and body recomposition cycle in an ambiguous place. On the one hand, I had nominally reached my body recomposition goals (though the average weight, which counts more, still has a few pounds to move). On the other hand, being set back by my injured shoulder in the squat and by needing to correct form in the deadlift has meant that I haven’t set a new squat or deadlift PR in a few weeks. I definitely made progress towards my training goals during the twelve week cycle but it’s difficult to measure just how much stronger I am now than I was at the start of the period.

In terms of training, during the last week I actually reached a point of frustration with the deadlift that will have me moving back even further and switching to a two day a week program in the next (8 week) cycle. I will continue with the SSB squats, and move to a differently ordered three day a week program. But at least for the next cycle, I am going to worry less about pushing the SSB squats back into squat PR territory and worry more about perfecting form.

In terms of body recomposition, on Saturday I actually weighed in, for the second time, at my target weight of 195. Which seemed cause for celebration. So I had a higher carb (not high sugar…) high calorie, long eating window day on Saturday and allowed myself a few drinks too. The average weight for week 12 was 196.86, almost 2 pounds above target, but down 1.5 lbs from the previous week’s average and 3 lbs from the average of two weeks ago. This positive trend has been driven by a stricter practice of IF and restrictions on alcohol over the past two weeks. So I will continue to be stricter in these areas, but with greater flexibility to meet a colleague or friend for a drink if I should need to. The average waist for week 12 was 36.4″, down about .23″ from the previous week and 2.2″ from week 1. The average skinfold was 10 mm, down 1 mm from week 11 and 3 mm from week 5, when I started taking the measure. I declare success for my body recomposition goals but will continue to try to make progress in the next cycle.

week nine report

Week 9 of 12 of my current body recomposition and training cycle. Things went… not great. But not too bad. Sort of flat.

Training: I started squatting with the safety squat bar this week. So, I reset my linear progression; actually I am now doing three linear progressions simultaneously: mon, heavy; wed, light; fri, medium. Pumping the volume of squats WAY up. But it will take time before I am clearly back in PR territory and obviously progressing towards my goal, a 1 RM of 300 lbs. As far as deadlift goes, I didn’t set any new PRs this week, but my deadlift workout on Wednesday was a load/volume PR, as I did 3 x 3 x 315. So, summary is: no discernible progress towards goals, except what can be discerned when you look at the record and say: he’s still working.

Body Recomposition: I started out the week on Sunday with a heavy weigh-in (204.5), following last week’s excesses I was positively bloated no Sunday morning. For three days I was good, keeping clean and long fasting windows (22 hours Sun-Mon, 14 hours Mon-Tue, 18 hours Tue-Wed) and eating very very sensibly (no sugar, alcohol, gluten or snacks), so that by Wednesday AM I was down below 200 and feeling quite good about myself (198 lbs). I pigged out long on Wednesday, had a short fasting window Wed-Thu, consequently weighing in higher (200). Then a better food day on Thu, a longer fasting window Thu-Fri, and came in at 199 on Fri. But I pigged out Friday. And again on Saturday! Saturday weigh in was at 202, up 1/2 pound from the previous Saturday, and the heaviest Saturday since Feb. 19th. But overall numbers, on average, were still trending in the right direction: avg. for week was the lowest avg. yet at 200.21 lbs; average waist measure for week was 37.09, lowest yet; skinfold measure was flat, at 13 mm.

What I really need is a SOLID week of REAL, DISCIPLINED EFFORT.

Too bad week ten is also my SPRING BREAK. Oh well.

Week seven recap

My twelve week training and body recomposition cycle continues with further evidence of progress.

Training: I set two meaningful PRs this week: 5 x 260 back squat and 5 x 330 deadlift. Both felt good and both brought me closer to my goals, in spite of shoulder pain that has brought my pressing to a dead halt and my continuing hiatus in power cleaning.

Body Recomposition: Saturday of week six to Saturday of week seven, I appeared to gain a half a pound, but the average daily weight for week seven was actually down 0.8 lbs from week six. Thus: last Saturday, 199.5, this Saturday, 200 lbs, but the week six average, 201.6 was above the week seven average, 200.8. I am a bit worried that my umbilical measure was flat to up (37.46 average vs. 37.55 average) and my average skinfold measure was flat at 12 mm. Overall progress during the past seven weeks is strong: down 6-9 lbs in weight, 1″ in waist, and evidence of a positive direction in skinfold measure.

I had several “cheat” nights over the past week and was a bit inconsistent in keeping “clean” fasting windows. I plan to be a little more deliberate this week.