Changes In My Training Since I Started at SST

I have gained 8 lbs since I started working at SST. My body fat has remained more or less the same. I credit this to a number of variables but the most significant one is the dramatic decrease in the amount of cardio exercise I am doing. I’ve gone from riding 2 to 3 hours a day to doing 1 or 2 cycling classes a week. Doing 15-20 hours of cardio training a week is stressful on the body and causes a dramatic increase in the amount of cortisol that the body releases and, since cortisol helps the body liberate energy from protein, I wasn’t growing very much when I was riding in the summer.

I have been aware of the theoretical implications of excessive cortisol secretion for a while, this is just the first time that I set out to eliminate it. When I was bulking last year, I cut out most of the cardio and dramatically increased the amount of resistance and strength training that I was doing but did so much of it that I don’t think there was as big a decrease in cortisol secretion as there has been recently (heavy lifting is very stressful on the body and it causes a release of cortisol). I’m doing about 4 hours of lifting with one hour of cycling per week vs about 10 -12 hours of lifting last year.

Given the time of year and the dramatic drop in temperature recently, I don’t miss riding so much because I’m used to having to stop. I also don’t miss doing hours of indoor riding. In fact, I enjoy the one class I teach a week MORE than ever because I have enough energy to give it 100%. The intensity is much higher when you have had enough time to recover completely and I am more authentic on the bike – when the choreography calls for breathless I am able to get to breathless which makes the participants work that much harder – a big change from the summer when I was teaching 7 or 8 classes a week, most of them in the evening after riding the trails for a couple of hours.

The approach I am taking this year is smarter because I have a lot more support from the coaching team at SST. They have filled in many of the gaps I had in my understanding of how the body functions and what I need to do to get more growth out of it. Their insistence that I eliminate most of the steady state cardio to decrease cortisol secretion and keep testosterone levels high has made my body more anabolic, and their suggestion to change my diet to replace most of the grain carbohydrates with fish oil and protein has helped me avoid gaining fat.

I know the summer will return and I’ll race again next season, so I’ll be back on the bike again next spring. But for now I’m enjoying the changes in my body composition that the decrease in cortisol and the off season bring.

German Volume Training GVT – Experience So Far

So far I can say that it is by far the most gruelling workouts that I have ever done. It starts off fairly easy because the weight isn’t anywhere close to a maximum lift (it’s closer to 75%) but after a few sets the fatigue begins to set in and it becomes tougher and tougher. By set 5 I am questioning whether or not this is the day that I’m cutting my workout short because I realize that I’m only half way through.

Others report that sets 7 and 8 are the toughest and then things begin to get easier, and I’m starting to notice this too. Mentally, set 6 is the worst and physically sets 7 to 9 are brutally hard – particularly on back day when I’m doing pull-ups.

The pump I get is decent but my body tends not to hold it for the full duration of the workout. The only exception is day 4 when I train arms for 10 sets of 10 then 2 shoulder exercises for 3 sets of 12. My biceps get so bloated that I find it really tough to curl the weight completely. I don’t normally train my arms because they have always seemed to grow enough with just the back, and the chest and shoulder workouts that I do. They’ve responded extremely well to the direct training GVT prescribes.

I have been at it for just over 3 weeks and am enjoying the changes that my body has gone through over the last 24 days. My muscles look fuller than normal and I have delayed onset muscle soreness throughout the entire length of the muscle vs. just at certain parts. While DOMS doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have had a good workout, paired with the new fullness of my muscles I’ll take them as a good sign.

No Standard Process? Make Your Own And Follow It

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed life more when there is a level of predictability to the things I do frequently. I will put up with some very annoying behaviours and patterns providing I have had enough time to get used to them. For example, I know that I’m going to be standing in line when I go to the bank to make my student loan payment each month, I know that I’m better off using the cashier instead of the self-serve check-out when I’m buying produce at the local Real Canadian Superstore and I am certain that the QEW east bound is going to be really slow when I leave work before 5 PM on Friday’s. These are things I’m certain of because I have experienced them often enough to figure-out their pattern and I find them very low stress because I am prepared for them.

Up until very recently I would find myself getting annoyed when there was a change to one of these patterns. Probably the biggest source of this type of frustration has been the check-in procedure the front desk of any GoodLife fitness clubs other than the Milton coed club where I work; my card will only open the gate at the Milton club because GL’s check-in system cannot immediately check you in if you are a member of a different GL club, so when I go to Burlington and scan my card, nothing happens and the gate does not open.

I know the gate won’t open so that doesn’t cause me the frustration. What I used to find annoying is the lack of consistency in the check-in process between the different clubs. At some they smile and open the gate, at others they take you card and open the gate and at others they ask you to write down your name, membership number and the time of day on a check-in sheet before taking your card and letting you in. The other option is they look at you with suspicion, take your card and check your member number in the system, then ask for ID and then get you to fill out the check-in sheet. I am willing to follow any one of these procedures every time I visit but I don’t understand why it varies between clubs and even between individuals at the same club.

A few weeks ago I was walking down the stairs at the Oakville club thinking about what was about to happen and a realization hit me. What was frustrating me was the absence of predictability and the feelings of helplessness I had when I go to check in – no matter what I think is about to happen, there is a very good chance that I am going to be wrong and the front desk person is going to have me jump through a different set of hoops. I identified, that if I knew before hand what was about to happen, it wouldn’t be an unpleasant experience for me, it would just be something I do. So I grabbed the sign-in sheet, filled in the required information, handed over my membership card, showed them my drivers licence, smiled and said “hello”. They unlocked the gate and I went in. I wasn’t asked to do anything else because I had already done everything they could have wanted me to do. It was a small thing, but I had moved the locus of control back to me and removed that helpless “what is about to happen to me” feeling that the process normal facilitated.

Since then I have carried this lesson over to a number of different areas in my life. At home, I expect that I’ll be making the bed in the morning, taking out the garbage and washing the dishes before I go to work instead of wondering whether or not Rachel will or thinking about the possible reasons why she didn’t. At the gym, I assume that there is going to be someone using the squat rack for biceps curls so I don’t consider doing squats until I am loading the weight onto the bar.

I have started to uncover the things that annoy me and I am modifying my behaviour to ensure that I control what ends up happening as often as possible. I determine what needs to happen and then make the process or procedure that I follow consistently so I don’t give others the opportunity to determine my behaviour. Doing this has dramatically reduced the amount of stress that I experience and it has returned a lot of joy to things that I was beginning to find somewhat painful.

Things are predictable because I make them predictable.

Cycling Pedal Stroke – When It Feels Right

I use clipless pedal so when I ride my feet are attached to the pedal – I am one with the bike. Being locked to the crank allows a rider to exert force to pedal throughout the entire rotation of pedal stroke. You are able to pull up on the back leg while pressing down with the front one channeling more force to chain and the wheels. They make you a more efficient and powerful rider.

I’ve been riding with clipless pedals for the last 7 years and each year I get better at feeling the circular drive force. At the end of last season I was able to feel it consistently when I was sitting – it feels like my butt sinks an inch into the seat and there is a noticeable increase in the power output.

This year it feels like that, but after I learned to lock my lower abs I’m able to feel the power coming from my hips as opposed to my legs. I get the same hip stability that I have on the saddle by really locking my core. As a result, I’m able to get that same increase in power when I stand or hover and have found that my max output comes right when my butt seems to just float above the saddle – there is no real space between my body and the seat but there is no real contact either. It feels like I’m floating and there is the sensation of my femurs powering away from my body. Like many body sensations, it is hard to put into words, but I know immediately if I am completely recovered from the last workout or ride because I am unable to get this feeling if I do not have enough energy or power.

With my lower abs locked tight, I feel the bulk of the effort of the pedal stroke coming from my hips, then my upper leg and finally my lower leg – from the big muscles to the small ones. Given the relative strength of my glutes, I’m really happy that I’ve learned to engage them when I’m riding as opposed to relying exclusively on my quad strength and their associated knee extension to power the pedals forward and slightly down. A tight core also helps to facilitate hit flexion on the back part of the stroke.

I know that I’m going to continue to improve, but after 7 years of practice I’m starting to drive more power to the pedals throughout the entire 360 degrees of the crank rotation and the result is longer faster rides and an increase in intensity.

New Challenges – Moving In With Rachel – Month 2

As October begins I am excited about starting my third month of living with Rachel. School started again in September and I started a new job, so our lives are very different than what they were when we first met and started growing our lives together.

Here are the things I learned during our second month living together:

1) Don’t waste a moment. Rachel started school and I started a new job so we need to make the best of the 10 minutes a day we see each other.

2) When making a meal that requires some effort, make enough for two. If Rachel doesn’t end up eating it, there’s a meal for me that I don’t have to make. But she’s usually happy to have something to eat that doesn’t take much time to get ready.

3) There is tomorrow. If I think I have an issue and it’s fairly late in the evening, I’ll just sleep on it. If it is actually important it will come up again the next day when my mind is more clear and I’m thinking better. If it doesn’t come up again then it would have been pointless to raise it in the first place.

4) Take out the garbage. Not taking it out doesn’t make you the winner, it makes the place stink.

5) Change your eating habits to eat the things the other likes cooking and eating. I don’t like onions but Rachel does so that means I do. End of story.

Check out New Challenges – Moving In With Rachel – Month 1 for the first part.

Just One Exercise – T-nation article

Just One Exercise by Michael Boyle of t-nation is one mans answer to the question “if you could only do one exercise, what would it be?”

He says push a heavy sled because each step engages one leg and there is massive core muscle recruitment involved with single leg movements. While this is not a single leg exercise, each step of it is so the core activation is superb. It also engages the glutes and hamstrings in the way that you come to expect from glute ham raises or good mornings. Check out the videos in the article if you’re not sure what he’s referring to.

I would have answered differently but for a similar reason. I say one arm corner barbell shoulder press because they recruit the pec, deltoids, triceps and the muscles of the core.

Once I started doing single arm and single leg work, I was able to dramatically reduce the amount of oblique work I was doing. In fact, I haven’t performed a single side bend or side planking movement in months and I’m happier than ever with the way my mid section looks.

New Job? Nope, My Next Career

Part of what I like most about Rachel is the way she seems to energize and drive many people to achieve a little more of their potential. I am no exception in this and when we moved in together in August she immediately started sending me help wanted ads for jobs that she thought that I may like to do.

One in particular caught my eye and I applied for the position. It was for the operations manager role at a company call SST in Burlington. I hadn’t heard of them before but Rachel was very familiar with them through one of her professors at Sheridan college. SST, or Sport Specific Training, is a straight and conditioning center. They have been successfully training young athletes for the last ten years and their approach is rather different from the method used at the fitness clubs that I am more accustomed to.

I submitted my resume and got an interview a few days later.

The facility is small, about 5000 square feet, and doesn’t have any cardio machines. They have a lot of equipment that I have never seen anywhere else other than in the demonstration photos that appear with some of the t-nation articles (sleds, fire hoses, tires, etc…). It is not a bells and whistles place, it’s more of a blood and guts training center. This is part of why I love it – people come there to work hard and they leave quickly because there is no reason to stay. They have a lot of signed pictures on the walls of different level athletes who have trained there and achieved more success. People go to SST to get better results on the playing field, track, court, wherever.

The interview process was grueling because I had to meet with all of the key leadership figures to ensure that we would be able to work together. It took about 2 weeks and each step drew me in deep because it was evident that each member of the team was picked for their specific talent and unique personality. They were looking for a career minded person and not someone who as seeking a short term job. Given that I knew nothing about the company before I submitted my resume, I was able to synthesize and add to my understanding with each interview. In the end when I was offered the position I was ecstatic because I knew the fit was right for me and I knew that I was the right person for the job.

The only downside is that my blog is suffering significantly because I love working at SST. I am up early and really eager to get to work. I leave work late, workout and come home to eat. Rachel gets home about an hour later around 10 PM, when we’ll chat for a few minutes until she opens the books to study before calling it a night near midnight.

I wouldn’t change anything about my life right now but I do look forward to becoming good enough at my job so I can devote a little more time to again. In time I know my site will begin to see the impact of all the new experiences that SST is facilitating in the form of original content.

New Challenges – Moving In With Rachel – Month 1

Rachel and I decided to move in together and we found ourselves a small bachelor apartment in Oakville. If you have never lived with a partner before, here are some of the things that I’ve learned about it in the first month.

1) We are different people and each have a unique experience of reality. We view the world in different terms because we have different DNA and have had different experiences. Neither is right or wrong and both are equally valid.

2) Clearly define your expectations and responsibilities in the house work, finances and behaviour. Make a list of chores and pick the ones you like. Make a list of bills, due dates, amounts required from each person and the date they are due. Tell the other what type of morning person you are, how you start and wrap up your day, how you unwind when you get home and what type of stuff makes your life easier.

3) The toilet seat is not to remain up EVER.

4) Ask for what you need when you need it. “Please help me with these dishes, I need your help making the bed.” Seems so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said but I found myself wondering why Rachel was trying to bug me by leaving a wet towel on the bed after her shower. Turns out that she had no idea that she was doing it and has stopped since I asked her not to.

5) The right way to do something is the way you do it, so when you don’t agree on what the right way to do something is, do it either way because both work.

6) Call them on their crap immediately and make sure they do the same with your crap.

7) When you give them feedback (are trying to get them to alter their behaviour a little) always let them know how you felt. It places the responsibilty on you for feeling the particalar way and it increases the likelihood that they’ll remain open because they will not feel attacked.

8) Choose your battles and compromise on the things that truely do not matter to you.

9) Some behaviours won’t change so if you can do it in 5 seconds, consider that an option before talking to them about it again.

8 Mistakes I see In The Gym Everyday

I’ve spend a lot of time at the gym over the last few years and I’ve noticed a few things that people do frequently that hinder their progress. The follow are 8 of the simplest to fix:

1) Lifting the weight not lifting the lift. I have no problem with power lifters using whatever means necessary to get the weight up, their sport is lifting as much weight as possible and there is a special technique to it, one that is very different from a fitness or body building lift. But this type of lifting isn’t the most effective way to get fit or grow muscle. In fact, they do whatever they can to make lifting that weight as easy as possible, the opposite of what body builders and fitness participants should be doing. If you are working a leg exercise and your shoulders are hurting, take some weight off so you are able to feel the effort in your legs.

2) Not working out very hard. Intensity is key to getting quick results at the gym. It’s fine to be social while you’re there, just try your best to keep your heart rate and effort up. If you do more talking than lifting, consider finding somewhere else to hang out.

3) Avoiding power lifting movements. Power lifting moves are great for teaching you how to control your nervous system and coordinate the impulses needed to fire almost all of the muscle fibers in a muscle. In fact, you’re not likely to be able to learn this any other way. Lots of practice can teach you how to fire them but going down that avenue is going to take years vs. months. It is irrelevant that their isn’t a direct carryover from power cleans to pull-ups, because the portion of the brain that controls and coordinates high levels of muscle recruitment is going to develop from power cleans which is going to make pull-ups easier.

4) Working a very short portion of a lifts range of motion. Unless you have an injury, warm-up well and perform the entire range of motion with EVERY lift; I’ll give you a shorter range on the last unspotted rep of a heavy set, but that’s it. Lowering 80 pound dumbbells to elbows at 90 degrees and pressing them up again is exactly 50% of a rep. Would you come 50% of the way to the gym for your workout? I’ve seen people “press” 225 of 5 reps like this – you can tell who these people are because their chests are tight and their shoulders are rounded forward when they walk through the gym looking to see who saw them perform their killer set. The other great example of this behaviour is the 1/8th leg press when the person loads the machine with every plate in the gym and moves it 3 inches. At least in this case, if they load and unload the machine themselves, they are getting a decent workout.

5) Coming to the gym instead of getting another hobby. There is a limit to how much you can workout and still continue to grow. You’ll continue to burn calories the more you work, but there is a finite amount of micro-damage that you can do to your body before you start running into problems or stop being able to lift with enough intensity to do any damage. You’ve done way too much a few set BEFORE this point. While you will keep growing, you’ll not be growing as fast as you could be had you performed just enough work.

6) Not having any goals, long, short or immediate. Sometimes when I ask people what they are hoping to achieve by being at the gym they know right away and tell me, I want to lose some weight and build some muscle, I want to look good at the cottage this summer, I like the way it feels when or after I workout,… But a lot of the time, people don’t know why they are there. They’re doing the same exercises the same way and with the same weight that they always do and getting exactly the same thing out of it as they always do. When your sole reason for being there inertia, it maybe time to talk to a trainer about some goals.

7) Not trying anything new. Most people hate telling me what their favorite exercise is that they started doing in the last 6 weeks. For me it would be overhead barbell shrugs. The 6 weeks before that it would have been single arm corner barbell press and before that it would have been the agility ladder. Wide grip dead lifts on a step, glut-ham raises, front squats and, for a time, upper-pec cable crossovers would have been mentioned. The workouts I do now have some of the same core compound exercises as the ones I did a year ago, but a lot of the other exercises have been replaced with new ones. My strength on most lifts has improved marginally in that year but given that there are about 15 or 20 new lifts included in that, I believe I have progressed. Irrelevant of the numbers, my body looks better than it did a year ago because the new movements have added mass in places that were not getting worked before.

8) Never thinking about why you are doing what you are doing. I don’t mean goals here, I mean things like not questioning the wisdom of why you don’t go all the way to the ground with squats, why fat makes you fat, why you will never grow on a reduced or low carbohydrate diet, why machines are not as good as free weights or why doing cardio will stop you from growing. There are 1000’s of these pieces of wisdom out there that have been repeated so much that they are now assumed to be facts. Just question yourself every now and then to determine why your are doing what you are doing

Deconstructing Paul Chek – T-nation Article

Deconstructing Paul Chek by t-nations by Chris Shugart is a bullet point recap of a 4 hour conversation with the therapist / trainer / coach. He has been at it for a very long time and remains in the best shape of his life.

Personally I like the holistic nature of his approach; even though I’m not religious, I can see the value of including all aspects on ones identity into their health and fitness development plan. He draws a distinction between the different religious views that people hold but only in so far as to say that each is a very important aspect of the individual.

• It’s only through a healthy body that you can have a functional, rational mind. Aristotle made his philosophy students workout with the Olympic wresting team. One of the main reasons I train my body is so that my mind works effectively.

• Toxicity means you’re bringing in more toxins from the outside than you can release. You can’t have a functional detoxification system unless you have a functional digestive system. Anyone who’s eating cheap food is likely to have a digestive system that isn’t working.

• If you don’t want to have problems, eat real food. Stop eating all this cheap crap. I’ve had multi-millionaires and world-class professional athletes in my office tell me that organic food is too expensive.I walk them to the window and point to their $140,000 sports car and say, “Eat that fu#ker then! Because when you die they aren’t going to bury that son of a bitch with you!” It’s just a matter of getting your priorities right. The more toxic your body is, the lower your quality of life is.

• We have a tremendous dehydration problem today. The only thing that substitutes for water is water. When you’re drinking water you’re actually drinking nature’s most powerful detoxification agent. The best solution for pollution is dilution. And that means water, not tea, not soda pop, not orange juice… water!

It will probably take a few reads for everything to sink in. Even if you don’t agree with all that he says, try and let his words impact you if for no other reason than he’s 44 and still stronger than everyone you know.