Training Notes: October 2021-February 2022

Although, as I indicated in my previous entry, I got a nice boost in my sprinting numbers following the changes I made to my training (reduced volume, overgeared sprint work, lots of time in the gym), I was still a bit disappointed with my rate of progress on my lifts.

This was especially frustrating given all the effort I was putting into it: not just under the barbell, but also in studying both the science and practice of lifting, and experimenting with different training approaches.

I'd had the usual initial rapid improvements that all novices experience, when your body is learning to use the muscle it already has more effectively. In my case, this lasted for about ten weeks, after which period further gains evaporated. I spent the next five or six months in a futile effort to tweak the novice linear progression approach (low volume, high frequency, high intensity), with little to show for it.

It was obvious at this point that there was no more blood to be squeezed out of that stone, so I switched to a real training plan (higher volume and more varied intensities). This helped a little, but still I wasn't progressing anything like I wanted.

Then, almost exactly one year into my strength training, the problem finally dawned on me.

Eating! One of the few concepts that just about everyone in the resistance training world actually agrees on is that, to gain muscle and strength, you must have an energy surplus. I'd heard this scores of times, yet I'd somehow managed to convince myself that it didn't apply to me. I thought it was just for skinny ectomorphs who find it very hard to gain weight. I assumed that so long as I consumed excess protein, my body would use this to build muscle and use body fat for energy.

This was wrong; the body wants to hold on to its stored fat, ready for the next famine which could be just around the corner. It would much prefer to use protein for energy and retain fat stores than to build new muscle and burn fat.

So, in late November, I thought 'why not give eating a try?'. Since then I've been gaining about 2 kg of weight per month, almost all of which appears to be lean mass (according to both the mirror and the US Navy fat calculation methods). I'm also seeing sharp, almost linear, increases in my rep maxes on all my major lifts. Better late than never.

But even after this fantastic turn of events, I was still having a terrible time with my Squat. The Back Squat and the Overhead Press are my key lifts, and with my relatively long torso and short limbs I'm well built for them. Now that I was chomping down well over 4,000 calories each day, my Overhead Press was flying up. So was my Hex Bar Deadlift, Bent-Over Row and even the Bench Press (which is a much lower priority for me). The only major lift apart from the Back Squat that wasn't improving fast was my Chin-Up, which I put down to bodyweight gain largely offsetting strength improvements.

But the Back Squat was just not right. Constantly resetting the weight wasn't helping; even when doing light sets of 8 I was gasping for breath halfway through.

Again, there was what was in hindsight an obvious solution.

Technique! Although I was bracing myself at the start of a set, I was simply releasing all the tension (and much of the air in my lungs) on the eccentric phase of the first rep. Subsequent reps were even worse, as I wasn't even properly resetting my breathing at the top. Once, I fixed this, the improvement was immense. I also made my stance a little wider so as to only drop down just below parallel, a much more comfortable depth for me than getting really deep.

So now I'm moving again. My diet is great, and I've iterated my gym work to give me consistent, sustainable gains. I've settled on a basic plan of 4-week cycles with what I call semi-linear progression. Let's say the target is 5 sets of 8 reps. In this case I'll go for 8 reps on every set. If I get them, the weight notches up next time; if I miss any on later sets, I keep the weight the same and try to get them next time. I increase intensity between mesocycles, e.g. sets of 10, 8, 6, 4 over sixteen weeks.

I've decided to concentrate on building strength and muscle mass until I get to a decent level. I modified my sprint training plan to reflect this. I'm not far off 300 lbs for my Back Squat 1RM; if I can get to my 315 lb target (about 1.6 times bodyweight) by mid-June I'll reward myself with a 16-week cycling-focused program. Otherwise, I'll lock myself in the gym for the rest of the year.

My ultimate goal is 405 lb for the Back Squat and bodyweight for the Overhead Press. At that point I'll follow my plan as written, but until then I'll just do one cycling peak each year.


#cycling #training #strength