Monday 27 February 2012

I am determined not to have a Marlon Brando moment

Sticking to my recent rash of Rocky references, have a look at Rocky's face. This was what my body was like up until a month ago:

In relative terms, this is what I feel like now:

I am obviously not like this superhero, but the comparison is notewrothy. I am able to lift weights again and it does not hurt. Oh, the joys of weightlifting and life in general. I missed lifting so badly. The legend Tommy Hayden is also coaching me and this has proven to be a winner so far. Tommy knows an awful lot about weightlifting and I know he will help me. I am just starting my third week of my first cycle and it is as basic as it comes. This is where the genius lies. It is basically progressive and it tells me exactly what to lift and how many times to do it. No silliness on my part and it takes me out of the equation.

My program is delightfully basic: There are four sessions and I alternate them each week:

Day 1/3

Snatch: 2X3@70%
6x2@80% Week one
1x1@85% + 5x2@ 80% Week two
1x1@90% +4x2 @80% Week three
95%+ with no back off sets Week four

Power Clean and Power Jerk: follows the same progression as above.

Day 2/4 are the same progressions but with the Clean and Jerk coming first and the power Snatch coming after. I cannot squat because my ankle is still in jiblets, so I am doing 6x3 in the barbell split squat at the moment. I love this movement very much. it opens up my hips at the end of my sessions when I get really tight and I get some excellent squating movements done uniaterally which is a winner when you cannot squat bilaterally.

I train three times a week weightlifting and once a week doing an upper body strength session. Tommy wanted me to train four times a week, but in my first cycle back, I don't want to do this in case I aggravate me lower back. In my first week, I definitely could only have done three sessions because I was pretty sore at the third despite getting a massage and two soft tissue trreatments that week. I had to actually leave the final bit of my workout because my lower back started hurting again,

In my second week of training, I was able to get all three sessions in fully and also step up to 85% weights. I actually felt healthier at the end of the week than I did at the beginning of the third week. My hips are the most flexible they have ever been and are still improving slowly but surely. My hip flexors, quads and hamstrings are still relatively tight, but they are getting better also. I was lifting better in the second week and starting to get my feel back for the weights.

I am now two sessions into my third week and with the weights going up to 90%, I can definitely feel it in the body as a whole. It has been so long since I have lifted anything of note that it will take me a while to get used to the heavier weights again. I have faith in myself though. I have an Irish squad session this weekend and it is a week short in my program, but I will see what I can lift on the day anyway. I am basing this program off a conservative 110/140 so they will be my obvious targets.

It is really nice to be back in the weightlifting world again. I missed not being a participant in the sport and I can't wait to train with and hang around with the lads again.

One thing I know is that in my weightlifting and athletic career, I don't want to have one of these moments because I gave up:

It would be too easy to give up. A lot of people have told me to give up becuse of my hip, but that is not what I am about. I will find a way to lift the weights that I want to lift and I am very happy I am going about it the right way so far. I am getting more flexible and mobile in my joints and I will continue to get healthier and stronger. I will just have to go about it in a different way to most people! If i have not reached this guy's standard of movement in the next few months, I can officially be called a loser by Murph while he wears this guy's awesome pants:

Thursday 16 February 2012

We all need our moment of belief. Win,

So, moving on from the last post, I got to the stage where I could not pull the bar at all, even to do skill work. Something had to change and for the first time in my sporting career, I was thinking of my long term health and basic lifestyle in the following ten years.

I decided to try something different and I went to a chiropractor. He told me that my SI joint was out of place and that this explained my back pain and the subsequent issues. He urged me to take ten days off training completely and I actually did it. I had not taken off ten days from training since I was 18 years old and even though I was very restless and even more annoying than usual, I enjoyed the time off training. My back felt great and I decided to go back and try again. I kept things very light the first two sessions and I pushed it a bit a few days later. It was fine at the time but I was in bits the following few days; I tightened up badly and I was back to square one again. I had around 6 sessions or so and they gave me some relief without sorting me out.

By this stage, I was very frustrated and had not been able to train properly for around three or four weeks. After some careful deliberating, I decided to give my back a break and leave off weightlifting for a few months. I had played a few games of social rugby for fun but my ankle got worse and I had to stop that also. My shoulder was still bandied and the soft tissue work I was getting was only giving me comfort for a few days, rather than sorting out the underlying issues.

Around this time, I had entered an arrangement with John Connor, the co-owner of the Irish Strength Institute alongside Eoin Lacey. I would coach him weightlifting and he would give me soft tissue treatments and help me recover from my injuries. We only had three sessions together before he left for 9 weeks teaching and travelling. John gives me ART treatments or he uses other soft tissue protocols and I found these very helpful. While John was gone, I also went to a physical therapist called Paul Hevey who made a good bit of ground with my shoulder and ankle, giving me the first major signs of progress I had seen in a long, long time.

In December, I asked Eoin Lacey if he would hook me up with a strength program while John was away. They have different kinds of strength and conditioning protocols than I would be used to and would be heavily influenced by Charles Poliquin, a Candian strength coach. I knew it would be good for me to experience a different mode of training while taking a break from weightlifting and Eoin was gracious enough to help. After giving me a basic testing protocol, he said my trunk strength and erector strength were both appalling in relative terms. I did the program he gave me for five weeks with 3 or 4 sessions a week. I was not used to the higher reps, the short rest periods or the super-setted programming, but it was really nice to do something different. He put in some Clean grip pulls from pins into the program to keep up my strength. I enjoyed doing them but when I tried to do it again a few days later, even pulling the bar and 60kg hurt. I kept going hoping it was just stiffness, but just before the working sets, I decided to leave it. Once again, it was a few days after pulling that really hurt my back. It also seemed like it was changing in nature also, going from the musculature to the actual joints and spine. Not good.

I obviously left out any pulling whatsoever from the rest of my programming for the next two months aside from very light weightlifting movements that I would do when coaching some of the other lads in ISI. I kept in touch with weightlifting by doing the skill drills with the bar and 30/40kg. Doing some of these drills from the hang felt great while it kept me in touch with basic technique and the positions.

In the second week of January, I started coaching John again and he changed my general strength program. Once again, we used dumbell split squats except this time the back foot was elevated by 4 inches and I did one a quarter reps where I would go to the bottom, back up a quarter of the way, back down and up fully; that was one rep. These opened up my hip flexors while the unilateral work was great for strengthening my legs while not loading my back. A win win situation for all. I was also doing single arm work when pressing and using a neutral grip which took pressure off my shoulder. It felt really nice to able to press again. I had decided that I would begin weightlifting in the middle of February after I finished my second program as well as one of my busiest work periods. I had gotten stronger in the program I was given and I had continued to get healthier. I worked up to being able to lift twice a week in the classical lifts and each session, I would keep the weights really light and gradually increase the volume. I even did a 5x5 in the Clean and Jerk with 50kg! 5 Cleans and 2 Jerks were very tiring even though the weight was light. None of this hurt and I knew it would stand to me when I started training the lifts again.

I had asked the legend that is Tommy Hayden to coach me when I returned lifting again. He wrote me a program based off conservative numbers of 110/140. The next post focuses on my return to the platform. I think I need an Adrian in my life to give me a moment like this. If you don't understand the context of the scene, I hope you are suitably embarrassed and humbled.

This is an ever so slight exaggeration of how I felt, but you get the message:

Saturday 11 February 2012

What I learned from a disappointing sixth installment in an awesomely primal franchise.

Well, I thought I would make a blogging and weightlifting comeback; if I enjoy writing it, I will stick with the blog. Weightlifting: always! My last few months of blogging was a chore though, so I am glad I stopped.

For the last three months I have not been able to squat or do the classical lifts. This was immensely frustrating, but like all things in life, reflection leads to learning. So, in this comeback post, I will give a brief rendition of where I am now and what I have been doing since September. Here is the soundtrack to listen to while you read this post:

On Monday, I had my first proper weightlifting training session in three months. I loved being able to do the classical lifts again and it kicks several shades of fecal matter out of regular strength and conditioning work. Today's post shall be about what I was doing from July up to mid November.

When I came back from California Strength in the end of June ( you read the posts below and also watch the amazing interviews ), the back problem I had continued to get worse and I modified my lifting so that I could continue. In August, I found out that I had a labral tear in my right hip and an osteophyte in my right hip and a smaller one in my left hip also. This is where a bony growth forms to protect the damaged joint and is essentially osteo-arthiritis. This worsening condition was obviously causing havoc on the right hand side of my body and led to me getting a lower back injury that I could not shake from April to mid February. My old rugby shoulder injury prevented me pressing at all and my right ankle had also taken a beating and had a debilitating wear and tear injury. To put it bluntly, I was a shambles.

I finally understood why every time I trained hard, my hips and back would get stiffer and tighter so that I could not really train at all. My hip function was basically non existant in my lifting and I could never fathom how to get them to extend properly. When I worked on my flexibility, it never improved and my hips seemed to get more painful. With the results of the scan it finally dawned on me what was happening and it was more a blessing than a curse. Ignorance was most certainly not bliss in this case. I did not understand why I was not improving. Now I do.

In order to help my back injury recover and to protect my hip from getting worse, I changed how I trained. Instead of lifting from the floor, I lifted off either two thick plates or blocks that went between my shin and the bottom of my knee. I got a load of work done on my back, shoulder ( an old rugby injury that would not go away) and my hip. So, I trained from the low blocks from mid July to the end of September and I got stronger in these positions. I also started doing more pulling exercises and did some push presses also for general strength. I still couldn't press in the bottom range and all the work I had done on it did not seem to help my back or my shoulder at all. I also started squatting to a bench and when I started, I was really weak in these positions. In the beginning, I struggled with 180 and then two months later I hit 200 for a triple. Weak, yes, less weak then before. I was also still able to Front Squat and I hit 167kg which was a 2kg pb. Embarrassing, yes, but I got stronger in most things while my injuries continued to worsen.

Eventually, I got to the stage where I had to stop pulling off any kind because my back was quite inflamed and it hurt lifting with the bar. In the next post I will take you on my journey from November to mid February. I will address the things that I have learned of course, and over the next few weeks, I will write up a post about the biggest things I have learned since my lifting debacle that has been my last 9 months. But, this is a happy post because I know I will be a better lifter because of all this!

Power Snatch from blocks, then above knee and then below knee with 100kg:

Power Clean with 120 from block, then above knee, below knee and followed by Jerk:

Bench Squat single with 210kg:

This is a complete cliche of a speech, but cliches can be awesome. This is the message of my post and it shall be explained soon.