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-   -   Odd Blog on Strength, Conditioning, Nutrition, El Alia (http://www.catalystathletics.com/forum/showthread.php?t=5373)

Mark Fenner 04-25-2010 03:24 PM

Odd Blog on Strength, Conditioning, Nutrition, Et Alia
Well, I figured I cluttered up the PL & OL forum enough with my Smolov thoughts ..... so, I should actually move in over here in the logs section. I'm going to treat it as a blog that would be of interest to the Catalyst Athletics community. I used to have a "real" blog but I moved on from that institution.

I'll come back here (to this first post) and edit a few things about my athletic and training history. I might even keep the first post update with current training, goals, etc. Boy, wouldn't that be something -- keeping it updated :).

My athletic history is a sad, sad story. I never had any introduction to strength (per se) as a youth. In elementary school, I played tons of soccer, some basketball, some wrestling, and did lots of bicycling around town. In high school, there was some moving trauma, I tried my hand at football (my brother was a bit of a football stud playing guard at 168 soaking wet) -- that didn't go so well because I was bigger and weak as a kitten. But, I could run (slowly) and I went back to soccer -- playing goalie at first and then all over the field (fullback, stopper, mid-field, forward). Oddly, my high school was small enough that the football players (at least some of the O-line) were big soccer fans (many had played in elementary school) and they cheered us on. I also joined them for weekend tackle football. So, I had some toughness and grit ... but man, I was lucky not to die some times.

But, my real loves were hockey, volleyball, and martial arts. I played ever game of volleyball I could -- given that we didn't have a high school boys team. I started on foot with deck hockey and progressed to rollerblades for a lot of roller hockey (almost all pickup games). I even had two or three games on ice (ugly, ugly stuff). After longing for martial arts training (for years), I started some kung fu in 10th grade and carried it through for a couple of years (nothing special). Later I trained at an MMA school before MMA was a term -- we did karate, judo, BJJ, escrima, JKD, etc. It was a Dan Inonsanto type place.

I didn't _really_ touch a weight until about junior year in college. I could barely bench press 115 pounds at 190+ bodyweight. Yup: fat and weak. Fortunately, my wife still loved me (she wasn't my wife yet). Found some half decent advice (Fred Hatfield's ancient website) and started squatting. Nothing amazing, but I was on the right path. Late in college I was doing nothing but studying my tail off and hitting the gym fairly regularly.

Early in graduate school, I made far more progess in the martial arts: after a stint in aikido, I hooked up with some great judoka (fall of 1999) and eventually worked up to nidan (2nd BB) in 2007. Anyone that knows John Schneider -- when he was a brown belt, he destroyed me (a yellow belt) with a o-uchi gari, knocked the wind out of me (I was gasping on the mat), and on the way down, my fist caught his eye leaving him rolling on the mat. I was happy to be in his wedding last year. I was never a _strong_ judo player but I had good instincts from a tough older brother and wrestling early on.

Through early graduate school, I started lifting a bit (I think I had some major delusions that came from 1/16th squatting 315). But, I got sucked into the dreaded hell of jogging. I had ballooned up to 215 lbs. and I took up jogging. Can you guess what happened to my knees, shins, ankles, etc.? It wasn't pretty. And I didn't learn.

Fortunately, one of the instructors at my MA school was also a long-time strength devotee and eventually he invited some of "us" to his gym -- The Dungeon (yes, yes, it's not an original name). Six weeks later, my wife and I were the only ones still training every weekend. This was probably around 2005 but I'll have to check my log book. After a lot of work, a broken leg (from judo), and so forth ... I got into the 2-3-4 ballpark (even more with trap bar DLs and hand-on-rack safety bar SQs). At some point I knew every article on T-nation, I had a FAQ answer on Crossfit, etc. Yippee. A few years ago now, graduating (PhD), new born son, new job, moving, selling a house ... ACK! Real life!

Which brings us to the present day: I've had pretty consistent training for 2.5 years with the exception of summers. That's the curse of an academic schedule ... you fall apart after spring semester. Seriously. Any teachers out there that deny this? I'd love to have some of what you are on. [I now believe that simply taking May off is the best answer -- it beats losing the whole summer.]

<that's it for now ... I'll throw in some more about different programming things and how I got from 215+ to a judo competition at 178 ... holy crap, is that really 40 pounds? whoa!>

Mark Fenner 04-25-2010 03:25 PM

Quick props to my wonderful wife.

At 140 lbs bodyweight she did:

SQ: 225 lbs
BP: 120 lbs
DL: 110 kg (242.5 lbs)

Total: 587.5

Next up: 600

Allen Yeh 04-26-2010 04:41 AM

Nice intro. I look forward to seeing what you'll be writing, I liked your Smolov post, not enough to try it (at the moment) but good reading!

Derek Simonds 04-26-2010 06:47 AM

Yep I thoroughly enjoyed your Smolov post, just a little different then Allen I actually might do it. I will definitely enjoy reading your log/blog. That is an awesome job by your wife on her total.

Mark Fenner 04-30-2010 02:29 PM

So, I haven't forgotten my one week old blog/log project. In fact, I'm hoping to only update it once a week or less. Seriously, I don't think people want to know about my extra set of KB C+P this morning. That said, I did actually take a bit of time this week working on something for the blog: I went back through my workout log books that started in the January 11, 2001. Wow. Seriously, I see that I didn't train on 9/11 (and I remember that morning too -- I bet you do also).

Anyway, the length of the record isn't nearly as cool as it sounds: there are lots of off periods in there. Especially in the first notebook. I have three archived notebooks now. In fact that first one (which is smaller) took me all the way through April 8, 2005. I see I weighed 195.5, I worked out from 7:54 -> 9:30 AM, and I hit a 3 @ 295 DL. I'll stop with those details now.

I made a summary spreadsheet that I'll probably attach to my first post. But, there are a couple things that struck me as I tried to summarize what I was doing at different points in time. (1) Sometimes, I was taking way too long off ... especially after hitting a high note in training (sometimes the layoff was enforced by real life, injury, etc.). But seriuosly, I see at least three points in my life that I've worked up to a 195+ BP. And almost every time, shortly there after, I've "switched things up". Seriously! I've done similar with 315 SQs (worse yet, the old ones were "high bar" and the new ones are "low bar". Not that the hi/low difference was even the main culprit, but you'll see my point in a minute.) Really, is a new training goal worth the year to get up to 315 again? DL isn't innocent either, I've hit 170-190kg repeatedly without pushing higher.

I think my point is that it takes a lot of hard work and some blood, sweat, and tears to get up to these weights (for me). Pushing beyond them is like climbing a mountain that gets steeper towards the top. Yes you have to keep walking. And each step is going to get continually harder. If this game was easy ...

So, there are a few reasons that I couldn't push beyond. (1) Life. Can't do much about moving, having children, new jobs, etc. A new situation may take 1-3 months to get sorted out. This stuff I don't begrudge. (2) Shiny new program. Oh dear. We've all dealt with this one. I made some nice strength gains, but I softened up a bit. Time for a "fat loss/work capacity" block. Which of course you aren't adapted to, you push too hard, and you get injured. Or, "I'm bored". It's time to make another run at learning the Oly lifts. And you don't SQ or BP for two months. Ooops. Hey, if _you_ haven't made these mistakes, you should probably find someone else's writing to read. I'm only talking about what I know. (3) Shiny new exercise. This is a little more insidious than (2) because you might keep the same structure and 90% of the exercises from your current program.

But, tell that to your BS that you spent 6 weeks adding 30-40 pounds too. When you hear the siren song of SnGrip DLs and _replace_ your SQs ... and six weeks later, you've lost the 40 pounds on your SQ ... you can comfort your SQ with "Well, I'm stronger. I just can't display it on you. You understand. Right?" Sort of like new job, salary, wife, diamond ring or trip to the islands.

So, that got me thinking. If you want different, make sure to keep some same (thanks DJ & Pavel). How's about this, with a new program or lift, keep your hard fought lift that you built up in your program. Keep it first and do 3 of 5 or 5 of 3 twice a week. Or maybe do a 10 rep total (5-3-2, 3 of 3, 5 2s) with a little higher intensity. Make sure they look and feel good. Who knows, you might not only be stronger with the shiny new lift, but you might even keep some strength-skill. And, after a week or two focusing back on your main lift, you might actually PR.

I'm also happy to say that I did push beyond today (Friday).

BP: 215 (PR) ... forever from mid-pt to top (triceps)
SQ: 345 (PR) ... knees fell in (adductor hammie - right, this one is opposite of "common sense")
BW: 195

Both felt good. Neither were psyched. That wouldn't help my BP, but it would add to my SQ.

Last Friday, I did a meet like session. But, I did some repeats on some of the lifts to get a better feel at the weights. I ended up with:

SQ: 2 @ 295, 3 of 2 @ 315
BP: 2 @ 185, 2 @ 195, 1 @ 205, 2 of 4 @ 185
DL: 2 @ 150kg (hook), 1 @ 170kg (lup), 1 @ 180kg (lup)

The DL 170kg didn't feel good, so I didn't try to match my PR of 190kg. I really wanted to. Fortunately, the 180kg felt better although it was more difficult. Doing all of these in one session (3 hours) was a real bruiser. I was hammered over the weekend, but some of that might be due to a virus that really knocked my wife around. I got it too, but maybe not as much. I ended up not training until today (with the new PRs). Frankly, I felt like crap for the week and didn't want to train today. Even warming up with my SQs, I was thinking "Just a light day to log some lifts." That never goes as planned for me. Although I did have two back to back light workouts that set a great stage for some records in Spring 2008.

Mark Fenner 05-08-2010 05:53 AM

First Ride of the Year!
Good grief.

Did my first bike ride of the season. The weather was ... interesting. High to very high winds (20-40+ MPH), passing storms and t-storms, and dropping temperatures. I spent the morning checking the bike, lubing and cleaning some parts, and getting my gear out. I was debating whether to ride, decided to ride, had a depressingly cold rain pass through, decided to wait, checked the weather, waited a bit, and _finally_ decided to go.

I did the ride last year, but not as my first ride. There's an
endless climb in it and I was curious about heart rate during the
climb, so I wore my HR monitor. More on that after I describe the

The segments on my Jacob's Hill ride:
  1. Home to approach on Rte 12 (via train station-rec fields + bike path). 5.2
  2. Approach climb from 12 to trailhead. 2.3 (dirt road)
  3. Off road.
  4. Climb to height of land on Jacob's. 1.3 (dirt road)
  5. Down to 12. 2.3 (dirt road)
  6. Home via Nat'l Life hill. ~5

And my times & ticker readings: Overall 2:24 / 140
  1. 20
  2. 30 / 166 (first two segments overall HR)
  3. 40 / 111
  4. 12.30 / 146
  5. 6.28 / 107 (weeeee)
  6. 32 / 123

I also took a rest at the trailhead (5 mins), and swapped my fleece off and on a few times depending on rain and wind.

I couldn't really walk the rest of the afternoon. The climb up Gould and Jacob's just crushes. I rode it non-stop in the saddle the whole way in my lowest gear 99% of the time. On the trail, I felt like crap on any of the climbs (mud and leaves, weakened legs -> bad mojo) and walked most of the significant ones. Boo. But, I felt good in the slaloms and rollers. I was fairly certain I was going to get slammed by a storm: I had some motivation to keep moving. Fortunately, when the winds peaked, I was nicely sheltered by some friendly trees.

When I popped out of the woods, there was an awesome display of clouds over mountain tops. I like to call it a "dynamic" sky. Wow. Definitely cool stuff with a crystal blue sky in the background.

Unfortunately, I'm sure that ride will crimp my squatting style today. I'll probably delay them until Saturday (**). I'm also thinking about how to counteract the negative effects of endurance efforts on strength and power. Now, I'm not so worried about it that I'm going to stop riding. Summer == riding & hiking == fun. But, if we can cleaverly prescribe some medicine to account for the enduro, maybe we can offset some of the anti-strength & power adaptations. I'm thinking along the lines of a few (A FEW!) bouncy drills that keep the CNS up.

I'm also thinking about dealing with the repetive motion of cycling (in particular, on the road portions) on the quads and hip flexors. Pedaling around the circle (with clip ins) helps with the legs proper but I easily fall back into "push only" pedaling. I'm also thinking about the old hip flexors. I do plenty of hip flexor stretching/mobilizing -- we'll see if that is enough or if it needs to be upregulated to compensate for biking.

(**)Yeah, well, um, yeah. I can't really (read: I'm constitutionally incabable of) not work my lower body at the gym. So, with thwacked quads, glutes that were somewhat neglected on the ride, and a "friskyness" for something heavy ... there's only one logical choice. Rack pulls. They went well. I stayed a hint conservative b/c riding does actually put your back in an annoying position for several hours. None the less, I worked up to 5 @ 455 with hook grips to 315, and both alt. grips at 365.

I'm still flailing as to my programming for the next several weeks. We're moving and I know that will take a lot of energy.

Mark Fenner 05-15-2010 06:21 AM

Just a few thoughts I've had recently:
  • Hiking with (your own) young kids. Here's a scenario: you enjoy hiking, you do it enough to be able to "just go". You have a child. It's easy enough to throw your child in a carrier pack and keep hiking. Especially if you've become used to the weight. But here's where it gets interesting. When THEY start hiking! What do you do? Chances are, one of the reasons you like hiking is because you enjoy the physical work. But, you can't bomb along with a 2.5-3 year old. And you can't go all Sgt. Major on them either (move it or I'll kick your .... yeah, not such a good idea). Yet, you want to introduce them to the wonderful world of the outdoors and encourage them to be physically active.

    Hummm. Certainly, you can alternate periods where they walk and you carry them. You can also alternate levels of hikes: some days Junior will ride and some days he or she will walk along. Here's a thought for those days when you do a super light hike and you (mom or dad) are jonesing to go. Get up early or find a way to sneak out for a quick 10-20 minute HIIT type session. Short and to the point. Burn off enough of your energy so that you aren't frustrated when you do a slower walk.

    Some might say: you have to be kidding. You are so hung up on training that you can't just relax with your family? Well, I'd say: sometimes, yup! Have you had to skip training this week? Have you had a particularly crummy week at work? Are you trying to keep pace on a couple goals? Would doing the quick session allow you to focus even more on your family? All good potential reasons to make your training, training and your family time, family time.
  • I'm going to have almost six weeks of very open time for training. I'm considering a high-frequency approach along the lines of Kelly Baggett's PTTP like frequency oriented routine here: http://www.higher-faster-sports.com/...ybenching.html. Note, while I will bench, my focus will be squatting. I'm trying to talk myself into a goal of a solid 405 SQ by July 1. It's odd, it's pretty easy to "train hard and see what happens". Mentally, it's very different for me to say: "this is the goal, must make it happen".
  • Shoulder's been unhappy. One thing I'm adding is more time with a stick and working the back SQ rack position while just sitting with a forward lean. From there, I move the hands in and out and do behind-neck-presses (this is with about 5 pounds of weight total). I'm going to do this multiple time daily and see if I can get the (good) feeling of racking the stick to transfer to the SQ. The benefit to the stick is I can play with tiny, subtle adjustments. The bad thing, of course, is I can't tell if going from 5 pounds (or less) to 315 (or more) will have any transfer. I do think the literal stretching and muscle firing patterns might transfer, particular if I am very mindful about the position (i.e., mentally convince myself that the stick is the 315 that will conspire with gravity if I screw around).

Mark Fenner 06-11-2010 07:09 AM

My family and I are moving.

Those words put an immediate "zap" on most sane lifting plans. We haven't gotten into the heavy, heavy lifting phase yet. Fortunately, my wife's new job has offered some moving assistance. Unfortunately, it's not unlimited so we have to do some picking and choosing -- we'll move some stuff our selves and have some of it done professionally. We moved ourselves locally last summer -- we had about 15000+ pounds of stuff. It took us a week. We couldn't walk for the following week. Ugh. Fortunately, we got rid of a lot of junk and we don't have to do it all ourselves this time.

However, the physical element isn't really the worst part. It's the planning, replanning, finding reliable help, finding a new place to live (rent? own?), looking for a job for myself, feeling bad your son is being uprooted, and so forth. But, we'll get through it. On to fun stuff:

Two of my last points were that (1) my shoulder was being problemsome and (2) I wanted to be hell bent on a 405 SQ. I didn't realize just how troublesome (1) was and how it would affect (2). I also realized the cause of (1). I was trying to do some ring dips (which haven't been a problem before) and ... ouchie, tweakie ... my left rotator cuff went into spasm, unhappiness. That actually persisted for quite some time (May 1 until ... now). I kept up with the PL SQ through May 15 or so, but when two weeks off of PL SQ (with only a single workout on May 23) didn't reduce the inflammation, I made an executive decision to give the shoulder a rest. So, I moved to High Bar Back Squats (OLY SQ).

There are some nice benefits to the OLY SQ for me: I dont' _have_ to spend 20-30 minutes warming up and stretching out my shoulder girdle to do them. (Of course, with my goal being a health shoulder, I do the warmup more often then not. I just don't add the stress of PL SQ). The OLY SQ have been ok: of course, that means they're about where my PL SQ was in January *sigh*. But, I'm mostly content to be getting good leg work and trying to improve the shoulder. Incidentally, the OLY SQs are as deep as possible. I'm not using oly shoes, but I've considered it (I have them).

Training wise, I had four weeks of about 1 heavy session per week. I was supplementing that with some other work: "just" doing an extended warmup up twice, hiking Camel's Hump (great hike, quick, knees were mostly ok though they complained at the very end), and a couple KB swing, snatch, clean+press workouts. I always intend to do some windmills and getups, but for some strange reason ...

The brings me to this last week. Since the next couple weeks may be back to one session a week, I've been attempting to lift whole body, squatting every day on MTuThF this week and MTu (next week). Squatting four days a week will get your attention. M was 7 of 5, Tu was a heavy single (275), Th was 3 of 5, I'm not sure about today. I've also been hitting the BP each day: M 2,3,5 ladder x 4 (40 reps), Tu heavy double (195), Th 2,3,5 ladder x 5 (50 reps).

A tiny bit of direct upper arm work has also found its way into my routines. And, it turns out that it may be useful! I literally have done about 15 sets of curls in the past five years (or so). I've done a few more tricep extensions, but not many. Well, I opted for some "stretch position" movements: incline bench DB curls and OH tricep extensions. And, my left arm is definitely weaker. So, I'm working to get that balanced out. Also, the OH tricep actually gives me a few moments to see how my shoulder sits in the OH position (i.e., do I get nice and tight to the ear, do I have to assist with my off hand to get into that tight position, etc.).

One last tool in my toolbox that I had really used a lot in the Fall: I call it "Eurocise"ing -- b/c, well, "Euro" makes everything better (or so the infomercials say). Anyway, this is simply Pavel's ETK C+P and PullUp ladders alternating between them. For me, it looks like 1 C+P, 5 breaths, 2 C+P, 7 breaths, ... N C+P, 1.5 minutes rest, 1 PU, 5 breaths, ... N PU. The C+P are done with a barbell.

A last note. My wife is training out of Celli's Gym (http://www.cellisfitness.com/) in Pittsburgh for the summer. Ryan and Dana Celli are wonderful folks: I met them a few weeks ago. Ryan is also beastly strong: he totaled 2000 @ 198 (equipped) and 1807 @ 198 (raw). Whoa! Dana is no slouch either. Anyway, if you are in Pittsburgh and need a gym, it is only 5 minutes from downtown and 5 minutes from Oakland (if you know the right roads). It's also 5 minutes from my brother's. Man, if only we were still living there!


Mark Fenner 06-24-2010 07:51 PM

So, just a few thoughts:

1. I've been training a variety of places. The gym at NU, the Moores, and at Celli's. It interesting when you switch environments. Different bars (possibly with a variety of groove widths and slight diameter variations), different lighting, music, etc. Different styles of benches, squat racks, etc. Doing three places in two weeks definitely gave me an appreciation for the benefits of "home" -- one dedicated place to train. Of course, variety has benefits too.

2. I finally put up a pic for my avatar. It shows me and my son (Ethan) on top of Camel's Hump in the Fall of 2009. He's 2.5 yrs and about 35 lbs in the pic and he rode up on my back. (Talk about rucking! Try it with a wiggly load). He is wearing some great clothing: a Steelers fleece and an Elite Fitness beanie. I've actually taken him up CH three times.

3. I've been experimenting with back-to-back days of squatting. The first day I "grab some volume". The second day I "grab some intensity". As an example, Day 1: 7 of 5 waving up to 235/245. Day 2: work up to a nice single at 275. (These were with what I call for my own reference "Olympic squats". For me, this is high bar, mostly upright, medium- width, narrow hand spacing squats. I moved to them for a few weeks to take some stress off my shoulder. They've been a nice variation -- though my knees got a little achy as I upped the volume/intensity. Also, my lower back was a little disgruntled. But, none of it was more than adaptation. I'm ready to get back to mostly PL style squats. I'll probably use my heeled shoes when I return to Oly style.

4. I had some nice success with log pressing (small potatoes for most folks, but I was happy). I haven't even done heavy militaries since last fall but I was able to match an older 2RM (i.e., about a 4 year old effort) for some nice sets of .... 5 (I think ... my log book is five feet away and I just drove 12 hours .... Pgh to Montpelier).

I'm finishing my wine and going to bed. Last note, my sister ... who at the young age of 50 has gotten into training ... commented on me looking more like a lifter than even last summer. Good stuff. See, it really does pay to string together more than 8 months of continual training (that's a note to self!).

Mark Fenner 06-28-2010 04:05 AM


It looks like this will be my last post from VT (the Internet is going dark at the Fenner household today).

I had some fun squatting against chains on Friday and did some asymmetrical KB C+P (5 of 5 @ 24kg, 16kg L and R -- 10 of 5 total) on Sunday. Unfortunately, I tried a sumo deadlift (which I haven't tried in about 4+ years?) on Friday and my hamstrings weren't ready for the force-stretch combination. Nothing serious, but I definitely got a little tweakie in the hammie.

More box moving is in the RX for today and I might get a last NU workout tomorrow. Officially the three things we'll miss about VT: a few close friends, Camel's Hump, and Ariels' Restaurant. (Yes, there are a couple other things like great winter sports, Fall, wood burning, etc.).

Now, I'm back to being a Pennsylvania mutt (born in eastern PA, elementary school in central PA, high school + college in northwest PA, graduate school in Pgh, moving to northeastern PA).


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