Thursday, January 23, 2014

Deployed: Training, Life, Thoughts.

This being my second deployment to Afghanistan I came out here knowing what to expect. I knew my life would be easy. A low stress job. Hot meals. Hot showers. And cold drinks. Air conditioning. Internet. And gyms. Nothing much more a man could ask for.

Except for maybe inheriting a gaggle of women from that man.

But don’t let my experience skew your perception of what this place is like. Sure, I might be in Afghanistan, but I am not living in Afghanistan. I’m living on a developed joint forces base that just so happens to be in the middle of no-mans-land. No, I am not living in Afghanistan. I am not experiencing Afghanistan. My friends are. My friends, who I came up in the Marine Corps with, who I was an infantryman with- have lived in Afghanistan. They have slept, sweat, bled, and died in its dirt.

To the Marines of V2/9 who brought a hell Marjah never knew existed. 

Those men, my friends, are the reason why I can live in relative safety within a bio-dome of Americastan. Those men are why I have a job. As I was leaving to come out here a friend told me, “If you see my jaw and shoulder blade could you bring them back for me.” He isn’t the kind of person who’s shit list you would want to be on. But he is one funny son-of-a-bitch. 

But, even with all their war whoring you can count on Marines to find a way to lift, if at the very least their own body weight, rain or shine, in hellish temperatures or those rivaling the Frozen Chosin. Factor that with the truth that every platoon has its gym rat you can rest assured that guy has found something heavy to pick up. Whether it is a 7-ton tire, an MRAP axel, or some giant rock found near by.

Sgt. Garrett Misener was the man driving me to get stronger
while we were on ship together. Rest in Peace brother.

Just recently the Marine Corps launched its very own fitness program, “High Intensity Tactical Training” as a way to help Marines periodize their training. Periodized according to their deployment schedule so that while they are in austere shitholes they can still train effectively. And that is where I come back into play.

Back in 2009 I decided to no longer be a 0311 infantry rifleman and that it was just not for me. I then made the decision to change my occupational specialty to something far easier, but if anything, the most important one for supporting my old friends. The 4133 field, Marine Corps Community Services. What I do now is provide access to candy, tobacco, energy drinks, supplements, electronics, internet, some Maxim magazines (or ZOO from the Brits) and gym gear to those gunslinging asskickers. Load a truck up with everything to make a grunt happy and hand deliver those tasty treats, both for stomach and eyes, to Marines stuck in the middle of Taliban country.

Few things make a warrior happier than buying
20 cartons of cigarettes, a case of Grizzly Wintergreen, 
and about a hundred Monsters.

Yes, you read that right. I am a candy bar and gym equipment deliveryman. And do you know what, while deployed, it’s the greatest job (besides being an 03) that a Marine could have.  Nothing makes them happier, and happy grunts are effective grunts, and effective grunts are body dropping madmen. 

I couldn't ask for a more satisfying job while deployed. 

In the four years that I have been doing this job, and this being the second deployment to Afghanistan in it, I feel very confident saying that only the most far reaching patrol bases and combat outposts don’t have a sort of “gym” set up. Hell, within two weeks of setting in place in 2011 the Marine Expeditionary Unit had made a sandbag gym and within a month I had helped deliver barbells, plates, and kettlebells to them. Gym junkies will get their fix. And there are gym junkies of all ranks. Believe me. I have seen some shitty gyms out here, but still gyms nonetheless. 

Now whether or not operational tempo permits training is another story.

So with that being said, my deployment out here and in fact most others, will not be without access to sufficient equipment with which to train. Sure we may not all have cables and forty types of machines. But I know we got barbells, plates, and some other basic stuff. I know this because it is my job to make sure those items are sent out to help my buddies get jacked.

Marines in the most Spartan locations will be obviously focusing a lot on using bodyweight movements, buddy weighted movements, TRX facilitated movements, as well as local object lifting- things like truck parts, rocks, corpses and the like. Marines on more developed forward operating bases will have access to basic gym gear, a bench, a squat rack, some barbells and plates, maybe some kettlebells and dumbbells. The guys on major bases like me have access to equipment that is like a shitty 24 hour Fitness.

Evidence A: My buddy T getting some in the heart of

Considering the above, only the man who finds himself in the first position will “lose gains” meaning strength and muscle mass. It is however certainly possible, and in fact historically proven, that their conditioning will be beyond reproach. The second group of individuals have the ability maintain size and strength, and if lucky to make gains. The last group can make massive gains. However what this all boils down to is access to food and operational tempo.

Mission first. That means sometimes training goes out the window. In the shit, food is hit or miss. Those guys have the worst food and the highest tempo. That means no nutrition, no time to train, and little sleep. Everyone else who isn’t out there sleeping in a hole in the ground better have a good damn excuse as to why they don’t come back bigger and stronger. Especially since the mail system out here is crazy! delivers in two weeks... how is that possible? 

Getting away from the general concept of training out here and going a bit more specific I would like to talk about what I have done previously in Afghan and what I am planning on doing going ahead.

Previously I came out here in 2010 and made a great transformation. I ended a bulk that lasted over a year and brought me from 142 up to about 185. By the time I left in April 2011 I was around 160 pounds and lean as shit. My lifts at the time were a low 300’s box squat (probably to a high box), a hard as hell grindingly slow 275 bench, and a 455 deadlift.

Yep, big but really pudgy before leaving for Afghan last time. VFFs too. Shameful. 

Obviously I’m off to a much better start. As of today my scale out here, whether or not it is accurate, says I’m 183 pounds. But I’m a much leaner 183 now than I was in 2010. Not only that but my current lifts, as in within a month from today, are a 420 pound squat, a 315bench, and a 500+ pound pull either sumo or conventional. Sumo is probably around 525-550, but I haven’t tested since a 515x3 at the end of a workout amonth or so ago.  Clearly, the odds are in my favor. Below are photos of me currently.

Me as of today:

Shirt on.

Shirt off. Very little, almost absent abs. 
Those will come soon though.

More size in the arms and shoulders than the 
last time I came out here.

Really crappy leg shot. But hey, I've got some 
so I've got that going for me. Which is nice.

Rest assured I will try to get better quality photos by the end of this week. I may update this post when that happens. Also in my favor is my operational tempo is slower now, my schedule more predictable, and my knowledge and experience about lifting is light years ahead of what it was then.

Right now I am clearly not a lean mean fighting machine, but for a bulk the fact that I’ve got somewhat visible abs at 180+ lb and 5’5” is enough of a victory for me to be satisfied. By the time I leave I’d like to be about as lean as I was when I left last time, but sitting around 170 pounds; at least no less than 165. So does this mean I’ll no longer be a 148 pound competitor? Not really sure. For the American Cup I cut 20 pounds in 12 daysand missed weight by two lousy pounds. 

Anything is possible.

I’m not going to set any training objectives in stone, but I would like the following to happen, or at least, get as close as possible during this deployment:

450+ squat, 475+ in wraps (if I decide to do more wrapped squatting)
340+ bench
550+ deadlift, 600 sumo would be kickasss

If I can hit these at or around 170 pounds I will be very happy. If not, I better have a good reason, because I’ll be clawing my way to those numbers as relentlessly as possible for the next seven or so months.

What is the course of action? Well, as one would expect, a training program needs to stay fluid. However, having a plan is a must. What is my plan? The next four weeks is going to focus on building my capacities in the 2nd Tier, specifically at or around 80% of my Goal Weight.

I will accomplish this by using a Hepburn style training method Frankenstein’d with the “Russian” squat cycleformat. Accomplished by adding reps to a weight over a course of training sessions. Something along the lines of Hepburn’s “Power Phase.” However, I will be adjusting this by using a weight slightly less than my 8RM as he suggests, and will also be incorporating T1 weights before hand as well.
Frankenstein'd like the gnarliest creature imaginable. 

I will hit the heavier sets first, then back off to my 80% T2 work. The T2 work undulates in terms of stress (as defined by reps per set) each workout, but continues to increase in total workout volume until the fourth week where I hit it for three sets of ten reps after my heavier T1 weights.

Specifically the next four weeks looks like this:

To some it might look ambitious. However, about two months ago I hit 335x13 on my squat, after doing it for two sets of five. So I’m not really worried about running into a wall with my squat on this. Because I've already done something like this before with my squat. Bench however might be a little too crazy, we will see. I think I’ve done 235x10 before, but I cannot remember.

I’ll see what happens in the next three weeks, I’m already almost through the first week, which has been successful. I will continue to update my YouTube with videos, of course my training log on, and will be a bit more frequent with this blog.

If you have any questions about training, life, whatever, let me know. I need some blog topics to cover while I’m out here too. So far what I’ve got is:

- The military strength athlete. How to run and not be weak.
- A more in depth explanation behind my training priority continuum.

- Whatever else you clowns give me.

Awww... You want it don't you Georgie? Hmm... Of course you do... 
and there's cotton candy, and rides, and all sorts of surprises down here... 
and balloons too... All colors.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The First Tier: Gaining the Psychological Advantage

Throughout their training lifetime a lifter may find themselves at a plateau in a lift. They're stuck. The weights wont move. The bar alone is heavy. Desperate they scour through their training logs. Analyze every workout. Nitpick nuances otherwise unnoticed. Then, bewildered, they find no clearly identifiable flaws. 

The weights were moving fast.

The sets felt smooth. 

Then suddenly, it stopped. Why? 

Perhaps sometimes the issue is not simply how fast the bar is moving, or how many reps are done across however many sets. Maybe the issue is more subtle. Perhaps the weights became heavy not because the physical effort required was too great, but the mental effort was beyond them. 

That is where training in the 1st Tier comes into play. 

There are limits which we impose on ourselves and often times in lifting those limits revolve around specific weights or percentages of your tested capabilities. The 225, 315, 405, and so on and so forth quagmires. 

That is why I advocate training so closely to your maximum capabilities. How close? Well, over the last year or so I've been training around weights that I figure are an "everyday 2 rep max." These are weights that I figure I could hit any day of the week for two reps. Rain or shine. Sleep or not. Drunk or sober. 

Ok... well maybe not that last part. But you catch my drift. 

A training plan centered around this average performance is close enough to build confidence under the bar. That is the training factor that many fail to incorporate. But at the same time it is far enough away from true maximums to evoke any sort of cyclical fatigue and those painfully slow and grinding reps. 

Don't get me wrong, the grind has its merits, but not when done multiple times per week- for weeks on end. 

A lifter approaching their daily maxes is not a new or revolutionary idea. I certainly didn't create it. But I am an advocate of it because it has value beyond developing physical strength- it helps promote psychological strength. 

Confidence under intensity. 

An example template would look something like this:

(Everyday 2RM% x Reps x Sets)

Week One: 85% x3, 87.5% x2, 90% x1x3
Week Two: 87.5% x3x3
Week Three: 87.5% x3, 90% x2, 92.5% x1x3
Week Four: 90% x3x3
Week Five: 92.5% x3, 95% x2, 97.5% x1x3
Week Six: 85% x1, 90% x1, 95% x1, 100%x1+ (Last Set AMRAP)

Then develop your next training program based off of how well you feel your 2RM has progressed. 

The everyday 2RM is how I've been basing my training maxes off of for nearly the last year, and it has been working pretty damn well. Sure I've fallen into my own pitfalls of psychological cowardice, but lately... I have been progressing nearly as fast as I was two years ago when I first started training for powerlifting. 

So in the future should you come to a grinding halt, consider that maybe it isn't your training that is wrong, maybe your mind isn't right under the bar.