Saturday, June 22, 2019

100 Days

           The last one hundred days have gone by fast. Life moves quickly. At times so fast we can hardly keep up. In these periodic maelstroms our will can be washed away; quitting is easy in the chaos. The storm exists when we are surrounded by things: big and small, real or imagined, tangible, abstract and ethereal. Something petty or vain and seemingly insignificant as a single workout can then be easily scratched from the record; scribed earlier but written off later so weakly that the pen is fumbled. In that moment knowing the difference between will and strength is learned. Without the first the second shudders.

Outsiders, especially the ones who know me best, might perceive these last hundred days of training without a rest day as a small feat compared to what I have already experienced and accomplished. It is the opposite. The thing is, the hardest part is upfront. I had to know not working out was from week one and then on totally off the table. My day would fit it. I would lift whether it be 0400 or 2300; both happening just once or twice out of necessity. All sessions completed before the clock strikes midnight. None of them did I succumb to crawling my way through – if I could not do well in one aspect, I changed another to command greater effort.

For example, limiting weights due to fatigue but then too limiting rest or seeking improved technique. Strength could not be accurately trained, making then an adjustment towards endurance in this example session. Another example might be phases of high specificity and weight over so many sets. One example from this period of my training would be 21 days of squatting, pressing, and deadlifting every session. These sessions added weight each week to the rep maxes, therefore prioritizing intensity over volume in a three week ‘block’. These short high specificity blocks with an intensity progression bias give break from so much volume if doing many sets; not “peaking” and certainly not a deload. Just a brief redirection of effort, exactly what is needed to maintain consistency.

Easy. Again. Finally. Thankfully.

Small factors play a bigger role in daily training. With rest days intensity is the typical focus of progression, without them consistency. Such a change in vision determines actions taken in the gym. Within a month momentum is generated. A force unlike anything felt when it comes to training. Stopping then or after becomes a creeping fear, both in self and the world outside; I am lucky to have a gym at home, easily accessible. But others have trained every day too without such a luxury. It is easier as the days continue but difficult at the onset because of commitment and then on intermittently as learning how to progress improves. What actions to take inside and outside of the weight room to ensure that the next session is not the one resulting in a catastrophic failed lift or a body too worn out to produce quality effort or a day too full to lift a barbell. Why sleep is important, nutrition, hydration, logistics; even who in our lives are supportive or cynical – outsiders might perceive mental illness rather than will. They are wrong but kind in their hearts. To see if I can. Because I must. These are good enough reasons to continue when faced with this obstacle, often being the strongest one drawing us away from achieving what we set out for ourselves. Outside forces, especially friends and family, are the hardest to plan for and say no to. This was not a gym hermitage. I tried to limit the unnecessary while refraining from also cutting out what matters most. If it meant driving all day just to get back home to train, I did it. Thus, a handful of late-night or early morning workouts; most of my workouts were mid-morning to early evening.

Using my General Gainz framework for progression made these last one hundred days easier because it is simpler. Not every rep max was a ‘hard’ effort, undulation here proved critical. I chose to extend the number of sets I did after my Rep Maxes on almost all main movements. Typically doing six sets after a T2 RM rather than the normal limit of four for half-sets. Likewise adding three singles beyond any T1 RM. In these actions I biased my training towards strength-endurance not maximal strength. Likewise prioritizing adding reps to a weight versus adding weight to a RM. In other words, choosing to (push) a 5RM to a 6 or 7RM because the weight felt light enough to do so, rather than add weight and keep the target RM (find). If finding a rep max at a heavier weight seemed a bad choice and pushing that weight to a higher RM equally bad, then I would (hold) the weight over from the workout prior for the same target RM and (extend) my sets after. Since the earlier workout would have used the same weight and for the limit of follow-up sets already my progression choice was made for me: reduce the rest between sets or improve the quality of the lift at that weight. Again, endurance biased but here forcing the prioritization of technical endurance; stamina with good form. I hope this paragraph clarifies the nature of progression when employing General Gainz and how it is simple in the best way.

"Suspect membership sign on just $25 for the week.
Try it out. Please..."

These actions: Find, Hold, Push, Extend (FHPE) give scope beyond intensity towards consistency. That ultimately being how to get strong. No program, template, percentage recommendations or anything of usual form is necessary for this purpose. Only days, which come by the grace of our existence, and the will to lift a weight for many reps and sets until that weight becomes easy. Then strength has been achieved. People have done this without barbells, lifting only stones. We have many things in our favor when it comes to getting stronger, the hard part is upfront: commitment. I was my first naysayer. That thought evicted quickly, never to return. Pushed from my mind because that was the action my body took in the gym. Anger at self-doubt being the fuel to advance a weight up to a higher rep max, making it easier, lighter in a sense; getting stronger mentally out of physicality. I grew to appreciate how daily training affected the day, more positively as they passed. Having a defined course of action to take for advancement in the gym makes us more decisive. This quality shines outside the gym, let me tell you. Daily training bolstered qualities I already had in a way I did not know they needed to be. Those around me recognized this as much as my physique, which improved too. Had it not then this post would not have been written. 

Strength and aesthetic improvements were parallel goals to the primary: training every day for one hundred days. I knew that if I could manage honest effort everyday with General Gainz then the two would follow; I did not know intangible qualities like character traits would benefit. They did, but all I can expect is my word to be taken in those regards. Training data proves strength gains. Photographs proves aesthetic ones. While I did not take daily photographs, I did wait until a random day, near the end of the 100-day experiment to gauge physique improvements. I noticed a significant reduction in body fat, especially around that ‘hard to lose’ area around my navel and love handles. My forearms and shoulders grew approximately 1/8th an inch and ½ an inch respectively. My waist lost almost a ½ inch during this period. Looking at me, I look different. My wife says “denser”. I am happy about that.  It is a look few achieve. Maybe daily training unlocks it. I bet John Henry was dense. All he ever did was be great at swinging a hammer. Died by indomitable will because of it. 

"May God grant that we always respect the great and the strong 
and be of service to others."

My strength, while not yet folklore, improved alongside my physique. Up to this point I was prioritizing my strict press. Thirty-one days in I hit a PR of 200 pounds weighing just 158 pounds. This lift did not improve beyond that mostly because from that point I took a more balanced approach, seeing that high specificity would quickly erode any attempt at consistency. On day 99 I squatted 315 pounds, not a PR at a current body weight of 161 pounds (+3 pounds and likely leaner) by any stretch but a huge gain because a year ago this seemed impossible due to nerve and other damage to my hip. I am happy to have done it without a belt, knee sleeves, and for six singles with limited rest; both strength and confidence has been improved with this lift. 

Decent pasty ripplage there if I say so myself...

Now here is where things can be known and unknown for lifters. I will explain my best, but a few may not understand. My deadlift improved. Not that I tested it again, but 405 pounds went up as a ‘PR’ much like the squat I described above. Halfway through the 100 days I pulled it easily and confidently, a weight then untouched for some time for similar reasons. I have not tried it again since, but I know I am stronger. How? Because 135 pounds feels so much lighter in my hands every day. Every time I handle just 135 pounds, I feel it becoming lighter – not 135 pounds anymore; weights are not always the same, to counter what Henry Rollins might say.

Across these hundred days I learned not only what actions to take to get stronger and stay consistent, but also what heuristic measures are meaningful in self-assessment. Outsiders, non-lifters especially, do not care about heuristic measures of strength. Either you are or you are not. They know it when they see it. But lifters understand what I mean here, about how strength feels different when it is stronger. Becoming familiar with such a gauge of improvement helped immensely: while my data may not have shown an improvement, I could feel it. The spreadsheet tried to defeat me but could not for I now see through its superficial information; nearly lies they omit so much when on their own. Eventually I will find another, heavier weight. I will act on that when appropriate. But for now, I have no desire to test my deadlift – or any other lift for that matter - simply for the fact that I like the mystery of this feeling of getting stronger. Unknowing of potential yet fully confident in it. Stronger not because a one rep max improvement. Stronger because over the course of one hundred days average became easier until it was almost imperceptible. This happened with all my main lifts. I know my strength improved, even if untested. I became stronger than the desire to test. Crusty lifters with years of chalk built up in the wrinkles of their well worn and flimsy Inzer belts know what I am talking about. Training for one hundred days in a row without a rest day was a good experience for this alone, to know what it is like to be stronger without having to demonstrate it.

This post covers a lot of ground while also not giving much concrete information. For that I apologize. Honestly, I do not understand the impacts of this experiment fully, as it has been somewhat profound for my own training. I do not mean to brag of what amounts to a small achievement, or sound like a salesman, use whatever ‘program’ you like I still recommend daily training. I simply hope to communicate the progress I made so that you can too. Big and small, real or imagined, tangible, abstract and ethereal.

Going on 102 days...

Again, say it again.
Say it until you kill the mother fucker.