Starting Strong

Starting Strong.  This is not going to be a post about blasting your way into murderous workouts or crippling routines.  This is going to be about how I got started, what I did and what I believe it is the reason I am relatively pain free and still getting stronger. With that being said, I am not a doctor so consult a physician before beginning any exercise/training program, take your health seriously and be certain you are prepared by first seeing a doctor.  Now with that out of the way.

So for simplicity sake, let’s just say I was in shape, then I wasn’t, then I was in shape and now I’m not. Weighing in at 305 a few months ago was a big big wake-up call. Something had to change.  The problem is getting started.  You see at this level of poor shape, you can severely set yourself back by going too hard.

This is where I am directing my attention, Starting Strong.  When I say Starting Strong I’m talking about starting out in such a way that you make progress without set-backs and you prepare you body to deal with increased strength and increased load over time.  Training stresses the body, and that fact is the entire point if you want to get bigger and stronger.  However if your body is unprepared for the types of stress you are about to activate you can over stress your body before it is ready and that can lead to injury. Now I’m not talking about over-training, which is a huge buzz phrase in the fitness industry these days and it has its place.  So no I’m not talking about over-training.  I’m talking about unpreparedness.

So in the beginning you need to check your ego and ignore those around you. In order to be successful you need take this time, your training time to focus on yourself, to start simple to Start Strong.  Simply said if you haven’t done push-ups in a few years and and you begin banging out several sets of 20 reps back to back, not only will you be sore but you can potentially injure yourself in fact I’ve done it. Sore shoulders suck, they affect your sleep, your mobility and a ton of everyday activities.  Sure you also need to warm up, but honestly you need to take stock of the types of movements you want or intend to do in your training program and prepare those muscle groups and movement patterns in a way that mitigates possible injury. Focus not only on training but mobility and hell even breathing but I’ll save that for another post.

I’ll circle back to push-ups.  Push-ups are great. They work almost the entire body which is great for general strength and conditioning but they also put a lot of load on the shoulders and to get the most benefit out of them you need to do a significant amount which also means repetitively stressing the shoulders.  In order to Start Strong take real stock in your conditioning and lighten the load or rep count.  Start with push-ups from your knees to prepare the muscles, ligaments and tendons for the load you intend to apply in the future.  If it has been a really long time perhaps start with wall push-ups again focusing on the movement pattern and conditioning the body’s response to a lighter load on those areas.

Sample of how I got started:

Week 1 Every Morning:

  • High Knees 30 reps
  • Jog in Place 20 seconds (Swing the arms as if running)
  • Shoulder circles 15 forward/15 backward
  • Push-ups from knees 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Plank 5 seconds for 5 reps
  • Body weight squats 5 reps

(Reason for each of these movements: The High Knees engage the legs and the core as well as initiate balancing.  The Jog in Place gets the blood moving this can be a light exercise, no need to run here. Shoulder Circles loosen and strengthen the shoulders and prep them for upcoming load from the push-ups. Push-ups in my opinion are one of the best overall exercises it engages a lot of muscle groups in the body and is great for general strength. Plank really activates the core and finally, the Body Weight Squats begin the leg and glute strengthening process.  These exercises loosen and strengthen the body preparing it for load.)

Week 2 Every Morning:

  • High Knees 60 reps
  • Jog in Place 30 seconds
  • Shoulder rotation 20 forward/20 backward
  • Push-ups 2 sets 5 reps
  • Plank 10 seconds for 5 reps
  • Body weight squats 10 reps
  • Glute Bridges 10 reps

(Reason for these movements: The previous movements remain the same, we’ve just upped the impact a little and added extra reps in many cases.  The glute bridges are to begin retraining glute activation which is something that most of us are lacking due to our 9-5 desk jobs.)

If week 1 scares you then we have a pre-week workout just for you to get things started.  You can start here and do this until you feel strong enough to take on week 1. You can increase time and reps every week until you are confident to take on week one.

Pre-Week Every Morning every:

  • March in place 20 seconds (only pick the knees up as high as you can but swing your arms as if you were running)
  • Swimmer Arm Circles 10 forward 10 back each arm
  • Wall Push-ups  2 sets of 10 Reps (place you feet to create an angle that provides some load without overloading your strength)
  • Sit-Stand 10 reps.  (This will require a kitchen chair. Sit down Stand up as if you were squatting.)
  • March in place 20 seconds

Here is the truth about training, it will benefit all of us but we also have to work within our limits and not make excuses for things we simply can’t do yet.  There is always a way to modify and prepare for new movements.  The fitness industry tells you that you have to overwhelm yourself; push to the point of puking or breaking but that is just wrong.  Smart training and programming to prepare for the next level is not only better than nearly killing yourself working out it is the first step in smart lifelong training.

Looking back at martial arts training and using how I was taught as a template, I have found that you need to start with the basics before you can move on to the complex stuff.  You don’t teach a martial artist a side kick before he can stand in a proper stance without falling over.  Why would you teach a barbell squat or a bench press before someone can air squat or push-up with proper form and application? You simply shouldn’t.

 

 

Results

If you learn to enjoy the journey of the training process as much as you think you’ll enjoy your results, you will never lack results.  Finding a love for your journey will take you very far in every aspect of your life and you will get results without ever having to focus on them.

Progress

Progress can’t always be measured in ways we would expect, sometimes you progress in an area completely unforeseen and while this may not have been your goal you need to recognize this as progress.  Take for example you are training shoulders with the goal to get big rounded front and rear delts, you get stronger as expected but there is no size increase.  Then one morning you notice that you’ve been sleeping better and your shoulders and neck aren’t so achy when you wake up.  This is progress. Unexpected but progress all the same.

Don’t let your goals overshadow progress, search for the wins in what you do and don’t focus so much on what you consider losses, you could very well have gained something far better. Something that you simply were not allowing yourself to see.

Laziness

The last several months have been bad. I’m not going to sugar coat it because that would be a disservice to myself. While there have been external forces at work the majority of my current dilemma is my own. I was injured doing Crossfit and ended up quitting because to spend the money and not go was stupid.

I have struggled to get into anything resembling a routine. Except maybe the consistency with which I was able to make it to happy hour on the regular.  Food has been a nightmare, crap here and crap there and fried this or gluten that with a beer chaser, pretty bad for a guy that needs to lose weight.
It is so strange how much difficulty I am having getting into a routine. Routines are my thing. Well one thing I need to do is say “no” more often and “no more” a lot more often.
With each struggle and challenge however it is our duty to reevaluate and challenge our selves to step up. Failure is simply giving up that I won’t do.

Journeys

When I began this journey I assumed I would be an overnight success. I mean just 10 years ago anything I wanted to do physically I could accomplish in just 3 months. It was awesome, 12 weeks and I could transform my body, master a difficult Kung fu technique, go from not running to running 5 miles as a warmup and finally from 0 to 3 sets of 15 pull ups.

I simply did not see my youth as the gift it was and how my current goals would be so much easier if I looked at life as a time line of successive 3 months and continued to maintain and update my goals. These are lessons learned on my journey.
Fast forward to today and it’s 10 years later; everything takes longer and requires more maintenance and consistency. This is but one of my lessons on this journey. This is an incredibly important lesson.  The lesson of  maintenance and consistency as well as self reassessment and updating goals.  It also relates directly to setting a longer term and more altruistic goal like “be healthy.”  Still this is not enough you still need to have the short term attainable goals. These goals define your road map to health for example: squat 350lbs, deadlift 400lbs and bench 300lbs.  Hard enough goals to be motivating yet attainable if you work at them. One thing I don’t include in my goals are things that do not impact my health. Appearance is not included, although it may be a side effect of health, it is not a goal.
These “mile marker” goals are important but they are a small part of a much greater whole. They are an important part but not the end all be all for measuring success.  They are for measuring progress.

Stepping Up

Sometimes you reach a plateau.  Reaching a plateau is not always due to under training or over training and rarely if ever is is due to the programming, most of the time it is mental. It could be fear, it could be laziness, it could be lack of time, perhaps life or work are in the way.  Sometimes you just need to step up and get things done.  If progress is important you need to assess what is your current impediment. Step up and own why and how and then you can address it.  Most likely if you started with a program that has produced results and has decent progression its not the program, if you have only been doing the program for a few months and you’re already switching then its probably you and not your program.  So let’s assume its not your program but something else.  You need to step up and assess what is really going on.

A few considerations:

  • Do you sleep 7 to 8 hours?
  • Do you hit happy hour?
  • Do you manage stress?
  • Do you hit the gym everyday?
  • Do you hit the gym once in a while?
  • Do you wake up tired?

Ask yourself some questions like these.  Step up and assess yourself. Don’t let you hold yourself back.

The Good Fight

Its easy to be discouraged.  We are amazing at internalizing and tearing ourselves down.  There is definitely an element of the human psyche that is remarkable at self destruction.  What we need to learn is how to turn setbacks into opportunities.  Accept that we have hit a wall, a roadblock or whatever cliche you what to use as an excuse to quit or belittle yourself and move past it.

The truth is these setbacks are paths that we can learn not to take in the future.  Thinking about how you got to where you are now rather than the fact that you are there. Simply analyzing and identifying where things went wrong is an invaluable mindset for making positive change.

Use your setbacks as lessons strive forward with confidence that you can do better this time around. you can do this because you have the knowledge to do so and the knowledge to avoid this specific pitfall.

Life’s progress is about learning from our failures as much if not more than from our successes.

Fight hard against the self deflation and strive for self motivation.  Fight hard and rise above your setbacks.

Divinity of Purpose

Divinity of Purpose:

So to steal my title from the title of a Hatebreed song, Divinity of Purpose.  There is a sense of contentment that you get from having purpose and I have found few activities that provide a sense purpose quite like strength training.

Taking that barbell and crushing weights according to your programming provides an incredible sense of accomplishment, a feeling of self worth and a sense simplicity to life.

When its just me and the barbell and that’s the only thing in the world for 20 to 60 minutes, I find a clarity that is rare in today’s world of information overload.  It’s a period of time to disconnect from everything and reconnect with yourself, a chance to find yourself in reps and lbs.  Working out with a plan is to have a purpose even if it is only for the duration of the training.

Seek Divinity of Purpose.  Train with a goal, train with a plan and find yourself with a barbell.

Wingin’ It

There is a lot to be said for the ability to adapt to change or wing it.  I don’t believe that wingin’ it belongs in the gym however.  The gym is a time and place for structure and planning.  It is a place to focus on maintaining your strengths and conquering your weakness.  Having a plan when you get to the gym allows you to focus on just that, staying strong, getting stronger and conquering weakness. Structure in the gym is your foundation for adaptation outside of the gym.

In life you will be faced with many different situations everyday. You get plenty of chances to wing it in everyday life.  Take for example all of the structured balance focused training you did in the gym. That training will certainly pay off when you trip on the curb and have catch yourself to prevent a fall.  Think about all of the deadlifts, squats, cleans, pushups, 200M sprints and other exercises you complete, day in and day out, creating a structured foundation and committing to muscle memory.  Now apply that to all of the situations you experience in a day in which that training is thoughtlessly applied, that 200M sprint to catch the bus at the end of the next block on your commute home. That bag of dog food you grab up from the floor and clean to your shoulder to carry or load in your car.

The structure of the gym applies to the uncertainty of daily living.  Life will throw you enough curve balls, don’t let your workouts do the same.  Prepare, work with a coach, a trainer, do a WOD, anything that is structured. Do whatever it takes to know what you will be doing before you get to the gym so when you get there all you have to concentrate on is doing it well or doing it better.

 

Mental Toughness

There is always someone out there talking about mental toughness.  What are they really talking about? I think its a little foolish to come up with a one size fits all definition.  So I’ll attempt to define it from a personally philosophical approach rather than a clear cut one size fits all definition.

We all have varying degrees of ability to stay focused, to power through and to get that extra rep or extra step.  Let’s take for example the extra rep, perhaps if you are doing squats and you love doing squats that extra rep may be your go-to state of mind but if its burpees maybe that extra rep is the farthest thing from your mind.  If you are a marathon runner, how many times did you have to push yourself; literally for an extra mile before you could actually go the distance? Mental toughness in the case of the burpee is taking that exercise you hate and getting that one extra rep anyway.  Mental toughness for the marathon may be reminding yourself you have a goal and each step is one step closer to the goal. Perhaps, once you are in the gym you are an unstoppable beast but getting to the gym can be a challenge, sometimes saying no to happy hour with the crew after work can be the hardest part of getting to the gym.  Saying no, sometimes is the most difficult part of your workout.

It’s not always about just going above and beyond, sometimes its about staying the course and knowing your limits.  Its easy to get caught up in the momentum of a WOD and try to do more than you are prepared for that day, mental toughness can be scaling that day or going at 80% rather than a 100%.

In the end mental toughness can really boil down into being true to yourself and staying focused on your goals.

Be tough not foolish.