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I have been known to do a lot of stupid shit in my time. As I have gotten older, these times have become fewer and far between. But from time to time… I find a way to out-do myself. This is one of those times.
I am grateful to have good people by my side. Some who enable my behavior and "get it", others who keep it real, and finally those who admittedly agree to disagree with me. While I am always 100% accountable for my actions I rely heavily on the help, support, and guidance of others. I feel this makes us all more focused, trusted, and stronger.
The point of this story is to share with you all how others help guide, push, and finally pick us up when we challenge ourselves to do what we’ve never done before.
All the stupid shit. That’s always on us. Getting through, past, and up from it- that credit belongs to those who surround us.
Pick those people well.
Here is how I spent a large part of 2016.
Need To Know Basis
I kept my training last year mostly to myself. Some people were slightly aware from the start, others knew parts of it, but nobody knew all of it until the very end.
Before going forward, I will note this was fucking stupid. There, I admitted it, now let's move on...
Background: Left Hip Replacement
I had my left hip replaced in 2013. I don't want to go into detail about it since I posted it all in my blog and THIS ebook.
At that time, I was told that my right hip needed to be replaced as well. It wasn't symptomatic, so I said, fuck it, we're not gonna do anything about it. What I did do was keep all restrictions that I had (as far as range of motion) that I felt were adequate to be able to keep the joint healthy, for a longer period, knowing that it was going to have to be replaced at some point or another. These included the reduction of total volume, reduction of heavy sled work, no belt squats (while this distracts the lower back, the belt is jamming the hips down into the femur making wear-and-tear worse than squatting with a bar on your back). Finally, I created a warm up that did not include volume but included activation. Oh, all of this also meant using a higher box to squat on.
I've learned a lot about joints, wear and tear, and how to slow down the degeneration process because of the osteoarthritis I've been combating since 2004 when I was told my right shoulder needed to be replaced. This was followed by the neck, back, knee and hip issues. If there is a joint in the body, I have arthritis and spurs on it. I learned that many people will preach mobility without even fucking considering what the health of the joint is. If you're bone-on-bone, more repetitions is not the answer and CAN lead to even more wear and tear. Think of it this way. If you have a joint that has 10,000 reps left before it needs to be replaced do you want those reps being leg swings or squats?
I learned that loaded stretching just prior to threshold was amazing for keeping the joint range of motion. Slow eccentrics with very minimal weight was great for the muscle inhibition.
February 2016: Ideas into Motion
In February of 2016, my hip started becoming symptomatic (groin pain as well as shooting pain down the leg) . I was able to get three extra years out of it but it was now time to get it replaced to match the other one. Instead of scheduling surgery, I asked if I could have it "shot up" to buy me more time. I knew from past experience that this might help, but it also means the replacement will be pushed back because of it. All I was hoping for was six months.
"Can you just shoot the shit out of it? Just shoot wherever you need to shoot, load it up with cortisone."
I'm almost 50, fuck it, I don't care. Shoot the shit up, it's gonna be replaced anyhow.
NOT InstaRecords But Real PR's
Why did I do that instead of opting for the surgery? I'm a meathead. I wanted to break one more real PR.
Let me explain. To me, a PR is not what Facebook, Instagram, and everything else has made it out to be.
I have about ten real PRs in my fucking life. A real PR, to me, is rare. Many people confuse training progress with PRs. If you are training for a reason, then you SHOULD expect to make progress (albeit slow). Progress is part of the process. Does it need to be celebrated or built on? If you celebrate every fucking pound added to your lift or every pound of weight lost then how are you going to feel when you do the BIG shit that matters to you? I understand that many other people feel one extra rep is a PR and every movement they do is a PR. I am too much of a dickhead to give myself that kind of satisfaction. Fuck that! PRs are rare to me but they fucking matter that I never will forget them because I busted my ass for everyone one of them. This doesn't make me right or others wrong, just that it's right for me.
A PR is the most I've ever lifted. That's it. Fuck the weight class, fuck the grip, fuck all that. I wanted to know what it felt like to break a PR one more time. I came back and broke a PR with every injury I've ever had, every surgery I've ever had, except the left hip replacement. I wanted the shot because I wanted to find a way to break an all-time PR.
Next up, I have to establish an objective. What are the lifts going to be? What is the PR going to be? How am I going to go about doing that?
This is where it gets stupid ... I understand the stupidity in what I'm saying but you gotta understand, I'm a fucking meathead, and this is how meathead's think.
Spiders Bars, Boxes, Shoulder Savers & More
As I have gotten older, many exercises have been taken away from me. For example, I can no longer hold a barbell on my back so squats are not an option unless I use a yoke or spider bar. There are other movements I will never be able to do again but it's pointless to focus on that. I would rather focus on what I can do.
For this PR, I decided on using the spider bar to the same box I've been squatting on since the first hip replacement. Yeah, it's a high box for the reasons noted above.
Why did I decide on that movement? When programming, you need to take safety into consideration. I wasn't worried about my safety that much because I knew my hip would get fucking trashed. I was worried about my spotter's safety in case either hip popped out. The odds of this were low but with the weight I wanted to go after, that risk increases. If I used a yoke bar, the plates are higher from the ground and harder to dump. The plates are lower to the ground with the Spider Bar. If something breaks and I have to dump it, the plates are closer to the floor. It's safer for whoever's spotting. It's also easier to catch and dump.
The shoulder saver reverse band press was the second movement I was going to peak for for this training phase (or should I say macrocycle so I can look more like a modern strength guru).
Yes, this is fucking stupid. I admitted that already. It's also taken me over six months to post this. I should note this was also very fucking personal to me, to be able to break an all-time PR. This was not for the world to see and follow. It was also going to take more of me than anything else I have ever trained for. I needed all the focus I could get as this was bigger than any meet I ever did. The risk was also higher.
I can't explain the depth of what it is. It's hard to be able to understand.
The Enablers. YES Enablers
The first thing was to set the objectives, which I did. Next, I had to find enablers. These are the ones that will take the journey with me well into the red zone. They'll be supportive, and help me with what I want to do, and if I fall off, they're cool with that. They're not gonna say, "no, don't go in the red zone." They're gonna say, "motherfucker, get there." I wanted those enablers. I needed accountability and help from them, but I didn't want any "realists" at this stage of the process. These are the fuckers that would try to talk me out of it. The enablers know it's stupid but understand the need to do stupid shit. The realists see the big picture, know how stupid it is, and are usually always right because they are on the outskirts and have my best interests in mind. These are not people you blow off or ignore, and they will be there to pick up the pieces when it's all over. I just chose not to tell them my stupid shit from the start. I will let them know months down the line.
The Starting Line
When this started, I had been training with John Meadows so I was in bodybuilding shape. My body weight was around 270 and fairly lean. Well, maybe not lean. Let's just say I wasn't fat since my body fat was around 14-15%. This is how I trained since the first hip replacement and have dropped my body fat down under 8% several times and never let it go over 15%.
I had to convert into a strength phase- which means that I had to get to what I call the "starting line". You can't just go from hypertrophy training into maximal strength training. You have to get to a starting point where you're aerobic base is ready to recover from the demands you're going to put the body through. You have to have a base of strength to be able to move forward without getting hurt. For me, this was getting both my strength speed and speed strength up to a minimal to moderate level... to start. Finally, it meant building the shit out of my torso, something I avoided for years as my goal was not to have a thick waist. Now, I would need it to handle increased loads. This took a couple of months to get to the point where I felt ok to begin training exclusively for strength.
Ready, Set, Go
Once I got to the starting line, I tested both lifts to see where I was at. I already knew where I wanted to end up: an 800-pound spider bar box squat and a 600 pound reverse band shoulder saver press. Both would exceed my all time best at any age, any time, and any body weight. To me, real PR's. When I tested these, it was fucking pathetic. With the squat, I was shaking all over the place and 495 wasn't easy. I honestly didn't know how in the hell I was going to get to where I wanted- and I had a time limit. I also didn't know when the cortisone was going to wear off and at the same time, it still fucking hurt. It wasn't like the cortisone solved everything. It took a little bit of the edge off but it still fucking hurt. This, I can deal with. But once the pain begins to turn into inhibition, I'm fucked.
At this point, some people started to figure out what was going on and the questions started. Outside of the few who knew, I still kept what I was doing to myself and joked my way out of all the questions even though my body weight was getting higher and higher (on purpose).
I wasn't that sure I was going to be able to do it, but I was going to try since it could very well end up being the last time in my life to doing something like this. Admittedly, there was still doubt, if that was gonna happen because it was so long since I trained to get stronger. Training yes, training hard, yes, training until my eye balls wanted to pop out and laying on the floor thinking the end was near, yes. Training for a maximal attempt no. Not since 2005.
I progressed into the strength phase, and everything was going well, felt good, on schedule...and then, fuck. I couldn't recover. My body was sore as fuck all time, I felt like shit, it was getting hard to breathe, and I knew I was heading into a wall if I didn't find a way around it. This is a feeling I remembered well because it sucks ass!
I went right back to what I used to do 20 years ago to help recovery. Sled dragging, upper body sled dragging, concentric only work, contrast showers, massage, changing the volume of supplemental work, adding extra rest days, all the stuff that usually works for me, and it worked for a few weeks, and then... fuck! I felt that wall coming again. My hands hurt. My wrists and elbows hurt. It's like my recovery work was killing me worse than the main work I was doing. All the other stuff was working, but my recovery work was drilling me.
Going To See Louie
At that point, I'm fucked. I went to see Louie because I figured, if there's one guy I know who is more fucked up than me ... It's Louie. I knew if I went to see him, I didn't have to explain anything.
I mean I was trying to break an all time PR on a fucking spider bar, high box. Just think about that for a minute. And, a reverse band press with a fucking shoulder saver pad. Seriously, think about that for a minute then realize this is after one hip replacement, waiting for the next one, and with a shoulder that needed to be replaced in 2005. Yeah, not the wisest thing I ever decided to do. Oh, and taking my body weight as high as I could to increase the probability of success.
Within five minutes he gave me two exercises. The guy's a fucking genius. Walk around on a tire, and do some bent over shrugs with a fucking wheel barrel.
I started doing those, and bam, my recovery is right back on pace again. Things are moving again but the shaking was still an issue and one I still wasn't sure how to fix. I get a text from JL that said, "Hey, I think I have something that can help you." He didn't tell me what it was. He knew what I was doing and the issues I was having.
Can he help me? I'm there.
Pain Management - Introducing RPR
I see JL the next day and don't know if he's gonna give me a book, a magazine, fucking ... I don't know. He says to lay on the table and starts beating the shit out of me. Keep in mind; he's talking about this RPR. The RPR he does now isn't what he was doing to me. I was the fucking guinea pig. It didn't just hurt, it fucking hurt! And it didn't stop. It was torture. I'm fucking crying, I'm screaming, I'm trying to be hardcore about it, but you can't, because it hurts so fucking bad. After around an hour, I start to think this has to be over.
Fuck, no. This shit went on for like 2 hours. I am full of sweat, in pain, really starting to regret reading his text and thinking he just broke me and there would be no way I would be able to train for a week or two. I went home and fell the fuck asleep. No, I passed out. I left with a sketch paper of what he called "wake up drills" which are a huge part of this moving forward. In the gym that night, it was supposed to be a speed day for me. I did the max effort work on that Sunday, and it was a fucking disaster like they all were. I'm was doing the speed work, I'm like, "Geez, this feels good. Fuck the speed work, throw plates on". I start working up.
"Holy shit. I just did 90 pounds more than I did four days ago".
I didn't know what the fuck I was supposed to think because what he did hurt. It helped and was going to help me get that PR, but it hurt A LOT. I called him and I'm thanking him, and he's cracking up while I'm telling him this because I'm trying to decide if I wanna even do it again. But the extra 90 pounds felt so fucking awesome, I had to. Plus, I didn't shake at all.
Could this be the answer?
Auto-regulation, Cybernetic Periodization, Listening To Your Body, Or Whatever You Want To Call It.
I am a huge proponent of learning how to auto-regulate everything in your training from warm up sets, to top sets, to exercises. If you're a coach, you need to learn how to teach the athletes or lifters how to do this themselves. You can't put a fucking workout on a piece of paper and say "do this" because if they go do exactly everything that's written, it's a fucking disservice to them. The "plan" is only a guide. Like driving directions. There will be traffic jams that slow you down, lights that stop momentum, car issues, and so on. You always need to leave early expecting to run into delays allowing the time to deal with each as they come. Training is kind of like this but with far more unknowns. The human body is far more complex than a car, and a training phase doesn't have a solid map associated with it.
To bring this back to training, I'll use max effort work as an example. The main goal of max effort work is to strain, bottom line. That's it. To strain, strain for time, and be able to strain and think at the same time.
If you're warming up and working up and the shit doesn't feel right, you may have to change to a different exercise, do more warm up sets, or modify the plan for the day. If it still doesn't feel right and you force that exercise, you're going to fuck yourself up. Maybe not that session, but it's going to start to accumulate.
If You Want To Be Great, Learn To Auto-Regulate
You have to make decisions every time you train. As you're working up, you get to a certain weight and begin to realize, a PR isn't going to happen. Forcing it does have its place and time as long as it fits into the overall strategy, but this is usually not the case. The better move is to stay sub-maximal for the day. But if it's on paper as "work up to max" and you stick to the plan without paying attention to how you feel, you won't make the right decisions and you won't progress. You will regress. A coach can help you with this but you need to understand and figure this out on your own because no one can step into your body and know exactly how you feel.
For what I was training for, I was good with the auto regulation. I've been doing this shit for a long time. When I don't follow how I feel, I know I'm doing it and am aware of the risk. Yes, I do still make poor decisions... but far less than I used to. But I was having problems was the actual week-to-week cycling. There were large fluctuations in how I felt and my strength levels. One week would be awesome and the next like shit. I would go to the gym feeling like shit and have a great session, others times I would feel great and have a shitty session.
JL and I came up with our own system based on my muscle testing to determine when to push hard and when to pull back some. I'd see him early in the week for RPR. From this he would determine what state I came in at and where I was when I left. If he said "You're at a nine", I knew I could push it as hard as I wanted. "You're at a seven". and I would scale it down for the week. This allowed me to progress through the final (and heaviest) weeks of the training. These were also the weeks where the cortisone started to wear off so I had to deal with the hip pain. In my mind, the hips wouldn't get worse, and if it did, who cares it was going to get replaced anyhow.
Extra Training Sessions That I Hated To Do
I always thought Louie was doing three extra workouts a day because he wanted to show us up. As I got older, and more beat up, I soon realized I had to do extra sessions six hours before the workout - just to be ready for the workout. Then I had to do a workout the next morning to recover from the shit I did the night before. Then I have to do another workout… You get the point.
All these mini-workouts of band work, walking on the tire, face pulls, planks, band distraction, loaded stretching, PNF, isometrics, etc. That’s just the active recovery. Add to this weekly MAT sessions, RPR sessions, float tank, stim, contrast showers, Percusser, Dolphin, ice, heat and other passive recovery work. Just recovery type stuff. Then the passive recovery. Mel Siff told me years ago you can't stay with the same modality or your body will get used to it and/or depend on it to recover- making your own natural recovery process inhibited. So I cycled my modalities and changed them every week- the same way you would cycle the rest of your training plan.
When I was younger, I wasn't as fucked up, so I could just do the sled work a couple times a week, and recover fine. My aerobic base stayed put. With this training phase I wasn't able to do the same since it was beating me up. So I had to rethink it, shrink it, and do it a lot more frequently.
Today I know why Louie was doing 21 workouts a week.
The Time Crunch
The other thing I learned was how much time this all took. On average, it took 10 hours a week of my main training, around 10 hours a week of recovery training sessions, 4-5 hours a week of self passive recovery, 3 hours a week of hired passive recovery, 6 hours a week of travel to passive recovery. In total 35-40 hours per week to prepare for a fucking Spider Bar Squat and Reverse Band Press. All while working 50 hours per week and spending time with my family. Let’s just say I wasn’t the best employee, husband or father during the ass end of this phase. I can also say, without a doubt, I don't want to do this shit again. I could get away with this years ago when I didn’t care as much about work or family. It’s more than I want to pay at this point in my life.
I am noting this for those of you that coach athletes at a higher level, that are beat up. You need to understand all the demands they have and the time it takes for them to be ready for the main sessions. It's FAR more than just the main training sessions. There is a lot of shit you don’t see or do not know about. You need to be aware because it all factors into what you have them doing when you are coaching them.
BUSTED! Big And Fat As Fuck
I end up being 316, and bloated as hell. The pain was always there and got worse each week. If you watch the table talk videos, the reason why my eyes were always watery and red is I was in constant pain and pushing my body to the limit internally and externally.
I knew this wasn’t healthy but also knew it was just temporary. Remember when I mentioned the “realists”? I avoided my doctor on purpose because he is one of my realists and has no problem telling me exactly what he thinks in a way I don't like to hear. I did my best to avoid him at all costs because I weigh 316, and he was going to ask me "what the fuck are you doing”? I was doing a great job avoiding him. I have gotten blood work done a minimum of twice a year for the past decade and knew the next time I needed to get it done was a few weeks before the end of this phase so my timing was perfect. He would be pissed but with three weeks left, I had my out. Well, we have this mini-underground training session for elitefts. I pull in the parking lot, and... he's there.
And I'm full-on bloated.
I'm like, fuck. I have to be here, but I don't want to, and I can't avoid him, and he's gonna see me, and this is not good.
I try to duck past him real quick and almost got away with it, but he caught up with me at the power rack at the far end of the gym, and starts laying into me.
"What the fuck are you doing?"
What can I say? "Look, man. I don't want to explain it right now. We'll talk about it later. I had an appointment to see you Monday”.
He's tells me, "You ain't fucking coming to see me if you're like this".
I'm thinking "Ooh, shit. He's pissed". How will I get myself out of this hole? But that’s kind of hard when your head's the size of one of those soft stuffed medicine balls.
It’s In The Basement
Just then, John Meadows walks up after overhearing what was going on. John steps up and, I swear to God, quoted verbatim the speech from Rocky when he's trying to get the commission to give his license back.
He's proceeds to tell him, "Dave's got something in the basement. It's in the basement! It's deep in the basement!" I'm trying my hardest not to laugh, but it's fucking working. I'm thinking, okay, this is cool. ..
"It's in the basement!"
In part two I will write about how the office visit went and how the phase finished up.