Project Return to Press: No Barbell, No Problem

TAGS: Pete Arroyo, outside submission, programming, bench, rehab, injury prevention, recovery, barbell, bench press, training

OutsideSubmission-3 columnist

Even though my days on the platform have been long gone (and likely will never return), I still avidly train the lifts. Nowadays, I am a far cry from the 275-weight class I competed at, which has played a role in several training adjustments. For one, my training weights are far lighter, which isn’t all bad because I can keep my ego in check by maintaining relative strength and still have room to do more athletic things at a lighter bodyweight and advanced age (I’m just hitting my 40th year of living). Jumps, kettlebell work, sleds, elitefts Prowler®, and even (more recently) some boxing work have become a regular part of the program. This ability and curiosity to do more are what also brought me to write this article about returning to exercise from an injury.

The injury was brought on during a brief foray in Jiu-Jitsu. By brief, I mean I lasted three practices until a rather large (350-pound) Russian gentleman was working his side guard in the live part of the session. I attempted to push his head to work defending the position when… POP went my right pec! I know what you may be thinking, why the hell am I trying to learn a combat sport at my age? Call it boredom or some coaxing from my intern, but don’t call it a mid-life crisis.


LISTEN: Table Talk Podcast Clip — Chuck Vogelpohl Made Dave Quit After 45 Sets


After the initial shock, I bowed myself off the mat and checked myself in the locker room. I’ve done this only a couple times in training over a 22-year span, so I knew the pain sensation well. There was no bruising despite the searing pain near my armpit. The best I could hope for without a doctor’s consult was a tissue tear.

Thankfully, I was able to see my chiro that day who has a bit of specialty with soft tissue injuries. His assessment was that the tissue integrity was good but malformed. I began with a twice a week treatment plan that involved scraping, compression stretches, and manipulations, as well as stim. If my symptoms and function ceased to improve after two weeks, then an MRI would be planned. Suffice it to say, my pec improved leaps and bounds in this time frame.

As I mentioned before, I recently hit an age milestone that is worth considering in this rehabilitative endeavor. Tissue injuries seem to take their sweet time as we age, and my body is no different. Without having the pressure to return to a competitive platform (outside of having to demonstrate exercises), I have the luxury of time in earning my way back to the barbell. While at the same time approaching my return to press with the necessary diligence and appropriate goals. My goals for this block of training are as follows:

  • 100 push-ups off the floor in 4 sets of 25
  • 5-minute dumbbell bench press hold with 50-pound dumbbells
  • 5 sets of 1RM Turkish get-ups (TGU) with 44 pounds

I figure the 100 push-ups is a necessary life goal for any avid trainee of the iron and probably most anyone in general, especially post-upper body injury. The five-minute dumbbell press hold (LDISO) can be derived from Jay Schroeder’s methods, but in this situation, I’ll utilize this a driver to remodel (realign) the damaged tissue. According to Jim Snyder:

“Targeted long duration isometrics re-educate the tissues to target optimal fascial lines to establish neural networks. The LDISO attacks the origin and insertion points in the extreme lengthened position. The thickening of these points increases the durability and elastic response.” {1}

No reason on the 50s other than if my pecs and shoulders can hold up versus 100 total pounds for five minutes in the weakest position that would transfer to significant resilience. The TGU may be difficult for some to justify, but if I can borrow a phrase from one of my past clients: “The Turkish get-up is the old people’s lift because you have to get off the floor.”

If we examine this a step further, the TGU requires a coordinated effort from the lower body, trunk, and upper body to overcome a load from a lying position to standing up. Call it functional. Call it a circus trick. Call it what you want. I’ll call it the drill that will keep my other foot off the banana peel while the other is in the grave. You can draw a connection to its importance to staving off the age demons and maintaining some base athleticism.


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Here is how the time breakdown went:

Days 1-7

At Elite Recovery Office: Soft tissue manipulations with compression, gua-sha scraping, and muscle stimulation.

On my own: Limited range banded presses and rear delt work to tolerance — about 20 to 25 reps per set. This seemed to go well and within the first week, I was able to do some light sled work with the elitefts sled and EZ Straps, which lend themselves better to sled work in my opinion because you can easily change the lengths. Movements here include the static flye drag, static T-drag, incline press (gradually working to one arm at a time), face pull, JM Press, and bicep curl.

Days 8-14

At Elite Recovery Office: Stretches for pec and lats while compressed, T-spine rotational work, soft tissue manipulations with compression, gua-sha scraping, and muscle stimulation.

On my own: For warm-up work, I tried my hand at some modified bridging push-ups. I’ve been working these in my routine before the injury as a way to get my dormant serratus to work again. I like this push-up variant because it gives me a bit of an overhead option that gets my thoracic spine to move.

Any overhead work has been a no-no for my pre-arthritic and bone spur-laden shoulder over the past five years, but even doing as little as five reps of the bridge push-up kills two birds with one stone in the activation and mobility departments. In-between sets, I reintroduced a forward and backward bear crawl but kept out the lateral bear crawl as the ab/adduction pattern was a bit buggy.

For the main work, I decided to push the envelope in the form of B-Strong Cuffs. B-Strong Cuffs are devices used for Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) methods that create a systemic response that creates a more anabolic environment for the tissues. Others have speculated that these methods are as effective for training strength of the fast-twitch fibers with lighter loads 30 percent than with heavy loads at 80 percent or more.

Low-intensity resistance training with occlusion can provide significant muscle hypertrophy and strength, even in the short term. In which increased metabolic demands appears to be the crucial factor {2}. Some can speculate about BFR methods, but I can say they have helped me rapidly repair my old self.

The main workout was inspired by the Wenning Warm-Up a bit {3}. Over the past four months, I’ve incorporated three sets of 15 to 20 reps of a push, pull, and triceps before my bench press/upper body training. I simply extended this to four sets of 25 with four movements. After seven days post-injury, I did extremely light incline presses, Tsunami Bar face pulls, single-arm cable extensions, and bicep curls.

Secondary workout (performed the day after) was the same sled work but done with BFR and on an interval clock where I progressed from 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off; 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off; 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off. I used the same movements but added 10 pounds to a workout up to a 45 as well as the I- and T-raises. {4}

Days 15 and Beyond

At Elite Recovery Office: Cut to once a week: Stretches for pec and lats while compressed, T-spine rotational work, soft tissue manipulations with compression, gua-sha scraping, and muscle stimulation.

On my own: I continued to use the B-Strong Cuffs and substituted the elevated push-up progression (using the elitefts American Cambered Press Bar) instead of the incline presses for four sets of 25 with the four other movements. My marker here was to get four sets of 25 at each level before moving down the rack. To be honest, I was moving it down every set, as they felt better and better with the cuffs on. I began about 20 holes from the bottom of the elitefts Power Rack, and within three weeks was down to six from the bottom. As the pec quickly began to feel more normal, I tried my hand at using a flywheel device for the bicep curls.


READ MORE: How to Get Through a Near Career-Ending Injury


If you’re not familiar with a flywheel device, the cable gets retracted and lengthened as it rotates over and under a rod where a steel wheel is attached at one end of the rod. The more force you pull or push with, the wheel will spin back with as the same force and speed, which adds an accentuated eccentric without having to use impact to do so. SIDE NOTE: If you ever want to make your hamstrings scream, try a few sets of 20 of these.

Secondary workout and a discovery (performed the day after):

Horizontal Press Sled Drag

Row Sled Drag

Triceps Extension Sled Drag

One-Arm Curl Sled Drag

Isometric Chest Flye Sled Drag

I- & T-Sled Drag

I used the same sled movements but cut down to one BFR session and one without. I also used elitefts Light Pro bands in lieu of straps to add a bit of chaotic and explosive component. What I mean by this is if you do an isometric hold while walking with the sled (let’s use the flye position), there will be small sudden pulses as the sled slides across the asphalt or concrete that will have variances in friction as well as having less stability. I would not recommend this right away, as your tissues will not be ready for the complexity. Although the long bands were a good option, there was a little too much slack at times.

I wondered what would happen if I used the elitefts Light Short bands as a handle attached to the EZ Straps. What I found out was there was the perfect combination of the smooth flow of the sled and a more aggressive bounce from the bands. The bands added more frequent perturbations that created an oscillatory component.

Oscillatory movements are brief, rapid two- to four-inch push-pull movements where a higher force and tension can be created in weaker joint ranges. Oscillatory movements are used to not only increase motor learning via more repetitions but also tissue resiliency, which happens to be what I needed. The intensity on the tissues is drastically increased the longer time spent in these weaker ranges. This style of repetition will reduce the activation of the Golgi Tendon Organs as a force inhibitor. {5}

I know this seems like a mouthful of jargon, but I think any tissue in a state of healing, be it from injury or the everyday micro traumas of training, can benefit from this.

So, instead of just holding the position I performed the two- to four-inch oscillations as I dragged the sled. I did this for a press, row, triceps extension, curls, and rear delt movements. Not only did the muscles burn, but the effect on the cardio system was even more intense.

Oscillatory Bench Press Sled Drag

Oscillatory Row Sled Drag

Oscillatory Triceps Extension Sled Drag

Oscillatory Bicep Curl Sled Drag

Oscillatory Chest Flye Sled Drag

Oscillatory Rear Delt Flye

Another discovery… Knowing full well the stress my shoulders have taken over the years, I most likely have a plethora of underdeveloped and ignored muscles. Any first look at my posture screams of the dreaded upper cross syndrome: Pecs and upper traps that are locked short with mid and lower traps that are locked long; this is not conducive to overall shoulder health.

Over the years, it has been tough for me to hit these muscles with the classic Y-raises, face pulls, and other target exercises without the dominant muscles taking over. To solve this problem, I simply shortened the lever and anchored the bands (in this case) around my upper forearm and posted my hands on my head as in a classic sit-up. Since I was oscillating that day, I did OC reps in the rearmost position I could. This hit the lower traps like nothing I’ve ever done, as my posture felt open and my shoulders felt great.

What was even more difficult was doing actual repetitions with the sled. I suspect this can be done with a cable or band attachments as well with an equal effect.

Low Trap Flye Sled Drag

Oscillatory Low Trap Flye Sled Drag

Thus far this experience has been more of a blessing than a curse, as I’ve learned more about my own orthopedic health. This injury has forced me to take systemic regression without losing general strength, muscle mass, and work capacity. In experimenting and combining some newer and tried and true methods, I’ve been able to get to four sets of 25 push-ups three hole spaces from the bottom of the rack, LDISO with 35s for three minutes, and easy get-ups with 44 pounds within five weeks (as of July 29th, 2019).

In Part 2, I’ll go into my re-introduction to the barbell.

References

  1. Central Virginia Sport Performance: The Manual Vol. 3. Demayo & White, 2018. Pgs 138 &139
  2. Korfist TFC 8-Microdosing Lecture: Low intensity exercise can increase muscle mass and strength proportionally to enhanced metabolic stress under ischemic conditions. Takada & Okida. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2012.
  3. Ludus Magnus Minimal Manual: Wenning, Matt 2018. (Pgs 5&14).
  4. Sled Dragging Techniques: Simmons, Louie. Westside Barbell Foundations for All Sports, DVD.
  5. OC (Oscillatory) Training and Partials: VanDyke, Matt. http://vandykestrength.com/pages/oc_training_methods

Pete Arroyo is the owner of Legacy Strength Systems, INC. Located in Chicago’s west suburbs, LSS provides physical preparation services to athletic-minded clientele ranging from adults to field and aquatic athletes that have excelled at the high school and collegiate echelons. LSS is the training choice for Naperville Central High Schools women’s and men’s swim teams.

 

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