Winter 2022 Programming

This is about lifting weights, what I’ve been exploring in my program, how it’s paying off, and where I want to go next.

Explorations

I’ve been lifting for hypertrophy; no more 5/3/1 (tho principles always remain, especially start light, progress slowly). It’s been about 3.5 months and 4 3-“week” mesos (I lift MWF). It’s basically an upper/lower A/B split. I started with a “powerbuilding” approach, trying to squat/bench and other heavy stuff for progressions.

In time I had to stop squatting because my current shoulder mobility makes it hard to get into position for back squatting and starts to put a lot of strain on my wrists, elbows, and shoulders – excruciating pain, which I’m not hip to dealing with again. So, more leg pressing.

I also found myself following Paul Carter’s stuff again, looking things like “effective reps” and keeping it to maybe 3×5-8 work.

Payoff

Not squatting has been good for me. My body feels better: knees not so stiff, wrist/elbow/shoulder pain gone (well, the squat-induced pain; my left hand/wrist still has other issues, which are better but still present). Plus quads are getting bigger. I use the Cybex Plate Loaded Squat Press, which is awesome. On Lower A day, I put on my squat shoes (elevated heels), feet low on the plate, quad-bias. On Lower B, Chucks (flat sole), feet high, glute bias. Working up to something heavy, 8 reps RPE 9-10 sort of thing. I think I was getting to a point of too much heavy leg work because I was feeling it (stiff, achy, not fully recovering). I’ve started to cut back on the pure volume, as I don’t need as many warm-up sets now as I’m more in the groove of this movement. Slowly adding weight, just taking my time to work up into it – start light, progress slowly.

FWIW, I never thought much of the leg press. I always hated it. It was always a lesser/secondary to squatting. I do think the particular machine helps (vs. other styles of leg press machine), but it’s more having to make this a primary movement and working to wring out the most from it. It’s not an afterthought movement… I’m glad I’m coming to better appreciate the old leg press. It then touches on two things:

First, Paul Carter. While sometimes Paul’s online communication approach rubs me the wrong way, I’ve long appreciated his coaching and knowledge; his teaching is probably 2nd behind Wendler for me. His most recent thing is around “effective reps”. I’ve been exploring that, aiming for 5-8 rep sets to failure (or very close to it). Also, 3 minutes rest between sets. Pushing this hard has been… different. It’s taken a while to work up to where I am, and I’m still not feeling like I’m really pushing it… I’m getting there, but not there yet. And the results are so far solid.

I mean, I can feel more “boulder” with my biceps. I am quite aware of more pectoral, especially clavicular – thank you John Meadows 20º incline bench pressing. I can see my calves popping (both gastroc and soleus). Delts are getting wider. I’ve got hamstrings. Shit’s growing.

Second, less/reducing volume. I was doing more volume – in terms of simple sets & reps, and weight – because I know roughly how much stimulus I need to “stimulate, not annihilate”. Well, as things are getting heavier, as I push more towards true failure, I really need less “overall volume” in favor of “effective volume”. So I’m dropping some warm-up sets – it’s not much, but it all adds up (I don’t need those warm-ups, like going from incline benching to JM press, I was doing a few more warm-up/light sets to learn the movement, but I basically feel I have the groove so I just go right into the work sets).

Also, I’m still getting stronger – the one major indicator is my incline benching. I just did 265×3@8.5, which is all time PR. The fun thing about doing very different exercises (than SBD/P) is there’s all new PRs to set! Plus, I’m really trying to make the # on the bar be a secondary thought: not what I pursue, but a nice thing when it happens. Like to incline 300 will be pretty cool… give me a year, since I’m enjoying plodding along 5# per meso, and that will stall at some point (probably 280, based on how that 265 moved). Still, I’ll get there.

So getting bigger, getting stronger, and not feeling so beat up all the time. What’s not to like?

Next

I’ve been debating if I should replace the Lower B leg press (high-feet, glute) with something like RDLs. It was the “too much” factor. But reducing some of the volume on leg pressing has helped. If I can continue to reduce that volume while still making gains, great. I may still switch, we’ll see. But I’m enjoying this leg pressing stuff so… we’ll see.

I do want to continue to reduce “volume” where I can.

I want to keep doing my “yoga”. That’s been not an everyday thing, but I am more sensitive to it and do these moves and stretches more often. I of course can still improve here. But no question this helps all the things.

But for the most part, I’m going to keep on. It’s pretty simple progression for the most part: 3×5-8@9-10 is the goal. Trying to do “as little as I can” in terms of volume, but pouring that much more into every single rep. It’s a slow progression for me, just keep adding weight & reps each session (e.g. 1 more pound, 1 more rep) and just keep pushing it. Over time, it’ll all catch up. Then I can reset, new exercises, etc. So just keep going until it’s time to not keep going.

Diet

This is been interesting. I’ve been tracking my intake (roughly) with Macrofactor. I’m not strictly following it, it’s more a visibility and accountability thing for me. The app has some good parts, but annoys me a bit too (speaking as an iOS developer for many years). Still, it’s helped me hone in on some things. I can validate that if I basically aim for 50g protein 4x/day and make sure I do that, I’ll be in good shape. Then eat the carbs and fat my body needs, don’t go overboard. And don’t snack or overdo it. That’s the big one that I’m struggling with as it’s massive habit to overcome. But I’m recognizing it and having more successes than before so… it’s coming along.

Really? I need to become comfortable with being hungry, both literally and figuratively. That will change everything. It’s slow progress, but that’s still progress.

The Real Power of 5/3/1

Jim Wendler‘s 5/3/1 (overview) is an amazing strength building program. It’s not everything, but it is something. I’ve had success with it over a number of years, and so have many others – including my sons.

Many focus upon the templates: Boring But Big, Triumverate, Beach Body, Krypteia, and there’s gazillions more (just buy the books). Templates are one magic of 5/3/1. I assert the real power of 5/3/1 is the principles.

5/3/1 was founded upon 4 principles: emphasize big, multi-joint movements; starting too light; progress slowly; break personal records. When you understand what drives and underlies these principles, it continues to hold no matter what you do. I shifted back to 5/3/1 for a time, saw good results, but I’m not a young man any more and the wear and tear caught up with me so I’m shifting to more hypertrophy-oriented work (for a time). The 5/3/1 principles remain. Starting too light and progress slowly hold well in hypertrophy work as I ease into the novel stimulus). Big movements are good, perhaps with more stability, like a Cybex machine press. PRs can now be rep PRs, inches on my biceps gained, inches around my waist lost.

5/3/1 as originally conceived is not something I can do so much any more. However, the principles of 5/3/1 will forever carry me forward.

Meso changes

So I’m feeling rather beat up, especially in my knees and shoulders. I think the shift in lifting style here in meso 3 – more focus on singles towards hitting some numbers again – is in part to blame. I really want to do things like set new lifetime PRs in press (225), deadlift (515), bench press (325), squat (SSB 405). I know what got me there, but a repeat isn’t going to get me there again. I’m older, more beat up, more worn out. But still kickin!

It’s things like posture at work, sitting at the computer… posture is a thing. Plus I have to be mindful side-sleeping, because if I truly sleep on my side, that’s a LOT of bodyweight on that shoulder joint and I can hurt my shoulder if I’m not mindful about side sleeping. And let’s be frank: I’m 50… things are wearing out.

I think I want to play seriously with my squat for once. I’m going to stop deadlifting and instead squat again as a second “technique” day. I want to use it as a time to really focus on squat technique, plus see if I can sink a bit more into the hole and get to stretching those muscles so I can improve that hip mobility to better hit depth. I think that will also take some tension off my lumbar area. All good long-term matters within my mission to not be decrepit.

So like a heavy day working up to a heavy triple on squats (then 1 backoff of 5-8), then a light day of like 5×5 or 5×3 on pause squats with a heavy technique focus – very very light weight, enough for a response, but not much more.

As for my deadlift? if my squat goes up, my deadlift should too. Not worried about it.

Similar for bench. Work up to a heavy triple, then backoffs for 5-8. Simplify the upper-push day a bit. Then on upper-pull day, just do like DB incline benches and call it good for “push” on that day; also open with BB rows (heavy) and close with the DB benches – I have never benched last before. It’ll be novel to try. 🙂

I’ve been paying attention to Paul Carter’s stuff about “effective reps”. I’m slowly finding weights that fit this 3×5-8 (to failure) model. Trying to find how little I can do in terms of volume, but max in intensity and growth, y’know? It’s interesting.

I do like the upper/lower A/B split spread 3x week (9-10 day micro). I will keep most of the same movements: BB rows, Dante rows, seated leg curls, calf raises, seated calf raises, etc. I’ll make minor changes, like making DB curls primary biceps exercise (vs. EZ bar curls of the past 3 mesos) with Cable EZ curls as the second (vs DB curls).

I want to keep working to build strength, but I do need to take a different approach to get there. I really gotta think more in terms of things like building my 3RM vs 1RM.

Don’t be decrepit

That is my “vision statement”: I don’t want to be decrepit.

Why do I go to the gym? Sure being bigger and stronger is cool, but it’s because I don’t want to be decrepit.

I made noises getting up and down from the ground to cuddle and play with my then-infant son – I was in my mid-20s? Not right. I was a smoker and got winded walking 2 flights of stairs to the office. Not right. I saw people, middle-aged-and-up, struggling to negotiate a “flight” of 3 steps. Not right.

I made up my mind: I don’t want to be(come) decrepit.

I don’t know when I will die, and I have so little control over it. I’m not rushing headlong into death, but I’m not out to avoid the unavoidable either. What I am doing is enabling myself to live this life while I have it. I don’t need to be wicked strong, but I need to be strong. I don’t need to have wicked endurance, but I need endurance. Being leaner is better. I need to be able to move and used my body in its entirety – picking up something that fell on the floor shouldn’t be an ordeal.

And yes, sometimes my definition of living life includes doing some stupid things and getting hurt (e.g. my pec strains), and understanding that while lifting is generally good for me it does wear on me too – but I enjoy it and I’m ok with the trade-off. And yes I know that despite my best efforts, I will still age, I will still fail, I will still fall apart, and I may become decrepit.

Yet… someday, I want to be like Sonny:

After 2 microcycles…

If you enjoy reading about my lifting weights, read on.

I’ve completed 2 microcycles (3 micros in a meso-block) of my “move away from 5/3/1”. I wanted to capture my current state of things.

Summing up the microcycle

  • 3 days a week, 4 sessions per micro (micro thus is 9-10 days long; gym 3x/week is a good balance between stimulus and recovery for me).
  • Fundamentally upper/lower A/B split
    • Squat (lower A)
    • Bench (upper A)
    • Deadlift (lower B)
    • Press (upper B)
  • Each session starts with a main lift: squat, bench press, deadlift, press.
    • This will be worked for strength. Work up to a crisp single.
    • Might do 1 backoff set for AMRAP; maybe.
  • Shifting supplemental and accessory work to more bodybuilding style, with increasing intensity per micro, and changing up every meso-block.
  • Some accessory upper worked on lower day: accumulate volume over the micro (vs. within the session); helps manage time-in-gym-vs-i-gotta-get-to-work-but-want-to-ensure-I-give-some-bodyparts-the-attention-they-need-over-the-micro. 🙂
  • I adopted a few conventions
    • Be conservative. I have goals, and I can’t meet them if I’m injured. Slow progress is still progress.
    • For a lot of accessory (and some supplemental) work, do 3 sets driving each set to failure. Over the “3 weeks” (3 micros of the meso), it’ll be like this (do you even conjugate, bro?):
      • Week 1: start dialing in weight and reps, each set to failure. Won’t be a killer 3 sets but it’ll be novel stimulus.
      • Week 2: weight and reps should be fairly dialed in, so just hit it again the same as week 1, just kinda “straight set pushing it” aiming to get a few more reps/work than week 1, still to failure.
      • Week 3: weight and reps are dialed in. Hit it hard for 3 sets all to failure, then finish with some sort of intensity technique: drop sets, iso-holds, rest-pause, partials, etc. Whatever is appropriate for the movement, e.g. selectorized machines easily support drop sets, John Meadows loved iso-holds and partials at the end of lying leg curls).
    • If I work a body part additionally on “a different day”, try to find some alternative approach. For example, if on same day you went heavy weight low reps, different day might be medium-weight moderate reps or light weight higher reps. A little variety just for interest.

So it has looked something like this:

  • Lower A
    • Squat. 5-4-3-2-1 rep workup to a crisp single. Backoff: 1×60%
    • Leg press. 1 warm-up, then 3×20. On 3rd micro, finish with -30% drop set
    • (I’d add Leg extensions if I needed it, but so far this has been a lot of quad stimulus).
    • Calves on (selectorized) leg press. 3×8-12, pyramiding up. 3rd mirco, finish with drop set.
    • Rope-handle cable hammer curls. 350 Method. 3rd micro finish with drop set.
    • Benched barbell wrist extensions. 3×20
    • Treadmill
  • Upper A
    • Bench press. I started this “move away” on 5/3/1 3s week so: micro 1, 3s week; micro 2, 1s week + 1 Joker rep; micro 3, 54321 workup plus a Joker single.
    • Incline DB flies. Slight incline a la John Meadows. 3×15, 3rd micro finish with 2 rest-pause sets. Get that stretch.
    • Seated DB Press. 4×6-10. 3rd micro finish with drop set
    • Incline DB Y raise. 3×10-15, 3rd micro finish with partial swings
    • PJR Pullovers. 3×12-15, 3rd micro finish with 2 rest-pause sets
    • Cable Row. 4×8-15, pyramiding up in weight. 3rd micro finish with 2 drop sets
    • Treadmill
  • Lower B
    • Deadlift. 54321 workup.
    • SLDL. 3×6-10.
    • Seated leg curl. 4×8-10. 3rd micro finish with drop set
    • Seated calf raises. 350 method. 3rd micro finish with partials/bounce
    • EZ-Bar pushdowns. 3×8-15. 3rd micro finish with drop set.
    • Benched barbell wrist extensions. 3×20
    • Treadmill
  • Upper B
    • Press. Executed same as bench.
    • Dips. 3×5+. Easing my shoulder/body back into these, so start with 3×5 and 1+ each week.
    • Barbell row. 4×5-8, pyramid up in weight. 3rd micro finish with 135xAMRAP
    • Dante row. 3×8-15 pyramid up in weight. 3rd micro finish with drop set.
    • Face pulls. 3×12-15. 3rd micro finish with drop set
    • Wide grip EZ bar curls. 4×6-8, 3rd micro finish with partials
    • Spider curls. 3×12-25 – just rep the fuck out. 3rd micro finish with iso-hold
    • Treadmill

Results so far

Again, I just finished micro 2.

Gut response: I like it. I’m getting strength work in, and the hypertrophy work is really cranking the shit out of my muscles – I am SORE! I am glad to see hypertrophy happening, because I’m aiming to use this programming to support my cut.

Another big thing for me here is the meso supplemental/accessory progression and rotation. Where week over week it ups the intensity, then next meso you switch to a similar movement. Oh the DOMS! Good pumps have been had too. I think this approach will support where I want to go. We shall see.

Where I want to go

I need to focus on dropping my body fat once and for all. I reckon I could drop 40# of flab and be happy. I really love strength training, and I need to find a way to keep that around during the cut, minimizing (or at least tracking) its state and progress or loss. I need to retain as much muscle as possible, and the best way to do that is to work to build muscle. I need to have a gym program that will support this dietary and lifestyle shift I need to undertake.

I will move the strength work to being a more “54321 workup” sort of thing, maybe with 1 backoff for some reps. I want the 1 to be crisp (I love Paul Carter for that term; it’s razor accurate). If it’s not crisp, I stay there micro over micro until it is. Which direction things move (even if it takes a few weeks) will be informative. I would adore progression, even if slow. So I will attempt a fairly slow progression. Like week over week just increase by maybe 5#. Then step back and do it again. To illustrate, let’s take squat:

  • Week/micro 1: squat 325
  • Week 2: squat 330
  • Week 3: 335
  • Week 4/meso 2: 330 (hopefully crisper than week 2)
  • Week 5: 335 (hopefully crisper than week 3)
  • Week 6: 340 (cool)
  • Week 7/meso 3: 335, etc.

Again, illustration. Subsequent weeks depend how preceding weeks go. But generally some sort of periodized undulation.

Point tho is strength work is just kinda this sort of thing. As well, I have thought about adopting an RPE-based and/or kinda sorta that Simmons/Tate “max effort” shit; that sort of approach got me to my strongest ever. 🤔 And there’s a part of me that wants to squat 405 again…

Accessory work is hypertrophy oriented. I’m working to ensure stimulus is constantly novel. Can you get it done in 3 sets? You betcha, if you push that shit hard. First week you basically know what you can do, so crank that. Because of novelty, it’ll be good stimulus. Week 2, you have the weight and reps more dialed in, so simply due to that you’ll be able to push a little harder with an appropriate weight. That will be sufficient stimulus. But if you keep just “doing straight sets”, you adapt. So to prevent that, week 3 you again can push a little harder, and then we finish with some sort of intensity technique. Week 1 is novel, week 2 is adapting, week 3 pushes beyond. Always pushing towards failure, increasing intensity each micro. THEN, in the next micro you switch to a new movement and start over again. So maybe you did barbell curls, now you do ez-bar curls; wide then narrow, narrow then wide, cable curls, whatever… just pick a variation (conjugate bro). Lather, rinse, repeat over the mesos.

Plus, the fact I change up every 3 weeks means I never really know how much strength I’m losing. LOL. Yes, I’ll probably stop doing SBDP eventually and replace with similar movements (e.g. return to front squat). But, if my strength stalls, that tells me something regarding my diet/loss progress too. So, it’s all good, telling, diagnostic. I may be able to do things like when I see the stall, have diet go maintenance, achieve new set point (perhaps strength increases slightly like my reps start to go back up 1 per micro), then start a new cut. It may be cycles like this… 🤔

I have seen some decent musculature appearing in just 2 weeks – it’s not huge, but there’s a difference. This bodes well for supporting weight/fat loss.

And that’s… what is next.

Spring 2022 – Moving away from 5/3/1

If you enjoy reading about lifting weights, read on.

Below is me thinking out loud – raw thoughts as I reformulate.

I think 5/3/1 is getting to the point of beating me up. I want to chase heavier weights, but I need to be less rigid in how I get there. I also need to approach my assistance and supplemental lifts differently to support my road ahead (longevity).

I think about what got me to my strongest: I listened to my body, I did things with RPE. I worked up, I chilled out. 

I’m not saying to necessarily do this again now, but I am saying the rigidity of 5/3/1 is good, and it’s time to start deviating from it. I’ll always have 5/3/1 principles as my foundation.

Deadlift has deviated already due to the strained hamstring. I find low volume is good for me right now. Working up to heavyish singles is good strain. Singles, doubles, triples are probably in my future because I don’t want the exhaustion of higher reps and then I falter in technique and strain the hamstring again. I’m trying to BUILD that shit, so I don’t need to wreck it any further. RDLs have been good; may switch to stiff-legs for a spell to build hammies.

Squat. I’m happy I’ve been able to restart (back) squat – shoulder mobility issues since maybe 2019 prevented me from getting under the bar (it’s why I was using the SSB for so long back at Ignite). Recently a chiropractor poked a few things, some Graston… it did something, mobility has markedly improved. So while it’s been good to get back to squatting, the rest of me needs more warm-up. I need a different approach to squatting than 5/3/1. My body needs a little more finessing back into squats – 5/3/1 just isn’t the right rhythm of sets and reps and getting my aging body into the groove; 5/3/1 principles yes, rhythm no.

Bench seems good. I’ll probably keep bench as main lift doing 5/3/1 progression with the last/PR set being at like RPE 8. My current 5/3/1 progression is grooving well so as long as I keep it smart, it should still serve me to stay on that progression. No more BBB assistance tho – not sure what yet to replace it with. Pec minor dips have been productive; continuing dips in some way foh sho (again, improved shoulder).

Press is fine. I don’t see reason to change this either. Take a similar approach as bench. I want to keep pressing because I believe OHP-ing again contributed to the improvement of my shoulder.

Assistance work I think needs to change to be more bodybuilding-like, more hypertrophy. I’m thinking I may try something around novelty, because I would like to see about compressing my workout:

  • Week 1 – perform new movement, e.g. incline db flies
  • Week 2 – do same movement; weight a little more known/stable, thus expecting more reps than last week, better contractions
  • Week 3 – same movement, pushing more, expecting to crank out a few more since more adapted… 
  • Week 4 – same movement, add in intensity technique: drop set, iso holds, partials, whateva
  • Week 5 – back to the top, selecting new movement, e.g. flat db flies, cable flies, pec dec, etc.

It might even be a 3 week thing where it’s 1, 2, 4, repeat. It’s possible you do a deload week before you repeat. Whatever enables the most stimulus over time via novelty. That is, I want to be sore after ever workout, and the above is an illustrative pattern/progression on how I might achieve that state. Additionally, I want to maximize stimulus with fewer sets, lower volume.

Some rest periods will be 3 minutes, others 1 minute. I grant the longer rest periods, and I will use those as appropriate. There’s also the 1 minute turnarounds and how those contribute to “the pump”. Chase it.

It might look something like this:

  • 3 days per week
  • Lower, quad
    • Squat, doing my own feel-based work-up to a crisp heavy-ish single. Maybe drop to 80% of that for 1 set of reps at RPE 8; maybe.
    • Leg press (feet low), sets of 20; 3 min rest
    • Calf raises, 3 min rest
    • Curls (light), like 3-5 sets
    • Forearms?
    • treadmill
  • Upper, push emphasis
    • Bench, keep my 5/3/1 with the top set being RPE 8
    • Flies of some sort – above pattern, 1 min rest; 3 sets.
    • Seated DB press – 3 min rest; light work up, 3 work sets
    • Some sort of lateral raise – 1 min rest; 3 sets
    • Some sort of triceps pump work
    • Some sort of general back like pullups or rows, up to 5 work sets
    • treadmill
  • Lower, ham/glute
    • Deadlift, per above. No back-offs of these
    • Stiff-legs, sets of 8 probably. 3 min rest
    • Seated calf raises, 3 min rest
    • Triceps work (light)
    • Forearms?
    • Treadmill
  • Upper, pull emphasis
    • Press, keeping 5/3/1, top set RPE 8, etc.
    • Dips, bw only 3 sets of max reps
    • Row of some sort, probably barbell. Something heavy.
    • Pulldown of some sort
    • Facepulls for the burn
    • Curls (heavy) 5-8 sets, maybe 2 exercises
    • Treadmill

Something like that maybe. It’s a good start.

Hrm. The more I look at it, Pull day should be start with rows, and then press and dips are later. I’ll have to drop my weights down on press, but that’s fine. My shoulders might be happier with 5-8s, with occasional 3-2-1s. 🤔

Well, it’s a start.

How I’m meal prepping this time around…

Meal prepping – if I want to manage my weight, it’s what I need to do. My struggle is finding a sustainable way to prep, and I’ve found a few new things to try to see how well they help.

I love food, perhaps too much. I love all the ways you can combine and put it together to make symphonies – or bring comfort. Too often mean prep gets too “clean” and loses fun, flavor, and interest for me. And it can be a big time and effort investment, when I don’t necessarily have the time to do so. Every time I’ve used meal prepping I’ve achieved fair results, because it makes me monitor and constrain my intake. But it winds up being too much trouble or not enough enjoyment, and eventually it wanes and I fall back into old habits.

What’s different this time is trying to not sweat everything as much. I found this article from Joel McCain of Blacksmith Fitness called “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Fat Loss“. It strips things down even more than I’ve done before, and it may be what helps me.

Basically I figure out my target caloric intake per day. Determine protein at 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, then the remainder of calories is fat and carbs in whatever ratio – that is it, and that is key.

When I would do other plans such as from Renaissance Periodization, while I would have good success, the hard control and reduction in carbs and fats would not only be a struggle, but let’s be real – very soon I’d wind up rather constipated, having to take a supplement like psyllium husk, just to keep things going. That added a layer of irritation (so to speak) to the mix.

But if I can have more flexibility in my carb and fat intake – especially fat intake – I believe that should help me here. Plus if I can enjoy what I’m doing, that can only help me stick with it. More on this below.

In the end, the single biggest factor that affects your bodyweight is calorie balance. If I can keep my protein where it needs to be and my caloric intake lower than my expenditure, I will lose weight. Every other aspect of food, diet, weight management, macros, blah blah blah is secondary minutia (yes it CAN matter, but if you can’t control caloric intake, all that other stuff doesn’t matter so much – cart before the horse).

What I am doing

I determined my caloric take: presently 2300/day. I determined this through some simple formulas, plus leveraging some apps I have to see where they would put me. Again, I didn’t care what plan they were recommending, just calories. 2300 is a good place for me to start (when I plateau, I’ll drop it 10%, recalculate, and continue).

From there, I figure out protein, and the caloric remainder is fat and carbs.

I then use MyFitnessPal – not as a tracker, but as a calculator. I plug the 2300 calorie goal into it. I adjust the percentage dials for the three macronutrients to get protein right, then fat and carbs just to get the percentage to total 100%. I then enter one diary day of meals based on whatever foods I want to eat, focusing on the big things like meats, carbs, and fat sources (I don’t bother entering veggies). Note that I’m choosing the foods I want – the things I want to eat. For example, on my first week I simply made 1/2 lb hamburger patties from 95/5 ground beef and smoked them on my Traeger smoker/grill. I like beef, I love the flavors that result from the smoking on the Traeger. Pasta is a good carb, some fiber too, so I just got a couple boxes of ziti. Simple and things I like to eat. So I enter all the foods into 1 day on MyFitnessPal and adjust the amounts of the foods until it hits my target protein and total calories for the day. I’m not looking at specific carbs or fat numbers (other than to ensure I’m at least getting some of each), I’m not looking at details like saturated fats or sugars or even if I’m hitting the “ratio” of fats to carbs. It’s simply: am I getting the protein I need, then am I totally up everything else to hit my calorie need. I don’t care if MyFitnessPal complains about my choices – I’m not using the app as it wants to be used, it’s just a database and calculator.

That single thing took a big load off my mind because now I’m not struggling to add or remove or find ways to wedge things in just to hit the right ratios. “Oh, I gotta eat 2 spoons of peanut butter to try to get in enough fat” or “No, must eat that toast dry because this meal said only 10g fat and that’s being incidentally brought in by the fact I’m eating meat; in fact, despite being lean meat I max out my fat allowance before I hit my protein requirement so now I have to find some other protein source like 15g of whey simply to get enough protein, but wait that affects carbs slightly so now I have to readjust THAT…”. And that shit just got really old really fast having to try to cram and finagle ways to hit the macros.

This approach is so much simpler.

Plus I don’t have to actually track my meals because everything’s already determined and portioned out. Just eat what I made – no more, no less – and I’ll hit things.

Variations and simplifications

I’m trying to keep this simple, but interesting. I think those are key towards long-term success.

I have basically 1 meal, which I vary into 2 meals, tho in a way it’s 4.

The meals are all simple. For example this week it’s all: 1/2 lb lean beef patty, pasta, steamed veggie. That’s the base meal.

The first variation is sauce. Half of the meals get a Prego no-added-sugar sauce. The other half get some beef gravy with mushrooms (salisbury steak!). So now the beef and pasta have some variety in the flavors and mouthfeels, without adding much to the calories.

The second variation is veggies. Half of the meals get green beans, the other half are getting broccolini.

And I can mix and match a little more too: Prego and green beans, Prego and broccolini, gravy and green beans, gravy and broccolini. So now one base meal turns into four different meals. It’s not huge variation, but it’s enough to keep things from being completely repetitive.

A few other things in there to help with prep itself:

  1. I’m not preparing sauce. I’m using Prego jarred sauce, tho I did pick the no-added-sugar version just to keep the added calories down. The gravy is simply a prepared gravy from the store, and the mushrooms are canned and drained. I know it’s not the most gourmet way of things, but it drastically cuts down on the time and hassle of prep so I’m not spending all day in the kitchen – this is important to me.
  2. The veggies are steamed in the bag. I used to try to buy fresh and prepare them in some way, like sauté or something more fancy in the prep. Well, sometimes the only way I can find the fresh veggies I want to eat are in those steam-in-bags at the store – I used to just consider that a container, but I opted this go-round to just throw ’em into the microwave and steam-prep them that way. That has turned into a HUGE time-saver and an unexpected win.
  3. The hard part about working with pasta is there’s the dry weight then the cooked weight: all the nutrition info is by dry, but I need to portion by cooked. I used to weigh all the cooked and portion from there doing all the before vs. after math I could. Ugh. This time I knew how much nutrition I needed from the pasta thus how much I would need. I did the math to portion out how much dry that would require over 14 meals, and cooked that much. Then when it was cooked, I simply eyeballed even distribution into 14 meal containers. I didn’t sweat if today I got exactly 189g of carbs from pasta in this meal: if I consumed all my meals over the week, I’d be getting what I needed over the course of the week. It all works out just fine in the end. Much simpler execution here.
  4. Breakfast is simple. I like cereal. I picked a cereal I like and eat that using plain whey isolate as “milk”. Simple and works nicely for me.
  5. I have an afternoon snack, which is some protein powder (trying a combo of whey isolate and egg right now), some fresh fruit (I’m using fresh pineapple, which I love), and then some nuts (cashews are a favorite; but this week I’m going to try these seasoned shelled pistachios I found at the store) because honestly I wanted to up my fat intake in hitting my calorie goals. This sort of snack makes me happy.
  6. I undercook everything just slightly. It’s all going to get microwave reheated, which will break it down more too… so a slight undercooking now helps it hold up in storage and not become unappetizing upon reheating.

Yes, it’s a little more expensive to buy prepared. For example, when I’ve made the gravy in the past I bought 1 box of stock then added corn starch to thicken. This time I bought the gravy ready to go. The ingredients check wound up resulting in exactly the same gravy but cost twice as much. The couple bucks spent was more than made up for in the time saved. One money-saving trick I like doing is going to the grocery store first thing in the morning. Often you’ll find meat that is good but needs to be sold NOW marked down. That 93/7 or 95/5 beef that people tend to not buy because it’s more expensive? Well now they marked it down 25% to clear it out, so I’m getting extra lean beef at 80/20 chuck prices. You find your ways to trade off.

TBD

I’ve only just started on this particular run. It’s been 2 preps and 1 week of eating (just finished prep #2 a few hours before writing this). I don’t know how this will go, but the fact my prep this morning took me 3 hours including hitting the grocery store, the kitchen wasn’t totally wrecked, I don’t have to track every meal and day (since it’s all precalculated by the act of how I assembled each meal), and I am liking what I’m making and eating and actually looking forward to my meals… well, it’s all a good sign.

What is Good Enough?

We all want to know…

What is good enough?

Am I smart enough?

Am I strong enough?

Am I capable enough?

Am I able to do what needs to be done? To achieve the thing I wish to achieve?

I can’t answer that for you.

And I’m not sure anyone really can provide a single concrete answer.

For me in my world – where I like to lift weights – what is “strong enough”? There are strength standards. And more thoughts. And other thoughts. And if you search around, you’ll find even more. But look at their bias. Do they consider sex/gender (because that matters)? Do they consider age? Do they consider capabilities (e.g., someone with one arm)?

It’s good to have some indications like these, because they help us understand what is at least possible. To go from zero to world records, that gives us the continuum of what’s possible in the realm of human capability. But we all know that world records are outliers, people with a particular gift to go along with work ethic and time invested. So still, along that continuum, where can we go?

I know a cop who is a large mammal – almost gorilla-like strength. His physical strength was a huge asset in his job. But then, he couldn’t run a foot pursuit worth a damn. He worked to be able to run well, but lost so much strength. Today he’s found a medium between the two. So do these standards consider context? do they consider situation and need?

My chief profession is a software developer. As an iOS developer, my world is narrow in a sense, but one can go quite deep within it. I see web developers, and the vast choice of technologies and approach one can take is staggering. How many languages, how many platforms, how deep, how broad – what makes one a top developer?

Or how about another part of my world, with defensive pistolcraft.  Karl and I may have spoken and written about “Top 10 Drills”, but when you think about it each one of those is a particular standard. And there are so many more. What makes this one a better standard? Which one really qualifies you as “good enough”?

I was teaching this past weekend, and this topic came up. What is “good enough”? What is “sufficient”? It doesn’t really matter the context in life, it’s a general topic that applies to anything.

And all I could think of as a good and acceptable rule?

Just be better today than you were yesterday.

2018-12-31 training log

Today starts a new training block. It’s a number of things all coming together nicely.

First, I achieved some goals. Second, to achieve those goals took a bit of focus and beating up of my body. Part of that is repetative stress, so getting some different movements for a bit will be good for me. Part of it then is that I ate pretty well to support my efforts, but then also some life matters had me eating more than I should have — I’m still dealing with stress eating.

So, it’s evident in my videos that I’ve been growing a gut, and I’m not happy about it. In fact, I think back to when I dropped 66 lb and am not happy that I’ve almost gained it all back over the past couple years. I expected a little gain, but not this much. Sigh. It’s all my own fault of course. It makes me think towards longer-term goals: that right now I want to still hit a 400# squat – and in doing so, should likely hit other milestones like 225 press (I’m at 210 omw), 315 bench (I’m at 300 now), etc.. But once I hit those goals? I could keep going, but I think it’d be a more interesting challenge to me to try to get ripped. Don’t know yet, thinking about it.

But for now, I’m going to take the next 6-8 weeks or so and have a hypocaloric diet and see about dropping as much flab as I can – hopefully at least 10 lb. It’s a good time to do so as if I stayed on 5/3/1 I’d be resetting anyways. And I might as well use this opportunity to do some different movements to help me touch on some weak points and also just some different movements to give my body a break. Oh, and lighter weights too!

So here we are.

My general approach is influenced by methodologies so far. Keeping some sort of major/strength lift, but a variation: high-bar squats, incline bench press, front squat, barbell row. It’s kinda a push/pull/legs approach, but not pure because I will do a little work on other days. For example, I’m calling today “leg EMPHASIS” since it’s mostly about legs but there’s a little bit of push and pull. This is something from Renaissance Periodization, trying to get my volume over the course of the week vs. just 1 day a week. Each day emphasizes something, but gets a little bit of other things in there too. It seemed to work well for me in the past.

I’m also throwing in hypertrophy methodologies. One big one? Trying to follow a 3-1-1-1 tempo for everything apart from the main movement. I can tell already from today it’s going to make it tough.

Finally, I want some sort of conditioning work. Things like prowler pushes, yoke walks, farmer’s walks, sandbag carries, sled drags, whatever. Something to add some work, because my work capacity sucks – and it should help a bit with the fat burn.

Anyways…

Today was ok. Good start to things. Keeping it “light and easy” since it’s the first week. Simply doing it will be enough for my body right now, then over the coming weeks things will scale up. I will have to adjust weights a little bit, but overall today was dialed in ok.

That 3-1-1-1 tempo really changes things. Gotta drop the weight, but still it burns, it burns!

Oh… the Prowler.

I forgot how evil that thing was. 🙂

2019Q1 Mini-Cut; Leg Emphasis 1

  • High-bar Squat (5,4,3,2,1,AMRAP,50%)
    • bar x 10
    • 135 x 5
    • 185 x 4
    • 225 x 3
    • 275 x 2
    • 315 x 1
    • 225 x 10
    • 225 x 5
  • Leg Press (feet low and narrow, 3-1-1-1 tempo)
    • 180 x 10
    • 270 x 10
    • 360 x 10
  • Lying Leg Curls (350 Method, 3-1-1-1 tempo)
    • 35 x 20
    • 35 x 12
    • 35 x 9
  • Seated DB Press (3-1-1-1 tempo)
    • 30e x 10
    • 50e x 12
    • 50e x 8
    • 50e x 5
  • Incline DB Curl (3-1-1-1 tempo)
    • 15e x 12
    • 15e x 12
    • 15e x 12
  • Conditioning
    • Prowler push
    • high handles
    • 90#
    • run to the end of the turf (about 30-35 yards), turn around, run back.
    • 1:30 rest
    • 3 times.

2018-12-20 training log

Today wasn’t training – today was fun.

I’ve long wanted to do some lifting challenges, but never could find the right way to work it into my greater programming and goals. But everything converged well to make this week a fun week.

Two days ago, I hit a nice milestone of bench pressing 300 lb.

And then today I opted to try the Half-Hour Deadlift Challenge (from Dan John over at T-Nation). Basically, deadlift 315 60 times in 30 minutes. A number of ways to approach it, and I took the “1 rep every 30 seconds” approach.

(the time-lapse video didn’t turn out as illustrative as I wanted… but still fun)

I’m pretty sure I’ll be sore as hell tomorrow (and Saturday), but it really wasn’t that bad. Oh sure, I started to feel it maybe 10 minutes in, and close to the end I was getting a little tired, but I could have kept going for a while. It was more the mental, the “have to be in the zone for 30 minutes” that was the tougher part. But about 20 minutes in, it all went auto-pilot.

One thing I got out of it is the joy of singles, which I already was exploring with squats. It’s just different than going for reps. It can’t be all the program is about, but there’s quite the place for it.

Anyways, it was a lot of fun. I’m glad I did it.