“The Texas Method” as a means of driving continuing strength gains

Rippetoe Programming Potential for the Senior Athlete

Note that the senior athlete faces
diminishing returns with age

Today was the first day that I transitioned from my old 4-day schedule to the new 3-day “Texas Method”. I saw a Mark Rippetoe video somewhere, and just in an informal interview Q&A format, he said “the Texas Method will kill you”.

I’m not interested in being killed by any means, but I am interested in training progression. That’s particularly important at my age (57), as I’m looking for ways to continue to make training progression towards a “Tough Mudder” run later this year.

For now, I’m at a point at which I’ve completed a fairly intensive training schedule, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME having worked through some nagging injury problems (in my case, a knee and a shoulder). I’m feeling really good, on top of having lifted some personal records last week.

The “Texas Method” breaks down your training blocks into one-week intervals. You’ll do a very heavy “volume day” (five sets of five at maybe 80% of your PR) on a Monday, followed by a “recovery day” (some percentage of your Monday volume), followed by a Friday “intensity day” session where you attempt one set of five at another personal record (PR).

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up this pace, but I’m going to try it.  I want to continue to challenge myself as much as possible as I move forward, and again, the switch from a four-day workout schedule to a three-day schedule was to allow for three days of cardio interspersed. I’m feeling very strong and healthy right now, but there is a need for me to beef up my endurance.

The reality of growing older is that your physical potential diminishes. The chart nearby reflects some measure of a chart that I posted earlier, from the authors of “Younger Next Year”. By pushing now for that increase in strength performance, I hope to be able (with an eye toward avoiding injury) to move all the lines a bit further north.

Figuring Out a Program

Today’s the last workout of a program that I outlined earlier – four days a week alternating two each of the “big four” compound barbell lifts (squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press). Each of these is one of the “big four” because it works the body as more or less a complete system (as in the case of the overhead press, in which the whole body is “pressed” into service one way or another), or at least, a collection of systems. Working this program has enabled me to work around some injuries, while still enabling me to reach a number of personal bests.

Not merely are the muscles exercised, but the nervous system (“neuromuscular” aspects of training), the circulatory system, and even the skeletal system. Yes, even bones are strengthened with heavy weightlifting. Younger folks may not care, but this can be quite a marvelous thing for someone who’s tending toward osteoporosis, for example.

My own understanding of “programming” has gone through several evolutions. When I first joined the gym, I was gainfully employed, and so I hired a trainer. He was a young guy, a very caring guy. He looked at me, sized up some of my weaknesses, and put together a program based on pairing certain exercises like a dumbbell press and dumbbell rows, curls and tricep extensions, leg presses and hamstring curls. Things like that. In all, I had 10 exercises, for which I had to do three sets, three days a week. This gave me a good foundation for what was to follow. Later this was modified a bit, but still using the same principles.

But I’ve got some sons who work out, and their advice all along was “Dad, you’ve got to do the Stronglifts 5×5 program”. Totally different “principles”. The 5×5 program is a young man’s program – you start off light, and progressively add weight to the big four (the author of the program adds a fifth exercise to round it out, “barbell rows”, but this isn’t one of the big four). You work five sets of five for each exercise, broken up three days a week again, adding five or 10 lbs to the bar each workout. This works fine up to a point, and it enables you to make what others call “novice gains” – you gain the greatest amount of strength right after you first start lifting, because your body really “has the most room to grow”.

Maybe I didn’t read far enough into the fine print, but after you’ve realized all of these “novice gains”, your start to plateau. I didn’t know what to do with those plateaus. I began to think something was wrong with me!

Now, there’s no shortage of advice – including bad advice – on the internet. I muddled around for a few months, but eventually I came across Mark Rippetoe’s “Practical Programming for Strength Training”. This is a gem of a book for a lot of reasons, but it isolated a couple of problems I needed to solve.

A solution … is to train each lift heavy and each lift light during the week.

This is, he says, “especially true for older lifters who may have a more difficult time with recovery”. (As the saying goes, “you don’t get strong from lifting heavy weights; you get strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights”.)

Without going into detail, it’s an intermediate-level program that’s designed to enable you to break through the plateaus, while still focusing on strength. I put a two-day-a-week version of this into practice some time last September (I was starting a job with a very long commute), upping it to four days a week in December (changing jobs and working from home).

I have been able to make significant gains on this program, while still not spending more than 45 minutes in the gym each of those days (very helpful for work days).
But now, as I transition to training for a “Tough Mudder” competition in September, I’m looking for ways to continue to work on strength training, while enhancing my cardiovascular conditioning. I don’t yet have all the details worked out, but the rough outlines are becoming clearer.

Baseline for my 2017 Training

John_baseline_at_gym

Pardon me for the shameless self-portrait here, but this is where I’ve gotten to after a year and a half in the gym. Compared to my former puffy self, I’m very proud of this pose.

Before you start any new endeavor (especially over 50), it’s always a good idea to set a baseline for your goals. That’s the purpose of this blog post. In training for the Tough Mudder competition later this year, I’m going to need to maintain my strength training, I think, while adding cardio work (most likely that will be long distance walking and running, but also some HIIT cardio). That will come as I figure out what I’m doing. Toward that end, I’m going to be revisiting The Hybrid Athlete from time to time here, as a guideline.

For now, I’m working out four days a week in the gym, alternating the “big four” exercises (squats, overhead press or “OHP”, bench press, and deadlifts). I’m working each of these exercises two days a week, alternating them as follows:

Monday: heavy OHP, light squat
Tuesday: heavy bench, light deadlift
Thursday: light OHP, heavy squat
Friday: light bench, heavy deadlift

I also try to walk or run on my off days, but given the winter weather, I’m not always successful at getting that in.

Within that framework, it’s fair to say that not all the heavy days are personal records (some are), and my light days are not all that light. Additionally, on my “light” days, sometimes I do more “volume” (“reps” and “sets”), and on my heavier days, I also alternate “heavier” and “lighter” in such a way that I don’t always try to set personal records (PRs), but sometimes I do.

Just for posterity’s sake, here are my personal bests at the moment:

Overhead press: 3x3x115 lbs.
Bench press: 3x5x150 lbs.
Deadlift: 3x4x250 lbs.
Squat: 3x5x185 lbs.

Of all of these personal bests, I’ve been able to make the best progress on the deadlifts because that lift is least affected by injuries. Over the year and a half, I’ve had to contend with a nagging shoulder injury that affected by ability to bench and OHP, and a knee injury that affected my squatting.

All of this works on a “play it by ear” kind of basis. I’m very proud of this program, and very pleased that I was able to come up with it. At one point last year, my sons had me doing the “Stronglifts 5×5” program, which was very good for realizing what’s called “beginner gains” in strength, but which, I found, is very hard on an old guy like me. Prior to that, I had been working with a trainer who was more into bodybuilding than strength training (there is a difference), and I believe those programs prepared me very well – with some exceptions (things that caused those injuries in the first place) – to the strength training that I have gotten involved with.

I don’t want to get into programming right now, but that’s something that will be very important moving forward. Not only for me, but for anyone who takes up weight training or strength training for any reason.

World-Record Powerlifting at the Arnold Sports Festival this weekend

Given my interest in learning how to take advantage of the benefits that strength training affords to older folks like myself (we face limitations that younger folks don’t face), I’ve spent a good bit of time reading fitness articles and also watching some (very good) YouTube athletes explain how they train for things.

One of the trainers that I’ve seen online is an active powerlifting competitor named Garrett Blevins. Garrett is not only a national-class powerlifter, but he explains his programming techniques techniques on his YouTube Channel.

Garrett Blevins and John Bugay.pngHe’s from California, but he was competing at the 2017 Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, OH, in the USA Powerlifting “Slingshot Pro American” USA Powerlifting Raw competition. So I took a day trip to Columbus to try to meet him, and to watch him compete, and I was able to do both.

Garrett, who is also a part-time minister (studying to be full-time), did not disappoint. He set three open International Powerlifting Federation world records at this meet, including 730 lbs squat, 493 lbs bench press and a record 1952 lbs total for his weight class for this type of event. (He also set a PR in the “Sumo-style” deadlift of 728 lbs). Here is a better look at all three lifts.

My son Nathaniel went with me, and I’m grateful to him for driving to and from the event (although he was a little fast for my tastes). It was a great day for both of us.

Fit at 57, and I hope to be “Younger Next Year”

quality-of-life-chartsThe authors of the “Younger Next Year” books offer two life paths for those in their 50s and 60’s and beyond. “Chart 1” and “Chart 2” here represent those two different paths.

The first is how life goes without exercise. The forces of aging contribute to a steady decline until death. The second chart represents life with a sensible path of exercise. The reasons for this are becoming medically clearer: when you exercise, your muscles generate a particular growth hormone that “tidies up” your whole body. It fights and even reverses the forces of decay that tend to lead to what we think of as a typical path to old age.

The program they recommend involves about 45 minutes of exercise a day, six days a week. That may be daunting, but as with anything, it’s more important to start, without overdoing it. You may not be able to go out and walk for an hour. Maybe even doing that would cripple you for the next week. If that’s the case, if your first sixty minutes comes in the form of six daily 10-minute walks, that’s fine.

Here is why you should get started:

… let us have a candid moment. We are deadly serious. The stakes here— the potential changes in the rest of your life— are enormous. Think about the following numbers for a minute: … over 50 percent of all illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle in the way we suggest. Not delayed until you’re a little older. Eliminated! Along with all the misery, expense and lost joy that goes with being seriously sick or badly hurt. You may want to think about that for a minute. You may also want to think about the fact that 70 percent of premature death is lifestyle-related. “Premature” means before you’re deep in your eighties.

Crowley, Chris; Lodge, Henry S. Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond (pp. 7-8). Workman Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Even more important, for me, is [the fact] that some 70 percent of the “normal” decay associated with aging— the weakness, the sore joints, the lousy balance, the feeling crappy— 70 percent of that horror can be forestalled almost until the end [of your life]. That is a huge difference. I had some interludes of normal aging in my life, when my joints hurt so much that regular walking was painful and I looked for the cutout in the curb so I wouldn’t have to step up three inches to get on the sidewalk. Think about that. Think about being so puny that you have to rock just a little to get out of a normal armchair. That stuff happens. It will happen to you. It really, really will. And it doesn’t have to.

Crowley, Chris; Lodge, Henry S. Younger Next Year: A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond (p. 8). Workman Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

This book goes into great detail about the emerging science to show how all of this works. I highly recommend it.

If “personnel is policy” …

john_before_and_after

Very happy about this, and working for better things.

If personnel is policy, then biography matters, and work ethic matters, and character matters. Without going into too much detail at this point, I want to talk about the transformation that I’ve undergone in the last 18 months or so.

The photos nearby tell a bit of the tale. The photo on the left shows me and my belly in July 2014. That was a natural development, the result of being married for almost three decades, raising six kids, working, eating the typical American diet. The photo on the right shows me about a month ago – 20 lbs trimmer, while having added a lot of muscle. (Which means that I lost more than 20 lbs of fat!)

What the photos don’t show is the sorrow and grief I experienced when my wife died in June 2015, and that I experienced for much of the year afterward. I started walking a lot to try to ease the pain – I have always walked a lot – but there was no easing the grief except through time, and even that has its ups and downs.

I joined a gym in October that year. For a while I worked out in the evenings; after a few months, I switched to 5:00 am workouts. There are fewer people in the gym during those times, and it’s easier to stay on a regular schedule.

More recently, I’ve been on a kind of “Younger Next Year” plan – working out or doing some form of walking and jogging six days per week. According to the authors, “six days a week” is the only way (and the best way) to maintain and even improve your quality of life as you enter into your 50’s and beyond.

Nothing comes easy in life, it seems. Still, it is possible to say with Tennyson’s Ulysses:

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

The Discipline of Writing

Heinz-60000Three days a week now, I’m usually in the gym by 5:00 am, and out by 5:30 am. That was the case this morning. There’s not much competition for the squat rack at that time, although there still is some!

I’ve settled on a program – “Stronglifts 5×5” – it involves squats, deadlifts, bench press, overhead press, and rows. On my off days, usually 2-3 other days of the week, I’m in the gym doing what they call “HIIT” cardio (“high intensity interval training”). I’m working toward the goal of losing my belly. Only recently have I found a diet regimen that makes sense and is working.

So I’ve been going to the gym now for almost six months, on a fairly regular basis. I started in October, and now that it’s almost April, I’m still at it. I’m looking better and feeling better. The key to it is that I’ve been able to work it into my life as a routine.

With writing, that’s a little bit harder. You have to sit and think and focus for a longer period of time than is comfortable. You have to do research. You actually have to know what you’re writing about. But the results are significant.

I’ll put it into perspective for you – a kind of “Tale of Two Eloqua Partners”. When I was looking for a job in 2013, I had contacted a number of people – one of whom was Matt Heinz, founder of Heinz Marketing. He and I corresponded for a bit, and there seemed to be some interest there. One of his blog posts, from 2012, asked the question, “One thousand blog posts later, was it worth it?” Apparently the answer was a resounding “yes!”.

One is greeted on the Heinz Marketing blog by a pop-up that says “Join 60,000+ B2B professionals…” Here’s the theme:

This is my 1,000th blog post. For the first few years, I posted sporadically and when I had time. But for the past year, I’ve ramped up both publishing volume (posting something at least every business day) as well as how carefully we choose the topics I cover.

This weekend I reflected a bit on whether it’s all been worth it. Many bloggers struggle with this question, and many marketers (including some of our clients) wonder the same thing. But for me, based on the criteria below, there’s no question it’s not only been worth the time and effort, but also been one of the most important marketing investments I’ve made and continue to make.

The success here is quite the contrast to the results of the company that I actually joined. (I won’t mention names, but the company is listed in my LinkedIn profile).

There, the focus was “sales”, as in “a good salesperson can do everything that’s needed to generate enough business”. We used a CRM, and as a salesperson, I was tasked with calling a lot of different people. And I made the calls – I was the leading salesperson one year, and over a period of time, I made far more phone calls than the other two sales reps combined.

But the problem was, who was I calling? We were given a list of contacts, but they were stale, and there was no way of refreshing them. So I had to research my own list (in several different ways – I may go into this). And in the end, when we were setting up “call blitzes”, there were, after more than two years, still not more than several hundred contacts in my neck of the woods. In the end, I was dismissed for not being a good enough salesperson.

Today, both companies are still in the same line of business; both have upwards of 20 people. My former company, though, was struggling for business when I left. By contrast, in an article then about the milestone of reaching 2000 blog posts, Heinz writes of his blog, “It’s my top sales rep by far. It opens doors. Makes cold introductions easier. It keeps my prospects warm. Generates inbound inquiries. It literally helps me close deals, including with prospects I haven’t even spoken to yet.”

Two different sales philosophies, two different sets of results. I think the results speak for themselves.