Saturday 4 May 2013

Brutal Strength and Explosive Power

Last Sunday I took a trip to The Training Lab, the home of Andy 'Ironmac' McKenzie for a strength and power workshop, co-hosted by legendary Powerlifter Andy Bolton.

First time I met Andy M was a few years back at a strength and power event, where Andy dominated the sub-75kg class to win the event. This was proof enough that I wanted to train with and learn from him, so I booked up for this workshop.

And being a novice powerlifter, the idea of working with such a strong lifter like Andy Bolton made it a no brainer.

The Training Lab sits on the grounds of East Grinstead rugby club.  It is a great facility, kitted out with so much awesome equipment that I wish I lived closer! The workshop was intentionally kept as a small group, to ensure that both Andys had time to help out everyone, which worked really well.

From the outset I knew it was going to be a tough day.  Arriving 3 minutes late at 10:03, Andy M suggested a 30 burpee punishment - thanfully he did not follow through with this but it set the tone for the day ahead. The day went on until 17:30 with only 30 or so minutes for lunch, so it was quite full on.

The first segment of the day was to do with warm up.  As my training is normally first thing in the morning, I admit this is an area of training I neglect due to time. This part was led by Andy M, who took us through various running and jumping drills, and some band work to try and activate the glutes and shoulders. Got some very good ideas from this and I will be putting these ideas into my training going forward. Despite being a 'warm up' Andy put us through our paces and I was very happy when we took a short break!

The second segment was also run by Andy M, and was about explosive power. Lots of knee jumps, box jumps, upper and lower body plyos. All very fun and very well thought out. As a powerlifter I always think about brute strength, but never really about explosive power. Both Andys made me rethink that during this segment, and I realised how it can benefit my lifts.

After a spot of lunch, the afternoon session began to focus on lifting, and led mainly by Andy Bolton.  As someone who has squatted over 1200lbs and deadlifted over 1000lbs, I was eager to learn from him, and he didn't disappoint. It's not everyday that an opportunity to train with someone like Andy comes about.

We began with squat, the king of all exercises. Andy taught us the powerlifters squat - wide stance, toes out. This is something new to me, but will now become the norm for me when squatting. We worked in small teams on box squats, and I worked up to 150kg. This is the most I've ever had on my back, so I was chuffed to complete the lift, albeit a little wobbly on the way up!

Next we moved onto deadlift. Focus on slow up to the knees then explode. Something I'd never done before, but found it useful. Even pulled a 5kg pb at 185kg! I'll definitely take away the idea of training deadlifts at sub maximal weights with a focus on speed - if it works for Andy Bolton it will work for me!

We finished with some complexes led by Andy M. By this time I was pooped, but gave them a good go.  Andy introduced the concept of French Contrast training. Essentially 4 exercises done in sets concurrently, starting with a heavy compound exercise (like squat) followed by a plyo exercise (like hurdle jump) followed by lighter compound exercise (like weighted squat jump) finishing with another plyo (like quarter squat jump). An interesting concept I need to try in a session on its own when I am fresh.

Come 17:30 I was knackered! I was ready to head home via somewhere for some coffee! We got a little goodie bag at the end with some Kinetica whey protein, a Core 150 shaker, and a Muscle and Fitness magazine.

Great day, learnt a lot and saw some awesome lifting by others. Muscle and Fitness magazine were in attendance so sure there will be a video up somewhere soon.

Hope to be back to the Training Lab in the future.

Monday 15 April 2013

Early morning training

My preferred time to train now is in the morning, first thing. My alarm goes off at 0530, and I'm training by 0615/0630. It's taken a while to become accustomed to it but I seem to have got the hang of it now. With being in a job where I cannot guarantee when I will finish for the day, but where I can control a 0900 start time, the benefits of morning training are great. I thought I'd put together a few thoughts about my morning training - maybe it will help someone out there:

1) Make sure you get to bed on time the night before. I aim for 7 hours sleep so in bed by 2230. If I get to bed past 2300 I struggle the following morning

2) I have found that I can lift, run and sprint in the morning with one exception - deadlift. Squat, bench and overhead press all feel stronger in the morning - I am rested and have not suffered from hours of being sat down at my desk at work with bad posture. However I just find deadlift far too taxing on the CNS to lift in the morning. Deadlift is the one session I need to do in the evening.

3) Pre workout I have to eat something. When training with weights, I will have a banana and double espresso pre workout. If running I will have something a bit lighter - water and an apple. Training on empty just doesn't work for me.

4) As stated above training in the morning allows me to get training done and out of the way, and if I have to work late I don't miss a scheduled session. It also allows for a whole day of nutrition post workout, so I find my recovery between sessions is quite good.

5) I found being used to lifting first thing beneficial when I did a recent powerlifting meet, as I began lifting (albeit late morning) at 11am - had I only been used to training after work I may have found this a bit more difficult.

The list above is just a few of my thoughts. There will be plenty of people reading this who have tried early morning training and it doesn't work for them. Others will not have tried, because on the whole the consensus is to train later in the day. However sometimes you need to try something yourself to see if it works for you.

Sunday 24 March 2013

Preparing food for the week ahead

My training has been going well of late. However my nutrition could do with some tweaks.

I work Monday to Friday, sometimes long days. So sometimes I make bad choices and succumb to easy, convenient food. I am no follower of a paleo, zone or other diet - I just want to eat to complement my training.

After a little youtubing I decided to make today a food preparation day. This is only for food to take to work - breakfast and dinner will be prepared and eaten at home. Here is what I did.

Firstly I cooked up two packs of chicken breasts - six in total - in our slow cooker. 3 hours 30 mins on high, with a half cup of water and some stock.  Made up a total of 575g shredded chicken once cooked.

I chopped up three sweet potatoes, mixed with extra virgin olive oil, smoke paprika, ground cumin and chilli spice and put in the oven on 200 degrees (fan assisted) for 45-50 mins until soft.

We were having salmon for dinner so put in an extra two fillets - one for me to snack on and one for Liz's lunch. Chuck in a roasting dish with olive oil, drizzle with one squeezed lemon, some salt and some fish seasoning. Cook in the oven on 180 degrees (fan assisted) for 25 minutes.

We had rice with dinner so I cooked a load extra - organic brown basmati rice. Extra for my lunches.

I did not want to prepare veg for the week so I just put in extra with that for dinner. I put the following mix of babycorn, asparagus, fine beans and carrots in a tupperware, a tablespoon of water and steamed for 3 mins 30 secs on 700W.

So here is what I have. At the back, the remaining chicken, sweet potato and rice, which will last me 3-4 days I guess. At the front I have a mid morning snack of sweet potato (one) and a fillet of salmon, lunch is then chicken, rice and veg (sauce added after I took the photo), and mid afternoon snack of the other bit of sweet potato and a protein shake.

Didn't take much out of my day but will save me much time in the week and provide me some good nutrition.

I'm no chef or nutrition expert so this was an experiment - I'll write a follow up entry in a few weeks and share some thoughts on what has worked and what hasn't.

Train hard

Sunday 3 March 2013

parkrun UK - free timed 5km runs

A few days ago a friend told me about parkrun, who arrange free timed 5km runs around the UK (in fact around the world).  I will be signing up and running it next weekend in my home town.

I think that it is great that free events like these are run, and hopefully people will continue to support them.

Saturday 23 February 2013

GBPF East Midlands Unequipped Powerlifting Championships 2013

On Sunday 10th February 2013, I competed in the Great Britain Powerlifting Federation East Midlands Unequipped Powerlifting Championships 2013, at Letchworth Weightlifting Club.  This was my first powerlifting event which I plan to write about in reasonable depth - some info may be obvious to some but useful to others, so bare with me.

Firstly, let's clarify the event.  Powerlifting consists of 3 attempts at 3 lifts (so 9 lifts in total) - squat, bench press and deadlift.  The unequipped means you are limited to wearing a lifting belt, wrist straps and knee sleeves, specifically singly ply neoprene (GBPF allow this in the unequipped / raw meets but other federations do not).  I used the belt and wrist straps (for the bench press only), but not the knee sleeves.

I arrived at 9:30am on a rainy Sunday morning.  First task was to weigh in - 78.9kg so comfortably in the 83kg class.  This was where I thought I would be.  To be honest it did not matter what class I was in.  Coming into the event I knew where I was lifting wise, and I would not be breaking any records.  For reference, the GBPF records for Senior (over 23) unequipped in the East Midlands division at this weight class are 200kg squat, 130kg bench press, 270kg deadlift and 600kg total, whereas my best total in training is about 2/3 of that.  But this is the beauty of powerlifting - unless you are elite level, you are only chasing your best lifts and aiming to beat them, not beat records and other lifters.

Lifting commenced at 11am.  I was in the second flight.  Flights mix together certain weight classes and then work through all 3 attempts at a lift, then the next flight does their 3 attempts at a lift, then you move on to the next lift until all 3 lifts are complete.  Thankfully 83kg was the heaviest weight within the first two flights - the 93kg class and above had to wait until 2pm before lifting!

I began with the squat.  My best training lift was 142kg.  I was hoping for 125kg, 140kg then an attempt at 150kg.  I managed to get 125kg ok, then I failed at 140kg.  I completed the lift but powerlifting is very strict on following commands.  In the squat there are two - first one to commence the squat once the lifter is deemed in place and ready, and the second once the squat is complete prior to racking the bar.  I finished the squat and began to rack the bar before I got the command, so got two red lights.   You have 3 judges - one head judge face on, and one on each side.  Each judge scores the lift white (good) or red (fail), and a good lift requires 2 out of 3 white lights (remind anyone of X Factor?!)

My confidence was a little knocked at this point.  I did not want to try 150kg, fail and end up with a 125kg score, far from my best.  So I ignored my ego and opted for a safer, yet still personal best attempt of 142.5kg, and thankfully got 3 white lights!

Next up as bench.  As I train alone, I do not push the bench press as far as I possibly could.  Lack of spotter means I adopt the "bounce" off the chest at the bottom of the bench, so I do not get stuck under the bar.  In powerlifting, this is a no-no.  The bar must touch the chest and come to a pause, before being given the command to press.  This is a whole different ball game!  My best bounced bench press in training as 90kg, but as I had to pause I opted to lower my opener from 80kg to 75kg, to ensure I got a lift on the board.  75kg was successful, so I went on to 85kg.  This was much more difficult but I ground it out, just.  I played safe and tried a third lift of 87.5kg, but I could not press it.  A little disappointed but if I'm honest, 85kg was a good lift for me with the pause.

As an aside, powerlifters tend to adopt a very arched back when benching, so that only their shoulders and butt touch the bench.  This is advantageous by reducing the range of motion, but also putting the bench press onto a slight simulated decline.  I will need to learn to do this!

Last up was the deadlift.  My best training lift was 175kg and a few times I have tried 180kg and I could not move it.  This was therefore my goal today.  First lift 155kg, was ok.  Second lift 170kg was better.  Third lift was 180kg and BOOM, nailed it thanks to the cheering in the crowd from my wife and brother.  Very pleased. 

This meant I had an overall total of 407.5kg, which I will happily take.  In the under 83kg senior class, this put me in last place.  However when I got my certificate I was told 4th (out of 4).  There are no losers in powerlifting - hell I may have come last but I got some personal bests, and some great experience which will shape my training for the next few months and drive me to improve.

A few other points to note.

Thankfully this was a shorter day than at first thought.  I began lifting at 11am and finished about 2pm.  Food wise I ate a few bacon sandwiches - one before the squat and one before the deadlift.  In between lifts I ate bananas, cereal bars, and drank coffee and sports drinks.  I found it kept my energy levels high.

The warm up area was 3 areas which had 3 squat racks (prior to the squat), 3 benches (prior to the bench) and just a bar and weights (prior to the deadlift).  Plenty of space, plenty of weight and good areas for prep.

The atmosphere was also great.  There was a total of 37 lifters, of which there were maybe 8 or 9 in my flight.  Lots of cheering from the crowd, encouragement from the other lifters, and overall a great day.

I'm now hooked, and will be thinking about my training over the next few months so I can beat this total and keep progressing.  My goal by the end of 2013 is to get 455kg - this would equal 1001lbs.  Is this too much of an aspiration?  Maybe, but I'm going to damn well try to get there and smash some of my bests on the way!

I've had some ideas and have some questions after the meet, so I will endevour to write a short series of posts about these.

So, below is a video of my 9 attempts, 7 of which were good and 2 were fails.  Enjoy!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Para 10 Colchester 2012

Before I start, it was very hard. It was extremely difficult.

This is an event I've been wanting to do for years. My father was a Para. He passed away in 1994 and I have always lived my life basking in the glow of his reflected greatness. The army has a different standing than it did when I was a boy. Back then, in the midst of a conflict in Northern Ireland, the army was looked badly upon for being involved in such a contentious issue.

Now, with the brave and sterling work done overseas, the army is fashionable. Help for Heroes and the like have come along and made soldiering honourable again. As it should be, in my humble opinion. The Para 10 was a great event. Most of us were ordinary desk jockies going out to prove their worth, see if we could emulate these warriors.

It was probably the best run event I've been to. Military everywhere giving directions and pointing the way with an assertive air. Every 500m or so round the course was a Red beret and a smile.

The course was muddy. Not too many big hills mind you. There were a couple of voluntary water crossings. One which Tom and I did. The rucksack was obviously a game changer. It was brilliant though. I felt like a warrior out there. I felt  the soldiers respected us too. Yes, they could do it in their sleep, but we didn't do it weekly with the rest of our platoon. I ran alone when I trained, pushing myself. I didn't have a sergeants boot up my arse, I certainly wasn't getting paid for it!

Talking about training, when I weighed my ruck before the off: 52lb! 17lb extra I had trained with! I like ruck training. Its practical, challenging and it seems to have cleaned up my tendonitis, strangely. I think i will continue to run weekly or fortnightly with the ruck. My boots, a good few years old now but not used often, held out spectacularly.

Tom and I ran together for about 6miles then he sped off. I went through the wall about then. I would say I ran 60-70% of the course and managed to finish at a good canter.

As is my wont, I made a few brief friendships along the route. There were some tough people out there. There wasn't the cameraderie of a Tough Guy, probably because everyone was in their own little world of pain. I tried not to look to far ahead,

I have a ten miler in December I'm doing because I know the guy organising it. I will look forward to running without the pack. Or should I wear it...?

I will do this event next year. I will get the 1:50 P Company standard time. I challenge you to come with Tom and I. Go on, go on, go on.

Se debrouiller, Charlie.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Participating in events

Firstly, apologies we seem to have neglected the blog of late! No excuse really, but time to get posting again.

Today I took part in the Paras 10 race at Colchester Garrison.  It was a very well run event and was great fun.  The idea was to 'tab' 10 miles around the Garrison, wearing boots, long trousers and carrying a Bergen weighing 35lbs.  Needless to say as I sit here and type, I am broken!

The picture above is of Charlie and I at the end of the race - it was wet and muddy today! 

Taking part in events is great.  The camaraderie between people is brilliant - I saw Charlie cross the finish line and hug someone he'd never met before today, but he became his friend along the way and they got each other through the last few painful miles.

And as I approached the finish line struggling, strangers were cheering me on and sharing my pain.  It was enough to give me that last bit of energy I needed.

Having done other events such as Tough Guy and strength / power meets, I can say that I always enjoy them.  It's great to share your love of fitness (often crazy challenges in my case) with like minded people.

So get out there, sign up for some events, train, smash it and make some good friends.

In training

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Ice Baths

May not be too good for you...

(Which gives us all the excuse not to go through that torture.)


Sunday 22 July 2012

Standing Roll out

The advantages of losing a little weight!

Got a little bit to go before the competition on the 29th. Very nervy and not lifting particularly well after losing the weight. Failed on a 140kg squat yesterday with a sore knee. Bit of a set back :/ meh.

F*ck winning though, I'm going to compete and do the best by me. I am as strong as I have ever been even if the weight loss has taken the edge off. If I do my best in every event that will be enough.

Se debrouiller, Charlie.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Are you as fit as a WW2 GI?

World War II Fitness Test | The Art of Manliness

Giving it a go tomorrow morning, will report back.

Se derbrouiller, Charlie.