Three months without a post, really? What took me so long?
Well, I was that close to quit training, so writing about it did not make much sense anymore.
But I didn’t quit, so here I go again, etc.
Honestly, I’d love to turn the story about why I didn’t quit into an inspirational tale, but I suck at this, so instead, I’ll stick to facts, and keep the color comments to a minimum.
In a nutshell, what happened is that, while trying to rehab myself from a debilitating injury, I made unexpected progresses, that were prima facie a mystery to me. And since my day job is to figure out how Sherlock Holmes solves problems , I applied what I know, and solved the mystery.
In July 2016, I tore my TFL. One injury leading to another, about a month later, I suffered from a severe onset of piriformis syndrome/sciatica/sacroiliitis (I’m not making that up). All my barbell lifts went to the shitter, and for about a month or two, I could barely walk.
I could bear-crawl, though. According to Cros*iters from where I live, that’s enough to look like they do. But who would want that anyway. So I slowly started the process to stand up anew, with some yoga, then (practicing what I preach) with kettlebells.
Kettlebells movement worked so well that I toyed with the idea of turning rehab into girevoy practice.
But I soon realized that my poor shoulder mobility was encouraging compensations and setting the stage for future injuries.
Not a great idea.
To make things worse, pain in the leg migrated in the back, and I started to wonder whether I could really get rid of it, after all. Still, kettlebell practice always made things better, even for a couple of hours. And since my idea of fun at the gym has always involved complexes and time sets, girevoy looked like the one thing that could prevent me from quitting for good.
So, mid-October, in a last-ditch effort, I set myself a goal: completing a 10-min set of double long cycle, all reps competition-worthy, and pain-free, by the time of my 46th b-day. Which, if anyone wonders, is in the end of January 2017. So, that was a 12-15 weeks plan.
Crucially, the plan did not include double long cycle, at least initially. There were some kettlebell presses, to monitor my overhead mobility progress (cf. below), but other than that, I just tried to build a killer backside, and I learned how to use Prisma to make me look like I was actually lifting.
Since I had noticed a correlation between onset of sacroiliac pain and exercises involving spinal compression by barbell, I ditched my warm-up routine (snatch balance, Sotts presses, and overhead squats), and back squats. Anything with barbells in my hands seemed to be fine, so I kept front squats, but I learned to cut depth. I did all sorts of deadlifting, too.
In doing so, I knew that I was detraining my hips and ankles mobility, but I made my peace with it. The priority was shoulder mobility which I trained with my morning coffee, with a broomstick and light kettlebells (8kg and 12kg). Every day, I’d go through shoulder dislocations, and the basic drills recommended by Dave Withley in his excellent Taming the Bent Press—armbars, bent armbars, and floor pull-overs, mostly.
Also, I learned how to use Pixlr to make it look like I was making progress.
Fast forward one month ago.
It’s breakfast time, and I am trying to convince my daughter to do wall squats.
I’m about to set my toes a couple of inches from the wall, show a 1/4 squat, wave my hands and say something like “If you do not want to end up like me, you’d better start practicing them now.”
Instead of that, all of a sudden, bam! One solid full rep.
Emboldened by theunexpected success, I grab a pink kettlebell (8kg), and try an overhead squat. The last time I’d tried to pull that off, about a month earlier, with a 4kg kettlebell, I was looking like I was bent-pressing for max effort.
Instead of that, all of a sudden, bam! Sotts presses for reps. For which I have Instagram proof.
In all appearances, lower body mobility had improved without even training it. How come?
Enters Sherlock Holmes
According to Sherlock Holmes (in A Study in Scarlet) logicians can figure out pretty much anything:
“From a drop of water […] a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it. Like all other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can be acquired by long and patient study.”
A good thing that I am a logician, then.
On the top of that, figuring out how Holmes reasons has been most of my day job in the last past years.
Now, the details involve some pretty hairy stuff (proof theory, computational models, and a pinch of cognitive science). But to keep it short and simple, let’s say that Sherlock Holmes solves mysteries by answering questions.
First, there are
big' questions </strong>, like: <em>where did Irene Adler hide the photograph of the king of Bohemia?</em> (<em> <a href="http://www.ignisart.com/camdenhouse/canon/scan.htm"> A Scandal in Bohemia </a> </em>); or <em>who stole the racehorse and killed his trainer?</em> (<em><a href="http://www.ignisart.com/camdenhouse/canon/silv.htm">The Case of Silver Blaze</a></em>). Second, there are <strong>small’ questions, like: where would Irene Adler look if she believed that her house in on fire? or did the watchdog bark at the horse’s thief? Obviously, Holmes is hired to find out answers to the
big' questions, and these answers are the conclusions of his deductions. But the real secret of his trade is to carefully choosingsmall’ questions, so that he can deduce an answer to the `big’ question from answers to the small ones.
`Small’ answers are the links of the“great chain” of life—at least, the length that connects what Holmes knows to what he wants to know about a case. Someone who believes their house is on fire tries to save their most prized possession. A watchdog keeps quiet only when ordered to by its master.
So: pick the right
small' questions, answer them, and with a modicum of logic, deduce from them the answer to thebig’ one. Mystery solved.
Wall squats are usually thought of as a test of hip and ankle mobility.
I had intentionally left both out of my plan, reasoning that tight ankles and hip flexors would not limit my long cycle, and that I could always address restrictions when my left leg would not threaten to shut down any time I was shifting my weight on it.
As Holmes said once,
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
Here’s the impossible: my hip flexors and ankle mobility could not have improved from not training it.
This is obvious by having another look at the IG video above: I’m squatting just below parallel, but only just. And in case you wonder, my wall squat had been lower, but not enough to do better than touch the floor with the tips of my fingers. And I have really long arms.
Also, as evidence from my floor-slide picture, my gains in shoulder flexibility were substantial, but not spectacular. This also shows up in the video, where the lock-out is still soft-ish.
Once I had ruled out hips and shoulders, what was left was what was sitting right in the middle: lower- and mid-back. All I had to figure out was what kind of lower- and mid-back work had been beneficial. And once again, Instragram evidence proved invaluable:
Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink deadlift (Snatch-grip, hook grip, Romanian, from a deficit). 5@110kg, 3@115, and 2@120. Not bad, considering that one month ago, I could barely walk. #HookgripGrunts #NoShirtWhereILive #TTQ #TrapsTricepsAndQuads #Turbo #NuttinButAPeanut #Lightweight #FuckingBodybuilder #TheChampionFactory #Everlifting
Being able to do something I had never been able to do and being able to figure out why, was a big boost. Still, I was far from being pain-free, but I was a little less desperate. So I set myself another goal—being pain-free by the end of 2016—and vowed not to quit if I reached it.
In case you wonder, I managed. With consistency and effort.
The real lesson here is not that consistency and effort pay off. After all, between July and October, I had not slacked, and still had made little progress on the pain front. When lifting is involved, the issue is not always where you think it is, and neither is the solution.
In fact, in order to become pain-free again, I had to question everything I thought I knew about lifting. And what I learned is the real reason for getting back to writing about training.
So, stay tuned, because there’s more to come.