Training like Sherlock Holmes

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 [1], I applied what I know, and solved the mystery.

The Backstory



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 pixlr_20161201184951013backside, 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.

The Mystery

Fast forward one month ago.

It’s breakfast time, and I am trying to convince my daughter to do wall squats.


*Not* a 4kg bent press.

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. 002-lgSo 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=""> A Scandal in Bohemia </a> </em>); or <em>who stole the racehorse and killed his trainer?</em> (<em><a href="">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.

The Deduction

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:

Wrapping up

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.

(1.496 words)

[1] I’ve published scholarly papers about it here and there, with more  to come. Feel free to ask me about it if you are curious about that sort of things.

Yoga for Lifters (Part II): Loaded Yoga

This post is not about a yoga variant of Zui Quan. That would be fun, though.

Still, this is merely a follow-up on my previous post on the topic.

I concluded with an the observation that the Turkish Get Up (TGU) and the Windmill are loaded variations of the yoga Side Plank pose (Vasisthasana) and Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana). And I suggested that the loaded variations are more appropriate for lifters.

Now, there’s a whole range of yoga poses that do not have loaded variants, and I don’t want to dismiss them. In fact, I believe that the most important yoga pose for lifters, or anyone else for that matter, is the Cat-Cow. As I found out, I’m in good company, with no less than Chad Waterbury and Stuart McGill. (They call it the “Cat/Camel” for some reason,  which is why I did not find out earlier. It seems incorrect, but who cares.)

I’ll get back to unloaded yoga in the future, but this post is about building the case for kettlebells-as-yoga-for-lifters. I start with some theory, and then give some practical advice. But here’s a short reading guide:

  1. If you are already convinced that you should do Windmills and TGUs, but are not doing them, you can skip the theory and jump to the practicalities.
  2. If you think you can get away with not doing them, check some common excuses first, then decide whether you want to learn more. If not, you can forget about them. Until your shoulders hurt.
  3. When you’re done reading the post, don’t forget to tell all your friends about it. At least, hit the “Like” button. Please?

Continue reading

Training Older Avocados (and Younger Ones, Too)

Lately, I’ve had to take some time off sitting and/or standing at a desk. And because I cannot simply chalk up my sequence of injuries to bad luck—it’s more likely poor planning, and even poorer execution—I’ve done my homework, trying to figure out where I had gone wrong in the first place.

Fortunately, I’ve only gone wrong with myself. People I’ve trained have consistently done better, and I’ve only gone worse when I tried to train like them, but shouldn’t have—because I’m an old avocado, and they are not.

So I should know better. And I finally figured (some) things out. Furthermore, my conclusions are not specific to older avocados like me, and if you are a younger avocado, there will be something for you too (and not only to-be-remembered-when-you’re-old).

Still, I decided to start with the old guy’s perspective, in the honor of the second runner-up of the August Widowmaker Squat Challenge from the Older Avocados group on Fitocracy, who asked, for his prize, for “[an] intelligent training progression for the 40+ (or chronically painful) lifter”

Now, this post is just a first step towards that, but also towards an intelligent training progression for the -20 lifters (for reasons to be disclosed later), which is of interest to those older avocados (like me) who have sired younger avocados, like her.

But as usual, first come the caveats. Continue reading

Yoga for lifters (Part I)

Most lifters I know don’t practice yoga,  or use a handful of yoga poses as a substitute for static stretching. Most likely, because it’s slightly less boring (and looks cooler). This reflects how yoga instructors push “yoga for lifters”, aka mobility work.

But in fact, yoga-as-mobility is unnecessarily time-consuming for liftersAdding half an hour of yoga practice from time to time may not seem much, but that does not take into account the learning curve of yoga poses. As far as mobility is concerned, lifters are  better off with less time-consuming options.

However, there are excellent reasons for a lifter to incorporate yoga into their training. These reasons extend to any athlete using barbell work for strength and conditioning purposes. But they are slightly different from the reasons yoga is usually claimed to be beneficial.

What are those reasons? Well, let’s start with what they are not.

Continue reading

Turbo 2.0: A blueprint for daily training

A few posts ago, I argued that it’s a good idea to train more often, and touched upon how to turn a 3 days-a-week routine into a 5-to-6 days-a-week routine. The post was about the why, and not so much the how.

This post goes the other way around, and deals with how to jump right away on a 6 days-a-week routine, without spending hours at the gym or burning out. It’s more a template than a routine, though, because I’m big on autoregulation—the genuine kind, that crowds out rigid programming—and on experimentation.

Autoregulation and experimentation require wiggle room, but you should keep your eyes on the prize, namely getting better at a few important thingsThat being said, if you understand the principles behind the template, you can have a pretty good idea of how to make it work. These principles are:

  • If it’s worth doing, do it everyday; if it’s not, don’t do it at all.
  • If you need to change something, do the same thing, but different.

Now, this post is not about training philosophy, so suffices to say that I got the first from Dan John, the second from Pavel Tsatsouline (and Dan John) .

Now, let’s get practical. Continue reading

Slow cooker Cajun beef

Re-post from #Lazybuthealthy because this recipe kicks ass. If for no other reason. Also, the macros are awesome.


Jump to the recipe’s instructions

This is maybe the laziest recipe I’ve ever done. Lazier than that is takeaway, and we wouldn’t like this, would we? It is also one of my favorite slow cooker recipes, so I thought I couldn’t keep it to myself any longer. I had to share it with you guys. Because I love you. And this recipe is pure love. Okay, maybe a bit of meat too. And some spices. Cajun spices to be exact. My very own special Cajun spices mix.

I have known and appreciated Cajun cuisine since I was young, because after all, this is almost like French cuisine, albeit with a Louisiana twist. No? Well, maybe I’m simplifying the matter a bit too much here, but what I can say for certain is that I’ve been experimenting with this cuisine for a long time now. My aunt even brought me back some cookbooks…

View original post 969 more words

My top 4 training hacks (in 200 words)

The Swedish Summer tends to slow down things, my writing included. Both training-related, and academic. And since only the latter pays the bills, the former has taken the back seat.

Still, there are a few posts in preparation, but far from completion. Just to keep expectations high, here’s a short list of what’s cooking:

  • A big I-told-you-so thingy about submax squat training.
  • A program template to ease into daily training.
  • A piece about how to train without worrying too much about being beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
  • A “Bro, do you even ____ ?” episode about warm-ups (with my favorite warm-up routine on video).

All these pieces require some work and polishing. In the meantime, I though that I could manage a short post about my favorite training hacks. Because, really, the list is short. I don’t even have a top 5, barely a top 4, and they are dirt simple:

  • Hack #1: When not at the gym, rest more.
  • Hack #2: When at the gym, spend less time doing your stuff.
  • Hack #3: Also, do more of the useful stuff.
  • Hack #4: And do less of the useless shit.

That’s it, or at least the essence of it, under 200 words. The how to will use up the rest of my word count. Continue reading