Hi everyone, sorry it’s been a while – I’ve been on a long holiday touring South East Asia, and comprehensively falling off the wagon in the process!
I was invited to a Strongman event just a few days ago after getting back, scheduled for Sunday July 29th (for details, or to register your interest, see here and here). This will be my second such event, but the first one to hold concurrent competitions for different weight-classes, and makes my life easier, as I current weigh 160lbs, or 72kgs (at my first event, I was the only person sub-105!). As well as being a great chance to meet some ‘facebook-friends’, it’s just what I needed to get back on track after my vacation (if you’re unfamiliar with the added focus resulting from impending competition, check out Parkinson’s Law, and related literature by Tim Ferriss, Pavel Tsatsouline, and Alexander Faleev).
The competition clases are u75 (12 stone), u90 (14 stone 2lbs), and over-90 or “open”. While u90 would be much easier for me to manage, I feel that the u75 would provide a much greater challenge and opportunity to learn a lot more about myself. Taking some advice straight out of 4HB, I signed up to u75, paid my entrance fee upfront, and have already blabbed what I’m doing to all my friends – leaving me no honourable way of chickening out (literally chickening out, Nando’s style, and entering the u-90).
The idea for this journal came as a good way for me to track metrics I don’t usually track (body comp, food volume intake), and of course, broadcasting this makes it all the more likely I’ll actually stick to the plan ;)
To be as strong as possible and make weight for u75, I’m going to have to be rocking up at the leanest I’ve ever been in my life.
So how does this change things?
I’ll say up front, the prospect of a ’lean bulk’ scares me a little as it’s very different from my normal approach to diet and training which is very intuitive. I’ve never set my watch to schedules such as “12 week bulk on 3,500kcal per day” where the training forces you to bench press every Monday on pain of death, and to weigh every morsel of food you eat. To me, these mechanical methods are great for a newbie (forgive my use of the term) as they provide a semblance of structure otherwise lacking (and admittedly 95% of gym-goers would benefit from more structure), but you will never reach your potential as training and diet are specific to the individual.
In short, my strategy has always been:
1) Train heavy and eat lots until I feel either burned-out or fat (interesting fact: these two things always occur concurrently: they’re both ‘depressant’ states of mind, leading me to believe your body knows when it has had enough). Proceed to step 2.
2) Take a week off, ramp back the training (if there’s a new videogame out, I’ve been known to ramp back all the way to zero, such has happened for Witcher 2, and Skyrim: this is fine!) and reduce food intake. Once again, I’ll keep doing this until I feel skinny and want to lift more heavy things (i.e. when your body knows its ready for more). Return to step one.
(author’s note: having recently read Dan John’s book Never Let Go (highly recommended), it seems me and him have a lot of shared opinions on how over-analysing the detail can leave you stuck in neutral).
So in very brief, here is my outlined strategy for the comp:
- Heavy training, but ensuring I don’t feel burned-out before the event (do what I hate and write down a 9-week plan like those folks in the UN)
- Sufficient food for recovery and strength gains, but not excessive weight gain – a lot more science than “eat lots”! (Compound this with having weighed as much as 84kgs in the past – call this ‘rebound muscle’, and I can see it being a struggle to maintain a sub-75kg bodyweight)
Body stats as of 01/06/12 (Friday morning)
Weight: 73.0kgs (161lbs)
Waist (navel): 32in (I’ve discovered this to best my personal best metric for measuring bodyfat.)
Bodyfat: 12.4% (according to my highly dubious bathroom scales, I’m not interested in the number itself, but very interested in the variance)
Week 1: relaxed
Week 1: flexed
These are the primary (read: only) dietary ‘tactics’ I have employed to get to where I am now (cutting down from 84kg), ranked in order of perceived signifiance
- Intermittent fasting (Leangains style, but I break my fast before training, as I must train in the evenings. My typical eating window is ~1-9pm, and I keep this consistent even on rest days);
- Paleo-style nutrition – I don’t want to overcomplicate here, basically I eat 3 meals a day (none of this ‘metabolic furnace’ bodybuilder shite): one is 6 whole eggs, and the other two are 3-500grams of fatty animal meat (or salmon). Each meal is accompanied with unlimited veggies, frequently supplementary cream and oil, and sometimes fruit (arguably, all these extras are disposable and just help me feel like I’ve eaten a full meal. In truth, I question the need for anything beyond organic fatty red meat);
- On training days, I have extra food pre- and post-. My advice is to get your sugars in after training, evne if you’re slimming down. I have always consumed at least 100grams of simple carbs, usually combined with whole milk. In my opinion, it is not possible to overeat post-workout (beyond the spatial limitations of your stomach: try downing a litre of milk and you’ll see what I mean).
This nutritional plan remains pretty much unchanged from how I’ve eaten since before Christmas, and is what I’ll continue up to the event. While I don’t really subscribe to them, macro-nutrient ratios (‘macros’), for non-training days, are approximately 25/10/65 P/C/F and around 3-3,500kcal (this can be modulated depending how my weight goes). Training days are pretty much the same but also include pre- and post-workout nutrition mentioned above of around 1,200kcal, about half of which is simple carbs (~150g). I hope this goes a long way to illustrate the importance of eating smart, rather than just eating more/less!
What if I get too heavy, or don’t put on any weight?
- Get bigger: Start eating an extra bowl of porridge before bed on workout days;
- Get smaller: Start doing full-day (36hr) fasts spanning Sundays.
There. My 2 secret weapons are revealed.
I haven’t included lifting stats, since I have my lifting programme all-mapped out already. Suffice to say, I aim to get stronger, and am smart enough to achieve this. However, to carry on in the spirit of putting my money where-my-mouth-is, I’m scheduled to attempt (and hit) 2 reps sumo deadlift at 250kg, followed by 5 slow reps at 215kg, a week out from the comp.
Looking at the event schedule, the critical metrics (these apply to strongman in general) are:
- Back strength – In my opinion, this is the most decisive factor in strongman. Above conditioning because if you can’t lift it once, conditioning is irrelevant!
- Conditioning – important for anything for reps or time. Looking at the schedule we have… log clean & press… for reps, deadlift for… reps, truck pull, farmers walks… and a medley just to round it off. Yeah, conditioning will be a huge factor.
- Grip strength – in my opinion, this is not an issue for deadlifting, but is definitely my limiting factor on farmers walks (at least with dumbbells, but I’ve heard farmer’s handles are easier?). Possible issue for the medley, and maybe even for the log event if I have to clean the weight multiple times.
- Tricep strength – mostly for the log event. You can (and should) be using leg drive out of the bottom of the press, but there are no similar tactics for lockout.
So, here we go (and FYI when I mention “de-load” below, this means a session where I back-off for some recovery-time and (hopefully) avoid burning-out too soon. For me, whatever the exercie, a de-load session is 5×5 with 60% of the previous sessions heaviest set):
WORKOUT A (Monday and Friday) – Lower body
- Power Clean progression – 5 sets
Starting with power shrugs in weeks 1-2, progressing through hang cleans to full power cleans. This is technique practice, and I don’t intend to exceed 80kgs. These are followed with a single set of 3-5 vertical jumps. This might have some carryover to the log event, but basically I want to do this for me as my power clean is sub-par (various sources suggest it should be at or near your bench press).
- Sumo deadlift – max effort
A hybrid squat-deadlift and I prefer it to both for maintaining proper technique, and keeping from over-taxing my poor old spinal erectors. Every workset is followed with a single set of 3-5 vertical jumps. Warm-up (always the same) is 60×5, 100×5, 140×2, 180×1. Worksets are 1 set of 1-2 reps starting at 200kgs, adding 10kgs each workout. This is followed by one set of 5 reps at 85% of the days max lift. De-load every 4th workout (once every 2 weeks)
- Barbell hip thrust 3 sets
- Side bends 3 sets each side
- Weighted pistol squats with 32kg kettlebell 4-8 total reps each side
- Depth jumps 1×20
- Tabata-style dumbbell deficit reverse lunges with a Reebok step (8 sets of 8 with 10seconds rest in between sets), starting with ~40kg external load.
WORKOUT B (Tuesday) – Upper body #1
- One-arm push-ups (motor control)
- Close-grip bench with mini-bands – 4×5
Weight increasing each set (50% 75% 87.5% and 100%) and each session. Followed by plyo push-ups onto boxes (1 set)
- Bodyweight flyes using gymnastic rings 3 sets (complex: each set followed by Prone Y’s on an incline bench)
- One-arm (band-assisted) chin-ups with rings 3 sets each side
- Weighted towel chins 4 sets
- Skin the cat 3 sets of 3 reps
- Cable wood-chop 3 sets each side
- Tabata Farmer’s walks for 20m repetitions (8 total carries)
WORKOUT C (Saturday) – Upper body #2
- One-arm push-ups (motor control)
- Close-grip overhead press – 4×5
Weight increasing each set (50% 75% 87.5% and 100%) and each session. Followed by plyo overhead press with mini-bands (1 set)
- Bent-over rows 4 sets
- Towel chins 3 sets
- A variation on Ab-wheel rollouts using paralletes and a rowing machine 4 sets
- Farmer’s walks with 50kg dumbbells (heaviest I have access to) for max distance, 3 sets with 60s rest.
- Dragan challenge (16kg dumbells) for reps
I also have a kettlebell session with a PT on Thursdays, but this is not generally exhaustive so I consider it more like active recovery. This means Wednesday and Sunday are pure rest days.
Author’s note: I haven’t included info on warm-ups, mobility protocol, stretches, and other such nuances, as I wanted to give the reader some chance of making it to the end of this article. If you’d like more info, feel free to leave a comment or get in touch by any other means!
There we have it. I’ve been doing this programme to warm into it for just over a week already and it’s quite challenging (particularly the tabata reverse lunges; you’ll definitely know where your hip flexors are the day after) – hopefully it will pay off.
Wish me luck!