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Strongman and Bob: Part 4

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So, as I noted in Strongman and Bob:part 3 and Bob has detailed in his own log, the initial phases of working with Bob had a great share of ups and downs. Between not being able to train him hands on (which made technical/form issues take longer to resolve) and his damn near daily changes in range of motion, etc. his training was slow going at first.

There was also the issue of determining what he would best respond to in terms of training volumes, intensities, frequencies, etc. While there are certain generalities I tend to follow when programming training, that’s all they are: generalities. There’s always tweaks and changes that have to be made as you progress and see how the person is actually responding.

Tangent: This is a place where a lot of coaches seem to go wrong. They assume that their training program is inherently perfect and that it’s then up to the athlete to either keep up and survive or just fall off completely. Their training program could never be at fault and coaches like this tend to destroy their athletes by refusing to change any aspect of their ‘perfect’ training program even if it’s not working.

Of course, I don’t train people that way. Of course (part 2), in person it’s a hell of a lot easier to make adjustments to a training program (on a given day or what have you) when I’m there in person. I can see how the person looks, how they are handling the training load and make adjustments as necessary. Is the person blown out from the previous session? I’ll ignore what was planned and make this day easier. Do they look fresh and ready to PR? I’ll throw out the plan and let them take a run at it. This is a bitch from a distance since all you’ve got to rely on is the person’s own observation and commentary.

Tangent: And I want to make it clear that this isn’t really aimed at Bob specifically but just in general. And the problem with relying on what the athlete is telling you (rather than what you’re seeing) is this: athletes lie. Athletes tend to be inherently (over) motivated and don’t like to admit when training is kicking their ass or what have you. They’ll tell you they feel great when they feel like warmed over shit and usually want to go hard even if they need an easy workout. An attentive coach can suss this out in person b/c when you see the athlete during warm-ups, you know they are worked over. Coaching from a distance, all you have to rely on is their self-reports.

Bob had the added issue that happens with almost all athletes at some point in their career. He expected every workout to be a record breaker and to go stunningly. Any workout that didn’t show progress was considered a failure; given what he was contending with with changing ranges of motion and the injuries, this was a potential recipe for disaster. Although it took months, I eventually got Bob to realize that single workouts aren’t really that important in the big scheme.

Rather, it’s the long-term accumulation of training that leads to results and progress down the road. I also got him to try to understand that even if almost everything goes badly, there’s just about always something good that you can get out of every workout. Something technical clicks, something goes more smoothly. It may seem like psychological trickery and maybe it is but it’s key to keep the athlete motivated when everything isn’t going absolutely perfectly.

Ultimately, one bad workout isn’t any big deal. Even a couple of bad workouts. Of course, when 1-2 bad workouts becomes a series of bad workouts, you have to reassess what you’re doing.

And guided by Bob’s (honest so far as I could tell) comments and what was happening with his progress, it became clear early on that I was overtraining him. He had started on what is essentially a Westside/Elitefitness 4 day kind of thing. Two upper and two lower days with heavy work on one day of each followed by a variety of supplemental and accessory work. And, without fail, a few weeks in and he’d start to crash. And we’d start over. And he’d crash.

It was clearly too much. So we ended up merging two of the days and moving him to three days/week (Tue/Thu/Sat). This actually ended up fitting with his strongman goals a little bit better anyhow since Saturday became a ‘full-body’ type of day where he’d either work with implements (which he gradually accumulated in his garage) or do training with weights that supported or mimicked the events. Tuesday was a heavy lower body day and Thursday was a heavy upper body day.

In addition, we programmed some very light bodyweight stuff to accomplish a variety of goals including conditioning, active recovery, some work that would challenge muscle groups and stabilizers that weren’t getting hit during the main sessions and just for general movement work (balance, proprioception, etc.). He’ll do at least one hike per week and one day is dedicated to his ART session with Dr. Zak (a one hour ART session being a huge stress unto itself).

Over time we also realized that he best responded to a pattern of no more than two truly heavy weeks followed by an easier week. Three heavy weeks in a row was simply too much and would crater him every time. Every once in a while, if needed, he’d get a longer period completely off although we try to avoid that: with his various connective tissue issues, total immobility causes him to just lock up. I’d rather keep him moving to some degree and just keep it light for recovery.

I’d note that the above is describing a process that took over a year, possibly a bit longer. And I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t without more ups and downs. As Dr. Zak gets thing loosened up with Bob, it’s not uncommon for a muscle that hasn’t fired in damn near 20 years to suddenly ‘come on line’ and cause some short-term problems.

In one specific case, Bob (who was deadlifting in 400’s at this point) gained some new range of motion in his hips and hamstrings. And pulled a hamstring about a month before coming out to visit. It just had too much stress thrown onto it after decades of inactivity. This didn’t stop him from rehabbing it and making his first 500 lb pull (this was one of his long term goals and he’s just short of 600 now) on that visit.

I’d also note that there have been other changes to his program as we went. Initially there was a lot of rehab type work in the program to get his shoulders and such healthy. This was supplemented by basic strength work to start getting everything strong. Over time, the rehab stuff has become less prevalent as he’s needed it less and less.

Every time he comes out to SLC for hands-on training, he usually has a laundry list of things he’d either like to work on (from a previous visit) or begin learning (e.g. despite almost no range of motion in his scapula, we’ve taught him a decent enough power clean, crucial for the log clean and press). This is usually accompanied with a shot for a PR in one of his lifts. The latter doesn’t always happen but does often enough. He hit 500 on the DL one visit and just missed 600 on a latter visit (he made a 575 lb pull and a 405 back squat the same trip).

Of course, we had to start working in more and more implement work to his training as well since all of the general strength in the world wasn’t going to prepare him for that. Towards that goal I contacted several online folks I know who have forgotten more about strongman than I will ever know. They were nice enough to give me input and feedback to help guide Bob’s training and how to integrate the implement stuff with his other training.

Bob also has had the opportunity to train with some local strongmen in his area, to help him with implement technique: this isn’t something I can help him with and he ends up teaching me about it whenever he visits so that I can better program the other aspects of his training to support it.

Of course, all of this was ultimately leading up to his first contest, which came around earlier this month. I’ll (finally) tell you about that on Friday.

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