Last week I described possible the most boring training in the history of training which was my return from a fairly extended layoff during last year’s disaster. So to switch gears completely, I want to write about something that I’ve been meaning to put to “paper” somewhere for quite some time. And it might as well be here. This is the most absurd training I have ever done.
So far as it has a point at all (last week sure didn’t), I suppose the point of this piece is probably a bit of a reaction to when people make claim about trainability/overtraining/the ability to adapt to “anything” or whatever and are basing this on their own short-term training experiences.
Because the fact of the matter is that you can get by on youth and stupidity for quite some time, and a truly insane amount of training can be handled for short periods. It’s when folks try to stretch out those insane amounts of training in the long-term that they tend to break. Sometimes they even learn from those experiences although that usually takes a few years.
This fact, the ability for the body to handle stupid levels of training for short periods, has actually been a frequent problem when researchers have tried to examine short-term overtraining. Usually the studies are limited in duration (a few weeks) and pretty much no matter what they throw at the person, they just get stronger.
In one famous study, researchers tried to induce overtraining in the weight room they had the subjects lift at something like 90%+ for singles every day (in a squat machine). Two weeks later, everybody got stronger. Aha, overtraining doesn’t exist. Well…no. You can do absurd things for a couple of weeks. It’s when you try to do it for 6 weeks plus that the problems start.
Even when you look at some of the most insane training systems on the planet such as the Bulgarian Olympic Lifters (or all of their derivative systems) which revolve around training to daily max 6 days/week, multiple times per week, you still see easy weeks or months thrown into the mix.
OL’ing has it’s own peculiar characteristics as well that impact on this and the drug problem in that sport is well-known. Even those guys backcycle and take easier work periods. That the average trainee, based on a few weeks of insane training, thinks that they somehow can handle more or go all-out all the time is a bit absurd.
But honestly, for 4-6 weeks most people can get away with a fairly ludicrous amount of training and since I have little else to write about, I’ll tell you about what is probably my own most insane training phase ever. I’m a little fuzzy on some of the exact details, this occurred in 2005 but I do recall the overall structure.
The year was 2003 or so, having realized that I would never be more than a mediocre lifter/strength athlete, and wanting to get back into competition, I decided to return to my first love which was in-line skating.
Having come to the more or less realization that strength per se wasn’t terribly relevant to performance in that sport (as it isn’t in most pure endurance sports), I recall dropping weights out entirely and focusing purely on aerobic parameters and what I thought was proper technique. I might have just been burnt out on the weight room. Don’t honesty recall.
My work capacity was awful, I hadn’t done much cardio for years so I launched into what must have been a solid two years of aerobic training with various types of VO2 max intervals on the bike an all kinds of nonsense. There wasn’t a lot of good technical information on the sport at that point but I had what I had and tried to glean what I could for drills and workouts and such.
One of my workouts was a workout that alternated 20′ on the Stairmaster at threshold intensities that alternated with ten minutes (5 minutes of 1′ on/1′ off as I remember) of what I then thought was dryland training (dry skating is a regular skating imitation). I worked up to 4 sets of that for 2 total hours. I certainly didn’t lack for work capacity.
This One Time at Ice Camp
Around the middle of 2005, it would become clear that the inline racing scene had changed and my old 10k distance didn’t exist anymore. They weren’t financially viable, nobody wanted to travel to race for 15-25′ and the distance was just gone. It was all marathons and I didn’t want to skate that far. It was about this point that I found out about the Salt Lake City Introduction to Ice camp and went to that. That would be the ultimate impetus for me to pursue that sport as detailed in No Regrets.
But after that camp it was abundantly clear that the ice required strength in a way that inline skating did not. I had about a month or so left in Austin to wrap things up before moving and that meant throwing myself into the most insane training I have ever done.
The Set Up
At this point, my aerobic training was already well established and I knew full well that I could maintain it a lot more easily than I had trained it in the first place. So the first step was to take that to maintenance levels That was three days per week, an hour and basically at high aerobic intensity levels. I would do my little technical drills (that in hindsight were stupid) on the alternate days and that training was all done in the early afternoon.
After reading Derek Parra’s Book “Reflections in the Ice” and how he did a lot of training in a weight vest, I’d add a late evening workout that was simply an hour of walking in the vest to get acclimated to it. It was just GPP and had the benefit, since I was on uneven terrain of giving me hellishly stable ankles.
It was summer and hot as hell so I’d suit up with music and go out in the cool evenings; gradually adding weight to the maximum of 20 pounds when it was all said and done. 10% of total weight is a commonly accepted safe level an that was maybe 12.5% at that point.
But that left the development of strength and power. And that’s where I went nuts. I needed to redevelop strength and power as quickly as possible given that I hadn’t touched a weight in two years. I had thrown myself into every skating resource I had to figure out what the typically used jumping drills and strength training requirements were (so far as I could tell). Skating has both a lower body and core/upper body component to hold the necessary skating position and that’s where this mix of exercises came from.
Thankfully, I was also way out of my old Hardgainer super low-volume/low-frequency ways and had looked into systems with more frequent training and more exercise and intensity variation which served as the background for this Because for the next block of training, I intended to train strength or power 6 days/week in a schedule that looked like this:
Mondays and Thursdays were my heavier weight days. From memory it was back squat, RDL, some type of flat bench, rows, core work, back extensions and I think some calf work. I’m fairly sure I targeted 5’s on the main movements and probably 8s on core and calves.
Tuesdays and Fridays were made lighter by my exercise selection. Front squat, leg curl, incline bench of some sort, pulldown, I think a different core and low back movement and anterior tibialis (hugely important for skating stability). The goal on this day was triples for main movements and higher on the core stuff.
But the insanity didn’t stop there.
Because on Wednesday and Saturdays, I did my jumping. And not any sort of reasonable amount. I pretty much took every drill I had found for the sport and the workout was about 2 hours. I set them up from lower to higher intensity so that the earlier drills acted like a warmup and just went to it.
Sunday was mercifully off. This is what the overall week looked like.
So that’s Morning, Afternoon and Evening workouts and you can see that the schedule was basically nuts. By Saturday I was running completely on fumes but I’d grind through it, take Sunday mercifully off and then start again. It’s also possible that my aerobic and technical days were switched, it doesn’t really matter in the big scheme and my memory is fuzzy in my dotage.
Do keep in mind that my weights were starting absolutely from scratch, like with the bar. I ramped the poundages as quickly as I could but I’m quite sure the first week or two acted kind of as break-in weeks. My jumping volume was assuredly building during this period. One set of everything, two sets of everything to full volume with sets and reps varying with the difficulty of the exercise (so probably 3X20 on easy stuff and 3X5 on the harder stuff or something).
The Overall Plan
Now at this point in my training history (I dunno, 20 years in) I knew a few things about myself. One is that I tend to overdo it. And the other is that, knowing that, I tend to blow up massively when I don’t show some type of self-retraint. So I decided to put in some safety checks on this program.
The first is that the cycle was only meant to be 6 weeks long. I am now reasonably sure that I took a 2 week break in period to 6 weeks of full training which I wasn’t as I was writing this originally. About that time I’d be in SLC and hopefully getting onto the ice and into other training so I knew that I had limited time to get stronger again. And that’s part of what drove the insanity. I also knew I’d probably break after that long.
But I went even beyond that. Certainly a typical pattern for training is three weeks followed by an easier week. There are various theories as to why this developed, the most common being that the Russians had their athletes training at camps and let them go home one week out of the month. Then they just back adjusted the volume/intensities to tire everyone out before the break and then made up some biological rationale to justify it after the fact.
But I was approaching the old fart range at 35 at this point. Despite my enormous work capacity, I knew what I was doing was nuts so I decided to put a short unloading phase every third week. Basically on that week I’d do the Monday-Wednesday (maybe Thursday) workouts and then punt the Thursday-Saturday weights and jumping. Not even light training, just dropped them completely to get a couple of extra days off.
So the full 6 week cycle really amounted to 2.5 weeks on, three or four days off, 2.5 weeks on, three or four days off after the 2 week break-in The small unloading was just enough to recover and make it through the next weeks. If I were ever going to do this again, and I assure you that I won’t, I’d probably have made Thursday-Saturday active recovery instead of full rest.
Probably the most important aspect of this training was that I made adjustments on the fly to every weight training workout depending on how I felt after warmups and the first heavy work set. So after a heavy Monday squat day, even if I had 6X3 planned in the front squat the next day, if I felt horrible, I’d do 3X3. If I felt good, I’d do up to the max sets I had planned.
If I felt really good, I’d ramp up the weights on each set to a new max, or ramp a few sets and then stabilize if it got heavy. If I didn’t, I’d keep the weights the same across the board and get the volume. It was very intuitive but only because I still had a little bit of self control and a lot of experience.
Yeah, that’s right kids, I was auto-regulating way before it was cool.
Arriving in SLC
Once I was in Salt Lake, my technical sessions changed to ice sessions at Monday/Wednesday/Friday club ice in the evenings. I’d go do whatever drills I thought I was supposed to and then too much dryland wearing the weight vest afterwards. It was during this that I’d meet Derek Parra, tell him I was a fanboy and that his book had motivated me to pursue this insanity and that he’d offer to straighten and fix my blades; really nice guy.
The aerobic work on the Stairmaster was maintained on Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday and I got an enjoyable 6 week experience with altitude adjustment with my heart rate a solid 10 beats per minute higher at the same workloads until I adapted. Sunday was off when I’d go to the mall to play video games and eat the best gyros I’ve ever had.
I was still doing the 6 days/week lifting and jumping program in the mornings with all of this so my legs were always trashed on the ice. It didn’t matter since I was just starting on the ice and the weights took priority at that point. I’d go do drills on the ice, get told by one “coach” that he “didn’t believe in drills”, skate some laps or whatever and then do more dryland afterwards.
I’m actually now positive that I did a 2-week runup into the 6 weeks of insane training since I had to have been in SLC for a few weeks lifting like a maniac before I met my coach and he told me to drop the weights entirely. I told him I had to finish the cycle and max out and did a week, two weeks maximum later. I don’t remember how I did the actual max out though.
I’d then drop weights completely since the ice and technical work was far more important. The nature of speedskating is that training is almost like weights and my legs would actually grow during my first ice season despite no weights. I’ll eventually write in detail about speedskating training because it is so weird, but that’s another story for another day.
How Did it Work?
Well I survived it and didn’t get hurt or overtrain so there’s that. When I got to Salt Lake my work capacity was enormous and I had been doing conditioning workouts that tend to be way past a lot of skaters do (I had some club skaters look at me like I was insane for inlining for 3 hours but that’s just fun for me). My ankles were amazingly stable on the ice too which was one less thing I had to get good at.
My coach was dumbfounded (or just thought I was dumb) by some of the stuff I had done but he had done the same during his 20’s when he just failed to make the US Olympic Team so he did understand on one level. The two hour Stairmaster/dryland workout, the 2.5 hours of jumping on tired legs. Double or quadruple what he usually did. Just nutso stuff but, after that, there wasn’t much he could throw at me that I couldn’t handle volume wise. The intensity wrecked me but the volume was never an issue.
During the actual cycle my strength went up weekly. Yes I was regaining previous strength and I’m not claiming otherwise. But compared to what a typical cycle adding 5-10 pounds a week would have done, I made far faster gains with the relentless schedule I had devised. On a good day, across 6X3 I might go up 20-30 lbs if if felt good. I simply didn’t have time for a slow progression.
I tested out in the final week to a maximum single in my primary movements and achieved, as I recall about 75% of what I had done in a USAPL meet when I was only lifting (and heavier). But I had gotten from the bar to that point in 6 weeks on top of a huge volume of other training. Sure, I had aerobics at maintenance and technical work never took much out of me. But given how I had trained prior to that, I don’t think I would have predicted that level of improvement.
But if I had tried to continue it much past that, or not put in the every 3 week deloads, I know I would have cracked since that’s been my pattern over the years without fail. With pure endurance stuff, I blow at week 10-12 or so; higher intensity (coupled with high volume) and it’s sooner. So I just worked that into the program from the start. Sometimes you have to proactively prevent the dumb.
Nothing really. I’m just filling space with this. So nyah.
I’m not recommending the above training and am fairly sure that I lack both the drive or capacity to handle it again. I’m mainly just making the point that, with sufficient hardheadeness, you can get away with a lot for short periods. It’s when you try to do that for longer (or base conclusions about what can be done for longer) that you get into trouble.
And folks concluding that you can “adapt to anything” based on a 3-4 week training block need to realize that fact: short training blocks and extended training blocks are not the same and you ignore that fact at your own peril. But usually these folks have to learn the very hard way about this. And they do.