Matt Marshall

3 Posts with Tag review (All tags)

Year In Strength 2015 – Reflections on Training

Another year of strength training is under my belt, and since it's in every strength enthusiast's best interests to look back and reflect on their training every so often I thought I'd take this opportunity to do so. I'll be reflecting on my progress on each of the Big Six from Convict Conditioning, as well as reviewing a few of the decisions I made this year.

Push-Ups

2015 was definitely the year of the push-up for me. I've always struggled with upper-body pushing, and although this year was no different – I feel my approach has come along leaps and bounds.

When starting calisthenics, I was desperate to master the push-up and raced my way through the first four stages towards Full Push-Ups, and this showed in my form. During the summer of 2014 I made a start on Close (Diamond) Push-Ups, and was shocked at how difficult they were. Yes, I fell straight into the trap Coach Wade has spent the better part of his career warning me against. For the latter half of 2014, I performed sloppy Close Push-Ups for sets up to 15 reps, and wondering why I couldn't get past that point.

I resolved to change this in 2015, and since then I've been working on form. I would start at 3x5 reps, then move slowly up one rep per set per session until I hit 3x10. I would then realise that there was something else wrong with my form, and I would resolve to fix that and begin again. This recently culminated around August/September for me, when I admitted to myself something I'd been avoiding saying out loud – “I'm not going deep enough”. One of the benefits of Close Push-Ups is that you can tell if the depth of your movement is appropriate because your chest should touch your hands. Mine wasn't. I spent the last quarter of 2015 concentrating on depth, and squeezing my glutes, and it paid off immensely in terms of both strength and musculature by the time I reached the 3x10 again.

Squats

My old friends. In short, I feel I neglected Squats as a whole this year. Late 2014 and early 2015 saw me performing Balance Assisted Pistols outside using a lamp-post and a towel. After hitting 3x15 per leg (and staying there a while) I felt that I was pulling down with the towel too much, and swapped them out for Box Pistols. I made it up to a good 3x10, but moved down to 3x5 to work on form, and never really bothered to move it back up. I think my form's deteriorated a bit too – I bounce a lot I think, and my negative is a bit fast and uncontrolled.

Overall, I think Squats have went backwards; they've certainly not progressed particularly.

Pull-Ups

My eternal foe. I still haven't progressed to the point of Full Pull-Ups, but I've accepted that as 100kg+ (Orc body-type) I'm going to find most pulling motions difficult. That said, I again think that my approach to Pulls has been a lot better, and that I'm a lot stronger for it.

I've been focusing on negatives a lot this year, since my set-up doesn't allow for very smooth jacknife pulls. I reduced the work sets to 3 to match my other movements, and began performing negative Chin-ups up until 3x15 reps. This took a while (and I destroyed a few launching platforms), but It was definitely worth it. After this I swapped grips and started performing Negative Pull-Ups in full, which is where I am now. I think I'm afraid of success here, since I don't quite know what I'll do after Negatives – every time I approach 3x10 and there's a blip (e.g. I miss a session due to a conference etc) I don't jump back in at the 3x10 but reduce back to 3x5. This obviously has benefits for form, but I think my justification is wrong.

Overall, I'm deeming my Pull-Up progression in 2015 to be moderately successful.

Leg Raises

I've been consistently strong in Leg Raises, and I've progressed at approximately a linear rate since beginning them. Early 2015 saw me progress to the final stages of the Leg Raise – the Hanging Leg Raise.

This has been a mixed bag for me, as noted I powered through the initial stages generally and managed to hit the final stage. I have noticed, however, that my form is not strictly perfect. I've had a few problems here and there with cadence, and with a slight bend in my legs – likely due to tight hamstring muscles. My thick abdomen is testament to my overall progress though, very pleased.

Again, deeming 2015's Leg Raises to be a moderate success.

Bridge

I've always enjoyed Bridges. My rate of progression with these has always been moderate, and relatively steady. In 2015 I tackled the Head Bridge and the Half Bridge, progressing finally to the full Bridge sometime in June or July.

I feel that my progress with the Bridge has been very good overall, I feel quite strong in the movement, although I do think there's a little room for improvement in terms of depth and cadence (especially on the negative). Very pleased.

Handstand Push-Ups

I did not train any vertical pressing movements such as the HSPU this year. I felt my efforts were better concentrated on the Close Push-Up and the Bridge. This is something I regret only slightly, as I wonder what my strength would have been if I had trained them.

I remember reading that Pull-Ups and HSPUs each have a positive knock-on effect with regards to the other. This makes sense as a lot of the upper shoulder muscles are involved. Once my initial plan of attack is complete during 2016, I resolve to begin training the HSPU series.

Good Decisions

I believe I made three very good decisions this year regarding strength: first, I gradually lowered rest between sets to 2 minutes, and changed my workout structure to a circuit or superset structure; I also began resting more often, training only 4 days a week with weekends and Wednesdays off; I began eating a lot more, including switching from vegetable oil to olive oil.

The combined effect of more intense, shorter workouts and more recovery days have had a very profound effect on my training. I'm no longer shattered when I drop into the first set of Push-Ups, I sleep better overall, and I've been able to push past a few plateaus. The eating has been a mixed bag: more calories and in particular more meats, veg and potatoes have allowed me to recover well and gain a lot of strength (and size); but with my increased appetite I've also fell prey to eating a shittonne more chocolate than I used to. It's not all bad, but something I've noticed that I could have avoided.

Bad Decisions

In terms of training, I think the worst decision I made this year was letting myself become afraid of performing certain exercises. I noticed it particularly with Bridges (since they're difficult), but it's been creeping in with Pulls too. I'll get ready to perform a set, and then hesitate and put it off for about 20 seconds. I know people sometime psych themselves up, but the fear of failure really got to me sometimes. I used to get the same when I performed Barbell Squats back in my Dark Ages of fitness.

I also let what training means to me become a bit perverted. This might warrant its own post, but it revolves around personal flexibility and resilience. I became so focused on my training routine and hitting strength goals, I forgot part of why I train in the first place – and that is for personal, rather than purely muscular, strength. If I got sent to a conference, or attended an event, I would get very anxious about missing training. I would also become downright pissy. That's not what training should be doing to me. It's not strong, and it's certainly not healthy.

I think I've managed to brush past these mostly in the last few days. I just took a 2.5 week break over the Winter's start and New Year, and as of writing just completed my first split routine back. I didn't particularly hesitate due to fear of failure (slightly present, but not a lot) and I didn't lose much in performance. I was conservative with my output (6-8 reps instead of 10) but overall I was as strong as I was before my break. I think that unless I'm in the middle of a big push for a benchmark I can relax a little bit and start to enjoy training, and the strength it gives me, even more in 2016.

training calisthenics strength review diary bigsix convictconditioning

Review of the VIP Inn Berna Hotel in Lisbon

I was staying in Lisbon for work and chose the VIP Inn Berna for my accommodation because it was reasonably priced, located very near where I was working, and looked comfortable enough. All hotels are basically all the same anyway. I arrived late in the evening, and the check-in process was very smooth. The young woman on the front-desk was incredibly helpful and spoke immaculate English, assisting me greatly.

Warm, tired, and in desperate need of a shower I ascended the elevator to my room which was clean and spacious. I put away my things and stepped into bathroom to enjoy a cold shower. The shower was attached to the bath and operated with the tap; using one of those manual valves to switch the flow of water between the tap and the shower head. I turned on the water and pulled the valve. Nothing happened. I then noticed a trickle coming out of the tap. "Oh," I thought, "the valve must not be set all the way." I pulled the valve and sure enough I had wrongly set it before, and as I moved it to its proper position I was hit in the head and thrown backwards.

I'm not sure how long I was knocked out but I awoke confused and wet. After a few moments I realised what had happened. The force of the water erupting from the shower was great enough to knock me backwards. Blurry-eyed, still dazed, I climbed to my feet to resume the shower and was instantly beaten down again with a powerful but brief spray of water. I lay there for a time collecting myself as clarity of thought gradually returned, this would have been peaceful if it were not punctuated intermittently by attacks from the errant shower head. I collected myself, and struggled to my feet.

Bipedal once more I surveyed my surroundings, understanding fully for the first time the nature of my foe. The sheer force of the water birthed from the shower head had animated it and the bathroom equipment was now enjoying its emergent vitality by sustaining a course whipping around the room; the jet of water powering its journey. The periodic blasts of water I had experienced while laying dazed were a by-product of its quest to escape.

Bracing myself for another blast I began my first assault. I took a step forward and reached for the shower head but no sooner had I done so than it turned to face me directly; unleashing an icy torrent of water that hit me like a punch. "That was weird", I thought as I once again lay defeated on the floor of the bath. Above me, the shower head gleefully continued to make full use of its newfound dexterity.

The cycle continued. I would brace myself, rise to challenge the serpent, and recieve a beating for my arrogance. I began to wonder whether was this Jörmungandr the giant snake that surrounds the our world. My muscles bunched into knots and my spirit cried for release but I refused to submit to this aqueous demon. I demonstrated my defiance by rising to one knee one last time. This itself was a struggle but nothing compared to what was in store for me when my nemesis once again turned their gaze upon me. No sooner had I attempted to rise than I was subject to an extended spray at full force. Gritting my teeth I raised my arms in front of me as a shield; it was like that we stayed. Locked in battle. At some point, I'm unsure when, I had begun screaming in rage and pain. Time ceased to exist. There was only this. There was always was only this. There could be only this. Only this pain and a burning hatred of the evil forces that condemned me to this hell.

An eternity passed and my torment receded. Bringing me back from the precipice of madness; the serpent gave ground. First one step, then another. Eventually I made it to the source and I reached out blindly. My fingers, numb with pain and cold, grasped the tap and I slowly turned off the water.

The world crashed back into existence and I took a moment to appreciate the sweetness of creation. Drawing back the flimsy shower curtain I gazed upon my face in the bathroom mirror. I was so young when I entered that shower, in the prime of my life. Now my face was lined with age and battle. I stared at the wrinkled creature in the mirror and wept for the years I had lost. Had my battle with the serpent really cost me years? Wearily and with aching joints I made my way back to the bedroom -- how feeble I was now! How weak and slow. I lay on the bed and rested a while.

I awoke an hour or so later and caught a glimpse of myself in the bedroom mirror; my youth had returned! I danced with glee and realised that the most likely explanation for my previous appearance is that the shower serpent's watery assault had stripped all of the oils from my skin and left me a wrinkled husk.

I am keen to return to VIP Inn Berna, as I think I left part of myself behind. This is not poetic language -- I think the shower took a tooth.

8/10 would recommend a stay.

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Grumbly Review - VidaHost hosting (is bad for devs)

Warning: I'm going to have a bitch here, although I think I make some good points; the purpose of this piece is pretty much just as therapy for my coder-rage.

I've been hosting mrshll.uk with UK-based hosting company Vidahost for a little while now, and as the year has went on I have increasingly grown to dislike them. Tbh, I only have myself to blame as I bought their hosting package in a fit of urgency without any particular market research as to the best hosting company for my needs. I was young age of 22 and I didn't see myself developing much web software in my little spare time, so shoved up a holding page and got on with my life.

That changed when I began seriously developing my own indie CMS, and I learned very quickly that I was going to have to jump through hoops.

The Good

First the good. Gotta start on a positive.

Decent PHP support I develop Brimstone CMS in Symfony 2.x, and I can't recall a specific incident that's made developing the application harder by being through Vidahost. They let you use .htaccess, and let you choose your PHP version pretty much all the way up to PHP7. I've largely been able to fire and forget.

Splendid customer service Every time I've posted a support ticket to Vidahost I've had some pretty swift replies, and they've usually responded within about 25 mins day or night. Most of the time they solve the issue within an hour, and the rest of the time I've been on Stack Overflow and realised I was the problem all along.

Easy spin-up of basics It's been pretty easy for me to add subdomains, MySQL databases / users, email accounts, etc. The basics that you expect a hosting company to do. Some of the one-click installs for Wordpress etc are also pretty nifty.

The Bad

Here we go.

Slow I've noticed that sites I've developed on other hosting services have had pretty similar speeds to having everything run on localhost. Not Vidahost. It's relatively sluggish in a Web circa 2008 sort of way. I've even just pushed a feature involving more Twitter functionality, with shiny ajax requests for favouriting (screw the like/heart combo), and it's broken it straight away and gives me timeouts on pages that were admittedly slow before -- but not game-breaking.

Shit SSH Vidahost begrudgingly let you SSH into a domain's hosting area in order to play around. For serious users of a web framework you'll probably need command-line access to run various tools or scripts that come bundled with your framework (Symfony and Doctrine for example). Every time I push a feature or update a template, I need to ssh in to update the database schema or clear the template cache. This is obviously not a problem except that Vidahost don't allow you to add any SSH keys, meaning you need to remember a password that they auto-generate for you. I'm not necessarily complaining about the auto-generation -- it stops people from choosing silly passwords and potentially weeds out those who don't know what they're doing, but if you're that security conscious surely the extra step of letting me use SSH keys makes it equally secure? Grrah. Also, I know it's probably best to err on the side of caution and let SSH sessions expire pretty quickly -- but I've logged in, switched to my text editor to make a very quick change (like, uncommenting-something quick), upload it, and then the session's frozen and I have to re-log in. Bah.

PHP Session clear-up I've got a whole control panel back here that most of the dev time is spent on. I can log in, and then interact with Twitter and post blog posts and all sorts of standard CMS clart. I've had it before where I've logged in, and then went to write a Note (Tweet) which is sent over AJAX, only to have the server respond with the login page as the session's been cleared. This process taking roughly 20s. Wtf? That's mental.

SSL Certificate aka. Vidahost love to squeeze you for cash. When I knew that I wanted to build an indie site and I would often be sending my password (or precious blog posts) across the pipe I knew I had to encrypt it. So I looked at the SSL options. I was presented with the option of paying £40 for a fresh cert, or £20 for the privilege of having them install a home-generate one. I parted with my cash. When Mozilla's Let's Encrypt came of age I enquired as to whether Vidahost would be supporting this, as Let's Encrypt is designed to be automated (my logic being that after an initial set up effort they could set domains and certificates away running forever and be happy). Wrong. Vidahost responded with a resounding "Sorry!", presumably whilst rubbing themselves in £20 notes and bathing in the tears of web devs everywhere.

Conclusions

Use vidahost if you're just looking to set up shop with a presence on the web and use stuff like Wordpress. Don't use them for any serious development work. I can't wait until my hosting expires and I move to Digital Ocean.

review grumble vidahost development