Year in Strength 2016 - Reflections on Strength Training
Exactly one year on from my previous reflection, it’s time to do it again. Once again, I’ll be going through a reflection on each of the Big Six from Convict Conditioning (CC) owing to my training drawing heavy inspiration from the approach, my view on some of the decisions I’ve made, and finally a few higher level goals for me to shoot towards in 2017.
Remember when I said 2015 was the year of the Push-Up? 2016 definitely ran with all of the improvements that I made to it and then some. As of writing, I’ve upped my Close/Diamond Push-Ups to 3x12 reps, which are all relatively smooth and pretty deep with decent form.
Where I feel that I fall down with Push-Ups at the moment, is actually in my warm-up sets of standard form ones. I feel that since I’ve neglected my torso this year (more on that later) then my hips begin to sag somewhat during these and I actually find them more difficult than my work sets.
All-in-all, although I’ve not yet begun approaching the ‘Progression Standard’ of reps for Close Push-Ups in CC which would take me towards the one-armed variants of the movement; I feel that the extra time has made my form and performance of these much better than they would have been otherwise and I’m so, so, pleased with these. Currently my favourite exercise.
If there was one word to describe my squatting in 2016 it would be stagnation. I’ve really let these go. Whilst my performance of Full Squats and Close Squats during my warm-up rounds have seen progress in form, my work sets of Box Pistols have seen a deterioration in form and no gain in reps. In short, I really need to get back onto the wagon of some heavy leg training in 2017.
I believe that a good approach will be to lock down cadence and form, and build up to a respectable 12 reps with the current height of Box Pistols, and then work from there. Lock that down, and worry about them later. This may sound like neglecting them further; but I’m working in achievable baby-steps so as not to discourage myself.
Pull-Ups have always been a rollercoaster for me, and I think that they always will be. 2016 saw me finish with negatives (and get rid of muh launching chair, RIP) and begin with… assistance bands! After I couldn’t go from negatives to half movements, I finally admitted that I needed some help. The admission of requiring assistance didn’t particularly hurt me, but the fact that I required equipment did.
This being said, my experience with the bands has been nothing except positive. I’m performing the full Pull-Up motion for a decent number of reps with the bands, and progressing nicely. I’m currently on my third band and on 3x9 reps out of a desired 3x12 (Pulls are heavy and hard and any more would really take effort I think). The brand of band I’m working with have a series of 6 bands total, so that fact I’m on band number 3 means I’m progressing nicely. The first band was way too much assistance and I blasted through it, and took that attitude to the second band. This was tougher but manageable, but I took just a little bit longer. The third band I’ve been deliberately taking my time with and I hovered at 3x8 reps for a while; getting the cadence right so I wasn’t using momentum. They feel magical and much better.
A successful year on the Pulling front.
Again, stagnation is how I would describe my progression in Leg Raises this year. I’ve been hovering at Hanging Straight Leg Raises for a while now, but my form and cadence has been shocking for the most part. There are snatches of glory, where I performed a set or two of really good, strong, movements in a few sessions across the year – but for the most part I’ve fallen prey to the traps that Coach Wade warned about in CC1.
Still working at 3x10 reps, and there’s an excuse for the poor cadence (will become clear in the Good Decisions section) – but this is the main thing I hope to improve in 2017.
Similar to Push-Ups, my Bridges in 2016 have benefited from a concentration on form. I think the arch of my Bridge could be improved somewhat, but in terms of the actual performance of the movement – it’s been great. My fear of them has declined loads, I’ve begun performing them outside instead of in the comfort of the main room, and the sessions where they’re smoother have begun to become to norm rather than the ‘good days’.
Upped from 3x10 to 3x12. CC’s Progression Standard for the movement is 2x15 which means I’m very close. I think I’ll halt them there, though, instead of moving onto the next movement – in order to lock down form and concentrate my recovery efforts on Pulls.
Once more, I did not train HSPUs this year. Considering the progress my training has made in general, I’m perfectly ok with this. I’ll reiterate what I said last year; that I remember reading/hearing that HSPUs and Pulls have a positive knock-on effect on each other, so I might begin training a few basic holds in the series to begin this but I’m not setting any hard goals in order not to discourage myself.
There are two stand-out good decisions that I made this year – condense ALL of my strength training into a single routine, performed in a circuit. It’s a pretty intense hour, but it’s allowed me to get some really good cardiovascular benefits. I began about February moving Leg Raises into Day 1’s routine and began performing them in a circuit. Then I moved over Bridges in March. I remember this being particularly painful, and speaking with my then-colleague A about how drained I was afterwards and how out of breath. After two weeks and I adjusted and resumed my training as normal.
When I went to California I performed a lighter routine with Pulls as part of the circuit. When I came back, I kept it and integrated my Pulling work into the main circuit. This has been phenomenal. Again, it was a bit draining and I felt a bit “Wow” after the session, but over the summer this effect lessened somewhat and now I’m very much ok afterwards. To highlight how effective this approach has been I’ll give you an anecdote:
My friend, D, began CC around the same time that I did in 2013. Whereas I dicked about with Powerlifting for a while - he committed himself straightaway to Calisthenics. D has what I would cheekily call an ‘Elfin’ body type. He has very low body fat, and a smaller frame. This meant that he did really well and powered through the movements – surpassing me quickly on all but Squats. Mostly he rubbed it in with Pulls as I’ve always struggled with them (Orcs eh?). I didn’t see him much at all this year and an opportunity came about in late December to spend the day together and we decided to do a spot of training. I said he could do what he wanted but that I was going to be circuit training. I pre-warned him not to be too harsh on me as I was deconditioned from a week in Madrid. He opted to join me in my circuit, but only managed my two warm-up rounds. It turns out that he’s still training with the large 5 minute rests whereas I’ve cut rest times down to 2 minutes, as well as opting for the circuit approach.
It’s often hard to step outside your own box. And, with apologies to D; it felt really good seeing evidence that my year’s training had given me abilities and endurance beyond what I had expected or felt that I deserved. The circuit also has the additional benefit of condensing my weekly training into two sessions which are intense but have a lot of recovery time.
My other good decision was to opt for the assistance bands in Pull-Ups. I’ve seen a positive change in performance of the movement, self-esteem, and musculature. Not to mention knock-on improvements to other movements which I feel is in part due to my progress here.
My bad decisions can be summed up by allowing Squats and Leg Raises to stagnate. I’m really disappointed in myself for these specific things – but overall my experience of training in 2016 has been overwhelmingly positive (making this one of the few good things to have happened this year right?)
Battle Plan for 2017
I want to begin this section by saying this – battle plans change. I’ve tried to work on making my training as flexibile as possible (I only need 2 days a week, I only need equipment for 1 exercise etc.) but when I’m disrupted I often can’t progress the way I want and I often fall to a ‘baseline’ routine without the bells and whistled. My goals here are going to be a mix of specifics, and high-level aims, with the knowledge that they’re going to change and evolve. Here we go:
- Really go for it on Pull-Ups and Grip training. Progress at least 2 bands in Pulls, and try a full progression in Hangs
- Spend some time fixing form on Box Pistols
- As above, for Leg Raises
- Do a static headstand now and then
- Begin a short, daily, stretching routine to be performed in the evenings
- Do some sprint work to further my cardio
- Up reps on Close Push-Ups, and Bridges, to 3x15 without affecting form negatively
- Maintain a positive attitude
Bring it on. It’s gonna be a good year.