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  1. #241
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    • texas starting strength seminar september 2020
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    Earlier this week, with my hands on the bar as I gathered my courage for a set of squats, I found myself thinking of former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher. More precisely, this was by way of actress Meryl Streep, who played her in the film THE IRON LADY. Worried about not being taken seriously as a politician in the late 70’s, Thatcher took voice lessons to lower her register, so she wouldn’t be considered shrill. More impressively, she also developed a tremendous capacity for speaking at length on a single breath, the better to forestall interruption. This took quite a bit of training for Streep to be able to mimic in front of the camera. If you want to draw a large breath, Streep explained in an interview, there’s always more room toward your back.
    This is what flashed through my mind before a set of front squats: before I engage the bar, fill my chest to the point that I feel my back stretch out. Then, during the set, don’t worry about lifting the ribs so much; breathe toward the back. It’s a decent little trick, one of a few helpful skills I’ve picked up on Andy Baker’s Conjugate template.

    In making the leap to Baker’s version of the program, I am testing a number of specific premises:
    -Maximal effort lifts (with maximum weights), lifts done with maximal speed (with moderate weights) and reps done to failure (with certain assistance exercises) are most effective at recruiting the highest possible number of neuromuscular motor units - and thereby spurring increases in strength.
    -The Westside Barbell inspired schedule of Maximum and Dynamic Effort days is the best format for training all of the above, concurrently and with the right amount of volume for each.

    I’m only about five weeks in, so it’s a little soon for results on my bench, squat, or dead, but I do have some findings from experimenting with a couple of different exercises:

    -Pause squats are a great way to work on feeling proper balance on your feet as well as in the bottom position of the lift. Sitting in the hole burns the right depth into your mind; I’ve begun to use pause squats on my warm ups in other workouts. The trick is also to be in a position that doesn’t vary once you start to rise. You drive from the hips, but you don’t want to teeter and have to find the necessary angle to make the lift. It’s a drill in moving very precisely.

    -Spoto presses take their name from Eric Spoto, who boasts a 722 pound raw bench press and leaves pretty much everybody else in the world in no place to argue over what makes for big lifts. A Spoto press is a paused bench press - not on the chest, but an inch or two above it. The idea, say the YouTube explanations, is that lifters mistakenly disengage both the muscles with which they lift and the ones that stabilize bodily position when the bar changes directions at the chest.
    I believe them. The paused rep forces you to maintain tension and position. This also makes me wonder how quickly I lose them during my usual sets. I do everything right to get started, but I’m always unglued by the time I put the bar back.

    -Inclined bench presses, according to Andy Baker on a recent STARTING STRENGTH Facebook live chat, can add mass to one’s chest, especially if they have only so much to begin with. This would apply in my case, though I’ve not done enough inclines to report any findings. I understand that developing some incline strength will bring some mass, but the question I should have asked Baker - although I think he said it would - is whether this additional heft can be brought to bear on other exercises, like a conventional bench.

    -Both a deficit deadlift (at three-and-half inches) and a snatch grip deadlift make for a very horizontal backbone as you’re engaging the bar. The trick is here remembering perhaps the best cue ever given for deadlift: pressing your gut down between your thighs. This enables you to establish and hold proper lumbar position.
    I take this to mean the section of my gut at the level of my belly button and down to the waistband of my underwear. This is right at the center of gravity, as we used to say in Corky McFarland’s Judo class. Take a deep breath, make sure your center is good and solid, and that’s the body part that moves first as you press the floor away. Locking into position is harder in these two lifts than in a regular deadlift, so these prove valuable as drills.
    The snatch grip deadlift also makes you more aware of the lat muscles and how your arms must rake the bar inward to keep it against your legs.

    Dynamic Effort days call for 10 fairly rapid sets, of 2 and 1 for squat and dead, respectively, on lower body days, and 3 for bench press on upper body days, generally with 60 to 90 seconds of rest. Whatever your rest interval, you still have to start getting into position ahead of time, 15 seconds for a deadlift, 30 for a bench press, with tightening the wrist wraps and belt. You don’t have a lot of time for mental preparation, which isn’t the end of the world, since the weight varies between 60 and 80 percent of max. However, the clock demands that you lock up, load, and go. In fact, focus is everything: without any second guessing, you hit very solid starting positions as well as the bottom positions you’ve practiced in the paused reps. Yes, you’re thinking about speed, but you can’t bomb into place. Speed comes from moving well, not fast.
    I have to keep that presence of mind, I tell myself, in my max reps. This coming week, I have a big box squat. I have to hit it like one of Westside’s big, shaven headed, goateed monsters - or better yet, like Meryl Streep.

    4-Day Conjugate split
    5/4/20
    MONDAY - Maximum Effort Squat/Deadlift
    1. Hit 1 rep max in SQUAT VARIANT - box squat
    1.5 3 sets of 3 back off sets (above) 80-85%
    2. 4 sets of 5 Romanian deadlifts: 372.5, 375x3
    3. 4 sets of 10 banded leg extensions
    4. 4 sets of 10 banded leg curls
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns, calves

    TUESDAY - Maximum Effort Upper Body
    1. Hit 1 rep max BENCH PRESS VARIANT - bench press
    1.5 3 sets of 3 back off sets (above) 80-85%
    2. Chest variant - incline bench - 4 sets of 8 reps
    3. hanging rows - no weight - 5 sets of 15
    4. rear flies/ shrugs 3 sets of 15
    5. Triceps extensions (variant) 5 sets 20 reps band extensions
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY - Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift
    1. Back squat: 10 sets of 2 with 80% max 372.5; 90-120 sec rest
    2. Deadlift: 10 sets of 1 with 80% max 420 60 sec rest
    3. 3 Round Accessory Circuit
    20 goblet squats - 45kb
    25 kettlebell swings -45 k6
    20 sit ups
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)

    FRIDAY - Dynamic Effort Upper Body
    1. 10 sets of 3 Bench Presses (5 week wave; 60-65-70-75-80%) 80; 180 30-60 sec rest
    2. 4 sets of 12 reps Seated Press 125
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. Dips: 3 sets of 10-15 (or 3 sets max reps of push ups)
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 10 @95

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile or row 6000 meters

  2. #242
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    Nearly two years ago, in late June 2018, 12 soccer team members and their coach were trapped deep inside the cave they were exploring in northern Thailand after being forced to flee rising waters. Rescuers from around the world answered the call for help, and soon the boys were found alive by cave diving experts who had swum two and a half miles through pitch blackness beneath the mountains. Divers, engineers, and military and medical personnel put together a daring plan to rescue the kids as inside the cave the water rose and oxygen levels fell. I wrote about this at the time, excited at how hundreds of people could converge on one place and succeed at an impossibly complicated task with little time to waste. I also tried to draw a connection to a collection of quotes by the great Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster, which happened to appear on the STARTING STRENGTH site at the same time. The ethos of ‘hitting the other guy in the snot locker’ again and again, an ability made possible by all those hours beneath the bar, was a way to appreciate those divers being highly trained as much as they were supremely impressive. Now, the story comes to mind again, as scientists present findings on the coronavirus crisis but the uncertainty drags on.

    Just as the world was surprised to hear that the boys were alive in the cave, we’re getting our first glimmers of hope in this pandemic. Remdesivir, a drug developed to fight Ebola, works by molecularly capping off the virus’ attempts at replicating strands of its RNA, making it the first proven treatment for those already infected. Separately, a theory is developing that COVID-19 is a disease of the endothelium, the layer of cells that line the blood vessels and lymphatic system. The virus attacks a protein called ACE-2 and then creates a cascade of chemical reactions resulting in oxidative damage, which explains the strange variety of symptoms doctors are seeing.
    Specifically: in the mitochondria of cells - inside each and every cell - cellular respiration creates ATP, the currency of cellular energy for whatever a given body part is up to - lifting weights, seeing, touching, digesting - as well as within each cell, taking care of assorted internal functions. Part of the energy process is the Electron Transport Chain, where the movement of electrons stimulates a corresponding movement of protons, which in turn is key in converting ADP molecules into ATP.
    The presence of oxygen is vital to all of this. Oxygen accepts the electrons at the final carrier protein of the transport chain. Without it, the electrons, and subsequently the protons, would not move. ATP would not be formed.
    Usually, ATP and ADP are converting back and forth, and the cell does whatever it’s supposed to in the body - but all those oxygen molecules sporting extra electrons have to be handled the right way. At this early stage, each one of these is a superoxide and can be VERY dangerous, both to cells’ DNA and to its immediate area, in terms of significant inflammation. It’s also bad news for any bacteria it’s set upon, so it has its uses. Otherwise, in normal circumstances, a series of enzymes stands ready to convert these superoxides to hydrogen peroxide, hydroxy-radicals, and finally, good old H-2-O.
    In endothelial cells, lining the blood vessels and lymphatic system, the protein ACE-2 converts angiotensin II to angiotensin 1,7. This is an important part of handling those superoxides. Angiotensin II promotes superoxides; angiotensin 1,7 blocks their production - so ACE-2’s role is a good thing.
    SARS-COV-2 enters cells by binding to ACE-2 receptors and inactivating it. Therefore, angiotensin II is left free to promote superoxides, and angiotensin 1,7 is not there to constrain this.
    SARS-COV-2 also recruits neutrophils which stimulate superoxides. Cellular damage in the blood vessels runs rampant.
    By the way, oxidative stress is not unique to The Virus. That series of enzyme actions through which superoxides are converted to H-2-O can be overrun by the effects of poor diet and lifestyle choices. Oxidative stress and its accompanying chemical imbalances are markers associated with obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. These are the patients disproportionately being admitted to hospitals: folks with cardiovascular disease - and NOT those with asthma or pulmonary disease, as was first feared. In fact, scientists are surmising, the current state of oxidative stress in a person’s body will tip the balance on how they react to the coronavirus.
    The scariest headlines have been stories of strokes in surprisingly young patients, and doctors observing new clots forming before their very eyes as they try to remove others. Endothelial cells are intended to prevent thrombosis, or clotting, so their widespread destruction could explain these extreme cases, as well as the numerous other blood chemistry markers that indicate a high degree of coagulation.

    IF - IF - IF this theory bears itself out, this means the coronavirus relies upon a process that takes several steps. That makes it vulnerable. Doctors have several levels for possible intervention.
    So pick your metaphor:
    They’re breaking the code.
    They’re swimming down the throat of the monster.
    We’re going to bust this motherfucker in the snot locker again and again, until he’s done.

    Really - again, if this is true - it’s like we just found the kids in the cave. Now we have to figure out how to get them out of there.
    It’s been interesting to compare news reports from the days surrounding the rescue to retrospectives produced in the months since. At first, the media reported that the team might have to spend an entire four months in the cave, to ride out the rainy season that had brought about all the flooding. This was ridiculous - although not untrue; it was actually an option officials briefly considered. Soon, the news emerged that the boys would have to come out the way the divers went in, through the submerged caverns. That meant swimming somehow, so now worst-case scenarios gave way to risk analyses, as experts weighed in on television on all the things that could go wrong. These boys, aged 11 to 16, had never swum in their lives. Now they would be forced to undertake an ordeal only a handful of experts in the world could handle.
    It simply never occurred to anyone that these kids would be sedated like rhinoceroses dropped by dart guns on WILD KINGDOM. Upon arriving at every dry stretch of the journey, they’d catch an additional blast of ketamine from a needle to the thigh. The entire world also imagined them wearing conventional masks and breathing from regulators with mouthpieces. They, myself included, had not considered the full face masks that were used. The kids were also breathing from a mixture highly rich in oxygen. If anything went wrong with the equipment, their saturated brains and bloodstreams would boost the chances of survival.

    That seems to be the issue with uncertainty: swinging between uninformed speculation and emptiness bordering on despair. What’s the worst part of a crisis, aside of the death and destruction itself? The waiting.

    As fear and uncertainty played across the airwaves, the four elite British divers, nicknamed ‘The A-Team,’ and a handful of American ParaRescuemen headed to a swimming pool in a nearby town. This is what we’re thinking of doing, they explained to a handful of 11 to 16 year old volunteers from a local swim team. Each diver would bear a kid along, clutching him to his chest like a bag of groceries. Each kid would be in a full wetsuit with the full face mask and his own tank in a semi-hard plastic cocoon, which would protect him from the jagged rocks. Soon after the volunteers suited up, they had their proof of concept.
    Still, everyone had misgivings. More rain was coming, the Americans informed the Thai government. More flooding would make the rescue impossible and quite possibly jeopardize the kids’ sanctuary. The time was now, but their most optimistic assessment was that three to five out of the 13 altogether would die in the attempt.
    Deep inside the cave, an Australian anesthesiologist, himself an expert diver, figured the odds were far worse. It was his job to administer the first dose of sedative, fit the mask over each kid’s face, and hold him underwater, watching for leaks and ensuring that bubbles indicated breathing. He found this very difficult to do.
    At the end of his first day, as the doc began the final tired slog out of the cave, carrying his gear, he ran into a ParaRescueman, who remarked noncommittally, ‘What do you know? Four out of four.’
    ‘We lost all four?’
    ‘All four lived.’
    ‘They lived! Are you serious?’
    The next morning, he was able to tell the remaining kids deep in the cave, ‘Your mates are all in the hospital, eating ice cream.’ He kept his fingers crossed for the second wave, and the final wave, and on that last day, when the dive team had made it out to that final section of the cave and confirmed that everyone was alive and well, someone broke out a bottle of Jack Daniels and passed it around.

    I am dying to know the stories behind the scenes in this pandemic. In Thailand two years ago, the press would have loved to see the trial runs in that swimming pool or the visit the football field where planners created a model of the cave and practiced the staging of supplies in one chamber or another. ‘This is awesome,’ they would have told the world. ‘We have a plan.’
    The real story, no doubt, is that the plan was anything but awesome, and they were too busy revising the damned plan to let the press get in the way asking questions. That’s where we are now: despite all that’s happening out of reach, the silence creates a sense of emptiness.
    Hang in there. We know only one thing for sure: keep a bottle of Jack Daniels handy.

  3. #243
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    4-Day Conjugate split
    5/11/20
    MONDAY - Maximum Effort Squat/Deadlift
    1. work up to 420 back squat - 90% max (next week)
    2. work up to DEADLIFT VARIANT max -sumo dead
    2.5 3 sets of 3 with 80% of max (above)
    3. 4 sets of 10 banded leg extensions
    4. 4 sets of 10 banded leg curls
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns, calves

    TUESDAY - Maximum Effort Upper Body
    1. Hit 1 rep max BENCH PRESS VARIANT - close grip bench 255 (#4 holes)
    1.5 3 sets of 3 back off sets (above) 80-85%
    2. Chest variant - kb bench 72’s - 4 sets of 8 reps
    3. hanging rows - no weight - 5 sets of 10
    4. rear flies/ shrugs 3 sets of 15
    5. Triceps extensions (variant) 5 sets 20 reps seated dumbbells
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY - Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift
    1. Back squat: 5 sets of 5 with 60% max 280; 60 sec rest
    2. Deadlift: 5 sets of 3 with 60% max 315 30 sec rest
    3. 3 Round Accessory Circuit
    20 belt squats - 45kb
    20 banded pull throughs
    8 sit ups 65
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)

    FRIDAY - Dynamic Effort Upper Body
    1. 10 sets of 3 Bench Presses (5 week wave; 60-65-70-75-80%) 65; 195 30-60 sec rest
    2. 4 sets of 8 reps Seated Press 135
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. Dips: 3 sets of 10-15 (or 3 sets max reps of push ups)
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 8 @95

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile or row 6000 meters

  4. #244
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    I am bailing out of the Conjugate training template. This is late breaking news that pre-empts another piece I was working on. One influence on this decision is the fact that I stuck too long with another unconventional program some years back, a high to low rep progression over time combined with old school isotonic-isometric rack work. It worked for a while, but I wore myself out beating that dead horse. Now, I’m quite likely erring on the side of quitting too soon, but getting back to 8-5-2, my most successful approach to date, will be best, even if I borrow a few worthwhile tricks from the conjugate work.

    I did have an entirely different topic on tap for this week, after a disappointing deadlift - this after a theatrical, Westside inspired entrance in which I strode onto the platform, chest out, arms wide, planted my feet mightily, and heaved like those guys do, only to struggle with a paltry 455, which is warm-up stuff for my usual 500-plus. This got me to thinking about behaviors which are largely symbolic, both productively and . . . comically, at least in that case. I veered into the mask wearing that everybody has to do nowadays, which seems as psychologically damaging as it is necessary - and things went downhill. Suffice it to say that we should all be relying on sound methodology in our politics, personal health, and strength training methodology.

    This is not to say that Andy Baker’s Conjugate template is wrongheaded in any way. It’s just not for me, probably as a function of my being 55 as well as my experience with what’s worked.
    I was just saying two weeks ago that, “In making the leap to Baker’s version of the program, I am testing a number of specific premises:
    1. Maximal effort lifts (with maximum weights)
    2. Lifts done with maximal speed (with moderate weights)
    3. Reps done to failure (with certain assistance exercises)
    - are most effective at recruiting the highest possible number of neuromuscular motor units - and thereby spurring increases in strength.
    4. The Westside Barbell inspired schedule of Maximum and Dynamic Effort days is the best format for training all of the above, concurrently and with the right amount of volume for each.”

    My issue with Number 1 is that heavy squats and deadlifts for me have been very specific skills. I have to be used to operating at the edge of the envelope in order to spot my chance to set a new max. I box squatted 435, which wasn’t bad; I pause squatted 405, which I suppose is decent, but those are weights that I should be hitting for reps if I want to get beyond 465. In my dead, I did pull 480 from a three-inch deficit, but otherwise I’ve not gotten beyond 455, which isn’t going to help when 525 and more is on the bar.
    The real problem is that my bench has regressed from 310 to just 285 a week or two ago, as a shoulder has grown increasingly sore. I just came around to a close grip bench max the other day, which hurt too much to pursue. The conjugate rotation is shot. A flat bench and its variants are going to have to take a backseat to inclines for a while, along with some mobility work.

    Premise 2 is absolutely true. For a long time in my 8-5-2 rotation I’ve done speed work with reduced loads in squats, dead, and bench, in the latter end of each week. That 310 bench came when I was blasting a whole 140 pounds for 10 sets of 3, with mini bands attached. This type of work will continue.

    The assistance exercises in (3) are what got me. The light squats, both belt and goblet, are presumably quadricep intensive. Actually, I know that to be true, based upon soreness. Whether they add anything or detract, it’s too soon to tell, but I had to scale them back - probably because I’m old, and then I wasn’t doing enough reps or going anywhere near failure, which was defeating the purpose they were meant to serve.
    It would seem that this program is probably best for a 20 to 30 year old lifter of moderate, not-far-beyond-novice experience. Aside of the capacity to knock themselves out daily and recover completely, they’d grow like a lawn in springtime.
    Whatever intermediate program you use, one of Baker’s central points is that upper body progress relies on the slow gear of improvement in assistance exercises. Light weights and mini bands aside, what really drove my few moments of greatness was dip work.
    This eventually beat up my shoulders. Single-joint tricep extensions never paid the same kind of dividends. Now, if I try to make some progress in my inclines, then presses and bench work will serve in supporting, low gear roles.

    4. The question is not whether this program is right for you, but whether you’re right for the program. Years ago, I did the Texas Method, strength training’s true warrior-monk, Ranger School rite of passage, for three months. I made huge progress, but then I was done. You’d have to be a college football player morphing from 180 to 280 to stay on that for a long time. Similarly, like I said above, the conjugate approach has its ideal candidates.

    I’m going to steal a few of its more useful aspects. Sets of 8 squats have become heavy enough to be brutally difficult, yet dropping to that particular weight in the rotation is important. The Westside styled Dynamic program, with its 10 sets of 2 reps done two minutes apart (or less) is a great way to get in the right amount of volume and intensity with that weight, without thrashing myself completely.
    Pause squats remain a great way to warm up, stretch things out, and establish ones balance and position.
    The Spoto bench presses, with their pauses an inch or two off the chest, are great way to nail down the skill of maintaining body position.
    Horizontal (hanging) rows and pull ups are best done in sets of 10, I’ve noticed, from purely a bodybuilding standpoint. Sun’s out; guns out.

    I mentioned before that in the wake of a lousy deadlift despite a great deal of affectation, I started writing about symbolism and magical thinking as it seemed to affect world affairs. I was doing the same thing, I realized, avoiding the issue, so I scrapped the piece and knew I had to scrap the routine, and get back to the tried and true.

    (20/8, 5, & 2 and 3, 2, 1 rotation)
    Week of: 5/18/20 20/8 and 3 week
    MONDAY
    1. Squat: 10 sets of 2; 90-120 sec rest Tom 360, JC 145
    2. Romanian deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps Tom 372.5 JC 175
    3. Power Cleans (3x3) light JC 75 - 95
    3. 4 sets of heavy shrugs 485
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns

    TUESDAY
    1. Inclined bench press: 3 sets of 8 Tom 170
    2. Bench press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 185 JC 105
    3. 5 sets of 10 Hanging rows
    4. 4 sets: 8 lying triceps extensions or 15-20 push ups
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 8
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY
    1. Deadlift: work up to a set of 3* reps Tom 455 JC 235
    2. Deadlift: back off sets - 90% of top set; 2 sets of same* reps Tom 410 JC 200
    3. Squats: (90% of Monday’s weight) 4 sets of 5 Tom 325 bands JC 130
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)
    5. abs: hollow rockers

    FRIDAY
    1. Inclined Bench Press: (10 sets of 3) Tom 135
    2. Press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 137.5 JC 75
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. 4 sets Dips or push ups
    5. (JC) Barbell curls: 4 sets of 5
    6. 3 sets kettlebell sit ups

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile (I wish)
    row 6000 meters

  5. #245
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    This is a little stream of consciousness, but follow me: the other night as I was flipping channels, one of the ESPN’s was running a repeat of 2018’s HARD KNOCKS, which featured the Cleveland Browns. In this episode, a young tight end, a long shot to make the team, was blowing his blocking assignments. A coach says to him as they watch game film, ‘You can’t block guys with your arms. They’re coming with way too much force and weight.’
    The scene then cuts to the next day, where another tight end explains the right way to do it, as they take turns holding a big pad. ‘You’re down; you’re set in your hips and legs, and you hit with your whole body. The arms come last - if at all.’
    The story that HARD KNOCKS tells is that rookies come in all kinds, even guys who have gotten by on raw talent or from small schools without much formal coaching. In the pro game, however, everybody is great, so one had better know his craft. This got me thinking about the guys who do, and of course the God of Strength from my youth and now Second Youth, Steeler center Mike Webster. A YouTube career highlight video has him flattening one guy after another, but interestingly, the slow motion close-ups show that the bulldozing happens with his shoulder. His hands are on each guy, but his arms are bent and largely not involved. This was despite their massive size and his double-bodyweight, 500 pound bench press, but it was also smart: at 250, Webster was not the biggest guy on the line. To play as well and last as long as he did, he had to use his whole body, which meant mainly his legs - which were ‘truly huge,’ his son Colin wrote in a STARTING STRENGTH article.
    Then came another thought: in that same article, young Webster says his father deliberately narrowed his bench press grip, the better to train for blocking, but this was also when his bench went up.
    I have to bring in my bench press grip, I realized, sitting in my living room with a remote control in hand. I’m tired of struggling like a rookie Browns tight end.
    This is not because Mike Webster did - or yeah, it is, actually - but I’ve been thinking about this for a while, taking cell phone videos of different grips to figure out which is best. I’ve been stalled for a long time - and regressed by this point, so I have to change the plan and fix this sore shoulder if I want to make Coach Noll’s team.

    Across my desk, I have three books open: GRAY’S ANATOMY, Kelly Starrett’s BECOMING A SUPPLE LEOPARD, and Rip’s STARTING STRENGTH. I have a rough plan, to see if I can figure out what I’ve hurt, how I can fix it, and then how to move better, both in terms of avoiding injury and getting my bench back up to snuff.
    For some time, the pain in my right shoulder has very specifically been deep in the seam between the slopes of my pec and deltoid. Prior to opening GRAY’S ANATOMY, I didn’t know too much about how things were arranged in there, but I came up with a potential suspect, the coraco-brachialis, a little dude who runs right down that line. Up top, it attaches to the coracoid process, that hook on the top of the scapula, and then down low it ties into the inner surface of the humerus, between the biceps and triceps, almost halfway down the upper arm. If you put your finger in that little triangular dip at your clavicle, between your pec and delt, that’s right where it is. The coraco-brachialis is a small muscle without a great deal of leverage, but it’s involved with adducting the arm (toward the body) as well as horizontal and vertical flexion of the shoulder. ‘Try this stretch,’ says a physical therapist on line. He goes on to describe raising one’s arm, not directly to the side but about 45 degrees further back. Once that arm is level, the pull you feel beneath your bicep, about halfway down, is the coraco-brachialis. If you really want to feel it, start over, turning your arm so that your thumb is pointed backward. Now raise it once more.
    That friggin’ hurts. That’s it.

    “You’re probably wrong,’ author Kelly Starrett would say when it comes to identifying particular muscles, ‘and in any case, it’s beside the point. You got into this trouble because of faulty movement, and it’s proper movement, not knowing which muscles you’ve hurt, that will get you out.’ That was Starrett’s message in a seminar I attended a decade ago, in my CrossFit days back in Hawaii. Starrett, a doctor of physical therapy, shot to fame as part of the CrossFit movement, as his homemade cellphone videos of rolling on lacrosse balls and pulling on joints with bands taught athletes to treat their own pain and restore range of motion as do-it-yourself therapists.
    He’s exactly right. If it wasn’t bench pressing, in which I got strong enough to train with a lot of weight for months on end with a grip that was too wide, it was the dips, where my shoulders probably rolled out of position as I toughed out heavier and heavier sets. Besides that little sucker down deep, other aches and pains flare up front and back, but they respond to the simple, sometimes brutal sessions of rolling on lacrosse balls. A softball is good for the pecs.
    Starrett’s secret weapon is voodoo banding, using an elastic strap to restrict circulation above and below a joint as it’s put through its paces. This apparently enhances the process of undoing adhesions in muscle tissue. If I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder, she’ll then tightly wrap the band around my loose pec and lat, above the shoulder, and then work her way down, ending at my upper arm.
    I then lie down, and she puts a foot on the front of my shoulder, to stop it from rolling - upward in this case. I’ll have my tricep on the ground at 90 degrees to my torso, and my forearm in the air 90 degrees to that, and then I’ll roll my arm upward, beside my head, and downward, by my side as far as I can. This downward roll, which is internal rotation, while my wife’s foot keeps my shoulder pinned, makes it feel like the muscles are coming right off the bones, but after two minutes of winding up and down, and then letting the blood flow once more, the effect is miraculous.
    That’s giving the old coraco-brachialis, among other things, a good wrenching.

    Going back to STARTING STRENGTH is invariably an exercise in guilt, since you come across all the important concepts you saw the first time around but have since forgotten. In my case, this would apply to my lats and legs. I’ve always been one to pull my shoulder blades back, bull my chest, and arch my back, but I’m going to have to pay closer attention to whether I’m actually squeezing with my lats to stay in position. I’m not, evidently, since I know that I’m unglued by the ends of my sets, so i’m going to have to make a more conscious effort. The narrower grip and the feeling of my elbows closer to my sides might help.
    True confession: I’ve never really bothered with driving with my legs in that knee extension-like motion as my feet are planted below. I’ve always been stable in terms of staying in place, but since I was never a lat guy, probably, I never saw the need to drive my hips up into the arch, to reinforce the lat and chest position. It’s said to create the effect of a more significant kinetic chain. OK, I’m on it.
    The book is actually a little forgiving on the topic of grip width, describing it as being most often between 22 and 28 inches between index fingers and allowing for some degree of personal preference. By definition, the idea is to choose a grip width that makes for a maximum range of motion around the shoulder joint; this will make for vertical forearms at the bottom position. More recently, a video explained that for just about everyone, the easiest way to find this would be to place the inner edges of one’s hands a hand’s-width from inner ends of the bar’s knurling.
    This puts my hands fully inside the rings that are spaced 32 inches apart. Prior to that I had my ring fingers on the rings - and I filmed this over and over. I could have sworn my forearms were vertical out there. Maybe I was flaring my elbows out so much that they were, but then that’s what was hurting my shoulder.

    This is how my thoughts have gone lately: all over the place, so I’ve had to let them blow through like storm clouds, so I can get to the crux of the issue. It occurs to me that in addition to bagging that conjugate plan, narrowing my bench grip is a result of that sumo deadlift workout 10 days ago. A wide grip bench, like a sumo, seems like a good idea until experience tells you to get real.
    I sure hope Mike Webster pulled conventionally.

    (20/8, 5, & 2 and 3, 2, 1 rotation)
    Week of: 5/25/20 5 and 2 week
    MONDAY
    1. Squat: 3 sets of 5: Tom 390
    2. Romanian deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps Tom 372.5x3, 375 JC 175
    3. Power Cleans (3x3) light JC 75 - 95
    3. 4 sets of heavy shrugs 485
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns

    TUESDAY
    1. Inclined bench press: 3 sets of 5 Tom 190
    2. Bench press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 185x2, 187.5x2
    3. 5 sets of 10 Hanging rows
    4. 4 sets: 8 lying triceps extensions or 15-20 push ups
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 8
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY
    1. Deadlift: work up to a set of 2* reps Tom 485
    2. Deadlift: back off sets - 90% of top set; 2 sets of same* reps Tom 437.5
    3. Squats: (90% of Monday’s weight) 5 sets of 3 Tom 350 bands JC 130
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)
    5. abs: hollow rockers

    FRIDAY
    1. Inclined Bench Press: (10 sets of 3) Tom 135, mini bands
    2. Press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 140
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. 4 sets Dips or push ups
    5. (JC) Barbell curls: 4 sets of 5
    6. 3 sets kettlebell sit ups

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile (I wish)
    row 6000 meters

  6. #246
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    Feb 2014
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    Below are all things that aggravated my bicep;
    - Heavy Singles
    - Rows
    - Dips

    I've dropped rows and dips from the programming altogether. I just couldn't get the bicep settled with them in the mix. It responded very well to CGBP and I have been running a mix of CGBP and regular grip with chains for the past few months. Minimal bicep pain and i did a paused single at 282 last week which matches my competition best. Like you I used to bench comp with my ring finger on the rings, I'm now about 2.5 inches from the rings with the outside of my hands.

    I've never done heavy shrugs but wonder if that could be adding to the issue.

  7. #247
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    You matched a previous record with a substantially narrower grip? Well done. That’s encouraging news.
    I’m sure the shrugs are creating trouble. Rolling my traps with the lacrosse balls makes things in my pecs and shoulders feel better. Everything’s tied together, front and back. Looking through GRAY’S ANATOMY, I was amazed that practically everything, 17 different muscles, tie into the scapulae: biceps, deltoids, lats, traps, pec minors, part of the triceps, and all the parts of the rotator cuff that wind deep within the shoulder.
    Lifts don’t hurt when my shoulder blades are perfectly in place. That means I have to be careful about everything attached: using them the right way and then getting them to loosen up correctly.

  8. #248
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    Dec 2015
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    Class, it’s time for another ‘You are the Strength Coach’ scenario. How would you handle the following situation?
    This is based on news that broke in the Sports World this past week, so imagine being right in the thick of it. Below is my take, with completely fictional circumstances but personal anecdotes and scientific findings that are completely true.

    You are the strength coach for a major college football program in the Southeastern Conference, which has announced that schools would like to get athletes back on campus over the summer for training in anticipation of this coming Fall season. You’ve been summoned to a meeting hosted by the University President, which will include the City Mayor, Head Coach, Team physician, and much of the coaching staff. It’s to be a ‘working group’ on establishing the best possible practices for allowing athletes and eventually all students back on campus.

    ‘Stay in your lane,’ I reminded myself. These big powwows come down to a few critical moments of brass tacks between big shots, and if this one doesn’t, then at least the rest of us should not be confusing the issue. I had come in the front of the athletic building in a better than usual polo shirt and a set of pressed khakis, having also bagged the G-Shock for my gold Seiko, and clutching a leather executive style folder with a legal pad full of notes inside.
    Interestingly, the President of the University had come to the Football office, the real seat of power around here - and to that end, the Head Coach sat at his usual end of the conference room table, where most everyone wanted to be close by. The last empty seat at the table was all the way down beside the President, at the opposite end. With a gesture, he waved me over. ‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he said.
    ‘Not at all. Thank you.’
    Two seats to my right was the Mayor, across from him the team physician, who has made himself rich reassembling Anterior Cruciate ligaments on the University’s tab. The head of Food Services was there, and beside him, near the coach, the head of Facilities. These were a lot of lanes to be stayed in if reopening campus was going to work.

    The President clasped his hands as he began the discussion. ‘Well, Coach, you’re heading my pioneer project. I have to welcome thousands of kids back to campus while making them follow the rules for social distancing.’
    The term strirred a wave of murmurs and smirks along the table.
    ‘I don’t see how we can do it,’ the Coach answered with a shake of his head. ‘The only place I’ve been able to socially distance is out on the golf course.’
    Down near that end, our defensive coordinator, a salty, 70 year old NFL Hall of Fame linebacker, quipped, ‘Just keep hookin’ ‘em into the woods, and you’ll be fine.’
    In the laughter, the Mayor put his hands on the table, and loudly said, ‘This might be funny to all of you, but we have only one hospital in town, and we can’t afford to have you overwhelming our capacity.’
    The doctor, across from him, drew his breath. ‘I think we need to look at the numbers. What percentage of your acute care beds are being used?’
    ‘About 70.’
    ‘Ventilators?’
    ’40 percent.’
    ‘ICU beds?’
    ‘About 30 percent.’
    ‘We also need to look at who’s going into the ICU - people 65 to 80, not kids who are 18 to 21.’
    The mayor remained leaning forward. ‘Restarting a football program is an unprecedented action,’ he insisted. ‘ I need to tell you, I have spoken to the governor on this, and he shares my concern.’
    Surrounded by big, hairy football coaches, this guy had thrown down all his cards in less than a minute. Looks were exchanged. The Coach, who could be elected governor if he so desired, chose not to react.
    The President looked at him. ‘You know, if a couple of kids catch this, and it gets in the paper, no one is going to want to play you all season long.’
    ‘This is why,’ he went on, ‘we need to have a strong plan of action, something medically supervised,’ he said with a look at the doc. ‘I want to go around the room and be sure that everyone has thought about operating as safely as possible.’ He looked at me, since I was right beside him, and prompted, ‘Please.’

    I opened my fancy leather folder to reveal my pages of notes. ‘Sir, I’m the strength coach, responsible for all weight room training. The safest way to proceed in the near future is to move the equipment outdoors.’ I looked across the table at the head of Facilities. If you’d be willing to put up one of those big event tents, about 75 feet long, I’d be much obliged. I’ll get my hands on a few dollies, and the kids can bring the equipment out.’
    ‘What would you use?’ Coach asked.
    ‘The free weights: power racks, benches, a few platforms, and bars and plates. We’ll have to fool with the schedule a little bit, since I can handle 30 kids at a time, not all 90.’
    ‘Gyms are opening in this state,’ came a voice directly across from me. It was Coach P., my usual enemy, a physical therapist with whom I’ve gone round and round on a number of subjects.
    ‘’We’re talking about best practices,’ I pointed out. ‘Has it occurred to any of you while watching the news about cruise ships, an aircraft carrier, and meat packing plants that this disease is a function of ventilation? People in limited spaces sharing air pass this virus to one another. Our gym gets stuffy as it is with everyone in there panting and gasping. An open sided tent will have enough cross ventilation to prevent everyone from breathing all over one another.’
    The old linebacker pushed back against his chair. ‘Tommy, this is a flu. Are you sure you’re not overreacting?’
    ‘It’s not a flu,’ I replied, ’and I can prove that. THE NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE just published its findings based on autopsies comparing the lungs of patients who died of COVID to those who died of the flu.’
    Two seats nearer to me on that opposite side of the table, the doc turned his chair to give me his full attention.
    I ruffled the yellow pages of my legal pad, which were covered with notes. ‘I’ve been following a doctors’ information sharing site. Their working theory is that COVID is a disease of the endothelium, the layer of cells lining the blood vessels and lymphatic system. It attacks the ACE-2 receptors of the endothelial cells, creating a chain reaction of oxidative damage affecting the blood vessels themselves, which release clotting agents including Factor VIII and especially von Willibrands Factor, which is a bunch of string-like structures that bind platelets together. That creates blood clots. COVID is a thrombotic disease.’
    The doc was with me. The linebacker was squinting.
    Reviewing my notes, I said, looking up at the doc from time to time, ‘The findings confirm the website’s hypothesis. This one guy knocked it out of the friggin’ park. When the Journal studied the lung tissues, they found severe endothelial injury with the presence of virus particles and disrupted cell membranes - which was NOT seen in people who died of flu-based respiratory failure. They showed a microscopic view of the lung tissues. In the tiny capillaries just inside the membranes, the tiny spaces where oxygen is supposed to diffuse, clots of blood had filled everything up. There were no more little pockets for the air to go.
    ‘Peoples’ oxygen saturation was very, very low. They’re not being placed on ventilators because of a lack of available oxygen, but because they can’t sustain the effort of breathing as fast and as hard as they can to get what little they can absorb.’ I looked at the linebacker during this last sentence, figuring he might appreciate its impact.
    He looked away and gave a growl of frustration.
    ‘You know, if you want to be mad about something,’ I continued, ‘if you want to get political, that oxidative damage is something that people have already, people who are obese, have high blood pressure or diabetes. Everyone else, up to about 88 percent of the American adult population, has a lesser form of metabolic derangement, making them up to ten times more likely to die from COVID-19 than they should be. The American public went into this crisis like lambs to the slaughter.’
    ‘Here’s the other thing: there are a lot of people stomping around and screaming outside of governors’ mansions right now who probably don’t want to bet their lives on their Hba1c scores.’
    The doc’s face came up at this, to crack a knowing grin.

    Coach said, ‘We have 300-pound linemen to think about.’ Quickly, the table arrived at the consensus that we’d have to take every precaution to block all possible paths of transmission. The outdoor gym got the nod, which got me to thinking about things indoors. The air conditioning system in my house has purple glowing UV-C lights in the main filter. UV-C light kills every kind of microbe, and as they don’t seem terribly expensive, I imagined them installed in the cafeteria, locker room, and ventilation systems in dorms all over campus.
    The conversation had shifted to the workers in food services and maintenance. People have to be careful about what they’re doing outside of work, the churches they go to, or hair salons, the doc was saying. This was starting to take on a racial vibe, and people, myself included, started casting glances at our offensive coordinator. Feeling the eyes upon him, he quietly said, ‘We know all about that.’
    Coach said, ‘African Americans are bearing the brunt of this. Why is that, doc?’
    He looked at me. ‘Does your website say anything?’

    (continued below)

  9. #249
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    Dec 2015
    Location
    Washington, DC
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    (from above)

    ‘The guy’s theory is actually pretty simple. He spends most of his time reading from scientific papers to build his case. The presence in the bloodstream of that stringy von Willebrands Factor is a signal of endothelial dysfunction. That’s the link between inflammation and thrombosis. Its initial levels are genetically determined. African Americans have higher amounts than white people.’ I said this to Coach and actually felt bad as I did, that microbiology compounds all the other inequities in living conditions and quality of care.

    One of the young coaches, between the Mayor and offensive coordinator, spoke up: ‘It’s not just the employees. The players are going to socialize. They’re going to get off campus and hit house parties.’
    Ten days ago, my 16 year old daughter had a birthday party. Of the 10 invited, 5 kids’ parents let them show up. We kept them out on the back porch, but they broke the six foot rule immediately, having not seen each other in two months. The masks were flung aside.
    As the night ended, we urged them all, ‘Hey, nobody die in the next week or two, so we don’t get in trouble.’
    One of the girls added, ‘Everybody take a shower.’
    The conference room table had grown restless at the prospect of players running wild. Coach said to the defensive coordinator, ‘One of these kids is going to get it, come back, and end up killing YOU.’
    The linebacker was a legend, especially in the eyes of the kids, immortalized in a recent book chronicling the 1970’s Oakland Raiders and particularly the mayhem he was part of after hours during their summer training camps, with characters like Snake and Tooz.
    ‘If it’s from a party, that’s how I deserve to go.’
    ‘We’re going to put that on your gravestone,’ Coach said.
    ‘Hang on, hang on,’ he protested as the entire table laughed. ‘This still might not be the end of the world. Tommy, why is that we’re getting all this grief about wearing masks, that people are silent spreaders? That means they don’t get the disease. Why are so many people not affected?’
    ‘I don’t know exactly. There has been one interesting recent discovery: T-cells are are part of the adaptive immune system that are activated and programmed to have lifelong immunity against specific diseases. SARS-COV-2 patients have T-cells that recognize the virus, so that’s good news. Scientists think that means lifelong immunity. The amazing thing is that folks who’ve never had SARS-COV-2 also have T-cells that recognize it. In fact, they’ve analyzed old blood samples drawn between 2015 and 2018, and in experiments, 34% of them have T-cells that react to the virus.
    There are four coronaviruses that sweep across the planet from time to time, causing colds in humans, and they share protein structures that T-cells are picking up to take out this new virus right away. That could be as much as a third of all people exposed.’

    We’re rolling the dice. The President said, ‘Coach, let’s open it up in June. Doc, let’s test people weekly, please. I have a decision to make by the first of August. The people around this table will determine whether the University opens. Good luck.’

    (20/8, 5, & 2 and 3, 2, 1 rotation)
    Week of: 6/1/20 2 and 1 week
    MONDAY
    1. Squat: 3 sets of 2: Tom 420
    2. Romanian deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps Tom 372.5x3, 375 JC 175
    3. Power Cleans (3x3) light JC 75 - 95
    3. 4 sets of heavy shrugs 485
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns

    TUESDAY
    1. Inclined bench press: 3 sets of 2 Tom 210
    2. Bench press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 187.5
    3. 5 sets of 10 Hanging rows
    4. 4 sets: 8 lying triceps extensions or 15-20 push ups
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 8
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY
    1. Deadlift: work up to a set of 1* reps Tom 510
    2. Deadlift: back off sets - 90% of top set; 2 sets of same* reps Tom 460
    3. Squats: (90% of Monday’s weight) 3 sets of 2 Tom 377.5 bands JC 130
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)
    5. abs: hollow rockers

    FRIDAY
    1. Inclined Bench Press: (10 sets of 3) Tom 140, mini bands
    2. Press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 142.5
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. 4 sets Dips or push ups
    5. (JC) Barbell curls: 4 sets of 5
    6. 3 sets kettlebell sit ups

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile (I wish)
    row 6000 meters

  10. #250
    Join Date
    Dec 2015
    Location
    Washington, DC
    Posts
    244

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    starting strength coach development program
    As gyms reopen, people resuming their training are going to be struck by two thoughts: ‘I’ve definitely lost some strength,’ depending upon their numbers, but perhaps more generally - and surprisingly, ‘I’m out of shape.’
    The latter refers to an adaptation we take for granted, the ability to knock out sets of 5 reps near the top of our performance envelopes for an hour or more at a time. Feeling the wear and tear after not having done that for a while will be one of the first things lifters notice. I certainly did when I came back to 5’s after that foray into Westside styled training. Max and Dynamic Effort days mean a lifter alternates between attempts at setting new maxes and days of fast lifts done with light weights. On the max days, a lifter really has only one or two lifts to gut out as they go for a record. They never have to stay at the top of their threshold for any length of time, either within a set or over the course of a workout, from set to set. Knocking out 5’s, on the other hand, develops a capacity for sustaining intensity - at a level at which one can succeed.
    It was eight or so weeks ago that my 5’s in the squat were running out of gas at 410 pounds. I figured that upon resuming, a 5% reset would do the trick, which meant 5’s with 390 two weeks ago. Those were surprisingly tough sets. You know that feeling: you hit one or two reps and think, ‘Holy Cow, five of these?’ Hitting the 390’s was the only way I could succeed with deuces with 420 a week later.

    Now it’s time to drop to what used to be 8’s. I had thought the Westside styled 10 sets of 2 would suffice. It’s certainly time efficient, on a 90-second interval, but sets of 2 with light weight do nothing for staying power - which is why 390 was such a surprise.
    The plan now for this off-load week is to return to a scheme I cooked up before: a 5, 1, 1, 5, 5 with 80 and 90 percent of max. The 5’s with 372.5 should train staying power to a degree, preparing me for 392.5 the week after, and the 1’s with 420 will wake up the old nervous system a bit.

    The other change has been letting my heavy shrugs slide. A few weeks ago, when I was discussing my sore shoulders, Jeff Brophy pointed out that the shrugs probably played a role in all of this. I definitely caught the hint, but I didn’t want to rule them out since I had done them for quite some time with no ill effects. Two weeks ago, however - in the garage, not at the keyboard - after three rounds of 390 and four rounds of Romanian deads, the idea of skipping shrugs sounded pretty good. It sounded so good, I skipped them again this past week.

    I threw in a loaded phrase above, about the capacity for ‘sustaining intensity - at a level at which one can succeed.’ I’m going to have to remember this premise when thing get rough. If my 5’s work their way up toward 410 again and slow or stop, then I can’t panic and leap toward some other program. If 3 by 5 won’t go, I might have to make it 5 by 3, to keep up my rep and intensity levels while still succeeding. From there I’ll just notch up the reps. Keep the faith; drive adaptation. Already, 8-5-2 represents a reduced rate of incremental increase. Notching these weeks from 3’s to 4’s and then 5’s, (along with 1’s becoming 2’s) is just a way of making things a little slower but still pushing along.
    I might be slow, but at least I’ll be tough.

    (8, 5, & 2 and 3, 2, 1 rotation)
    Week of: 6/8/20 8 and 3 week
    MONDAY
    1. Squat: 5, 1, 1, 5, 5; with 80, 90% 372.5, 420
    2. Romanian deadlifts: 4 sets of 5 reps Tom 372.5, 375x3 JC 175
    3. Power Cleans (3x3) light JC 75 - 95
    3. 4 sets of heavy shrugs 485
    4. reverse hypers (3x10)
    5. abs; banded pulldowns

    TUESDAY
    1. Inclined bench press: 3 sets of 8 Tom 172.5
    2. Bench press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 187.5x2, 190x2
    3. 5 sets of 10 Hanging rows
    4. 4 sets: 8 lying triceps extensions or 15-20 push ups
    5. Barbell curls: 4 sets of 8
    Conditioning (second session)
    sled pull 2 miles; 20, 0 (and six 50-yard runs)

    THURSDAY
    1. Deadlift: work up to a set of 3* reps Tom 460
    2. Deadlift: back off sets - 90% of top set; 2 sets of same* reps Tom 415
    3. Squats: (90% of Monday’s weight) 4 sets of 5 Tom 335 bands JC 130
    4. Reverse Hypers (3x10)
    5. abs: hollow rockers

    FRIDAY
    1. Inclined Bench Press: (10 sets of 3) Tom 142.5, mini bands
    2. Press: 4 sets of 8 Tom 145
    3. Pull ups (5x10)
    4. 4 sets Dips or push ups
    5. (JC) Barbell curls: 4 sets of 5
    6. 3 sets kettlebell sit ups

    SATURDAY - Conditioning
    swim 1 mile (I wish)
    row 6000 meters

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