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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Program Minimum: Thirty Days Later

Towards the beginning of October, I made a decision to radically alter my strength and conditioning regimen. Between the stress of various jobs, impending familial responsibilities, training, teaching, and what not, my workouts had transformed from a place of joy into just one more source of stress. Part of that stress came from trying to integrate and use information from too many sources at once. My S&C was a mess, and not even a productive mess at that.

In Never Let Go, Dan John shares a quote that "when things go wrong, simplify." I decided to take that advice to heart, and do an experiment. For the last thirty days, my program has largely consisted of the "program minimum" from Pavel's Russian Kettlebell Challenge book. The program calls for a combination of snatches and bent presses, done in repetitions and sets as the user dictates. I chose to use a 55 pound kettlestack, and after a couple of sessions, settled on a scheme of doing a total of 100 repetitions per workout. Some workouts were primarily (or entirely) snatch focused. Some workouts I did more bent presses. I always made sure to get a few snatches in, since those are the primary lift in the program. I also continued to deadlift heavy once a week, and do my usual skill training.

So how did it work?

Psychologically, it worked great. By having a concrete, simplified program, I was able to relieve a lot of the stress I had felt regarding my workouts. Keeping track of my progress, and maintaining consistent goals for reps, rest periods, and so on, allowed me to feel like I was actually getting somewhere, and enjoy my workouts again. I confess to having a minor urge to start playing with some other lifts, which I may or may not give into, but overall, it worked pretty well.

How about physically? Did the program work?

The RKC book claims that the program minimum will grant you:

"A lean body"

When I weighed myself at the start of the program, I was 188.5 pounds. When I weighed myself thirty days later, I was 190 pounds. That's not a particularly significant change, especially since the pound and a half could easily be the result of some extra water, or a couple of extra pieces of Halloween candy. This mostly just reinforces my belief that diet matters more than exercise for weight control, especially for me.

"a heart and lungs that would make Dr. Cooper proud"

I have no idea what standards would make Dr. Cooper proud, and haven't been doing any measurements anyway (in retrospect, I could have checked things like my resting heart rate). I will say that I feel like my endurance has improved a bit, particularly when working in the clinch. In particular, I feel like I am able to maintain my strength and power for longer periods of time, and able to bring my heart rate down more quickly. So that's been good.

"a back of steel"

No real way to tell. For one thing, my deadlifting strengthens my back as much as any kettlebell lift will, if not more. All I can say is that my back hasn't been bothering me as much as it has in the last few months, but I'm also no longer sitting at a computer for eight hours a day, which probably has a more meaningful impact. In any case, my back and upper body does feel very strong right now, and that is nice.

"and bones invincible to osteoporosis and other aliments."

No measurable way to tell. I didn't have any bone aliments before starting this, nor do I now.

Despite the difficulty in supporting Pavel's claims (which, let's face it, are clearly a bit hyperbolic anyway), I do think the experience was good, and the program has done me a lot of psychological good. Physically, it certainly hasn't hurt, and I do think that it has helped shore up a few weak areas (my shoulders, in particular, last a lot longer during sparring).

The one area where I noticed that this program does nothing for is my neck; I've known in the back of my mind that I've been neglecting neck work in my programs for a while, but this really highlighted how badly I'm ignoring it. While I don't want to start over-complicating things, I think my next project will be to go back to Ross Enamait's Missing Links, and try to put together some supplemental neck exercises to add to my routine. I also want to start making some shifts into my diet, starting with adding some "table push-aways" to my daily routine.

The most valuable lesson I've taken from this is that Dan John is absolutely right; when in doubt, simplify.

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