Simple Sprinting Program

I’m still playing around with incorporating sprints into my lifting schedule. I enjoy doing them on the weekend, as a nice break from the daily grind and an excuse to get outside. For the sake of simplicity, here is the progression that I’ve been doing:

  1. Foam rolling and stretching at home
  2. Walk/jog one mile to the local track
  3. Stretch and loosen up
  4. Sprint 100 meters, walk 100 meters
  5. Sprint 200 meters, walk 200 meters
  6. Sprint 400 meters, walk 400 meters
  7. Suicides from 10 yards to 50 yards
  8. Walk home
Obviously it’s a very simple progression. It leaves me pretty gassed, but not to the point where I can’t walk the next day or it detrimentally affects lifting. As satisfying as DOMS can be, I don’t want to be in recovery mode for 3-4 days after a sprinting session. Each sprint is done at 100% and the only one I time is the 400 meter. My goal is still to get a sub 60 second 400 meter sprint. This progression probably isn’t the best for that goal. Realistically I should probably be focusing on performing 400 meter sprints if my goal is to get under 60 seconds. However, the ultimate goal with this is just to get outside, do something new, and push myself in ways that I can’t during the winter. It feels great and is definitely humbling to realize how slow/inefficient I have become over the years.

Barely walking, but still going at it…

It’s been a while, but I’m still keeping at it. I’ve recently incorporated bird dogs into my routine:

After tweaking my lower back (possibly a herniated disc) I had to pull back on some of my lower body movements and wanted to bolster some of my stability/back work with things such as bird dogs. I continued with rows, sand bag bench presses, and cycling sprints.

I’ve also started the PLP program as a supplemental item which I’ll expand on later. I’m now on day 12 (22 reps).

In more recent news, a bottle-opening injury has left my right hand relatively useless for the past few days. On Saturday I decided to get some sprints in. I walked a mile to the nearest high school track where a soccer game was going on. I found a grassy area and hill nearby and decided to take a shot at those. After ten sprints with minimal rest, I made my way back home. I knew I had pushed myself, but I honestly was feeling cheated. Between not being able to run a timed 400m sprint, and the fact that I haven’t done any sprinting for over a year, I was worried that I didn’t get enough done. The next morning my body made it very clear to me that I had managed to move it in ways that it was not accustomed to. A slow walk in the morning proved painful. Monday morning (two days later) I woke up at 5am to get in some squats, and found I was still in too much pain. As much as it hurts, and as much as it is shocking to have this much DOMS, it’s a great feeling to know that over the next few months I’m going to be able to continue to shock my winter-softened self with sprints. I’m still not sure if I’ll do it once or twice a week, but my ultimate goal is to get back to a sub-60 second 400m at >190 pounds bodyweight. In high school I was able to do sub-55 seconds at 155 pounds, so if I can approach that marker with an additional 40 pounds of weight on my frame I’ll be pretty content.

Sprinting for Body Composition

I recently spent some time visiting family in the Los Angeles area. The weather was awesome. And when I say awesome, I mean I was ready to pack up my stuff and move to California immediately. The sun, the mountains, the ocean… it was more than appealing after a particularly cold and snowy winter in the Northeast. Ultimately, rationality kicked in and I’ve once again accepted that I’ll likely never live in a warm-weather climate.

Disappointment aside, there are certainly benefits to living in an area with four seasons. Besides the yearly occurrence of the greatest season (Fall), the emergence of Spring brings with it an excitement that people who never have to shovel their cars out of two feet of snow will understand.

From a fitness perspective, I enjoy the cyclical nature of training that comes from the different seasons. In the winter I can focus entirely on lifting big and lifting often. I’m not getting outside on a regular basis to hike, bike, walk, run, etc, so my energies are focused entirely on lifting. Once Spring hits, the volume of lifting drops slightly as I begin to incorporate outdoor activities into my daily life. Where-as I might lift on 4-5 days a week in the Winter, come Spring and Summer I will often times drop that down to 2-3 days of lifts with 2-3 days of outdoor activities.

Last Summer I incorporated biking into my regular fitness regimen. I’ve never been a cyclist, and still don’t consider myself one, but do enjoy the speed and distance that can be covered on a bike as compared to on foot. My office is 5.5 miles down a wooded bike path from my home, which lends itself very well to cycling sprints. I’m kind of an on/off guy, so there isn’t any cruise control on my bike. Additionally, I have a Trek District which is a single-speed, belt-drive bike. I love the single speed because it forces me to vary my effort based on terrain. I have to really pound on the pedals to get up steep hills and then find myself without much pedaling options once I get going fast down a hill. I ride to/from work and time both rides, which allows me to keep track of progress over time.

In addition to cycling, I plan on incorporating sprinting into my training this year as well. Reading Dan John’s book “Never Let Go” last Winter, there was a passage that has stuck with me and has been nagging in the back of my mind ever since. To paraphrase (and hopefully not butch it), Dan points out that if you go to a track meet you’ll never see a person with excessive body fat running a sub 50 second 400 meter. By contrast, you’d be hard-pressed to spend any amount of time on a bike path in the summer and not witness throngs of overweight people jogging and riding their bikes, clad in expensive gear, and looking like they might die.

I haven’t run a 400 meter sprint for time since high school (nearly 15 years ago). I’m sure it will be a painful and shaming experience, but it’ll be great to get a sense of just how slow I’ve become. If I remember right, as a sophomore in high school I ran just over a 50 second 400 at 5’10” and around 150lbs. With basically no sprinting in the last few years, and at 6’ 195lbs, I’m guessing I’ll be lucky to hit 1:05 on my first go of it. If I can break :55 by the end of Summer I’ll be a happy man.

Sandbag Bench Press

The more I find I can do with sandbags, the more enamored I become with them. Dollar for dollar, I don’t know if there is a more cost-effective form of equipment. For around $50 I have two military duffles and 300+ pounds of sand. The amount of movement options are staggering enough that I have to force myself to stay focused on the lifts in the current routine I’m working through. However, every two or three weeks I like to do a “freestyle” work-out. During this time I simply play around with the various equipment I have. I load up sand, or use a vest, or the TRX, or any combination of these and other tools and experiment with different ways of moving weight. Sometimes it’s a bust, but sometimes I find something that I really enjoy (or that really destroys me).

Recently, I found one such movement. While I’ve tried using sandbags for floor presses in the past, I wasn’t able to do it in a way that was satisfying. With light weight (sub-150 pounds) it was easy enough to get into position and perform the movement. As I started to increase the weight, the bag became too unwieldy and pivoting from a seated position to a lying position was crushing my tailbone. After watching a beast of a man perform 300 pound presses off a bench, I decided to try it on a bench myself.

In addition to using a bench, this video helped me realize the importance of having the bag packed as tightly as possible. Whereas previously I was more concerned with distributing the weight fully across the bag, I realized that I needed to pack it in as tight as possible and then tie up any loose material at the end of the bag.

The difference was night and day. I was able to put the loaded bag on the bench. Getting the bag in position for each set was significantly easier as well. The grinding on my lower back was a non-factor on the padded bench. The first time around I was super-setting with some high-volume bearhug squats. After warming up I performed six or seven sets at 170lbs, generally reaching 7-10 reps in each set. Between the press and the squats I felt pretty good (or horrible), but most importantly I finished the workout with a real sense of excitement for increasing the weight and focusing on the press in the future.

A few days later I performed a more focused workout. I had some issues with keeping the bag tightly packed, which forced me to cut a couple sets short and added to the “rest” time between a few sets. I’ve found this to be pretty common when working with sandbags, especially as I’m ironing out the wrinkles for a new lift. All told, my final sets were done at 200lbs. I did around 7 sets at that weight and varied between 5-8 reps per set. I’ll probably try bumping the weight up another 25lbs the next time I do it.

It’s definitely still in the experimental stage, but so far I think the movement has a lot of promise. As opposed to a traditional bench press, the movement places the hands in a neutral grip position which is easier on the shoulders. With a maximum dumbbell weight of 90lbs (180lbs total), my presses have been fairly limited. Perfecting this movement opens up a lot of potential weight.

Sandbag Deadlifts

Ahh deadlifts. On the one hand, these are my favorite lift. On the other, these have also been the most difficult lift to build into my current setup. My “gym,” as mentioned earlier, is little more than a small bedroom on the third floor of a multi-family home. For this reason, I’m not able to use traditional olympic weights. I have a number of RSS feeds that keep me updated on used gym equipment available on CraigsList. If I was able to piece something together, cheaply, I would jump on the opportunity. The only problem is that it would have to be used outside. The often cold/rainy climate of Boston would prevent this from being a year-round option, as well as likely causing significant wear and tear over time. Due to these reasons, I haven’t wanted to invest in more expensive equipment until I have the space for it.
I was recently referred to Rogue Fitness, a company based in Ohio that sells training equipment. Not only does their equipment look great, the prices are very competitive. As soon as I have the space (hopefully in the next year or two), I’ll definitely be spending my next $1k on some olympic equipment from these guys.
All that being said, I’ve tried to find a way to incorporate deadlifts (or at least something that resembles them) into my routines. Suitcase deadlifts with the Powerblocks are an option, but I’m limited to 90lbs per hand. In the past six months I’ve turned to sandbags, as these are the only option I currently have that can be used in the 300lb range. While far from ideal, I’ve been able to establish a routine with sandbags that is both taxing and has appeared to deliver appreciable results.
I have two different sandbags. Both are the same size, but one is sealed at the top with the use of rings and a clip. The second bag is a a more traditional, zippered style. I’ve found the zippered bag to be much easier to load and use. My initial fear was that the zipper would break under load, but I’ve found that the seams are much more likely to break before the zipper does. I perform lifts with over 300lbs of sand in the bag and there is no noticeable wear on the zipper. The side handles, on the other hand, ripped off around 220lbs.
To perform the movement, I start at 115lbs and slowly move up by performing descending sets (10-8-8-6-4-2-etc) at increasing weight. Five sets of 10 is the goal, but I’ve recently hit that point and now, without the ability to add additional weight, will have to adjust by either increasing the amount of sets or the amount of reps.I try to balance the weight as equally as possible across the bag and then grab the sides of the bag at the middle point. The trickiest part, once the weight is evenly distributed, is to shake the bag around until the interior sandbags are condensed at either end. This will open up (in the case of the bag/weight that I use) a slight amount of free space in the center that I can use as a grip. The free space also acts as a point for the bag to bend through the movement. Gloves of some sort are definitely needed for this lift. I tried for a long time going without gloves, but the the blisters that I would get on my knuckles would take too long to heal and would prevent me from training with the sandbags for 1-2 weeks. I just use a pair of running gloves that I bought in a different life. They’re light, have some grip, and breathe pretty easily.
This is definitely one of the most exhausting and hunger-driving lifts. I can hardly eat enough the day after I do these. However, I know that my current setup is not ideal and that this is the one movement that I am most limited in. I will continue to experiment, including trying to squeeze the Powerblocks into the bag (for an additional 180lbs), but a good deadlifting setup is #1 on my list of priorities for the day that I’m able to expand into a more accommodating space.

Foam Rolling, Stretching, and Complexes

One of the most important things I have learned over the years is the importance of a proper warm-up. In a lot of ways, the warm-up is more important and beneficial to long-term health than the actual work-out I perform. My warm-ups focus not just on “warming up”, but also on mobility, soft tissue work, stretching, and more.

I spend most of the day sitting at a desk, working on a computer. As has been expounded on ad infinitum, this is less than idea for posture, mobility, etc. Our ancestors moved around, lifted things, walked places, ran after things, and depended on their bodies in ways we never will. My completely non-scientific guess would be that the average office worker today spends 9 hours at a desk, followed by 4 hours on the couch or in front of a computer at home, followed by 7 hours in bed. That amounts to nearly 85% of a day spent completely immobile. Combine that with atrocious eating habits and it’s no wonder obesity rates continue to grow.

In an effort to counteract the realities of having a desk job, I perform roughly 30 minutes of stretching, mobility, and bodyweight exercises before every workout. In reality, these are probably things I should do every day.

Bodyweight circuit (repeat three times with little-to-no rest between sets):

  • 12-15 prisoner squats
  • 6-8 single-leg Romanian deadlifts (per leg)
  • 10 slow push-ups with a plus (serratus activation)
  • 8-10 pull-ups (or chin-ups)

Stretching and mobility work includes:

  • Hip flexor stretch
  • Side-lying hip flexion/extension
  • Hip Rockers
  • Hamstring stretches with a band
  • Shoulder mobility work (reach and lift, scapular wall slides, etc)
  • Kneeling thoracic rotation
  • Foam rolling (one of my favorite pieces of equipment)

By the time I’ve gone through this, I’ve touched on a number of issues (hip and shoulders) and I’ll also have worked up a sweat. I’ve really enjoyed the bodyweight circuit, which I added to my warm-ups a few months ago. In those three sets I’m able to do more and move more than most people do the entire day. It also aligns with the idea that “if something is worth doing, do it every day.” I’ve really refocused my lifts to the most basic and primary movements, and while I can’t do max effort compound movements every day, I can do bodyweight variations of them as a warm-up.

Weighted Pull-Ups

In the grand continuum of weightlifing, the vast majority of us probably get into the game with a similar mindset. You come to the realization that you’re too skinny or too fat. You buy a handful of Men’s Health, Muscle & Fitness, and any number of other options. Every magazine promises the latest and greatest in chest blasting, shoulder exploding, and bicep ripping routines. For whatever reason, our enthusiasm and naivety prevent us from reading through the BS (or even registering any concern over terminology more akin to a war than a gym). We then pull together a routine that looks something like:

Monday – Chest: bench press, incline bench press, decline bench press, butterfly press, and abz
Tuesday – Legs: leg press, leg curls, calf raises, and abz
Wednesday – Rest
Thursday – Arms: bicep curls, wrist curls, tricep extensions, skullcrushers, preacher curls, and abz
Friday – Rest
Saturday – Shoulder/Back: lat pulldowns, cable rows, military press, front dumbbell raises, side dumbbell raises, and lots of AAABBZZZZ
Sunday – Rest

You make some noob gains in the first six months, get real excited, and then plateau. Or worse, you get injured, pain builds up in your shoulders, etc. Maybe this period lasts a year, maybe more. For me, it lasted for three years. Then I saw the light and started to go big, switched to 5×5, zeroed in on the stuff that really “mattered,” and promptly dislocated my shoulder. I was still doing it mostly wrong. I was still focused on the mirror muscles.

By the time I got through therapy and recovery, I was clocking in at 170lbs soaking wet (at 6’ tall). However, sometimes a slap in the face, or in my case a dislocated shoulder, is what we need to refocus and figure out how to do things (mostly) right.

My new focus became getting things started right before each workout. Stretching, foam rolling, mobility work, and thorough warm-ups. My lifts shifted to a lot more pulling and a lot less pushing. Through that process I grew to love pull-ups. I worked my way up to sets of 30+ pull-ups. However, my back and lats were still really lacking.

It wasn’t until I put an emphasis on deadlifts and weighted pull-ups that I started to notice a difference in my back/lats. Today, I do pull-ups (supinated, neutral, and pronated grips) in two different ways.

Number one, I use them in my warm-ups. To paraphrase Dan John, if something is worth doing, do it every day. Doing three sets of 10 throughout the course of my warm-ups adds up to an additional 120-150 pull-ups per week.

Number two, I add weight to my pull-ups. Today, I use a 40lb vest. After my warm-up sets, I perform five sets of 10 (or as close to 10 as possible) with 90 seconds rest between sets. The first few feel easy, but the last two are a killer. As I get closer to 5X10, I’ll add more weight and start over again.