Journey to Greatness

jeff_sekerakThat title might sound a bit arrogant, as I look towards my next 2014 challenge, which takes place at Northstar at Tahoe in August, known as Tough Mudder (read Tough Mudder Experience). Last month, I achieved my biggest accomplishment to date, finishing a 50K on Mt. Diablo. It was an amazing run and now 3 weeks later I am still on a running high from that adventure. Now I have 3 months to prepare for my second Tough Mudder event.

Since my left shoulder surgery in October, 2012 to reattached a bicep tendon I have not lifted weights. I suffered further complications by contracting frozen shoulder during my rehabilitation that required rest and a Cortisone shot to finally relieve the pain. Thinking I had maintained my strength from last Tough Mudder I tried to climb the monkey bars to show my son how it was done. I grabbed the left rung and pain shot up my left shoulder and I dropped to the ground.

While I should have known better, the next 3 months will improve my strength and conditioning in order to participate in` Tough Mudder again, as well as get me into better shape than I was last year when I was challenging myself with Stronglifts 5×5, a program I still believe in. While I still own my power rack and weight set, those will supplement the full body exercises I am starting.

Been reading more about running and improving my endurance and strength in order to run faster and further in hopes of challenging a 50 mile race next year. I want to focus training on my calves, glutes and abs in order to make me a better runner. At the same time I want to increase upper body strength by adding muscle and reducing body fat. These are typical goals for those who turn to weight training, they were for me when I began Stronglifts.

I followed Jeff Sekerak onFacebook and bought Confessions of a Super Fit Vegan or ”I ate the food ‘of the gods,’ loaded up on carbs, forgot to count calories, and built the body of my dreams. You can too!”  His book was bought as a motivator to build a better, healthier body using body weight exercises (no gym memberships as an added bonus!) to improve the overall conditioning of the body including all major muscle groups. His approach to weight training is known as extreme minimalist fitness. In Jeff’s words, “essentially a series of calisthenics done one after the other in a circuit-training style–designed to build strength, flexibility, and endurance without needing separate workouts for each” (source).

leadville_pacerRunning won’t be optional, as I am already planning on a few challenges for next and possibly even a marathon at the end of 2014. I am excited to get back to the trails as my new Luna Leadville Pacers arrived by USPS yesterday. Tried them on last night and am wanting to see how they perform on the trails. This pair of running sandals move a bit further away from the Xero Shoes (sandals) I have been wearing for the last year. These Lunas have a nice 9mm Vibram sole, which makes the sandal very light. They also came with a pair of ATS laces or “add-on ankle strap that helps keep your heel strap and ankle secure.

I am hoping to detail the changes over the next 12 weeks if I am able to keep up regular workouts, which could take just 30 minutes a day with 7-10 miles of running every other day. Even now and then I would like to put in a long run of at least 20 miles in order to see how my body is responding to the changes it will be going through.

Strain vs Gain

Stronglifts: Strain or GainI started real strength training using a barbell and plates on October 22 thanks to Stronglifts. This after spending 5 months working out in my garage on a Bowflex Revolution, followed by another 5 months doing a split routine at the gym with a co-worker, who was my lifting partner. Yet during those 5 months prior to him passing away due to a heart condition, we never used a barbell. We used dumbbells in some of our work outs, but never did we perform the 5 lifts that have made me stronger than I have ever been. is a beginners program, which can lead to other forms of barbell training from 3×5 and 3×3 to Madcow and Smolov Jr. I still consider myself a beginner and I am still adding week nearly each session to all my lifts. Sometimes I stall on a lift, which requires me to reattempt the weight a second and possibly a third time before I remove weight an attempt a lower weight in order to push through the previous weight I stalled at.

This was the case with my squat, I was able to get through 185 lbs. and attempt 190 lbs. last week. I came up one rep short on my 4th set. I still considered this a failed attempt since I didn’t get my full 5×5. So I reattempted on Sunday and it was absolutely pathetic, as I went 2/2/2/2/1 in my 5 sets. I was exhausted and I could not drive up, out of the hole with 190 lbs. on my back. I was frustrated because I was so close the previous time. How could I go downhill so quickly in just 3 days?

It took another set of eyes from the Stronglifts Inner Circle to see the errors of my way. I had been doing too many warm up sets. I misread the guide provided my Mehdi Hadim, owner of Stronglifts, instead of doing 2 reps at 45 lbs, I was doing 2×5 at 45 lbs. A difference of 8 reps. This was followed by 3×5 at 95 lbs. and 3×5 at 135 lbs. A difference of 26 reps. So I was added 32 warm up reps to my squat work out before I even got to my work out weight. It’s no wonder I was tired and straining to get through some of the heavier weights more recently.

My warm up routine has now been modified and I currently do a total of 11 reps (2×45, 3×95, 3×135, 3×165) before starting my 5×5 at my work out weight. Yesterday, it made a world of difference, not that the weight was any easier, it was still a challenge, but unlike the previous weeks I had the power in my legs to drive out of the hole to the lock out position and easily accomplished my 5×5.

This is the second mistake I have made while performing Stronglifts. The first was pointed out to me in January when someone mentioned that I “really loved the deadlift” as I had been doing 5×5 and not 1×5, as the program directs. This change allowed me to progress even further on the deadlift since it was only 1 set. It could have also been previous weights were easier to pull. Now that I am at 240 lbs. I have started using chalk and a mixed grip in order to hold on to the barbell with a stronger grip.

Two mistakes and countless minor changes over the course 7 months and I feel as if I am set to make some very good gains in the coming weeks. Add to that the introduction of intermittent fasting, now on a regular basis, going 16 hours without food before having an 8 hour window in which to eat. The running has taken off, as I put in 27.57 miles last month and through today I am already at 25.28. Hopefully this trend continues through June and July as I continue to prepare for my first half marathon in August.

IF Changed

fasting2Intermittent fasting has been going very well. The hunger pangs have not been bad at all. Work was challenging last week, but after posing a question to the Stronglifts Inner Circle, I have now modified my IF based on the Leangains Guide. This was a series of documents I read while investigating fasting, but for reasons unknown forgot all about the information that was provided. What is nice about intermittent fasting is the flexibility you have to modify your program so it fits your lifestyle.

The goal again is to “get as lean and strong as possible” based off the Leangains summary to IF. Since work gets in the way of fasting and training my feeding window has been adjusted. Instead of not eating prior to working out, I now open the feeding window at noon until 1pm and eat approximately 20-25% of my total daily calories. I work out between 3-330pm, lifting weights, which is approximately 90 minutes or run for anywhere between 30-60 minutes (depending on mileage). My largest meals comes right after my work out. So far it consists of a protein shake (Vega Sport) followed by a full meal. About 2-3 hours after dinner I am eating another meal to round out my 3000 calorie day (on days I lift).

Eating 3000 calories on a lifting day is still a challenge.  I have only been successful twice since starting this little experiment. That means I need to get more food in while my window is open or I won’t see the the results I am looking for. On my running days, I still maintain a 2500-2700 calories diet. I have been following each workout up with a great tasting shake I call the Green Glop. Doesn’t that sound tasty?

Much like Martin Berkhan talks about on Leangains, “skipping breakfast keeps hunger away far better than eating in the morning.” Doesn’t sound logical, does it? I can attest to being hungry an hour to 2 hours after my morning cereal or oatmeal. No more! While it might take time for your body to adjust to skipping this meal, the results could be beneficial, depending on what your goals are. You can read more if you are interested.

For me, my goals are to increase the amount of lean body mass and decrease the percentage of body fat. The 4 months leaning up to February, 2012 were good, as I gained 5.5 lb. of muscle, but also added 1 lb. of body fat. That is a trade off I am willing to accept. Next month I have another hydrostatic test and hopefully I can see more positive results with the heavier weight lifting, running and adding the intermittent fasting to my lifestyle.


As you might have read I have been experimenting with intermittent fasting (IF) this past week. Originally my intention was to use it 3 days a week in conjunction with weight lifting, following the Stronglifts program. As it turned out I started fasting Monday night after eating dinner. I had no food between 8PM and 12PM Tuesday. I ended up working out on an empty stomach, the premise being burning off fat while you exercise. After I was completed my lifting, 90 minutes later, I ate.

I had no problems skipping breakfast and not eating until after I had worked out. Unfortunately, looking back on this I will have to adjust the feeding window or change my work out because it has been very difficult NOT to eat while at work. I have failed the last 2 days, but I also need to be flexible, as IF is something I am just experimenting with. I did have outstanding results when running. On Wednesday I put together 2 of my best miles, running a 7:57 to start and 2 miles later backing it up with a 8:16! All this while fasting. In fact running felt great, better than if I ate 3-4 hours prior to running.

On Thursday I came back with another Stronglifts session. I was able to increase weights on the squat, overhead press and the deadlift. Much like running the previous day if felt great lifting on an empty stomach and I felt as if good progress was made. The left shoulder pain continued to be a problem as I cut the deadlift short by 2 reps. The real challenge would be the next few days as work would stand between IF and my work outs.

Friday was difficult, but I held off until about 11AM before I finally decided to eat an oriental salad and a veggie roll with pad Thai noodles in it. I knew this would have an adverse effect when I went to run my 4 miles later in the day. Looking at my IF chart, moving the feeding window won’t accomplish anything. The problem is getting off work by 2PM and home 60 minutes later and then putting in a 60-90 minute work out or run. This means I don’t eat until 430PM or 5PM. By this time, the feeding window is well on it’s way to closing. Fasting for 16 hours is manageable, but adding an additional 4 hours is probably not the best idea.

Interesting enough I could feel a big difference when I ran 4 miles. It felt better to run on an “empty” stomach rather than one that had food in from lunch or breakfast. Unfortunately, work gets in the way again and there is no way to incorporate weights or running while at work, I don’t have that sort of down time or equipment. Not quite sure what I will do, as I sit here contemplating how to fit a full 3 days of IF in.

Shoulder Impingement?

shoulderimpingementIt would stand to reason that as soon as I start making good progress in my weight lifting I suffer a setback. While not confirmed by a physician, the pain in my left shoulder is telling me otherwise. Weight lifting has been one of the best forms of physical activity I have ever taken up. I have seen some positive changes since starting Stronglifts in October, 2012.

I’ll consider myself lucky that I have been relatively injury free, improving my mobility and flexibility with stretching. Until now, the only noticeable problem was a tight hamstring in my left leg near my glute. I can only assume I strained it while squatting, but it hasn’t stopped me to date. Yesterday I might have suffered my first injury that could put a damper on my progress.

While warming up during my squats I was doing a mobility technique called a shoulder dislocators, which allows more mobility in the shoulders allowing me a tighter back and closer grip on the barbell when squatting. All was going fine, absolutely no pain when doing this mobility exercise, not even the clicking I had my left shoulder, when I first say and attempted this some month back.

After finishing my squats I moved the overhead press and then to what I considered to be my strongest lift, the deadlift. I have been working on my form the past few weeks, as I noticed in some video I recorded that my back was not in the best position, so I had been working on correcting this to allow me to pull more weight while doing so safely. I was working with 235 lbs., which was the my highest work out weight to date for the deadlift. I had previously lifted 240, but it was only a 1RM (1 rep maximum).

As I took my stance, I bent over and got my grip prior to leaning forward in preparation for the lift. I pulled the weight very well twice before I noticed a sharp pain in my left shoulder. This is nothing new, I have seemingly had a pain in this shoulder that required me to go to the doctor some months back. After being prescribed a anti-inflammatory I was told to relax and not do anything would inflame the shoulder. Easier said than done, right?

I would pull the weight two more time before the pain became too much and I had to drop the weight and stop. Thankfully I was done with lifting, but not before I could not move the shoulder because of the pain. I have spent the better part of the last hour or so looking for advice on the Stronglifts Forum, as well as search engines in order to gain a better understanding of what problem I might have. From all my reading I can only guess it’s a form of shoulder impingement, which is somewhat a catch all phrase for many kinds of shoulder pain.

The pain has not gotten any better this morning and I will see how it feels on Sunday, which is my next scheduled day to lift. I might head into the garage and see which lifts hurt the shoulder more. Right now without actually getting under the bar, those moves that require me to pull, which would be the deadlift and the rows are out. Squats I should be able to accomplish, even if I have to move my hands out a big further, but even squatting I have experienced shoulder pain previously, but knocked that off to a lack of mobility. I will also give the bench press and overhead press a try. All of these will be performed with just a barbell to see how the movement feels.

If the pain continues into Monday, I will call the doctor’s office and schedule an appointment. Since this will be a follow up to a previous problem, hopefully they will schedule an x-ray or MRI. Not that I have any faith in my doctor to actually do that, as prescribing more medication is usually the easier option for him.