Experiment Log No. 2 – Strength, Soviet Style
It commenced on schedule Monday, May 18, 2009.
It has a tentative length of six weeks [ Increased to nine after unexpected interruptions – D ], after which I may continue with this program (entitled the Program Minimum,) or graduate to the second ETK workout, the Rite of Passage.
The final day of the experiment will be Monday, July 20, 2009. A summary of the experiment will be posted on Thursday, July 23.
The Program Minimum consists of only two exercises, both of which work virtually the entire body:
- The Swing — A kettlebell, gripped in both hands, is swung between the legs, up to chest level, by using an explosive hip thrust. It looks incredibly easy, but it’s anything but. Forty straight seconds of it and most hearts will be pounding out of their respective ribcages, and one’s lungs will be breaking new ground. All the cardio you need, without even moving your feet. For those who dislike running — or its impact on the knees — kettlebell swings are a fantastic alternative. See a demonstration here.
- The Turkish Get Up — I don’t know what makes it Turkish, but the idea is simple: lie down on your back and press a kettlebell straight up. Then get up, keeping your arm straight with the kettlebell above your head. Then, carefully, lie down again. Then get up again. And keep doing it until the buzzer goes. This is the exercise that has already fixed my ailing shoulder, and I love doing it. See a demonstration here.
Basically, in a given week, you have two swing days and two TGU days.
Here’s my basic schedule, but I reserve the right to move days around within the same week, to accommodate the rest of my life:
S — Off
M — Swings
T — TGUs
W — Off
Th — Swings
F — TGUs
S — Off
On my off days I may do chinups and pullups, and maybe pushups, but the KB exercises will take priority if I get worn down.
For swings, I’ll set a timer for ten to twelve minutes. Then I’ll do a predetermined number of swings at the beginning of each minute, then jog on the spot for the remainder of the minute.
For Turkish Get Ups (TGUs), I just set a timer and do rep after rep (alternating sides) until the buzzer goes off.
The Progress Log
Day One — Swings — Monday, May 18, 2009
It’s on! My first day of swings went very well, though I did really take it easy. I know I will be enormously sore tomorrow (my first TGU day) and I didn’t want to overdo it.
I kept it to ten minutes, at twelve reps per minute, with jogging in between. Real small potatoes, but I’m in poor enough shape that 120 swings in ten minutes really gets the heart pounding. In fact, on my sixth set, I decided to drop it to ten reps/minute because I wanted to make sure my form stayed perfect right to the end. And it did. The Party would be pleased.
So I ended up getting to the line with a fair bit of gas in the tank, and pounded out a total of 110 swings.
Day Two — Turkish Get Ups — Tuesday, May 19, 2009
This session was tougher than I’d expected. I badly bruised my shin this weekend in a nighttime collision with a picnic table. This caused me to be extra careful about setting my weight on it, which only made it tougher to maintain control off the kettlebell.
In ETK, Pavel warns not to count reps for the TGU because it can lead to haste, and haste can lead to broken bones. So instead, I go by time and just do rep after rep. Today I set a timer for five minutes, and by the end of it my form was starting to break down and I would have had to quit anyway.
All in all, an awesome session.
My traps (the muscles on top of the torso between the shoulder and the neck) are positively burning from yesterday. But it’s a good burning. Looking forward to my first rest day tomorrow, my body wants it. 5 minutes of TGUs.
Day Three — Rest Day — Wednesday, May 20, 2009
No bells today. Went very well, a real success.
Day Four — Swings — Thursday, May 21, 2009
Wow. I could not have done one more rep today. The last set was getting shaky and I probably should have cut it out a few reps early. But I nailed my target, and that felt good.
I noticed a mistake I was making in my swings today, and when I corrected it, it simultaneously got a whole lot easier to stay in the rhythm, but harder to do the reps.
Today I did 11 minutes of swings, with 12 reps at the top of each minute, for a total of 132 swings.
Day Five — TGUs — Friday, May 22, 2009
Great workout to end the week on. Went very well, I feel strong and confident. Bumped the time up a bit too.
I completed 5 minutes, 20 seconds of TGUs.
Day Six — Rest — Saturday, May 23, 2009
Went shopping. Bought a camera and some sunglasses.
Day Seven — Rest — Sunday, May 24, 2009
More rest. Did some pullups.
Day Eight — Swings — Monday, May 25, 2009
I had to make an in-the-moment judgment call today. During my tenth set, I felt some back discomfort — a little kink — and decided not to pick it up for the eleventh and twelfth set. I have felt that feeling before, and I`ve hurt myself by ignoring it.
I had set out to do twelve sets of twelve, in twelve minutes. I ended up doing ten sets of twelve before pulling the plug. Fatigue-wise, I was way ahead of where I was last time; I had plenty of gas left, and was encouraged at that. But I did not want to injure myself. I`ll continue tomorrow with TGUs as normal, and review my swing form.
I could have done way more, but I stopped today at 120 swings.
Day Nine — Rest — Tuesday, May 26, 2009
To accommodate some things this week, I switched Tuesday and Wednesday. Rest today, TGUs tomorrow.
Day Ten — TGUs — Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Great TGU day, though I did learn another important lesson. Get enough sleep! Two nights in a row, I only got about six hours of sleep and I was really feeling it during this workout. That’s not a good thing when you’re holding a 35-pound iron ball above your head.
Still, I was very careful and deliberate, and gave it my all, doing five minutes, fifty seconds of TGUs.
Day Eleven — Swings — Thursday, May 28, 2009
To a soundtrack of Nine Inch Nails and KMFDM, I pulled off a session I’m proud of. I nailed the 12×12 target that I missed last time. I also accidentally did thirteen reps in my second set for some reason. My next swings session will be week three, and that’s when I’ll begin to ramp it up a bit.
For those who are mathematically challenged, that’s 145 swings today.
Day Twelve — TGUs — Friday, May 29, 2009
Yeeeeaaaahhh. Proud and pouring sweat, again.
I decided to up the duration by another thirty seconds today. I thought it might be a bit of a leap, but I went ahead anyway.
I use the timer at Online-Stopwatch.com, which gives me a big readout on my computer screen. But when I’m doing TGUs, I’m always looking at the kettlebell so I never know how much time is left.
Quite a while into my session, I realized I was tiring fast and hoped there wasn’t much time left. So against my better judgment (and against The Party’s doctrine!) I peeked. 2:42 left!!
But I kept grinding on, and when I finally decided it would be truly dangerous to continue, I set the kettlebell down and looked over at the timer, as it ticked off the last 4 seconds. YES!
I don’t know if I can keep bumping it up at the same rate, but today I fully and completely handled 6:20 of TGUs.
Days 13 & 14 — Rest Days
Day 15 — Swings — Monday, June 1, 2009
Awesome day. Twelve sets of thirteen reps each, in twelve minutes. That’s 156 swings.
Today’s soundtrack: Alexisonfire and The Melvins, with a bit of vintage Alice in Chains.
Day 16 — Rest — Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Due to unforeseen time and energy constraints, I moved today’s TGU workout to Wednesday.
Day 17 — TGUs — Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Major victory today! Had an awful day at work and found myself driving home in a bad mood. I had no energy, and predicted that if I were to begin working out, I’d quit in the middle of it. I thought it would be better to move it to sunday. I had actually decided to do that and began cooking supper, when I stopped myself. I took my own advice, cranked some Soundgarden and grabbed the bell.
Before I knew it, I was done and I’d hit my goal. I’ve forgiven myself for my bad mood, and it’s undetectable now. This is a very valuable lesson. So many time I’ve gone the other way, preferring to cut myself some slack and take it easy, as a way of consoling myself But really, it only makes it worse. I’ll remember what happened today, whenever I feel that same impulse to defer my responsibilities until a better mood comes along.
I made a great decision, followed through, and turned my day around in 6 minutes and 40 seconds.
Day 18 — Swings — Thursday, June 4, 2009
No hesitations today. Just picked up the bell and went. Fourteen swings per set this time, plus a few extras at the end, for a total of 171 swings.
Day 19 — TGUs — Friday, June 5, 2009
Once again I made the dumb mistake of peeking at the clock when I felt like I wasn’t on pace to finish, and was horrified to see 4:30 (!) left to go. And once again I just continued, and completed my 7 minutes of TGUs.
Days 20 & 21 — Rest Days
Day 22 — Swings — Monday, June 8, 2009
Due to paralyzing soreness from yesterday’s first football game of the year, I’ve decided to flip today’s workout to Saturday. I wanted to really advance my numbers today, but I don’t want to push myself to the point of injury. I think I’m better off taking this day to rest. TGUs as scheduled tomorrow.
Day 23 — TGUs — Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Same lesson again today. Looked at clock, thought there was no way I’d hit my target, kept going, and finished. 7:20 of TGUs.
Day 24 — Rest — Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Day 25 — Swings — Thursday, June 11, 2009
Definitely a personal best. My stamina has really improved. Did 16 reps in my first four sets, and fifteen in the remaining sets, for a total of 184 swings.
Days 26, 27, 28, June 12-14, 2009
Unexpected visitors and acute time mismanagement have made me miss Friday’s workout (TGUs) and the make-up swings workout I was going to do yesterday. Rather than squeeze them in this weekend, I will simply state that I have two outstanding workouts and continue as usual with swings tomorrow. The two outstanding workouts will be completed either before the six weeks is up, or appended in a bonus seventh week :)
I’m going away this Thursday for a weekend trip, so there’s at least one more workout I’ll be missing. I will work out on Wednesday, which is my normal rest day, and then plan for that extra missed workout.
So I’m in debt, but manageable debt. Things are going very well otherwise.
Day 29 — Swings — Monday, June 15, 2009
DAMMIT! I halted my workout four sets in because I had a tweak at the base of my spine. I know the kind; it will be gone tomorrow, but I just couldn’t risk pushing through it. It probably would have been fine, but I have regretted ignoring such pains in the past. That sucks, I was on pace to do really well today. I’m pleased with the way my cardiovascular capacity is improving each time. I remember how quickly I got smoked in the beginning.
Yet another swing workout to make up. No worries, it will be done.
Day 30 — TGUs — Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Knocked off the TGUs with extreme prejudice today. Victory is mine. 7:40 of TGUs.
Day 31 — Swings — Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Wow. By far the most grueling swing session yet. My the end my grip was threatening to give out, I really could not have done two more swings. I ended up doing 17 swings apiece in my first six sets, and 16 in the latter six. That’s a total of 198 swings.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ll be away Thursday and Friday, so I have another TGUsession to make up (today was a swing day instead of a rest day.) Not a problem for The Party.
Days 32-37 — Vacation
Well I mentioned I would be away, and now I’m back. Yesterday, while moving boxes, I kinked something in my back (may have had something to do with sleeping on the ground all weekend) and I’m going to wait until tomorrow to resume my program. I just don’t want to risk a more serious back injury. I’m itching to get back into it, can’t wait!
Rather than jam the next two weeks with missed workouts, I’m probably going to add an additional two (or three) weeks onto the program, both to make up for this lost week and to give myself time to practice the new lifts I’ll be doing for the next phase, the Rite of Passage.
Day 38 — TGUs — Wednesday, June 24, 2009
I decided to go ahead and workout in spite of the crick in my neck. My neck wasn’t a problem, but about five or six minutes in, my elbow gave me a real sharp pain. I couldn’t detect it again, but I took the hint and aborted the session. I am quite frustrated at this recent gap in my progress, but I know I have to wait it out. I probably could have continued and knocked off my old personal best, but better safe than sorry. Still got six minutes of TGUs in.
Day 39 through 45 — Terrible!
Utterly fell off the wagon. My neck pain came back (I seem to have forgotten how to sleep without hurting myself) and I moved on the weekend. I skipped a few days I shouldn’t have, because I already had no momentum. The day before I was to retry my TGUs, I landed an awkward roundhouse with my toe against the punching bag, giving me a nasty limp that still hasn’t gone away. I can do swings but not TGUs. Discouraged and disheveled, I skipped another two days for no reason. Shame! I’ve worked out once in two weeks. I’m so disappointed in myself I want to cry. But I will return to my former glory, I am determined, and finally free of obnoxious obligations like finding a place to live.
Day 46 — Swings — Thursday, July 2, 2009
Back in the saddle. I didn’t want to kill myself, so I did nine sets of fifteen swings, for a total of 135 swings. I had totally lost a step, but it sure felt great to get swinging again. My toe is still sketchy, but I’ll try TGUs again tomorrow and if I can’t do them I’ll just do more swings. I’ll break 200 swings by Sunday if I can. I promised ‘after’ pictures by July 20 and I’m not pushing the date back again, so I’m going to make them all count.
Thanks for your patience, comrades, I will never disgrace The Party again.
Day 47 — TGUs — Friday, July 3, 2009
I jumped right back into the TGU habit. Just like with swings, I found I had lost a step. I expected this, so I set my goal a little lower than last time: 7 minutes even. I made that same dumb mistake of looking at the clock during the exercise and almost gave up when I saw it had 3:00 on it. But I pressed on and barely made it to the finish line. By the time I was done I was pouring sweat and it felt awesome, writhing on the floor like that. I’m back. 7:00 of TGUs.
Day 48 — Swings — Saturday, July 4, 2009
Twelve straight sets of fifteen. I may have had another set in the tank. That’s 180 swings. Looking to crack 200 next time.
Day 49 — Rest — Sunday, July 5, 2009
Day 50 — TGUs — Monday, July 6, 2009
Nailed my modest goal of 7:30 of TGUs but I definitely could have done more. I’m shooting for a personal record of 8:00 next session.
Day 51 — Rest — Tuesday, July 7, 2009
I was just burnt right out after working in the sun all day, so I decided I’d have a better chance at hitting a personal best if I rested today and hit the iron tomorrow.
Day 52 — Swings — Wednesday, July 8, 2009
YES. I did it. I was not feeling super energetic when I picked up the bell but I still powered through it and hit a personal best. Twelve sets of seventeen, for a total of 204 swings.
Day 53 — TGUs — Thursday, July 9, 2009
Another high water mark. Got down to business and pummeled out 8 solid minutes of Turkish Get Ups. Body feels great, especially with no drugs in it.
Day 54 — Rest — Friday, July 10, 2009
For no good reason at all I decided to put my workout off until after supper, then of course I didn’t feel up to it and bumped it to Saturday. This is a weakness of mine I’d like to fix. I need to learn how to workout when I really, really don’t want to. I’m always afraid that I’ll quit in the middle of it, which makes me feel even worse than postponing it.
Day 55 — Swings — Saturday, July 11, 2009
So glad I smartened up and just did the workout. Last time I did 12 sets of seventeen, and I was totally wasted by the end of it. I figured this time I’d do 6 of 18 and 6 of 17, but I ended up doing 18 reps for each set, for a total of 216 swings. Very pleased.
Day 56 — Rest — Sunday, July 12, 2009
Day 57 & 58 — “Dropped the ball” days — July 13 & 14, 2009
On Monday I repeated the dumb mistake from Friday of waiting until after supper to work out. I had heartburn (which is rare for me) and by 9pm I was still dreading the TGUs, so I pushed it to the next day. Yesterday I felt a kink in my back (which probably was nothing) and put it off again
Here is my new mantra:
Right after work.
Right after work.
Always work out right after work.
Day 59 — TGUs — Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Well I managed to get it done before supper, but I still delayed unnecessarily, watching classic UFC fights on the net. I need to get back to walking in the door, dropping my pants and warming up. Time is running out, and I need to sprint this whole last week.
‘Twas a grueling session today, and I was able to knock off 8:20 of TGUs. Swings tomorrow, shooting for 228 of them (19×12).
Day 60 — Thursday, July 16, 2009
Went to dinner right after work, dropped the ball completely again. I think part of the problem is that I shoot for a personal best each time. Because I don’t feel like I have the energy to exceed what I did last time, I get discouraged and decide to do it later when I’m feeling 100%. This is a mistake, I should have just done a less intense workout instead, it would have been better than nothing. Either that or never eat so much that I can’t exercise after supper.
Day 61 — Swings — Friday, July 17, 2009
Kicked ass today, although I felt slightly shy of my target. I started out with 19 reps per set, and after the 8th set my grip was giving out, so I decided to drop it to 18 per set so I would be able to finish all twelve sets. When I got to the final set I gave it my all and did 20 reps. So that’s a total of 227 swings, 1 shy of the 228 I was aiming for.
This was my most grueling session ever. My grip was what was giving out. My forearms were positively burning, and I had to stop or else I’d send the bell through the wall into the hallway.
Day 62 — Rest — Saturday, July 18, 2009
Should have snuck in a workout here, in hindsight.
Day 63 — TGUs — Sunday, July 19, 2009
Awesome set of Turkish getups. Really gave it everything I had, ended up reaching the 9:00 bell.
Well that’s it, that’s the nine weeks.
It was a long haul, fraught with sweat and difficulty, but totally worth it. My final report is posted here.
Photo by Voyou Desoeuvre