Thursday, December 23, 2010

Striking the iron...

"80% of the workouts you have are just the run of the mill kind.  10% are awesome, and 10% are going to suck ass."

I read this once, and I think it's one of the truest things I've ever read about training in general.  The longer you spend under the bar the more you will realize how true this saying is.  Most of your training life will be spent just getting the work in.  Every so often, you will have an unreal shitty day, and then every so often you will have an unreal awesome day.

The shitty days are hard to cope with mentally, however most of those can be explained away by other mitigating circumstances.

  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor nutrition
  • Stress of life
  • Women
All of these can be factors in wrecking your training.  Generally these session tend to reek havoc on our psyche and bother us for a while.  This is normal.  What you also need to get through your head is that having a down session is perfectly normal too.  It's simply part of the ebb and flow of the life cycle of training.  And sometimes everything is dialed in, and you still have a shit session.  It happens.  No biggie.

On the other side of the coin is those days where you feel supremely awesome.  Stronger than ever.  Your joints feel good, the groove feels good, they aren't playing Lady GaGa on the radio, and everything is dialed in.  

I call these STI days (striking the iron).  Not to be confused with STD days, which suck.

In other words, strike the iron when it is hot.  When everything is dialed in, make something happen with it.  

False Engineering -

As lifters, we should be doing everything in our power to give ourself the best chance at succeeding.  Eating properly, resting, stretching, hydration, etc.  

However I don't think you can set yourself up for STI days.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason when it will occur. 

I've gone to bed early in preparation for a big squat or pull day, have a great breakfast then go train and feel like complete shit.  I've had days where I got to bed late, woke up early, felt tired as hell, no appetite, then get to the gym and tear the walls down with PR's.  

Let these days come to you naturally.  I fully believe it's a natural part of the training cycle and training life.  I also think it's a signal that the more often you are having these the more dialed in you are with your recovery to lifting balance.  

STI options (this has nothing to do with Subaru) -

When an STI is upon you, there are about three options you can choose from.  

  • Go for a rep PR
  • Do lots of volume
  • Go for a rep PR AND do lots of volume
I personally like option 3 there.  Go for your rep PR, then reduce weight and do volume until your limbs fall off.  This is for the main lift only.  I think wasting an STI day on shit that doesn't matter is like flushing a $100 bill you found down the toilet.  Senseless.  

If you ever read any of the writings from Arnold you might recall the story where he and buddy took weights into the woods and squatted for hours on end.  This isn't a bad idea on an STI day.  Squatting tends to take care of itself.  You could throw in some pause squats at the end.  

Grab some friends and make them squat with you.  No woods required.

For deadlifts you could do back off sets for sets of 3-5, then do some block deads working that weak ROM around mid-shin.  

For bench, vary your grip spacing and just bench a ton.  

Point is, use these days to hammer the main lifts.  This is also why I have usually narrowed down training to about two lifts per session.  If I am having an STI day, I can just hammer the shit out of those two staple lifts, and be good with it.  I don't have 15 more exercises to do that don't fucking matter in the grand scheme of things.

The pendulum swing...

There is a downside to STI days.  I mean besides the fact that they don't happen often enough.  

The usual downside is that they are usually followed up not too long afterwards, by a cycle of normal-bad and bad sessions.  This is common as well.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  

This saying applies here as well.  You may even be able to string together quite a few STI workouts at some point, but the fall off the cliff will come.  It's inevitable.  

What I recommend to avoid this as much as possible is to take an extra couple of days off after an STI session.  You'll probably feel like doing so anyway because of the soreness.  Then just get the reps in for the next few workouts, unless you feel like the iron is hot when you go back in.  Just use some calibration on how you are feeling, and go from there.  But be aware that for me, at least, it goes like this...

STI workout
average workout
shitty workout
shitty workout
WTF is going?  

So for your next session, be aware that it could just be average, and in that case don't create a bigger recovery rut by trying to go overboard with a high level of perceived intensity.  Get your reps in, break a sweat, feel good, and get out.  

Also remember that the pendulum swing for the incredibly shitty workouts is generally that a string of good workouts as usually soon to follow, granted that you are paying attention to recovery and other things.  
Take it in stride -

With anything take the good and bad with stride.  Don't feel too damn good about yourself on the STI days because you're not THAT good day in and day out, just like you're not THAT bad on the shit days.  Don't get too high or too low about these things and just stay the course.  The longer I lift the more I think that stringing together more of those "solid but unspectacular" days are the real key.  Those days are called "consistency" and they are far more valuable than random STI and shit days.

Think of it as building a wall with mortar and cinder blocks.  Let's say you need to average 100 blocks stacked a day in order to get this wall built by a certain time.  You generally hit the 100, but some days you hit 129, 130, 135.  Some days you get 86, 88, 79.  Those days balance each other out.  The real key is hitting that 100 as often as possible with fewer of the 86, 88, and 79 days mixed in.  

So take advantage of the hot iron and get after it when the time is right.  However adjust your training slightly downward afterwards if need be and get back to hitting those 100 bricks a day without the fanfare.  Be smart and be consistent.  


  1. THANK. YOU.

    Its hard to cope with the shitty day when you love lifting so much. But its good to know that its a flow that I've never noticed b4.

  2. Always. Take the good with the bad. Try to make sure your consistent days just outnumber the shit ones. STI days are just a bonus and look at em that way.

  3. Had a 10% day today and was happy just to get my 5s on the squat. However, it was probably due to feeling like a slob early this afternoon and doing a 3 mile interval run on the treadmill before squatting...

    You should add "dumb-ass decisions" after "women" on your list...

  4. Dude never do the interval work before the squat. DO that shit after.

  5. Allow me to explain...

    I took today off from work as a "Christmas Present" to the wife. It is free...and she loves when I am home and can help out with the babies.

    At any rate, at 10 am, I was ready to lift, but she wanted to wait till our 7 year old was home so he could play with the twins and keep them busy while we lifted.

    Sooooo...I watched "Book of Eli". Bad ass movie. Got me jacked to lift, but I couldnt. Gotta wait. Then I felt like I walked into the kitchen and drooled over the massive display of cookies the wife has been working on, lost control, and ate like 15. Seriously.

    Well...maybe more like 20.

    That was all it took. Felt like a fat, lazy fuck, and couldnt lift, so I went to the Man Cave and got to running while I watched that Bret Michaels show. I am not to proud to say I DVR that shit.

    My left hip is now mad as hell and I have bjj class tomorrow. YEAH!

  6. It's hard not to eat a ton right now. Every winter I gain a butt load of weight I don't like then have to eat a lot less and conditioning like crazy to get back in shape.

  7. Great post Paul. It's interesting ever since I started doing 5-3-1, every day is more like a 100 brick day to use your analogy. The way volume and intensity is regulated, there are no shitty days, but a lot of average days. Before Wendler's program, I used to autoregulate and go balls out on 3 rep or 5 rep top sets for a few weeks then crash for like 7-10 days. I'm not sure which method I like better as both seem to be effective over the long haul. Wendler definitely gives you some wiggle room on recovery and other lifestyle crap though, so I'm digging it.

    Merry Christmas and thanks for all your work on this blog!