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Steady State

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It was a while ago now I started relying on what Coach Sommer calls a “Steady State Cycle”, which basically means that one designs a workout problem which is quite demanding and then sticks with exactly the same exercises, repetitions and sets even after they begin to feel too easy, giving the body enough time to build the necessary strength before moving on to more the next, more demanding cycle.. For some reason, this kind of planning seems to work exceptionally well for me and I’ve been able to stick with a reasonably strict schedule for almost four months, much longer than any previous attempt to gain control of individual strength training (I wrote more about this when I finished the first cycle in February). I have soon completed five weeks out of at least eight on the second cycle, so that is what this post will be about.

Before I talk about the second cycle itself, I’d like to share with you some benchmarking I did between cycle one and two (I spent one week trying out maximum reps/duration for the exercises to have something to compare with later). These figures are worthless on their own and the goal here is not to show what I can do, but rather to show the difference between now and one cycle ago, and perhaps more importantly, to function as a reference for future similar checks. The only truly remarkable result is for the chin-ups, where I managed to make a 50% increase from 16 to 24 in two months without ever doing a set with more than three repetitions!

Exercise: After first cycle (before first cycle)
Chin-up: 24 (16)
HSPU wall: 11 (5)
Adv. tuck planche: 36 (24)
Adv. tuck front lever: 51 (N/A)

Having dealt with the benchmarking, let’s take a look at cycle two. Since most information is stored publicly (click here to see the document), I won’t restate anything already there. As can be seen, the second cycle is very similar to the first. There are some differences, mostly for the core/leg exercises because I’ve finally found a routine which covers what I want to cover without requiring anything else than a chin-up bar and an ab wheel. There is also a heavier focus on handstand this time, partly because I like the exercise, but also because I really want to accomplish that one hundred metres of handwalking I set up a long time ago.

In short, this is by far the most successful way of designing a program I’ve ever encountered. My guess is that it’s because it’s divided into manageable sections (eight to ten weeks) that the mind can handle easily. Setting a goal to do a certain routine for roughly two months is not a superhuman task, but setting the goal to do the same exercises with gradually increasing difficulty indefinitely is a lot more daunting. Focusing really hard on few selected exercises and then evaluating the result, designing a new program and moving on is a lot more realistinc, if not physically, then at least psychologically. If you’re interested in any of this, you can glean some information from my previous posts about steaty state training (or click here for a list of posts related to exercise), but more importantly, you should consult the coach himself, either by reading his book Building the Gymnastic Body or by checking out the forum.

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Disclaimer: This post is about physical training and is not meant to explain the whys and hows of what I’m doing to those who aren’t already familiar with gymnastic strength training. If you aren’t, but would like to know what I’m talking about. YouTube searches will most often give you a good idea. The forums over at GymnasticBodies is a veritable gold mine of information, check it out! If you want to see some of my long-term goals, check out the Project page.

Ten weeks ago, I said that I would start what Coach Sommer at GymnasticBodies call a “steady state cycle”, which sounds fancy, but in reality simply means designing a strength program and sticking with it for eight weeks, without increasing any sets or reps. This means that after a while, a steady state is reached where the body has adjusted to the demands of the programme. I have now, with one exception, reached a state where I think the exercises I started doing ten weeks ago are quite easy (ten weeks rather than eight because of illness and final exams). This means that it’s time to start a new cycle, but before I can do that, I need to evaluate where I stand now.

There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad attitude.

In short, the programme (see the initial post for details) has two basic exercises which are present at all times, meaning four times a week: planche and front lever progressions. Regarding the planche, I have made progress, but very slowly. At the beginning of the cycle, I had to work really, really hard even to complete 6×10 seconds of advanced tucked planche, and then the hips where far below the shoulders. Now, I can hold the first three sets with really good form, but still feel the last three sets are killing me. Thus, I will probably keep this exercise exactly as it is, but will add the PPPU (pseudo planche push-ups) to the program to make it a little bit harder.

Front lever is a lot easier and I reached a steady state many weeks ago. To be honest, the biggest problem for the last set is my forearms, which tend to be tired after both planche and front lever workout. I will try to move forward here, either by going for the straddle front lever or for some variant with one leg still tucked, because straddle requires flexibility I don’t really have.

Monday and Thursday has meant upper-body workout, in addition to the exercises above. I have established some sort of basic strength for chin-ups, which means I will move on to continue work towards the one-arm chin-up I’ve worked towards before. The road is very, very long, but I’ll get there in the end, just you wait and see. The steady state for the chins was reached almost immediately, but yet again, grip strength was lacking. In addition to this, I’ve done handstand push-ups, 5×3, which have turned out to be really easy the last three weeks or so. I might replace these with other handstand-related exercises, but I might also keep it. Hm…

I’ve also done specific finger/hand strength by doing fingertip push-ups. I need this and will do the same thing next cycle, just ingrease the reps. It took a long time to reach the steady state here, which is expected since tendons take longer to strengthen. The last exercise is dips, which is a great exercise when done on parallel bars, but which will be difficult to do practically next semester. It will be replaced by the PPPU I mentioned above. This concludes the upper-body routine.

This is my advanced tucked planche as it looks right now.

On Tuesdays and Fridays, I planned to do legs and core (in addition to placnhe and front lever, of course), but most of the time I only did the general exercises. Why? Mostly because I didn’t have good exercises, but also because I was lazy. It took me around eight weeks to find good exercises I can do at home (I usually do all these exercises on the university campus, i.e. outdoors). This means I will stick to the exercises I’ve found and use the next cycle to reinforce them.

In short, this means two pairs of exercises. The first is L-sit, which will be 5×12 seconds or something like that. This will be paired with headstand leg raises (it’s a bit tricky to explain, but imagine standing on your head and then, with straight legs, lowering your feet to the ground and raise them up again), which target the lower back. The second pair is pistols or SLS (single-leg squats), probably 5×2 or 5×3 on each leg. together with ab wheel (oh, yeah!), but I haven’t been able to specify a certain number of sets or reps here.

In addition to all this, I plan to add some general handstand training. I’ve seen many people recommend extended static training here, so I will give it a try. I’m not sure exactly what to do, but it might be something like 10×1 minute with 30 seconds rest. Because of this, I also intend to reverse the order of the two routines. I should add the handstand to the upper-body days, otherwise the muscles won’t get time to rest, but that will make me more tired. I’d rather be exhausted on Wednesdays and Saturdays when I can rest, so I’ll simply switch days.

I will spend the two weeks still remaining to the start of the next semester experimenting with these exercises. I will also try to go all out on some of them to use as some kind of benchmark. When I’m done with all this, presumably in two weeks, I’m going to write a new post introducing the second cycle. It’s time to round this off now, and I’d like to do that by saying that even though it’s hard to compare ways of exercising, I’m very happy with this method so far and it feels great to be able to plan and start a new cycle!

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Shaping up

Even though most people I know seem to believe otherwise; I can be quite lazy at times and prone to prolonged periods of procrastination. Admittedly, I usually keep on working hard in other areas, but the fact remains that for the past three months or so, I’ve done hardly anything more physically demanding than PE class, which really doesn’t count. Since I do believe that exercising is essential for my well-being, I’ve decided to change this. If you’ve followed my blog for a long time, you’ll probably know that I’ve done similar things before and proposed ways to shape up. This time is a little bit different though, but before I’ll discuss that in more detail, have a look at the actual program I’ve put together (mostly based on advice from Coach Summer over at GymnasticBodies).

The schedule can be found here.

So, what’s different? At first glance, there are actually no new exercises at all, I’ve done all of them before, some of them a lot. There is a slight difference in execution, though, because this time I’m going for 100% correct form as often as I can. In addition, some exercises contain holds at the extremes (like three seconds an the bottom and top of every chin-up repetition). Considering that I could probably pull off twenty chin-ups in one set, 5 x 3 doesn’t seem to heavy, but I’m serious when I say I the last set is really, really demanding. I do these movements slowly and with full control, no kipping whatsoever.

Furthermore, I’ve decreased the rest interval between sets a lot. The exercises in the program are paired, which means I do exercise A, then exercise B, then exercise A again and so on until all the sets are completed. Then I move on to the next pair. Earlier, I usually took much more rest, but now it should be around 60 seconds.

The biggest difference is the overall layout though. I’m going to try what Sommers calls Steady State training, which basically means that I will execute exactly the same program for a number of weeks (eight this time). This is very, very different from anything I’ve done before, because it implies that the last few weeks will probably be pretty easy as the body has adjusted to the load. Normally, I would increase the load so the subjective challenge is the same all the time, but using this method, the body can adjust properly, which not only results in safer progress, but also in quicker gains, again according to Sommers.

I won’t let this rest for eight weeks though before I write something again. However, I’m not going to comment on a regular basis, but rather when something interesting happens. I hope I have the discipline to keep this routine for the coming seven weeks (first week is already accomplished, comments in the file referred to above). I will of course keep track of my progress, because one final advantage with the Steayd State might be that it should be quite easy to feel the difference between the prgram now and after two months. I don’t really know how where this is leading, but it feels really good to be on the move again.

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