Thursday, December 8, 2011

Adelfo Cerame - Road to The Wheelchair Nationals '12: The 5x5 of (Re-)Programming Your Workout Routine to Make Continuous Progress.

Image 1: The "roadmap" on Adelfo's back (left) may not yet be as detailed as the one of Phil Heath (right). The one in his head, however is probably as, if not more elaborate than the one of the reigning Mr. Olympia.
As a (hopefully) regular reader of the SuppVersity, I assume that going to the gym for you has become more than a annoying duty - more than something you are doing just because you fear that otherwise you would start looking like the 68.3% majority of Americans you are either overweight or obese (data according to CDC)... as I pointed out in the "Programing Success" part of the Intermittent Thoughts a, if not the major determinant of your dietary (and training) success is that "healthy eating" (and I am not talking about the "whole grains approach" here ;-) and smart, not excessive, training becomes a part of your lifestyle, an appreciated cornerstone of your daily routine. For Adelfo, "our man" at the 2012 Wheelchair Nationals in Florida, physical culture has become even more: It is his passion and his #1 priority and though this is what has brought him to where he is now,  he is well aware that getting too passionate, or let's say, letting your emotions gain the upper hand, can become counterproductive...

Sometimes, keeping on track means holding back

I just checked my calendar… And I have exactly 17 more days left until I reach the12-week mark when I will be halfway through my contest prep. And though I am currently working towards my short term goal of copying, better outperforming Duong's amazing transformation by Christmas, I must keep in mind that the latter is nothing but a "test run" to practice for the real event - the 2012 Wheelchair Nationals. So as much as I want to look incredibly shredded on Chistmas day, I mustn't rush myself by drastically slashing calories (stick to 1600kcal) or overdoing HIIT cardio. So I keep telling myself that I have to stay disciplined, stick to my assigned cheat days and stay on course, knowing that this way I should, no, I will hit my mark.
Image 2: Picture on the left hand side 149.5 lbs. Picture on the right hand side 141 lbs. Lets hope I can maintain the lean muscle mass in the latter part of my prep ;-)
To assure that I won't miss that, I have been weighing myself again: 141 pounds. Maybe you do remember - my previous weight was 149.5 pounds in September. That means that I have lost 9 pounds since I have started my prep back on October, 1st. It took me 2 months to drop 9 pounds, which means that I lost about a pound a week. Compared to what some biggest losers may drop within a week this appears to be quite slow, but as Dr. Andro pointed out in his Intermittent Thoughts on Healthy Weight Loss, the rate by which you will lose weight necessarily slows down, once your body has reached "healthy" body fat levels and it becomes really slow, when you are approaching the unnaturally low body fat percentages you will need to compete on stage. That being said, it should raise the red flag, when you are already decently lean an still lose more than 1-2lbs per week - chances are, that anything beyond that is pure muscle mass and that is something I certainly want to avoid.

Back to a regular exercise split

As those of you who have been following all my blogposts, here at the SuppVersity (thanks for that, by the way!) will be aware of, I really enjoyed training according to the escalating density principle. I got stronger, lost body fat and felt incredible tight... but as I have been hinting at in one of the previous installments, training at such a pace and trying to outperform your personal best every time you hit the gym burns you out pretty fast (specially if you are dieting down for a show). Therefore, and simply to change things up (remember: change and thusly novel stimuli are the prerequisite for adaptation), I decided to "go back" to a more traditional bodybuilding split this month.
Recipe of the week: Spartan Steak.
In line with this week's "traditional" training approach, the recipe of the week is a very "traditional" meal, simple yet delicious and particularly appropriate for a rest day of all of you m@tha-“IF”-ers out there!
  • 7oz RAW grass-fed NY Steak (seasoned w/sea salt & pepper)
  • 4 oz mangoes
  • 3 oz cantaloupe
  • 5 baby carrots
Macronutrients: 42g protein/ 26g CHO/ 18g fat

Tip: Add 1 tbs. coconut oil to the meal for your fat (grass fed beef is naturally lean so you may want to add more fat such as coconut oil or raw butter to add to your fats)
Last month I have been toying around with alternate workouts - doing EDT every other week - but noticed that my body still felt worn down by the fast paced heavy lifts. Especially my wrists did not recover properly, which, for me, is even more of a problem than it would be for most of you, guys, because I depend a lot more on my upper body during my everyday-life: The joints in my shoulders, elbows and wrist take a constant beating, anyway. So that even now that I have cut back on the "beating the crap out of myself"-style of heavy lifting, I am wearing wrist wraps, for the heavy lifts, which are, of course, still an essential part of my current 5x5 split routine.
Figure 1: Adelfo's current 5x5 training split; this is a screenshot I (Dr. Andro) sneaked out from his "secret" training log... let's hope he does not sue me for "breach of secrecy", now ;-)
I will be sticking to this split for the month of December.  For the first 3 weeks of December, I will still keep the intensity high and tension (weight) heavy. On the second to the last week of December, I will do a de-load week, before I do another famine/detox phase during the last week of December. And while I will talk more about sense and purpose of this technique, about which I have learned in Rob Regish's Blueprint, those of you who missed my previous experience with this low protein low calorie + heavy lifting regimen can read up on that in my previous blogpost.

"Deload week? What's that? Ain't that for pussys?"

Image 3: If you think deloading is for pussys, only, chances are you got more brawns than brains.
For those of you that don’t know what a deload is, it’s basically taking a week (or maybe more) off from lifting heavy and intense. In other words, you are taking a short break of that kind of extreme training that is highly productive in the short, yet potentially detrimental in the long run. You can either take the whole week off completely (away from the gym), or just basically play around with the weights. It all depends on how deep the whole was that you have been digging for yourself and how fast your body recuperates... and believe me, the benefits are manifold! Most notably, deloading...
  • ... gives central nervous system a rest
  • ... gives body & mind a rest
  • ... can prevent overtraining & injury
  • ... sets you up for new / accelerated progress
  • ... refreshes & keeps you motivated
My current plan is to deload for about a week to give my body, especially my joints a rest before I start another famine/detox phase and start the second half of my contest prep. And since I am in contest prep mode, I wont take the full week off and stay away from the gym completely. Instead, I will ease up on the training, lift very light so that I get a little pump going, rack the weights again and head home.  

The beneficial novelty of the tried and proven

In the mean time, I will enjoy the astonishing benefits, I am currently seeing from a 5x5 routine, many of you may (rigthly so) call "old fashioned" or even boring. But I mean, who cares if it works? My strength has increased significantly in my bench press, and I give most of the credit to the techniques and tricks I have adapted from Rob Regish’s Blueprint. If I keep progressing like that, I do foresee myself bench-pressing three 45 plates on each side for 5 reps before the end of my contest prep (I’ll try to shoot a video for you guys next week on my progress with my bench).

Image 4: By incorporating techniques from the Blueprint Adelfo is making constant progress.
As for my back exercises, my strength may have come to a halt. This is specifically the case with any type of high rows or high pulls, and I think this is mostly due to my weight dropping from 149.5 to 141 pounds. So I didn’t necessarily lose strength but I can’t increase the weight in my lifts as much as I want to, because of the weight distribution. I only weigh 141 pounds now, and I’m lifting weight twice my body weight (250+ lbs). Also keep in mind that I don’t have the function in my legs to plant and keep me grounded, so my body can only withstand so much weight until I am lifting myself off the seat.

That being said, my energy and the intensity in the gym are still very high. Part of this could be because you can focus more on the individual lifts during a 5x5 training split vs. the fast paced as escalating density training

And now that we are already talking about training at a fast pace, Dr. Andro asked my opinion on the discussion that has been revolving around his recent blogpost on time under tension and lifting slow vs. fast:  I’ve never been a fan of lifting lightweight slowly… "What am I!? Some sissy just wanting to tone up, because I’m scared to put on too much muscle!?" Lol, just kiddin'… But seriously? Isn’t this the training myth women fall usually fall for, because they are afraid of getting too buff or bulky? So they lift light weights slowly and for high reps, believing that this will "tone" their muscles? I mean, from what the studies and the research in the “TUT” article shows, this would be the exact opposite of what these women should avoid because it increases protein synthesis right?

Lift heavy and intense, but with good form and a focus on constant progression

For me the fundamental denominator of every successful training protocol is that you lift heavy and intense, use a good form and keep an eye on "progress", i.e. increasing the tension you apply to your muscles... that's all it takes to grow! ... well, I guess it goes without saying that eating smart is a necessary prerequisite without which even the best exercise protocol is pointless.

Image 5: Don't train like Phil Heath, unless you are Phil Heath.
(Flex Magazine cover from July '08)
Moreover, it is important to realize that "increasing tension" is a very complex process, which can be achieved by slow negatives (which I am a big fan of by the way), exaggerated stretches (overhead pulls), static holds, modifications in set and rep ranges, reduced rest, increased TUT, etc. etc. It should thus be obvious that there is no such thing as a one size-fits-it-all solution to constant progress. As Dr. Andro said, it comes down to the individual’s preference and what works for you as an individual at a given point in your "career". What may be an optimal set and rep range for one person may be counterproductive for another. And as my own example shows, while EDT may be the best way to train for weeks A-D, in week E your progress may stall and another regimen will be the "best way" for you to train. If that was not the case, everyone who wanted to look like Phil Heath would just follow his training regimen from Flex Magazine and SHAZAAM! He would look like Mr. O!

You have to find what work for you (no matter what it is) and build on it.

Personally, I enjoy lifting heavy the majority of the time whether it is in the 4-6 rep range, using a 5x5 routine or during EDT-esque workout routines - all of these are part of my training arsenal, an arsenal I am constantly expanding and revising and where higher rep ranges are just another tool I use whenever I feel that switching things up training with higher reps and more volume could benefit me... it's a matter of knowing what works for you, and for me that mostly is using low(er) reps and high(er) weights. What is it for you, guys? Use the comments on the bottom of the page and let me know!