An interesting thing happened yesterday. I broke my old bench press record by 15 pounds. I had not been training to break this PR. In fact, I’d hardly been training at all. Due to a recent back injury, I had to minimize my training to very light weight work and certain body weight exercises. This is not exactly conducive to breaking personal records.
So what happened? Why the sudden breakthrough? I’d been struggling to crack through this plateau for well over a year! As I have been thinking through this, I do what I typically do and analyze from every possible angle I can think of. The angles:
- change in diet
- reduction in training allowed for fuller recovery
- alternate periods of high intensity and very low intensity
- a degree of attention to fixing some mobility issues
Honestly, I don’t think any one thing outweighs the other. Can I do better with diet? Yes, absolutely. I feel like I have made many good changes over the last several months, and the benefits from those changes may take a while to be fully realized. But I think there are still some small tweaks that I can make. I have just started some of those changes, so I don’t know how effective they will be. Time will tell.
Can I manage my training better? Yes, I am constantly refining my methods and discovering what works for me. I have to find a balance that keeps the ankylosing spondylitis from acting up too much while training hard enough that I see progress. I am not satisfied to just stay at the same numbers on the barbell. I want more. But I have to balance my drive against what the AS will let me do. Otherwise, I am constantly in this cycle of “Train Hard then Break”…I need to figure out how not to break.
I am learning how important a role stress plays in my performance from day to day. And I am learning that if I feel ‘off’, I should just let things go, particularly after I have done several warm up sets. If things are not feeling better by then, I need to stop. Injury is looming around the corner. If things improve, then I can press on.
And that is what happened yesterday. Each set felt a little better than the last. I hate to say it, because it sounds so cliche, but I have to listen to my body more now than I ever have. I can’t just beat it into submission.
Frequency and intensity of training is something that I have to figure out. I think I may have come upon a solution by accident. Over the last couple of weeks, I was paying more attention to how I feel and training accordingly. This usually meant a couple of days of hard training followed by very low level activity – just enough to stay loose and work out some kinks.
Can I focus more on mobility and treating old injuries? Definitely yes. This is an area that I tend to neglect. I’ve been doing a little bit of work on my pec minor (which I think led to the greater comfort during bench press, leading to the PR), but I know I can do more. And need to do more. Hip mobility is also a major issue, and it is compounded by my work situation. Desk time is very bad for hip mobility. And poor hip mobility is frequently associated with low back pain and dysfunction. So yes, work to be done.
Or, as Steve Pulcinella told me, it’s just my magic bacon.