Tuesday, July 7, 2009

ETK practice: Week 9 "easy" day and "variety" day

"Easy" in this context means 5 clean & press/pullup ladders, 3 rungs to the ladder, followed by as many swings as possible in 10 minutes, working at about 50-60% effort. The suggested protocol in the Art of Strength ETK workbook is 10 snatches per arm, followed by a 1 minute rest, lather rinse repeat until 10 minutes is up. But because my heart rate tends to recover pretty quickly between work sets, I decided to shorten up my rest periods slightly, particularly in the beginning when I was fresh. By doing so I was able to complete 6 work sets in the 10 minutes, for a total of 120 snatches. Honestly, toward the end I felt like I was working a little harder than 60 percent effort, not because my heart rate was so stratospherically high, but simply because my grip and shoulders were starting to fatigue.

Given that that was the case, the snatch-intensive "breathing ladder" workout I chose to do this morning was probably not the best idea. But, hey, I never claimed to be smart :)

The point of doing "breathing ladders" is to build aerobic endurance using resistance training movements. The protocol is outlined on the Gym Jones website: http://www.gymjones.com/knowledge.php?id=27 . Basically, the idea is to pick a single total-body exercise that creates significant oxygen demand, and do reps laddered with breaths. For instance, if you were to choose kettlebell swings as your exercise, you would do one swing, then take one breath. Then you would do two swings followed by two breaths, then three swings followed by three breaths and so on.

There are a couple of different ways you can do it. One way is to choose an exercise and load that will induce a state of "panic breathing" during the work sets, in which case your workout will end when your oxygen demand overrruns supply. Usually that happens somewhere between 20-30 minutes out. The idea here is to teach breath control and efficient recovery in limited time.

The other option is to choose an exercise and load that'll result in less intensity during the work sets, so panic breathing never sets in. If you choose this option you (theoretically) will be able to perform a huge volume of work over a period lasting anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes without becoming excessively fatigued. This is great for endurance, obviously.

To get the desired training effect you have to choose the right exercise, the right load, and the right rep structure. Don't even think about making biceps curls your exercise--they don't use enough muscle to create the necessary oxygen demand. If you're dying to do a pull of some kind a hang clean would be a much better choice. Kettlebell lifts are ideal for this type of workout, but if you're not into kettlebells something like a barbell front squat to push press would work nicely too.

Anyway, I decided to give it a shot this morning using kettlebell snatches as my exercise. I probably would've picked swings except that my heaviest kettlebell at the moment is only 12 kg, and I didn't think that would be enough to get me gasping for air during the work sets. Of course I could have opted for a more endurance based, longer workout but I think what's most useful to me at this point is improving my breath control and rate of recovery. Besides, I like fast, intense workouts :)

So here's what I did, and here's how it went:

snatches, 1R/1L, 2 breaths
snatches 2R/2L, 4 breaths
snatches, 3R/3L, 6 breaths

and so on up to 15 snatches on each side followed by 30 breaths. It took me very slightly over 20 minutes, during which my heart rate averaged 144 and got up to 172 at the highest. It wasn't until the last few work sets that my heart rate really started climbing, which is pretty much par for the course given that if work sets are less than about a minute long, heart rate doesn't accurately reflect intensity of effort. Interestingly, even though my heart rate consistently got higher as the work sets got longer, I always ended my recovery periods with my heart rate in about the same place (low-mid 140s), reflecting the increased length of the recovery times.

Because I am an intensity junkie I didn't make as much of an effort to control and deepen my breath during the recovery periods as I probably could have. I've actually got decent breath control, probably because of my yoga practice in which movement is linked to breath. We also use the breath in ballet. And, of course, correct breathing during resistance training is critical for safety, especially if blood pressure is a concern. So, anyway, the concept of focusing on my breath and using it to slow my heart rate and induce a state of calm is not new to me, which I think helped.

What was more of an issue for me was the fact that I'm not used to doing sets of more than 10 consecutive snatches with a 12 kg kettlebell. The last 3 work sets, when I was doing 13, 14, and finally 15 reps on each side, were a real struggle toward the end and my form on the last reps of those sets was pretty tragic. I actually debated setting the kettlebell down, but I'm one of those people who, when I get it in my head that I'm going to do something, I do it ... even when I maybe shouldn't. In retrospect, though, it really would've been smarter to do something like two 10 rung ladders and get my volume that way instead of doing a single 15 rung ladder.

Speaking of volume, total for the workout was 240 snatches in just over 20 minutes. So, about 12 per minute on average, which is the same as yesterday's workout, which was only a 60 % effort. Interesting. I definitely felt like I was working at more than 60 % effort today, at least toward the end of the workout.

I definitely plan to experiment with breathing ladders some more, just for grins.