It’s been a frustrating 9 months in my training. I’ve dealt with a couple of nagging injuries and just an overall consistent decline in my lifts, my benchmark workouts and my skill work. It has built up a level of frustration that often manifests itself in tantrum-like behavior at the end of a session – where it seems like the only thing that will make me feel better is to smash a chair through the wall. All those sessions that left me frustrated and angry, never made me really look for a solution until the last one. Seeing my girlfriend break down in tears because she was so tired of dealing with my attitude at the gym was a wake-up call for me. When the you see your actions result in the pain of someone you love, it makes you never want to do that again.
The gym is supposed be a fun place where you enjoy your time, blow off steam and get better, not build up frustration and misery. Watching this old PR video reminded me of how much fun it used to be.
So I called up one of my coaches, the man who writes the programming we follow. Chris McNamara of Evolution Athletics broke it down for me. He asked me a lot of questions about my training, my recovery, my sleep etc. He told me he found himself in a very similar situation as mine, last year. He knows what works, he understands the science behind it and he has tried it on himself.
In today's day and age, we have access to so much technology - yet we use it for what? Arguing about politics with strangers, staying up to date on celebrity news, wasting time looking at pictures of food, cat videos on YouTube. Then we grab our gear and head to the gym - choosing to say no to using technology that could allow us to see if our body has recovered from yesterday's training, apps that can track our food and ensure we are fueled properly and a host of other indicators that could boost our training.
McNamara's first piece of advice was to get a heart-rate monitor and log my Heart Rate Variability every morning. Most monitors you buy are Bluetooth compatible and can be linked to an app which can measure your HRV. This is one of the best ways to test your nervous system and see if you have properly recovered from the previous day’s training session. Like failing to log your macros, without knowing your HRV, you really are flying blind – heading into the gym and expecting results when you haven’t properly recovered is setting yourself up for failure.
I researched a number of different models and settled on the Polar H7, which I found after I bought it for $79.99 on the Polar website, is available on Amazon for 49.99…my girlfriend got the better deal.
The number of apps out there which gauge your HRV can be overwhelming. I read a number of articles and went with Elite HRV.
The second piece of advice McNamara had was to get bloodwork done. A full comprehensive panel which would test everything from Vitamin D deficiency to my total testosterone and free testosterone to cortisol levels. These tests are not cheap, but everything I’ve read and heard from other athletes, says they are worth it. On Chris’s advice I went with Inside Tracker’s Ultimate test, and added the Inside Age panel. Total cost is more than $500.00 but there are cheaper packages available depending on what you are looking to test for. You pay online, get a lab slip and then have to go to a lab to get tested, no additional charge. They email you when your results are in and show you where your levels are, where they should be and how to get them there. I have to drive to Fort Collins, CO, about 45 minutes away to the nearest lab used by Inside Tracker. I scheduled my apt for Friday.
There is certainly a stigma attached to using these methods. Who doesn't remember the training montage in Rocky 4? While Stallone is running through snow drifts with a log over his shoulder, Drago is using all the scientific methods available from Mother Russia (and all the steroids as well). It's important to remember that the science is only as good as the athlete using it. You can't simply plug all your numbers into a machine and become fit. You still need that Rocky-like dedication to your training if you want to become better - but how much better would Rocky have been if he was using some of these tools? Maybe he wouldn't have ended up a brain-damaged bum fighting Tommy Gunn in the streets of Philly for no money and living in squalor. Plus, it's good to remember while Stallone was running through that snow filming Rocky 4, he was admittedly on ALL THE STEROIDS.
We use technology for everything in our lives, but in some areas, it is somehow viewed as "better" to do things the old-fashioned way. Sure you use Facebook 6 hours a day, but god-forbid you use an online dating site! Head down to ye-olde tavern to find yourself a woman. YouTube and Netflix for entertainment? Sure! But for your training and overall health and fitness? Just work hard!
My heart-rate monitor will get here on Friday. I will be providing updates throughout the process. If you haven't tried any of these methods, this will be an opportunity for you to see first hand how it all works, and see my results from it.
I'm moving into a new house this weekend, so I'll start logging my HRV and be back with the results of my bloodwork on Monday for you all to start following the journey.