I am unhinged and off my rocker, out of tune, out of whack, and out of true. I’ve lost my center and my inner child. There’s no doubt about it, I’m unbalanced!!
But, things could be worse.
Since finishing the 40 Day Program, I’ve been on a upper/lower split. For the better part of March I lifted upper body and lower body twice per week. The upper body lifts were standard fare–chins, pushups, DB bench, DB OH press, cable rows, DB curls, barbell rollouts, planks. The lower body lifts were simple too–deadlift, single leg leg press*, RDL, calf raises (fun), etc.– but I concentrated on raising my deadlift numbers. Why?
That’s a good question with a pretty straightforward outward answer: I love deadlifting. The deep seated psychological reason, however, is more complex. When I returned to lifting from a lower back injury that had sidelined me for over a year I was weak. The 40 Day Program helped my deadlift progress toward respectability, which gave me false courage. So, I started overcompensating by adding weight too quickly. I lacked the patience and humility to wait on my body to recover completely. My juvenile thinking went something like this: “Shit, I might as well lift something heavy and show all these high school kids and Jersey Shore wannabees what real lifting looks like!!! I’m tired of controlled sets and light weight, let’s blow out a couple of max singles!!! Right??” Wrong. Dead wrong.
Oh, my numbers continued to go up. Two weeks ago my deadlift days looked like this: Monday–275 x 8; 315 x 6; 315 x 6; 405 x 2; Friday–315 x 5; 315 x 7; 405 x 3; 425 x 2. However, I started feeling a familiar twinge in my lower back. Wait a minute, wasn’t I beyond the injury? Didn’t I make it out of the desert pretty much intact? Well, kinda.
You see, while my DL form appeared spot-on and “looked good” from my and my training partner’s point of view, structurally my body was already overcompensating to my right side (or so I thought). My working hypothesis was this:
- I never fully corrected the muscle imbalances that caused my lower back injury;
- I started the 40 Day Program with decent symmetry strength-wise, but not enough to justify relatively “heavier” (not really “heavy”) bilateral movements;
- the 40 Day is a great program, for me all it did was create more imbalance because I used it when I shouldn’t have;
- I started the split program with an even greater imbalance than I did the 40 Day;
- thus, when I started throwing more wheels on the bar my body used any advantage it could to pull the weight, namely overcompensation to the right (my strong side).
How do I know it is a muscle/strength imbalance? I tested myself with single leg straight leg deadlifts, split squats, single arm OH DB presses (one arm moving at a time), single arm DB benches, one arm pulldowns, and and one arm rows. The results were manic:
- on the SDL’s my right leg was weak (2 reps weaker);
- on the split squats my left leg was weak (2 reps weaker);
- my right arm was weak on bench, OH press, and pulldowns (1-3 reps weaker); and,
- my left was weaker on one arm rows.**
Houston, we have a problem. Needless to say I have modified my hypothesis because my body isn’t just overcompensating with my right side, rather it’s completely out of whack. What happened? I never reached a muscular stasis after completing rehab for my lower back injury. My musculature appeared symmetrical and by low level standards it seemed to be in balance. In reality, I never allowed my body to recover to the point of strong muscular stasis.
Now what? Well based in part on this article by Bret Contreras and this presentation by Theory to Practice’s Keith Norris, I’ve developed the following upper/lower split:
- Set/Rep scheme is autoregulation: 4 sets per exercise, 6 reps for first 2 warm up sets and 7-11 reps for 2 working sets; warm ups at 50% of previous max and 75% of previous max; final 2 sets are working sets; 1st working set matches previous weight and attempts to increase reps beyond rep limit (or at least match); final set can match previous weight or increase previous weight, depending upon how I feel that day. Why autoregulation? I am really intrigued by the idea and want to try it over the course of a fairly long term program–as simple as that.
- Lower Body Movements: Bulgarian Split Squat; 1 Leg Straight Leg Deadlift; 45 Degree Hyper; Barbell Hip Thrust; 1 Leg DB Calf Raises.
- Upper Body Movements: Incline DB Bench; 1 Arm DB Row; 1 Arm Lat Pulldown; Prone Rear Delt Raise; Lat Raise (scapular plane); Hammer Curls; Barbell Rollouts; Side planks.
I am hoping this program will restore me to a strong muscular stasis and that I’ll be back to pulling some big weight off the ground sooner rather than later. I’ll post lift results and updates starting later today after the first lower body lift.
One parting note: the title suggests I already know I love unilateral movements, and I’m not sure I will love them at all. If they help me restore balance to my body then I will love them and use them as part of my training in the future. This seems a likely outcome. With that said, I will venture to guess that bilateral movements will always fill up a significant part of my training calendar.
*Yeah, yeah, I know, but I think Lyle McDonald has made a good argument for the leg press in limited situations (here), and I have spent a good amount of time under the bar as it were–so, back off!
**On all these tests I’m being very, very simplistic–I understand there is more musculature involved than that presented. However, I believe the tests generally support the proposition that my strength/musculature is unbalanced.