March 25, 2014 posted by

Analyzing What Went Wrong

Analyzing What Went Wrong

That sucked. My last training block did not go well. An analysis of why might help you the next time things aren’t going as well as planned. If you train, for anything, you won’t get it right every time. It’s as inevitable as the fact the training correctly will make you fitter.

Professional athletes regularly mess up in their training, so it makes sense that those who train as an aside from their everyday life would, too. That doesn’t make it easier to accept, especially when you’ve been training for as long as I have. You begin to second-guess everything you’ve learned in the past, as well as anything you read in the present. This recent failure had me scouring old training data, attempting to sort out what went wrong and why. Here’s how the process went.

To see how this block had been set up, you need to read the series. Here is part 1, part 2, and part 3, after which things were going very well. Then you see some blips, with these posts on adaptation and overtraining.

 The results

Phil had messed up his first attempt at a hypertrophy phase using his new protocol, which I’d tailored for myself, so I knew it was a potential issue. Still, I thought I’d be conservative enough with my approach that it wouldn’t be a problem, even though the approach was non-conventional.

I was wrong. I felt great for the first few workouts but, instead of making progress, it became harder and harder to finish the workouts, as my forearms never seemed fully recovered. By the start of week 3, I shut the block down and switched to recovery modalities.

 Possible issues

Lifestyle– Since my birthday challenge ended in November, psyche has been low. While this definitely affects training effectiveness, as my sessions were rather “lazy” and lacked  focus, I still finished them all pumped out of my mind (the goal of hypertrophy workouts), so I don’t think more focus would have changed much. Psyche is a huge component of training, especially as you start trying to wring high-level performance out of your body, but it doesn’t seem to be the issue here.

Nutrition – was poor, for me. I strategically don’t eat well all the time as I like mental breaks from thinking about training and diet.  I’m not a glutton, and my “poor” habits are better than, probably, 90% of Americans, but when most of your meals are in cafes and pubs, you’re probably not performing at your highest level.

While this certainly had some effect on recovery, it’s only a minor factor given the training I was doing. I’m sensitive enough to performance to note when I’m nutrient deficient, and it simply wasn’t hard given to total volume of training was much less than is usual for me. If I were super serious I’d have eaten better, which would have aided recovery somewhat, but not enough to alter the outcome.

Recovery and mobility modalities – I haven’t focused much on these in a while. Even during my challenge, I only did the requisite NIS stretching and foam rolling sessions. Yoga, normally a regular practice, had been non-existent.

I think this was a big factor. My lower back (herniated disc in 09) has not been a problem for years. I began experimenting with shorter recovery sessions a year or so ago. While they can work well enough for maintenance, I’m now 100% sold that everyone, especially aging athletes, should focus on mobility work as a regular part of any and all training programs. This need not be daily, maybe not even weekly, but it should be regularly attended to.

My first yoga session was a very basic “back care” workout, which I hadn’t done in years because I moved beyond it during my rehab. It was hard. Less than a week back, however, and I’m coming back around. So while I think the block would have been better with more recovery work, I doubt it, alone, would have saved it.

Stupid planning – Ah, the root of the issue. The “new foundation” block was great, but also a lot more intensity than the standard foundation work that focuses on aerobic fitness and increased capillarity. It is, essentially, a minor hypertrophy and muscular endurance period. I took 6 days between blocks, but did some hard bouldering and no actual recovery workouts.

This, essentially, turned the two blocks into one 8-week hypertrophy period based on progressive overload. That’s not too much to handle if you were focused on full body or large prime mover muscle improvements. For hand and forearm training, however, it’s too much–at least for me.  I think a younger person could handle it, or perhaps Phil, too, if you got it just right, since he’s been training similarly for so many years. For a multi-sport athlete, like me, it was a simple issue of too much overload on too small a system.


The next time I link these two blocks I’ll be better, as the body always adapts to new training. Still, it’s going to take some alterations to nail this. Clearly recovery modalities will need to be adhered to, but I think it’s a big mistake to climb outside at your limit, at all, while forearm hypertrophy is occurring.

By definition, hypertrophy is making your muscles grow. As they grow, muscle cell motor until activity is not sharp. Essentially, you’re creating big, dumb muscles. Climbing outside at your limit (I think recovery climbing during this period would be fine, and probably good) helps you recruit motor unit activity but trying to do this when you’re already broken down is more overload than you can handle. At best, you are compromising your target goals of the training block. At worst, you’ll get injured.

Well then, what’s next?

Still evaluating the best way out of this, which is a topic in itself…

 vid: a old classic of the now-famously-doped united states postal service team training for the tour de france. note that it’s even hard to get training right when you’re on the sauce in armstrong’s “that sucked” comment after an early-season time trial. in hind sight, “when the soup is good, all is good” is a pretty funny comment.


  • What to climb outside during hypertrophy has always been a difficult question for me. But something clicked when reading your conclusion: I think the best climbing for hypertrophy in my past has been static/lockoff training on easier routes.This seems like it would mesh well with your reasoning (the way I undersand it.) I’m going to try more of this next cycle.

  • That make sense on two fronts: for fitness and keeping your skin used to climbing outside. I like it. Going to try it, too. Of course, almost nobody would consider that “going climbing”. It would be more like training at the crag.

  • Hi Steve,
    Thanks for this post, very informative and got me thinking about my own upcoming training.

    I’ve recently become much more active these past 3 years thanks to various BB programs after a decade + of lethargic living. I’m just finishing up the classic round of P90X3 (my new favorite routine) and I’ll be repeating it following the Mass schedule in a few weeks.

    Starting last year, I began doing more outdoor activities including triathlons, duathlons, and obstacle races (tough mudders, spartan race, etc.). This year, I want to ramp it up a bit, but I’m also a bit weary of overtraining.

    My schedule will basically be following the P90X3 Mass routine, teaching INSANITY 3 times per week (I became certified October 2013), running between 5k-10k twice per week (primarily on upper body days), and cycling on Sundays. On my yoga/pilates days that will be my only workout.

    I’ve been cutting weight at 2700 calories a day, and I’ll be upping it to about 3500 when Mass starts. Do you think this type of schedule will lead me to crash and burn? Or do you think that with enough fuel and that easier day (yoga or pilates) each week will allow enough recovery for me to keep going strong? Thanks for any advice, I really appreciate it!


    • Can’t evaluate the calls without your stats but it looks sustainable, at least for a while. The volume isn’t ridiculously high as, given 30 minute X3 workouts, you’re generally under an hour/day. As your specific training ramps up towards events, you should begin to abridge the X3 workouts, unless gaining mass takes president over your outdoor performance.

    • Awesome. Thanks for the reply.
      I’m 5’11” and hover between 155-160lbs. My metabolism is pretty darn high, always has been. I had to eat 4000 calories a day on Body Beast to gain 8 lbs in 13 weeks!

  • Hi Steve! Enjoyed the film, thank you. Sorry to turn such a serious conversation into something else but Viatcheslav Ekimov (English language made his name sound funny) -but he is HOT! LOL!
    I understand now more on “overtraining” as my last two weeks of doubles resulted in weight gain not the loss I was hopping for as well as couple sleepless nights. Went back to one workout per day this week. The body doesn’t like overtrain at all (when you over 35), I think maybe one day a week to do double and then take the day off that would be the next experiment, but your discussion on this subject is very helpful.

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