Musings of a Mature Trainer

Further to my article “Movement Patterns for Life” I decided that I need to maintain  my strength levels without generating more muscle and bodyweight. I need to drop a few pounds to give the old joints a breather during my advancing years. The time I would normally spend on hypertrophy would be better spent (I emphasise I) improving mobility and flexibility coupled with some injury prevention training.

For strength I decided to try the Pavel Tatsouline/Dan John 40 day protocol. This entails training a few selected lifts every day for the next forty days. The idea is you lift heavy but not near maximal efforts. Not training movements to exhaustion allows you to train more frequently.

I selected 5 exercises and repetition counts:

  • Vertical Pull:  Pull-ups (2 reps)
  • Vertical Push:  Wallstand press-up (1 rep).
    Do a handstand against wall andbend elbows until head brushes floor and then straighten arms.Definitely my Achilles Heel!!
  • Horizontal Pull:  Kettlebell Batwings (5 reps).
    I use 2 x 36kg kettlebells. You might think that sounds heavy but I needed a weight to counterbalance my horizontal push.
  • Horizontal Push:  Dips (3 reps)
  • Finisher:  Ab Rollout (10 reps).
    Only one set performed at end of session.

The keen eyed amongst would notice that there doesn't seem to be a lot of work below the waist going on. You're right. I recently had an operation for a torn meniscus which I think I rushed back to front squats and deadlifts too early causing an issue or two with the knee. I had a rest and am now performing bi-weekly, Rear-foot elevated split squats and Single-leg deadlifts. These exercises are executed with a light weight in an 8 – 12 rep range performing 3 sets of each exercise. This type of training regime does not lend itself to the above training protocol.

Back to the 40 day protocol. My tiny mind then started to think about the number of sets I should be doing.

I think the intensity for each exercise should be varied for each training session. How would I determine rep and set range. I started thinking about using a pack of cards.

We could designate an exercise to each suit of the cards. We would select 10 cards (Ten total sets per session seems like a good number) turning over one card at a time. When the card was finished with it would be placed at the bottom of the pack.

Each exercise was performed with a minutes break in between. However if two cards of the same suit were turned over in succession then another minutes rest is to be taken. These rest intervals are my recommendation. For strength training anything between 3 and 5 minutes rest is good. I use the rest to perform some mobility or stretching drills, but if you chose to do nothing then thats good as well (probably better to keep moving about to encourage your breathing to get back to normal asap).

The designated exercise for each suit were as follows:

  • Clubs: 3 Dips
  • Diamonds: 2 Pull-ups
  • Hearts: 1 Wallstand Push-up
  • Spades: 5 Kettlebell Batwings

As an example Day 7 looked like this;

  • 2 x 3 Dips
  • 3 x 2 Pull-ups
  • 2 x 1 Wallstand Press-up
  • 3 x 5 Kettlebell Batwings

Day 14

  • 3 x 3 Dips
  • 4 x 2 Pull-ups
  • 1 x 1 Wallstand Press-up
  • 2 x 5 Kettlebell Batwings

Day 20

  • 1 x 3 Dips
  • 3 x 2 Pull-ups
  • 1 x 1 Wallstand Press-up
  • 5 x 5 Kettlebell Batwings

Day 27

  • 3 x 3 Dips
  • 3 x 2 Pull-ups
  • 3 x 1 Wallstand Press-up
  • 1 x 5 Kettlebell Batwings

By turning over cards you are making each workout completely random and the body doesn't know what to expect. Although the above workouts appear similar there have some days where I have not had to perform a pull-up, a kind of built-in rest day. Rest assured I had to pay the price performing 5 sets of pull-ups on a subsequent day.

By making sure you put the cards at the bottom of the pack you will be varying the workouts as you using 10 cards at a time and there are 52 cards in the pack. Thinking about it using two packs might increase variation!!

As for me I am now on day 28 and the exercises are feeling a little easier. I found to improve pull-up strength I would need to increase my grip strength. To this end I am performing bodyweight hangs and kneeling fingertip push-ups once a week. You are probably scoffing at my kneeling fingertip push-ups but historically I have had weak hands and my full fingertip pushups were technically so bad that they were leading me to A & E.

The hang regime, however, seems to have got rid of those nasty little elbow twinges the more heavy set amongst us are prone to after a certain age. Also limiting the reps to 2 quality pull-ups has also helped.

Wallstand Push-ups are tough and mine have improved from rubbish to poor. Note I said they have improved! Never has one exercise focused my attention on weight loss not being such a bad idea.

I perform Kettlebell Batwings because I prefer them to seated rows. Single-arm rows would work but as I explained earlier my knee was a little sensitive to lifting weights from the ground or rack. I will be re-visiting these as I am hoping to adapt a unilateral approach in the future to this protocol.

One set of 10 reps of the Ab-rollout is my finisher. A lot of you will have seen this torture implement on the internet. Some people will say is this just an anti-extension abdominal exercise? I am in the Dan John school who likes what this exercise does for the lats and back. Mr John believes that the exercise is  similar to a pull up and I agree. (Mr John believes that 5 ab-rollouts equals 1 pull-up). If you are going on holiday and won't have access to a pull-up bar then you could do a lot worse than packing one of these rollers. Beginners start slowly they are tough!!