Training Tuesdays: Squat PRs and other observations

I don’t have anything major to talk about this week so thought I’d share three small observations we’ve made over the previous seven days.

‘The worst thing about training is that it works; if it didn’t work then we wouldn’t have to do it.’   – Jens Knudsen, owner at Crossfit Ironstone

Jens said this to me in passing after our last fitness test and it’s stuck in my mind ever since. Training kind of blows but it definitely works in ways that casual exercise does not. I’ve seen bigger gains in fitness over the last four months than I have at any previous point in my life. Minor success definitely keep the process mentally on the rails for me.

Wow, that’s more than you weigh, good work!’ – my girlfriend

I just came home from PR’ing (unnecessary lingo for ‘heaviest thing I’ve lifted in one particular contrived fashion’) my high back squat at 225lbs. As a squat goes it’s not particularly impressive, especially for someone my size, but as my lovely girlfriend pointed out it’s the first time that I’ve squatted more than my body weight. I think this is a good general fitness milestone to have achieved. Not that it matters in any real sense but I also feel like I could have pushed the number higher. I had just finished maxing out my dead lift 15 minutes earlier, failing at 335lbs. I’d say a fresh attempt could see me squat 235-245lbs, which isn’t powerlifting-meet-ready but isn’t too shabby either.

‘Holy sweet FUCK my legs are sore’ – me complaining to anyone who would listen or make eye contact with me this past Sunday

James and I have been focusing on relatively short, 1-2 hour workouts as they fit into our schedule with semi-regular 3-4 hour outdoor climbing days mixed in. We’d gotten fairly fit at this format so when a looming rain forecast washed out any climbing plans for this past Saturday I thought I’d attempt a local hiking trail to push the time envelope.

Bluff Trail, located outside of Halifax and only 15 minutes from my house, features four loops built one on top of the other in a rugged section of Nova Scotia forest/bog/swamp (I’m no outside science-type guy – there’s lots of green things there, that’s all I know). I’d done the first two loops at various other times, including a 3.5hour stroll around the 15km second loop two weeks ago. Since I had the time I wanted to try the outermost 24km loop. I believe that the longest single hike I’d done before this was the approximately 20km final leg of Cape Chignecto (with a heavy pack, of course) so I was pushing things a bit.

I started strong despite some hail, rain and poor jacket choices but noticed that my legs started to fail at around the three hour mark, getting progressively more and more tired up until I finished the loop after 5.5hrs of total hiking time. This wouldn’t set any trail running records on fire but the point was to stay within Zone 1 for the duration. You should be able to check out the data on the hike here through my Suunto account.

I was surprised at the lack of fitness my legs had for longer efforts but it makes sense given that the longest single output so far has been less than 3 hours.This was a good point in the program to learn this lesson as it gives me, and James by proxy, almost three months to shift our focus to fewer, longer days to build our engines up to comfortably handle 10+ hour outings. The real key isn’t being able to suffer through one day like that – just about anyone could get through one day. It’s being fit enough to be able to get up the next day without any major discomfort and do it again. And again. And again.

Does anyone have insight on shifting focus from more short, intense days to longer days out? As silly as it seems, I’m starting to think that long days of hard hiking are better training for our Bugs trip than are days out at the crag standing around, belaying, chatting, etc.

3 thoughts on “Training Tuesdays: Squat PRs and other observations

  1. First off, congratulations on completing a 20K+ hike. Like you say, it’s much harder than you think. Five and a half hours is no joke. I bet you were plastered afterwards and woke up in the refrigerator with a pack of hot dogs in your teeth.

    Were you wearing a heavy pack? I ask because I’ve been gradually replacing my Zone 1 running workouts with Zone 1 hiking workouts, and the only way for me to really get my heart rate thumping is to carry about 15 kg (33 lbs) with me. What most surprised me – even though House and Johnston say it repeatedly in Training for the New Alpinism – is how different hiking is from running, in terms of the muscle groups that come into play. Holy sweet fuck indeed – I didn’t know that my hip flexors and butt cheeks could deliver such dreadful agony. I did a hike similar to yours very early on in my program – like in January or February – and afterwards I also wanted to cut my feet off because they hurt so bad. Thank God that’s not the case anymore.

    As to your question about moving to longer days versus short, intense days: it depends. I think your time at the crag is skill-specific, allowing you to hone your climbing skills, related muscle groups, coordination, etc. But your marathon hikes will probably build up the necessary endurance base for long sustained efforts, whether it’s just moving across the landscape or ascending a route. Maybe one way to combine both activities is to do a long hike to your local crag, do your climbing, and then hike back? That way you’re most closely approximating the actual rhythm of what you’ll be up against on your Bugs trip.

    1. That’s pretty much our plan – we have a few crags around us that never see traffic because the approaches are longer than 30 minutes. We’ve decided to do a ‘tour of the remote’ and check them all out to accomplish exactly what you’ve suggested.

      I still have yet to go for a run on the program. I can get my HR into the right zone hiking with a pack and have been doing my zone 3 work by pushing a weighted sled for 30min blocks at the gym. I keep threatening to start but I’m a little concerned about culmulative impact damage to my knees and ankles. I gave myself a very painful overuse injury while training for a half marathon a few years ago and don’t want a repeat of that. Additionally, now that our weekly volume requirements are north of 13hrs/week running doesn’t seem efficient. I don’t know about you, but I can’t run for 5 hours at a time so I’d have to do many shorter run blocks rather than one long hike to hit my hourly target.

      1. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I’m running anymore, now that I’ve found the one or two tiny hills here in Potsdam. If I were in your shoes, I would just stick with the pack – it’s the right motion and the right muscles, it’s skill-specific, and you can go for much longer than you ever could running, thereby building a vastly larger aerobic base. I definitely can’t run for more than an hour, let alone five, but who cares, right? I would much rather hike my ass off than run until I need surgery on some worn-out joint.

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