2014 in review: reflections on the past year (or so) of training

This is going to be a multi-part series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) looking at the training I did throughout 2014 and into 2015, focusing on numerous approaches to programming, what worked, and what didn’t. This post will cover through early 2014. The next post will look in more detailed at what worked through the first half of 2014. The third post will cover the multi-modal program I started in August 2014, and I will write modality-focused posts for my lifting, endurance training, and bodyweight/gymnastic strength training (GST). 


At the end of 2013, I had been in my current graduate program for about three months. Living in a place without good hiking nearby, I had largely stopped hiking except for once every couple of months when I would make it home for a visit. I had no climbing gym, so I had stopped climbing with the 2-3x per week frequency I had maintained for the previous couple of years. I was lifting 1-2x per week. That was it for physical activity. I had never realized how active I was until the end of 2013, when my body felt weak, creaky, and unhappy. On the rare occasion I was able to hike, previously easy trails were difficult and left me feeling worn-out. Pulling ability started being a limiting factor in bouldering. This was incredibly depressing to me, as my body had always felt reasonable strong and capable. I resolved to fix myself.

I began by taking stock of what I wanted to accomplish. My two physical hobbies were climbing and hiking. I knew that I would not be able to practice these as frequently as I preferred. Previously, I would train for my hobbies by practicing them. This was no longer an option, so I had to get strategic. I knew that I would need to fix my pulling ability to climb, so I knew pull-ups would be in my new training. I made a commitment to lift MWF using a modified Starting Strength protocol: 5-5-5 back squat, 5-5-5 strict press, 5-5 deadlift, and then weighted pull-ups and dips as accessory work.

I knew this would help my climbing a great deal and would also help my hiking a bit, but it seemed doubtful that this would be adequate to really maintain the moderately strong hiking ability I previously had. Living in a flat area, simply hiking more was not going to be an option. I have a 50lb pack (ALICE pack with two 25lb kettlebells in it) from my military days. I considered walking around with that, but decided that this would not provide near the stimulus I needed: my difficulty was with the hills, not with the strength of my back. I remembered that I had the Afghan Training Program from Military Athlete. In it, Rob Shaul recommends the use of a box for weighted (with a pack) step-ups to simulate rucking in a gym. Missing the height he recommended (16-19″), I build myself a pretty solid ~8″ box out of 2x6s.

While reading up, I started getting a hankering to work up to being capable of the Military Athlete Operator Sessions, as they seem aimed at the sort of fitness I want to have: tactical fitness for long movements outdoors and short, intense bouts (fights, climbs, survival situations).  I decided to do a periodized program: lifting and “hiking” for six weeks, followed by a few weeks of work capacity-focused work, etc. I started my new program and was progressing reasonably well. Around this time, I also heard Christopher Sommer of Gymnastic Bodies talking on Robb Wolf’s podcast about GB’s new “Foundation” program. I decided to throw in a two-week GST phase, trying to develop a front lever. (I was trying to use Sommer’s original, now-famous Dragondoor article,  Building an Olympic Body through Bodyweight Conditioning — not the Foundation program.)
My program looked roughly like this:
  • 6 weeks focused on barbell strength: the highly-modified SS protocol I mentioned above, plus some snatch work, some press-to-handstand (as I called it) work, pull-up/dip/muscle-up accessory work, and then twice-weekly conditioning sessions (usually step-ups on the hiking box with a pack, occasionally a short run).
  • 3 weeks of “GST”: 2x/week barbell maintenance, a front lever progression, a straddle planche progression, 2-3x/week conditioning (split between running and “hiking”), kip-up progression, and handstand work.
  • 2 weeks of barbell strength (same protocol as above).
  • 3 weeks of work capacity: focused on running, push-up volume, barbell maintenance, and some CrossFit-style metcons.
  • 2 weeks of barbell strength.
  • 3 weeks of hypertrophy work: lots of body weight, some curls, dips, and so forth, plus barbell maintenance.
  • 4 weeks of weightlifting: Bulgarian-esque programming training for the snatch, the back squat, and the clean and jerk 3x/week, strict press maintenance, and some accessory work.

In the next post, I will discuss how this all went.