Monday, December 31, 2007

Training - Powertec Workbench Multi System

Many years ago, after the second sprint of a hard ridden Gimbles ride, I was scrunched up on the wood bench at the convenience store (the only sit-down spot in the shade), drinking my Gatorade, listening to everyone talking about whatever. I had made some big efforts and for once actually made it to the end of the ride with the group.

One guy, sitting a couple guys over, turned and looked at me. Now, I should point out that this guy was a really good rider, a Cat 1 (I think) that went by "Mikie". Tall, lanky, slim, with the spiky blonde hair in style at the time. I hadn't seen him at Gimbles, but then again, I hadn't been doing Gimbles very long at this time. The only other places I'd seen him were:
1. At virtually all of the SUNY Purchase sprints, but he didn't really get mixed up with them, he just hammered at the front.
2. At Gainesville FL where he and his Kissena team did some absolutely monsterous miles with their newly crowned Junior National Champion Sean Nealy.
3. At various Central Park and Prospect Park races. He won at least one of them.

So, to be there with someone that strong was, well, a bit satisfying.

Of course, with my jersey unzipped, slouching, I probably didn't make a good impression.

He looked at me and confirmed my suspicions when he blurted out, in a post ride "what the heck was I thinking?" way, "Yo, what's with your hollow chest? You need to lift a bit. And you look so white, you need to get to the beach or something."

That got a bunch of guys going, some chiding Mikie, some laughing, etc.

The good part was he meant it all in good fun.

The bad part was that he was right.

At some point shortly thereafter I started doing some upper body exercises, mainly push ups and some dumbbell type things. I also worked on my tan, but that's a different topic altogether! My brother said once that we family members (at least me and him) were blessed with distinctly unflattering builds - the aforementioned hollow chest and a stomach better for squirreling away reserves than modeling for an abdominal workout gizmo.

A few years later, when I got a chance, I lifted pretty aggressively. I went from struggling with 90 or 100 pounds on the bench to doing reps of 180, maxing out at 200 pounds. This took place over a three or four month period when I worked unusual hours in an office equipped with a very nice gym. A bunch of the guys and I would go downstairs and lift before or after work. I'd gained 10 pounds rapidly, felt much stronger, but looked basically the same.

No need to up my t-shirt size or anything like that.

I never lost that weight, and in fact, I now know that losing weight is much harder than it is to gain it. I figure that, at this point, my best tactic is to gain strength, train a lot, and try and exchange some of the excess fat for some muscle.

Although riding helps a lot, I found in that earlier life (i.e. in college) that lifting really helped drive home a good sprint. So with this in mind, I kept a nice heavy-duty black weight bench from the house, reassembled it in the basement of the apartment, and tried to lift every now and then.

My workouts are somewhat standard:

Curls, to develop bar pulling biceps and related muscles. I curl with dumbbells oriented like a handlebar to try and make it a bit more bike specific.

Dumbbell military presses, i.e. just pushing the dumbbells up like a muscle guy might do. This is a collarbone protecting lift, trying to build the muscle "girdle" around the collarbone.

Bent over rows, flys, and some other stuff I don't know. Basically to work the lats (bar pulling muscles), lower back (ditto, but more core related), and my arms see some benefit too.

Bench presses, because, well, that's what weight lifting is, isn't it? Plus it works on triceps, the muscles you use to hold your body up when you're riding.

The problem is that I lift on my own and can't spot myself. I feel relatively uncomfortable doing an unspotted bench of over 150 pounds, for example, because if my muscles suddenly failed, I'd be choking on a weight bar. My lifting tapered down and my strength slowly dissipated.

Then, on Thanksgiving Day this year, I spotted an ad in the paper for a yellow weight lifting thing I'd previously seen at Dicks Sporting Goods. When I first saw it I dragged the missus over to it and showed her the next great secret training device I really wanted (after the SRM and carbon clinchers and the SystemSix frame and, well, you get the idea). Anyway, the thing was on sale (it still is, by the way) and came with a few hundred pounds of weights (not part of the current sale). So, I think a day later, I dragged the missus to Dicks, we went over and looked at the thing (again), and this time, I bought it.

Of course, it weighs 475 pounds without weights or boxes, and with the additional 300 pounds of weights, the total weight of the package rapidly approached half a ton.

With only Honda Civics around to haul things (the van is at my dad's), and a potential move coming up, we asked if we could pick it up later. Like in a month. Surprisingly, the store people agreed, letting me put the stuff on layaway. (Before you run out and do the same thing, Dicks ended the layaway program last week).

The move thing didn't work so I decided to make the thing fit in the basement. I spent a couple days clearing out a quarter of the basement, to give the weight thing room. With a 8' x 10' foot print, I needed a lot of room. I decided to clear out two more feet each way so it became a 10' x 12' area.

I got some 3/4" exercise mat things which interlock together. Conveniently they are 2' x 2' so I could make a little sketch in my notebook on how to lay them out and get the area I need for the weight thing. I hope to have an area for the bike (on a trainer) and room to put down a newly purchased yoga mat.

Finally, the basement prepped, I rented a 14' box van to pick up the gear. I figured I'd have to un-box the pieces in the van, carry them into the (hatchway) basement, and assemble them inside.

I didn't even want to think about what I'd have to do when we move.

Anyway, when a Dicks person and I loaded the van, I saw that one box was 130 pounds or so. This confirmed the fact that I'd need to un-box stuff in the van.

After about 6 hours of assembling, disassembling (inevitably because something was installed backwards due to the nut holding the wrench), re-assembling, struggling with big pieces of welded steel, trying to line up precision drilled holes while holding said big pieces of steel, and learning tips and tricks on how to assemble such things, I was finally done.


This is a view of the gym (if you didn't know already, click the pic for a huge version of it). It's hard to tell but the floor is actually the mat stuff, covered in "diamond plate" pattern things. You'll see a shelf full of stuff in the back (I want to move it) as well as my favorite bike poster (of a crash).

The bench bit - for bench presses, military presses, and some standing things.

To "test" things, I put 90 pounds on the bench bit, and benched it. Very nice, smooth movement, and no worries about dropping a bar on my throat. I promptly put another 70 pounds on it, cranked out 12 reps, and decided I better chill out before I strain something. Then I re-thought that last bit, took the 45s off, left the 35s on (70 pounds) and cranked out a bunch of military presses (sitting presses).

All the weights seemed very manageable, and since I normally lift up to these amounts, I was a bit surprised. I think the leverage thing is not quite accurate so the weight amount is a bit optimistic (i.e. I'm not lifting the full 160 pounds, more like a 160 x 0.8 or something). This just means that I'll have to put more weight on :)

Since it's a real pain moving 45 pound plates around, I might get a second set of weights. But that costs money and for now I'll make do with moving weights around. It's called "weight training" for a reason, right?

The squat part of the machine.

There's also a nice squat station, and this is one of the reasons I got the whole gizmo. It's a bit tight back there, but you can see it just in front of the shelf in the first picture. I can load up with weights and safely squat without blowing out something if I collapse in exhaustion. I tried it unloaded (i.e. just moving the heavy yellow steel around). Whether it was from accumulated fatigue from my suddenly intense riding schedule or something else, my legs started getting that lactic acid burn pretty quickly. I moved the 45 pounds plates there (to "store" them) and left it for now.

The curl/pull down station. I put a light weight to test the "abs crunch" thing and it seems to work.

On the curl/pull down station I didn't test out the bent-over row or the pull down bits just yet. However, both are among my favorite "sprinter lifts" and I'm anxious to build up some strength there.

Finally the weights came with an Olympic weight bar, i.e. a very long bar that weighs a lot. I can't imagine loaded it up with so many weights that it flexes, but some people do that. For me, I'll be using it for dead lifts, another "sprinter lift" I find helpful.

I hope to use this whole setup to create muscular balance, so that, for example, my back doesn't go neglected. I think lifting really helps create a solid core which allows me to sprint better. My jump definitely improves, and I hope that my top speed does also. I have to incorporate some sort of speed moves too (plyometrics) so I don't become a slow but powerful rider.

In a future post I'll have a more comprehensive review of the Powertec Multi System as well as a host of tips to assemble it quicker and without as many errors as I made myself.


Anonymous said...

Great start! Just don't neglect your neck muscles. Use neck bridging forward and back, with and w/o weights. Trap and deltoid exercises don't suffice or give you a dynamic range of motion.

Small muscles always cause the large (torso) to fail.

Ride safe!

Aki said...

You know, my neck has been sore. I'll have to look up the exercises and start them.

Thanks :)