I just finished my first "official" 4x7 cycle in the sense that I stuck to the format strictly rather than somewhat loosely as I did in the past. I did the kettlebell specific joint mobility sequence, the compensatory yoga for kettlebell lifters and a short session of the Flock of Pigeons flow. Everything is coming along nicely including the plow posture and some of the (for me) more challenging compensatory movements like the cossack shift.
I guess now that I'm done it is a good idea to reflect on my experiences with this 4x7 cycle and some of the things I've learnt.
One of the things that struck me first was how quickly progress came following this format. On the bodyweight work I moved up to level 2 difficulty after three or four microcycles without much increase in effort. The hybrid cycle (combining strength and metcon) that came in the last three microcycles was a different story though. There is still a lot of work to be done with the more sophisticated movements.
In terms of specific improvements or changes I noticed the following:
1. I am definitely leaner (although using the word lean in the same sentence as my name is probably not a good idea). Trousers that fitted comfortably when I started are now slipping down and have to be held up with a belt.
2. I packed on some muscle and tightened up areas that were already quite bulky. For example, shirts that used to fit me well are now too tight around my shoulders and biceps. How the bicep hypertrophy happened is a mystery since nothing I did specifically targeted them. I guess this proves that well balanced full body training can create hypertrophy anywhere.
3. I move better in general. My wife commented on the fact that my posture has changed and that I seem to move with more fluidity.
4. Following on from 3 I can also say that the addition of bodyweight work improved my performance in both Intu-Flow and the Prasara yoga I've been doing. My crow posture for example became much more solid and under control.
5. As far as the kettlebell work is concerned I moved up from level 5 of the AKC fitness protocol to level 8.
6. I experience more of a general sense of well being and mental calmness even when feeling a bit stressed.
The focused protocol also allowed me to discover certain areas that defintely need work.
1. I still need to sort out the tightness in my lower back. I also discovered that my shoulders and upper chest is pretty tight and dense which stops me from easily getting into the wheel posture. As a result of this I will be adding deliberate practice of the wheel posture in my next cycle.
2. My endurance and recovery ability needs attention, particularly when it comes to high intensity exercise. My endurance and recovery is OK when it comes to kettlebell sets but the high intensity of the bodyweight work (especially the hybrid routine) leaves me blasted every time. This would explain while I always gravitated towards low rep strength training rather than endurance sports or sports requiring sustained speed.
3. My pelvic area, hips and groin need to loosen up. I used to be able to do a full side split between two chairs so I'm a bit dismayed at the loss of mobility in this area. Various injuries and long hours of sitting obviously contributed to this problem but I will work on reducing the tightness and regaining full mobility.
All in all I really enjoyed the cycle and I am itching to get started with the next one. Luckily I only have to wait until tomorrow.
As a last thought the bodyweight work I've been doing also got me thinking about the value of bodyweight only training. I recently read an article somewhere (I think it might have been by Steve Maxwell) that mentioned that bodyweight training consistently leads to more fat / weight loss than other methods. The author based this observation on years of results attained by his personal training clients. Inevitably the people who mainly followed bodyweight methods lost more weight than those who chose weight training, kettlebells, or whatever. He came to the conclusion that there seems to be something inherent in bodyweight work that is just somehow good for the body. From my experience the past 28 days I think this phenomenon may have something to do with the SAID principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. When you require the body to do something difficult like for example a hand stand pushup it will try and find ways to lessen the stress imposed. Obviously one logical way of achieving this would be to enhance the neurological signals to the muscle, resulting in greater strength potential. Another way would be to produce some muscular hypertrophy. A third way, which I think is equally logical, is to shed excess weight. The lighter you are the easier it would be to do the work. Anyway, I'll be exploring more about the way the body adapts to being placed under stress via its own weight in my coming cycles.