67381You get used to a pretty busy schedule of meetings at Microsoft. Either you let it get to you, or you adapt. I had adapted quite well. I had a full slate for the week, with a fairly important release coming up the next week, and meetings stacked up on most of my days. I had a late call for a “Skip-Level” or a meeting with my bosses’ boss. This wasn’t all that uncommon, and usually involved a bit of outreach from the higher management, a bit of chit-chat, and back to work you go.

So I completed my round of meetings in the morning, had the release drop prepped for a review later, and made my way over to the big bosses’ office. There was someone already in there, so I waited outside. After a bit, she opened the door, and asked me inside.

“Mark, thanks for coming. This is to inform you that your position has been eliminated at the company, and as of this moment your duties are finished.”

I was laid off.

I held the packet of severance information in my hand as I walked out. I was actually one of the lucky ones, I had two months for internal job search before I was terminated. But I was still in shock. I headed home. Then I had the pleasure of telling my wife that I no longer had a job. The look on her face made me want to cry.

This sucked.

Fortunately, and frankly accidentally, I had been prepared for this. I was not prepared to go out and market myself, I had a stale resume, and I don’t interview very well. I’m nervous talking in front of people, and twice as nervous talking about myself. But I had two things going for me.

First, my job for almost thirteen years has been about firefighting hot issues. Website failures, system failures, publishing failures. Big, high-visibility, high-pressure issues where vice-presidents were breathing down my neck and thousands of dollars were lost every minute. I could buckle-down and ride this kind of stress with no problem. I instinctively knew to hunker down and focus on working the issues. No blame, no anger, just resolve the problem at hand.

Second, I had my health. This might seem like an irrelevant thing, or something silly, but at the time if felt critical. From my weightlifting and kettlebell work, I knew that I was capable of pushing through personal suffering and short term pain for a goal.

It may sound silly, but knowing that I could focus and survive making 100 Kettlebell snatches in 5 minutes told myself that I could dive and survive interviews. No ifs, ands or buts. Most of physical exertion is mental at root. I knew that I could tap that experience and use it to my advantage.

I had to focus on the process forward, not blame backward. This meant casting aside the immediate self doubt that was creeping in, and focusing on what I knew I did right. I knew my job, I knew I was good at it. Now I needed to get out there and ignore the potential for failure to sell myself.

I was given access to a placement resource, and they offered classes on things like networking and negotiation. I attended everything I could. I cast a wide net on the internal search tools, and started contacting individuals on the teams that were up. I fixed my resume and sample works so folks could see what I did.

I ended up getting an offer from the first group that I met with. Lots was happening in parallel, but the first contact made me an offer. In the end, it will be a great advantage to move to this new team. But the path here was rocky, to say the least.

Our professional world draws on the personal, just as much as the opposite. A solid personal foundation serves us all well, and can’t be ignored. Physical exertion lays a foundation that can be called when you need it most. And in many ways, our mental state calls on the physical abilities that we have grown.

I landed well, but that outcome was not set in stone. It was earned. I have the support of many, including my wife, family and friends. I have the support of my co-workers, but I also have invisible support from my network of trainers and friends. Solid physical health gave me an edge on mental health. I can draw on all that when needed, and this was one of those needs.

Now I’m excited to move on to my new work, and thankful to all those who gave me a helping hand, whether they know it or not.

Thanks.

So I completed my Deadlifting cycle for a bit. That was a ton of fun. (Actually, if you add all the pounds moved, it was well over a ton, but that involves doing a lot of math, so I’ll just round down)

As I have written before, I use Pavel Tsastouline’s Power to the People protocol for Deadlifting. But I was able to have even more fun with this. Over the summer I had picked up Easy Strength by Pavel and Dan John. Easy Strength is an amazing book that details out how to understand and identify your goals for lifting and training, track progress, and set your programs to hit those goals.

I had read through it twice, and found a great protocol that I thought would fit my Goals (general fitness as opposed to sport specific) and it fit both my skills and equipment. The program worked out to be:

2-week Block Training (for a minimum plan of 10 weeks (5 sets))

Block 1: Single-arm Kettlebell Clean and Presses with Goblet Squats
Block 2: Power to the People Deadlifts

If you aren’t familiar with these these things, I’ll clarify.

Block Training is an old training method (very popular in the Former Soviet Union) where different exercise types are organized into Blocks, with a period of two weeks being the most common. You alternate the blocks over a period of several weeks before changing or moving to something new. Each block would differ from the others by either area worked (say, and Upper body block followed by a Lower body block) or it could differ by exercise type (in my case, a Pressing and Squats block followed by a deadlift block) You can run at a fairly high intensity as you recover from one type of work as you change to the other. Also, it lets you combine things in a way that keeps everything interesting.

Kettelbell Clean and Presses are surprisingly less common that I usually think. While kettelbells are very popular via Crossfit right now, most folks out there are just using them for swings (and typically the American Style over-the-head swing. – I follow RKC methods myself). I favor the C&P because when you are handling a large overhead weight on one hand only, then add the inherent eccentric balance of the Kettlebell, you turn an upper-body exercise into a whole-body lift. You need tight Glutes, core, and lats to achieve a good, straight lift, or you just wobble all over the place.

The Goblet Squat is one that Dan John promotes all the time as a way to dial in clean Squat form. Holding a weight out n front of your body, you pull yourself down into a low squat, with elbows resting on the inside of your kneecaps. It is very hard to get out of alignment with this exercise, and it really dials in great squatting form. The Kettlebell handle is a perfect alignment for the grip in a goblet squat, making it a perfect bookend for pressing sets.

With varying weights, this made my sets look like the following:

Block 1:
Single Arm Presses & Goblet Squats

Monday (16kg x 5, 20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Wednesday (32kg x 2, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets
Friday (20kg x 5, 24kg x 5) X 4 sets

Block 2:
Power to the People deadlifts

Monday: 185lbs/135lbs
Tuesday: 205lbs/185lbs
Wednesday: 225lbs/205lbs
Thursday: 215lbs/205lbs
Friday: 225lbs/205lbs
Saturday: 235lbs/225lbs

After a Kettelbell week I would see if I felt up to adding an extra set for each day. At the end of a lifting week I would dial back 20 pounds, then add 10 each day. If the set felt too hard, I dialed back a bit.

This progressed fantastically! By the last Kettelbell week, I could get in 5 solid sets, and I was on track to break through a deadlift of 300 pounds. A few days before my cycle completed, I racked up 285 pounds to the bar.

In proper form, I made two excellent pulls. On my third pull, elves snuck in and glued the weights to the floor.

I mean, the bar didn’t move at all.

I was at my body’s limit, so I cut it short. I was well past my Personal Record, I had finished 9 weeks of solid, intense training, made amazing gains, and had no injury. So when my body said stop, I listened.

I took the next two weeks to recover with walking and some light bodyweight. Then is is on to the next challenge…

Well, at the end of last weekend I managed to work my way over to my mom’s house and steal a stack of Olympic weight plates that my brother left in the back porch. Combining those with my own, I now have 325 pounds of weights for my Olympic barbell, which means…

Deadlifts!

Power to the People was one of the first books from pavel that I picked up, but I never had space or equipment to do deadlifts. It was a great book to have in any case, since half of the book is Pavel’s standard discussion on tension, strength, and muscle irradiation. Real fundamental stuff. But now I went back to the book and re-read the whole section of starting deadlifts. The big upside, as mentioned int this book and just about every book on lifting, is that deadlifts are a very natural movement and a safe one at that. You don’t have a bar over your head and the motion isn’t awkward and tricky.

For pavel’s program you combine two sets of 5 pulls each per day, with a set of overhead presses. the book offers a barbel side press, but I’m option for a Kettlebell Military Press instead, as it is a lot safer than swinging a 6 foot bar around inside the room.

Here are this week’s numbers:

Monday: 185lbs/135lbs
Tuesday: 205lbs/185lbs
Wednesday: 225lbs/205lbs
Thursday: off
Friday: 225lbs/205lbs
Saturday: 235lbs/225lbs

These weights aren’t particularly heavy yet, but I am doing a slow progression to keep form and build up to some kind of a wave cycle later on. You can really feel the difference in this exercise vs a lot of the Kettlebell lifts, it is a whole body tension that is hard to do otherwise.

Of course, the massive “clank” as the weights hit the ground is a lot of fun too.

Iron!