| Romancing the Grindstone, Part 2 – Rehab and Relapse

Author / John Durrett

5-7 minute read

In part 1 of this series I touched on the opening steps of my journey through fitness that eventually brought me to where I am today. In part 2 I wish I could say I took the lessons I learned from all my mistakes and applied them to prevent the cycle from starting again…but that wouldn’t be a very interesting journey, would it?

In 2017 I chose to leave the competitive Iron sports completely; CrossFit and Olympic lifting was fun(ish), but life was about to tell me that it was time to get back into the martial arts. Shortly after I stopped utilizing CrossFit as my primary training methodology, the martial arts gym that I had been clanging and banging at for years was looking to expand their strength and conditioning program into something more robust, and when the opportunity presented itself I applied and became the head strength and conditioning coach and general manager.

I’d been dabbling with some CrossFit Football programming over the years, and even went so far as getting my Crossfit Football Certification in 2013. From my vantage point I watched as the program formerly known as CrossFit Football evolved into Power Athlete. After leaving CrossFit, I decided Power Athlete was the best place to go to continue my strength and conditioning journey. I started up on JohnnieWOD and felt good. Like, really…really good. The litany of injuries that I listed in my previous post were just a memory now, and I had been pulling back on things in training quite a bit; they had taken a toll though, as I was no longer able to safely barbell snatch because of how many shoulder issues I had developed on my left side. Despite that, I was able to work in some Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, returning to the sports I’d moved away from. All was well. This was going to be a brand-new chapter for me.

Cause of Injury #4 – Program Hopping and Combining

I’d like to say that we were out of the woods here and that I had learned from my mistakes. But I was feeling revamped and renewed with this new program and new training methodology; with all the new options, I was like a kid in a candy store. I stayed on JWOD for a bit, then hopped on Field Strong for a cycle or two, then back to JWOD. My lifts were rocketing up. When I felt like I needed a little more, I’d add on an accessory program I found somewhere. The strangest thing about these actions? I’d never recommend them to an athlete of mine. In fact, I’d actively discourage them. I’m being candid here because I’m sure some of the folks reading this have had the same hubris I did: rules for thee, not for me. They’re for people who don’t have what it takes, who can’t handle the volume and don’t have the grit to really get the results. I don’t need to follow those rules. I can program hop here and there, I can “secret squirrel” my programs. I’m a professional. I’ll know what’s too much. It’s embarrassing to admit, especially because at this time, I had recently gotten my certification as a Power Athlete Block One Coach.

Before long, my left shoulder was aching so much that I couldn’t sleep. Lack of sleep led to poor recovery. I started to notice some odd aches and pains in my back and hips, and luckily this time, I was smart enough to recognize what was going on. I reached out to a few friends and collected some opinions. Years of experience now informed me that I needed to draw from the smart coaches around me, including my newly discovered Block One support group. Most of the group recommended I go on Grindstone. I couldn’t believe it. Grindstone? The “flex” program for folks who “didn’t have time”? Not a chance. There wasn’t nearly enough volume there for me. I decided that if I stayed on Field Strong and pulled back on my martial arts, that would be enough. It worked… for a while.

Cause of Injury #5 – Stress

I started training Jiu-Jitsu twice a week and Muay Thai twice a week, spending the rest of my training time on Field Strong. True to its namesake, I was getting massively stronger, hitting huge lifetime PRs on the deadlift and the squat. We’re talking former 1RM for 4 or 5 reps. What I didn’t notice was that my new job was causing me a ton of stress. I also didn’t think that I was the kind of person who could be hampered by something like that. 

You’ll notice a recurring theme here: rules just don’t apply to me. I went from making more than enough money working at established gyms to building a new program from scratch and drumming up tons of private clients to make up the difference. My sleep was hectic. I was getting home at 8 or 9 at night and waking up at 5 in the morning. I was constantly stressed about work. It became a struggle to keep up with my training volume, but I thought if I could just make it through this rough patch, I’d be okay.

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You see, I was always the kind of person who thought you should train as much as possible, that your volume should be just one hair shy of your maximum recovery. My training methodology was basically to live “paycheck to paycheck”, with no savings account. Eventually, this kind of approach catches up to you, and you end up paying your debts one way or another. I went to warm-up one day and was lifting 70% of my deadlift max when I felt and heard a loud pop in my back. My empty bank account had incurred an overdraft fee. 

I crumpled to the floor. It would be two days before I could straighten my body without pain. My wife works as a Physical Therapy Assistant, which was the only thing that kept me moving. I had to take a long break from training. 

After working back in, I avoided loading my back for a couple months. I went to physical therapy, and not just with my wife, but with several different professionals. I even saw the famous Dr. Zanis, who most Power Athlete followers know well as a wizard with a foot obsession. He got me working on some hip and foot work. Several months later, I finally tried to load my back again. For a few weeks, things went well. Then, on a set of Romanian Deadlifts, I felt my back pop again.

I knew it was time for a change, but I still didn’t want to end up on Grindstone. That program was just for folks who couldn’t handle the “real” programs, right? For the first time in my life, after lifting for nearly 20 years, I decided to program for myself.

Cause of Injury #6 – Lack of Coaching

Coaches need coaches. That’s how the saying goes. I learned firsthand how true that was. After everything you’ve read up until now, I thought I’d figured things out. My athletes rarely ever got hurt. Maybe if I simply did what they did, I’d be fine. I started doing the same programming that I wrote for the gen pop classes at the gym. Not what I was programming for my competitive athletes, mind you. This was a big decrease in overall volume and intensity from Field Strong. Still in my mindset of training “paycheck to paycheck”, I ramped up my martial arts training. I went added several longer conditioning pieces to my schedule. After all, I was spending way less time with weights, I could jack up the rest of my stimuli, right? It was time for a new kind of “injury” to rear its head.

In conjunction with those longer conditioning pieces, I went on a weight loss diet. I wanted to try to get back down to 170, a weight I hadn’t been at in over a decade…and when I was there, I was much weaker. I didn’t have anyone watching over my training, my diet, my weight, any of it. I tried to do it all on my own. I took the well-thought-out meal plan that I had gotten and began carving more and more calories out of it. I added more cardio sessions. I got down to 6% body fat. 

One day, I looked into the mirror, literally and figuratively, and had an interesting thought as I stared at my rib cage: if you’re really messing up, who would tell you? You don’t have a coach, you’re doing your own programming, you’re freestyling on your diet. What if your lifestyle is disordered? I started to feel a little off. I got some blood work done. Everything was garbage, especially my testosterone levels, which were well below even the lowest threshold for an adult male. I knew it was time to make a wholesale change, and that was going to come with a new mentality and a big choice: to accept that, just like everyone else, I had to follow the rules.

Related Content:

Blog: Pain: This Shit is Complicated by Matthew Zanis
Blog: Iron Sharpens Everyone: Martial Artists Need Strength Training by John Durrett
Blog: The MMA Diet: Fuel the Fight by Tyler Minton
Blog: Romancing the Grindstone, Part 1 – Addiction and Denial by John Durrett
Podcast: PA Radio Episode 551 – A Fighter’s Journey with Andrew Craig

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John Durrett

John is a Coach at Underdog Mixed Martial Arts in West Hartford, CT, where he teaches both martial arts and strength & conditioning. For over a decade, Underdog has built several professional fighters, even sending some to the UFC and Bellator. John began training martial arts at a traditional Karate dojo at the age of 6 years old. This was the start of a lifelong journey which has seen him log countless hours in a myriad of styles, including Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Wrestling, Kali, Eskrima, and Jeet Kune Do. In addition, John has spent over a decade working as a professional strength and conditioning coach, coaching at the High School and D-III Collegiate Level. Along with over a dozen other certifications, he holds the distinction of being a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA and is honored to be counted as a Power Athlete Block One Coach. He is intensely passionate about empowering athletes to find their max potential and explore their body’s unique capacity for the martial arts.

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