the spaz of fitness has arrived

Practical Programming

In Rhetoric, Training on July 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Some days are “heavy gravity” days– when the bar feels heavier than usual, when your limbs have turned to lead, when each movement feels stiff and unnatural. Today was, very fortunately, not one of those days. Perhaps it a was a “light gravity” day? I’m not sure how I managed this, but I PR’d my squat, my bench (and my supplementary dip sets), and managed to link four butterfly pull-ups today. I’m actually most excited about that last one. Despite the fact that I’m actually somewhat proud of my strict pull-up numbers*, my kips are awful. My sense of rhythm is off, and after 3 or so, I start swinging at the wrong pace and I have to stop just to keep from flying off the bar. For some reason, the rhythm of butterfly kips feels a lot more organic to me. I can feel when I’m supposed to pull. The movement’s a little harder, and I think actually somewhat more demanding than the gymnastics kip (though it could be because I’m still relatively new to it), but I like how much smoother it feels (at least, when I can get the rhythm right). To keep from absolutely blowing out my arms and shoulders, I jury-rigged a harness system so I could work on technique rather than brute strength. I just wrapped a band several times around the bar and hooked it below both arms (so that the band went across my upper back and just below the armpits). I went back and forth between the harness and unassisted versions to preserve my strength. It’s really tempting to practice these all day, but the problem I have with practicing kips is that they’re such high-impact motions that they’re really rough on… well, everything. Even at my (increasing!) mass, my joints don’t like all that impact, and we all know how kips shred the hands…

[*well, I was proud… ever since the weight gain, those numbers have been fluctuating and sometimes I suck more than I should]

Anyway, afterwards, I stuck around because our box has introduced yoga classes on Sundays. Honestly, I think this is a wonderful addition. We have too many un-bendy folk around the box, and though we had a good number of people for the class today, I hope more members take advantage of it. And the discount we get for being members of the box means that I can finally afford yoga in State College. I’ve never been very flexible to begin with, but I think the CrossFitting has made me even more tense in some areas (Hamstrings of Shame). Admittedly, I felt less stretched-out during this session than my one-on-one torture routine with Gumby, but it was still a worthwhile experience. The pacing is obviously vastly different from that of a CrossFit workout, and holding awkward positions entails an entirely different tolerance of suck than heavy thrusters. Mainly, the yoga session reminded me of the myriad of ways we can know our bodies– the multiplicities of very different “fitnesses” and how it’s humbling and healthy to venture outside our comfort zones (or discomfort zones, as the case may be).

I’ve undergone a lot of thought about what makes an effective trainer these past few days. I mean, as an English instructor, I’ve spent years now taking courses on, studying theory of, and engaging in debates about what makes for effective teaching. I find that a lot of our principles apply to physical training as well– learning how to adapt to the needs and learning mechanisms of each student, engaging with the personality of each class, etc. One of our box’s interns has a fantastic opportunity to become a coach at a well-respected affiliate in Philadelphia. In fact, he’s interviewing today (good luck!). I hate the transience of State College, and I’m always sad to see people leave, but honestly this job would be wonderful for him, and he’s so well-suited for it that I can’t help but wish the best for him. Anyway, on Friday I got to play the fun role of pretend student as he rehearsed the class he would be teaching for the final part of his interview. First of all, I’m impressed that the box has that thorough of a hiring process for its trainers, but I also noted the many thoughtful ways in which he prepped for the process. His entire course was well-structured, and he took care to explain why we did each movement and how all the warm-up, preparatory exercises translated to the workout itself. He also explained the methodology behind the programming and why we did each movement– when to work certain muscle groups and when to let others rest. This helped me during the actual WOD as I knew what I was trying to work during each movement rather than moving for the sake of moving. As someone very preoccupied with the “why” in my training, I really appreciated this element.

I’m in the middle of reading Practical Programming right now, and it’s fascinating. I’ve developed so much admiration for individuals who can develop effective programming. On the surface, it seems like a fairly simple task. And to be honest, I think a lot of people are so un/undertrained that almost any matrix of activity would spark progress. Even overtraining is easier for a novice to overcome and is significantly less devastating than it is to an intermediate or advanced athlete. So there’s a lot of room to play around/screw up with people who just step from couch to gym. But once the trainee progresses beyond the “novice” stage, training becomes so much more scientific. What really caught my eye was that the book provided a method to quantify exercise “intensity” (a term we throw around abstractly all the time):

volume/repetitions = average weight used

average weight used/1RM x 100 = % intensity

It allows us to consider each workout relative to the athlete’s capabilities. Now… what I wished the book addressed (or hope it does later in the volume) is what percentage training intensity would be good to shoot for how many times a week. But even just with this, I assume we want some days at lower and higher intensities. Because weight numbers are deceptive, it’s easy to flirt with that overtraining territory by just doing higher reps at a lower weight. Eventually, you’ll push your “light” day into a “heavy” day. This also puts the demands of a linear progression program into perspective for me. After your initial ramp-up, you’re eventually lifting former one rep maxes for sets of five, 3-4 times a week… pushing at possibly above 100% intensity? No wonder these things only work for novice lifters. It also explains pretty well why I shouldn’t be WODing heavy on my rest days (as much as I ache to do so).

Anyway, I may write more about it when I finish the book. Right now, my “leisure reading” involves that and Sporting Rhetoric (which is actually part of my dissertation research), a relatively new anthology about the rhetoric and performativity of sports. I’m loving the overlap between my research and my extracurricular interests.

Oh… before I wrap up this post, I have a question that’s been driving me crazy. It seems that the most accepted notation for sets/reps is:

(for example):

shitton lbs x 3 x 1

Here, you would be lifting a shitton (technical measurement) for three reps for one set. This is the way that Catalyst Athletics programs and the way a lot of Oly-lifting notation is prescribed. They use this format for O-lifts and for power lifts. HOWEVER, for nonweighted workouts, they write something like “Pull-ups – 5 x 10” to indicate five sets of 10 pull-ups. The numbers have been switched around. Okay… so I could get on board that different exercises have different configurations (as confuddling as it is)

BUT! CrossFit Football uses the following notation:

Bench 3×5 (add 2.5 lbs to last workout)

indicating that the trainee should bench his selected weight for three sets of five.

Outlaw Crossfit follows the same protocol as CFF. (Speaking of Outlaw, I’ve become a bit of a blog stalker of theirs in the past month, and shall post more about this later).

Is there any standardization for this notation, or do we just have to re-learn the standards for each gym/coach/program wizard?

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  1. That anthology sounds really interesting. What’s the title?

    Also, I’ve noticed similar things with my own training, how it was adequate to just kind of half-ass my way through things once I was starting out, but now that I’m an intermediate level endurance athlete, I’ve been looking to plans to help me out, and some of them are extremely scientific and detailed! It can be overwhelming at times, but I guess if we want to get stronger/faster, this is what we have to do.

  2. The book is titled Sporting Rhetoric. It’s edited by Barry Brummett. I recommend that you check it out; there are definitely articles that you’d find interesting– particularly the stuff on performed gender in sports. 🙂

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