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Matt Chan’s Training Wisdom

In Training on August 30, 2012 at 9:50 pm

A confession: I’ve become a podcast addict. Thanks mostly to the Burpeee Warrior, I’ve discovered that podcasts serve as the perfect companion for my long walks from home to the office to the gym and back. Though I don’t necessarily agree with all his advice, I’m easily entertained by Robb Wolf (and Greg Everett) of The Paleo Solution. I’ve also started listening to CrossFit Radio. Today, my perambulating accompaniment was Episode 233, which includes interviews with Julie Foucher and Matt Chan– the women’s and men’s second place finishers for this year’s CrossFit games. Julie seemed like a sweet, intelligent girl, though I didn’t glean anything fascinating during her interview. I enjoyed Matt’s more, since he revealed more about his training methodology.

First of all, Matt underscored the advantage of having a coach. I was actually surprised to hear that he had a coach since he himself owns and operates a very successful CrossFit box, and is an accomplished trainer. However, he made a point with which I agree– it’s impossible to eliminate our own biases when determining our own workouts. He attributes the tremendous improvement he saw between last year’s games and this year’s games to his work with a coach. They sat down and reduced the amount of time he spent lifting heavy (Matt’s already one of the bigger, stronger athletes in the CrossFit world) and worked on his endurance. Also, for those curious about the amount of volume undertaken by a serious CrossFit competitor, he said that he spent about 1 and 1/2 hours in the gym at a time– usually only one workout a day (perhaps significantly more sane than Rich Froning’s regimen). But Matt’s workouts were still long– often up to 40 minutes… many heroes, sometimes back-to-back heroes. He also discussed a horrific-sounding triple-Fran, which– by comparison– made the last workout of the CrossFit games (Isabel, Elizabeth, Fran– with brief rests in between) seem manageable.

Something else Matt emphasized was the importance of recovery. Apparently he spends 10-20 minutes on an airdyne or a rower after each workout to keep his heart pumping and help eliminate the waste released into his bloodstream during exercise. A well-known adherent to the Zone Diet, Matt bumped his daily intake up to 25-28 blocks a day during the Games. Also, during the competition, as well as throughout training, he took in ~100g of carbohydrates after stressful workouts.

I mentioned that Matt’s an accomplished coach, and Judkins (the host of CrossFit radio) also asked Matt about his programming for CrossFit Verve. Apparently, Matt takes the time to program separately for the everyday gym-attendees and the aspiring competitors. For the generalist who’s interested in personal wellness, Matt uses Wendler’s 5/3/1 program– though only two lifts a week. These patrons do the bench and the squat based on the 5/3/1 template, one on Monday and one on Thursday. For more competitive athletes, Matt uses the Westside Conjugate method. He incorporates two max effort days and one day that involves two dynamic effort lifts. This isn’t too far a departure from my current programming, which is 2 max effort days and 2 dynamic effort days with one major lift apiece.

Speaking of my programming, I’m loving my Westside Conjugate experiment. I PR’d again on my squat on Monday and my press on Tuesday. I screwed up a bit and didn’t do as many reps of a 3RM as I should have (according to Prilepin’s table, I should have shot for 15 total lifts, and I only did 9… but I also accidentally started at a higher percentage– 90% instead of 80%). (*Paranoid knocking on wood*) I just hope the progress continues… As for the dynamic days, I’m… noticing how much my explosiveness sucks, but thrilled to be doing something about it. Moreover, I feel that the assistance work is really helping. Though I’m not usually sore from the major lifts the next day, I can feel the impact on the minor muscle groups that I’m targeting through the supplementary lifts (JM presses for my weak triceps, sumo deadlifts for my quad-to-hamstring strength imbalance). I’m also awful at Glute-Ham raises (and convinced that I’ll topple off the machine and break my head open sometime…), but again… glad to be working on weaknesses.

Lastly, I actually think it helps that I’m following the box’s programming again. It’s not an ideal situation since my major lifts don’t align with the major lifts that the coaches program using Wendler’s 5/3/1 on each day, but I’m forced to do movements I would otherwise forget about or avoid. Whenever I don’t feel like doing a WOD, I interrogate my own reasons for it. If it’s because I’m burnt out or exhausted, then I let myself take an easy day– maybe complete rest, or something involving a prowler or just a long walk. But if it’s because I hate overhead squats, then I do the damn WOD and I concentrate on hitting the absolute bottom during that squat and slowing down my reps for the sake of form and range of motion. I’d like to think that this approach is working well, as I subtracted another 10 seconds from my baseline on Monday. It was my first sub-4:00min time, and I now clock in at 3:54. I actually don’t think my run is my limiting factor anymore (though it could still be significantly better). Now I’d like to be able to get through those air squats faster (too many breaks), and I’m annoyed that my sit-ups are slow… I could do them ad nauseum, but I just can’t move my body back and forth quickly as others seem to. Do I need to slam harder back down on the abmat? Something to try out I suppose. The good news is that I’m feeling better about my butterfly pullups. I think I’m skipping the gymnastics kip altogether. Someday I’d like to go back and smooth out my transitions between them so I can link them smoothly, but right now the butterfly feels so much more natural. I’d also like to link my toes-to-bar… right now I have to return to a dead hang and swing back up.

Anyway, that’s the long update for now. School awaits and I have many chapters of Aristotle and Rousseau and various other theorist/philosophers waiting for me. Happy Thursday.
P.S. Don’t forget to enter my Coconut Oil giveaway!

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Free Stuff! Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil

In Food on August 27, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I’ve made no secret of my love for coconut products, so imagine my exuberance when granted the opportunity to review the Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil from Tropical Traditions. I use coconut oil for most of my primary cooking purposes– from frying eggs in the morning, to sauteing vegetables, to pureeing it with mashed sweet potatoes. It also makes a killer, easy  fudge. I prefer coconut oil because I find it’s a lot less harsh on my irritable stomach than a lot of other cooking oils. I’ve tried several different brands, but Tropical Traditions prides itself on its unique production process. From their website:

The fresh coconut meat is shredded (wet milled), and then cold-pressed using the water from inside the coconuts to make coconut milk. The milk is then allowed to sit for about half a day, while the oil naturally separates from the heavier water. The oil is then filtered from the curds (coconut solids). No chemical or high-heat treatment is used, and this oil contains no trans fatty acids. We do NOT mass produce this oil. It is made by families who are coconut farmers using old-fashioned traditional methods that have been used in the Philippines for hundreds of years.

I was a little skeptical about whether or not this process would be reflected in the taste– especially since we eat oil with other foods rather than by itself, but I was pleasantly surprised by the  depth of flavor of this product. Even just upon opening the jar, I noticed that the oil was smoother and softer than that of other brands. The entire jar has an even consistency, and the oil has a wonderfully rich, sweet butteriness that elevates even my rudimentary cooking techniques.

I’m also happy to announce that I’m hosting a giveaway for 1 quart of Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil (more details below). All you have to do is subscribe to their newsletter here, and send me an email at WanderingJomad@gmail.com telling me you did so. (Entries will close on Friday, September 7, 2012). The winner will receive 1 quart of deliciousness, shipped entirely free of charge.

Many thanks to the folks at Tropical Traditions for the opportunity to taste and review their product. Don’t forget to enter my giveaway so you can try it for yourself!

Disclaimer: Tropical Traditions provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose.  Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review or sponsor a product giveaway in return for the free product.

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More Thoughts on Programming

In Rhetoric, Training on August 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm

I’ve mentioned often how I admire knowledgeable coaches who know how to apply their scientific and experiential learning to their training programs, but I haven’t given many specific examples about it. Though I concluded that it’d be too difficult for me to follow Outlaw’s programming while remaining an active participant at my box, I still read Rudy’s blog on a daily basis, just trying to keep up with his thought process. I loved this recent post, breaking down his motives for each aspect of his WOD:

http://outlawcoach.wordpress.com/2012/08/26/120827/
In the post, Rudy explains his goal times for each movement, and the fact that, couched inside this chipper of widely varied movements, he’s replicated a “traditional timed conditioning effort that acts like interval work, and is slowed down by a high lactic movement after performing two completely different high intensity/anaerobic efforts.” As the athlete progresses from muscle ups to a rower to clapping pushups, he’s actually simulating a two minutes on, two minutes off interval pace.

Finally, the workout concludes with kettlebell overhead walking lunges because, after pushups have fatigued the athlete’s arm extensors, pectoralis, and anterior deltoid, he shouldn’t be able to achieve the overhead lunges without employing his trapezius, which is larger and more effective. Programming so that the athlete’s own exhaustion enforces proper form? Go Rudy.

Something like this is also why I worry about haphazardly appropriating different workouts. Without awareness of the coach’s original intent, you could entirely defeat the point of a properly designed workout. For example, an athlete too weak to link the prescribed stone-to-shoulders could unknowingly attempt the heavy weight and be confined to one to two reps at a time, entirely missing the “high intensity/anaerobic effort.”

This reasoning is also why I think the “Rx or bust” methodology is a bit misguided. If your Fran exceeds 5 minutes, you probably should have dropped the weight because you spent too much time pacing around the barbell, trying to muster up your strength again. For this reason, I also avoid workouts like “Grace” and “Isabel.” If the workout is meant to condition, I prefer other, less injury-prone/technique-driven movements. Olympic cleans, jerks, and snatches are so precise that I feel like form will give, even in stronger athletes, if they’re racing a clock…And rehearsing bad form at any weight enforces bad form when it counts.

Just the ruminations of a self-educating Jo for the day. Speaking of education, today’s also the first day of school and the first day of my PhD career. In about fifteen minutes, I have to go sound intelli-minigent about Marlowe and embodied rhetoric in Renaissance drama. Happy Monday.

Two Days of Conjugate: Two PRs…

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I’m officially two days into my very experimental conjugate-based program, and loving it. Here’s what’s happened so far:

Day One [Max Effort Leg Day]

Squats 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1
(hit a new one rep max at 142.5)

Assistance Work:

Sumo Deadlift 3×10

Glute Ham Raises… I only managed 10, 8, the 6. These are harder than I anticipated.

Pistols 2 x 15

I also did the box’s WOD, which was:

21-15-9
Sit Ups
Double-Unders
American Swings (24/16)

It was a quick one, but I loved it– the triplet equivalent of a full-out sprint.

The following day, my lower body was smoked. I was sore in places I’d forgotten I had– but it was a good soreness… the feeling that results from a good workout, but not the debilitating exhaustion that renders you incapable of climbing the stairs.

Day Two [Max Effort Upper Body]

Press 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1
(Also hit a new one rep max here)

Assistance Work

JM Presses: 3 x8

Barbell Row: 5 x 5

Kettlebell Press: 3 x10

WOD:

4 RFT
200m
3 Strict Pull Ups
6 Power Snatch (75/50)
9 Dbl Squat Box Jumps (24/20)

Another really fun one… perfect length, and the right amount of reps for each movement so that I could go mostly unbroken, but still feel appropriately fatigued.

I’m still trying to figure out my timing– when to arrive at the gym so I can work in my strength without disrupting class, and when I can get away from the office to do so… it’ll be harder when classes start next week. However, I’m really enjoying the fact that the conjugate system is forcing me to learn these different movements. I hope it makes me a better-informed, better-equipped CrossFitter. Also, I’d planned to use the squat and press as my primary movements for the first three weeks, but Jefe recommends that I not repeat them if I PR’d this week… so I may shoot for 2 or 3 rep maxes on the same movement next week just to introduce a small variable.

I don’t want to get too cocky too soon. But I’m hoping it’s a good sign that switching up my programming was a step in the right direction.

Today’s a rest day so I can have the prescribed 72 hours of rest between Max Effort and Dynamic Effort days. (Lookit me, resting like a good Jo)

For those of you who might have never heard of a JM Press, fear not, I hadn’t either. Prior to attempting the movement, I consulted this video. My favorite part about this video is the first comment: “My gym told me to stop doing this dangerous exercise. They said people have been killed using this bad form.” It reminded me a bit of how many fitness practices are overlooked or eliminated due to poor education. Yeah… the risk of injury increases when you don’t know what you’re doing. Be smart, educate yourself, get a spotter if you need one… but don’t write off unfamiliar movements for lack of knowledge. Lessons of the day: JM Presses kill. Also, they’re pretty effective for working your triceps– you know, if you’re feeling “dangerous.”

Testing Maxes and Trash-talking

In General, Training on August 17, 2012 at 9:43 pm

So, at the conclusion of my 70’s Big Strength and Conditioning Program, I’ve re-tested all my one rep maxes. Now at a body weight of 109lbs (107-110 depending on the scale and probably time of day), I have the following one rep maxes:

Back Squat: 140lbs

Shoulder Press: 67.5lbs

Deadlift: 225lbs (Reached my over 2xbodyweight goal!)

Bench: 100lbs (A bit unhappy about this one. It was ugly, and I feel like I should be able to press more, but my technique is very, very sloppy.)

Power Clean: 85lbs x2. Though I can do 85 for reps, I can’t go any higher– again, I think I’m limited by technique here.

I feel all right with where I am– though admittedly most of my lifts are just a tad shy of where I’d hoped to be by the end of the summer. I know I’m greedy though, and am trying to apply more patience to my strength training. I’m happy with my deadlift, but I’d like to improve my back squat, and I’d like to add another ten pounds to my bench and clean, and hopefully get my press up to 75. Eventually. Immediately, I want to work on my squat and clean and my explosive power. By the time of the Iron Lion powerlifting open in November, I’d like to be able to put up a 150 squat, a 110 bench, and a 235 dead… I have about six pounds of bodyweight to play with and stay within the 115lb weight class, so… fingers crossed.

I almost had a heartbreaking moment when testing my deadlift today. I failed once at 210 before trying again. Afterwards, 215 went up easily, 220 was rough but manageable, and 225 was a good stopping point because my form was giving. But what happened during that first 210 fail? It should have been easy– I’d managed 195×5, so 210 should have been a given. But I knew I wouldn’t make the lift before the bar even left the ground. Something in my setup didn’t feel right. As I gripped the bar, I saw myself failing. I should have backed off and restarted. I’ve experienced this before with all the different lifts– the moment I imagine myself screwing up, I inevitably will. I don’t know how to keep myself from doing this, but I do know that I should learn to shed the ego and back off rather than attempt the lift anyway. Everyone says it– the body is capable of more than the brain thinks it is… if you let that mental self-doubt sneak in, it can sabotage you well before you reach your potential. I’m a master of self-sabotage. I’m always inside my head, always second-guessing. always predicting the many ways that things could go wrong. Ironically, just this morning, I ran across a post by CrossFit Games competitor Katie Hogan about “how to prep for a max effort lift.” She recommends psyching yourself up– in whatever way works for you. I’ve been working on this lately… I have two approaches: either channeling something that gets me angry, or repeating Sgt. Powerlifter’s slogan: “I’m going to make this weight my b*tch.” It’s silly, but the words allow me to embody an attitude that I can’t quite own on a regular basis. And–even if just for those few vital seconds– it allows me to mime a confidence that then become real when I pull the bar. So… Katie Hogan stomps and curses out her weight plates, I mentally demoralize mine with questionably sexist trash-talking. But hey… find what works for you 🙂

After testing my one rep maxes, I decided to participate in the box’s WOD. We could either run 3 miles or row 5k. Because I’d just maxed my deadlift, I felt more like a light jog than the prolonged torture of rowing… so I embarked on my three-miler, but foolishly slow. I missed the turn, and wound up probably running an extra mile or two after I got lost. Silly wandering Jomad. I didn’t mind the extra distance, but I’m regretting it a bit now since I’m not accustomed to endurance runs and the soreness is settling in. Mostly, I’m worried that I’ll be too sore to participate in tomorrow’s programmed “Nancy” WOD (sprints and overhead squats), but we’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Oh! It’s been a while since I’ve mentioned anything food-related, but I’ve been experimenting with paleo-esque barbecue sauces just for fun… partially because I bought a case of tomato paste from Sam’s Club and needed to discover new things to do with it. Here’s what I have right now:

(Mostly) Paleo BBQ Sauce:

6 oz can tomato paste
1 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar
3 TBSP Mustard
1 TBSP Worcestershire Sauce
Splash of liquid smoke
Generous amounts of onion and garlic Powder and smoked paprika
3 TBSP water (to thin out the consistency)

Add honey, molasses, or apple juice if you prefer a sweeter flavor

Anyway. The new semester is only two weeks away and my professors have already sent out our first assignments… so my Friday evening’s about to be a blast. Happy weekend to you all.

Evaluating CrossFit Strength Programs

In Training on August 16, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Fickle Jomad that I am, I’ve decided on another strength protocol. After borderline obsessive research, I can confidently say that I’m at least conversant with all the strength programs popular among CrossFitters. There are actually a limited few upheld as the “most effective.” Even the lifting regimen that I was following (70’s Big Strength and Conditioning) seems to be falling out of popularity. Here’s the breakdown:

Starting Strength: Simple, brutally effective and pretty much universally recommended for any true novice lifter. It allows you to optimize those beginner gains. However, the high volume virtually eliminates your ability to incorporate any actual CrossFitting. I have no doubt that there are individuals who– against general wisdom– add their own metcons, but the efficacy of that is to be debated…

Crossfit Football: Strength-based CrossFit designed particularly for athletes in power-based sports (football, rugby, etc). Its website provides a daily workout paired with a strength workout. Easy-to-follow– just go to the webpage and find your workout for the day, and doesn’t get too complicated. It also has three options: a basic level for the amateur athlete, another one for individuals who compete in their given sport at the collegiate level, and one more for professionals. It also offers an in-season and and off-season option for those who are actively participating in their sports. I think its simplicity, paired with the fact that it allows for more CrossFit-esque workouts explains its extreme popularity.

The Outlaw Way: A relative newcomer that’s made a huge splash. Rudy’s Outlaw programming produced an impressive amount of Games competitors this year– including third-place finisher Talayna Fortunato. Though the website claims that athletes of any level can follow this program, it is specifically designed for Games hopefuls and looks very much like an advanced training program. It incorporates not only many Olympic lifts, but also the supplementary exercises for those lifts and I worry that an inexperienced athlete could just rehearse his own mistakes without the eye of a knowledgeable coach.

Catalyst Athletics: A highly respected resource for Olympic lifting, Catalyst offers daily workouts as well as an archive of different training cycles for people particularly interested in improving their Olympic lifts. As with Outlaw’s program, though, I worry that the beginner here would unknowingly repeat too many of his own mistakes.

Greyskull Linear Progression: A linear progression program that reduces the squatting frequency and allows for a bit more conditioning.

Wendler’s 5/3/1: More of an intermediate program, this one raises your lifts by smaller increments and is thus more useful for people who have progressed beyond their beginner gains. Its absolute simplicity and adaptability make it an easy choice for CrossFitters. It also pairs well with metcon-ing.

Westside Barbell’s Conjugate System : more on this later

After my last post, I posed a few questions on the CrossFit forums about CrossFit Strength Bias, whereupon a few people responded pointing out that CFSB has fallen out of favor lately, which could be interpreted as a sign of inefficacy (there are a probably a lot more factors at play, but with my limited knowledge… I must defer to those who know more). Anyway, after that I decided I’d just return to the 5/3/1 programming that our box follows…  but someone more knowledgeable than I, whose opinion I respect, pointed out that Wendler’s program technically isn’t the best fit for my goals. As I mentioned in my last post– I want to work on being more explosive– faster sprints, more powerful O-lifts, generating more force at once… At the end of the day, 5/3/1 is a powerlifting program, which is not quite what I’m looking for.

I knew that the Conjugate system had a lot of loyal followers. Moreover, I knew that it had a power/explosive component, but I’ve always been scared away from following it. With the exception of the Conjugate system, all the programs I listed above are pretty much “plug and play.” You find your lift numbers, and the program or the website will give you a lifting protocol to follow… exactly which lifts, on what days, and how many times. The Conjugate system is more complicated than that. It’s based off “Max Effort” (1-3 rep maxes) and “Dynamic Effort” (explosive movements with 40-60% of your 1rm) days. There are no specific prescribed lifts nor specific “assistance exercises,” but rather, a very long list of possibilities from which you can configure your own program. It’s the choose-your-own-adventure option. While I could easily see how this is often the most effective program (customizable to your personal weaknesses), I could also see how it allows for the greatest margin of error. I felt that I didn’t know enough about lifting to know how to target my weaknesses, to know which lifts to choose, let alone which assistance exercises to help me with those lifts. Worse yet, there’s a myriad of Conjugate derivative programs that stray from the original concepts– including CrossFit Conjugate by Chris Mason, which eschews the Dynamic Effort days, and Westside for Skinny Bastards, which replaces the DE days with a “Repetition Effort” day.

Anyway, after trying to make sense of all this information overload, I was ready to call it quits. I should also add here that I feel a bit like an ass so avidly pursuing my own programming. The box uses Wendler’s 5/3/1, which has produced fantastic gains in many of our athletes… and I don’t think I’m special or different in any way. I just… also happened to have figured out my specific goals and have the time and will to engage that right now, and I’m very lucky in that our box allows me the resources to do that. I particularly owe so many thanks to Jefe who has demonstrated superhuman patience in fielding my many, many questions, and helping me figure out what type of programming I could do while still participating in the box’s WODs.

Very fortunately, I ran across a “Beginner’s Guide to Westside” that broke down the Conjugate system even further… after reading those forty pages, cobbled together with the bits and pieces I’ve gathered from other CrossFitters’ Conjugate templates, as well as Chris Mason’s CrossFit article and Westside for Skinny Bastards, I’ve come up with a very tentative idea for what I want to do for my own Conjugate system. This is very much subject to change…

The basic principle of the Conjugate system is that you vary your exercises on a 1-3 week basis. Here, I agree with Chris Mason in that CrossFitters (or maybe even just me) are not proficient enough/advanced enough that they need to switch it up every week. So I decided to start with a 3-week block. Also, though I know many Conjugate programs actively avoid using the four major lifts (Squat, Deadlift, Press, Bench) as the “major lift” for their max effort days, I’m going to start there just because… it’s what I know and it’s a new program and I’m nervous about screwing this up. After my first 3 weeks, I plan on evaluating how I feel and then deciding on my next set of exercises. So here’s what my first three weeks should look like:

ME Lower Body

Squat 7×1 (start @ 70% and move up)

Accessory Work:

Sumo Deadlift: 3×5 (@ 80ish percent?) (I’m not sure about this one– about the percentage, or the set counts… I chose this exercise because I saw it listed under good accessory movements for when you have problem getting out of the bottom of the squat, which I do)

Glute Ham Raises 3×10

Pistols 2 x 15 (alternating)

ME Upper Body

Press 7×1

Accessory Work

JM Press 4×5 (I have weak triceps)

Pull-ups 3×8

Dumbbell Press 3×10

DE Lower Body

Box Squat with Chains 12×2 (bar with chains 50%, then 55%, then 60%)

Accessory Work:

Sumo Deadlift: 3×5 (@ 80ish percent?)

Glute Ham Raises 3×10

Pistols 2 x 15 (alternating)

DE Upper Body

Bench 12×2 (start with 50%, then 55%, then 60%)

Accessory Work

JM Press 4×5

Pull-ups 3×8

Dumbbell Press 3×10

Some people have different accessory exercises for DE days than those of their ME days. But for now, for the sake of simplicity, I think I’d like to keep them the same. Just figuring this out took an enormous amount of research and effort– at least for someone who’s still a relative newcomer to strength training. But I like it… I feel like I’m actually taking charge of my own training, and it’s forcing me to learn even more about 1) the many methods of strength training and 2) the way my own body adapts to different stimuli. So… promising developments ahead. Thanks for reading, all.

CrossFit: Nothing New

In Training on August 13, 2012 at 9:57 pm

It seems to me that when CrossFit is poorly planned and haphazardly applied, it’s accused of being a dangerous wreck, but when it’s smartly implemented as part of a focused training program, it’s suddenly an innovative, cutting-edge approach to athletics.

Recently, I came across this video about the training regimen of MMA athlete George St-Pierre. It shows St. Pierre using gymnastics to work on his strength and agility. He uses O-lifts to hone his explosive power. There are also shots of him doing sledgehammer strikes and plyometric jumps. What are these techniques if not the same components of CrossFit? With all this Olympics press, I noticed everyone fussing over Ryan Lochte’s “unconventional training” methods. He does tire flips and keg throws. He tests his vertical jump. Actually, this isn’t new and remarkable. This isn’t innovative and unconventional. CrossFit isn’t even new.

Athletes have a long tradition of borrowing training protocols from other sports. Tabata intervals were invented long before CrossFit. “Cross-training” appeared long before CrossFit. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman simply tacked a name to something coaches have been doing for their athletes for a long time now. It’s not “dangerous” and “crazy” if done correctly, nor is it some revolutionary new system. It’s just that CrossFit suffers from poor quality control and some gyms do haphazardly incorporate techniques for which their members aren’t prepared… but, correctly implemented, it can help a middle-aged working mother get off her couch, it can help a 16-year-old football player get faster, bigger, stronger, and it can help MMA champions up their game in the ring. It’s just about thoughtful program design.

But designing programs for a CrossFit box has its own unique challenges. Whereas most athletes at a boxing gym are probably training to be competitive (even if just in a recreational sense), the members of a CrossFit gym are often more diverse than that. A lot of CrossFit boxes have competitive hopefuls as well as desk jockeys just looking for a good workout or to lose a little weight. Is there a way to design an overarching program that can cater optimally to both extremes? Or do boxes have to find a strange middle ground that doesn’t fully serve either individual? Or, is it appropriate for the individual to take his/her goals into his/her own hands? For the competitive athlete to stay after WODs and work on skill and technique? All this thinking about programming has really developed in me an admiration for people who do this well.

Speaking of programming, it is at last time for me to move on. I thank Justin of 70’s Big for his strength and conditioning program that helped me add 60 lbs to my deadlift, 25 lbs to my squat, 20 lbs to my clean, and 20 lbs to my press. My lifts, however, have slowed or stalled on everything and I feel that this strictly linear progression isn’t working for me anymore. I’m trying to decide on an intermediate lifting program that suits my needs. Here’s my evaluation of where I am:

– I like that I’m stronger, but I’m actually about 10 lbs under where I’d hoped to be for each lift, so strength is still important to me… but I’m no longer tragically below where I want to be.

– I like that I’m stronger, but I’ve lost my ability to carry that intensity into my new strength. I fatigue a lot quicker during WODs. I think there’s two reasons for this: 1) I’ve entirely avoided long WODs/metcons for the past five months, and I’m not accustomed to anything that demands endurance anymore. 2) Being able to lift more means that these lifts are now more demanding for me, and I’m not accustomed to carrying that intensity for multiple reps

– I can do a lot of movements, but can’t link them smoothly. My toes-to-bar and knees-to-elbow involve a weird half-kip between reps, and I max out at 8ish butterflies before I lose the rhythm and start swinging wildly. When I’m tired, that number’s closer to 3-5.

– I still don’t explode. I lift slowly… I’m not aggressive enough in my movements and I just… somehow have difficulty recruiting all my strength potential in a single movement. I often feel like I still have something left in the tank, I just don’t access it at the right moments.

I’d like to think that CrossFit Strength Bias can help me with that. Particularly, I appreciate this snippet from the CFJ article:

So, for the CrossFitter who has a need or desire to get much stronger much more quickly, who is unable to decrease his time on a benchmark “girl” because he just can’t move the weight any faster, or just can’t do the “hero” WOD “as Rx’d” because she can’t lift the weight, we introduce CrossFit Strength Bias.

That’s me. I can Rx Fran, but I don’t even want to test my time because the weight would have me moving much slower than the intense, sprint-like movement that the programmers had in mind. I have a slight misgiving about CFSB in that it doesn’t work the power clean– and I’d like to, in order to both build on my technique and to work on my explosive power… but I think people have successfully incorporated it before. I’m thinking about subbing it in for the front squat day. Anyway, I’m going to be finessing the details of my regimen in the past few days, and I’m sure I’ll update you on that. Another “wild card” for me is that I know I want to participate in Penn State’s powerlifting open and to do that I intend to train a little bit with the powerlifting team and I’m not sure how that will work/what sort of training I’ll do with them…

Anyway, happy Monday to everyone.

Practical Programming and Progress

In Training on August 10, 2012 at 10:31 pm

It’s been a long week of many goodbyes. I miscounted in my last post… apparently, by the end of this week, I will have bid farewell to six friends who are permanently leaving this city. There are small things about State College that irk me– its isolation, the expense of housing, the long winters and the lack of sun…– but really, this city would be livable if it weren’t for the transience of it. I’ve only been here for two years, but I’m already tired of watching people leave. So many times now, I’ve witnessed the beginnings of a promising friendship, but seen it stretched too thin over great distances and snapped… Anyway, that’s irrelevant to most of you, but it’s my excuse for the lack of updates lately. The lifts are still progressing, albeit slower now. I can only add about 2.5lbs to my squat per week and my press has stalled yet again. My deadlift increased according to plan, but my form is decaying, so I’m sticking with this weight (195 x 5) for at least another week.

I’ve also finished reading Practical Programming, which was an enlightening experience. Though the book starts slowly, the latter half is rather useful. It’s divided usefully into programming techniques for “novice,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” athletes. It’s also helped me understand a bit about the current training stage I’m in. As these weights get heavier, I’m noticing that the lifts are also becoming a bit more taxing– nothing serious. I still don’t feel debilitatingly sore the next day, or exhausted… but I’ve noticed I can screw around less after my lifting. Before, despite all the coach’s warnings against overtraining, I felt all right messing around the gym after lifting because I didn’t feel much impact from the strength work… but now, after only 5 deadlifts, I can sense a bit of energy drainage. I find this encouraging… at least, what I’ve gathered from Practical Programming, it means I’m finally working a bit closer to my genetic potential… whereas before, I was so entrenched in the “novice” stage that most of what I could do just wasn’t as physically exhaustive.

What was heartening for me is that Rippetoe provides a chart at the end of Practical Programming detailing the lift statistics for a “novice,” “intermediate,” and “advanced” athlete. According to my internet research (Google wisdom, if you will), I believe that Rippetoe removed these charts from the second edition of Practical Programming because they were often misapplied. They were meant as general guidelines and not necessarily in direct correspondence to the training phases that he describes in the book. Nevertheless, keeping in mind that these are very rough standards, I’m happy to see that all my lifts are firmly beyond the “intermediate” minimum– creeping towards “advanced.” Technically, my deadlift is well within the “advanced” range, and my max bench should be close, but I haven’t tested a 1rm in a long time.*

[*I’ve included a copy of Rippetoe’s charts at the end of this post in case you’d like to look up your own lifts]

This is my roundabout way of circling back to the topic that I feel I need to switch up my programming soon. My squat progress is slowing, my cleans have slowed to moving up 2.5lbs every three weeks or so, etc… I think instead of doing two heavy back squat days a week, I may change to either one back squat and one front squat day, or one heavy day and one light day for speed work. That’s another observation I’ve made– I definitely lack in just power production. I move everything slowly– or at least it feels that way. I don’t “explode” when I lift… or when I run, or kettlebell swing, etc. It’s why I’ve felt like I never quite tapped into my potential… I need to practice tapping into that explosive force more– which is why speed work appeals to me. But front squats may help my clean, so those are also tempting.

The lifting protocol detailed by CrossFit strength bias incorporates the basic lifts, giving you room to play with 3×5 or 5×3 as needed, as well as work with lighter loads and higher reps for explosiveness and endurance. I like that it works both the back and the front squat, but am perplexed that they neglect the bench. It makes sense, though, as CrossFit workouts rarely include the bench press… I may review the CF Journal article on its programming again (here for those of you with CF Journal subscriptions) and report back. Also, their metcon lengths are 20 minutes or less as opposed to my current program’s (70’s Big S&C) 15 minutes or less. I won’t switch over until I’m confident that I’ve exhausted my linear progression… Another thing I have to keep in mind: I want to participate in the Iron Lion Open– Penn State’s annual powerlifting competition– later this fall, and hope to train partially with the powerlifting team in preparation for that… so who knows how my training will shift to accommodate that. I’m pretty sure that, surrounded by actual powerlifters, I have a solid chance of coming in deead last… but the experience will be good for me– even just the few months of training with athletes seriously committed to getting stronger.

Anyway, happy Friday. Hope you all have lovely weekend plans 🙂

Rippetoe’s Practical Programming Novice/Intermediate/Advanced Standards (remember, these are very rough guidelines)

Life’s Small Lessons

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2012 at 10:45 am

The first time I tried a box jump, I collided with the side of a wooden crate and crashed to the ground. The second time I tried a box jump, I scraped my shin. The third time I tried, I carved a seven-inch gash into my leg– which bled for nearly two months. I have a rough history with box jumps. But oddly, my strongest memory of them is a fond one. One morning, very early in the history of our gym, I stopped by during open gym hours to “work on” my box jumps. By this point, my experience had instilled in me such fear that my feet wouldn’t leave the ground no matter how I compelled them to leap. So instead of actually working “box jumps,” two of our coaches had me start from the ground up. They stacked plate upon plate… so that I jumped a couple inches, then maybe six, then nine, eventually building to box height. I remember the patience with which they worked with me. I remember being stunned by their willingness to sacrifice time and effort to help me with such a rudimentary skill. I remember my elation at finally landing my first 16″ jump, then 20″.

We learn a lot from one another in CrossFit, but I think the greatest lessons have nothing to do with how to catch your squat clean or what to eat after your WOD. That morning, after my feet planted square onto the wooden platform, I recognized how much more I could achieve with just a little more confidence. And I learned how much more confidence one could find with the proper encouragement.

This is a week full of goodbyes. By the end of this week, I will have bid farewell to four good friends, all of whom are off to bigger and better things. Last night, we went out as a box to celebrate one last time with two members of our CrossFit community. I am so fortunate to have spent this (too short) time with them, to have witnessed their profound spirits and generosities.

Here’s some of the more memorable lessons they leave me with:

The Mean Machine” (who I think is actually incapable of meanness)

– How to smile like nothing else matters

– How to keep your elbows in when you run

– How to laugh– among friends, and at yourself

– How to look damn good in workout shorts (okay maybe this I learned, but can’t emulate ;p)

– How to remind someone of the strength she’s forgotten

– How to celebrate small blessings

– How to assume the best– of everyone and every situation

– How to go tubing

– How to lift like a (badass) girl

– How to enjoy Magic Mike (okay… I never quite got there, but I tried :p)

– How to strive for your goals, to keep walking when you stagger

– How to care— without reservation, without fear

70’s Bove

– How to bust your ass for your ambitions

– How stretch before snatching

– How to approach everything as a learning opportunity

– How to remain humble, no matter how you excel

– How to excel like a beast

– How to help someone see and celebrate her small victories

-How to execute a climbing rope muscle up (again, can’t emulate… yet)

– How to smell like Abercrombie and Fitch

– How to eat to be 70’s Big

– How to see the athlete in everyone– no matter how scrawny she is when she first tells you she dreams of being a CrossFit coach 😉

Good luck, you two. I’m absolutely certain that you both have the passion and perseverance to find what you want in life. Come back and visit often. We’ll miss you greatly.

Fitness and Perspective

In General, Training, WOD on August 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Because I mentioned this today in conversation, I must follow through and post it on my blog. I attribute this discovery to Madeline at Good Gravy who posted a very articulate response to the Reebok CrossFit commercials that I had blogged about recently. This morning, after 31 Heroes, we were sitting around talking about the many varied forms of fitness, and the different ways in which it can be defined, and I recalled this photo shoot of Olympic athletes. It’s presented here as a reference point for artists, so that they may diversify the body types in their illustrations, but it’s also just a fantastic reminder of how widely fitness can vary, how differently it manifests when we put different demands on our bodies.

It’s funny that CrossFit defines itself as “the sport of fitness,” which I understand– as we’ve incorporated competition, community, and intensity in what we traditionally term the practice of “fitness.” However the actual embodiment of “fitness” is not so easily defined. When the Olympics began, one of the CrossFit clothing companies (RokFit, I believe? But don’t quote me on that) posted a photo of Sarah Robles, currently the strongest female Oly-lifter in the country, and asked the question “Fit or Fat?” which many (including myself) found particularly offensive. For one, they pitted her weight against her fitness as if the two were in opposition with each other. And secondly, I found it troubling that they even questioned the fitness of this immensely dedicated, powerful athlete based on her appearance.

Let’s think about the word for a second: “fitness.” What does it mean to be “fit” for something? To suit, or be appropriate for the occasion. Her occasion is hoisting metric shittons of weight from ground to overhead. And she does it at heavier weights than any other woman in this country. Is she suitable for the task? Fuck yeah.

Speaking of Olympians, I’ve (like everyone else) been glued to my television for London 2012. What I’ve noticed most is the dramatic range of attitudes in different athletes? Did anyone catch the male gymnast from Ireland? He may be the first-ever gymnast from Ireland to participate in the Olympics. Either way, he knew he had no hope of reaching the podium; he knew his single floor routine would be his minute of Olympic glory, and he executed the entire thing like it was a celebration. It didn’t matter if he wobbled or if he skipped forward a step; every inch of his body exuded overwhelming happiness. He was just glad to be there. He’d already won, and the opportunity to perform his sport in front of this audience was his prize.

Then compare that to the top athletes– some of whom fell short of personal expectations. Though I’m rooting for Team USA, I felt a little terrible for d Victoria Komova when she fell to second place during the women’s all-around. The moment those numbers went up, she was instantly crushed. Even on the podium, with a silver medal against her chest, she was in mourning. She’s the second-best gymnast in the world… according to this single competition. She’s earned her place at this global memorialization of sporting and goodwill, and she’s forever etched her name in gymnastics history. But she’s devastated. And I don’t mean to detract from her grief. With how much she’s trained, how hard she’s worked, she’s earned that heartbreak. And I’d be just as broken. But… it’s so easy to lose perspective in a moment like that. With the lifespan of most gymnastics careers, it’s quite possibly her only Olympics, and she wrapped it up with a beautiful floor routine. She’s seventeen years old. When I was her age, I was waiting tables at a sports bar, caffeinating all afternoon/evening beside stacks of history books, and sneaking home at 2:00 in the morning. She should be damn proud… and hopefully she figured that out when the cameras swept away. (Also, if I were one of those athletes, I’d be so tempted to punch the reporters who absolutely must ask “so how do you feel now that you saw four years of hard work go down the drain and you completely disappointed yourself?”)

Anyway, now to today’s WOD.

31 Heroes

AMRAP 31 minutes (As Many Reps As Possible)
8 Thrusters (155/105#)
6 Rope Climbs (15 ft. ascent)
11 Box Jumps (30/24″)

Partner 1 chips away at the movements while Partner 2 runs 400m with a sandbag (45lb/25lb). Our sandbag was 30lbs, but much preferred to the 1pd kettlebell we hauled around last year when we didn’t have any sandbags. Also, at some point we got the sandbags mixed up and I wound up dragging 45lbs around the block. I made the mistake of trying to put it down on the last leg of the run, and pathetically could not hoist it onto my back again.

But the WOD went well. Awesomely, I partnered up with the Mean Machine (who I’m told cursed me out during our last partner WOD– but it’s her own damn fault for picking a non-runner :p). Though we didn’t actively strategize at all, we wound up playing to our strengths. She did all the thrusters (rx’d– what a beast), I wound up with the bulk of the rope climbs (inner-thigh rope burn… I don’t recommend it), and split the box jumps pretty evenly. I’ve mentioned that I love hero WODs, and honestly I really do enjoy the long ones. For some reason, these are the workouts during which I don’t think about the ending, when I’m not wishing or waiting for it to end. I just hit a rhythm and keep going.

For those of you unfamiliar with 31 Heroes and its origins, here’s the website explanation:

This WOD was created specifically to honor the 30 men and one dog that gave their lives for our country on August 6, 2011. It is 31 minutes long—one minute in remembrance of each hero. The rep scheme is 8-6-11—the date of their ultimate sacrifice. Finally, this is a partner WOD. The men who gave their lives were from multiple branches of our military, working together as a team.  In the workout you and your team member will constantly be taking the load from each other providing much needed support and relief. We realize that no physical sacrifice made during a workout can come close to the sacrifice our brave heroes made, but we consider this WOD a CrossFitters ‘moment of silence’. This is how we can honor those that gave all in the name of freedom.

It’s a paltry comparison, but– that story about the Irish gymnast?– this is why I love hero WODs. I may not be able to do everything RX’d (105 thrusters? Someday, I hope…) I may feel like collapsing on the pavement beneath my misbegotten sandbag, but I can’t fail this workout if I’m putting my all into it. It’s not for a personal record, not to affirm anything to myself or others about my fitness. It’s in honor of individuals who gave literally all they could in the name of duty, protecting the comforts and liberties we too often overlook. A perfect way to start the day.