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On Integrity and Intensity: Comparing Two 300lb “Grace”s

In Training, WOD on February 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to an astounding video:

The most impressive part of this video is not the fact that Zach Krych completes 30 clean and jerks at 303lbs in just over 18 minutes– though yes, that’s a feat that most mere mortals cannot even imagine.

The impressive part is this:

Note how, despite the fact that Zach clearly fatigues during his monstrous Grace-on-steroids, he still hits these five key positions. We provide a lot of excuses about how, when intensity ratchets up, form naturally breaks down. Don’t let it. Yes, to a certain degree, your movements will get messier when you’re “going for time.” However, maintain the positions that matter. It’s easy to black out in the middle of a WOD, to miss entirely the cues that coaches call out, but a smart coach is prioritizing the points of performance that ensure that you’re moving safely— and these same positions will also help you move the most amount of weight efficiently.

I stumbled across this video because Columbus Weightlifting posted it in comparison to Rob Orlando’s 300lb “Grace”– a video that impressed me waaayy back in my early days of CrossFit. However, with a few more years of scrutiny and CrossFit screw-ups under my belt, all I can see now are the many breaks in Rob’s form. Don’t get me wrong– he’s a phenomenal athlete. But as he tires throughout the WOD, his feet spread into a hideously wide catch position. He doesn’t fully extend on his jerks. He hyperextends his back. All that kicking the wall probably doesn’t help either. Also… Rob’s final time? 33:07.

CrossFitters tend towards an impatient mentality. We want to be good at all the things right now, and sometimes it can feel frustrating to slow down, to scale down, to reduce everything to make sure we hit all our performance points. However, Zach’s performance proves that ultimately such attention pays off– maybe not for this one workout, maybe not tomorrow, but for your growth as an athlete and your health– well, as a human.

Past, Present, and Future

In General, WOD on October 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but I’ve never found the “perfect” time to post it. So, keeping in mind that I am a work-in-progress, that I have learned a lot but have much still to learn, here goes nothing.

We will start, as we usually do, with a story.

I was a little nervous about today’s workout. I would start by finding a new one rep max for my split jerk, then follow that with some higher-volume repetition work at 80%, then 3 rounds of 10 power cleans @ 90lbs + 400m run. Afterwards, I also planned to row 500m x 3.*

*Caveat: I hesitate to describe my workouts in detail here because they’re part of a larger plan written and monitored by a knowledgeable coach, and I don’t want them taken out of context– so let’s keep that in mind ūüėȬ†

For reference, 90lbs is twice what my 1 rep max clean was when I started CrossFit. I hate rowing, and I generally fret before finding new one rep maxes because I’m a basketcase and am scared of discovering that I haven’t “made progress.” So, I was anxious.¬†Fortunately, it was a good day. I PR’d my split jerk by 10lbs, I didn’t miss a clean, and somehow, afterwards, I rowed all three sets of 500m at my PR pace (with 3 min rest between efforts).

Afterwards, I slid off the rower, sat down, breathless, on the floor of an empty gym, and I felt… spectacular.

CrossFit jokes a lot about “embracing the suck.” In fitness, we talk a lot about how much it’s supposed to hurt (“no pain, no gain,” etc.) And to a degree, that’s true. We push ourselves to our limits. We find new limits. We break those limits. But I’ve discovered there’s a huge difference between healthy, productive “pain,” and the self-destructive-awfulness that I’d put myself through for my first months– maybe even full year– of CrossFit.

I’m a little embarrassed of these, but let’s go to some pictures… visual aids are helpful, yes?

Jo circa 2009

Jo circa 2010

present-day Jo: a work in progress

That first photo is Jo before she cared about fitness, before she thought about health, before she thought about bodies or physical beings really. She was a happy Jo, who spent most of her time reading, restaurant-ing with friends, playing video games, etc. She also had pretty bad asthma, which she used as an excuse to avoid general movement. She had mysteriously, perpetually low blood pressure that gave her dizzy spells and occasional blackouts. She’d been unhealthy in odd, mildly annoying ways for all of her life and she just assumed these small things– wheezing, sudden bouts of weakness, fatigue, or nausea– were part of being human.

The second photo is Jo less than a year later, though the majority of that transformation occurred in just three months. It is what happens when small things become big problems– when inattention to fitness becomes full-blown, foolish disregard for health. Honestly, I had a difficult time finding a picture of myself in this period– and there are none that actually show how terrifyingly small I’d become. I didn’t like photos or mirrors– the waifish, fragile thing that stared back at me did not match that image I had of myself. In that picture, I’m 88lbs and so small that they don’t even make clothes that fit me. ¬†For about a year of my life, I couldn’t eat without crippling stomach pain and was thus constantly underfed and… somehow decided that I could live with that. At this point, I simply knew I was small and weak and I wanted to be bigger. Instead of fixing my nutrition and my baseline health, I started CrossFit and tried to lift all the things.

Working out is always the way you get fitter, right? And beginners can get fitter doing pretty much anything, right? So I stumbled into CrossFit without any knowledge of proper scaling– or moderation. I didn’t understand the monumental significance of diet and recovery. I figured lifting heavy things was enough. I slogged through workouts with weights that turned sprint-efforts into max lifts, I did hourlong metcons with insufficient fuel. My body was in a constant state of breakdown and some of it felt truly¬†terrible. I wanted so bad to get¬†better— to be stronger, faster, more coordinated for god’s sake. I loved the idea of CrossFit– where a community of people got together and had fun with their fitness. But my reality was awful. Everything hurt so bad… ¬†everything from running to lifting to box jumps was so damn hard or just plain out of reach that I felt like I was playing a different game. I wanted to be able to wod with the big kids and hold my own. But every day, I felt like I was just floundering on the sidelines. And in my desperation, I continued to ignore the way my body begged for help. I didn’t think about “strategy” during workouts. I didn’t bother to pace myself. Every single workout was a flat-out, frantic flailing to the finish. Ten minutes or forty, it felt like I was just trying to stay alive. I know it’s stupid now. I should have recognized it. I was so weak and sick that I had trouble climbing stairs. I was literally fucking blown over by the wind. There were so many things about my health that I needed to fix before I should be tackling hourlong workouts. But, again, living¬†in my body, I didn’t realize my own experience was so far from the norm. I didn’t realize that the overwhelming exhaustion I felt two minutes into a workout was a cue that I was doing something actually¬†wrong rather than just “embracing the suck.”

But that was no way to live, and eventually… enough time living in an absolute fog of weakness and frailty was enough to prompt me to take better control of my health– seeing doctors, fixing my diet and finding foods that didn’t make me ill, resting appropriately and allowing myself to recover. It still feels like a miracle to me that I wake up every day with energy. That I can eat without pain. That I don’t feel perpetually cold. Something I wish no one had to experience, but I wish everyone could understand: there’s a tremendous difference between the pain of a tough workout when you’re prepared to handle it and the pain of you tearing yourself apart.

Today, when I climbed off that rower, yeah my legs were on fire, my lungs burned. But all of that faded in moments. Afterwards, I could stand and walk back to my apartment. I will feel fine and happy and energetic for the rest of the night. For my first year of CrossFit, I couldn’t have completed such a workout without being wrecked for the remainder of the week. I’m starting to see more and more of a problem in the way we glorify physical exertion that kills you. You shouldn’t be crippled by your workouts. They shouldn’t ruin the rest of your day. If, for god’s sake, they’re supposed to make you healthier– you should at some point¬†feel healthier.¬†

And as I left the gym today, I remembered– as I do often these days– how fucking grateful I am to feel good.The best part of my workout wasn’t my jerk PR or discovering that 90lbs felt light… it was the fact that I could move one of the benches out of the way all by myself–without thinking about it– a task that I couldn’t complete two years ago. It was the fact that I warmed up to that 90lbs with weights I couldn’t clean when I started CrossFit. And it was that, after all of that, I feel freaking fantastic.

I know… I have a long, long way to go as an athlete. But I’ve achieved a few things I’m proud of– with the exception of the squat and bench, I’ve literally¬†doubled¬†all my lifts since starting CrossFit (squat and bench are about 20lbs short). I went from ring rows to being able to do strict chest-to-bars, from being afraid to kick up to the wall to deficit handstand push-ups. But really… most of all, I feel unspeakably blessed every day that I can do all these things and feel¬†good afterwards. Yeah, I get the fun of “terrible” workouts– trust me, my favorite WOD is The Seven, and I’m a sucker for any AMRAP over 30 minutes– but there’s a very important distinction between productive exertion and blind self-destruction.

Sometimes, I’m still annoyed with myself because the large majority of my physical progress has taken place in the past year. For the first half of my CrossFit career, I engaged much more in breakdown than building-up. I was so obsessed with getting ahead, I completely neglected the very foundational basics of my health. But I try to remind myself that that regret is as much a waste of time as my bits of anxiety about screwing up a lift today or rowing too slow tomorrow. These are small things, and I’ve got bigger plans for the future. (I didn’t want to call those “before” and “after” pictures because I’m not even close to done yet.)

I remind myself now– you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run. But really, now that I’m starting to find my stride, I’m trying to let go of past mistakes and enjoy each new step– and the fact that I can make them at all.

What You Have

In General, Rhetoric, WOD on July 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm

On Monday, I did 5×5 heavy back squats, followed by high volume speed pulls for the deadlift. Yesterday, I was rocking the post-squat-soreness waddle. This morning, when I woke up, the muscle soreness had burrowed in and piped battery acid through my legs. Everything felt leaden and useless. But today was “Jackie,” and I’ve actually lucked out of attempting Jackie for months now despite how often our box programs it. I worried that my soreness meant I couldn’t perform as well today as I otherwise would have. I worried that the 7 sets of handstand push-ups to failure I performed yesterday meant that my overhead strength would suck today. I worried about the fact that I had work in the evening, which meant that I had to train in the morning, which meant I’d have to wake my stiff and aching body much earlier than usual… and everything would factor into a generally sucky workout. Then I remembered something Coach told me when I visited her.

She programs a lot of shoulder work for me each week. I pretty much never go a week without handstand push-ups, sometimes in several variations. That, in addition to the fact that every week has an upper body max-effort day, and the fact that the box obviously programs WODs with overhead work means that sometimes I second-guess when I should schedule all my skill work to maximize my performance. I asked Coach about this, and she pointed out that… the conditions will never be perfect. Part of why CrossFit constantly varies is, in fact, so that we don’t get too entrenched in our habits, so that we test ourselves with new challenges and new conditions. Sometimes I’ll test my HSPU’s fatigued, and I’ll just have to live with it– no “could’ve/should’ve/would’ve” done better if I’d been fresher or hadn’t lifted the day before. None of that matters. What I need to do is make the most of¬†this workout¬†on¬†this day. All I can ask of my body is what it has to give me in its current state– if I’m at 80%, then I’m going to get the best damned workout I can with that 80% and feel good about it. I won’t tear myself apart for not being able to do 100% all the time, and I’m not going to drag my feet at 60% just because I’m feeling worse today.

So, knowing that I was a little more beat up than I’d like to be, I got to the gym early to make sure I’d be extra-warm for the work out. I dedicated more time to warming up and my mobility. I made sure I didn’t lift until I felt loose, and comfortable, and knew I wouldn’t be overexerting tired muscles.

I PR’d my push-press. Not only did I push-press my old 3RM for 5 reps, but I added 5lbs to that and managed 4 reps. Then I took 3 minutes off my previous “Jackie” time. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve tested the WOD, and admittedly, I still have a bit to go before I give the firebreathers a run for their money, but I’m making progress.

Yeah, I think I could’ve done better if I’d woken up feeling like superwoman– if I hadn’t stayed up working on lesson plans last night, if I’d gotten to work out in my usual evening time slot, if I hadn’t been sore, if my quads didn’t still hate me for Monday. But, if we waited for the “perfect” conditions to train, we’d probably never train. Every day is an opportunity to make the most of what you have with what you can. Give it your all– even if today’s all is not as much as tomorrow’s. Tomorrow, too, will come, and you can celebrate that with just as much vigor, and regret nothing.

Growth and Gratitude: reflections on two days of trial-by-coaching

In General, Training, WOD on June 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm

The past two weeks have been a “trial period” for aspiring coaches at our box. I really regret missing the entire first week for my conference in Kansas (despite the absolute awesomeness¬†of CrossFit Lawrence). However, I was fortunate enough to teach three classes in these past two days. Honestly, the experience has just been fantastic and rewarding, very enlightening, and humbling at the same time. For the teacher in me, a lot of it feels familiar: breaking concepts down to their constituent parts, linking them back together in a way you hope will make sense to others. I think the part of it that has been strangest, and that I’d really love more experience in, is just managing the¬†movement¬†element. I’ve been a writing teacher and a stage director. I’ve taught and coordinated people, but only either in sedentary settings or with predetermined scripts. A gym is obviously an entirely different environment. Arranging 15 people and 4 benches for some pre-metcon strength work is a game of strategic navigation that I’ve never played before. Nevertheless, no one died– I think. And no one threw a kettlebell at my head (despite Scotchy’s threats). I’d like to believe that the classes went well. I know I learned something more with each one– about group management, time management, about each of the individual athletes and how they respond to different cues. My favorite part of all this has been getting to spend more time with the community of welcoming, generous people we have at the box. I’ve loved getting to know the new faces when they walk into the class. Additionally, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my fellow would-be, could-be coaches better. I’ve enjoyed participating in their classes and seeing how they apply their own personalities to the workout– how they analyze and take apart and approach the teaching of each movement. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve felt more energy in this box this past week, and I hope that endures. I’m excited to see where and how we can grow from here. Anyway. I don’t envy The Jefe his decision, and want to express my earnest gratitude to him for having the open-mindedness and faith in people to believe that anyone with his/her heart and mind in the right place has the potential to be a good coach. Of course, there’s much more to the job than the mere desire to do it well. I hope my acts have lived up to my intentions. To those of you wonderful folks that have attended CrossFit √† la Jo in the past couple days– thanks for your trust and your time. I hope I have earned it. If not– well, I’m nothing if not relentless. And I will continue learning and growing and improving until I do deserve that faith.

In other (somewhat but not entirely unrelated) news, I PR’d my Cindy today– by almost double the rounds I’d tallied a year ago. My point, though, isn’t to brag about my Cindy score. This particular workout plays to my strengths, and I still have so many areas in which I need to improve. Even today, I know my push-up form collapsed, and I need to strengthen the endurance of my core. But I am improving. I still see myself getting better in small, measurable ways each week as I train. And in just the two days I’ve been coaching, I want to say this to the newer athletes at the box: I get it. To the kid who’s trying to clean too much. To the girl flailing off the pull-up bar. I get it. I get how frustrating it is to feel your body betray your will. I get how infuriating it is to fall so far behind the firebreathers that you feel like you’re not even playing the same game. And worse, how entirely disheartening it is when, afterwards, all the “hardcore” athletes banter about their times and rounds and no one asks you because it’s irrelevant to them. Fuck them. Fuck the weight you can’t yet lift or the pull-up you’re still chasing. You’ll get there. If you slow down. If you stop beating yourself up for what you can’t yet do, and you start encouraging yourself to achieve what you can. Yes, lifting heavy is freaking awesome for you. But sometimes, you need to put down the iron and pick up the PVC again. Retrain the basics. Build your foundation. Allow yourself to progress one small step at a time and applaud those moments. And you’ll be surprised how those tiny, incremental advancements can accrue. And, a month– two months– half a year from now, you’ll be amazed by how far you’ve traveled.

A last note for my State College readers: those of you that have attended classes with the aspiring coaches in the past few days, please do email the box with your feedbackРeven if you did want to throw a kettlebell at my head. The success of this place is best measured by how it fulfills our members and helps them both define and attain their goals.

Happy Wednesday, all. And, as always, thanks for reading.

Fran and a Little Perspective

In Training, WOD on February 27, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Things I hate about “Fran”:

– The first thruster

– The second thruster

– The entire set of 21 thrusters

– Jumping onto the pull-up bar after the 21 thrusters

– Pull-ups 15-21 when kipping stops feeling fun and feels more like work

– Thrusters 6-15 of the second set

– All 15 pull-ups midway through

– The nine thrusters at the end

– Every. Last. Grinding. Final. Pull-up.

…. so when you add it all up, I probably enjoy maybe 15 pull-ups and 5 thrusters during Fran. That sounds like a good workout, right? 15 pull-ups, 5 thrusters. Call it a day. No? Fine.

No thanks to Zebrapants, the box’s WOD today was Fran. As of last night, Fran was my least favorite CrossFit workout. Here’s the reason why: I hover at that awkward strength level where I can technically do the workout prescribed, but I don’t think the stimulus is what the workout was programmed to be. My 65lb thrusters are slow. I have made it in under the 10 minute timecap before, but the thrusters were the bulk of the workout, and I definitely broke them more often than most people do during Fran. Every time my journey happens upon, Fran, then, I must decide– go with the workout as “prescribed”? Get a better metabolic workout with a lighter weight? It’s especially difficult because we so often perceive picking a lower weight as “slacking off” or cheating. And I’m determined, if anything in my pursuit of CrossFit, to disallow myself from slacking off. But then again, I’m reminded of a bit of CrossFit wisdom that often goes neglected: just because you¬†can do a workout as prescribed, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

This morning, I realized something… going heavier has been my way of slacking. At 65 lbs, I can’t move quickly enough through Fran for it to be the surreal deathrace that everyone describes it as. My first attempt at Fran involved me¬†failing 50lb cleans rather than actually working out. Until this morning, I’d never attempted the workout below 50lbs (at the cert, I believe I did it at 55. I’ve done it once prescribed, at 9:48– I think).

Before we started the workout, Zebrapants gave the same instructions we received at our level one. If you can’t do the first set of thrusters unbroken at your starting weight, that weight is too heavy. Not even on my best day could I do 21 thrusters at 65. Or if I did, I wouldn’t be able to stand under the pull-up bar, let alone reach it. So I dropped straight to 45.

As it turns out… Fran at 45lbs sucks a hell of a lot more than Fran at 65 lbs– at least when your max thruster hovers around 85-90 lbs (haven’t tested in a while, not sure about that number). The point of the CrossFit couplets is that they’re designed to be short and intense. In my readings of CrossFit philosophy, I found that the original workouts were programmed for “elite” athletes and coaches were given the instructions to scale appropriately. Fran is ideally performed with 65lb thrusters by a woman with a 140 lb strict press. So… even though I can do 65 lb thrusters, those thrusters are a lot slower for me than they would be for the “ideal” athlete. And in doing so, I sacrifice intensity for pride. I do my strength-work separate from my metcons, so there’s really no reason to go heavy during Fran. Today, with 45-lbs, I¬†made it through¬†all but the last pull-up unbroken. I’m now almost proud of that fact, but during the actual workout, I didn’t even realize that that was what I was working for. It never struck me to aim for an unbroken workout–especially when my norm has involved dividing Fran into manageable chunks of 5-rep, 65-lb thrusters. I just know that once the clock started, Zebrapants told me I wasn’t allowed to put the bar down, so I didn’t. The first set of 21 pull-ups felt all right. Then that set of 15 thrusters, Zebrapants again told me not to set the bar down. He shouted me through (I respond well to being yelled at, usually) the entire set and I was back on the pull-up bar hating the universe but determined not to fall. Nine agonizing thrusters later, I was back on the bar, limited to slow pull-ups one or two at a time, forearms pleading for mercy, but refusing to let go. Technically, I got 89 and a half reps before I dropped… but the last pull-up was so ugly and so very far from the bar that I knew I wouldn’t be able to make it back up without shaking out my arms. So I did, and I jumped back up, and hit rep 90 at 4:27 (I think. Some ambiguity¬†about¬†whether it was 4:23, but let’s keep the last four seconds just in case). Regardless… it was a vastly different experience than my 65-lb Fran. During that bout, the pull-ups were actually a vacation for me. I had to take enough rest between thrusters that the pull-ups felt easy. And the weight was so heavy that I really couldn’t “push-through” the burn. I had to wait until my muscles recovered enough that they could lift the damn bar again.

This morning’s workout took four and a half minutes. We warmed up for a good twenty beforehand and spent ten to twenty minutes stretching afterwards. The funny thing is… I can usually gauge how taxing a workout is by how hungry I am a little while afterwards, and judging by my empty fridge… those were apparently a very demanding four minutes. I didn’t expect my body to feel particularly sore afterwards, but sitting at my desk, I can already feel my arms, back, and shoulders begging for a lacrosse ball. I think that’s what Fran was supposed to be– something fast, explosive, and stimulating. Strangely enough… I don’t hate her anymore. I mean… she’s miserable. Those five minutes were so much worse than ten minutes with 65-lbs, but it was a five minute¬†sprint, during which I got to push as hard as my body would let me… rather than ten minutes of shaking out my arms and waiting for my strength to recover, angrily glaring at the iron on the floor.

Actually, I’ve been reading a lot of material lately that steers me away from workouts that feel like “long slogs.” I mean, you know I love the long WOD because I’m a masochist like that… but I think I finally admit that when I do them it’s more for self-enjoyment and than furthering my health or physical well-being. For the most part, it seems health is best maintained by heavy lifting, sprints (and/or sprint-esque metcons under 15 minutes), and walking. Long, slow endurance puts ¬†your body under unnecessary stress. And for those with body composition goals, endurance apparently isn’t that great for that either. (If you want more input on this, consult Poloquin, or the fine folks of Barbell Shrugged. Also consider studies here, or this mayo clinic study. This is by no means a thorough list… but there’s tons of material out there if you just start looking). Anyway, in my case, too much work beyond the 20 minute mark really prevents me from recovering well enough to build muscle– or it tears down the muscle I’ve built. That doesn’t mean I still don’t want to do “The Seven” or “Murph” on occasion… but I used to have this strange guilt when I didn’t do one long workout a week (a routine I’ve abandoned for nearly a year now–don’t worry), but as it turns out, I was doing myself a favor.

I just have one more thought for today. I try to pick up what I can about coaching and different coaching styles, to keep in mind things I’d like to emulate if ¬†¬†¬†when I become a coach. And I was reminded this morning of what a difference a coach’s attitude can make. For 8:00am workouts, I’ve probably only slept six and a half hours… I woke up about forty five minutes ago, shoved down a few spoonfuls of nut butter and some protein powder and stumbled out the door, trying to will my limbs to warm up and unstiffen. Anticipation of Fran only strained the knot in my stomach. But all that didn’t matter when I got to the box because Zebrapants was all smiles and encouragement and that attitude reminded me that… it really doesn’t matter if I thruster (yes that’s now a verb) with 65 lbs or 45 lbs today. If I do 44 pull-ups unbroken, or none. The worst that could happen is that I get a slightly lesser workout… I come back and try tomorrow. I lose nothing– not the job that I’m lucky enough to find important and inspiring (on most days), not the support and acceptance of my friends, and the encouragement of my doofy Cookie Monster better half (whom I get to see in a little more than 24 hours. HOUSTON-BOUND FOR THE WEEKEND!). Life is good, even when the day starts with Fran. Perhaps even better with Fran and a little perspective.

I will continue to push myself. I know the prescribed weights exist to give athletes a gauge for goalsetting and I’d like someday for my Fran at 65lbs to feel as it does with 45 lbs. And I will get there. Until then– patience, and perspective.

Thanks for reading everyone. I’m sure I’ll update you after the Houston adventures. Have a fantastic Wednesday!

Recovery: the Ugly Step-Child

In Training, WOD on February 24, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Let’s talk about the oft-ignored, terribly neglected, ugly forgotten step-child of the CrossFit family: mobility work. We discussed this during my Level 1 seminar, and I think it’s a portion of the coach’s training that many boxes choose to forget– most likely due to client demand. CrossFitters arrive everyday ready to “hit it” harder. We live for the intense workout– for the lost breaths beneath the bar, the triumph of a heavy lift or a quick metcon time. Many people see the warm-up or the cool-down as “optional”– something they can phone in, or skip altogether when they’re in a rush to get from home to the gym back to classes. However, when I look at all the serious athletes I know and/or stalk via the internets– despite the wide variance in their training methodologies– they all have one great constant: dedication to mobility and recovery.

I forgot where I read it, but I recently encountered a blog post with the following advice: the shorter your WOD, the longer the required warm-up. While this is probably a bit reductive, it’s also fairly sound advice. If you have a long, slow workout at low intensity ahead of you, your body will probably require less prep than it does before Fran– 2 to 10 minutes of absolute, Hellacious shock. Your warm-up for Fran will probably take longer than the workout itself, which is fine because honestly if you don’t do it, you’re subjecting yourself to injury, poor recovery… and/or just a really disappointing WOD.

Proper warm-up/mobility/recovery is on my mind lately because I had an odd experience in the past couple days. Friday night, I woke up in the middle of the night with my right elbow in absolute agony. I still don’t know what it was, but it definitely felt like tendon pain. Eventually, I fell back asleep. When I woke up, the pain was gone, but out of concern, I spent a morning stretching and “smashing” with a lacrosse ball.

Later that morning, I performed the box’s WOD:

3 rds:

30 pull-ups

30 deadlfits (155/105)

30 box jumps (24″/20″)

Because we know deadlifts are a silly point of pride for me… I was determined to do the WOD as prescribed. Also because 105lbs is just about bodyweight for me, I knew it would hurt. I figured, because I had just taken a rest day, and would rest again the day after, I could afford a rough workout. And it’s been a while since I’ve had a long, tough WOD. I completed the workout in 20:15, and felt good. I enjoyed it. It was intense and the right balance of movements so that I could keep slogging through without feeling absolutely miserable. However, people who work out intensely should probably¬†not return to their highly sedentary jobs and proceed to sit at a desk for hours on end. After hour three of studying, I felt my entire body begin to seize… Eventually, the sensation was so uncomfortable and distracting (more painful than the workout itself), I had to just get out of my chair. I then spent a good half-hour devoted to foam rolling, lacrosse-balling, and stretching. Eventually, my body loosened up, and I could get back to work. But of the rest of the evening, I made sure to rise periodically and loosen up my limbs. Before bed, I stretched and rolled out again.

When up woke up the next morning, I felt better and looser than I have in a long time. Shockingly, I had no aches and no soreness– though I feel as if I should have for that workout. Anyway, it stressed to me the importance of mobility and recovery, and how I neglect it far too often in my routine.

Since I was feeling fairly limber, I decided just to try out a few snatch drills I discovered from the good folks of Barbell Shrugged (PVC/training bar/light weight). I’m eager to try it with some real snatch weights, but I’ll save that for an actual training day. I will say, however, that my snatch felt smoother than ever after this long progression. Yeah, it’d be a fairly long warm-up, but definitely something worth a shot if you’re trying for a max, or something to do as drills on a light day:

This is the link for part one of the progression (there are four total videos) and they’re well worth your time.

Another useful resource: this provides some static stretches to do the night before lifting. Because static stretching actually taxes the muscles, common wisdom is not to do them too much before the actual lift– but these can help your mobility both the night before and the night following.

So… to sum up… for anyone at all concerned with their health and wellness, mobility and recovery should be just as great a concern as the workout itself– and, in fact, should be considered as part of your workout. I say this, knowing guiltily that I’ve neglected it for years. So, whaddya say, join me in learning to take better care of ourselves?

DNF Without Shame

In Training, WOD on February 20, 2013 at 11:58 am

We know I love CrossFit– I love its spirit and community and its sheer heart. We also know I’ve had my reservations about some of its rhetoric. I realize slogans are rallying points, not meant to be dissected and overanalyzed, but some of them, I think echo attitudes that work to the detriment of the sport. Particularly, I have a gripe about “Strong is the New Skinny”– elaborated here and reoccurring here. Another token phrase that’s troubled me is “Death before DNF.”

For those who don’t know, “DNF” stands for “Did Not Finish,” a CrossFit abbreviation for any time you could not complete the WOD within the time cap. CrossFitters, understandably proud of themselves for “going hard” and leaving everything on the floor are also notoriously for pushing themselves beyond the bounds of reason (and rhabdo) before ever calling it quits. Last semester, I completed “The Seven” ¬†in just under 50 minutes. The Seven is one of my favorite CrossFit workouts, and pretty much the only thing I remember about that long slog was hearing the clock beep at 45 minutes, knowing I only had half a round left, and rasping out to Jefe, “I’m finishing.” So obviously, I’ve imbibed a bit of the Kool-Aid. Sometimes pride kicks in. Sometimes you have to finish.

This morning, however — at least to the best of my recollection– was the first time I technically DNF’d a workout. There are many reasons for this– I spent a period of CrossFit scaling too light and not challenging myself with weights… then I went too heavy for a period, but our box didn’t really enforce time caps, so I had times like a 44-minute Eva and an even longer Manion.

Now, yesterday… yesterday was a wonderful day at the box. We did the CrossFit For Kenya WOD: AMRAP 12 of 50 squats, 30 pushups, and 15 pull-ups. A classic “Ninja” WOD that plays to my strengths. I was happy with my rounds and didn’t feel particularly beat up afterwards. But CrossFit is constantly varied– just after it stokes our egos, it douses us with reality.

When I saw today’s WOD go up on the box’s webpage last night, I knew three things: 1) I would suck at every part of this workout; 2) I looked forward to absolutely none of it; 3) I would still be there, 8:00am, trying my best to smile through it. The workout’s simple: 3 rounds, 500mrow, 10 relatively heavy cleans (RX’d 135lbs/95lbs). 12 minute time cap.

I’m a shamefully slow rower. I may be one of the slowest rowers at the box. While my strength to size ratio isn’t as shameful as it used to be, the rower doesn’t give a shit about ratios. It punishes smallness and weakness, indiscriminately. So, I’m slow. Add that to the fact that the RX’d weight is my 1RM, and I knew it would be a miserable WOD. While I obviously wasn’t going to try to clean my max 30 times in between rowing sprints, I knew I still wanted to go heavy enough to challenge myself. When I picked my weight (70lbs), Zebrapants asked, “Are you going to be able to rep that between rows?” and I said, “yeah… at least for round one.” I could– it would suck, but I could, and if this WOD was going to suck anyway, I wanted to embrace that suck.

When I stumbled off the rower in round one, I suddenly remembered how a mere 500m could decimate one’s legs. My knees shook as I reached for the bar. What usually feels like a moderate, comfortable weight seemed impossibly heavy throughout the first pull, as I fired my hips, and even worse as the steel crashed onto my chest. One rep. Two. I think I might have repped four in the first round before a breather. It wasn’t until my last row that I realized I wouldn’t beat the clock. I reached my last set of cleans when the clock sounded, my legs anesthetized by fire, my vision narrowed to the two square feet of rubber floor in front of me as I bowed forward, gasping air.

Didn’t finish. But I’m fucking glad I didn’t finish. I could have gone lighter. At 60 lbs, or even 65 I think I could have repped them fast enough to get my last cleans in before the time cap. Perhaps I overestimated myself a bit and chose something a wee bit on the heavy side. But I’m glad I did. It was 8:00am, and I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, the WOD was an ugly pairing of things-Jo-sucks-at, I’d slept poorly, I had to run off to the office afterwards, my apartment was too cold when I woke up… blah blah blah, life’s small imperfections, but for those twelve minutes, I can say I was 100% there. I challenged myself and, yeah, fell a little short, but I’m glad I attempted the challenge. I’ve scaled before to the point that I felt disappointed at the completion of a workout– when the victory felt hollow because I had underestimated my potential. There’s no shame in my DNF. I got a better workout than I would have if I dropped to a light clean and blazed through that part of the workout… and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’m glad there was a cap and I didn’t drive myself absolutely through the ground so that I’d be wrecked for the next few days. I’d take DNF before muscledeath any day if it means I can come back and try harder the next time.

So… after nearly two years of CrossFit, I’ll take my DNF and wear it proudly. I didn’t finish, but I also didn’t give up or give in. I’ll take that before a pretty time on the board any day.

One Step at a Time

In General, Training, WOD on January 31, 2013 at 10:09 pm

The Jomad’s First Muscle-Up!

Well, so I thought I’d be starting this post very differently, but apparently I achieved my first (very ugly) muscle-up today… and I would like to plaster the video everywhere, despite its hideousness. I still don’t totally endorse CrossFit’s fascination with the muscle-up– because I think many people develop a fixation with it before they’ve learned the proper mechanics of more basic movements (pull-up, dip)– and also because I’ve found that it’s really strenuous on the body. That said, I admit it’s a little fun to have achieved one of my 2013 goals, to be able to perform one of the more “advanced” movements, etc… I’m going to do my best in the following days to resist jumping right back on the rings and instead, do more work on the transition. As you can tell from the video, my shoulders are barely clearing the rings… The movement would be much easier if I could land in the right position rather than literally “muscle” my way up there. All things in time, I suppose.

That said, it is time for Jo to switch up her training again. I’ve been feeling discontent with my routine lately. My results have been inconsistent, but mostly I’ve just been less… enthused. And thanks to a good talk with Zebrapants, I think he pinpointed the root of my problem– for someone aspiring to become a CrossFit coach, I’ve been doing increasingly less CrossFit. At first, it made sense to me because I desperately need to become stronger… and I’m still not where I’d like to be in terms of strength, but right now I’d like to be a more participatory¬†CrossFitter. So… after some consideration, even more consultation with people more knowledgeable than myself, and even more reading (because, well, that’s what I do), I’ve decided that I can do with two days of dedicated strength per week. Zebrapants also praises the benefits of one longer metcon or hero WOD per week, and I like that idea for now because I want to work on my muscular endurance– a huge, huge weakness of mine after so much powerlifting training. That leaves two days of just doing the box’s regular programming, and two rest days per week– which is more than I’ve rested in a while now (I’ve been a one-rest-day/week person for probably too long).

Though only two CrossFit classes a week still isn’t as many as I’d like to attend, I think it’s a balanced compromise for now, and for the first time in a long time, I get to be fully present for the class– I won’t have to worry about other lifts or accessory work before or between classes. I will also enjoy CrossFitting again… and refamiliarizing myself with all the skillwork that I’ve left untouched.

Tentatively, my new training schedule will look like this:




Press 5, 5, 5+

Squat 5, 5, 5+

Weighted Pull Ups 2 x 6-8

Weighted Dips 2 x 6-8

Weighted Lunges


Box Programming




Bench 5, 5, 5+

Deadlift 5+

Weighted Lunges

Heavy KB Swings


Box’s Programming


Long Metcon/Hero WOD at 80% Intensity

The strength template is derived from Greyskull Linear Progression, which has a loyal following and is highly adaptable. My two strength days are modeled after what’s been tested and approved by different power athletes (mostly rugby players). As for the CrossFit classes I attend, I want to ensure I do everything with 100% movement integrity, that I just do the best damn job I can regardless of how much I suck or how long it takes me. If it’s suitable for a WOD, I may try to scale down the reps and keep the weight high rather than vise versa to keep more of a strength bias. I’m going to trust the coaches here… and just commit entirely and if it’s taking me too long to do everything with good form and the right weight, I’m sure they’ll tell me what to scale and how. And for Sundays, I’m thinking 80% intensity is a good way to build muscular endurance and get used to longer slogs without burning myself out. Fortunately, it’s also right before my not-doing-jack-shit day ūüôā

Anyway, that’s the news for Jo for now. I’m very excited about spending more time with our members and in classes. I’m excited about doing more CrossFit again, and dedicating more time to things like snatch drills with a PVC pipe rather than a bunch of accessory lifts. If I want to be a virtuous CrossFitter, I should be paying more attention to things like technique work and mobility. I should spend more time working on flexibility and recovery… even though it feels less gratifying than the brute force workouts. I won’t know how well this works until I just plain try, so… I plan on just throwing myself in 110% and reevaluating in another month or month and a half.

Thanks so much to everyone that helped me work through my issues and figure out a plan. To quote a good friend, “I’m a plan-based mammal.” I feel better when I’m building towards my goals with concrete steps in mind. Long journeys are okay– stagnation drives me crazy.

Happy Thursday!


EDIT: SCRATCH THAT. Training schedule still up in the air. Zebrapants advises against my plan… and the whole point of having a coach is… that someone is probably wiser and better at looking at what you’re doing wrong than you are… right?

Expanding CrossFit

In Training, WOD on December 28, 2012 at 6:00 pm

I’ve been following a few conversations by CrossFit gym owners who’ve recently noticed a rate of attrition in boxes that offer purely CrossFit-type programming. The topic also came up in the most recent Paleo Solution podcast. Though I don’t always agree with Robb and Greg’s opinions, I do enjoy them and they’re well-educated in their respective fields. Anyway, the phenomenon that concerns some CrossFit gym owners is that they notice– while CrossFit is wonderful at being flashy and attracting hordes of new members– a lot of more experienced, more capable athletes drop off the box’s regular program after a while. Unfortunately, this kind of makes sense to me… We know that I was (/still am) a metcon addict for my entire first year of CrossFit. I probably ¬†definitely still grow irritable and unfit for human contact if I go too long without a good WOD. But… intense WODs for six days a week gets not only exhausting, it starts to feel aimless. This explains why a lot of boxes now program in blocks (as ours has begun) in order to give more of an overarching structure for return clients. CrossFit athletes pay upwards of $100-$150 per month for their memberships. Reason would suggest that these aren’t the casual weekend warriors looking for a good, randomized sweat once a week. They’re paying for the guidance and direction of a well-thought-out program that will progress them towards their physical/health-oriented goals.

I think that’s also the reason why larger boxes such as CrossFit East Valley offer a wider array of classes than just the standard daily metcon. I didn’t get a chance to elaborate much on this in my last post, but I was very impressed by the amount of separate, focused courses they had– running, rowing, olympic lifting and power lifting, etc. There’s been talk at our own gym about offering a few more focused classes, and I’m really excited about this. The Oly class that I attended at CFEV was two-hours long, but it had an entirely different feel than the usual CrossFit class. There was structure– the athletes had a set of lifts and technique drills they needed to perform (think something closer to catalyst athletics’ programming) with snatch pulls, then full snatches, clean pulls, then cleans. Afterwards, there was a strength component with back squats, and finally a power/supplementary component with box jumps. Because lifting necessitates a much less… frantic pace than traditional CrossFit, the athletes took appropriate rest periods, they chatted without losing too much concentration, they had coaches critique their form rather than rushing from rep to rep. The class warmed-up together and did their box jumps together, and still communicated between working sets, so it didn’t lose any of that community-feel we so highly value in CrossFit, but it also allowed them more focused skill work as an alternative to the conventional WOD.

It’s for this reason that I also value gyms that provide open gym hours– not haphazard open gym hours where people come in and screw around with the equipment, but hours during which coaches are available for questions and during which athletes may work on their weaknesses or on developing their particular interests. It’s a lot to ask of a gym to open its doors and provide space, equipment, and attention for people who may or may not show up… but provided that there’s a demand for it, and that athletes take advantage of it, it does wonders for the development of the CrossFitter. Everyone’s needs are individualized in more ways than the 5-day-a-week generic class setting can typically address, and the availability of open gym hours acknowledges that and allows those who care about self-improvement to work in their own time.

I know we’re spoiled by the amount of open gym hours we have a LionHeart, but I’m still disappointed by the amount of CrossFit gyms that have¬†no open gym hours. I was pleasantly surprised to find that EVCF not only had open gym, but allowed wayward drop-ins such as the wandering Jo to stop by. So I paid by second visit to EVCF and worked on my cleans (all technique I’m afraid… even 90lbs felt absurdly heavy after not touching bumper plates for a week) and did a quick WOD with kettlebell swings and burpees– mostly just taking advantage of equipment I can’t access at LA fitness.

Anyway, I think one of the best things that ¬†CrossFit has to offer is that it’s made fitness accessible and¬†fun.¬†Its format has turned something that used to be isolating into something communal and (if you want) competitive. I’m reminded of this every time I walk into LA fitness, beside the resigned patrons with their heads down, trudging their way to the treadmill where they’ll plod away for 60 minutes as if this were their daily penance. If you think about it, CrossFit introduces so many people to new ways of achieving fitness… even at our own gym– Zebrapants was a lifelong athlete before he ever trained with us, but he’d never heard of a clean before starting CrossFit and just yesterday he posted a video of a 255lb clean-to-thruster (yes what a showoff…) With my summers, I used to trudge alongside the LA Fitness zombies for preacher-curl day and long-slow-treadmill day. Now I’m the weirdo absconding with the bench press bar so I can do a clean-and-jerk/burpee ladder in the empty racquetball court. With this in mind, I’d like to think more about what CrossFit– and CrossFit gyms, trainers, affiliate owners, etc– can offer people beyond the daily metcon (which will of course remain central to the CrossFit universe). I just think that, if we introduce individuals to things like olympic lifting or powerlifting, why can we not also introduce people to better quality work in those areas? Why not Olympic lifting sessions that hone technique and form, or committed powerlifting programs for people who want to focus on strength gains? Or an endurance class for people who CrossFit to supplement their marathon goals? Of course, these expansions necessitate gyms with the funding and staff capable of supporting such ideals… but I’d be excited to see CrossFit bring its spirit, its enthusiasm, its mutual encouragement and support, and its adventurousness to modes of exercise beyond the traditional metcon.

Just food for thought.

Hope you’re all enjoying the holidays!

P.S. Just for fun, here are some shots of EVCF:

Strength and Endurance: Can it be done?

In General, Training, WOD on December 3, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Prepare yourselves. I have a shocking announcement. Sit down, have a Nor-Cal Margarita, take a deep breath. Ready? Okay.

I think I’m burnt out on WODs.

… I know, right?

I know I WOD more often than most people, and that I’ve been a metcon addict for well over a year now, but the day has finally come that I’m aching for something a little different. Now, I’m¬†not sick of training, and definitely not sick of CrossFit. I’m just hungry for something¬†more than randomized workouts. After the announcement of the 2013 Games date¬†, competitive gyms all around the country have ramped up their Games-specific programming. Competitor’s WOD, whose programming (by Ben Bergeron) I admire, has started its “Goat Training” phase– aka “target your weaknesses.” In fact, Bergeron posted his Goat Training Template just a few days ago. Bergeron pinpoints what we all love and hate about CrossFit: “The idea is to be good at everything, great at one or two things, and suck at nothing.” This is a sport that tolerates no weaknesses.

We know I’m not a Games hopeful– nor do I aspire to be one. But I do aspire to be a well-rounded athlete, which is one of the many reasons that I enjoy CrossFit so much. I began with a strength-focus about a year ago because that was my greatest weakness, but now I feel I’ve almost become lopsided in the opposite direction (not that I’m a strength beast by any means). By these strength standards, my bench and press fall under the “advanced” category, my deadlift is “elite”, ¬†my squat is (alas) intermediate, and my clean is just short of advanced. My hard numbers are still lower than I’d like them to be, but by now I think that means I just need to become a larger person (peanut butter, steak, and potatoes, yeah?)… and hopefully my lifts will go up proportionally. Meanwhile, however, my endurance has become deplorable.

The strange thing is, I¬†think I should be decent endurance athlete. I’m very good at¬†not stopping. In fact, that was my single asset when I started CrossFit– I embraced the suck. I lived for it. But, I’ve become pretty crappy at sustaining that intensity these days. I’ve cut my 100m sprint time by 3 seconds in the past few months, which I’d like to think is a big deal considering that 100m sprints are measured by fractions of a minute… but my 400m is still well above 60 seconds. (I think somewhere around a 1:15… more often 1:20). It seems that I recover slowly even for lifting. I need to take closer to 4-5 minute breaks between max effort lifts as opposed to the minimum 3…

But alas strength and endurance are often posited as opposing goals when it comes to fitness. Yet, it must be¬†possible. I’m surrounded by athletes that are supremely gifted in both domains. Recently, I came across this article¬†by Alex Viada– an Ironman finisher and triathlete coach with an elite powerlifting total. Being the geek that I am, I love it when anyone explains his thought process. I don’t just want to know what to do, I want to know why I’m doing it.

Viada’s program is geared towards someone training for a longer-distance race. While I admire marathoners, I don’t think I’ll ever be one… I much prefer the thrill of short sprints or the meditative calm of heavy lifts. I¬†am, however, interested in building my endurance– I just don’t need 26.2 miles of it. So, being the research-freak that I am, I contacted Alex.

I hesitate to call myself a self-made athlete because, though I’ve built a knowledge base from obsessive research and so much trial and even more error, I owe a lot of what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown to a handful of much more experienced and very generous friends. I’ve also found that the fitness community is just so welcoming and willing to help. Alex wrote back and answered my questions about what to do for form drills and how I should think about distance if my goals are to become a better CrossFitter. While we both agree that CrossFit distances rarely demand more than a mile, Alex recommends over-distance training– since the sport requires you to do things beyond the mile you just finished, it’s useful to have something left in the tank. So for “long, slow distance,” he suggests that I fluctuate between 1.75-3 miles and tinker with speed and intensity depending on the intensity of my other workouts during the week. He also recommends shortening my recovery times during my sprint intervals– which is… a really good idea that I also dread. One of my favorite go-to workouts is 100m repeats. But I walk back the full 100m to allow for full recovery. I’m pretty sure I’ll suck at them with a reduced recovery time, but I think that may also help me push through WODs.

Here’s my problem: I’m terrible at training via WOD-ing. If my only goal were to burn calories while having fun, WODs would be perfect… but the same intensity that pushes me through each WOD also means that I sacrifice a lot in favor of beating the clock. I was thinking about this last Saturday, during a WOD with toes-to-bar. I can actually link my kips in toes-to-bar– I figured it out about two months ago and can do it consistently on my pull-up bar at home. I have never, however, successfully linked my kips during a WOD because 1) at that point, I’m fatigued enough and my endurance sucks enough that I can’t quite manage that strength and coordination, and 2) I’m stubborn enough that I’d rather crank them out 1-2 at a time so that I’m working-out while everyone else is working-out… and I can’t bring myself to take a break and let my body recover to do the movement properly. If I keep approaching the movement like that, I’ll never learn the right muscle-memory to time the kip during my WODs.

So… for the next month, I’d like to try something new. I’m going to continue with my Westside-Conjugate strength training, which I love, and I’m going to try working with Viada’s strength + endurance template, which is Westside-based anyway. It means I don’t have to change any of my strength work– I’m just trading WODs for more distance. Due to the PA weather, I have a feeling I’ll be doing more rowing than running… though I’m still waiting to hear back from Alex on what he thinks about that and whether that will translate to okay running when the weather warms back up. I also want to continue developing my skills as a CrossFitter, but I want to do that properly– so I’ll do skills as skill-work. I’ll work on things slowly, for form rather than sloppily for time or for max weight. To keep from burning out, I’ll limit most of the heavier stuff to my strength work, and only do skill stuff when my body feels fresh. I’m not entirely sure how this plan will go since I’ll be spending about half this month in Arizona– on the one hand, it means I’ll be able to run, but on the other, I won’t have access to a lot of the usual toys.

As of right now, I think my weeks will tentatively look like this:

Monday: Cleans (weight will vary depending on how I feel– nothing structured, just working on form), ¬†“long,” slow run (today that was two miles)

Tuesday: ME Upper Body, light recovery run (or row), some light skill work

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: ME Lower Body, Sprints

Friday: DE Upper Body, (not sure about the running form drills if I don’t have access to the outdoors… maybe some running form drills, maybe some skill work, maybe a metcon, maybe it varies week to week)

Saturday: I may switch this up between short pace runs and more traditional metcons, also, a good day for skill work.

Sunday: DE Lower Body

I’ll have to do some tinkering as I figure out what works and what doesn’t, and how much the running wears me out. I can already tell you that today’s two miles has my calves spasming (lacrosse balling as I type). But… the surprising thing about today was that I enjoyed the run. I’ve spent so long hating distances over 400m because I’ve adopted a habit of trying to push 110% on everything. I have no sense of pacing. Trying to push 110% for distance means 1) Jo hates life and 2) Jo breaks down too much to do the rest of the workout well. So I embraced the “slow” part of today and worked on form, keeping in mind all the drills that Alex gave me… and surprisingly, my knees didn’t hurt (my IT bands usually seize up around the 800m mark) and… I loved it. It cleared my mind… after the first 3 minutes of “why am I doing this,” I enjoyed the breeze and watching the pavement scroll beneath my feet… Who knows, maybe someday, I’ll voluntarily run a whole 5k.