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Posts Tagged ‘Programming’

There’s No Crying in the Squat Rack

In General, Training on March 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I signed up for the CrossFit Open on the very last day you could submit scores for 13.1. I’ve vacillated all year about whether or not I would participate this year– knowing that I’m not at the level that I’d hoped to be, knowing that this is a hellish time of semester when all my deadlines compound and I should be working on seminar papers as well as preparing my students for their final assignments. But in the end, after seeing so many members of our box participate, knowing how I always want to be an active member of this community, I really couldn’t refrain.

Last year and this year, still, I have conflicted feelings about the Open. The pros and cons seem rather evenly weighed.

Negative: The competitiveness.

I understand that for many sport is about competition, and that this is a positive, driving factor. I also understand that competition does stupid things to otherwise smart people. I, myself, handle athletic competition poorly. The pressure often makes what was once a fun activity more of an anxiety-laden stress-fest. So when I decided to sign up for the Open, I told myself my personal goal for this event would not be numbers or lifts or Rx’d– it would be to participate and enjoy the events, and not give a damn what numbers I or anyone else put up.

My own demons aside, though, I also dislike the way competition brings out the ugliness in people. Has everyone seen the stratospheric score of 420 that Danielle Sidell posted for 13.2? Yes, that’s a high score. Yes, that’s many reps above former champion Iceland Annie. But I’m actually surprised by how readily the CrossFit community attacked Sidell for posting her score. I want to look at this with perspective: Sidell is a seasoned CrossFit athlete. She’s had a solid history in the sport, and has regularly held her own against icons like Gretchen Kittleberger and Christy Phillips. I very much so doubt that she and her gym would make up a score and slap it on the CrossFit page– and even if they were to make up a score, they probably wouldn’t divine one so high that it would beget immediate speculation. I’d admit that… when moving that quickly, she possibly had questionable reps. But look at the demo video with Annie Thorisdottir and Lindsay Valenzuela. I’d say that a number of Annie’s deadlifts don’t look fully extended. If HQ is willing to publicly condone those lifts, then we’ve already admitted this is an imperfect judging system, that some movements will slide. Moreover, at Sidell’s level–barring something catastrophic– she’s going to regionals. Whether she got 420 reps, or 400, or 350, she’s going to land in the top 60 in the region and compete again. So… honestly the shitstorm that people are stirring up is pointless.

But even moving beyond the elite athletes, the way everyday individuals get caught up and overburdened by the competitiveness saddens me. I’ve read about a startling amount of injuries this year– wrist, elbow, and shoulder tweak/pulls from the burpees and snatches in 13.1, and a number of torn achilles from the box jumps in 13.2. Also reports of injuries from beginning athletes that should not have been attempting the shoulder-to-overhead weight. People attempting movements they aren’t prepared to do… in the name of competition– one they oftentimes never had a chance of winning.


Positive: The community

But while some people get caught up in the numbers and scores, there are others that remember that CrossFit thrives by camaraderie– that this was once something built upon inclusiveness. There are boxes like CrossFit Costa Mesa who take this as an opportunity to emphasize participation rather than achievement (see article here)– whose “competition team” is made up of any individual willing to put in the effort rather than only those capable of putting up the numbers. I was also profoundly moved watching Derick Carver’s 13.2 video— not only by his will and determination, just to participate, but by the spirit of enjoyment and enthusiasm I see in his cohort. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blown away by Sam Briggs’s 383-rep video. I so admire and respect the effort that she and other top-tier athletes put into their training. But… I also love that the Games can be about more than just the top performers. It can be about the indominitable spirit of all CrossFitters– what we all share is that ridiculous will to perform burpees and snatches on a Saturday morning. And love it.


For me, personally, I’m happy to say that I’ve stayed out of my own head thus far for the Open. 13.2 was an interesting one for me. My score is not anywhere near competitive. I’m sure most girls can hit that number in their sleep. But the shoulder-to-overhead weight is 75 percent of my mass, and it’s my strict press 1rm. I didn’t realize until after I finished the WOD that… last year, I sat out of a similar workout (12.4, possibly?) because the push presses were 75lbs and I couldn’t clean that weight to my shoulders. So… the fact that I was still holding a bar at the end of those 10 minutes– I’ll take that as a win for this year. Perhaps by this time next year, I’ll worry about the rounds that go with that weight.

But that leads me to another misgiving I’ve had about this year’s Open: the programming. I understand that the weight can only go so low because already Annie and Lindsay were throwing around those 75lbs as if it were a PVC pipe. Fine. But it makes no sense to start the WOD with the shoulder-to-overhead then. They’ve scaled box jump standards this year to allow step-ups. This makes sense for two reasons: 1) torn Achilles happen way too often from top-to-top jumps, and 2) this means that less conditioned athletes can at least complete the movement for a score. However, if they can’t Rx the shoulder-to-overhead weight, they can’t get to the box jumps, to even put up a score. There are discussions on the forums right now by numerous affiliate owners who have women who tried fruitlessly, for ten minutes, to clean 75lbs and wound up with no score. If you can’t post a score for one workout, you drop off the leaderboard and can’t post scores for any of the remaining workouts (at least by last year’s rules). You also cannot post a score of 0. This makes no sense to me. I mean… I, for one, would have been content to do the WODs on the side– to not bother paying HQ $10– and compare my scores on my own. But assuming that people do get a sort of participatory joy of seeing themselves on the leaderboards, why not let them continue playing? Rearrange the workout so that it’s box-jumps, shoulder-to-overhead, deadlifts, so that the poor athletes can at least put up a score of 15 and get their money’s worth and finish out the Open.

I think then at least affiliate owners would feel better encouraging athletes to scale that weight when they need to. Right now, you can’t scale 13.2 without dropping out of the Open. But there are athletes who haven’t cleaned that weight before, who have no business trying to put it overhead… and then we get back to that competitive spirit that drives people to unwise decisions.

So… I guess I’m torn. I’m enjoying the Open. I love the way it brings people together– I love seeing our Box come together and support one another to push through the suck. I love seeing athletes strive beyond their limits– when they are prepared to do so. I just would have also liked to see more consideration from those in charge of the whole thing… if we programmed just a little differently, we might be able to foster more community, more inclusivity. In the end, the true competitors, the firebreathers, will go on to Regionals and the Games and they’ll triumph and we’ll enjoy pigging out in front of our TVs betting on who’s going to break another CrossFit record this year. But until then, why not live these five weeks in the spirit of Derick Carver? For many of us, the podium is not the endgame…

I forget which CrossFit athlete said it, but someone has an excellent quote along the lines of: “I’m not a superstar. I’m just good at exercising. I get paid to be good at exercising.” Those of us that aren’t there? We’re just exercising– and we’re paying to do it. And it’s supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be stress-relieving, and it’s supposed to be about wellness. So don’t get down about those last five reps that could have been. Sometimes we have bad days. But, if a bad workout is the worst part of your day, you’re already ahead of so many people. I know I’m a drama-queen about my own training all the freaking time. In fact, very shamefully, I have to admit that Scotchy witnessed a terrible moment of mine two weeks ago… when I failed to squat my old 10-rep-max. I’m pretty sure I cried when that bar hit the safety rails. CRIED. In a fucking squat rack. And later that day I just felt freaking silly. I failed to move a certain amount of pounds up and down. Yeah… for me, it means I want to reassess my training and perhaps figure out where I go from there. But… it shouldn’t ruin my day or even my morning. I was uninjured when I walked back out of that squat rack, and I could come back the next day and continue trying to get better. That should be all I need. It’s just exercise 😉


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:
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.

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.

Practical Programming

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

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

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

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

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

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

volume/repetitions = average weight used

average weight used/1RM x 100 = % intensity

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

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

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

(for example):

shitton lbs x 3 x 1

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

BUT! CrossFit Football uses the following notation:

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

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

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

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