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Posts Tagged ‘scaling’

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 ūüėČ

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!

Rx’d “Ideals”

In Training, WOD on May 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm

One of the earliest posts I wrote on this blog was a long-winded Jo-ified rumination on scaling vs rx’d WODs. I wondered why CrossFit workouts prescribed specific weights rather than recommending a percentage of the athlete’s one rep max. This discussion popped up recently on the CrossFit forums, and the general consensus seemed to agree with my suspicions– that CrossFit began regulating weights to make the sport a “competitive” one. Apparently, when CrossFit first emerged, a lot more of the workouts involved percentages rather than prescribed loads. According to the forum discussion, the “prescribed” numbers were conceived with the “elite” athlete in mind. This athlete (male) ideally boasts a 200lb Press, 300lb Clean, 400lb Squat, and 500lb Deadlift. If we scale for women (usually 70% of the men’s weight), the “elite” female CrossFitter has a 140lb Press, a 210lb Clean, a 280lb Squat, and a 350lb Deadlift.

If you’re even close to my size or skill level, or even remotely in the vicinity of a normal human being, those numbers are probably daunting at first. However, I reminded myself and I’ll remind you now that I know a number of athletes who are currently competing at regionals without those numbers.

However, even if we don’t take these as likely or even attainable goals, I think these rough estimations offer a useful perspective. This is purely theoretical on my part, but I want to experiment a bit with this information. For example, if I’m going to try a WOD for its metcon effect rather than a benchmark time, I can get a sense of how much I should scale in order to achieve the same metabolic stimulation. So… if Fran is ideally performed with 65lb thrusters by a woman with a 140 lb press… and I currently have an 85lb strict press, then 85/140 = 60%. 60% of 65 is roughly 40lbs. So… theoretically, if I wanted to do Fran for a metcon rather than to find my true Fran time, I would load the bar with 40lbs.

Anyway… yesterday I took it easy because I was a bit sore following lifting + striking class. I did:

Power Cleans 5×3

Ring Dips 3 x to failure

and the metcon I so enjoy: AMRAP 15 minutes, 100m sprint, 125m row, 20 double-unders


This morning, I went in for the Saturday WOD. We had an unusually large class for a Saturday morning, which was nice to see. We also had a visitor– a woman who used to be a member of Hybrid Athletics (of Rob Orlando fame). Her presence reminded me of both my ambition to and anxiety of visiting other CrossFit boxes. I’m so comfortable in this environment… some part of me still worries that I’ll misrepresent our gym and look like an incompetent idiot the first time I try to WOD in a foreign environment ;). Anyway, I enjoy the relaxed pace of our Saturday mornings, though today’s WOD was super short:

3 rounds for time

400m run

6 Thrusters (105lb/75lb)

8 Ring Pushups

12 Russian Swings (1.5pd/1pd)

My shoulders were still shot from striking… I think I could have done 75lb thrusters one by one, but I scaled to 65 so I could do them without dropping the bar. I figured more strain on my shoulders would’ve been counterproductive for recovery, and slowing too much between movements would’ve defeated the “conditioning” goal for my Saturday.

T-minus 3 days until I leave the country. And my apartment’s still a disaster…

To Scale, or Not to Scale?

In Food, Training on April 2, 2012 at 12:38 am

I’ve decided that, for now, I’ll skip the tedium of posting my (or my box’s) daily WODs. If there’s interest in the future, I’ll incorporate them in my posts. If you’re curious, today was pretty much death-by-shoulders. And then some.

But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this article that appeared on Again Faster. For those that don’t want to do more reading, the gist is this:

For maximal power output, some sciencey smartness suggests that you should select a weight “that you can move with 30% speed, one that tends to occur somewhere around your 50% of one-rep maximum. ” With those calculations, men shouldn’t do an Rx’d Fran unless they can achieve nearly a 200 lb thruster.

For me, the use of Rx’d weights for actual competitions makes sense (how else would we create measurable competition?), but I’ve often wondered why more gyms don’t design WODs based on percentages of one rep maxes. Then wouldn’t the workout be better customized to each individual athlete– without demanding too much additional programming?

I’ve also noticed a lot of discussion recently about the use of “women’s” weights– particularly many angry protests that this perpetuates the history of sexism in sports. I don’t see it as inherently discriminatory as others do. I just see it as a lazy, inadequate “solution” to a larger problem: different athletes have different needs/capabilities. On average, women lift less weight than men. Yeah, it sucks– trust me. I want to deadlift 500lbs too. So I assume the use of different standards for women is a way to deal with the typical inequality in strength/size/height, etc. Again, this makes sense to me in a Games context where we need to create measurable standards in order to create rankings, give trophies and glory and Rogue sponsorships and all other such stuff. But for gyms, for daily WODs when most participants are there to improve individual health/ability, shouldn’t the workouts be scaled to their health/ability?

Now if the athlete were preparing for the games, it would make sense for him/her to train with oft-prescribed weights– such as the weights for cleans and thrusters (135lbs ,95lbs…) that reappear over and over again in heroes and girls. But until that point, if we programmed based on percentages, wouldn’t it help the athlete achieve that “max power output” that Gilson discusses?

Of course, the other way to look at this is to put the responsibility on the athlete and not the box. If the weight is too damn heavy for you to move at a reasonable pace in the metcon, lose your pride, drop some plates. If you’ve been push-pressing the same, easy 45 lbs for the past three months, grow a pair and add more plates. In my first months of CrossFit, I didn’t even think about the Rx’d weights because I knew I couldn’t lift them. Then, when I reached that borderline where I could sometimes just barely manage it, I’d try the Rx’d weight and feel disappointed because I completed maybe 3 rounds of what should have been an intense AMRAP. Own your workouts; make of them what will serve you best rather than what was designed for someone twice or half your size.

I know I’m far from an expert on these things, so if there actually is a good athletic principle for maintaining prescribed weights, I’d love to hear it– these are just my current thoughts on the matter. Personally, I don’t care if the whiteboard prescribes it as the “women’s weight” or the “Daisycup Pansies.” If that’s what I need to get a good workout, that’s what I’m lifting.

On an entirely tangential note: Coffee supposedly helps relieve post-WOD soreness?
Let’s be realistic: this report is questionable, at best. For one, a study of nine subjects is hardly conclusive. Additionally, I don’t understand why they only examined women. But, I’ll take any excuse for my daily addiction that I can.

Actually, for those of you who know of my horrible crutch, I can proudly report that I’ve reduced my coffee intake to ~ one cup a day– and this time, I actually mean roughly 8 fluid ounces (for me, “one cup” used to be everything I could fit into the largest thermos size at Starbucks). My reasons for wanting to shed my addiction actually have nothing to do with the vacillating opinion of health professionals on the supposed benefits/harms of caffeine. On principle, I don’t like being so dependent on a substance– something that I need to have at a certain point each day. Unfortunately, four years of a fairly study-intensive undergraduate career, a semester of 18ish-hour work days in New York City, and then graduate school have all conditioned me to rely on a regular dosage of wakeup juice.

… speaking of which, time to sip some coffee and teach some poetry.