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Posts Tagged ‘Strength’

When One Door Closes: The End of the Open and New Beginnings

In General, Training on March 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Well, it’s officially that time– when I must graciously (gracefully?) (gratefully?) bow out of the CrossFit 2013 Open. I knew this was an inevitability when I signed up. Eventually, in order for the events to be competitive, they’d need to raise the weights to something respectable for women like Annie and Kris and Talayna– something that would try the limits of my pitiable strength. For the record, I almost predicted 13.4 exactly — admittedly, I thought it would be 13.3, but I definitely speculated about a clean-and-jerk/toes-to-bar infinity ladder. The weight for this ladder, unfortunately, is 95lbs. I’ve cleaned 95 lbs less than ten times in my life. I’ve jerked it once. I’ve never jerked it directly following a clean, and the last time I cleaned it, I weighed 108, it was just before the powerlifting meet, and I was a tad heavier than I am now (and avoiding all metabolic conditioning like the plague). It seems to me ridiculous that someone as small as I am can shed muscle, but my body never ceases to surprise with its strangeness.

Anyway, after the workout was announced, I decided to go in today to see if I could even manage my former 1rm. Admittedly, I’m a bit beat up from deadlifting 215×3 (PR!) yesterday, but still… I stalled out at 90lbs and that took everything out of me. I’m not going to ask a judge to sit and watch me try (and likely fail) to clean 95 for seven minutes just to stay on the leaderboard. The members of our lovely community have asked me if I’m going to attempt the WOD, and they’ve expressed their condolences that I won’t be able to participate, but while I appreciate their compassion, I really don’t find it necessary. It’s not a big deal to me. I knew this would happen– I don’t feel left out, and… most importantly, I’ve fulfilled my goal of the Open: participate without psyching myself out, without worrying about disappointing anyone, without investing too much in the competition. It was just fun. That said, I’m also disappointed with where I am right now. Last fall, when I cleaned 95lbs, I wanted to be able to Rx Grace by this spring… which obviously hasn’t happened. I take full responsibility for that backsliding… I didn’t take into account how returning to metcons would deplete my muscle gain– in fact, having never made that shift (metconning to strength training to back again) I didn’t anticipate how my body would shift and adapt.

So… I have an announcement that I’ve been keeping under wraps for a bit. For an experimental period– at least the month of April, I will be working with and individual coach via distance-training. I have my reservations because of the limitations of distance, but she’s a professional CrossFit athlete and coach and Level 1 seminar staff member whom I respect greatly. In fact, she was my first-ever CrossFit hero. And the opportunity to work with her was too great to pass up. She’s also willing to work with me so that I can still participate in some of the box’s WODs, which was vital to me– I want to remain a member of this community, and she understands that impulse. For April, she’ll be programming my strength work, some skill work, and my nutrition, and my conditioning will remain with the box’s programming. It’s not optimal, but I hope it will work and allow me to grow as an athlete and future coach– to learn from one of the best– and still remain a constant at LionHeart.

If I can be blatantly honest.. I’m terrified that if I fall short here it will be a sign that I’m really as hopeless an athlete as I think I am… that even with the guidance of one of the best, I’ll still go nowhere. But… I look forward to this opportunity, and I’m doing my best to quell the insecure little squeaky Jo inside my head. This is an incredible opportunity… and one I need right now. I’d like to stop overanalyzing my training… I need to learn, once and for all, how to eat like an athlete and not like the asthmatic, entirely sedentary kid I used to be. And by experiencing this side of the coach-to-individual-trainee relationship, I’ll hopefully also be better and more capable of becoming a coach in the future.

As for how my Zone diet experiment went? Meh… it was definitely interesting. I know more about how my body responds to different foods in different proportions. I still feel like the prescription given to me was too little food. I didn’t lose weight on it, but I didn’t gain either. Admittedly, proportionately, I was/am stronger. I have a 3/4 bodyweight press and a bodyweight bench now. My deadlift is well over 2xbody weight– approaching 2.5 I’m five lbs short of a 1.5xbw back squat. However, the numbers themselves are pitiful because my weight is so damn low… and while I’m sure there’s a way to tweak the Zone to help me get up there, I don’t think that’s what I’ll be trying next. I’ve since abandoned the Zone and returned to drinking almond butter from the jar. I’ve put on a few pounds that seem to be sticking around… though I’m not any stronger yet for it. Mostly, I’m just biding my time until I start with my new coach April 1st. I intend to follow her prescription to a T– if there’s anything I can do in this world, it’s “homework” ;).

Oh! Since I won’t be participating in 13.4, I’d like to brag a little bit about the awesome people in my life who have and will. The Cookie Monster, despite having only been to a CrossFit gym a handful of times in his life (though having strength trained all of his life) did a very respectable 60 reps this morning– and it was his first time ever trying toes-to-bar. Coach Zebrapants, our resident firebreather, beasted out 105 reps, which I’m confident will be very competitive for our region. And I want to wish a special good luck to the Mega-tron, who will be attempting this WOD with a 1rm of 105… which means the clean-and-jerk portion will achieve new levels of suck. In fact, I think we hit our 95lb clean PRs on the same day last fall… clearly, she’s outpaced me, and I’m damn proud to see it happen.

Good luck to the rest of you as well. Be safe, have fun, and stay awesome 🙂

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.

Holiday Musings

In General, Training on November 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I need to thank those of you who’ve asked me about the blog lately. It’s nice being reminded that actual human beings read this, and surprisingly wonder about it when I’m negligent. Actually, screw “nice.” It’s not nice. It’s phenomenal. It’s humbling and absolutely staggering to me that there are individuals– real, three-dimensional friends and all you imaginary folk via the interwebs– that care enough about what I have to say to slog through my half-brained ramblings. Thank you. Thank you for caring enough to give me a few minutes of your day. Thank you for the act of acceptance you make in continuing to read– in sticking with me on my bizarre little bumblings through life.

To be entirely honest, I haven’t posted lately for two reasons. Firstly, it’s that awful time of semester when deadlines loom on the horizon and I spend my pitiful days in my cubicle until roughly 9:00pm, whereupon I return to my basement to continue working. I’m not sure if I’m doing it wrong because there are no other grad students there at these hours, but I’m assuming most of them are home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I guess that brings me to reason number two that I’ve been a neglectful Jo. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday in concept. In reality, it’s never really panned out for me. I love the idea of a holiday not centered around a single person, or a religious tradition (not that those aren’t enjoyable either), but one whose purpose is food, family, and reflection– a moment out of our arduous years to pause and think about the many ways in which we’re so fortunate.

A lot of the people I care about are scattered about the country (or the world) now, and the chances of being able to see all of them in the same year are pretty slim, let alone the same month. Some others who’ve played significant roles in my life have dropped out– due to life circumstances, due to poor communication on our parts, or due to shitty interpersonal drama that I wish could be reconciled but apparently can’t, at least not right now. I’m the only member of my family born and raised in the US, so “family” for me has always indicated more than blood relatives. While my relatives are all wonderful people–most of whom I’m just starting to get to know– I’ve met them maybe a dozen times in my life. Tickets to Taiwan cost $1,000 apiece and for a lot of my life, my parents and I couldn’t afford the trip. As for me and my parents, we had more than our share of conflicts as I was growing up and we’re starting to finally get along, but… now I live 1,800 miles away and can’t afford the $800 plane ticket just to get from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Regardless, my parents are the opposite of sentimental (and in many ways, the opposite of me, hence all the childhood issues) and have never felt any affinity for holidays. We’ve passed many Thanksgivings and Christmases and Birthdays unnoticed. And, in a way, I see their pragmatism… holidays are, like my dad says “just another day.” But the romantic in me also likes the fact that sometimes we can choose to elevate something above “just another day” — that this day can be about community and love and showing each other how much you just fucking matter, regardless of all the trivial crap that trouble your lives.

Anyway, I guess that’s been weighing on me for the past few days and made me generally difficult to interact with. Sometimes my head gets wrapped up in these fogs of overthinking– and really, overfeeling (my parents also told/tell me often I’m oversensitive, which is true… if I had a remedy for it, I’d take it in a heartbeat). But the fact that I’m writing/blogging about it now must mean that I’m emerging from my self-imposed malaise.

That said, let’s get to the CrossFit stuff. I’m still on my Westside-based template, and it’s going well. I know a lot of you (you imaginary interwebs people who stumble unknowingly into my site) get here because Google sends wandering souls to my blog when they ask about CrossFit and strength programs). For me, Westside-Conjugate seems like the best approach for integrating strength training and metcons. It’s not the most efficient if you’re looking to maximize beginner gains (try any brute linear progression for that), but for anyone who would like to take their strength training seriously while also working on their metcon ability, I think this works well, and the CrossFit community seems to agree. I know the Chans (CrossFit Verve) use a Westside-based template for their advanced athletes, Outlaw CrossFit is based off a Westside template, and Katie Hogan also shared that she uses a Westside framework.

Right now my four-week plan looks like this:

Jo’s Bumbling Conjugate Adventure 3.0

  ME Lower Body ME Upper Body DE Lower Body DE Upper Body
Week 1 3RM Squat 3RM Bench 10 x 2 Pause Squats (50%, 55%, 60%)

8 x 1 Deadlift (try 75%)

3 x 8 Bench with chains
Week 2 3RM Deadlift 3RM Press 10 x 2 Pause Squats

8 x 1 Deadlift

3 x 8 Bench with chains
Week 3 3RM Safety Bar Squat or Front Squat 3RM Floor Press 10 x 2 Pause Squats

8 x 1 Deadlift

3 x 8 Bench with chains
Week 4 3RM Deficit Deadlift 3RM Push Press 10 x 2 Pause Squats

8 x 1 Deadlift

3 x 8 Bench with chains


Accessory Work:

Lower Body Days:

3 x 10 Good Mornings

3 x 10 Stiff-legged deadlifts

3 x 10 Bulgarian Split Squats


Upper Body Days:

3 x 10 Kettlebell bench press

3 x 10 Barbell Row

3 x 10 Kettlebell Press

I’m using 3rm instead of 1rm because, as a still relatively new lifter I feel I can benefit more from spending more time under tension. I’ve eliminated the chains on my squat because I’ve read a lot about them being less popular/beneficial for raw lifters. Also, I have enough things I need to work on for my squat that I don’t think adding the extra factor will help me right now. I’ve just switched to a low bar back squat and PR’d my 3RM by seven and a half pounds last week. I’ve also PR’d my deficit deadlift, and my upper body lifts have seen small gains as well. So thus far, no major complaints.

I’ve also realized that now is a good time to think about my goals and to articulate them. I will make a better, more thoughtful post on this later… but it occurred to me. I’m not training to be a competitive CrossFitter– I’ll never be at that level, nor am I competitive enough to be a Games-hopeful. But I would like to be a CrossFit coach. What do I want out of my state of fitness? Really… I want what CrossFit advertises itself to be a proponent of– I want to be a solid, all-around athlete. I want to be competent enough in all the movements, and at doing things RX’d that people will trust in me as a coach. But also, for myself, personally… I want to be in such shape that I can do things like long mud-runs/obstacle courses for fun. I want to be like Jefe who can sign up for a 10k on a whim the day after a powerlifting meet and feel okay (though admittedly it’s still not the smartest thing to do). Yeah, I kind of want to be in exceptional shape just so I can have fun with my body and what it’s capable of. That seems kind of ambiguous… but I will find a way to derive concrete training goals from this in the near future.

Until then, though, I have to get back to that work I was talking about.

Thank you for reading. Happy Thanksgiving… I hope your holiday is so full of love and comfort and warmth… I hope you spend it with people who care about you, who embrace you regardless of what shit you’re worried about at work, what small ways you feel like you’ve failed this week or next. I hope there’s turkey and bacon and a distinct lack of burpees. This year, I am thankful for you all.

Scars, Pride, and Gratitude

In Rhetoric, Training on September 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Buckle down. It’s time for some more Jomad-oversharing again. Ready? Good.

For the past week, I’ve had a misguided fling of no real consequence with a very sweet guy from whom I think I differ too greatly to actually continue seeing. That’s not really the important part. But at some point, he was frowning at the callouses on my hands, and when I asked him if they bothered him, he hesitantly said, “Not really.” And then added: “But if I could snap my fingers and change it, I would.”

Here’s the thing, I know a lot of the “strong women of CrossFit” rhetoric is silly. It glosses over and simplifies a lot of more complicated issues about strength, body image, and gender. I’ve posted about the CrossFit Women’s Creed before and you can read more on my opinions here and here. But when he made that remark, I was reminded of the line “I am as proud of my muscles as I am of my scars.  They are the evidence of my hard work and dedication.”

I actually know a lot of CrossFit women who are bothered by the roughness of their palms– and I don’t fault them that. But personally? I don’t give a shit. Actually, I am proud of them. I earned these callouses through hours on the bar. I rubbed skin away into rawness and blood into scabs and callouses so that I could progress from ring-ups to pull-ups to butterflies… so that I could double my clean and deadlift in five months.

With all the new members at the box (part and parcel of the start of a new school year), I’ve witnessed again how quickly many new members will pick up skills that took me months (or a year) to learn (or not yet learn). I see lifelong athletes adapt quickly to new movements, already attuned to the nuances of their bodies, accustomed to soreness and strain and heavy burdens. I’ve written of it before– for a long time, I found this a bit discouraging… struggling so hard for things that came naturally to many others. But I think I’ve accepted it now– or perhaps embraced it. I PR’d my power clean today (and snatch as well, actually). At 90lbs, it’s not that impressive… the two women with whom I started CrossFit (athletes I admire, whose strength and adroitness I aspire to one day emulate) have been power cleaning above 85 since our second month. I’ve also seen many new members exceed that number when they first test their PR. But in a little over 5 months ago, 90 lbs was my body weight. The first time I tried Grace (30 clean and jerks, for time), I tried it at 50lbs and spent the entire 20 minutes choking on tears because I could not get the bar to my shoulders. Today, 90lbs felt light. To many women, it is. But to me, it’s a year’s worth of labor. Of compiling articles and videos on O-lift technique, of badgering coaches here and in Phoenix with my incessant questions, of so many mornings of the Burgener complex, of figuring out how to eat and train to put on weight and keep it on, of reclaiming strength my body had entirely forgotten after years of fragility.

So… I don’t hold my nameless fellow’s remark against him, but… I’m afraid it’s not his right (especially not within a week of knowing me) to want to change my hands. If I could snap my fingers and have baby-smooth palms… I wouldn’t. For one, I’m pretty sure they’d tear open the next time I did a 2x+ bodyweight deadlift. But for two, they’re the memory of how I got here.

This is probably a belated revelation. I doubt my story is particularly unique. The lifelong athletes of whom I’ve been jealous might have struggled just as hard, just as long– simply earlier in their lives… not as twenty-something grad students trying to figure out how to not fail at this whole life thing. But, nevertheless, I’ll keep my callouses and be proud of my scars.

So… speaking of progress. I achieved my first monthly goal (over 2x bodyweight deadlift), and then my next monthly goal (sub 4:00min baseline), so now I’m tasked with conjuring new ones. I’m not sure about an end of the month goal, but with this morning’s 90lb clean, I’ve decided on a couple end-of-the-year goals. So… before 2013, I will:

Do Grace prescribed (3o 95lb clean and jerks for time), under 15 min. I still don’t really approve of high-volume, heavy Olympic lifts for time, but Grace has been my CrossFit nemesis for so long that I just need to do this.

Sub 7:00min Fran. I’m pretty sure I could do Fran prescribed now, but it would be a long slog. My shoulder strength isn’t quite there for the thrusters, and my grip would give too quickly on the pull-ups.

I’d also like a muscle-up… but again, because it’s a weird skill that some seem to achieve naturally and that other, perfectly adept athletes struggle with for years… I can’t gauge how far off I am from this. But with this in mind, I should remember to bring ring dips back into my rotation of exercises. I’m also doing the Armstrong Pull-up Program. I only do four days a week– I skip the repeat day because I figure pull-ups will show up in one of the WODs. Right now, I’m doing work sets of 5 and rather enjoying it…. we’ll see how it goes. In order to improve my times on the “girl” workouts, I know I need to work on my power production, and my intensity… for some reason, I feel like my ability to push through “the suck” has decreased over time. Or… as I’ve gotten stronger, the feel of bearing that weight brings significantly more “suck.” Either way, I’m trying to push harder through my workouts– 5 more pounds, one more rep, one more step before I let myself take a break.

Anyway, it’s been a rather lovely Labor Day weekend– plenty of time with good friends, who remind me that life outside the office (and *gasp* outside the gym) is worth enjoying. I’m thankful for that too.

The Funny Thing About Abs

In Training, WOD on August 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm

So I have to confess that I’ve never fully understood the world’s fascination with contoured midsections. Everywhere, we see men’s and women’s health magazines advertising the “six-pack workout” or “get your six-pack by eliminating these foods.” Even on the CrossFit forums, I see an abundance of posts about “how do I see my lower abs?” “I just want to see my six-pack.” Individuals justify their fitness levels with “I have visible abs,” as if the ability to visually count their abdominal muscles endows them with more authority to give fitness advice. But I have a difficult time understanding why individuals equate six-pack abs with admirable fitness. For one, having a visible six-pack is largely dependent on genetics– and whether your DNA is coded for you to have that low a body fat percentage in that particular area. For two, having a visible six-pack is largely dependent on low body fat, as opposed to high muscle mass. You can be pathetically out of shape and have visible abs if you starve yourself to a low enough body fat percentage.

My mind is on this topic for several reasons. This morning, I had a conversation with a friend who expressed frustration with his workout routine and concluded “I just want to see my abs!” This is strangely not the first time I’ve heard this phrase from a friend– and actually not the first (or third) time I’ve heard it in the last month. In his defense, this friend is very intelligent, not vain, nor anything close to superficial, but he’s worked hard on his physical fitness and– despite strength gains and cardiovascular improvements– he’s beating himself over the head over his fitness routine because he can’t count count his abs in the mirror.

The second reason this topic is on my mind is because this is the first time in a while that my abs are not visible. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a ripped, Annie Thorisdottir-looking midsection, but after my supremely unhealthy weight loss, I was hovering around dangerously low body fat levels and you could simply see the shadows of my musculature beneath my skin because… well, there was nothing else there. Now stronger (let’s say, significantly over 2x my starting max Deadlift) and at least equally fast as I was before (gauging by my recent baseline retest), I’m also just a little more rounded. My strength-to-bodyweight ratio, however, remains high. I went from banded pull-ups to none to 8 strict. I can do strict head-to-ground handstand pushups, and the fact that I can even do an L-sit on parallettes now indicates that my core is stronger than it was when I did have visible abs… so I’ve handily concluded that this whole six-pack infatuation is a load of sh*t.

I guess if you find a bumpy midsection more aesthetically appealing than any other variation, that’s your own thing… and I don’t disparage the friend for his goals. If the objective of his training is a body that he’s most comfortable in, and if that body requires a six-pack, that’s entirely his prerogative. But the fact that people align six-pack abs with any measure of health or fitness is a little laughable. I mean, I assume there’s a reason that all the Games athletes do have visible six-packs, and at that level of fitness with that amount of muscle mass, they’re probably bound to show through. But just “six pack abs” are a poorly chosen standard of measurement.

Well now that I’ve finished that rant… I have good news for the day. This is me:

… okay maybe more:

but! I PR’d my back squat and shoulder press today. I managed the same weight for 5 that I failed on Sunday (so Jefe was right– an extra day of rest did me good), and my press seems to be improving with the introduction of my micro-loading plates. Now I’m curious as to whether or not I should continue backing off for one “light” squat day and one “heavy” squat day a week, or if I should resume the linear progression. Either way, the remainder of this week may be a bit off because I plan on participating in 31 Heroes  this Saturday, and may or may not adjust my week depending on how I feel after the workout. Additionally, I’ll be busier in the upcoming six days and am unsure how training will fit into my schedule.

Worse yet, with all the Olympics excitement, I’ve been entirely neglectful of my work. My morning was consumed with catching up on the women’s gymnastics team final, and there’s more gymnastics goodness tonight.

Happy Wednesday!

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?

Daily Foodstuffs and Swole Jo

In Food, Training, WOD on July 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Thank you to everyone who read my last, very emo post. I’m so grateful for all the supportive feedback I’ve received and reminded of how lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful community. Really, you guys rock… and I promise not to overrun you with the sappy stuff too often.

Did everyone catch the CrossFit Games this weekend? To be honest, I was a little disappointed to see last year’s heroes take first repeat their wins this year, but I admit that it’s unfair for me to begrudge them their hard work. My heroes this year, however are:

Matt Chan– the oldest competitor to take the podium, and this year’s second-place finisher.

Chris Spealler– the only competitor to participate in all six CrossFit games. At 5’5″ and 151lbs, he’s almost 60lbs smaller than a lot of the male competitors. The commentators loved that. But it was so inspiring just to watch him keep up with the other athletes. And never does he blame his performance on his size difference.

Talayna Fortunato– The women’s third place finisher. From my limited research, she seems to have burst out of nowhere. Just a spectator at last year’s games, she arrived full force this year. She discovered Rudy’s Outlaw Way programming via some other CrossFitter’s blog and began following it without knowing what it was. Eventually, she started making a splash in her region, and someone informed Rudy about it, whereupon he offered to coach her (distance coaching– lots of videos). Outlaw was already recruiting a small following before the Games. After Talayna’s incredible finish, and the success of many of their other athletes*, I expect it to explode soon.

[*Full list of Outlaw Games athletes:
Individuals –
-Talayna Fortunato – 3rd
-Elisabeth Akinwale – 7th
-Candace Hamilton Hester – 27th
-Candice Ruiz – 29th
-Alicia Gomes – 32nd
-Christen Wagner – 41st
-Rika Diederiks – 43rd

-Chad Mackay – 9th
-Patrick Burke –16th
-Justin Allen – 26th
-Austin Stack – 34th
-Kevin Simons – 37th
-Jason Hoggan – 38th
-Brandon Phillips – 42nd

-CrossFit Central – 13th
-CrossFit Champlain Valley – 18th
-Team Butchers Lab – 23rd
-CrossFit CDR – 24th
-CrossFit 7 Mile – 41st]

I was also crushed to see Kris Clever miss the podium by a single spot. She put up an incredible fight all the way through Fran, but couldn’t hang onto the bar for the last set of pull-ups. That’s where Talayna took the lead. I also find it interesting how strength seems to be the deciding factor for men (Chris Spealler, admirable as he is, just couldn’t keep up when the weights got heavy), but for the women the fight seems won or lost on gymnastics skills. All top three women were college gymnasts. Actually Annie (first place) and Julie (second place) were both gymnasts and pole vaulters. Some strange, magic combination there? Power, flexibility, body awareness…

As for my own training, the deadlift went well today. I actually had a revelation that I can drop the bar from the top of the lift and not guide it back down– thereby saving my strength for the next pull. I’ve probably been wasting energy this entire time doing it the other way. Anyway… I’m really aiming for a 200lb max before the end of August… fingers crossed. Not much more work today– just pull ups, a few rowing sprints, and some GHDs. I also played around with the reverse hyper, which made my lower back feel delightful. I need to look up some videos on proper usage though and make sure I’m not just flailing around on it like an idiot.

I’m also playing around with going to the gym later in the day. To be entirely (and again, all too) honest, I used to stick with the morning because 1) I’m obsessive and I like to check things off my “to-do” list ASAP… and even something as enjoyable as working out becomes part of that to-do list… but also 2) because my IBS used to be so awful that the morning was the only time I wasn’t in pain… Fortunately(!) eating mostly paleo has led to a major, major improvement in all of that. I suppose I haven’t given you an update since I started experimenting with the reintroduction of foods. Here’s what I’ve discovered thus far:

Dairy: OMG NO. … I knew I reacted poorly to dairy, but I’ve been on-and-off with yogurt for a while, so I decided to take a leap off the stupid cliff chance and try 1/3 a container of Greek Yogurt. That took about three days to fully recover. Never again. I was a big dairy fan as a kid so every now and then I have a lapse in judgment and think “maybe I can try just a little…” But really, if you see me ever thinking about reaching for something that comes from a cow-boobs again… slap me. Bad bad bad.

Wheat: Not great… some discomfort, but bearable… as in I don’t need to be crazy paranoid if there are wheat contaminants if I’m eating out, but still something I’ll avoid for my daily comfort.

Peanuts: Not an issue (HOORAY!)

Whey protein: Very much so depends on the brand. I’m guessing that some supplements have different percentages of lactose that may or may not upset my system. I’ve been very happy with Nitrean+ from AtLarge Nutrition. The owner, Chris Mason, is very active in the CrossFit community and answers all my obnoxious little questions about nutrition.

As for the other stuff… to be honest, once I eliminated it, I haven’t felt the need to bring it back– aka spend money on finding out whether I’ll feel horrible. I know that I react poorly to soybeans… I’m wondering if tofu will have the same effect on me (should be easier to digest, since it’s fermented), but I haven’t bothered to go out and buy tofu yet. Garbanzo beans seem acceptable. Not sure about other legumes.

I’ve also been caffeine-free for… what is it, almost a month now? I haven’t bothered to discover if it upsets my stomach because I don’t want to reintroduce the stimulant to my system. It’s pretty easy to stay off it now, but I’m pretty sure that if I had a taste, I’d go back to my cup a day. I may return to it once the semester starts up, but until then, I’m enjoy my days without energy crashes.

I’ve received a few emails asking about my daily foodstuffs, so I guess I’ll address that here. Keep in mind, I’m far from a nutritional expert, and what works for me might not work for you.

Breakfast: Usually an egg scramble of some sort (they used to be omelets, but I got lazy and stopped making them look pretty). Eggs, frozen veggies, and leftover meat. Roasted chestnuts.

Lunch: Turkey, homemade guacamole, and roasted or sauteed vegetables of some kind. Sweet potatoes.

Pre-workout: Deli meat wrapped around almond (or peanut) butter. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. Also, sometimes I have a few pieces of non-dairy cheese (not at all paleo, I know. But the soy additive doesn’t seem to bother me and I have a bunch left over from before I started the paleo experiment. Seems to be just the soybeans themselves that I shouldn’t have. I’m curious about soy sauce)

Post-workout: Nitrean+ shake, sweet potato

Dinner: Meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork… thinking about trying lamb sometime), veggies (roasted or sauteed in coconut oil), mashed sweet potato dressed in coconut oil and smoked paprika.

Dessert: Avocado Mousse… also peanut butter.

Snacks: I snack a lot, despite the common paleo advice not to… Usually spoonfuls of peanut/almond/coconut butter, slices of deli meat, veggies with guac, frozen berries, that sort of stuff. Also, reheated sweet potato fries. Or cold sweet potato fries. In front of the fridge, straight from the tupperware. I’m classy like that.

I also drink a lot of almond milk, which is supposedly not paleo because of some additive or another… and coconut milk, even the stuff with guar gum because I really can’t bring myself to care about minutiae like that. As long as I’m not crippled with stomach pains, it’s fine by me.

As for portion sizes, I usually go with 1.5 to double the protein recommendations per meal, unlimited leafy greens, fist-size for all starchy carbohydrates, and unlimited fats. Keep in mind, I’m also a bit of a physical weirdo so this is probably only useful to small women trying to get swole :). That said, the scale reads 109 today. That’s fucking incredible. Unfortunately, I’m not lifting quite as much as I’d hoped to be around this weight, but I’m hoping that will come with time. Also, disappointingly, this means that my 200lb max won’t quite be 2xbodyweight as I’d hoped, but let’s just count on those lifts continuing to rise…

The Naked Jo: A Confession

In Rhetoric, Training, Writing on July 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm

So, the gloves are coming off, and this blog is about to become way too personal. I actually returned to the gym today, itching to exorcise something angry and resentful in the form of sweat and screaming, but… I didn’t quite. Because I’m trying to take this strength training thing seriously and if I subjected myself to 7 minutes of burpees (which I willingly would), I wouldn’t be able to hit my power cleans tomorrow… so I will expel my demons in the only other way I know how: in writing. I will disburden unto you, my dear readers, my far-too-revealing thoughts. And you can judge me or not. Or stop reading and go back to those reruns of The Walking Dead (speaking of which, if anyone in State College has the second season on DVD to lend me… I’ll be your best friend? Or buy you a beer? Or be your best friend who buys you beer?)

Anyway… let’s start with a story. I’m good with stories.

By the eighth grade, I weighed 136 lbs. The doctors had been telling me to lose weight for years. Between ages 13 to 21, I weighed between 136-139. At my heaviest, I’m pretty sure I went over 140, but I avoided scales like the plague. Not because I cared, but because my parents cared and were constantly (well-intentionedly) urging me to lose weight. In my senior year of college, feeling stir-crazy from the demands of writing my honors thesis (a ~100pged short story collection now left to rot away… I’m a bit ashamed of it now– as we all of early works…), I embarked on my P90x adventure. Over the year, I lost about ten pounds… (and was told to lose more), but after graduating a semester early, I moved to New York City. I’d sent out graduate school applications, but wouldn’t hear back for six months. In that time, I interned for $15/day at a literary agency and waited tables at night. These were 15-18 hour days, and I didn’t really make enough for… anything. Meanwhile, I worried that three and a half diligent years of study had earned me nothing– that my parents were right, my major(s) (English and Theatre) were useless, and I had, in fact, chosen a path with no future.

I got sick. It happened in such a way that I didn’t even really notice. Between these two demanding jobs and the tremendously unhealthy (emotionally, physically… generally) relationship I was in, I learned misery as a way of life. It simply made sense that my body rebelled. I couldn’t keep food down or in. I never slept for more than an hour at a time. I had a persistent cough that lasted for months. I was taking four prescription-strength antacids and two painkillers every morning, though they did nothing. I was always, always cold. I remember dreading the walk to the subway every morning because I was too weak to really climb the stairs. I think the truly lowest point of my life was one evening, running from agency to restaurant, I just collapsed on the subway steps. My legs simply crumpled, and I lay there trying not to recognize what a disaster I’d made of my life. I was terrified to call home– to tell my parents that I couldn’t hack it on my own… Because I was so miserable and so used to being miserable, I didn’t realize how much weight I’d lost– about 30lbs in three months. I knew my clothes had stopped fitting, but I just tied a belt around my waist and didn’t think about it much.

Finally, I heard from the Javits Fellowship– administered by the Department of Education. I’d submitted an application out of blind hope. Every year, the government funds (or, funded, the program has since been disbanded due to budget cuts) exactly one MFA student in the country for all their years of graduate study. I didn’t think I had a shot in hell. I’m still convinced that I only received it by blind luck. Anyway… outside my literary agency, between hours eight and nine of another long day, I cried, overwhelmed by sudden hope. Afterwards, I received a few offers from MFA programs. Bolstered with the idea of a future– a life beyond these dreadful day to days– I finally called home, told my parents I was sick, made doctor’s appointments, and ended a three-year relationship that had become exponentially venomous over time.

Everyone here in State College only knows the post-NYC Jo. Small Jo. Weak Jo. The truth is; my body had collapsed so quickly, it took me a long time to even recognize how small I’d become. I didn’t believe people when they told me I was tiny. I didn’t believe that I was weak. Yeah, I had quite a bit of chub at 136lbs, but I was also “weirdly strong” for my size (not my words). Just this past summer, during my visit to Taiwan, several members of my family remarked that they never knew I had a small skeletal frame since I’d always seemed “big boned” (and in fact had been referred to as such all my life… nicknamed, even, in Chinese). When I started CrossFit, my body was an alien thing. I didn’t know how to inhabit this 93lb, shivering wreck (at my worst point, I think 88). I didn’t know how to walk on legs that could barely hold my weight. I didn’t know how to clothe a frame that didn’t have enough flesh to warm itself.

Now, about 104lbs, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m small. I’ve also gained enough weight that I’m no longer constantly cold (or I’ve adapted to these inhumane Pennsylvanian winters…). But… lately, really culminating in today, I was just overwhelmed by how fed up I am of being small. Of being weak. It’s funny… now I can deadlift 1.85x my own bodyweight. I can do 8 strict pull-ups. I can power clean 85% of my body. That’s decent on paper. But because I’m still fucking small, women come in for their on-ramps and are soon push-pressing my back squat.

Here’s the thing. I’m not competitive. No one believes me when I say this, but it’s true. When it comes to athletics, I have no competitive urge at all. Yes, in academics or in my job, I can definitely get worked up. But I do fitness for relaxation– for sanity– for the thing that takes me away from the books and computers and the dark, lonely, uncomfortable desk. I do it for the camaraderie. I don’t want to be able to lift more than these women. I just want to be able to keep up with them.

Jefe asked me again today: “what are your goals.” I want to be a “competitive” CrossFitter– not because I want to compete, but because I want to play. I want to be able to pace the firebreathers so that I don’t feel like I’m dragging them down when I work out beside them, or that I’m playing an entirely different game. When I was in middle school, the first year I tried out for the softball team, I didn’t make it. Well yeah– I was overweight, asthmatic, (always) uncoordinated, and definitely slow. But I wanted so badly to participate that I volunteered to be the team manager– just to be around the game. For a season, I tracked all the players’ stats, I helped them strategize their hits… I figured out the habits of the opposing teams’ batters and pitchers and fielders and relayed the information to the actual athletes. It was rewarding at times, but also torturous– a constant reminder of what I wanted to be, but could not . Sometimes… sitting around the box, I still feel like I’m pacing the sidelines. I’m 24 years old, and I’m still being picked last for kickball. Being relatively strong for my bodyweight is awesome for Cindy, but Fran would slaughter me, and I still don’t think I could finish Grace. And, of course, I do still want to coach some day. And I couldn’t dream of it until the thought of a 95lb clean and jerk doesn’t make me want to cry.

I… need to be patient, I know. I’ve gained a lot of strength on this program. My deadlift has climbed by 50lbs since I started. What used to be “heavy” cleans for me are now part of my warm-up sets. But it’s still somewhat demoralizing to be scraping the bottom of the strength barrel after so much hard work.

It’s just that… I wasn’t exactly athletic before I started, so it’s not like I’m focusing on strength because I’m an endurance rockstar. My run times were embarrassing before I stopped running. I hate that I can feel my endurance ebbing away each week. I hate that I can’t WOD for longer than 15 minutes without jeopardizing my strength gains. And I hate that after so much effort, after shoving my face with everything my goddamned IBS-ridden stomach will let me eat, my press still stalled out this week and I can’t run a fucking mile without feeling winded. I dread that after all this work, I’ll barely be able to do Rx’d weights and suddenly all WODs will feel hellish because I can’t survive anything longer than 10 minutes.

I know so many fitness blogs are about celebrating our bodies and our unique strengths right now, but today’s not one of those days. You know the slogan “Strong is the new skinny?” Yeah, I like the idea. I love that we’re promoting strength in women rather than skeletal, Hollywoodized figurines. But I’m fucking trapped in the old skinny, and I’m tired of it.

I suppose there’s no quick solution. I just embarked on this strength programming without perspective– not knowing exactly how long of a marathon it would be. More slow lifts. More peanut butter. More avoiding metcons…

Jo smash.

Back to Butt Basics

In Training, WOD on April 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

First of all, thank you for all the helpful responses to my post yesterday. After too much research and  evaluation, I think I’m going to experiment with Justin’s Strength and Conditioning program from 70’s big:

(I attribute my discovery of this program entirely to a friend, who for the sake of our blog, shall be nicknamed The Archeologist — partially for his actual profession, partially for his ability to excavate and inventory every CrossFit article/video on each training topic, and not at all for his dashing resemblance to Indiana Jones*)

I like that this program prioritizes strength but also acknowledges that CrossFitters can’t be kept from their metcon tendencies and accounts for that. As much as I do want my strength gains, I think alot of this fitness fun would seem futile if it disallowed me from participating in the activities I enjoyed most. I also like that it’s modeled off a 5×3 structure, since I’m not a major fan of the reps-to-failure scheme of Wendler’s 5/3/1 template.

True to my geekish self, I spent last night mapping out a training plan that would allow me to use gym “rest days” to do my heavier strength days, the lighter strength days will go with short, strength-emphasis metcons, and I can still incorporate some O-lift skill work (more for technique than strength), and participate in occasional classes– and have a full rest day in there as well. What I disliked about doing my own strength routine for so long was that it kept me from being able to hop in with the normal CrossFit classes because my strength work was actually the bulk of my workout and I couldn’t speed through it at the pace that most people blaze through their 5/3/1 stuff. This way, I’ll have a day or two to do a class if I want, or on the lighter strength days, I might be able to come in five to ten minutes early and participate in the metcon. I think I’m going to avoid chippers for a while, though I love them.

The Archeologist was also kind enough to watch and comment on my abysmal squat form. A note: I’ll be dropping my weights significantly when I first start this program, paring everything back down to the basics. I think my back squat has been so inconsistent lately (I could do 1.2x bodyweight for 20 reps one week, and then barely seven the next)   largely due to really shitty form. So I’m going to start at ~85% bodyweight and add accordingly, going as deep as possible. Not sure why, but I never thought about pushing my butt back on the way up, only the way down— which seems silly now because it’s as if I were disregarding the lifting portion of the lift.

So instead of looking like this:

I should look more like this:

(don’t we all wish we could look more like Camille?)

… which bears close resemblance to, but is not actually this:

(photo from– and I’m serious–**

I’m fairly certain that the success I saw with the doubled-up 5/3/1 routine could be attributed to the higher amount of overall reps. Not only did I repeat each set, but– because I designed my own workouts instead of following the classes– I tended to do WODs that worked the same movement or muscle group with lower weights. I think my body responds better to more reps rather than more weight, and this new routine will account for that, but still hopefully leave me a little wiggle room for normal WODs.

Speaking of WODs. Today’s was pretty damn fun. Possibly the only thing I enjoy more than burpees: partner WODs (a partner WOD with burpees would almost be too much happiness– almost). I think the “team”/”community” aspect of CrossFit comes out best during team and partner WODs. I sometimes find it difficult to motivate myself when training alone, or working alone amid a “competitive” class, but I always want to push harder if I’m part of a team. It’s just impossible to whine or feel sorry for yourself when your buddy is pounding through his deadlifts right next to you.



Partner 1: Deadlifts (185/115)

Partner 2: 1 round of Cindy (5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 air squats)

Count number of deadlifts.

Good times 🙂

At any rate, I’ll probably take it light on the weights for the next few days and start fresh on the new training routine next Thursday. I actually can’t wait and wish I could start sooner, but this works best with my schedule. It’s normal to feel childishly giddy about starting new strength programs, right?


*Actually, I’m pretty sure The Architect could squat the boulder that chased Indy through the Temple of Doom.

** Yesterday, after Striking, we discussed the potential marriage of the newest fitness fads: CrossFit Pole Dancing. The Cyborg demonstrated; truly, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Marine veteran/CrossFit coach treat a Rogue rig as a stripper pole 😉

Strength Stagnation

In Training, Uncategorized on April 5, 2012 at 11:25 am

Early in my CrossFit career, I cried during a 15-minute attempt at a 50-lb Grace. Though I’d manage the occasional clean, 80% of my attempts were misses, my hands were scraped raw from the coarse metal grip, and my forearms had all but lost the ability to even hold onto the bar. Hard as I tried, I could not drop under the weight after the second pull. My O-lifts still leave so much to be desired, but these days, I’ve found that I’m always happy to start my day with some Olympic lifts.

This morning involved a handful and snatches, followed by cleans and jerks, followed by bench presses (because I’d missed Wednesday’s 5/3/1 programming).

Though I’m happy with my olift progress, I’ve definitely hit a plateau in power lifting. For strength work, our box follows Wendler’s 5/3/1 template. Right now, my “theoretical” one rep max for the bench press is about 10 lbs above bodyweight. Today, I barely managed my theoretical “5 rep max” for 4 reps. I was fresh from a rest day, felt relatively energized, but still the weight was heavy. I can’t decide if I’ve reached an asymptotic point of the programming– where, until I just plain get heavier, my bench won’t go up any further. But also, I’m a little frustrated with my 5/3/1 progress in general. For a few months, I did a “ladder” version of the 5/3/1 template, which involved doing each of the prescribed sets twice, and then taking each set to failure. I stopped because… well, 1) it’s really time consuming and meant that I had to do my workouts outside of normal WOD times because I couldn’t warm up with the rest of the group and, 2) a friend pointed out that it was probably overkill. However, those months were the only period in which I saw substantial strength gains– leaps and bounds compared to the rest of my training time. Now that I’m back on the standard 5/3/1 template, it seems like I’ve stagnated again– no real progress on any of my lifts. I just looked at my deadlift, and last week I did 9 reps with the same weight I’d lifted for 10 reps a month ago… Time to reevaluate. I’m not sure what/how I should change… With strength, I still have a hard time gauging if I’d doing too much or too little– and it’s especially confusing when conventional wisdom says do less but I’ve only seen gains with doing more.

No metcon this morning because I’m hoping to make the striking class tonight.