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Posts Tagged ‘Westside’

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.

Westside Change-up and The New Love of My Life

In Food, Training on September 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I need to publicly and shamelessly declare my undying love for The Civilized Caveman. Seriously, if George Bryant ever wants to elope with me and spend our days swinging kettlebells, spreading the good word about functional fitness, and making pulled pork, the offer’s on the table. I’ve been following his website for a while now. He’s a fantastic chef, and most of his recipes are accessible to culinary-bumblers such as myself. Seriously… they’re delicious, but relatively simple. In addition to that idiot-proof pulled pork recipe, I recommend the holiday Lara Bar and the bacon-wrapped tahini and sundried-tomato stuffed chicken breasts (yes it’s appropriate to drool). I’m not much of baker, but for those who miss more baked-good-like things, he has quite the selection of paleo-friendly brownies and scones and other such goodies as well.

But that’s beside the point. The Civilized Caveman is a man of many talents. He also is a US Marine, owns and runs his own photography company, and is a mischievous, covert philanthropist. I listened to his recent podcast on Abel James’s show (which I’d never heard before), and shared a lot about his life philosophy. Apparently he partakes in regular, anonymous acts of goodwill. He’ll buy $25 gift cards for Trade Joe’s and tell the cashiers to apply them anonymously to anyone’s cart at their discretion. He goes into coffee shops and treats strangers to their morning cup ‘o Jo(e). But it’s not just a money thing. He made a point about how… you can tell if someone looks a down and might need a extra dose of kindness for the day– or when someone is walking insecurely and might delight in being told she (or he, you never know) is beautiful. We so often overlook the small, but truly pivotal ways that we can impact someone’s day– or week. A smile, a few words, a tiny gesture of generosity can turn someone’s day around. About a week ago, before I even heard the podcast, I’d had a long and shitty day of work. It was my off day, but I still swung by the gym just to say hi. Everyone was busy, so I didn’t stick around long, but there were a few friends who greeted me with such effusive smiles that I left in a drastically better mood than when I stepped in. After a day of feeling overlooked, mired in my own thoughts and issues I’d magnified in my head, I just needed the reminder that there were people who cared. Small differences.

He also talked a bit about the motivation behind his training: he wants to be a giant, grown-up kid. And honestly, I agree. After a year of CrossFit, I’m proud of where I come, but I also know I’ll never be anything close to a Games competitor– nor do I really have that impulse to compete. I want to be fit so I can celebrate and enjoy my good health–particularly with friends and family. So… I’m trying to keep that in mind, even as I encounter frustrations with my strength gains (or not, as they may be).

About the strength training…

It’s  been perplexing me lately. Since I’ve started my tentative Westside Conjugate programming, I’ve seen some awesome PRs. I quickly hit new highs on my squat and my press, and I tried some variations (safety bar squat, swiss bar press) with positive results. However, my biggest fear in undertaking a westside-based program is that, with only one max-effort lift per week, I’d be neglecting some of the major lifts. After three weeks of concentrating on squat for lower body and press for upper body, I finally returned to deadlift and bench (which were my two better lifts before). However, though I hit my landmark 225 (a bit over 2x bodyweight) right before starting Westside, I could barely manage 205 on Monday– and the form was atrocious. My bench has not moved. I think I’m not strategizing well.

After for too much time perusing Westside templates and more methodology, I think I’m going to try alternating squat varations and deadlift variations each week– same with press and bench. Additionally, I’m going to try a four week cycle so that I revisit the same lifts every four weeks. Jefe keeps pressing me about “variety” and how I should take advantage of the wide range of options that Westside gives me… but the problem with being such a novice at all these movements is that I have no idea whether I’m hitting a PR because I’m getting stronger or a PR just because I’m very unfamiliar with each lift and the learning curve is steep. Revisiting after four weeks will give me a better gauge on things. If it seems to be going well, I might try to extend the cycle by adding more variation.

So… I’m thinking something like this for my max effort lifts:

Week 1: Squat / Press

Week 2: Deadlift / Bench

Week 3: Safety Bar Squat / Swiss Bar Press

Week 4: Deficit Deadlift (or deadlift with chains) / Floor Press (or close grip bench)

I may be naturally adding more variation anyway by switching between 1 rep maxes and 3 rep maxes. I read something about how novice lifters might want to shoot for a 3 rep max as opposed to a one rep max because we need to spend more time under tension. It also appears that common wisdom says that dynamic effort benches should be done for sets of three– as opposed to the two that I’ve been doing– so I’m going to try 3×10 starting next week.

Before I start my next cycle, though, I may spend this week’s max effort day retesting my deadlift. It’s a matter of pride… I wasn’t really warmed-up when I tested and I started my first warm-up weight too high… I was anxious about squeezing my lift in before the group class started… which may be me making excuses for myself, but I’m going to move my lower body Max Effort days to Sundays so I can use the open gym time rather than trying to rush to the box after class so I have enough time to fly through the movements before the group WOD. It’ll throw off my weekly timing a bit, but I’ll still have 72 hours between working the same muscle groups, so I think it should be all right.

That said, I’m not absolutely devastated by the backslide on my neglected lifts because I know that I’m getting stronger. I can consistently add weight on my assistance exercises, and I PRd my power clean at 95 lbs today. Grace– I’m coming after you :p.

Matt Chan’s Training Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evaluating CrossFit Strength Programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westside Barbell’s Conjugate System : more on this later

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

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

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

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

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

ME Lower Body

Squat 7×1 (start @ 70% and move up)

Accessory Work:

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

Glute Ham Raises 3×10

Pistols 2 x 15 (alternating)

ME Upper Body

Press 7×1

Accessory Work

JM Press 4×5 (I have weak triceps)

Pull-ups 3×8

Dumbbell Press 3×10

DE Lower Body

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

Accessory Work:

Sumo Deadlift: 3×5 (@ 80ish percent?)

Glute Ham Raises 3×10

Pistols 2 x 15 (alternating)

DE Upper Body

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

Accessory Work

JM Press 4×5

Pull-ups 3×8

Dumbbell Press 3×10

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