Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good Clean Fun

There's something about the olympic lifts that is just plain fun. A weight rests on the floor, you pull, and bang, it's suddenly racked or overhead. Of the oly lifts, the clean is easily my favorite. I'm better at it than the overhead lifts, and I get to put more weight on the bar.

I didn't have a lot of time at the gym last night and I came in feeling a little lackluster because of the late hour, but as soon as I hit that first pull from the ground, I knew I was in PR territory. When you're on a good day, it's not time to be shy about your loads. My old PR was 200, but in each case I was tired from hours of previous work. Tonight I decided I'd pull 215 (1.25 x BW).

I forgot the camera yet again. I promise to bring it next time out, so the blog isn't so dull. I especially wanted videos of my cleans, so I could check form. Like I said, next time.

Jump rope 3:00, 5 consecutive DUs

(It's a rhythm thing. I can jump and spin the rope fast enough, but I can't seem to break through. Maybe I need to give this a good solid 15 minutes some day.)

Hip mobility drills
Burgener warmup (cleans)

Heavy metal
Hang squat clean 45x5, 95x3, 115x3
Clean 135x3, 155x2, 175x2, 185, 195, 200, 205, 210 (PR)

I took two halfhearted attempts at 215, but after a tough catch at 210, my shoulder hurt a tiny bit and I chickened out. It was purely mental. The first attempt was two pulls, but I didn't give it enough to have a good hope of getting under it, and I skipped the 3rd pull. The 2nd attempt was a deadlift. Oly lifts are technical and fast, and they go wrong just as quickly. Add a couple of pounds or lose a tiny bit of mental or physical strength and they go south in a hurry.

This was my first go at heavy squat cleans in over two months. I'd done heavy hang power cleans, some tall cleans, some DB squat cleans and an Elizabeth since then, but the bar was way easier to move yesterday. I love CrossFit. With a good mix of general strength and mobility work and a little skill practice, you still improve at things that you aren't directly working. Like I said, that was fun. I'll hit these again in a couple of weeks.

Had a metcon planned for ages - 50 in the Clip, which is 50 95# burpee C&Js, but after the push presses yesterday and with more overhead work tomorrow, I had to come up with something else.

AMRAP 10 minutes:

    5 Squat cleans, 135#

10 pushups
15 box jumps, 20"

    5 rounds even

    This could use more pushups, more weight on the cleans, and maybe fewer box jumps. It was a quad burner like this, but the metcon hit wasn't as much as I'd hoped.

    Tuesday, February 24, 2009

    AMAP 24 hours

    The clock is always ticking these days, it seems. Whether it's work, workouts, family, or that stupid commute, I never seem to have enough time. Finding time for proper recovery, whether it's eating, sleeping, or SMR is almost a joke. My wife doesn't consider it quality time when we're talking while I'm on the foam roller. Might be the involuntary gasps of pain I sprinkle into the conversation. (I can see how this would be disconcerting.

    Margaret: "I signed Cassidy up for dance today."

    Me (in anguish): "Oh my god, that sucks."

    It sort of spoils the free flow of ideas.)

    So when work had me down in CT for the last couple of days, I figured I should take advantage of what little time I did have to check-out CrossFit Central Connecticut. I've got a job site around the corner from them and keep meaning to stop in, but I've never managed to drop in for a class. Of course, when I arrived in CT, the combination of two hours in the car, a poor night's sleep, and the weekend's sets of 15-20 squats and DLs on consecutive days left me in a less-than ideal physical state.

    Things took a turn for the better, however, as soon as I arrived. The sign greeting me as I entered the lobby of our CT office building said "Chair Massages, Monday 10-2." Salma Hayek could have been there to greet me with a hug and a kiss, and I wouldn't have been any happier. So, 15 minutes before the dry run of our big Tuesday presentation, I snuck out for a quick physical therapy session. I didn't have great hopes for the chair massage, figuring on a gentle, user-friendly once-over. However, I was pleasantly suprised by the masseuse's willingness to inflict pain. Elbows were driven into spinal erectors, traps were pinched mercilessly, and fingers pried there way under my scapula. Before long, the lacrosse ball I use for SMR seemed like a cottonball. It was just what the doctor ordered.

    A bad night's sleep later, where I woke up before 5am to go over my part of the presentation, I got myself out to CFCC with a bit too much caffeine in my system. Tuesday is my long metcon day, so it was only natural to throw myself at the programming mercies of Tom Taylor, the owner of CFCC. Add some nervousness regarding my afternoon presentation, and it was clearly the right choice to start my day off with the mental flossing of a brutal workout. Still, I got there and wanted no part of it.

    Maybe it was accumulated nerves between work stuff, not knowing what WOD lay in wait for me, and the normal jitters associated with visiting an new affiliate. I've mostly worked out on my own and spend an inordinate amount of time talking CrossFit with like-minded people in the virtual CrossFit world, so when I make a rare affiliate visit (this is my third), I want to put in a good showing. I walked in, said hello to Tom, and scanned the wall of white boards for the one that would tell me what flavor of suffering I'd get to enjoy.

    Before I get to that, let's quickly review the CrossFit recipe: "Constantly varied (if not random), functional movements, performed at high intensity (and practiced with virtuosity)." (That first aside is Coach G's - the second is my own addition as the takehome message from my Level 1 Cert.) The whiteboard showed a recent mainpage WOD:

    4 rounds:

    Row 500m
    115# Push press, 21-18-15-12

    Totally random, my ass. The hopper knows. It sought out my weaknesses and issued me a swift kick where it counts, or actually, it issued a butt with the horns of my two worst goats - push presses and mid-length metcons. Like I said, I wanted no part of it.

    Thankfully, nobody else showed up for the 7am class. I don't get much coaching, and I was happy to have an experienced coach see if they couldn't cue me to a better push press. As I warmed up the movement, Tom had no magic bullets, but after some time with me, he did see deeper into my issues with the PP than I caught in my video self-analysis. I'm fighting both quad dominance and shoulder inflexibility, while trying to learn a new motor pattern. It works OK up to about 95#, but beyond that my form issues shine through. I dip, leaning forward too much as I push my weight onto my heels, I tip back to get my head out of the way of the bar, rocking me forward onto the balls of my feet, and I drive. The solution isn't magical. It's just more practice at light weights, like I've been doing. Thankfully, having Tom's focal points, and a new shoulder mobility drill to take home, I expect the battle will be won in the next month or so.

    The actual workout looked like this:

    Row 500m 147ish
    Lunges with sampson and psoas stretch
    10 C2b pullups
    10 pushups
    Shoulder triplet
    (10 each of
    PVC press with emphasis on pushing elbows forward,
    behind the head press with emphasis on active shoulders,
    dislocates with emphasis on a tight full-hand grip.

    Push press 45x10ish, 95x10ish, 115x10ish

    115 was inconsistent, so I scaled weight on the WOD.

    4 rounds:

      row 500m
      95# push press, 21-18-15-12


    That rep scheme is mean. It doesn't drop off fast enough. I held form together pretty well for the first two rounds, but things started slipping later on, as I tried to work faster through the shorter rounds, despite being gassed. For the record, if you're unclear on the notion, rowing on the front end of any metcon is quite simply nasty. Tom gave me some pointers on that, but he was shy about coaching me through it, because I'm an experienced CrossFitter. If you're reading, I appreciated it, Tom. I was just too busy and too gassed to offer much thanks midworkout.

    Tom was also kind enough to point out that a bunch of the reps toward the end wouldn't count at the qualifiers, but I knew that already. After 50 or 60 reps, I was really struggling to get to lockout, even at 95#s. Spending another 5 minutes standing around trying to get the reps right when I was already cooked wasn't going to help yesterday, but now it's practice, practice the push press.

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    The slippery slope

    As I said yesterday, I've been on a mission to Just Eat. I'd been making good food choices for the most part, although sometimes indulging in some Breyer's at the end of the day. Last weekend was Valentines Day, and Margaret and I went down to my folk's house so we could get some babysitting for one of our three yearly dates. Living in the Stix and having grown up the next town over from Newport, RI also makes the night out a little nicer, as there are plenty of really nice restaurants.

    I tried to be good, ordering a cheese platter to share as an appetizer, and a steak with roasted vegetables for an entree. Of course, the cheese platter came with french bread, candied dates, and other treats, but at least they were in small proportions. Add some strawberries and dark chocolate and a few drinks and a bowl of ice cream each night of the weekend and by Monday, I was in full-on carb-craving mode.

    The funny thing is, I've never had that much of a sweet tooth. Sure, I could polish off some gummy bears real quick if they were around, but the things that show up on a daily basis in the home and office - cookies, doughnuts, milk chocolate, etc. - don't hold that much appeal. However, after cleaning up my diet and then having a weekend of treats, the next couple of days were tough. I'd have my customary snacks - almonds, olives, or cheese - and I just wouldn't be satisfied. It wasn't until I had some dried fruit that a snack would feel complete. An evening ice cream a couple more times, and I was in the same place the next day.

    Nicole Carrol was right. Carbs are like crack. Have a little, you want more, and after my slightly carby days, suddenly the cookies, chocolates, gummy candies, and assorted treats belonging to my not-yet-paleo family started to look mighty tempting. This was the signal to me that I better spend a few days eating on the strict. Last night, when the ice cream craving came, I threw it off with some green beans with garlic and olive oil. Not exactly the same thing, but when I added a glass of milk and some almonds, things worked out OK. Of course, the house is now almost barren of healthy foods. So it's off to the grocery to spend far too much money, but if I want to eat clean while on this mission to Eat More, I'm going to have to buy what looks like far too much food. I'm betting I'll eat it.


    Had some fun with the warmup and gymnastics skills today. The agility drills yesterday were fun, too. (Those will be part of the regular mix as far as monostructural warmup activities go.) Today, the gymnastics practice I've been doing started to pay-off with some old skills coming back to me. Fun stuff. (Did I mention that already?) Good thing, too, because the rest of the workout meant business.

    Warmup/Skill work
    Jump rope 5:00 - max of 9 consecutive DUs
    Shoulder rolls

    Handstand practice
      2 straddle presses off a 10" mat
      Hand walks 18, 29, 26 feet

    TGU-Windmill drill 35 x 4 each
    RRs 35 x 8 each (alternating)

    Heavy stuff
    Deadlift 45x5, 135x5, 185x3, 225x2, 275x1, 300x3, 315x3, 330x3 (new 3RM), 250x16

    7 rounds:
      10 SDLHP, 95#
      10 ring dips


    Funny how it goes sometimes. Those warmup DL sets felt brutally heavy, but I managed to pull the three sets of three with pretty good form and tackled my first ever set of 15+ DLs and still finished strong with the metcon. I might have been able to keep going on the long set of DLs, but it didn't seem it at the time. Those DLs hurt from the 7th rep on. Next time, I'll hang in there for all 20 (I hope). The high-rep set is a great training tool. There's no excuse about pacing yourself, like I've used in Diane. I have to just hold onto that bar, gather myself, and pull another rep.

    We're firmly into CFSB mode now. I like what it demands of me, but I'm going to have to be really strict with my recovery, if I want to make it work over the long haul.

    I had some planks planned as a finisher, but when I got home we took the kids outside for an hour, and once the cold got into me I knew I better spend the rest of the day resting, eating, and otherwise recovering.

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    The Bonfire of My Vanity

    I've hesitated to post a profile pic for my CrossFit blog, because I still don't have anything in the way of action shots. All I've got is this vanity shot. Sure, it reflects the results of a decent work ethic and a clean diet, but I've got an issue with ab shots. Despite being the glory shots of the fitness industry, abs aren't remotely indicative of fitness. It might be worth leaning out for a competition to perform at your best in an event where being lighter is an advantage, but walking around with a six-pack every day is only somewhat more advantageous than drinking one.

    Face it. No matter how focused we are on performance, we all want to look good naked. I've spent more than my share of time telling folks on the CrossFit message boards to stop worrying about their appearance and focus on something that is quantifiable and that makes a real difference in their lives, like how much you can pick up off the ground while keeping your back stable or how long you can move heavy stuff around before you need a rest. Still, when I get a little soft around the middle (and I mean a little), I instictively wonder whether I'm doing something wrong. Maybe it's all those years of a nightly beer or three, when softness did correlate to being out of shape. Maybe I've seen one too many hollywood hunks with their shirt off.

    Or maybe it's sheer vanity. At 40 years old, I finally gave up my three-sandwiches-a-day routine and adopted a low carb diet. The result was that I leaned out like crazy. At 5'10", I dropped from 182 to 172 in no time without losing much in the way of strength. I felt good, and I looked better than I ever had. I've always been thin, skinny even. In 6th grade, my nickname was "The Cambodian." The difference now is that I was lean and strong, and I liked it. I kept training a hybrid CF style to gain strength, but I wasn't making much progress on my lifts. I felt like I was eating plenty, averaging over 3,000 calories a day with plenty of protein, but I was slowly losing weight - not much, maybe a pound a month. It was clear that looking fit did not equat to being fit, or at least not to getting fit.

    When I broke under 170# a couple of weeks ago, I realized that, if I really wanted to get stronger, I quite simply needed to put on weight - period - abs be damned. I needed to eat more and accept a little belly fat in the bargain, because when you're lifting heavy as part of your workout routine, that little bit of softness across the middle is Future Muscle. Have you ever noticed how kids grow? They do it in spurts. They get a little pot belly going, then before you know it, they're an inch or two taller and the pot belly is gone. In essence their bodies are stroring energy for future growth and then a hormonal signal stimulates that growth in a relatively short period of time.

    The same process happens to those of us who strength train. Our bodies adapt to exercise in two ways, by rewiring the nervous system to more efficiently use the muscle we have and by building new muscle. That new muscle needs to come from somewhere. The body isn't going to invest energy creating more muscle mass to sustain, if it doesn't sense that we have an energy surplus with which to build that muscle. Under most circumstances, it takes approximately two weeks of caloric excess for the body to respond by raising the levels of insulin-like growth factor (ILGF). When we're lifting heavy, that ILGF signals the body that it's time to use the energy excess for building muscle. There are ways of manipulating diet that are supposed to increase ILGF levels, but the most surefire way to be ready to build muscle in response to our workouts is simple: Eat More.

    I've temporarily given up the intermittent-fasting (IF) routine that was working so well for me. (I took up IF because it is supposed to offer similar longevity gains to caloric restriction, while still allowing me to feast enough to put on weight. However, when 3,000 calories a day isn't enough, blocking out 15-16 hours to Not Eat didn't seem like the best way to put on weight. I've put on four pounds since embarking on my more-food-is-better program. Perhaps, when I've dialed in my new and expanded diet and my body has adapted to getting more calories, I'll reintegrate IF. Until then, I will eat whenever possible.

    OHS 18 x 10
    Agility drills:
      Dot drill
      Triangle drill
      W drill

    Hip mobility drills

    Remedial skill work
    Push press 45x15, 65x10, 95x5

    Heavy stuff
    Back squat 45x5, 95x5, 135x3
    Box squat 135x1, 165x2x5, 170x2x5
    Back squat 210x20

    First ever set of 20. Good stuff. Definitely took some focus and considerable effort, but more weight is definitely possible. Box squats were starting to feel like a workout at this weight. Both of these will get bumped in weight next week.

    Not a metcon
    30 medicine ball clean and throw, 8-10 feet, 25#


    The idea was that if either person dropped the ball, the rep didn't count. However, the work rate simply wasn't fast enough to be a metcon. We did this outside in the snow, so the only thing that really got a workout was our fingers' ability to withstand the cold.

    Core work
    Ab wheel 2x5
    L-sit 2:00 in 7 sets (took 8.5 minutes, including rest)

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    It's Supposed to Hurt

    "Are you alright?"

    I get the question occasionally at the end of a brutal metcon, as I make myself comfortable on the floor of the Y. The looks that you get doing CrossFit workouts are priceless. Nobody knows quite why you would punish yourself that way on a daily basis, but they know that you're obviously training hard. Then, there are those whose world view is simply too challenged to accept the fact that intense CF workouts are a good thing. While I was doing a bunch of DB swings in a short metcon the other day (a great time to talk, I might add), I was engaged in conversation the other day by a women taking a break from her tricep kickbacks to say, "I'm a paramedic, and that's a good way to hurt your back."

    "Not if you do it with good form," I grunted.

    She wasn't done. As I was finishing up, she decided that my concern for my fellow man might be a better avenue to my conversion to her enlightened path. Referring to my workout partner, she flatly stated that "He's going to hurt his back doing that." The best diplomacy I could manage was "You don't know what you're talking about," and the conversation went nowhere. Clearly, she wasn't about to accept the radical notion that back injuries are prevented by making backs stronger. She obviously thought her routine of 20 minutes of cardio followed by moving some light weights around was a better path to fitness. She wasn't interested in challenging herself. We know better. We know fitness only comes through hard work.

    It's easy for us as CrossFitters to accept the basic principle that exercise consists in challenging our bodies to do things to which it's not accustomed, that we need to push ourselves past our current limits to get stronger. But getting stronger does not mean things will get easier for us. The truth of the matter is that improving at CrossFit fundamentally means you have to be willing to suffer more. In fact, the better you get the more it hurts. We see superstar athletes and assume they have it easy when they succeed, but there's no denying the suffering of elite CrossFitters when they finish first in a workout. This is something I understand when thinking about a workout, but the concept isn't quite as clear when I'm in the midst of a gruelling metcon and my instincts are screaming at me to stop and breathe. Today's metcon was a reminder of that. I did roughly as well at it as the last time out - not bad, but no apparent improvement and I did stop and breathe and grab a drink in the middle. If I want to do better, I simply have to be willing to accept more pain. This is not a reassuring thought.

    Jump rope 6:00 (never got my DU rhythm going, after my rope exploded and needed repair)
    Shoulder mobility (dislocates, wall slides)

    Heavy stuff
    Shoulder press 45x5, 95x3, 115x1, 115x5, 120x4x2
    Push press 3 x (95, 100, 105, 110, 115)* 115x3, 45x8, 95x3, 95x3, 75x5

    * Density style - reps on the minute until form breaks down. By 115, it was clear my form was awful. I've got a fairly fundamental fault here of driving off the ball of foot that needs corrrection, which means practice, practice, practice. Even 95# may be too heavy for this practice, as that's where things seemed to start to slip.

    I've lost quite a bit on the shoulder press since this summer. It's on the list to work on a weekly basis, thanks to the CFSB article. Now, I'm sure that's a good idea.

    5 rounds:

      5 burpee box jumps, 20"
      5 DB snatch, each arm, 55#

    This was 16 seconds slower than the last time I did this. However, I did squat snatches in the first round, which really put the hurt on. My work capacity for this is probably improved from last time. However (and this is the kicker), I didn't push this as hard as I should have. I was again asked if I was alright, but laying there I knew that I shouldn't be able to get up and so convincingly say that I was.

    Core work
    3 rounds:

      10 KTE
      10 hip & back extensions
      5 cable cross-chops each side, 60#

    The gym mercifully closed before I could get in the last round of hip extensions and cross-chops. I was done anyways and ready for my rest day.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    The muddled middle

    Ever go into a workout all fired-up and ready to set a PR and have it all go horribly wrong? You've got a goal in your head, say a 5-minute Fran, a 300 FGB, or a 20-round Cindy. Setting a goal like that can be motivating and help you pace your workout right, but it can also turn into a trap. You get halfway through the second round of FGB and that 300 is getting further away or you get to the 12th round of Cindy and see that your one round-per-minute pace is off by 30 seconds. You know then and there that you're not going to make your goal today.

    How do you respond? Do you dig deep and try to charge for that goal, flaming out gloriously? Do you break into analysis mode and figure out a new pace and a new goal? Do you hang your head for a second and muddle through dejectedly falling further behind? How you respond to this point in the workout says more about the quality of your training than your sub-3:00 Grace, your BW snatch, or the muscle-up that you just can't seem to master. That mid-workout point is the place where you really need to dig deep and take the measure of yourself. Tony Budding calls the mid-workout crisis the place where times are made and broken. Anybody can kick it in for the last round or last couple of minutes to finish strong, but to maximize your output when you're in the depth of the WOD, wishing you would hurry up and die so the pain might go away and having no hope for release anytime soon that the true firebreathers are made.

    I have a Bad Habit of fading in the 8-12 minute range on AMRAP 20 metcons. It's a reason that I put long metcons in general at the top of my list of goats. The tricky thing is that the mid-workout crash comes from a different direction with different workouts. In Cindy and Murph, it's the pushups that ultimately catch up to me, leaving me balancing intensity against impending muscular failure. In FGB, the metcon hit causes my technique to go to hell until my shoulders are screaming at me to stop in that second set of PPs. In Elizabeth, the heavy hit of the squat cleans just saps my confidence in my ability to complete another rep. The worst, however, are those workouts with running and something simple like burpees. There's nothing really keeping you from doing the next rep, even if it's going to be slow, but still you stop and stare at your shoes, unable to convince yourself to perform the next rep. It's a naked failure of will and is supremely humbling.

    Regardless of the specific physical challenge that forms the critical point halfway through the workouts, I need to learn how to push through that point - risking failure right there to find out what I can do. As Coach says, the best race car-drivers crash their cars testing their limits. Even when muscular failure is at hand and doing one more rep might add minutes to my time, I'll never know my capabilities if I don't test my limits. The score today doesn't matter. The score only matters on game day. This is training. The point of training is to get stronger. I can pace myself to maximize performance at the Qualifiers, but right now I need to push through the sticking points, even if it leaves me wrecked before the workout is done. Tonight, I tackled a recent mainpage WOD, one of those naked tests of will, and these thoughts were front-and-center in my mind.

    Row 500m - 151.4 (felt super slow and weak and had to fight back the excuses already)
    Hip mobility drills
    Burgener warmup

    Skill work
    Tall clean 45x3, 95x3, 115x3x2, 125x3 (little sloppy on the last set)


    3 rounds:

      Row 500m
      21 Burpees
      Run 400m


    Core work
    Waiter's walks 3 x 75 feet each arm, 55#

    That was just the type of test I needed. I got off to a slow start when the first treadmill I grabbed wouldn't get up to speed, and then when it finally hit the 10mph mark, it stopped working altogether. By the time I got another treadmill up and going, I'd lost 30 seconds to a minute. As a result, the second round didn't feel as bad as I'd expected it to. That 3rd row, however, was the moment of truth. I ended up skipping a stroke to breath (I absolutely hate that), but somehow I kept the pace up well enough to finish that round in under 1:48. However, that really brought the wrath of the metcon devil down on me. I had to take a few seconds just to stand up and get off the rower. I don't know that this was a failure of will, so much as it was a failure of equilibrium. After that I staggered my way through the rest of the workout with some slow, but mostly steady zombie burpees and a painfully slow run. The post-workout laydown wasn't the same painful wallow as after Fran, but it was a while before I stood up and took stock of things again.

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    Crossfit in the world

    For all the time I spend in the gym these days, you'd think I had no interest in sports or the outdoors. I've gotten so serious about my training that I've probably skied half as frequently since I started CrossFit than I did beforehand. The funny thing is that by my second day on skis this winter, I was already a better skier than I was after a dozen days on skis last winter. That difference can be attributed directly to my training. The magic is in the movements. The movement pattern for squats - chest up, ass back, weight balanced for powerful hip extension - are not so different from skiing. The center of gravity is moved forward on the foot when skiing, since the ground is tilted forward, but the general movement is the same. All that time working squats once, twice, often three times a week this year paid off in spades when I took my skis out to the first big mountain of the winter, allowing me to easily keep up with my much more skilled ski partners.

    Still, the pressure of the Games Qualifiers has me wedded to my 3-on, 2-off program like a young grandpa-to-be with a 12-gauge, and I've missed some of the best skiing in years as a result. It's strange considering it was a backcountry ski buddy who turned me onto Crossfit four years ago and it was a desire to have more in the tank to enjoy those marathon ski-mountaineering days that happen in the spring, when my customary winter of relative inactivity had left me at my weakest. When you're out of shape, that second or third climb of the day can really sap your energy, and while trudging on may still be an option, the point of the getting out in the world is to enjoy yourself, and if you're not on top of your game, this isn't as much fun as it should be.

    Therefore, despite the nagging list of goats waiting for me and the relatively mediocre conditions, I'm getting out on the slopes tonight. It won't be a glorious spring day on a big mountain, but riding under the local high-speed quad without a line and just skiing Fast is quite simply fun (and is a pretty decent sub for high-rep front squats to boot).

    Will these adventures prepare me for the Games Qualifiers. I don't know, and I guess I don't really care. I train for life; I don't live to train (at least not every day). So, as hard as I'll push and as diligent I'll be about attacking my weaknesses and making a respectable showing come May, I'll be taking opportune ski days, enjoying the odd carb-laden gourmet meal, and taking my workouts into the wider world beyond the gym - maybe do that snowshoe Helen I've been talking about. Soon enough, winter will fade and ski-day workouts will be replaced with runs up Mount Monadnock; tire flipping, dragging, throwing, hitting marathons in the backyard; and mountain bike rides. There are only 412 useful things to do with a barbell. Why limit myself?

    Sunday, February 15, 2009

    Herding the goats

    Preparing for the Games means I have to evaluate myself objectively as a Crossfitter. How well do I perform across broad time and modal domains? I've been at this long enough to know What I'm Good At and What I Suck At. The difference now is that if I don't want to fall on my face in May, I have to program those exercises/workouts that I would least want to see come out of the hopper at the Qualifiers, those things that KStar and Boz at Crossfit San Fransisco would call my goats. Knowing that, I sat down with my workout log and compiled a proper list of Goats, and sure enough, I've got a fucking herd, and they're nasty little buggers.

    My list of goats (in no particular order) looks like this:

    • Metcons of 15 minutes or more
    • High rep deadlifts and olympic lifts
    • Muscular stamina in general
    • Pressing exercises (Shoulder press, bench press, HSPU, pushups)
    • Jerks and push presses (my dip-drive is a disaster, when things get heavy or hurried)
    • Snatch
    • Double unders
    • Muscle-ups
    • GHD situps (and regular situps aren't exactly a strength)
    • Rowing beyond 2,000m (I've never done it, and it's because I know just how much it will hurt)
    • Running 5K or more (ridiculous since I used to be a runner with a sub-5-minute mile, but my 5K is currently 24+)
    • Burpees (just because they're burpees and they suck)

    Quite a list there. I've got plenty of things to program, high rep DLs, presses, long runs and rows, Annie, Angie, Diane, Elizabeth, Grace. The list goes on. It's like a who's who of CF Girls. The problem is for some of these goats, I haven't a clue how to shepherd them in from the fields. Muscular stamina and cardiovascular endurance and even pressing strength can be developed through hard work, but I need some serious help with double unders, jerks, and muscle-ups. They need practice-practice-practice before I can even work to develop capacity. Those three skills are still on the front end of the technique-consistency-intensity recipe. Those goats need feeding, and they need it now, or I'm liable to be caught with my pants down in May.

    This means that unlike the firebreathers getting ready for the Games by piling on PR after PR on major lifts and the Girls,
    I need to be focused on the fundamentals. This means I get to stare down a goat every day.
    Today, the goal is building endurance for heavy deadlifts while maintaining proper form, using a density-training protocol. I went heavy last week and stopped just shy of matching two PRs, because my form was going to shit. My first weakness in the DL is one of inadequate spinal stability. That weakness affects my high-rep DLs, my olympic lifts, and is a mean, old goat ready to gore me and leave me injured if I don't keep an eye on it. As an added bonus, I get to play with double unders, too.

    Jump rope 2:00
    Alt. single/DU 1:00 - 25 DUs
    Max consecutive DUs - 4 (1:00 was not enough time for max test)
    DUs (in sets of consecutive DUs) 1:00 - 16
    Star-pattern squat sequence 35x2 each
    TGU-windmill drill 35x3 each
    RRs 35x8 (alternating)

    Heavy stuff
    Deadlift 135x5, 185x5, 5x (225, 230, 235, 240, 245, 250)*

    * Density style - every two minutes on the minute until form goes soft.

    Form went early on this one. Saturday's good mornings were still being felt (and how).


      70# DB swing**
      plyo pushup (one hand on medicine ball - switch halfway)
      C2bar pullups


    ** Subbed 30-21-12 55# DB swings to preserve my back.

    Did an extra second set of pushups during the last round, because I wasn't happy with ROM. Missed four C2Bs and had to redo those.

    Even more fun was discovering as I was finishing up my first round of plyo pushups that the old guy doing crunches on the cable machine (where my pullup bar is) had one more set to do. I quickly jumped on the temporarily free power rack to do my C2Bs. Unfortunately, I'd never done a C2B pullup on it, so when I pulled, my chest hit the bar as my head simultaneously struck the ceiling. I've got a lovely pimple in the middle of my forehead now. Classic.

    Core work
    Max toes to bar - 12 (PR is 17)
    Rolling plank 5:00 (1:00 on front, right side, front, left side, front)

    And yes, that was a brutal finisher.

    C'mon, all the cool kids are doing it

    Inspired by my friend Melissa Byers' excellent blog and the blogs of firebreathers like Jason "Rhabdo" Kaplan and Shana Alverson tracking their training for the Crossfit Games, I've decided to join the fun and put together a chronicle of my own training for the Northeast Regional Qualifiers. The difference with my blog is that I have no realistic expectation of qualifying for the CF Games. I signed up for the qualifiers, both to back-up my encouragement of some athletes from the CF message boards who I was encouraging to sign up themselves, and because Sean "Dammit" Manseau of Pioneer Valley Crossfit goaded me into not letting him be the only old guy at the Northeast qualifiers.

    The fact of the matter is I'm a thoroughly average CFer. By the time the NE Qualifiers come around in late May, I'll have been at it with some pretty good consistency for two years. I took up CF to aid in conditioning for backcountry skiing and to ward off a midlife crisis associated with feeling old as I turned 40. Now, at 41, I'm pretty close to the best shape of my life, but by Crossfit standards, I'm nothing special. I have my strengths, but even those aren't exceptional:

    CFT 795
    200# C&J
    Fran 4:46
    Helen 9:16
    FGB 281 (not really a strength, but it illustrates where I'm at)
    Kelly 25:19
    Murph 36:43

    While those stats may be adequate to bring to the Qualifiers, I've got a host of weaknesses to address. Personal bests like

    Grace 6:58
    Diane 14:54
    Angie 23:11 (although that was with ring pullups)

    won't get the job done. I also have some pretty fundamental problems that need addressing. There are exercises where my technique is sorely lacking (e.g., snatch, muscle up), several more where I cannot consistently apply proper technique, (e.g., clean, push press, and push jerk), and some which defy my attempts to bring intensity to bear (e.g., deadlifts, handstand pushups). The Crossfit formula for development of exercise is to first master the technique, then develop consistency, and lastly to apply intensity. While the snatch probably won't appear at the Qualifiers and the muscle up and handstand pushup might not, the rest of my weaknesses almost certainly will appear. Thus, my preparation for the Qualifiers is going to be as much remedial physical education as hardcore training.

    You may ask, "Then why the hell are you signed-up for the qualifiers?" I signed up for the same reason that I train. In the words of Jon Gilson, "I train to train." I have no illusions of becoming an outstanding athlete at this stage of life. I have no major worries about my body breaking down if I don't push harder in my training. I certainly don't expect to impress the assembly of discriminating eyes at the Qualifiers. However, by training for the Qualifiers, I am forcing myself to focus my training. I can't afford to chase PRs on workouts that I already do well; I can't afford to pace myself comfortably through metcons that last longer than 10 minutes (another major weakness of mine); I can't work muscular strength at the expense of muscular stamina, and I can't afford to push through workouts like Grace with substandard technique. In short, I have forced myself to program my workouts intelligently to address my weaknesses; I must push through my workouts with intensity; and I must invest myself fully in my nutrition and recovery.

    There is no settling for strong enough, fast enough, enough stamina, etc. Once I look in the mirror and decide that I look good for a 40-year-old guy and let that be enough, I start to slip. The numbers don't lie. I'm not good enough. Improving my weaknesses won't be what makes me good enough. I may not get several muscle ups; I may not develop a super-strong deadlift; but I can train intelligently and diligently and leave everything I have on the ground at the Qualifiers, and that will be good enough. I may finish DFL, but that puts me miles ahead of DNS. Signing up for the Qualifiers is as much an investment in mental training as physical. It's time to see what I can do when put to the test.

    Since this is a training log, I guess I should post a workout. Here's yesterday's effort:

    Goblet squats
    Hip mobility drills

    Skill work
    Handstand practice
    managed three 0:05-second free-standing handstands
    1:00 wall handstand hold
    walk on hands 4, 9, 9, 10 & 6 feet

    Heavy stuff
    Back squat 45x5, 135x5, 185x3, 225x2, 245x1, 255x5, 260x5, 265x5
    Good morning 45x8, 95x8, 135x5, 155x8, 160x8, 165x8

    Core work
    10 STCs (on rings)

    5 rounds:
    Row 250m
    8 Hang C&Js, 40# DBs

    That metcon was positively brutal on my grip. I desperately wanted to go to a lower weight on the dumbbells and simply hanging on to the rower in the last round was Hard. Pushing through that was definitely good for me and my willingness to endure discomfort.

    The squats were solid, but were definitely hard work. My 5RM is 270, but I'm just getting back to a proper LBS from a hybrid LB position/HB torso squat that I'd been working on this past fall. The LBS is definitely the right tool to help me build strength through the posterior chain, but that's a topic for another post.

    Thanks for reading.