Archive for the ‘General’ Category

get-better-at-crossfit-ladies

I’m going to start off this post by warning you, the reader, that this is going to be a rare post which focuses on an experience which occurred in my life this week, rather than a strictly informative post.

I generally get about 5-7 days of resistance training in a week (some conditioning, some strength/power training, the breakdown of which is based on which training phase I’m in). Generally I workout on my own, which suits me nicely. I don’t have to worry about another person’s schedule. I get to program the way I want. I have my own quiet time with my thoughts.

But sometimes I find it difficult to push myself in conditioning. Since I do all my own programming and am not directly monitored by a coach, it would be really easy for me to skip workouts here and there, or to dog it. I’m proud to say that I can’t remember the last time I skipped a workout simply because I didn’t want to do it. But, the bottom line is, it’s harder to push yourself when you’re on your own than it is when a parter is there spurring you on.

For those of you who don’t know, the CrossFit open started recently. 2 workouts have been released, 13.1 and 13.2. I decided that I wanted to do all the workouts this year, but that I would modify certain workouts if necessary. Since I am very much against high rep Olympic lifting, I had to modify 13.1, which was a burpee and snatch workout. Today I did the 13.2 workout with no modifications. It was as follows:

5 x 115# shoulder-to-overhead
10 x 115# deadlift
15 x 24 inch box jumps
(as many reps as possible in 10 mins)

I work and workout at a YMCA gym. There are a few CrossFitters around the gym, including a guy who I will call “Tony”. Tony trains at a CrossFit gym, and mostly comes to the Y to do midday stretching. He has completed at least one Ironman that I know of, and several distance runs. We chat from time to time about our workouts. I mentioned to him before I started my workout today that I was going to do 13.2. He gave me a few tips having already done the workout himself at his CrossFit gym.

After chatting about the workout for a few minutes, we went our separate ways. I did my lacrosse ball work, foam rolling, and dynamic stretching. Since I was planning on doing the workout by myself, I collected a pile of 2.5# plates which I intended to use to help myself remember how many rounds I had completed.

I wasn’t too worried about this workout. It looked waaaay easier on paper than 13.1. 10 minutes is short, and I knew 115# wouldn’t be a problem for me to throw around. About 2 minutes into the workout I realized that it was going to be more challenging than I thought. “Ah well,” I said to myself. “You’re used to pushing yourself through conditioning, you’ll getter done”. Just as I was making this realization that the workout was going to be a lot more challenging than I thought, something really cool happened.

Tony, unprompted, came up and started to coach me through. He stayed for the last 8 minutes of the workout. He helped move the bar and count the reps, but most of all he helped push me through. Telling me to pick the bar up again. Telling me I was allowed to take 5 breaths and then start a new round. Having not had anyone there to push me through a workout in a long time, I couldn’t believe how much it helped. I listened to him, and definitely pushed harder than I would have had I been alone.

It really meant a lot to me that he did that, and as much as I blast CrossFit in some of my posts, as far as I have seen supporting your fellow exercisers during workouts is commonplace in CrossFit. I finished the workout surpassing the goal I had set for myself (scored 220 for those of you know know the workout), and I know Tony was a large part of that.

The whole ordeal just reminded me how important good training partners are. They will push you further, help you to correct things, and keep you motivated. We should all go into our workouts with the “all go” philosophy in mind, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t all benefit from some encouragement.

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I guess this post is ultimately a love letter to training parters. If you are part of a team or training group, don’t underestimate how much your encouragement and kind words help your teammates. On the other side of the coin, realize that your success is due in part to their presence. Take care of your training partners, and be a good training partner yourself. Even if your sport, like mine, is an individual competition rather than a team one, your training partners do a lot more than you might realize to help you succeed. #allgo

overhead-squat[1]
The overhead squat is, in my opinion, one of the most challenging non-Olympic lifting barbell lifts which you can do. It requires a ton of mobility in several different regions of the body, as well as a ton of core strength and overhead stability. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the overhead squat, check out this video below.

Perhaps the first question which needs answering is: do you even need to overhead squat? I had this debate with an Olympic lifter friend of mine. His argument was that overhead squatting is unnecessary because the movement is covered when you snatch. I still felt the overhead squat was an important exercise to help create core and overhead stability. It took my thick head a couple of days to realize why we had differing viewpoints: he squat snatches, while I mostly power snatch. As a result, he gets a lot of full range overhead squatting in from his snatching, whereas I do not. This would explain in part why I struggle with the overhead squat: I haven’t really done it much.

Long story short, if you do a lot of squat snatching, you probably don’t need to program heavy overhead squats into your routine. If you mostly power snatch, I’d recommend programming in overhead squats to get you comfortable in the bottom position. And just to throw a little common sense at you: unless you are a CrossFitter training the overhead squat for its own sake, or an Olympic lifter training the overhead squat for snatching with a belt on, ditch the weight belt. Doing an exercise like this which demands a lot of your core with a belt on doesn’t make much sense.

What Does The Overhead Squat Do?

Believe it or not, the overhead squat, for most people, is not going to do a ton to build up lower body strength/power. Think of it this way. Let’s say you can back squat 300# for 3 reps, and overhead squat 250# for 3 reps. In both movements, your legs are displacing the same amount of weight. Since you can presumably overhead squat less than you can back or front squat, your legs will not be challenged in the same way that they would be if you back or front squatted.

The overhead squat is GREAT for core stability, upper back strengthing, mobility (especially when done lightly with an emphasis on perfect technique), and assessment purposes. If you want to see what’s wrong with a person’s body mobility-wise, watch them overhead squat.

As a bit of an aside, if you have never done the overhead squat, it may look like it requires a lot of tricep strength. While the triceps might be needed to press the weight into an overhead position, your elbows should be locked out when overhead squatting. There should be NO bend. If you find your triceps working a lot, you are probably doing the movement wrong.

Am I Ready To Overhead Squat?

Here is a guideline which I would suggest. Ever heard of the behind-the-neck Sots press? See the video below. If you can do this exercise properly and pain free with an empty Olympic bar, you PROBABLY (and remember, I’m not a doctor) have the mobility and shoulder health required to overhead squat.

My Sots Press Was Laughable. How Can I Get To The Point Of Overhead Squatting?

There are a number of things which can cause a poor Sots press. If you are an athlete and have been training using even moderately good programming and full range of motion, I’m going to go ahead and assume core stability and upper back/shoulder strength are likely not the reason your Sots press looks like you are bowing. Chances are the culprit is poor mobility.

If your torso inclines forward, you may have poor ankle mobility (focus on soleus and heel cord) or poor hip mobility (focus on piriformis, glutes, hams, etc.).

If you have pain in the knees or hips you probably have poor mobility in the knees or hips. Pretty self explanatory.

If you cannot push the bar straight up overhead, chances are one or several of the following areas need mobility work: upper traps, lats, pec minor, thoracic.

While I’m not going to go into how to fix all of those problems, check out the video below from Kelly Starrett which has some good overhead squat warm-up/solution info.

I’m Good To Start Overhead Squatting. How Do I Incorporate It Into My Programming?

Since this movement demands a lot of the core and a little bit less of the legs, I would definitely suggest doing it closer to the end of your workout. You definitely want to get your Olympic lifting and heavy squatting in first. Essentially, I would categorize this lift as an accessory movement. Don’t make it the focus of a workout.

I would not suggest going much above 6 reps per set on this exercise. It is a very complex movement that requires a lot of neural drive. High rep it, and small muscles like the ones in the upper back will start to fail, thus causing poor mechanics and increasing risk of injury.

The overhead squat is also a great warm-up for snatching. As well, as I mentioned earlier, it is a great assessment tool.

In Closing…

The overhead squat is an excellent exercise for any athlete who is not squat snatching. However, if you don’t respect how difficult and demanding it is and just try to jump into it, you are likely to hurt yourself. Check out your Sots press, and if you have issues which need some attention, fix them. Once you are ready to overhead squat, definitely consider making it a regular part of your routine. #allgo

These are two very interesting articles which I looked at this week.

http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/02/28/crossfit/

This is a really cool article which demonstrates some positives and negatives about CrossFit as displayed in a controlled study. Coach Greg Glassman has been very negative about sports science in the past, which is one of the reasons why CrossFit has alienated some individuals in the fitness industry. The bottom line is, to know whether or not a system of exercise is effective, measurable and repeatable results must be produced. This article is the first attempt I have seen (no doubt similar studies have been done) at trying to objectively assess what CrossFit does in regards to fitness.

http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/most_recent/heavy_lifts_to_increase_mobility

I think it was mobility guru Kelly Starrett who suggested that localized stretching is to movement as practice is to the game. If you are a hero in practice but can’t produce in the game, to heck with you. Who cares if you can touch your forehead to your knee in a hurdlers stretch if you can’t ass-to-grass squat? Okay, granted, some sports that type of mobility is important (gymnastics, etc.), but for most athletes, mobility is a means to the end of proper movement and injury prevention. For example, I’m guessing most football players are only concerned about having enough mobility to squat properly and make sure they don’t get injured.

We all understand that isolation movements are far less important (and I’m making a generalization here) to athletes than compound movements. This is because your body goes not typically use muscles in isolation. In an athletic setting, it’s very unlikely you will use your biceps without also using your lats, upper back, etc. Similarly, it’s very unlikely that you will require extremely hamstring mobility in an athletic situation without similar requirements in the hip. Instead of spending your time stretching all your muscles individually, think about what this article suggests. Use lifting and natural movements to help with mobility! #allgo

faber21

Like most things in the fitness industry, core training, and indeed even the definition of what the core is, is hotly debated. I’ve heard people refer to the core as basically the rectus abdominis (those people need to read a book). I’ve also heard people include the lats and glutes as part of the core. There are even lots of people who suggest that the term ‘core’ should not be used. For the purposes of accuracy, when I say core, I am referring to this general area (see photo below). The center of your body. The erector muscles of the back are not pictured here, but are also a part of the core, or at least the definition of it which I am making use of.

abdominals-anatomy

I am not going to spend a ton of time defining what exactly the core is, but rather focusing on what it does. Think about any science fiction movie you’ve seen in the past about nuclear power, bombs, etc. People, specifically scientists with awesome super long job names, lose their minds when they find out that “the core is unstable”. Long story short, you want your core to be stable, both in nuclear situations and in terms of how your body works. The main function of the core is to create stability. A stable core prevents injury, and allows you to use your limbs properly. Imagine trying to do push-ups with a weak unstable core. Probably wouldn’t go very well. Think about what your core does for you in different sporting scenarios. If you are on a line in football, your core creates the stability needed to push with your arms and legs. A strong ‘base’ in grappling is basically your ability to stabilize your core. Are you an Olympic lifter? Yep, your core better be pretty strong if you want to squat clean. Yes, our core does do some twisting, flexing, extending, etc., but for the most part the main job of the core is to remain stable.

Here is a list of a few exercises and implements which you should ditch if you want to train your core for the type of stability which is required in sports.

1) Planks. But wait! Planks are an isometric exercise right? Don’t they help your stabilize your core? Yes they do. However, when are you ever doing anything which resembles a plank in a sport? Granted I’m not an expert on all sports, but I’d be willing to bet more often than not, in most athletic events, people tend to be more vertical than horizontal. Given this, train your core when your body is upright. Hence, don’t waste your time on planks.

2) Sit-ups. For the most part, especially if you have your feet hooked under something, sit-ups target your hip flexors. Most of us have tight hip flexors from all the sitting we do anyways. Why aggravate the problem? In addition, when people do sit-ups, they send to round their thoracic and lumbar spines. A rounded spine is not a position you want to practice being in.

On this note, I’m not particularly keen on leg raises in the Roman chair as they tend to hit the hip flexors much in the same way that sit ups do.

3) Any exercise where you are sitting or lying down. This builds on # 2. How hard does your core work to stabilize when you are sitting or lying down? The answer is not very. Doing abdominal crunches which sitting on those awful machines isn’t going to help you build a strong core. Or, at most, it will do very little.

4) Anything on the BOSU ball. Where the idea came about that the bosu ball is good for your core, I don’t know. What I’m guessing is, someone rightfully realized that the core is important for balance when we stand, realized that it is hard to balance on the bosu ball, and decided that the reason which it is hard to balance on the bosu ball is because it demands a lot of the core. First of all, the bosu, plain and simple, doesn’t demand a lot of the core. It demands a lot of abductor and adductor muscles, but not the core. Think about this. Strongman competitors, powerlifters, Olympic lifters, etc., have to have beastly cores. Do you think they spend a lot of time on the bosu ball? No. When do you ever do something in real life or athletically that even a little bit resembles it? Yeah, thought so.

5) Any deadlift, back extension, or good morning variation which results in lumbar rounding or flexing. Ever heard someone say “Man, I really felt those deadlifts in my back!” with a big smile like it’s a good thing that they worked their back so hard? Probably. But you probably haven’t seen them for long. Chances are they destroyed their backs with poor deadlift form and then blamed the lift. “Deadlifts hurt my back bro. Stopped doing them.” No, you lifting like a putz hurt your back. Deadlifts, back extensions, and good mornings will help to build your core, as well as your posterior chain. BUT, you shouldn’t feel a burning feeling in your lower back while doing them. The core is working here, but shouldn’t really be the main focus. It should simply be working to, you guessed it, stabilize!

6) That weird standing thing people do where they hold a dumbbell in one hand and then lean to one side. I don’t even know what this is called. A lazy-man’s suitcase deadlift maybe? Loading yourself while laterally flexing the torso is a great way to hurt your lower back. Try this: pick up a relatively heavy suitcase by keeping your legs straight and leaning (or laterally flexing) to one side to pick it up. Probably feels fairly uncomfortable. Now, pick up the same suitcase while keeping your torso upright, stabilizing your core, and bending your knees. Boom. Suitcase deadlift. Should have felt a lot more natural. That weird leaning thing is dangerous to do inside and outside of the gym.

7) This is less an exercise which you should avoid and more just a relevant piece of advise: ditch the weightlifting belt! This piece of advise may confuse you, as I’m sure you have seen beastly strong Olympic lifters, powerlifters, and strongmen and women use weight belts. Simply put, they use the belt to create more stability in that region than the core is capable of doing on it’s own. The reason why I would not suggest most athletes who are using heavy weight training to use this is simple: you will not be using a weightlifting belt during your sport. Hence, training your lower body to the point where you need stabilization assistance from a belt makes no sense. Yes, your numbers will be a little bit lower than if you were to use a belt, but your core will be stronger for not having used it, and your body will develop in a more balanced way.

Olympic+Team+Trials+Weightlifting+Day+2+oPxZlrvzF_Nl

At this point, you may be saying to yourself “Okay, well, you’ve essentially suggested that everything which I currently do for core is junk. What the heck am I supposed to do now?”. Have patience faithful reader, I will devote an entire post to that. For now, I will just give a quick piece of advise. One of the best core exercises in existence is the front squat. #allgo

Quick Tip: Goal Setting

Posted: December 31, 2012 in General
Tags: ,

ladysn

Hope you all had a great holiday season! I’m back from my break and my deload week, and looking forward to getting back on my regular routine.

Let’s face it, with this being the last day before the new year, I’m sure you have at least considered some fitness goals for 2013. Whether you are a serious athlete or looking to get started, you no doubt have something you’d like to accomplish by this time next year. Make sure you differentiate between results-based goals and behavioural goals. Results based goals are not a bad thing, but realize that you cannot always control them. I’d love to be able to snatch 200# and earn my BJJ blue belt by 2014, but no matter how much hard work I put in, there are no guarantees that I will meet these goals. While it is great to aim high, if you are constantly setting unattainable goals for yourself, you may get discouraged.

Set results-based goals, but also set behavioural goals. Instead of saying “I’m going to achieve this result”, say “I’m going to repeat this behaviour”. Maybe your behavioural goal is to start snatching once a week. Maybe your goal is to eliminate grains 5/7 days per week. Results-based goals are not always in your control, but barring outside factors such as injury, behavioural goals are. Best course of action in my opinion: set a realistic results-based goal, and then plan out the behavioural goals which will get you there. #allgo

8OlympicLift-Thigh

This is going to be the first part of a two part series on the Olympic lifts. Part 1 will deal with why you should be Olympic lifting, and go into some key terms and distinctions. Part 2 will deal with how to properly program the Olympic lifts into your training.

First and foremost, if you are an athlete, you should probably be Olympic lifting. The Olympic lifts are great for building power and coordination, two things which are important in pretty much all sports. Also, to Olympic lift properly, especially in the case of the snatch, you will have to address imbalances and mobility issues in your body. See how well snatching goes if you have poor shoulder mobility from too much benching.

There are two Olympic Lifts: the snatch, and the clean and jerk. Check out the following videos.

Here is the snatch:

Here is the clean and jerk:

As you might notice, the clean and jerk is actually two movements. The clean and the jerk. While the jerk isn’t a bad lift by any stretch of the imagination, I would suggest that unless you are considering doing Olympic Lifting competition, just focus on cleans and snatches. While heavy overhead work is a great idea providing you have the mobility and are injury free, I’d suggest focusing on heavy push press instead, and doing them on a different day than your Olympic lifts.

It is important to understand that there are lots of variations of these lifts. For the sake of simplicity, I will only discuss the snatch here. All of the statements that I’m making, however, also correspond to the clean. If someone simply says “snatch” you should assume the┬ábar starts on the ground. If they say the word “hang” before snatch, the bar starts somewhere around the knees. The terms ‘power’ snatch and ‘squat’ snatch refer to what position the lifter is in when he or she catches the bar. For the squat snatch, the bar is caught in an overhead squat position below parallel. For a power snatch, the bar is caught in an overhead squat position somewhere above parallel. Once again, all of these qualifying terms work the same with with a clean.

You may have also heard about snatch pulls and clean pulls. The pull variations of the Olympic lifts mean that the bar is not actually caught. For example, in a power clean, the lifter catches the bar in the front rack position which you also use for front squats. In a clean pull, the clean motion is performed, but the bar is not actually caught. One of the advantages of Olympic lifting pulls over the standard lifts is that they allow you to displace more weight and do not require as much technique.

You may have seen someone at some point do a split snatch or a split clean. When you catch a standard snatch, your feel are basically in a squatting position with your toes in line with one another. You can perform a split snatch were you catch the bar with one foot in front of the other in a lunging type of position. This is a less commonly utilized option, but is fine to use if you feel more comfortable.

Don’t get too bogged down with terms and variations. You don’t need to do hang snatch pulls one week and power snatches the next week. In fact, I would avoid hang cleans and hang snatches altogether save using them for a warm up or a teaching tool. You are going to snatch more weight than you hang snatch, so why not just snatch?

In terms of the best Olympic lifting variations for sport, I’d focus on the power clean and the power snatch. While both power and squat variations are excellent, power Olympic lifting variations require a little less mobility and are a bit easier to learn. Let’s not forget that you are working out for the sake of your sport, and likely have a ton on your mind already about the little nuances of movements specific to it. My guess is most of you reading this would rather spend time perfecting your x-guard or switch kick than your snatch, and fair enough!

Lastly, review my last quick tips post about Olympic lifting technique work. These lifts are very complicated. Don’t rush into them. Learn to do them properly before you start to load heavy.

Long story short: 1) You should be Olympic lifting. 2) The two variations which you should focus on are power snatches and power cleans. #allgo

Hello!!

Posted: November 21, 2012 in General

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. My name is Ben. I am a personal trainer, and an MA student in Ethics. I spend most of my spare time in the squat rack, on the Olympic platform, on the mats, or at the computer reading about fitness. That and chess. I love chess.

I started this blog for a couple of reasons. First, I love fitness. As a former fat kid, my fitness path has been quite an interesting one. I can still remember my first weight training routine. I had a barbell which I used for bicep curls. Then I would do some push-ups and sit-ups, all on the carpeted floor of my bedroom. Since those early days, my knowledge of and passion for fitness has grown exponentially. I’ve grown from a guy who didn’t do legs because “I get enough legs when I run”, to a guy who barely runs but squats heavy 3 days a week. About three years ago, I began training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once I started BJJ, I caught the MMA bug. I’ve done boxing, muay thai, and wrestling/nogi grappling.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there is precious little GOOD information about proper strength and conditioning for MMA. Google ‘MMA Strength and Conditioning’ and you will likely get a bunch of videos of trainers who have probably never set foot on a BJJ mat having a fighter do a barbell complex with no logical order that probably includes 10 reps of “clean and press” thrown in there somewhere. Not only that, you will find almost no information about STRENGTH training for MMA. As most athletes know, there is a big difference between strength and conditioning. If you don’t believe me, ask a champion powerlifter to kickbox for 3 minutes and watch him die.

While this blog is generally about fitness, it is also my hope to do my little part to bridge the gap between MMA and the fitness industry. Take a look at these two videos. The athlete in the first one is Paulo Thiago, a top 20 Welterweight in the UFC. The second video features George St. Pierre, dominant Welterweight champion. You will notice a DRASTIC difference in the quality of training. For those of you who are fitness novices, George St. Pierre has great trainers. I wouldn’t want Thiago’s trainer supervising me picking up a hint, let alone a barbell.

These two videos really inspired me to start this blog. I hope to share the knowledge which I have accumulated about fitness with athletes in all sports, but with a focus on MMA. Enjoy! #allgo