Posts Tagged ‘CrossFit’

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

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your conditioning programming (as opposed to strength/power programming) has to be super fancy. Especially if you are focusing on energy systems rather than muscular endurance, you don’t need to have a workout containing 12 different complicated movements. In fact, having too many complex movements in a workout where you will be trying to complete them while extremely fatigued can be a recipe for an injury. Keep it simple. Focus on a small number of movements in a workout, and try to choose options where either a) form breakdown is not extreme (ie box jumps), or b) form breakdown will not result in a huge potential for injury (ie burpees). #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

I’m going to start this post with what I’m sure will be a very polarizing statement: in regards to nutrition and exercise, whenever humans try to improve on what nature has created, we generally screw things up. Nothing makes me shake my head more than the thought of a person who is trying to drop body fat by doing a workout full of lateral raises (a ‘gym’ movement which hardly resembles anything we do in real life) and going home to eat pasta topped with low fat alfredo sauce composed of ingredients which would baffle most people without a science degree. Long story short, nature is smarter than us.

In this post, I will be taking issue with most modern running shoes and orthotics. Does your current running shoe look like this?

running shoe

If so, read on my friend…

Up until a few years ago, before the popularization of Nike Frees and Vibrams, what was the main selling point of most running shoes? I think it’s fair to say padding and support. When shopping for runners, we were all interested in having our feet supported by air pockets and foam to cushion our heels while we ran, and strong arch support to encourage ‘proper’ foot mechanics. Soooo, why do we need padding on our feet exactly? Because we don’t want to injure our foot of course.

trampoline

Human beings were designed to stand upright. To move from place to place, we walk or run. Our feet were designed to keep us balanced during these activities. Let me reiterate that. Our feet are designed to help us walk and run. Does it really make sense, given how our feet are designed by nature, that they need to be protected by a bunch of padding? The answer is no.

If I don’t wear padding running shoes, aren’t I going to get a stress fracture in my foot? The answer is yes, if you continue to run in minimalist shoes the way you ran in the padded disasters which you call your old running shoes. The padding in most modern running shoes encourages us to heel strike when we run. Heel striking is hard on the knees, hips, and lower back, but it’s an easy habit to fall into when you’re tired. Simply put, proper running technique does not involve heel striking. It’s just plain wrong to run that way. The foot and the rest of the lower body aren’t designed to run that way. If you heel strike with padded runners, you’ll probably get hurt. If you heel strike with minimalist shoes, you’ll definitely get hurt. If you are going to switch to a minimalist shoe to run in, you have to learn how to run by striking with your midfoot. I’m not going to go into complicated gait recommendations here, but an easy way to start transitioning from heel striking to midfoot striking is to think about running quietly, or running on a flat surface much the same way you would run up a hill.

If you have been wearing padded runners for a while, don’t try to run 10k the first day you slap on your new pair of Vibrams. Your feet are likely extremely weak, and will be unable to handle the new demands. Yes, you will have to get used to sore feet as you develop the muscles in that area. Sore feet do not necessarily mean that there is a problem. After all, you get sore after doing heavy squats because you’re demanding a lot of your body. When your feet are not used to working to stabilize themselves properly, they will get sore. When they get strong enough to work properly, they will stop getting sore.

For those of you who lift in running shoes, I want you to consider this little thought experiment. Imagine driving your car through a forest. Bumpy ride sure, but probably not too bad with all the modern shock technology that cars have these days. Imagine driving the same road in a car without shocks. Not the most pleasant of rides. Shocks help to absorb some of the force from the bumpy ride so that we can remain relatively comfortable when we drive. Padded running shoes are like shocks for your feet. As discussed earlier, the padding in running shoes is designed to absorb some of the force of our heels striking when we run. When you are at the bottom of a squat, and you start to drive you feet hard into the ground to begin your ascent, what do you think happens when you are wearing running shoes? The force which you are trying to generate is at least partially dispersed. Not good! When you are squatting heavy, you want to be able to use as much force as possible!

Padded running shoes alienate our feet from the surface of the ground with which they were built to connect. Yes, that sounds like I’ve been to one too many hippie prayer circles, but it’s true. When we throw a bunch of padding under our feet, they become weak and lazy, and it becomes more difficult for us to generate force.

About four months after making the switch over to minimalist shoes, I tried running in my old padded runners just to see. It felt like I was running through sand! So unnatural. It was a crazy feeling!

Some of you may be asking, will my orthotics fit in minimalist shoes? Probably not. But why exactly do you need orthotics. Oh, you have flat feet? Same here. Let me ask you this. How strong do you think your ankles would be if after an ankle sprain you just kept using your crutches for the rest of your life? Not very. In many (certainly not all) cases, orthotics are a band-aid solution for dealing with foot problems. Instead of using hard plastic to hold up your weak foot, perhaps you should think about strengthening your weak foot!

There are lots of great barefoot-style shoes which you can pick up. Nike, Adidas, and other popular shoe companies are coming out with minimalist runners. Vibram 5 finger shoes are getting extremely popular, especially within the CrossFit community. Personally, I do my Olympic lifting and squatting in Adidas Adipower Olympic lifting shoes, and my upper body lifting, conditioning, and running in a pair of Converse all-stars (which do the job fine and can be found in stores for around 65$ Canadian).

chucks

I can’t stress this final point enough. You cannot just switch from padded runners and think your job is done! You have to work to correct years of poor foot mechanics in locomotive activities and strength up those weak muscles! Failure to do so will more than likely result in, if you’re lucky, a minor foot, knee, or ankle injury.

If this post was totally mind-blowing for you and you want some more information, “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall gets a little more into the science of why modern running shoes suck. So, throw your padded runners in the garbage, slap on some Converse all-stars, and start using your feet the way they were designed to be used. #allgo

Burpees are one of my favourite conditioning tools. They can challenge anyone, no matter what shape they are in. They are a great bodyweight movement with a relatively low risk of injury even when form breaks down due to fatigue. They can even be loaded using a weight vest, and there are countless variations.

I just want to be clear, when I say burpee, I mean “chest to floor” burpee. No straight arms, no partial push-ups.

This conditioning workout is a great one to challenge your aerobic energy system. Because of the nature of the movements, muscular fatigue should not slow you down.

Row 500 meters, 20 burpees
5 rounds for time

There are no rest breaks in this conditioning session. If you have a fight coming up, consider taking a break after each round to better mimic the time parameters of your competition. This will allow you to go slightly harder each round than completing all rounds with no breaks would.

If you have a 3×5 minute MMA fight coming up, the workout could be amended to look like this.

Row 250 meters, 15 burpees (using 20 lb weight vest), row 250 meters, 15 burpees (using 20 lb weight vest), 45 seconds rest
4 rounds for time

Once the burpee/row circuit is done, rest as needed and then finish off with 3 rounds of a remedial circuit: 15 rear delt flies, 12 band pull-aparts, 12 lying dumbbell external rotations with 40 degrees abduction

Good luck! #allgo

I communicate a couple of times a week with a friend of mine who does CrossFit. She suggested I take a look at the “Fight Gone Bad” WOD. I found this video explaining the routine and the story behind the workout. MMA fans will recognize the fighter for whom the workout was originally designed.

The programming for the original “Fight Gone Bad” WOD is as follows:

3 rounds composed of 5×1 minute activities. 1 minute rest between rounds.

Activity 1: rowing machine (C2 rower)

Activity 2: wallball

Activity 3: sumo deadlift high pulls

Activity 4: push press

Activity 5: box jumps

I thought this looked like a really good workout, but I did have to adapt it a little bit. I didn’t have an area to do wallball, and I just plain don’t like the sumo deadlift high pulls. Both the position of the hands and the position of the feet in that exercise do not have a ton of functional carryover. I kept the same breakdown of 3×5 minute rounds with each round being composed of 5×1 minute activities. My programming was as follows:

Activity 1: thrusters (95#)

Activity 2: deadlift and row combination (Perform 1 standard power deadlift. Once the bar has been put back on the floor after the eccentric portion of the lift, extend the knees while keeping your lumbar extended and perform one bent over row – 95#)

Activity 3: box jumps (24 inch box)

Activity 4: push press (95#)

Activity 5: rowing machine (C2 rower)

All in all it was a pretty brutal conditioning session, which meant it did its job. Next time I perform this, I think I might try to use a lighter barbell. My focus in this conditioning session was supposed to be aerobic conditioning, but the weight was heavy enough that my muscular endurance struggled and therefore I had to stop more than I would have liked given what the goal of the workout was.

Feel free to use the template of 3×5 and 5×1 to design your own MMA conditioning workout. Keep this in mind however… As much as I don’t like Coach Glassman (the creator of CrossFit), he does make a good point about activity order in the video posted above. If you are looking to focus on aerobic conditioning during a workout, be very aware of the order which you program your exercises in. If you do 3 minutes in a row of squatting variations, your legs will likely become the limiting factor before your aerobic conditioning does. As a result, try to use the order of the activities to give certain muscles a break. This is why I programmed the thrusters and the push press so far apart in the round: to give my shoulders and traps a rest. Hope you give either of these workouts a try. And by either of these workouts, I mean mine. Yeah, shameless self promotion – big surprise. #allgo