Monthly Archives: March 2018
At the very beginning of any life change, we tend to look at the end picture and all that it will entail before we decide if it will be worth it. Once we have decided that it is, we often find ourselves with a wave of motivation to start moving all the big rocks in our life and rearranging them. What I have found is that the most sustainable approach to long term health and wellness is to first identify behaviors that need modification.
- Get your head on straight : The way the average American looks at fitness is pretty sad: its hard, it takes a lot of effort (forever), its slow moving, and it requires constant progression and discomfort. Look, all of that can be true. However, focusing on those aspects of training as a bad thing can stunt your potential. I would wager that anything that you are proud of in your life came from hard work, sacrifice, and potentially some pain points. Exercise is no different. There can be tremendous self respect and pride derived from simply doing the hard things. Additionally, training consistently and with purpose for as little as 45 minutes per day can give you an immeasurably better quality of life. Playing with your kids without being winded, sight seeing during traveling, and spending active time with loved one all becomes unenjoyable when you lack a base level of fitness. Instead of focusing on how hard training is, I recommend focusing on how good life will be because of your efforts.
- Diet: move the big rocks first. I am not going to like to you and tell you that extreme levels of fitness don’t require quite a bit of tracking of macronutrients, micronutrients, meal timing, and supplemental manipulation. However, I have found that focusing on those items at the beginning of changing your diet is often way too much to take on at once. Additionally, you wont have the time to learn about each component of nutrition as your head will be spinning trying to wrap your head around what is causing what. Here is what I would recommend:
– Find out how often you can realistically eat (based on preference first, then schedule)
– Find out which health foods you enjoy eating, and roughly categorize them as a protein, fat, carb, or mixed macro food
– Eat at least 3 meals with a fat source, a source, and a protein source
– If possible, have two health snacks with protein and either carb or fat
Master the above first, then consider becoming more specific with your diet. If you cannot master the above, start analyzing where the breakdown is. The answer to most dietary issues during this phase almost always have a simple solution. Find the solutions and get those most out of this phase before moving on to a more sophisticated intake strategy.
- Move. Just move. I don’t even care how you do it at first, but make an effort of moving with intention every day. And I mean every single day. It doesn’t have to be a full hour crossfit WOD or anything terribly structured. Start making movement part of your life. Now, this can be getting into some fire-breathing WOD but it can also be taking your dog for a walk. Heres the deal, though: you can have the lax guidelines as long as you ditch the excuses. There are days where being intentional with your movement wont be convenient and there will be days that you wont be motivated. Use this time to set the habit of movement. Use this time to start a pattern of dedicated time to yourself. Use this time to problem solve and explore how you can get intentional movement in each day, no matter what pops up.
That’s it. Start with these three behavior modifications. Give it a month. If all is going well, give it two months. Settle into new behaviors and squeeze the absolute most out of the absolute least. Only then should you consider re-strategizing.
If you have a solid push up and have found yourself wanting a bigger challenge, I suggest you give the handstand push up a try. Below, I will lay out some fundamental movements to get you into a handstand push up. With strength, time, patience and a lot of practice, you’ll nail them!
We will begin with the “start” and “finish” position of a handstand push up.. .a headstand. I have also come to know this as “the frog stand”.
Use a mat for your head and place in front of you on the floor. Set your hands on either side of the mat, creating a 3 point position (triangle). Head out front, hands across from each other – in front of the head. Tuck your chin to your chest and place your head in the center of the mat. Make sure your hands are in your vision when inverted. This position is what we call the “tripod” position.
From here, you will learn to balance each knee on each elbow near the tricep. This will take some practice but you’ll get it.
Step 1 – Headstand
Once you’ve established balance, keeping your abdominals engaged, you will pull your knees off of your elbows and bring your back flat, stacking your hips over your shoulders. Make sure you’re keeping your legs close together, as wide knees can throw you off balance. Extend your legs fully but keep your tripod position.
I find it best to practice this part with your back toward a wall to prevent falling over. It often happens when you first begin. Spending time learning how to establish a flat back and hips stacked with legs extended will allow for better mechanics in the movement itself. This is the base of your handstand push up. and this position is necessary when we get into kipping handstand push ups in my next article.
Next we will practice extending the body and pressing into a handstand. It’s best to work with a partner here.
From the tripod position and hips stacked over the shoulders, and legs fully extended, you will press your hands into the floor until your body (and arms) go into full extension. Maintain feet together. As you extend, you will bring your head and shoulders in alignment with your body. This is a very difficult position and requires a great deal of upper body strength. Essentially, you are overhead pressing your entire body weight! If working with a partner, your partner can assist you by placing both hands around your thigh and helping to lift you as you press into extension. You can practice this in the center of the floor, but only if you have a partner!
Here are some options if practicing alone:
1. place your feet on a box and use a couple of mats under your head to reduce your range of motion. As you get stronger, you can remove the mats as your strength allows.
2. practice against a wall with a couple of mats, this option is more difficult as you are supporting more of your body weight.
Good luck, be safe, have fun and let me know if I can help you!
Let me ask you something. Have you ever sat and daydreamed about something that you were going to do, or perhaps something that you may have already done but you wanted to revisit that place so you thought about it in you head? I’m sure you have. Maybe you were about to go on a beach vacation and the days leading up to it you could literally see yourself laying there in the sun, with the sand between your toes, and a cold beer in your hands. Maybe if you were ever in high school, or college athletics and you had a big game or competition approaching you would visualize certain aspects of that game or competition in your head. If so, you were practicing something called mental imagery. When you did this were your thoughts and visions very clear, or were they foggy and uncertain? Were the thoughts and images you were seeing in your head positive or negative? Did they help you or hinder you on the day of your performance? The reason why I’m asking this is because the body truly does believe what the mind achieves. Practicing mental imagery is a real thing and it can have a positive or negative impact on your performance depending on how you choose to use it. As a coach, one of my goals is to be able to let my clients and athletes learn from my mistakes, so they don’t have to make them on their own.
Let’s start by defining mental imagery. Mental imagery is defined as a cognitive psychological skill in which the athlete uses all the senses to create a mental experience of an athletic performance. A person or athlete can simulate reality by mentally rehearsing a movement, imagining visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory, and even exertional cues. Depending on how familiar you are with this process will probably depend on how vivid and detailed your visions are, and whether they will help or hinder you.
I first started to experience mental imagery at a higher level than ever before on my previous two powerlifting competitions. It was actually a pretty crazy experience. I would constantly be thinking throughout the day about my lifts. I would see myself in great detail stepping under the bar to set up for a squat, descending down into the hole and coming back up with great speed and stability. I would see myself setting up for a deadlift, and I would feel the knurling in my hands and a great amount of tension being created throughout my body to be as rigid as possible to complete the lift. This helped me trememdously, although there were times when it would seem to get a little out of hand, and it’s all I would think about and dream about. The more pressure I would feel about hitting a certain number on a lift, or achieving a certain total at a competition, the more I would constantly daydream about the lifts.
Well, I competed in my 6th or 7th meet this past weekend, and for the first time I bombed out. For those of you that may not know what that means, I basically screwed up all 3 of my squat attempts, and was, therefore, disqualified from the rest of the competition. Now, I don’t want to make this article about why my meet didn’t go the way I wanted to, but I want to help people to better understand the power of mental imagery and how you can have it work for you, or against you. For me, there was something that was different about this meet. It was out of town, about a 5 hour drive from home, and only a couple of us from the gym were competing in it. I actually didn’t have to do a water cut or anything like that to get down to my 198 weight class, which I though was pretty cool and that would take off a little stress, even though I was somewhat calorie-restricted the last week or two before the meet.
The thing that was most different about the approach to this competition was my mental game. It just wasn’t what it had been in the past. I wasn’t experiencing as much mental imagery and visions like I had previously. I think what had the most negative effect on me was the negative thoughts and self talk that I had for about the last two weeks prior the the meet. I’m not really sure why I was experiencing that, and every time I did, I would try to shut it out. …But it would always find it’s way back to me. In the back of my head, I knew that this was probably going to have a negative consequence when it came down to game day, and it sure as shit did! I had already set myself up for a bad competition before it had even started. Even if I was trying to visualize myself during a lift, it would usually end with me missing the lift, and for what reason? I knew I could make the lift, I was relatively well-prepared for my competition, and my strength felt like it was the highest it had ever been.
What I should have done was actually set aside a little time each day to practice positive self talk and mental imagery, instead of just half-ass day dreaming about my performance and how I would do. I should have believed more in myself and my abilities to perform on meet day. I shouldn’t have put so much pressure on myself for something that doesn’t really hold any major importance when you consider the universe and how vast it actually is. It probably would have benefited me to reach out to a more experienced lifter to ask how they previously dealt with that situation. Even doing more reading and studying on creating a positive and successful mindset would have helped, but I chose not to do any of that, and it came back for me.
Like I said before, the body believes what the mind achieves, or maybe the body achieves what the mind believes, whatever! Either way it is within your control to practice daily positive self talk and mental imagery to give yourself an advantage on game day. If you are having negative thoughts and imagery, there is a good chance that when it comes down to that clutch play or that last lift that will determine if you bomb or not, you’re probably going to choke and end up screwing yourself. However, if you have done your homework and have honestly implemented positive self talk and very detailed positive mental imagery of you performing in you element, then chances are that you will have a great performance. If you are interested in talking to me more about mental imagery, and are interested in some reading that may help, please feel free to ask.
We are always trying to find new exercises that challenge and help us reach new levels of performance in the gym and on the course. The tall kneeling step-up is one of those exercises. This exercise is great for developing stability, improve motor patterns and nervous system stimulation. As a rotational athlete, it is very important to train core and hip stability throughout different plains of motion. The goal of this exercise is to improve stability and improve the efficiency in movement patterns. There are a few variations to this exercise. I suggest working working through each one before progressing. If you struggle with these exercises, I suggest you contact a local TPI expert to find out similar exercises for progression.
Step Out Tall Kneeling to Half Kneeling
Step Out to Step-Up
Step Out to Step-Up with Rotation
When I first began studying exercise science, I was introduced to Westside Barbell and EliteFTS which led me to common strength and conditioning resources like Supertraining, Science and Practice of Strength Training, Block Periodization and so on. I started training CrossFit a year ago and since then have been taking my previous education and experience and applying it to my new training goal. In this article, I am going to discuss the difference between building and testing, the three energy systems, and how to properly structure training to maximize development in each.
Building vs Testing
When it comes to training, there is a time for building and developing and there is a time for testing. In school, we study material throughout the week and then test that knowledge with a quiz. In football, we train and develop our football skills throughout the week, then we test those skills against an opponent on game day. When programming, there must be a clearly defined purpose for each training component; each day, exercise, set/rep scheme, load, etc has a specific purpose. That purpose is should be to either to develop a capacity or a skill. Development, or building, is different from testing in that is is done with the priority of improvement while testing is done with the priority of competition. This is very important for us to learn as CrossFitters. When the only goal is to “win the whiteboard” or hit PRs, then we are severely limiting our overall development. There is a reason that football players aren’t developed by playing a game every day and that we don’t just quiz and test kids in school. There are times in which we do need to test but those times need to be far less frequent than our developmental days. Developmental doesn’t mean easy, in fact it should be far from it, but it does mean that the focus is developing a capacity and/or a skill, not testing it.
Energy Systems Basics
There are three metabolic pathways through which our bodies can derive energy for muscular contraction. Between these three pathways, we are able to do things like perform a heavy back squat, row 500m, and run 3 miles. Here is a simple break down of the three energy systems:
Phosphagen (aka alactic): Efforts of maximum intensity of 10 seconds or less, examples: 1oo meter dash, heavy 1-3 rep squat
Glycolytic (aka lactic): Efforts of medium-high intensity up to 120 seconds, examples: 400 meter sprint, 500 meter row, 10-20 reps of most movements
Oxidative (aka aerobic): Efforts of low intensity greater than 120 seconds, examples: 2000 meter row, 3 mile run
Without going into too much detail, I want you to understand that each energy system has a certain time duration for which it is used for producing energy. Picture each energy system flowing from one to another over a line like the image shown below. On either side of each energy system we see the words power and capacity. Power refers to force output within that energy system and capacity refers to the ability to maintain output within that energy system. For example, lactic power would be the ability to produce maximum force within that energy system (like a 250m row as fast as possible) where as lactic capacity would be the ability to maintain output within that energy system (like a 400 m sprint). Power and capacity fall on either side of the time domain for each energy system. A 1 RM Squat would be alactic power while a 100 meter dash would be alactic capacity. A one mile sprint would be aerobic power while a 50 mile run would be aerobic capacity. Finally, the recovery time will also influence whether power or capacity is being developed. For example, when developing alactic power for the clean, full recovery would be necessary. This might look like 3×2@90% with full recovery (2-5 minutes between sets). However, if we are developing alactic capacity, then we would not want full recovery. This might look like 6×1@90% with a 60 sec break between each set. The volume and intensity are the same but by lowering the rest periods we do not allow full recovery to occur.
3 Types of Recovery
When we train, there are three areas in which our body will receive stress: neurological stress, tissue stress, energy substrate stress. The level of stress, fatigue, and recovery time will be different for each area for different types of training stimulus. For example, a heavy back squat is going to cause a large amount of neurological fatigue but a relatively small amount of tissue and energy substrate fatigue. Three sets of 10 reps on bench press with a 10 second negative on each rep would cause a very high amount of stress to the tissue, a medium amount of stress to energy substrates, and a small amount of neurological stress. A 10 mile run would be very demanding on energy substrates but cause only a very minimal amount of stress to the CNS and tissue (assuming the person is a trained runner). In the examples above under the energy system portion, we can see that by manipulating the recovery, we can target different training goals (power or capacity) within each energy system. In doing so, we are primarily manipulating the recovery of the CNS and energy substrates as tissue recovery takes much longer. It typically takes about 3 minutes for ATP to be replenished after a maximal alactic output. The lactic energy system is limited by the increase of lactate and hydrogen ions within our muscles during training. This is the burn we feel during intense periods of high output. This can take anywhere from 90 seconds to 3 minutes to clear from our muscles. Aerobic capacity from an energy substrate standpoint is only limited by the available energy stores (glycogen, fatty acids) within our body and/or our ability to continually replenish those stores through nutrition. To summarize, we must allow full energy substrate recovery to develop power where as allowing only partial recovery will help to develop capacity.
Tying It All Together
As stated above, the majority of our training days need to be developmental days in which we are trying to develop a specific skill or capacity. Skill refers to the technique/motor coordination of a movement while capacity refers to the output of that particular skill. For example, there is the skill of doing a snatch which is the ability to perform the movement with the proper technique and there is also the capacity of doing a snatch which could be anything from a snatch 1RM to a 95 lb snatch for max reps in 2 minutes. Each of these examples falls into a different energy system as stated above. Below, we can see under which stages of CNS fatigue different capacities should be trained:
Well Rested/Low Fatigue
- Alactic Power
- Alactic Capacity
- New Skills (non developed motor patterns)
- Lactic Power
- Lactic Capacity
- Aerobic Power
- Technique Perfection of developed motor patterns
- Aerobic Capacity
When developing our training programs, we need to define our training goal. What skill and/or capacity are we trying to develop? If it’s a new skill, we need to train it in a state of low fatigue with full recovery. If it’s a skill we already possess, we need to decide which energy system we our trying to develop that skill in and whether or not we want to develop its power or capacity within that energy system. Next, we need to manipulate the training program to properly address the CNS and energy substrate recovery necessary to reach our training target. We can use the CNS chart above and our knowledge about the time domains for energy systems and energy substrate replenishment to correctly program.
Intensity is relative. If a workout has 20 reps of 95 lb thrusters for time, the person with a 135 lb thruster max is going to be working in an entirely different energy system than the person with a 225 thruster max. Thus, when targeting specific energy systems, power or capacity, it is important that the load be individualized. Also, we will tend to fall into the exact same work to rest ratios and time periods for different training goals. For example, we’ll always do either full recovery for alactic power and we’ll do 60 sec breaks for alactic capacity. Or we’ll always do 15-20 seconds on 40-45 seconds off for lactic capacity. Vary the work to rest ratios and times through your training blocks and even within your training sessions. For example, we could work a combination of lactic power and capacity by doing something like this:
Sets 1-3: 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off
Sets 4-6: 20 seconds on, 50 seconds off
Sets 7-9: 20 seconds on, 60 seconds off
This would allow for a little more recovery as energy stores are progressively depleted and thus a little higher output. Or it could be reversed to create a greater stress on the energy stores and therefore stress lactic capacity more. Finally, remember that ATP stores and glycogen are depleted within the working muscle group. If two movements with the same working muscle groups are trained together, the total energy depletion will be greater than movements with opposing muscle groups. For example, if GHDs are paired with a kettlebell swing, the energy stores of the posterior chain are not going to be as recovered as if the GHD was paired with a standing dumbbell press. The goal should determine the paring.
I hope this article brought some insight into the nuances of programming for a multi capacity sport like CrossFit. If you have any questions, please let me know below. Remember, don’t just test your fitness, build your fitness.
I was in a group this past Sunday that was talking about the show “My 600 pound life”. The people I was with were getting very frustrated at the people in the show who despite having every possible resource available to lose weight were still unable to follow the plan and instead gained weight. They were surprised when I told them that the people on the show can’t lose weight, they literally cannot make the right decision. They are heroin addicts who have been addicted to heroin for 20, 30, 40 years and are being asked to keep doing heroin, to be around other people doing heroin, just to do a little bit less themselves….just replace heroin with food. Addiction prevents the ability to make rational decisions and these people are highly addicted to food.
Even people who are not 600 lbs and strongly addicted to food can reach a “fitness critical mass”. A critical mass is the the minimum amount of fissile material needed to maintain a nuclear chain reaction. A fitness critical mass is the point of no return for health. A study done in 2013 followed 7,519 patients who recently had a stroke or heart attack. Only 4.3 percent of them quit smoking, improved their nutrition, and started exercising. When faced with the choice of change or die, they chose death…or at least their addicted brain chose death.
At the point of critical mass, a person has gained so much momentum in the wrong direction that it will literally take a miracle to reverse their direction. We all love the story of the 600 lb person who lost all their weight and turned their life around but the truth is for every one of them there are a thousand more who don’t. They find themselves at middle age with poor eating habits, poor exercise habits, significantly overweight, with bad joints and in pain all the time. At this point, there is a monumental discomfort that comes with trying to change. Their knees, shoulders, and lower back are jacked up so every movement hurts. They know they should be doing cardio but it hurts too much to do so they don’t do it. They know they should eat better but they don’t have any habits in place to do so. They don’t know how to shop, how to prepare, how to transport, and they can’t control their impulses to eat bad things, so they don’t change. The momentum continues. Critical mass.
There are two things you can do to avoid reaching a fitness critical mass:
- Start now. As much pain or discomfort that might come from making the change now, it will only get worse over time. Better to suffer through that pain now than to wish you had started 10 years ago 10 years from now.
- Don’t make decisions. If you struggle to make the “right” healthy decisions, then take yourself out of the decision making progress. Pay someone to go shop for you or better yet, pay a meal prep service to make your food for you. Pay someone to come wake you up. Pay someone to put you on the treadmill and make you walk. If you can’t afford that, sell your iPhone, sell your tv, cancel your cable. You can’t take any of that to the grave so until it becomes a habit like brushing your teeth, you can’t be trusted to make the right decisions. Make it easy or you will never do it.
Recently I have had numerous clients compete in powerlifting meets. Some are remote clients (out of state that I do not meet with) and others that are local, whose progression I see week to week (if they follow the prescribed program). Here’s an outline of my experiences and my approach to guiding a client through a meet.
One thing you must do when you arrive on meet day is establish a Home Base. Not only is this a place to set your stuff, but this Home Base will be visited several times throughout the day for food, naps, or just to chill. Every meet is set-up differently, so this decision will have to be made on the fly. Choosing a “Home Base” for me is somewhere that is not right in the middle of the action. I do not want my lifter to have the hype and high energy of the competition right in their face between attempts. If they are stressed and get sleepy, it should be a place where they can crash for a nap if they want to.
Chill/Relax: Two vocabulary words that I have been told repeatedly between lifts. Until you learn how to do this, you will not have an efficient meet day. Without getting to “science-y,” when you get amp’d up to lift but continue that heightened state through the waiting period until your next lift, it fries your CNS which controls signals needed to develop power output (and movement in general). So the goal here is to bring yourself down to a relaxed state in between attempts to allow yourself to rest and not waste valuable energy on staying hyped up.
For attempts, I am one of the coaches that like the 3RM guideline. This is, whatever weight you can take for a heavy 3 reps is a good indicator of what your opener should be. Typically this falls in the 90-93% range of your 1RM based off your TRAINING MAX. The weight you hit taking a three rep max should be something you could take for a single even on a bad lifting day. “What does that mean?” It means if you are sick, had the most stressful day at work, any crappy training scenario you can think of, you can hit that weight. There are two reasons for this. 1) You have to get into the meet. Without an opener you have the potential to bomb out and no one wants that. 2) It gives you momentum and primes your physical and mental ability to take a TRUE 1RM that should be NEW if you go about your jumps correctly.
Jumps to 2nd and 3rd Attempts
Your jumps will vary depending on the goal at hand. For most of my clients, I will make their jump from 1st-2nd attempt larger than their 2nd-3rd. For example, I usually have males make a 30-40lb jump from 1st-2nd attempt squat and deadlifts, followed by a 10-20lb jump from 2nd-3rd, depending on how the first two lifts went. Bench usually 20-30lbs from 1st-2nd and 10-15lbs from 2nd-3rd. Females are slightly lower: roughly 20-30lbs from 1st-2nd attempts on squat and deadllift and bench is very conservative with a 10-15lbs jump from 1st-2nd and 5-10lb jump from 2nd-3rd. These are just my opinions based off of the results I have seen with clients in the past. The ultimate gauge is how the lifter feels combined with how the lift LOOKED from my perspective while watching their movement.