Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Fun Part

I went to the Quincy Quarry with Sam, her family, and rock-climber/all-around good guy John Knight on Sunday. I hadn't climbed anything in about 10 years, so this promised to be entertaining.

It was a gorgeous day--blue sky, hot sun, and good people. I made nice with my buddy SPF 50.

I borrowed a climbing harness from John. I strapped it on, making sure the belt passed through the buckle twice. The rock shoes he lent me were one step away from an Roman-era torture device, but I managed to cram them on.

John taught me basic manners first. The rules are brief. He told me not to step on the rope.

We practiced the question-and-answer sequence that proceeds every climb. The climber and the belayer go through this sequence to ensure the climber's safety.

A little background: The belayer is the person responsible for making sure you don't plummet off a wall. They control the safety rope. It runs through their harness and the belay device, to an anchor at the top of the wall, and back to the climber's harness. As the climber climbs, the belayer takes up the slack, ensuring the climber won't fall too far if he/she falls off the wall.

"Am I on belay?"

The climber initiates the sequence, since he/she is the one taking the risk. The climber is asking the belayer if the belay setup is in order.

"You're on belay."


"Climb away."

At this point, the climber is headed up the rock, and the belayer is paying close attention, making sure there isn't too much slack in the rope.

Sam and John went through the verbal sequence a couple of times for my benefit, and then showed me how to hook up to the rope.

A figure-eight knot is tied in the rope about two feet from the end. The climber threads the end through his harness, and then ties the tail through the figure-eight. This is a complicated knot, but it's easy to tie. The tail follows the contours of the existing knot, forming a second figure-eight, parallel to the first.

The remaining rope is looped around the upper line twice, and then passed through the loops, again parallel to the line. The climber is secure.

We started on the practice wall. This unimposing face is about 15 degrees less than vertical, littered with deep holds. John belayed for me on my first attempt.

Getting up the practice wall was easy, even for me. A forgiving slope dominates the bottom of the wall, while deep horizontal fissures make the top half negotiable. It got significantly more entertaining when it was time to come back down.

Rappelling is the method of choice. The belayer lets the rope out slowly while the climber walks backward down the wall. John told me to put all my weight on the harness. He didn't tell me to walk backward.

I dutifully did as I was told, slamming my ass against the rock. Evidently, moving your feet helps with rappelling. I live to impress.

I think I heard Sammy giggling.

It is not intuitive to hold yourself perpendicular to a vertical wall, and it took a little practice to keep my feet under me as I walked down the wall. My ego beat me to the bottom.

Back on the horizontal, Sammy and John switched the belay, and I gave it another shot. Up and down, steady as she goes.

Nick and Marcia showed up with Sam's harness and more than a little climbing experience between them. While I was demonstrating my athletic prowess to Samantha, John had setup two more ropes closer to the Quarry entrance.

I watched as Nick and Sam took turns climbing a wall that looked coated in Teflon. They both climbed confidently and quickly. After fifteen minutes, it was my turn.

I got about 20 feet up, and then I was stuck. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. My patient surveying turned into frustration. I contemplated the state of the universe for ten minutes and came down. I thanked Sam for the belay, and resumed my role as spectator.

When John finished his first climb, he took me back to the practice wall. It turns out I needed a little more practice.

He had me climb halfway up the wall, and then descend. Instead of rappelling, I climbed downward. This exercise was meant to help me choose good foot-holds. According to John, rock climbing is not about upper body strength. Using the power of the legs gets the climber to the top.

By descending, I had to find a place to put my feet before I went further. Otherwise, I'd just fall off the wall.

The practice restored my confidence. I rested, alternating between the sun and the shade, watching my friends climb the quarry walls.

Nick's style is pure power. Grab and pull. Grab and pull. He's quick and strong, and he climbs just like he does everything else. With a lot of grunting. Nonetheless, his strength is really impressive.

Sam is a good climber. She seemed to manufacture holds out of nothing. I watched, mesmerized, as she ascended the wall gracefully and quickly. I only saw her get stuck once, and it lasted all of five minutes.

John dances up the wall, with none of the effort that characterizes my climbing. He moves fluidly and quickly. His style is understated, marked with extreme competence.

Watching them climb helped me mentally prepare for my next attempt. It came at the end of the day, on the highest wall in the Quarry. This wall is vertical and imposing. It definitely wasn't the practice wall.

I watched Nick tackle it--grab and pull, grab and pull.

John off-handedly told me I should give it a shot. Ummm...okay then. I quietly focused on Nick's holds and moves, knowing I'd have to replicate them.

Nick made the top.

I tied in, using the knot Sammy had shown me earlier in the day. For the first time, I managed to get it right without assistance.

"Am I on belay?"

"On belay", John answered.


"Climb away."

Holy sh*t. This wall is all kinds of vertical. I jumped for the first hold, pulling myself up to a ledge about 7 feet above the ground. Another hold just above my head. Another pullup got me there. I realized that I was ignoring John's advice about finding my feet first.

I made it about three-quarters of the way up the wall. After a particularly difficult move, I rested against the face, catching my breath. 20 feet to go. I found my next foot-hold, and dug my right hand into a crack. I pulled my arms together, pec-dec style, and weighted my up-rock foot.


I fell off the rock, and John caught me. So that's what that rope is for.

Back on the face, my legs started shaking. Violently. It turns out no one had told my lower body that I wasn't scared. After 3 seconds of deep reflection, I told John I was coming down.

My day was over, and I'd been beaten by two different rock walls. They say humility is a virtue. I'd managed the practice wall a couple of times--my fourth climb ever was a 5.8. You can see the route in the first picture from "Monsters of Rock"--it's just to the left of the guy in yellow.

Sammy told me she was impressed, then managed to climb the wall that had just stomped on my self-esteem.

As I watched, I realized what a beautiful thing rock climbing is. We were climbing something that was not meant to be climbed, using our bodies as a means to scale vertical faces. Done masterfully, rock climbing is a unique combination of spatial awarness, power, and grace.

It's also a hell of a good time. I'll be back. Next time the rock won't win.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monsters of Rock

I didn't care too much about my weight.

Until Sunday.

That afternoon, I got an applied lesson in power-to-weight ratios. Rock climbing.

We often refer to the weight we lift in relation to our bodyweight. 1 x bodyweight bench press. 1 x bodyweight clean. 2 x bodyweight deadlift. When we do this, we're implicitly refering to a power-to-weight ratio.

You'll recall that power is a measure of work done per unit time. The equation for work is displayed below. Don't worry about the math--we're after conceptual understanding here. If you'd like to see this calculation in action, check out "A Physics Lesson", posted earlier this month.

Work = Force (Newtons) * Displacement (Meters) * Cosine of Theta (Angle between F and D)

Power is simply Work divided by Time.

When we have two athletes performing the same lift, in the same amount of time, using the same range of motion, we can say that they have done the same amount of work and exhibited the same amount of power. A problem arises when we attempt to rank these athletes. How do we determine which one is the better athlete?

We've determined that both athletes have the same power output. Neither is explicitly more powerful than the other. Still, we must take the athlete into consideration.

If our athletes have different bodyweights, one has performed the lift with greater efficiency than the other. The lighter athlete produced the same amount of power with a smaller frame. This athlete has a higher power-to-weight ratio than his/her competitor, and is therefore the stronger athlete.

In rock climbing, athletes strive to have a high power-to-weight ratio. The want to be extremely light, yet possess enough strength to haul themselves up a rock wall as fast as possible. In this scenario, the weight is no longer an external object. It is the athlete himself.

Therefore, the athlete benefits from low bodyweight. The less he/she weighs, the less work he or she has to do to get up the rock.

Let's take two hypothetical athletes, both climbing the same 50m cliff. Athlete A weighs 170 pounds (77.27 kilos), and Athlete B weighs 130 pounds (59.09 kilos).

Athlete A (work) = 77.27 kgs (9.8 m/s/s) * 50m * Cosine 0
= 757.25 N * 50m * 1
= 37852.5 N/m

Athlete B (work) = 59.09 kgs (9.8 m/s/s) * 50m * Cosine 0
= 570.08 N * 50m * 1
= 28504.00 N/m

Athlete B has to perform less work to climb the rock. Now, let's examine power output. We'll assume that each athlete climbs the rock in 15 minutes (900 seconds).

Athlete A (power) = 37852.5 N/m / 900 seconds
= 42.06 watts

Athlete B (power) = 28504.0 N/m / 900 seconds
= 31.67 watts

Athlete B has to produce less absolute power to scale the rock. However, if we examine power output per kilogram of bodyweight, the numbers tell a different story.

Athlete A (power/weight) = 42.06 watts / 77.27 kgs
= 0.54 watts/kg

Athlete B (power/weight) = 31.67 watts / 59.09 kgs
= 0.54 watts/kg

These athletes have an equivalent power-to-weight ratio, even though Athlete B is significantly smaller than Athlete A.

Light bodyweight confers an advantage: less work and less absolute power output is needed to exhibit the same power-to-weight ratio as a heavier athlete.

The advantage only holds if we assume that the two athletes climb the rock in the same amount of time. If Athlete A climbs in 12 minutes, and Athlete B climbs in 15, we get the following:

Athlete A (power/weight) = 0.68 watts/kg
Athlete B (power/weight) = 0.54 watts/kg

In the rock climbing scenario, the highest power-to-weight ratio belongs to the athlete who scales the rock the fastest, regardless of bodyweight. As in weightlifting, the power-to-weight ratio is a good way to rank different-sized athletes.

In the case of rock climbing, it is indicative of time. A higher power-to-weight ratio indicates a faster time up the wall. In weightlifting, it is indicative of moving a lot of weight with a small frame. Time is not a huge factor, because it won't vary much between athletes on any given rep.

Hopefully, this post will give you a new appreciation for smaller trainees. Next time you see someone move less weight than you, remember that their power-to-weight ratio may be significantly better than yours.

When you see a light rock climber fly up a wall in half your time, remember that they just produced a higher power-to-weight ratio than you.

Absolute strength is important, but it is not necessarily the correct way to rank athletes. Make sure you take factors such as time, bodyweight, and overall power output into consideration. One variable may not be adequate to benchmark athletic ability.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Ring

Crossfit adheres to a Jeet Kun Do-esque philosophy. Like Bruce Lee, we absorb those things we find useful and discard those we do not.

Seeking something useful, I made a trip to the Ring Boxing Club on Commonwealth Avenue with my friend Allison. Ali had seen Million Dollar Baby, and wanted to speed-bag. It sounded like a good time to me.

We walked up a steep set of concrete steps into the Club. Heavy bags hung in groups of four, dominating the entrance. Immediately behind them was the squared circle, occupied by a couple of guys doing reflex work. The back corner contained more heavy bags. Several boxers were scattered around them, throwing jabs. On the right side hung the objects of Ali's desire--three speed bags at different heights.

Waivers were signed, and Ali and I were introduced to Jimmy, our trainer. He stands about 5'8, 150 pounds. A real kung-fu looking motherf*cker. I wouldn't want to throw down with Jimmy.

I hear, "You do Crossfit?"

I turned to see a guy about my size, hands wrapped.

"I do Crossfit," he said, "it really helps with this."

I guess I betrayed my secret weapon by wearing the "It Doesn't Have to be Fun..." shirt. I'd been there 5 minutes, and Crossfit had reared its head--I was definitely in the right place.

First things first. We were introduced to the in-house timing system, the inbred cousin of a traffic light. Green means go--the three-minute round starts. Yellow means thirty seconds left--move your ass. Red means stop. Simple enough.

Any doubt that we were going to be working vanished when Jimmy gave his first instructions. Jump rope on green. Go faster on yellow. 20 pushups and 20 leg lifts on red. Three rounds. Pretty damn metabolic.

After the warmup, he taught us to wrap our hands. Think origami with an Ace bandage.

We shadow boxed facing the mirror, receiving instructions on stance, hand position, and hip movement. Just like the Olympic lifts, all of the power in a punch comes from the hips. Jab from the eye. Aim at your own chin. Cross from the temple. Aim at your own chin. Non-punching hand in contact with your temple, elbows in tight. Any space between your hand and your head, and you might as well not block at all.

The hook comes from the hips. This was the most obvious corollary with our O-lifts. The arm is more or less immobile. The elbow comes up as the hips snap 90 degrees to the back hand. All the power is generated from hip extension.

We threw combinations, working up a hell of a sweat. Then we strapped on bag gloves, and worked on moving around the heavy bags, stepping and throwing jabs. I circled right, Ali circled left.

Then came the fun part. Reflex pads. Holy sh*t. Jimmy made me work for it. The instructions were simple--"1" for jab, "2" for cross, "3" for hook. Standing in the middle of the ring, Jimmy held the pads. The green light lit up, and he started with the sequences. For three solid minutes, I punched my ass off.


Sometimes I threw the wrong punch, or changed my lead foot. Sometimes I stepped in on the pads, crowding my range. Jimmy moved around me like I was wearing concrete shoes.

I came away with a new appreciation for boxing conditioning. You have to be a beast to throw a couple hundred punches in three minutes. The nearest equivalent--three straight minutes of burpees. This was some bad-ass stuff.

Drenched in sweat, I squared up with the speed bag. "Thump, thump, thump...thump, thump, thump..."

I have no rhythm. None. Speed bagging requires intense concentration and pinpoint accuracy. I have ADHD and the coordination of a retarded junkie. In the space of an hour, boxing had asked me to show speed, strength, power, and coordination. I didn't demonstrate too many of these qualities, but I had a great time trying.

We discarded our hand wraps and received a couple of boxing glove key chains and a price list. The Ring is pretty reasonable. They give you full-time access to a trainer and use of the facility for $129/month. If I made a little more money, I'd be all over it.

I'd found something useful. Our visit to Ring was a great reminder that there are an infinite number of ways to get a killer workout.

It's too bad there's only one free trial.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Fear and Control

I have a problem pulling myself under the bar. I'm fine during push presses, but push jerks kick my ass. Power cleans are easy enough, but the squat clean makes me feel about as coordinated as Dick Cheney with a shotgun.

In my grand tradition of over-analysis, I'd like to figure out what's causing this little lapse in athleticism.

The problem lies in technique. That's pretty clear. I catch push jerks and split jerks with straight legs, and my clean sequence doesn't include a decent catch.

These details don't come close to covering the things that are wrong with my mechanics. Nonetheless, they're indicative of the problem.

I'm scared. There is a point in both the push jerk and the squat clean where I have to give up control. This moment is brief, but it's there. You've got to switch direction, and pull yourself under a very heavy object that wants to fall on your head.

Gravity is in control. You've got to get under the bar and stop a force of nature in its tracks. I'm not so good at this part.

In the push press and the power clean, I'm only fighting gravity in one direction. I'm creating momentum and elevation, and gravity is pulling downward. As long as I generate enough force to overcome gravity, I win.

In the push jerk and the squat clean, the above sequence is only half the battle. After I've imparted momentum and elevation on the bar, I have to pull myself under it, becoming one with the very force that's trying to drop weight on my head.

Then I've got to fight gravity again, sandwiching myself between the bar and the floor.

The hard part is trusting gravity not to kill me while I reverse direction. No problem with 95 pounds on the bar. 165? 185? Now things get a little dicey.

It comes down to fear and control. When I'm in control, I'm not intimidated by a damn thing. When gravity is in control, I get freaked out.

The solution will come when I trust technique. I'll land the push jerk with bent legs. When I'm cleaning, I'll get my elbows to the rack quickly, pulling myself under the bar. I'll believe what I'm taught and not what my hind-brain is trying to tell me.

The control will come with technique, and fear will go bye-bye.

There always comes a point in training where you're asked to do something you're not comfortable doing. You can make progress by giving it hell, or you can wallow in mediocrity by letting it win.

I wish I was staring at that bar right now. I'd give it hell...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Not Cool

Today, I was sitting by the Charles River with a friend of mine. This is a great spot for observing runners. I noticed that most of the folks were going between four and seven miles per hour.

Being the pompous ass that I am, I told my friend that these people were still out of shape precisely because they never ran faster than four to seven miles an hour. I regurgitated the company line: These pseudo-athletes would get more out of running one mile at top speed than five miles at a marathon pace.

I am such a jackass. My assertion wasn't incorrect, but the only reason I know that interval training is superior to long, slow distance (LSD) is Crossfit. I was spouting off like I'd just invented the f*cking lightbulb. If I'd never heard of Crossfit (which I read about in a glossy magazine at a big box gym), I'd have sat there and admired everyone's compact stride.

Like the Afternoon Warriors of the Charles, I once believed that five miles was better than two miles was better than one mile, regardless of speed. I'd jump on the treadmill, and sweat my butt off running two or three 8 minute miles.

I've been training for two and a half years. Two some-odd years is not a long time, but I've built on my knowledge. Three sets of 10 became WODs. Isolation movements became squats became olympic lifts. Running slowly became sprinting. Two minutes in between sets became no rest at all. What's my point?

I may find, two years from now, that everything I now take as gospel is complete and utter sh*t. I should probably shut my mouth and just be happy these people are exercising at all.

Yet, if someone could've saved you 500 hours of treadmill time, would you have wanted them to speak up? If you were using the Ab Lounge for eight minutes every day and you weren't ripped, wouldn't you want answers?

My friends ask me for training advice from time to time, and I give it to them. The only qualification I possess is, well...nothing. Except I did the same stupid sh*t they're doing now, and I managed to quit.

I could still be doing the same generic programs I read in Men's Health and Muscle and Fitness. This is the resource my friends rely on, because it's the resource they have access to.

For the novice athlete, it's certainly better than nothing, and if it inspires any level of activity beyond getting up to get another beer, I'm all for it. The problem begins when the athlete-in-training plateaus for the first time.

If they're lucky, they find another program that takes everything up a level. If they're not, they'll find a shiny new program that promises huge gains using only the JumpStretch 2000.

In the course of my running lecture, my buddy told me he's been doing the same workout for years. Not the same program--the same single workout! The same exercises using the same loads in the same order!

I started preaching about variety like Moses on the Mount.

I'm such a jackass.

So...am I going to stop running my trap? Probably not. But I promise I'll try to be a little less pompous about it next time. Keep jogging, everybody!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Bringing Out The Dead

I love deadlifting. There aren't too many things I like better than ripping a sh*tload of weight off the ground. I love that moment when you're pulling, and the bar is bending, and nothing is moving. At that moment, I know that I have to be stronger than the gravitational pull of the Earth. Beating an entire planet? It doesn't get any better than that.

The deadlift is a relatively simple movement. Grab the bar, and get it above your knees. Go to full extension. That's it. No double scoop, no "getting tall", no explosion. The deadlift is a slow grind of man versus metal.

Like everything else, the details are important. I'm not an expert on the movement, but I've been coached through a pull or two, and I'm damn close to a 2.5x bodyweight lift.

The first detail--own the f*cking bar. Walk up to that thing like it stole your wallet after it slept with your sister. Grab it, using a hook grip or a mixed grip, and strangle the ever-living sh*t out of it. Treat every pull like a battle.

You're William Wallace, and the bar is the English. It doesn't stand a chance.

Once you've got a good grip on the bar, drop the hips and get your chest up. The bar should be on your shins or damn close. Unlike a snatch or a clean and jerk, your shoulders should be behind the bar.

Retract your upper back. Your lower lumbar curve should be pronounced. A rounded back is going to result in injury. You'll notice a tendency toward rounding as your reps go on, especially during high-rep efforts. Make a conscious to effort avoid rounding.

As you're addressing the bar, take a deep breath, and tense every god-forsaken muscle in your body. All of them. Say it with me now..."I am one piece. I AM ONE PIECE!"

Now, don't think. Don't wait. Don't breathe. Don't worry about how much weight is on the bar. Rip that motherf*cker off the ground.

Your hips and your shoulders should move at the same rate. Do not extend the hips and then the back. The movements should be simultaneous. If you do them independently, you'll get no pull out of your legs and all the strain will be on your lower back. This will severely limit the amount of weight you can move. Romanian Deadlifts are wonderful and all, but that's not what we're doing here.

Pull through the heels. This is important. You wouldn't engage in a tug-of-war on your toes. Human beings are built to pull from the heels. We do it instinctually in every pulling effort we engage in. Unlike last Saturday night, now is not the time to resist your instincts.

Even though the bar may be moving slowly in reality, pull fast. This is a mindset. The "faster" you attempt to pull, the more power you'll develop. Power output is a direct result of a high rate of force development, or RFD. The sooner get to your maximum force output, the sooner the lift will be over--you'll lift quick and spend less time fighting the bar.

Do not quit. Just because the bar doesn't move at first doesn't mean it won't move. The barbell is flexible--at high weights, it actually bends before the weight comes off the ground. You have to work through this point. If you feel stuck, pull harder! DO NOT QUIT!

This lift is close to my heart. I'd do it all day long if I could. Screw Crossfit. Screw density training, sprinting, and gymnastics. I want to move enough weight to qualify as a human bulldozer.

Take some advice from a man who has already achieved machine-hood. Dave Tate has pulled 740 off the ground. His deadlifting advice doesn't always vibe with mine--he advocates rounding of the upper back and keeping the bar away from the shins. Of course, he's been lifting since I was in diapers, so what the f*ck do I know. Check out this article, courtesy of Dave Tate and T-Nation.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Me Love You Long Time

I'm beginning to think Eugene Allen is insane. After trying his "SWAT Training", I know he's a Grade-A masochist. This epic workout makes me think he might be a sadist as well. This week's assignment from Tacoma looks more life-threatening than a Vietnamese hooker:

Run ¼ mile
50 KB Snatches 25/25 (44)
50 D-Ball Slams (25)
50 Calories Rowing

Run ½ mile
40 KB Swings (44)
40 Pullups
40 Barbell Push Press (75)

Run ¾ mile
30 Ring Pushups
30 Power Cleans (95)
30 Wall Ball (20)

Run 1 mile
20 DB Thrusters (35)
20 Sand Bag Clean and Jerk (50)
20 Dbl. KB Push Press (44)

I'll need to sub out some of the exercises--D-ball slams, anything with a KB, and the sandbag C&J. The sandbag in next on my list of things to make.

I'm going to be giving this a shot on Saturday at Gold's. They love me. I'll dial "9-1-" on my cell phone and leave it by the guys doing curls in the squat racks. Maybe they'll move for the paramedics.

The time to beat is 55:30. I'm not optimistic.
Thinking About Performing II

The three of you who've read Again Faster since the beginning of May probably remember my article, "Thinking About Perfoming". For the rest of you, the original is available using the archive link to the right--it was posted on May 4th.

I was looking for a way to track my recovery levels and intensity as they related to workout difficulty and the time since I last worked out. I now have a month's worth of data.

I have about 30 entries that look like this: R1W4E5T48

R# is perceived recovery level: 1 (absolutely fresh)- 5(totally sore)
W# is perceived workout difficulty: 1 (easy) - 5 (insanity)
E# is my intensity: 1 (sleepwalking) - 5 (full bore intensity)
T# is number of hours since the last workout

The scientists among you will note that 30 entries is not nearly enough to establish statistical significance for any of my findings. I am making no such claims, so don't start any sh*t.

First, the obvious. There is a linear relationship between time since last workout and perceived recovery. More time, more recovery. I didn't need to collect any data to figure that one out. I also found that a greater recovery time translated into greater intensity during exercise.

Interestingly, I found that perceived recovery has little bearing on intensity. Common sense would dictate that the better an athlete feels, the harder he/she will work. In my case, this maxim didn't hold.

There were many instances where I felt like I was ready to rock, assigning a perceived recovery of 1 or 2, but my intensity languished. In these cases, the time since my last workout was invariably less than 20 hours.

Why would I feel recovered and be unable to maintain good intensity?

My perception of recovery is directly related to muscle soreness and joint stiffness. If nothing hurts, I feel like I'm ready to train.

This may not be the case--DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) typically takes a day or two to set in. If I have a rest day, followed by two successive workouts, I may not feel the effects of the first workout by the time I start the second. The physiological damage from the first workout is not symptomatic when I begin the second workout, but it's still there. As a result, I cannot go at full intensity.

This is a theory based on a single case study--me. The data is not robust enough to prove a damn thing. Nonetheless, I believe this is interesting, and worth looking into.

Anecdotally, I found that every time I rated my workout intensity at 4 or 5 (full bore), 24+ hours had passed since my last workout. Recovery and intensity may have less to do with how you feel, and more to do with the time your body has had to repair itself.

I encourage you to start collecting data on various metrics that relate to your workouts. I'm always interested in new ways to quantify athletic training--if you have any insights, please drop me a line. As the data accumulates, we may find some universal truths regarding recovery and intensity. That would be a hell of a lot more useful than my bullsh*t...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Crossfit Metro West

Congratulations to our own Will Tagye on the unveiling of Crossfit Metro West. Will is a Level 1 Crossfit Certified Instructor, and a former Marine Infantryman. He also taught Urban Warfare, and currently works somewhere in the DoD machine.

Training with Will is extremely motivating--if you're in the Boston Metro West area, check him out. Will is going to be running boot camp-style workouts outside, rain or shine. He don't f*ck around!

You'll notice the link to his website to the right--give it a look. Congratulations, Will!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Suffering on the Sabbath

I went to church this morning. It didn't have four walls and a steeple. It had 400 meters and an infield.

I made the trip to my parents' hometown for a little downtime. The local gym didn't have a squat rack, but the High School track was abandoned, save one senior citizen taking his daily constitutional. The perfect setting for a top-to-bottom body thrashing.

Mom and Dad came with me--Dad as the photographer and Mom as Coach. Mom ran track at Springfield College, later coached at Somerville High School, and taught phys ed in the Newport Elementary Schools for over 10 years. She's a fourth grade teacher now, but it turns out she remembers a thing or two about athletic training.

They were both amused that I'd brought a tire and a sledgehammer--until I started using it.

Sunday's Sermon:

40 sledge swings (20L, 20R)
100m Beck's Burpees
40 sledge swings
100m Beck's Burpees
40 sledge swings

Hitting a tire with an 8# sledge is all kinds of fun. This was my first encounter with Beck's Burpees--they require a lot of focus.

If you're doing them, identify your landing spot before you jump. When you look further down the track, you jump further, and you end up doing fewer burpees (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out the "Brand-X Burpees" article from last week).

I managed this in just under 20 minutes. I'm not sure of the exact time, because I was too blasted to check my watch. Go faster!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Going Off the Rails

We train fast. We pack a ton of volume into a small timeframe. When we lift heavy, we go all out, and then we go home.

To the uninitiated, 100 pullups is a boatload of pullups. Yet we're content to blast out 100 in twenty minutes during the course of Cindy. Doing Angie? That time falls even further. Last time I did a 5 x 5 front squat, I moved 9,325 pounds in about 20 minutes. Doing back squats, that number skyrockets.

My friends refuse to join Crossfit, because they think we're insane. No one should workout this hard. "What do you train for, anyway?"

My favorite answer: "I train for life." Trite bullsh*t, but it usually wipes the smirk off the interrogator's face.

It's such bullsh*t that the truth it contains is smaller than Al Gore's dignity. I train to be stronger and faster, but I don't do anything resembling a thruster or a deadlift during my day. I work in a cubicle. Every once in a while, I clean an 8-gallon water bottle to my chest because my co-workers are convinced they'd have to visit the ER if they gave it a shot. Typing 60 words per minute is as close as I come to real-life fitness on a daily basis.

Some of the things I do in the gym don't have a real-life analog. Take the chinup. If you need to climb something outside the gym, what are the odds you're going to be able to grab it with your palms facing toward you? Just about zero. Yet, when my pullups stall out, I'm happy to grab the bar with a chinup grip. I'm not "training for life". I'm training to do more f*ckin' chinups.

I do walking lunges. Yesterday, I did walking lunges with a 40 pound dumbell at full extension. When will I ever have to do this? Never, unless I get a job as a waiter at a restaurant that specializes in brick salads.

Next time someone asks me why I train so damn hard, I'll hit them with this:

"I like to hallucinate. I trip like a motherf*cker every time my heart-rate hits 200. You wouldn't understand, because the hardest thing you ever did was run 10 miles in three hours. Now get your pansy ass away from the squat rack, before I take you outside and beat you with a dumbell."

Not as nice as "I train for life", but probably more accurate. I bet it'll wipe that smirk off pretty quick, too.

Next time you do something crazy, like chinups, remember--you're not training for life. You're training to train. And that's a good enough reason.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Variability and Randomness

Crossfit programming is "constantly varied". The immense variety of workouts is meant to prevent stagnation by continually imposing new stressors onto the athlete. This process ensures that the athlete is in a constant state of inadequate adaptation. The workouts never become rote.

The workout template has been quantified in general terms in the Crossfit Journal (March 2004). The three day cycle consists of:

A day of "blistering intensity"
A focus day
A day of "blistering intensity"

Within this template, you can impose endless variation. You can also willfully ignore the template for the sake of further variation. I'm going to focus on this second form of variation.

Imagine a very large jar filled with marbles, each marble representing a unique workout. We draw a marble from the jar each day, determining the WOD. Assume that each marble has an equal chance of being selected, regardless of its place within the jar. If we select a marble each day, and then replace it, there is a chance (however slight) that we may select it again on a successive draw. Using this model, there is a chance that we could end up doing the same workout two days in a row.

Using the traditional Crossfit template, this could not happen. We have two separate jars--the "intensity" jar and the "focus" jar. Because we draw from different jars on different days, we cannot get the same workout twice.

Chad Waterbury, a trainer at T-nation, makes an interesting point regarding repetition of the same exercise on successive days. He notes that in an untrained population, those with the most hypertrophy of a given bodypart are those who use that bodypart every day. Mechanics have big forearms, lumberjacks have broad backs, and basketball players have huge calves.

Of course, we already know that we can induce muscle growth by working the same muscle group on successive days. We often explain our distain for bodypart splits by saying that life does not care what you did yesterday. It may make you use the same muscles to do the same thing today.

Does this idea extend to the constant variability of Crossfit? Should we distain a switch between "intensity" and "focus" the way we distain bodypart splits? Can we shock our bodies into greater speed and strength by working the same muscle group in the same way two days in a row?

Randomness, as demonstrated by our marble model, would predict that this scenario would occur sooner or later. Eventually, chaos dictates we do the same workout two days in a row. The idea of variation through lack of variation is counter-intuitive, but nonetheless valid.

I'm going to try this out. It could be totally insane, or mildly revolutionary. Then again, I've found that everything worth doing is usually one or the other.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pierce County SWAT Training

Eugene Allen of Crossfit Pierce County came up with this one. It fits all my favorite parameters--quick, heavy, and painful.


Sumo Deadlift High-pulls (85# bar)
Thrusters (35# DBs)
Pushpress (85# bar)
Swings (52# KB)

I'll be doing it on Friday or Saturday up in NH Mountain country. There's a brand-spanking new gym up there that requires some abuse. The best time posted by Eugene's crew was 7:48. Go faster!
Doesn't Count

"Doesn't count."
"Doesn't count."
"Doesn't count."


The competitive atmosphere of the Crossfit gym encourages speed. You want to win. You want to beat every other person in the room and post some outrageously low time, proving that you are (as if it wasn't obvious) the best athlete.

The problem comes when we sacrifice form for speed. Evidently, we've been doing a lot of this lately. Neal came back from Crossfit HQ with a newfound emphasis on form. Somewhere between ring dip 30 and ring dip 40, I started hearing this:

"Didn't go deep enough. Doesn't count."
"Didn't lock out. Doesn't count."
"Hahahahaha. Doesn't count."

The last one might have been in my head.

I came in dead last. Five other Crossfitters, subjected to the same scrutiny I was experiencing, beat me to the finish line. Humiliating.

Despite my overwhelming urge to see if I could pile-drive a 250 pound man, I think I learned a thing or two. When you're working with near-perfect form, everything gets a hell of a lot harder. The difficulty ramps up quickly toward the end. Form degrades as fatigue sets in, and you have to try twice as hard to maintain the integrity of the exercise.

This level of effort is hard to self-enforce. When you're working out alone, it's easy to give yourself credit for a less-than-perfect rep. It's an ego check to realize that your poundages fall and your times increase when you strive for perfect form. Odds are you're not going to set a Cindy PR if your pullups are full-extension, your pushups are chest-to-deck, and your squats are ass-to-the-grass.

You know when you're striving for perfection and when you're just going through the motions. Don't let your ego get in the way of progress. Time doesn't mean sh*t if you've got the form of Kermit the Frog on valium.

I'm going to make sure I hear "doesn't count" a little less in the future. I'm also making sure I don't spend any more time in last place. Last place sucks.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Brand-X Burpees

You hate burpees. You pansy. There is no exercise on earth that puts your lungs into your throat faster. The metabolic effect is astronomical.

The standard burpee:

A drop to plank position, followed by a chest-to-deck pushup. The feet are quickly pulled back between the arms, and the athlete jumps vertically, clapping his/her hands above the head.

A lot of trainees half-ass the vertical jump, conserving energy and short-changing the effect of the exercise. Jeff Martin, the Big Dawg at Brand-X Martial Arts, has a remedy for this problem.

It's called a Beck's Burpee, ostensibly named after the sado-masochistic bastard who thought it was a good idea. Instead of a vertical jump, the trainee executes a broad jump at the end of the burpee. The workout specifies the distance to be traveled instead of prescribing a number of burpees.

This eliminates the tendency to half-ass the jump. If you don't jump as far as you can, you'll end up doing more burpees to cover the requisite distance.

In honor of this Beck guy, I'm planning a Saturday workout consisting solely of Beck's burpees, distance TBD. Odds are we'll be doing this one in the rain at Harvard. If you'd like to join in the fun, send an email or give me a call.

Go faster!
Beating the Hopper

Crossfit programming is focused on general physical preparation (GPP). If you've read up on the Crossfit definition of fitness, you've heard of the hopper. The idea is this:

An infinite amount of physical tasks are loaded into a hopper. The hopper spits them out randomly. The fittest athlete is the one who can perform the most tasks proficiently.

Given this idea, it makes sense that the majority of our training is focused on speed and strength. Having both speed and strength will leave you relatively well prepared to take on any task--these qualities are readily transferrable.

When I work on my front squat, I'm building strength in my posterior chain--back, glutes, hamstrings, etc. This group of muscles is highly recruited during other activities, including sprinting, box jumps, thrusters, push presses, swings, and olympic lifts. If I train speed and strength, I'll be able to deal with most of the tasks thrown at me in the WOD.

The transfer of speed and strength to other activities breaks down when those activities are skill-based. My ability to squat 200 pounds has little bearing on my gymnastics, and it certainly doesn't help with my double-unders. These activities require specific patterns of movement. Mastery of movement requires practice.

As you pursue fitness, recognize the difference between activities that require GPP and those that require specific skills. As a general rule of thumb, skill-based activities will require more patience and dedication to perform proficiently. You'll need to develop reflexes, spatial awareness, agility, and balance.

I have a tendency to neglect skill-based exercises. I suck at jumping rope and pretty much anything involving tumbling. It's much more fun for me to think about deadlifting another 20 pounds than to imagine doing 10 consecutive double-unders or a back handspring. Nonetheless, I have a sneaking suspicion that developing spatial awareness, reflexes, agility, and balance results in increased ability across all skill-based activities.

Next time you're deciding between doing yet another set of squats or practicing your dive to front roll, remember that the hopper makes a fool out of the specialist. GPP alone will not win the day.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Speed on Saturday

It's raining. Not like a nice summer sprinkle--more like a monsoon. I'm freezing my ass off. Luckily for me, two other people are on the way. At least I won't be suffering alone.

Two days ago, I'd put out an offer to host a makeup WOD at the Harvard track. Erik and Sam answered the call, and at 3:30 on Saturday afternoon, we met in the bowels of Harvard Stadium. I'd neglected to check the weather. It was coming down hard. Build an ark hard. Boat building is not in my repetoire.

A mere six hours after C&Jing two 45 pound dumbells 55 times, we were set to run a few 400s, a few 800s, and pound out a 125 squats and 125 pushups. For time.

Running in a 50 degree rain and 17 mph gusts is about as much fun as rubbing sandpaper on your fun parts. Dropping into a puddle to do pushups just elevates the experience. You should definitely try it.

The workout:

50 squats
50 pushups
25 squats
25 pushups
50 squats
50 pushups

Good stuff. I managed this in 16:02. Go faster!

Thanks to Erik and Sam for gutting it out with me. You guys rock.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mental Muscle
Crossfit continually asks us to do things that are beyond our current capabilities. You can do 25 pullups? Okay, do 30. You did Murph in 45 minutes? I bet you can do it in 40. You want to do 16 rounds of Cindy by the end of the month? Do it now.

Setting personal records is partly physiological. As you train, you get stronger and your endurance increases. We take this for granted. It is the direct byproduct of intense, consistent exercise.

The mental aspect of setting records and beating times is more elusive. It's certainly necessary to have a confident attitude when you address the bar or start the WOD. If you believe you are going to set a PR, you will. The second you stop believing, you're f*cked.

A few nights ago, I was doing a press/push press/push jerk sequence at Crossfit Boston. Before we started, I told Will I was going to press 135 and push press 165. No doubt.

We talked about a mutual lack of explosion on the push jerks. "I did 225," he said,"but I pressed it out." I told him I'd end up pressing them out, too. We comiserated on the pain of push jerks--it's hard to throw yourself under a bar that weighs more than you do.

I flew through the presses and push presses. When I was addressing 175 for the push jerk, Will launched into a diatribe on the difficulties of getting under the bar with a bunch of weight. He wasn't talking to me, but I was listening. Sh*t. Suddenly, that 175 looked more like a Volkswagen Bus. There was no way I was getting that above my head. I managed one half-assed rep, and had to decrease the weight to less than my push press. One failed rep later, I collapsed like Hideki Matsui's wrist.

There are some things you can do to avoid a similar fate.

Everyone performs better on a stage. If you train alone, it's hard to get the positive vibe you need. Get another person to train with, and make sure they know exactly what gets you through. Screaming, yelling, name calling, poking,whatever. When someone's watching, you're not going to quit.

Set a goal. Make a bet. Nothing gets me going like the phrase "I bet you can't..." When I'm trying to move weight, forgetting what's on the bar tends to help. Treat a 135 pounds the same way you treat 225. Just because it doesn't move as fast doesn't mean it's not going to move.

If you're going for reps or time, do not quit. The rest periods kill WOD times. Keep going. Just don't stop. Nothing saps the will to continue like the sweet bliss of rest. Get mad at your body. Quads screaming?

"Tough sh*t, legs. I'm gonna work you until you fall off."

If you've been doing Crossfit for any appreciable amount of time, you're strong and you've got all kinds of endurance. Start trusting your body to carry you through the stuff your mind rejects. This game is one big mindf*ck. It's a contest between you and your brain, and let's face it--you're not that smart.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

A Physics Lesson

Why Pyrros Dimas can kick your ass

The reward you get from a particular activity is usually proportional to its difficulty. The harder it is, the more you get out of it--in the form of muscle growth, endurance, and speed.

Olympic lifting is one of the hardest activities out there. You're required to move large weights over long distances very quickly.

Why is it hard? A little physics lesson:

Work is equal to the force applied to an object, multiplied by the displacement, multiplied by the cosine of the angle of displacement. The result is a unit called Joules. I know you want to stop reading right now, but don't. You might learn something.

Work = force (N) * displacement (m) * cosine angle of displacement (theta)

When we're talking about O-lifting, the force (pounds/kilograms converted to Newtons) and the displacement (feet/meters) are in the same direction--more or less straight up. The angle of displacement (the difference between the direction of the force and the direction of movement) is zero in this case, and the cosine of zero is one. You should notice that the relationship is linear--the more you lift and the further you lift it, the more work you're doing.

As an example, let's say we move 75 pounds (~34 kg) from the floor to overhead. Let's say the total distance is 7 feet (~2.13 m), and we move the weight at a constant speed. We must apply enough force to overcome gravity. In this case, the force of gravity = 34 kg * 10m/s/s = 340 Newtons. Therefore, to move the weight upward at a constant speed, we have to apply 340 N of upward force.

Work = 340N * 2.13m * cosine 0 = 724.20 Joules

The more weight we move and the further we more it, the more work we do. If the weight was 150 pounds instead of 75, we'd get:

Work = (68 kg * 10m/s/s) * 2.13m * cosine 0 = 1448.40 Joules

Twice as much weight yields twice as much work.

How much weight would a benchpressing bodybuilder have to move to do this much work? Let's say he/she has to move the weight 2 feet (.61m).

1448.40 joules = (x kg * 10m/s/s * .61m * cosine 0)

x = 237 kg (522 pounds)

You can't do that in one rep, unless you spend a whole lot of time at Westside Barbell. For efficiency, you can't beat one C&J with 150 pounds. How many times would you have to bench 150 pounds to do an equal amount of work?

x = 1448.40 J/(68 kg * 10m/s/s * .61m * cosine 0) = 1448.40J/414.8J = 3.5 reps

If we assume a benchpress and a clean and jerk take the same amount of time, the C&J is 3.5 times as efficient!

We've taken into account that we're doing a lot of work, but how much power are we generating? Power is equal to work divided by time. The faster you lift (the less time it takes you), the more power you generate. Power output is measured in watts.

Power = work/time

The components of power:

Power =(force * displacement)/time

Power = force *(displacement/time) = force * velocity

This is intuitive. The stronger you are (force) and the faster you are (velocity), the more powerful you are. You do more work in less time! Sounds Crossfit to me.

Olympic lifting is fast and heavy. It requires a ton of work and a ton of power. You want to be strong and speedy? O-lifting is the answer--it'll get you there. Just remember, no matter how much weight you move, Dimas will always be better than you.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hard Core
A lot of trainees spend a lot of time wishing they were ripped. If you look at mainstream health magazines, like Men's Health or Muscle and Fitness, you'll notice that the covers are dominated by guys with washboard abs and 4% bodyfat. There's a reason for this. It sells magazines! Your average "fitness" enthusiast doesn't give a flying f*ck if you're NSCA certified, RKC certified, or certifiably crazy. They're going to take advice from a person that looks like they want to look.

At Crossfit, we like to think we're a different breed. For the most part, we are. We work harder and faster and we know exactly where you can shove your bodypart split workout. But if anyone tells you that they care exclusively about performance, and not how they look naked, call them out on it. Believe me, they care, Crossfit or not.

You probably do your fair share of situps, but if you do Crossfit, you've noticed that there's no such thing as an "ab exercise". They're all core exercises. There's not a damn thing we do that doesn't call for a strong and dynamic torso. I figure I'm working my core all the time--abs, obliques, erectors, lats, etc. are all constantly engaged. It turns out "engaged" and "ENGAGED" are two different things.

Last night, Will Tagye gave me a hell of a lesson. After the workout, I racked up 135# for a few front squats. A little grease-the-groove kind of thing.

Will: "After you do a few, push press it over your head and take a lap around."
Me: "Um...okay."

I did five front squats, and then I pushed it over my head. So far so good. Then I took my first step, turning as I held the weight at extension, using a clean grip. Holy sh*t. Every muscle in my body fired--hard. My shoulders burned trying to keep the weight extended. My obliques were trying to find a new home closer to my spine. My back was pissed off, and my legs were tenser than Hillary Clinton. I made it about 20 feet.

Welcome to the Will T. Show.

Will: "Try it with a snatch grip." Of course, the damn thing weighs 135 pounds, and it's extended over my head. Not an ideal time to change grips, but I try anyway. I got my right hand out, and lost my balance. I dropped the barbell. I tried to snatch it. I missed, cleaned it, push jerked it, and put it across my shoulders.

Will: "Push press it up with the snatch grip."
Me: "Dude, I'm a little tired right now."

Oh, f*ckin' boo-hoo. I dipped and drove it up from my shoulders. Miraculously, it stayed up. I went for another walk. After 15 feet of full-body muscle contraction, I dumped the bar. I felt like a pussy, but boy...that made an impression.

Situps help get you ripped like the UN helps keep World Peace. What a waste of time. You want to be ripped? Push something above your head at full extension and go for a walk. Throw a few (slow) turns in there.

Next time I feel like doing crunches, I going to push press 135 over my head and go for distance. I'll never make the cover of Men's Health, and I won't care. The satisfaction of knowing I could rip the cover model in half will be enough for me. Plus, I won't have to wax my legs...

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

What've You Got?

If your Crossfit experience has been anything like mine, you’re seeing crazy improvement in all sorts of areas--speed, strength, power, and coordination are all going through the roof. You don’t know exactly how the programming works, and you don’t care. As long as you keep setting PRs, you’re a happy camper.

Sorry, guys. This doesn’t work for me. I’m calling all of you out. I want to know what your goals are and when you’ll get them.

Through this process—making our goals public—I hope we’ll be able to support each other and monitor our collective progress. Whether you’re at Crossfit Boston or out in the Internet ether, you can count on me to light a fire under your ass.

Like Babe Ruth pointing to the stands, or Broadway Joe assuring a Super Bowl victory, I want to see some pomp. What’ve you got?

My goals:

1 month (by 6/9/06)
2.5 x Bodyweight deadlift (425#)
Two consecutive double-unders
Cindy, 16+ rounds

2 months (by 7/9/06)
A sub-six minute mile
Front squat 200#
Snatch 135#
30 consecutive pull-ups

6 months (by 11/9/06)
A sub-minute 400m sprint
A sub-44 minute Murph
Clean & Jerk 160#
Fran, Rx’d, sub-8 minutes

The first trial comes this Thursday, in the form of Cindy. I’ll update the whole world (or at least the three people who read this blog) when the attempts are made.

Post your one month, two month, and six month goals to the Comments section. Don’t leave me hanging!

Git‘er Done

Ever wonder what weight you should be using on your 5 x 5 max effort day? What about the 3 x 3? The 5-3-2-2-2-1-1-1-1?

I recently sought some clarification from Neal Thompson, principal and head masochist at Crossfit Boston. Here’s what I got:

Your 5 rep load should be 80-85% of your one rep max.
Your 3 rep load should be 85-90% of your one rep max
Your 2 rep load should be 92-95% of your one rep max

Of course, your 1 rep load should be at or damn close to 100%. When you’re ramping up to singles, earmark the last rep for a PR attempt. As your 1RM goes up, your other loads should go up in lockstep.

You may need to bring a calculator to the gym, or at least a pen. Don’t worry—the meatheads glaring at you from the Smith machine are only mad because they don’t know what you’re writing down or exactly how to work a calculator.

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Get Your Own

Crossfit makes frequent use of the still rings (I don't know why they call them "still rings"--the things shake more than Keith Richards in rehab). We use them for pullups, pushups, dips, muscleups, levers, etc.

Rings do not provide the same stability as a fixed bar or the floor, requiring the athlete to control the movement in every plane. This makes a ring exercise exponentially more difficult than its normal counterpart. The increased difficulty translates into greater athletic ability. As an added bonus, you can hang rings off just about anything, making them a highly mobile piece of equipment.

Unfortunately, dropping 80 bucks on a pair of rings isn't always an option. If you've got access to a bandsaw and a router, you can make your own pair for $7.99. If you don't have access to these tools, make some new friends.

You'll need:
17" x 17" piece of 5/8" plywood
A compass (the kind that makes circles)
A ruler
A reciprocating saw/bandsaw
A router
Some heavy duty glue/epoxy
A pair of lashing straps (check the load rating)
Athletic tape

We're going to cut out four "half" rings. First, draw quadrants onto your piece of plywood. In each quadrant, make an 8" diameter circle. Be sure to mark the center of each circle. Draw a concentric 6" diameter circle within each 8" circle.

You should now have four rings drawn, each with an 8" outside diameter and a 6" inside diameter. Cut them out using the reciprocating saw/bandsaw. Take your time--the neater your work, better your rings will be.

Take two of the rings (each are half of a single finished ring) and glue them together. Repeat with the remaining pair. You should now have a pair of rings with very sharp edges. This is where the router comes in. After letting the glue set, use the router to take the edges off the rings. Sand the (almost) finished product to your desired smoothness, and paint if desired. I wrapped mine in athletic tape to facilitate grip.

If you've done your homework, this should have costed you exactly nothing. Get scrap plywood from the nearest Vo Tech/dump/construction site and bribe your tool-owning friends with the beer they left in your fridge last weekend. If that doesn't work, threaten them with another lecture on the merits of the Tabata protocol.

The only cost to this project is the lashing straps. I got 13' straps at Home Depot for $7.99. Find somebody in an orange smock and make them do the legwork. Make sure the straps are rated for the load you're putting on them (mine are rated for 200 pounds each).

String the straps through the rings, and find something to hang them off. Then, get on with it. You have rings, and I saved you 70 bucks. Please make the check out to "Cash"...

Speed on Saturday

Today, Sam and I sprinted Summit Path. Right before Washington Square off of Beacon Street, Summit Path consists of a 250 foot vertical rise over about an eight of a mile. There are a ton of steps between the beginning and the end, perhaps 150 or so.

It's a pretty good lung-burner. Because stairs require you to stay on your toes and keep your knees high, they spank the hell out of the quads.

We gave it three tries. The first two were for speed. On the third run I hit every stair. This causes you to remain in a more upright position, and takes more effort than running the stairs two at a time. Sam went for speed every time.

Here are our times. Go faster!

Speed 2:00, 1:53
Every Stair 2:35

Speed 3:09, 2:58, 3:09

Saturday, May 6, 2006

Creative Control

Today, I bought a sledgehammer. The guy at the hardware store asked me if I wanted a bag. I laughed. The girl behind me in line said, "You should at least hide it, so you don't scare anybody."

Evidently, carrying a sledgehammer down Newbury Street on Saturday morning causes the terror alert to go from maroon to royal purple, or some such sh*t. Despite the obvious threat to the general public, no one bothered to ask me what I was going to do with a twenty-pound sledge.

Good thing, too. Telling strangers you're going to use it to hit truck tires usually causes them to give you the evil eye. If
you insist that it will enhance core stability and improve your explosiveness, the reaction doesn't get any better. The funny thing is, I'm not even the first person to use a gigantic hammer for training. I stole the idea, straight up. I don't remember if it was Ross Enamait's idea or somewhere on the Crossfit message board. I'm pretty sure Eugene Allen has mentioned it a couple thousand times.

Creative exercise tends to get you some strange looks. Nonetheless, there are a thousand and one things you can do to become a better athlete, none of which involve spending $79.95 a month on gym dues to some big box, no-squat-rack-having, spandex-clad, please-wipe-down-the-leg-press sh*thole.

Find a hill, and run up the thing. Then run up it faster. There's absolutely no rules that say you can't do pullups on a tree, on a sign, or on your desk at work. You're limited only by your audacity and your creativity. I've got a friend who regularly "boulders" at the Brookline Village T station. There are playgrounds all over the City of Boston, and eight year-olds tend to be very impressed by bodyweight exercises. Deadlift one end of your couch for reps. Find some yuppie running down the street and goad him into a race. Steal his fanny pack if you have to.

Go ahead. Let 'em give you the evil eye. When you clean house at your next community sporting event, all the crazy looks in the world won't matter. You'll just be the beast. I mean best...

Friday, May 5, 2006

Things I Hate

There is something you suck at. I don't care how fit you are. There are exercises out there that make you cringe, because you know they're going to kill your WOD time. For me, all of those exercises revolve around hip extension.

The Crossfit modality constantly stresses hip extension. Your hips are the engine that drives your sprinting, your O-lifting, your kettlebell swings, your kipping pullup...almost everything. A fast hip extension, conducted with proper form, generates a tremendous amount of power. Need a demonstration?

Grab a dynamax ball and a partner. Stand about 20' apart. Try and throw the ball to your partner without using your hips. Pretty pitiful, huh? What the hell is wrong with you? I thought you were an athlete.

Now, extend your hips fully with the ball over your head, arms at extension. Drive forward, bending your hips forcefully, simultaneously throwing the ball to your partner. Try not to knock him over (Nah, screw that. Try and knock him over).

The things I suck at (in no particular order):
Kettlebell Swings
Sumo Deadlift Highpulls

This is not a comprehensive list. I can't play the piano, either.

The first thing you should notice, since I've been ramming it down your throat since the beginning of this post, is that all these exercises involve a forceful hip extension. They also tend to involve heavy weights. They also kill my times on otherwise manageable WODs.

I want to be stronger and faster. I want my O-lifts to inspire awe. I need a badass hip extension. Toward that end, I've come up with a little workout called "Things I Hate".

5 rounds for time:
10 KB swings (1.5 pd)
10 squats (jackhammer them out)
10 DB Snatches (40#, ea. hand)
10 SDHPs (75#)

Remember, this is not a hip thrust in the Wayne's World sense. This is hip extension. Your plane of movement is vertical.

Thanks to Will Tagye for the suggestions regarding the rep scheme. This is all about virtuosity. Do the reps correctly, or don't do them at all. You'll see greater skill transfer from these exercises if they're performed correctly. As we all know, form breaks down as fatigue sets in. Spend your time trying to blast your hips open, not beating the stopwatch.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

The Bear Complex

One mean exercise. The Bear Complex is: A hang squat clean to a thruster to a back squat to a press.

Load your barbell (start light), and use a "clean" grip. Start with the bar on your thighs, with your back retracted and your shoulders in front of the bar. Clean the bar to the rack position as you descend into a front squat. From the hole, explode upward, using your momentum to push the bar over your head to extension (the thruster). Lower the bar behind your head onto your traps. Do a back squat, keeping your chest up and your lumbar curve tight. Use your momentum to press the bar back over your head.

That's one rep, kids. This complex could be the only strength move you ever do, and you'd be light years ahead of the crowd.

Try this:
3 rounds
10 Bear Complexes 95#
20 pushups
40 knee-to-elbows

Scale the weight as necessary. It took me about half-a-very-friggin'-painful hour.

Thinking about Performing

If you train hard, you should think hard. Getting out there and busting your hump is the first step, but it isn't enough to become a great athlete. If you want to be great, I believe you need to think about what you're doing and why you're doing it.

The "why" is the easy part: I work out to live longer, to look better, and to have the wherewithal to win any competition I enter. Maybe not in that order.

I train so I can train harder, faster, and longer. Ask any schmuck at the gym why he/she/it trains, and they'll give you some variation of the "sports and sex" explanation. They want to beat someone at something or look better naked. Ask them what they do to train, and you'll probably get a blank stare followed by a detailed explanation of the last issue of Men's Health or Self Magazine.

You're getting blank stares because the "what" is the hard part. I know what I do athletically--Crossfit, Olympic lifting, speed work, and the occassional competition. Is it the best thing to do? Who knows. It's done a hell of a lot for me, but I'm sure it can be improved upon. There is a dedicated group of professionals in the Crossfit community improving the programming right now. They're thinking about the what and why.

I don't have enough experience with Crossfit to question the cult. The stuff works. What I can question and control is how I implement the program. What days do I workout? Does 3 on, 1 off work for me? What about 2 on, 1 off? Should I be doing a WOD every day, or does Coach Rutman's Black Box program get me closer to my goals? Is the real secret to happiness a steady dose of Tae Bo? I don't have the answer to these questions, but I'm working on it. My answer and your answer aren't going to be the same.

I keep a log in order to help me understand exactly what I'm doing. You can't improve your program if you don't know what your program involves. I'm thinking about what I'm doing.

I recently recognized that my log was nothing more than rounds, reps, loads, and times. Standard Crossfit recordkeeping. It was a handy system--if I'm doing 5 x 5 front squats, I can look at the last time I did them and compare. It just isn't enough.

I'm a quantitative guy. I like data. I like looking for patterns in numbers. Towards that end, I've implemented a system that allows me to quantify the more intangible aspects of training. How do I feel? How hard is this workout? How hard did I work? How long have I had to recover?

Quantifying feelings is a tricky business. The answer to this problem comes from the social sciences. Researchers use something called the Likert scale on a regular basis when conducting surveys. The Likert scale assigns a number value to a subjective rating, and asks the respondent to indicate which number most closely corresponds to their behavior/thoughts.


Please indicate your adherence to the Zone Diet (1-5):
1 (Whadda ya mean Mountain Dew ain't Zone Friendly?) - 5 (Sorry, that chicken will put me over my allocated blocks for the next 6.4 hours)

I implement it like this:
Recovery rating 1 (absolutely fresh) - 5 (ready to die)
Workout rating 1 (that was a workout?) - 5 (the hardest thing ever)
Effort rating 1 (walked through it) - 5 (full focus and intensity)

I also include the number of hours since my last workout. An annotated entry looks like this:
R2W3E3T24. That corresponds to a recovery rating of 2 (relatively fresh), a workout rating of 3 (hard), an effort rating of 3 (got through it), and a time of 24 hours since the last workout.

These ratings, accumulated for each workout over time, should allow me to pick apart what kinds of workouts require what amount of recovery and what type of workout will allow me to maximize my intensity on a given day.

By keeping track of the hours since the last workout, you'll be able to maximize training density. If you have a recovery rating of 1 after 48 hours of rest following a max effort day and a recovery rating of 1 only 24 hours following the same workout on another day, you know you can probably cut down your rest periods. You'll be able to workout again sooner, allowing you to get stronger faster.

Thinking about training will make you a better athlete. After you've managed to get the basics right, refining your program, your nutrition, and your supplementation should be the next step. Quantifying these things with hard numbers will give you insight that a quick note probably won't.

Now quit thinking about training and go do something.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

We don't need no leg press, let the motherf*cker burn...
This is one of my favorite time-constrained workouts. I think my favorite thing about it is that I have to vault the leg press machine and whomever is strapped into it to go from the pullup bar to the rack. They love me at Gold's.

3 rounds for time:
15 Deadlifts, 135# barbell
Sprint 400m
15 pullups

My last recorded time for this one was 12:55. Go faster!
Recover Again Faster
Recovery from intense exercise takes effort. Watching Season Two of 24 while eating half a gallon of ice cream does not provide much in the way of recovery. You will not become Jack Bauer by osmosis.
I'm constantly trying to find ways to recover from my workouts faster. I want my muscles to feel fresh, my balance to be on-point, and my coordination to be top notch. This never happens simply by taking time off.
In my limited experience, there are several things you can do to control your rate of recovery. The faster you recover, the faster you'll add strength and speed. You'll make a ton of progress by packing more training into less time.
The most important recovery tool you have is sleep. Sleeping has a restorative effect on the mind and body. It's a period of time where our bodies attempt to fix all the damage we did to them the day before. There is some evidence in the psychology literature (which I'm too lazy to look up--find it yourself) that lack of sleep has tremendous physiological impact, including increased cortisol levels, and eventually, death. Lack of sleep will mess you up. And not in a good way.
All kinds of things screw with a good night's sleep, but I think the most henious offender is alcohol. If you get hammered on Saturday night, you're not going to set any PRs on Sunday. I don't care if you sleep for 15 hours.
Go to bed well hydrated, with some protein and some fat in your stomach. It'll give your body the fuel it needs to fix all the messed up sh*t you did to it. Workouts like Fight Gone Bad (check section 4.2) are going to tear down muscle fiber and leave you in a really deep neurological hole. Ho-hos and Cheetos are not going to help you climb out of it.
Nutrition is the second most important factor in stimulating recovery. Three words--don't eat junk. Organic vegetables and lean meat have always given me the most benefit for my money. Make sure you're getting enough protein, fat, and carbs to support lean body mass. Under-eating is one of the worst things you can do as an athlete. If you're operating at a calorie deficit, you're not going to pack on muscle. Your progress will stall like a 16 year old girl driving a stick shift. If you're going to workout more, you're going to have to eat more.
Certain activities leave me needing more recovery than others. The Olympic lifts and their subparts (Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Clean, Deadlift, all the Squats) take the most out of me. A true max effort on any of these lifts wallops the hell out of your body. A less neurologically taxing workout, like a speed-strength scheme (i.e. more reps at 50% 1RM) following a max effort day leave you ready to rock until your rest day comes up.
If you can alternate the type of demand you're putting on your body, you'll be able to get in more work. For instance, you could do speed work one day, max effort stuff the next, and a simple metabolic conditioning workout on the third day. You might hit the same muscle group over and over, and even do the same exercise with different loads, but you're asking your muscles to do different things. You'll recover from these workouts quickly, given proper sleep and nutrition.
I'm always experimenting with new ways to recover. The foam roller is next on the list of things to buy and use. I've tried contrast showering, but I've found that ice and compression is the most efficient way to reduce post-workout swelling. I haven't tried massage yet, because Boston is not the cheapest place to find a qualified stranger to rub you down. Nonetheless, if you can find an affordable masseuse, give it a shot.
These ideas aren't earth-shattering, but recovery takes effort. If you want to make progress in the gym, you'll need to pay attention to what you're doing outside of it. And for f*ck's sake, stop doing bicep curls in my squat rack...

Tuesday, May 2, 2006

On Saturday, Sam and I ran stadiums. Fun stuff. The Harvard Stadium is a gigantic horseshoe, with about thirty 20"+ steps. If you ever find yourself over there, try this on for size:
Start at the top in section 19 (aka The Middle)
Sprint to either end of the Stadium along the top of the stands
Down to the bottom
Back up
Sprint back to the middle
Down to the Bottom
Back up
I managed this in 2:43. Not stellar, but I knocked 26 seconds off of my previous time. Sam did the circuit in 3:30. She's tougher than you. Promise.
Then, it was on to the suicide drill from hell. We made this up, and we really shouldn't be allowed to make stuff up.
Start at the goal line
Sprint to the 20 yd line, do 1 burpee
Sprint back to the goal line, 1 burpee
40 yd line, 2 burpees
back to the goal line, 2 burpees
"60" yd line (the other 40, smart guy), 3 burpees
back to the goal line, 3 burpees
"80" yd line, 4 burpees
Back to the goal line, 4 burpees
"100" yd line, 5 burpees
Back to the beginning, 5 burpees
I almost puked. Sam thought that was pretty funny. Then we ran the 400m. For my first ever timed 400, I was pretty happy with 1:09. Why all the sprinting? Activation of the aerobic and anaerobic pathways at the same time has been shown to increase aerobic capacity without sacrificing strength. Technical crap aside, I want to be faster. You can't be faster by going slower. Guaranteed.

This site is dedicated to one thing--athletic performance. This is not your standard bullsh*t. We will not be spinning, doing pilates, debating 8 by 12 rep schemes, or discussing the merits of the South Beach Diet.

My athletic goals revolve around speed and strength. I want to be stronger and faster. If you don't, that's okay. Just don't spend any time posting about the muscle-wasting effects of interval training, or the twelve reasons that working out more than twice a week leads to rare blood disorders. I don't care.

I'm not a trainer, or an expert of any kind. I want every word I read and every site I visit to add to my knowledge. If it doesn't, I'm not spending too much time with it. I hope this site adds to your athletic knowledge. If not, well...don't let the back button hit you in the ass.