Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Finding the Switch

The human body is capable of amazing things. In the past few years, we’ve seen spectacular demonstrations of will—Lance Armstrong winning seven consecutive Tours after a crippling battle with cancer, Curt Shilling blowing out the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS with a bloody sock and a stapled tendon, Kerri Strug landing a gold-medal winning vault in the 1996 Summer Games with a sprained ankle.

We call these performances heroic. Mention “Lance” or “Shill” to any casual sports fan, and they know exactly who you’re talking about. They’ve entered our collective unconscious as heroes, because they were exceptional—strong and unrelenting, they blocked out pain and fatigue to achieve greater glory. We know that lesser athletes would’ve failed, trailing off the lead, hitting the showers early.

They didn’t, and we idolize them for it.

These athletes have a special gift. They know that the limits of human performance are dictated only by the mind, and they tap into this realization to overcome the trivialities of pain, oxygen deprivation, and lactic acid buildup. When the body begs to quit, their minds say “No!”, and the Switch is flipped.

Last night, I was training a client. Halfway into the workout, he stood beneath the pull-up bar, hands on his knees, sucking big gulps of air, and showing no signs of forward progress.

I told him to get back on the bar. We were training the Switch.

He kept going. Finishing the workout a few minutes later, he collapsed off the rower with a familiar mixture of relief and exhaustion. He’d pushed through his body’s protestations, seeing the workout to its end.

The ability to will your body onward through adversity creates athletic monsters. The difference between first and last place in a Crossfit workout doesn’t depend on exercise speed—it depends on how long you rest during the effort.

I’ve watched the video of Greg and Annie pushing through Fran upwards of ten times, trying to decipher the secret of their 2:47 performance. It’s not the speed of movement, (although this does play a part). It’s the lack of rest.

They just don’t stop.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re so damn fit that they’re not winded. Fran isn’t a walk in the park for anyone, these guys included. They work within the same general physical limitations as the rest of us.

Like Lance, Shill, and Strug, these athletes have superb control over the Switch. When their bodies threaten to quit, they turn a deaf ear. They’ve refined this capability at ever-increasing levels of fatigue, making the Switch an instinctual response.

At first, the Switch requires conscious effort. As you stand beneath the pull-up bar, seemingly incapable of another rep, go ahead and get on the bar. Do it before you think you’re ready.

It doesn’t involve too much coherent thought. Just go.

To find your Switch, you need to eliminate the idea of personal incapability from your thoughts. If your body fails you, so be it, but don’t let your mind be the source of your limitations. Don’t think “I can’t.”

Think “I will.”

Practice this. Once a workout, keep going when you want to stop. As you accumulate experience flipping the Switch, the process will become automatic. You’ll rest much less, and your workout times will go through the roof.

In essence, you’ll trick your body’s defense mechanisms into remission. With time, they won’t kick in as easily, and you’ll work harder and longer. Your fitness will reflect your increased power output.

Go ahead. Flip the Switch. You can thank me later.

Picture of Kerri Strug courtesy of Shilling's ankle courtesy of Stop by tomorrow for the first look at this Sunday's Again Faster Weekend Workout. It'll be good. I promise.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Climb High

Every once in a while, you see something that’s more beautiful than anything you’ve ever seen before. The Northern Lights over New Hampshire. My first night game at Fenway. The Shawangunk Mountains.

All beautiful places, full of light and texture. Of course, they didn’t let me play at Fenway, and I was eleven the last time I saw the Northern Lights. Beauty is ephemeral, and I have a new favorite.

To the untrained eye, the Gunks aren’t especially special. They pale in elevation to the Rockies, and the greenery isn’t anywhere near as verdant as the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest. Yet when we pulled into the base of the Mohunk Reservation, I was enthralled.

A rock they call the Near Trapps looms over a picturesque and under-populated valley, reflecting the sun and crying out to be climbed. If you can rip your gaze away from the cliff, you can see all the way to the horizon. It’s enough to make you want to grow a beard and call in dead.

“Sorry, boss…I mean, um…Mrs. Garcia. Jon died in a horrible accident. Funeral? No, no funeral. He wanted it that way. No, this isn’t Jon. Yes, I know we sound alike…”

We came to climb, so I was pretty surprised when we walked up the mountain away from the Near Trapps. In my trance-like state, I’d failed to notice an equally impressive cliff to my left. There is a limited supply of climbable rock on this Earth, and the Gunks seem to have negotiated an unfair share.

We walked away from the base, tight-roping dangerously close to turnpike traffic. We made a sharp right up a gravel ramp, turning onto an incredibly well-maintained trail. At 9:00 a.m. on a Wednesday, foot traffic was pretty scarce, and the park ranger looked awfully bored as Marcia paid the access fee, using the bed box of an abused pickup truck to fill out the necessary forms.

John led us down the trail, past a thousand feet of perfect rock. I was staring out into the valley, wondering why we hadn’t stopped, when our leader cut left through the woods.

Evidently, we weren’t high enough yet.

Lugging three ropes, all our gear, and enough water to satisfy a dehydrated elephant, we climbed to the base of Twin Oaks. The climb was a 5.3, but I was about to be handicapped.

On our walk, I wondered how one goes about securing top-ropes to a cliff with no obvious means of access. To date, I’d only climbed in two places, both of which allow the climber to walk to the top, place anchors, and walk back down.

John answered my unspoken question with a question.

“Who wants to help me out?”

“I’ll do it.” I volunteer for vague assignments awfully easily. John led the climb, placing protection in a wandering vertical crack, clipping in his belay rope as he went. When he topped out, he placed an anchor and sent the loose end of the rope down for me to tie into.

My assignment: climb Twin Oaks with two ropes tied to my harness and a full rack of slings and carabiners looped around my chest. Secure two additional top ropes, and rappel back down. No sweat.

As I took my first tentative holds, I thought of the irony of dragging two ropes behind me. They functioned exactly like the chains on my AF bar, weighing more and more as I got higher and higher. This was going to be fun.

I was juiced with adrenaline as I scaled the face. My body was unaware of the safety afforded me by my belayer on the ground as I moved upward, but I had the advantage of being absolutely fresh and excited at the prospect of a quick rappel.

I made the top, meeting John and setting one of our three anchors. Satisfied with the state of things, I clipped in for the rappel. Both sides of the rope passed through my belay plate and secured with a locking carabiner, I moved toward the edge.

The down-rock end of the rope was in my left hand, serving as a brake as I stepped backward off the top. A few seconds later I was on the ground, where Nick, Sammy, and Marcia were waiting for the opportunity to climb.

Rock climbing requires a lot of skills that I don't have. Balance, agility, coordination, and the ability to plan for the future are all required. Strength and power take a backseat, the lonely stepchildren on the journey to the top.

As Nick and Marcia climbed Cedar Locks, a 5.5 crack climb, Sam and I messed around on the first pitch of Madame G's, a route that begins with an intricate overhang. Negotiating overhangs requires tremendous pulling power and flawless technique.

Pulling power I've got. Technique--not so much. I had failed three times when Sam joined in the effort. She gave it one shot, and then quickly moved to the right, where the route actually starts.

She's not as stubborn than I am.

We abandoned the overhang and climbed the 5.4 pitch. I concentrated on foot placement and balance as I moved up the rock. I repeated the climb three times, each time finding it easier and easier.

Like Crossfit, rock climbing demands mastery of new skills. Making the climb means nothing if you don't learn something along the way. You can muscle your way up a face, but the effort looks amateur next to the climbing of a graceful veteran.

John Knight has been climbing for at least several decades. He flies up faces that vex me, and he does it with style. If you put the two of us in a foot race, I'd win. In rock climbing, he will always be my superior.

The reason is simple. Developing speed, strength, and power requires relatively little. Train hard, using the right program, and virtually anyone can become quick and strong. On the other hand, developing skill requires extensive practice.

"...improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility come about through training. Training refers to activity that improves performance through a measurable organic change in the body. By contrast, improvements in coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy come about through practice. Practice refers to activity that improves performance through a change in the nervous system..."-Crossfit Journal, Number Two.

I have the former skill-set, John the latter. In my own experience, acquiring coordination, agility, and balance requires a greater time commitment that achieving endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility, but both skill-sets are necessary to achieve our end goal. According to the same Crossfit Journal:

"Power and speed are adaptations of both training and practice."

Practice we would. We hit two more climbs on Wednesday, scaling Hyjek's Horror and the first pitch of Columbia. Both were beyond my abilities, coming in at 5.8(-) and 5.7, respectively. Nonetheless, I got great practice on some new skills, including some hand and foot crack jamming.

We left the Reservation tired and hungry. Several beers and one great meal later, we turned in for the night.

The next morning, we retraced our steps up the side of the Mountain, stopping on the wide gravel path by the entrance. John and Marcia set up the ropes as I waited with Nick and Sam. I'd spent the previous evening at the hotel, pouring over climbing magazines from the mid-80s, drawing inspiration from the feats of men who were now becoming fathers and grandfathers. They were frozen in time, wearing garish tights, and clinging steadfast to impossibly tiny holds. They were my heroes for today, and I contemplated the images they'd left as I waited to climb.

A new skill reared its head as Sammy and I set up on Black Fly, a twisting 5.5 that begins with a layback. Sam instinctively mastered the move, climbing the 90-degree corner with arm tension and a powerful grip.

I had slightly more trouble. I tried the layback three times, failing with each attempt. I walked away, disheartened.

As I watched Nick climb the Brat, I thought about what I was doing. I had quit, and I hadn't made the apex. It wouldn't stand.

I tied in, and jammed my hands into the finger crack at the base of Black Fly. With Sam coaching, I threw my left foot against the wall, and then my right. Arms fully extended, I inched my way up the crack, walking upward. Ecstatic, I made the top and reached upward for the final move to the main face.

One by one, I watched John and Marcia master Handy Andy (5.7) and the Brat (5.6), each climb proving too hard for me. I almost made the anchor on the Brat, but failed as my right calf filled with lactic acid, refusing to move.

At this point in the game, failure and success were relative. I had succeeded in learning several new skills, and I was scaling faces that would have made me feel foolish at the beginning of the summer.

Now we were having fun.

While Sam and I played on The Brat, John set up a climb in the deep recesses of the crag. Easy Keyhole was a 5.2, but it gave us exposure to a type of climb we'd never seen. Straddling car-sized gaps in the rock, Sammy and I climbed up the face, pausing to negotiate a roof three-quarters of the way up.

What the climb lacked in difficulty, it made up for with novelty. The top contained an off-route overhang that demanded my attention. I spent fifteen minutes trying to pull my way over the three foot obstacle, scraping my back and hands on the sharp detrius of several thousand years. I didn't make it, but I gave it a heck of an effort.

Worn from two days of hard gripping and intense focus, I settled in to watch Marcia negotiate Handy Andy. She has outstanding strength and a ceaseless dedication to becoming a better climber. On rock, Marcia is a joy to watch.

As the sun filtered through the trees, we moved to Red Cabbage, the hardest climb of the day at 5.9. I observed as John gave a silent tutorial on economical climbing. He moves with certainty, never pawing at the rock or straining his movements. His talent is borne of patience and practice, and it's worth emulating.

Red Cabbage is reminiscent of an old castle wall. Although my exposure to castles comes solely through crappy Sean Connery movies, the block-like structure of the face brought me back to older times.

Following John's great climb, Samantha gave it hell. She made the anchor after three falls, leaving everything on the wall. She kept at it long after a lesser woman would have given up. When she reached the ground her hands were too smoked to pull her safety knot apart.

I got a final opportunity to rappel on the Mohunk Reservation, cleaning the anchor from the top of Red Cabbage. I let long lengths of rope zip through my brake hand, bounding off the face and catching myself with a controlled knee bend. We had climbed for two days, and they'd gone by like a ten-second rappel.

We packed up and wandered back to the base area, spent and ready for a few more beers.

The Gunks are gorgeous, and they'll be the most beautiful place in my mind until something else takes the throne. Learning new skills in an idyllic setting with great friends is about as good as it gets.

I might find something more beautiful, but I have a feeling it might be a while.

Go faster!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Cleaning Faster

The squat clean is complicated. Extension. High pull. Drop under. Catch. Stand up.

It's a lot to deal with.

This morning, Marcia, Jo, Patrick and I put in some much-needed practice. We began with Coach Burgener's warmup, using 8 ounces of PVC to mimic the demands of hundreds of pounds of metal and rubber.

The warmup starts with the snatch grip. The bar lies in the groove of the hips, just above the pubic bone, with the hands as wide as possible. The athlete sinks into the hang position, with the bar resting mid-thigh, the knees bent, and the torso completely vertical.

For the first three repetitions, the arms remain straight as the athlete goes to triple extension, unbending the knees, extending the hips vertically, and shrugging violently.

"One, two, three..."

The next three reps add the high pull to this sequence. The elbows stay above the hands, pulling up and out as the bar comes to chest level.

"Four, five, six..."

Then, the muscle snatch. Triple extension, high pull, and the bar snaps overhead. The snatch is caught in a fully upright position--there is no rebend of the knees, and the bar is eight to twelve inches above the head, elbows locked out.

"Seven, eight, nine."

On to the snatch balance. The bar sits across the shoulders with the feet in the landing position, a few inches outside the hips. The athlete presses down into an overhead squat, hitting the bottom position just as the arms reach full extension. During this movement, the bar shouldn't move. It stays at the same level regardless of the athlete's elevation.

We finished the warmup with the heaving snatch balance. The movement begins with a dip and a drive to triple extension. The athlete then drops under the bar as quickly as possible, landing in a full squat with the arms locked. Again, the athlete should reach the bottom position just as the arms reach full extension. In both the balance and the heaving balance, the athlete stands up with the bar overhead before resuming the start position.

The Burgener Warmup is a great progression through the sub-movements of the snatch, and if you know the snatch, you know the clean. The only difference lies in the width of the grip and the height of the catch. The clean grip is a thumb's width outside the hips, and the bar is caught in the rack position rather than overhead.

Our epic battle with the clean would take us through 20 rounds, each round encompassing 30 seconds of cleaning and 30 seconds of rest. To reinforce the the versatility of the clean, we used three different means of resistance--a barbell, a bumper plate, and a Dynamax ball.

Although we advertised the workout as a clean and jerk sequence, I eliminated the jerk entirely, focusing on the first portion of the lift. We went through 5 rounds on the bar, 5 on the plate, 5 on the ball, and another 5 on the bar.

The plate clean is a unique teaching tool. The shape of the plate eliminates the possibility of a reverse curl, highlighting the need to create weightlessness on an object in order to pull under and execute a successful catch. The athlete learns to temporarily relinquish control of the weight as he/she switches grip from overhand to underhand, eliminating the uncertainty that comes with letting go of hundreds of pounds of resistance when the clean is done with a loaded barbell.

The Dynamax Ball clean requires the athlete to start with a neutral grip rather than a pronated grip. This creates the need to elevate the elbows upward and outward to create room for the pull under, reinforcing the "elbows above hands" dynamic.

While we did the barbell cleans from the hang, the plate and ball cleans were done from the ground.

The clean is a skill. It demands a lot of practice, and its intricacies require constant attention to form. It tends to break down in two principal areas: the rebend and the pull under.

The rebend allows the athlete to orient the torso vertically for the violent second pull. A less-than-vertical torso limits the athlete's ability to transfer power to the bar, limiting momentum and elevation, and increasing the depth required for a successful catch.

The pull under must be lightning-fast. The need for speed requires a lack of fear from the athlete. As the weight on the bar increases, the athlete must maintain confidence in his/her ability to catch the bar. Unfortunately, we're wired for self-preservation, and convincing our minds that our bodies are capable of catching hundreds of pounds in a full-squat can be difficult. Constant repetition creates confidence.

Marcia and Jo did an admirable job for all twenty rounds, switching between implements seamlessly. While they worked, Patrick and I spent some time working the sub-movements of the clean--the starting position, the first pull, the second pull, and the front squat.

Everyone did a great job. I appreciate the commitment to excellence. As we know, mechanics come before mastery, and the willingness to struggle through difficulty is the mark of progress.

Next week we'll be back at the Pond, rain or shine, continuing our pursuit of Crossfit excellence. If you're in the area, stop by. We'd love to have you.

Go faster!

Check out Again Faster tomorrow afternoon for coverage of our recent rock climbing trip to upstate New York. We had a great time refining balance, flexibility, and strength on the cliffs of the Shawangunk Mountains.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Cleaning House

This Sunday, the Again Faster Weekly Workout Series will meet at Crossfit Boston. Once again, the threat of rain has forced us inside.

We'll be working on the clean and jerk this week. This movement is undoubtedly the most useful combination of pulling and pushing on the planet. Mastering the technique will allow you to pick up almost any reasonably-sized object and put it above your head. The applications are endless.

The range-of-motion is unparalleled in sports and training. Nowhere else will you have the opportunity to move a weight more than six feet in a few seconds. The monstrous displacement and heavy load of the clean and jerk demands power, speed, and strength on a Hurculean level.

In "A Physics Lesson: Why Pyrros Dimas Can Kick Your Ass", I calculated the power output of the clean and jerk to be roughly 3.5 times that of the bench press, assuming the same weight was used in both exercises. The clean and jerk has power output in spades.

Proper technique goes a long way. You can't fake a bodyweight clean without significant risk to your structural health. Since I'm a big fan of healthy athletes, we're going to develop proper technique with a variety of objects. The weight will change, but the principles of the movement remain the same.

Clean & Jerk, 5 minutes per object, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off:

Bumper Plate
Dynamax Ball

You'll be working for a total of twenty 30-second intervals, while your partner looks on. We'll be using Coach Glassman's silent scoring system. Your partner will record your completed reps, giving you 1 point for a properly executed C&J and no points for a flawed attempt. HQ found that this system ensures attention to good technique.

You'll be rated on the following:


Hook grip (barbell only)
Triple extension
Full squat


Bent-knee landing
Proper split stance
Full arm extension (no press)
Proper return to standing

This week promises to be productive, and a ton of fun. If you haven't been exposed to silent scoring, this is your opportunity.

The Facility is located at 123 Terrace St., Roxbury Crossing, MA, two blocks from the Orange Line. If you need a hand finding us, drop me an email using the "Contact Again Faster" link in the right-hand sidebar. We'll meet at 8:00 a.m. sharp.

Our Sunday Session is absolutely free, and we always welcome new participants. Come learn the most functional move out there with some of the most dedicated athletes in Massachusetts!

Go faster!

Olympic photo courtesy of the BBC. Surf to Again Faster on Monday for full coverage of this weekend's workout, and a feature article on rock climbing in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Eat The Biggest Frog First

On Tuesday, I published “For Love of the Game”. In response to my post, Will Tagye created an epic comment that transcended the traditional comment board. I thought I’d share it with you.

Will is a good friend, a philosopher, a warrior, and the walking embodiment of everything that is right in the world of elite fitness.

He sent me this diatribe via email, the subject line reading: “Great post!” His comments deserve the same moniker.

I too originally came to rip off some knowledge and then head back to my own gym. I was sold 5 min into “Chelsea”, and now I have my own facility. I think, for the people that truly want self- improvement, the connection is almost immediate. One week and they see, and in actuality, feel what it is all about. It is the missing link.

On a similar note I was speaking with small business person who works with children and I was amazed at how strongly opposed to competition the parents are. They are opposed to the extent that she wasn't allowed to have any sort of ranking or competition at all. How are children supposed to learn to deal with failure or being a good loser if they are all "winners"? In fact, what value does being the best have if there is no recognition? Why improve if it is for no reason?

Some of the best lessons come from picking yourself up after being knocked down. Has society become so sensitive that the fragile ego of a first grader finishing last in a foot race is too much to bear? Should we tell this child that he still won the race and forget the effort of the people who finished ahead?

This whole concept is appalling to me. The thing I love about CrossFit is that we do recognize the fastest time and we do build competition within the classes, but we do it for improvement. Having a “Fran” time 5 seconds slower than someone else drives me to improve. If we didn't record this, we could not congratulate ourselves as we became stronger and faster.

Generally, that person with the fastest time gets a high five or a hand shake and a "great work", but the person finishing last gets the support of the entire team. Shouts of encouragement, pats on the back and true team support are pouring on in an inverse relationship to the finishing ranks. It is almost the antithesis of what is considered the norm, but it is for two reasons. It is humility and high expectations.

Let's talk a little about humility. Almost everyone has been last, and almost everyone has been first. We all know what it feels like to drag yourself through a workout that makes you want to throw down the weights and storm off. Fighting the urge to scream out swears that would make a sailor blush or just holding back the tears. These experiences are essential. This is where growth comes from. This is where you will find enlightenment.

I may squat a lot but when I see a lot of running on the board I just cringe. 200 meter repeats, OK I can deal. 400 meter repeats, this is going to hurt a bit. 800, Please God make my ankle break in the first 5 steps. Mile repeats, I'm coaching! So guess what that means--that is probably what I need to do the most.

Dan John likes to say "When you have a plate of frogs to eat, eat the biggest one first." Everyone there has had a plate of frogs to eat so when they watch someone shoveling down that big one they all know how tough it is. That is why when we are running up and down the block the CrossFitters I pass give me a "good job Will" but not many people have enough wind to yell up to Eva Claire.

Now let's look at expectations, especially high expectations. When I get my “Fran” time a few seconds faster I get happy and I enjoy seeing my time on the board. But you know what? That’s what is supposed to happen. I am good at “Fran” so everyone expects me to improve. This is why we look to the people that are struggling and pour on the support. Now that the people who "can" are out of the way, the real test begins. When people step up to the plate and push through exhaustion or grit their teeth and get a new PR on something that they have been struggling with, that is the time to celebrate. What is better: 35 consecutive pull-ups or a first pull-up, or even more so the first 2 consecutive pull-ups?

High expectations are what keep us from becoming specialized. I bet if I tried I could be a “Fran” ninja--a “Fran” ninja that ran like sh*t. Unfortunately, real life doesn't revolve around thrusters and pull-ups. High expectations allow us to focus on those that are really pushing themselves and keep us from focusing on only what we are best at.

The real world has all kinds of demands and we need to try to make our training reflect that. If you are a powerlifter, then by all means train to be a powerlifter. I am just an everyday guy, but I want to be an elite everyday guy. I want to be very good at everything. I want to be able to run in a 5k and be able to pick up heavy stuff. I don't have to win the 5k, but I would like to at least be near the front. I don't have to be able to pick up everything I see, but I would like to know how to do it in the most safe and biomechanically efficient manner.

That is what CrossFit is all about, improving yourself while all the people around you support one another. Competition is fine and it happens in the real world. What makes CrossFit unique is that while we still compete, respect is earned through effort not rankings. It is only with humility, high expectations, and the camaraderie built through laughter and agony can you find this.

Ever wonder why boxers hug each other after spending rounds and rounds beating each other, or why rugby teams all drink together after spending an entire game cheap-shoting each other? Come to a CrossFit near you and find out.

It is a beautiful thing.

Photo courtesy of Neal Thompson and Crossfit Boston. I never get sick of posting that picture!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

For Love of the Game

Last night, as we were pulling up to the Facility, Sam articulated a thought that I’d taken for granted.

Sitting in the chalk-stained interior of her car, surrounded by old sneakers and discarded espresso cups, and she told me she loved Crossfit.

“Unlike anything else,” she said, “I’ve never regretted coming here.”

I knew exactly what she meant, and it has relatively little to do with the outward effects of fitness. It isn’t a product of weight loss, or muscle tone, or the cosmetic changes of intense exercise. The love of Crossfit is a love of community, character, and achievement.

I came to Crossfit Boston with the intention of learning a few things and jetting. I didn’t know how to perform a pistol, a thruster, or a handstand push-up, and I needed to learn. I figured I’d pay for a month or two, and head back to Gold’s with my newfound knowledge.

By my second class, I was hooked. These people didn’t pay lip service to hard work—they lived it. In a small yoga studio in Brookline Village, we cranked out Cindy and Fran and crazy sh*t like “Chaos II” and “My Pet Rock”. Every time through, we pushed the envelope of an ever-evolving skill set.

I’d sit outside the non-descript steel door, headphones blaring, waiting for Neal to come down the hallway. Listening to Rob Zombie, Staind, and Slipknot, I’d get so excited that my legs would shake, betraying my desire to tackle the workout.

I was usually alone, showing up a full hour before class. Time dragged in that little hallway, sitting beside the empty ice cream cooler, but I knew the wait was worth it. When Neal finally rolled in, ten or fifteen minutes before the start, we’d exchange a few words. I never told him just how excited I was, but he knew.

Back then, we used to do the full Crossfit warm-up every day. Fifteen reps of the Samson stretch, pushups, sit-ups, ring pull-ups, squats, and good mornings, three times through. It was a workout in itself, and good practice for the real work to come.

During my second go-round, the crew would filter in. Erin and Genny, Jack, Sam, Mark, Mike, and Alex would walk in, dutifully starting their squats as Neal attempted to make the decrepit radio come to life.

I learned a lot of things in that room. Back levers, push presses, and deadlifts were only the beginning. We squatted, and dipped, and ran in the street outside, Station Street to Kent Street to Harvard and back. It might have been 600 meters or it might have been 500. We didn’t really care. It was somewhere to run.

I wanted to win so badly. I wanted to turn in the best time or the highest weight or the most reps. Once in a great while I’d succeed, and it would be enough to keep me pushing hard. Back then, I thought it was about winning. It wasn’t.

It was about character. I ended every class in a puddle of sweat and a haze of confusion, my body deprived of oxygen despite my big gasping breaths. We pushed through the fatigue, and the ever-present threat of dehydration, finishing workouts even when our bodies begged to quit. We weren’t trying to lose ten pounds or get our bodyfat below ten percent—we were trying to become better people. We were developing the capability to overcome adversity, to push our bodies and our minds beyond our self-imposed limitations.

Crossfitters are some of the best people on earth. Not because of their wealth or status or celebrity, but because of their willingness to push on. Our pursuit rewards perseverance just as it punishes the weak-willed. If you are without fortitude you will not make it here. The people I’ve met are the reason I stay.

When you’re in a room full of people giving their best, you draw from their strength, and they from yours.

It looks like a competition on the outside, but in reality, we are all in it together. We share every agonizing moment, and we come out the other side better for the experience.

We realize that we become better when the competition is better.

Samantha has it right. I love Crossfit, and I’ll never regret becoming a member at Crossfit Boston. Records have been broken, and friendships have been formed, and I have Crossfit to thank for all of it.

To those who know exactly what I’m talking about, thank you for being there. If you don’t know, come find out what it’s like to play for the love of the game.

Go faster!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ring Work

The governing body of international gymnastics (FIG) puts the muscle-up in the same category as tying your shoes and breathing. It's an "A" skill, as easy as they come. Elite gymnasts perform the muscle-up as an afterthought--a convenient way to get on top of the rings.

Unfortunately, it requires a bit more effort from the rest of us.

On Sunday, we met at Crossfit Boston to work the sub-skills of the movement--pullups, dips, and a monster kip. Toby, Patrick, Marcia, Dave, Tara, and Dawn came for the lesson.

As the sole athlete in the room capable of a muscle-up, Dave demonstrated our end goal. Taking a false grip, he pulled through the transition smoothly and pressed to extension above the rings. He then proceeded to wreck the workout, turning in a sub-10:00 time for:

3 rounds

20 Knee-to-elbows
15 Dips
10 False-grip pullups
5 Beck's burpees

Skill development works. We neglected to tell Patrick that muscle-ups are hard, and he proceeded to bang out four in a row. Evidently, the muscle-up is an "A" move after all.

Never satisfied, Dave and I spent some time practicing the snatch. Dave's got a quick pull, and he gets under the bar just as fast. Like the muscle-up, the snatch is a technically demanding, multi-joint exercise, involving a pull and a strong push.

We've moved our focus toward skill development. Each weekend, we'll pick a feat and work toward it, couching the effort in a metabolically challenging workout. If you've got something you'd like Again Faster to incorporate, let me know.

Integrating new skills is just as important as refining existing ones, and it's time to step it up.

Go faster!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Get Some

This Sunday’s workout is geared towards getting you where you want to be—on top of the rings, looking down on the world, grinning ear-to-ear at your first muscle-up.

For those who don’t know, the muscle-up is a combination movement, consisting of a pullup, a transition, and a dip to support.

The muscle-up is extremely functional. If you ever have to climb a wall or scale a ledge, you’ll realize the utility in a hurry. I’ve done modified versions of the muscle-up while rock climbing. It’s known as a “mantle”, and it’s a great way to devour vertical feet.

The beginning muscle-up relies on a strong kip. The kip is hip-driven, so we’ll dedicate some time to hip flexion and extension. Violent hip extension gives you the necessary momentum to carry yourself through the transition phase of the muscle-up.

The workout is deceptively simple, but the effort will get you one step closer to the goal.

3 rounds for time:
20 KTE
15 Dips
10 False Grip Pullups
5 Beck’s Burpees

After the workout, we’ll give it the old college try. The muscle-up club needs a few new members.

We’ll meet at 8:00 a.m. at Jamaica Pond. If you haven’t experienced an Again Faster workout, this is your week. Come check us out—you can shoot me an email using the “Contact Again Faster” link in the right-hand sidebar. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.

Our community gets bigger and better every week. I hope you can join us.

Go faster!

Photo courtesy of Tyler Hass and Tyler sells gymnastics rings through his company, His rings are the de facto choice for the serious Crossfitter.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Top Out

There's a quote floating around, attributed to Plato or Socrates or some other forefather of western philosophy: Wisdom is knowing you know nothing.

There's a fitness analog to this fortune-cookie advice. True fitness comes from realizing there are things you suck at.

There is danger in success. You set a personal record, or two, or three, and then you start beating other people's records too. Pretty soon, you're on top of the mountain.

Wake up. It's a pretty small mountain.

The most beautiful thing about Crossfit is the vastness of the program. You can power clean 1.5 times bodyweight, do 100 pushups in a row, hold the all-time, all-world, master-of-the-universe record for Fran, and if you still can't hold a decent handstand, you've got work to do.

A little while back, I was working on a strength program. It was full of squats, deadlifts, weighted pullups, and presses.

Six weeks into the program, I was at Crossfit Boston, doing some Romanian deadlift/clean pull combination. During one of the impossibly long 3-5 minute breaks, Neal told me to stop.

"You don't need upper-body strength. The jerks and presses are building what you already have. You don't need any more weighted pullups."

Being the stubborn bastard that I am, I came back with a real zinger:

"I like weighted pullups."

What an idiot. After 30 seconds of open-mouthed wonder, I realized he was right. I was catering my workouts to my strengths. In the last month and a half, I hadn't done a single thing to correct my weaknesses. Not one double-under, handstand, or front roll had graced the pages of my workout log.

The solution was blindingly obvious. I need to do the things I suck at until I no longer suck at them.

Neal told me to finish the program. "After that," he said, "you're mine. We're going to do everything you hate."

I didn't finish the program. The next morning, I was back with my fellow Crossfitters, grinding out "Tabata This".

The Crossfit North Athletic Skill Standards are a great tool for assessing your strengths and weaknesses. They establish standard levels of proficiency across the Crossfit curriculum, rating athletes according to ability. If you find that you fall short in any category, you should concentrate your efforts there.

I'll be working on handstands, l-sits, muscle-ups, pistols, double-unders, overhead squats, and a 6-minute mile. What are you going to do?

Go faster!

The view from the top of Everest. Photo courtesy of

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Twenty Seconds At A Time

Four new faces graced Again Faster this weekend. Lionel, Al, Porter, and Frank came out to the Pond for a dose of Tabatas.

They joined Josh, Jo, Thor, Sam, and me for a five-round bout. We included sledge swings, pullups, pushups, situps, and squats in our rendition of "Tabata This".

The Tabata Interval is 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. We applied the interval to all five exercises, building aerobic capacity and power generation. The Tabata Interval is unique in its ability to tax and improve the aerobic and anaerobic systems simultaneously.

Our newbies pushed hard. They all posted scores on par with our veteran Crossfitters. We used a unique scoring system, combining the lowest and highest interval scores for each exercise to arrive at the final score. For a detailed explanation of the system, see "Tabata Fantasy", posted last Thursday.

As you can see, these guys have a solid bodybuilding background, and they like to push the envelope. Lionel came to Again Faster with the stated goal of getting ripped and building his work capacity. That we can do.

Tabata Intervals are a rude awakening for the uninitiated. The duration of the intervals precludes recovery. Muscles stay bathed in lactic acid, and 10 seconds of rest doesn't allow the heart rate to drop significantly. This combination is unparalleled at building local muscular endurance.

The sledge swings were a nice addition to the Tabata protocol, adding some hip flexion to the mix. As always, hitting stuff with a hammer proved popular.

This one was over quickly, with the final interval ending at 24 minutes flat. Recovery took significantly longer, and Lionel got a great introduction to the effects of excessive lactic acid in the bloodstream. Your t-shirt is on the way, buddy!

Thanks to the guys for coming out from Raye's Garage Gym in Dorchester, and to the Crossfit Boston folks, as always. I had a great time. See you all next weekend.

Go faster!