Thursday, December 28, 2006

Taking the Long View

Yesterday, I was looking though my workout log and laughing at my goals from last March. In Lilliputian black scrawl, it looks like this:

“Goals: Sub-8:00 Fran w/ 65#, move up to 95# as soon as achieved. Sub-21:00 three mile run, need to add distance to current runs—1 day/week. 425# deadlift = 2.5x bodyweight. C&J 135#. Snatch like a pro w/ 45# bar.”

Aside from the “snatching like a pro” thing, I’ve decimated these goals. Without a doubt, the reason is increased power output over time. This invariably correlates to increased fitness, as we’ve demonstrated again and again.

Let’s take a look. I’m going to compare the power outputs of a typical three workout cycle in March with those of a similar cycle in December. (I haven’t performed these calculations beforehand, so the results will be a surprise.)

We’ll take three workouts from each month, selected to make the calculations relatively easy.

Using a “Fran” time of 8:35, a “Grace” time of 16:00 (using a 65 and 95 pound barbell, respectively), and an “Angie” time of 28:38, we get an average of 34.80 ft-lbs/second for the month of March.

In December, a 20 minute AMRAP (5 press/5 push press/5 push jerk) with a 75-pound barbell, a 5:56 “Fran”, and a 9-round “Chelsea” yield an average output of 77.50 ft-lbs/second.

Clearly, my power output has increased dramatically in nine months. This wasn’t entirely intentional. Rather, it’s the product of following the Crossfit Method and incorporating all kinds of strength movements, a la the ME Black Box.

I encourage you use a similar long-term perspective when examining your performance. Day-to-day, we get caught up in the psychology of fitness. Single performances suck, and our body image can dictate our attitude toward fitness. Nonetheless, training is not accomplished over days and weeks, but rather over months and years. Individual efforts add up to something more in the long run.

There is an assumption underlying this principal—you’ve got to keep training. This requires you to remain injury-free. If you’re feeling it everywhere, take some time off. Remember that one day without training is better than two months in rehabilitation.

Take your training log, wander over to the Performance Menu Power Output Calculator, and do some number crunching of your own. Hopefully, your results will encourage you to take the long view.

Go faster!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The First Entry

Matt Mendonza, climber and all-around good guy, submitted the first entry in the Again Faster "Win My Sh*t" Contest. Here it is, sans audio. What ever you were saying, Matt, I'm sure it was funny:

You have five short days to film your own entry and upload it to YouTube. We're looking for the most spectacular, innovative, and original example of pulling strength and endurance you can commit to video.

The winner will be announced on January 2nd.

Go faster!

P.S. I got this email from Matt today in reference to Friday's post, "It Still Doesn't Count". I laughed my ass off.

My roommate and I read againfaster and crossfit and gym jones regularly, and as a general rule for working out any time someone doesn't give everything they have, or they don't use full range on exercises, we always refer to Twight throwing an ice axe in their chest or head depending on the seriousness of the offense. Most people assume we are crazy, but it was mind blowing to load up againfaster and see this quote at the bottom.

"Picture courtesy of Gym Jones. Twight would be livid at the sh*t form I saw this morning, and he carries ice axes."

It has basically affirmed the fact that mark twight is like the santa claus of crossfit, he knows when you have been naughty or nice, and he carries ice axes to deal with the slackers.


Friday, December 22, 2006

It Still Doesn't Count

This morning, I witnessed one of the most piss-poor examples of virtuousity ever exhibited during a Crossfit Boston session. My exhortations to use a complete range of motion fell on (mostly) deaf ears as my colleagues pushed for "Chelsea" PRs, and it reminded me of a little article I wrote back in May. Rather than rephrasing an old truth, I thought I'd give you the original. Chest to deck, maggot!

"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.

Picture courtesy of Gym Jones. Twight would be livid at the sh*t form I saw this morning, and he carries ice axes.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thank You

Christmas is a few days away, and 2006 is almost in the books.

It’s been a fabulous year, and Crossfit has given me opportunities that I never would’ve envisioned in April. Back then, I was a month outside of a two-year Peace Corps stint, with no intention of staying in Boston. South America was a likely destination.

As fate would have it, a simple website and a beautiful girl changed all that. I started ranting, and pretty soon we had group workouts going. A few months later we printed some t-shirts, built some pull-up bars, and had more group workouts. I met Dave and Tara Picardy and Dawn-Adam Brown of Crossfit Topsfield, and we got together every week to kill ourselves with fitness.

In May, Sam dragged me to the crag and strapped an old harness and some rock shoes on my beaten body. She introduced me to a sport I’ll probably do for the rest of my life, and gave me a wonderful mentor in Mr. John Knight.

July was filled with concerts and celebrations and more workouts, and I went to my actual job for all of 10 minutes that month. My brother and I climbed and drank and went to Fenway, and exercised our right to feel invincible in each others’ presence.

In September, Neal Thompson invited me to start teaching classes at Crossfit Boston, and I haven’t looked back. The people at that Facility are some of the most giving, determined, and all-around quality folks that I’ve ever met, and they’re the reason I get out of bed every morning at 4:30. We moved from a small yoga studio in Brookline Village to a huge box in Roxbury, picking up new friends, Mandla Nkosi, and a whole slew of Krav Maga students.

October brought the Crossfit Certification to Boston, where I was fortunate enough to meet Greg Glassman and Company. John, Heidi, and Shad of Crossfit Cape Fear crashed in my living room for three days, and we had the time of our lives.

I met Lynne Pitts and Kelly Moore, two of the most gracious people I’ve ever had the opportunity to get to know. I marveled at Kelly and Greg’s sub-4:00 “Fran”, and fought the urge to puke after the world’s loudest rendition of “Fight Gone Bad”.

November was filled with PRs, new pull-up bar orders, and even more trainees, and it just keeps getting better.

2006 has been phenomenal, and nearly every moment was recorded here at Again Faster. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my drivel. I appreciate your support more than you’ll ever know.

Without you, my friends and readers, I might be in Venezuela right now.

Go Faster!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First Aid

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to master the Olympic lifts for the last month.

My total and utter lack of God-given coordination, combined with the fact that the lifts are technically demanding, has left me donkey-kicking, under-extending, and hitching my way through rep after rep.

Several people have watched me flail at weightlifting glory. Each and every one, regardless of coaching experience, says the same thing:

“You stop in the middle.”

This vague assertion refers to the transition between the first and second pulls, where the barbell is lifted above the knee and the hip scoops under it in preparation for the ensuing jump and land sequence.

Given this feedback, I always ask, “How do I fix it?”

Unfortunately, the answer is either speed up, slow down, shrug harder, jump higher, get new shoes, or give up, depending on the identity of the critic-of-the-moment. In other words, nobody in my immediate vicinity has the expertise to know what’s wrong with my shitty pull.

Luckily, someone in Australia does.

Last Friday, I was reading through the Performance Menu forum when I came across an aptly named thread called “Pulling Mechanics Article”. Within this diatribe, Greg Everett linked an article by Leo Isaac of the Queensland Weightlifting Association, entitled “Acceleration and Deceleration Phases in the Pull”.

I printed it out. It had a graph, a section on “system velocity”, and looked like it would put me to sleep if I read it. I took one look and stuffed it in my briefcase. I was eager to get to the gym and practice my ugly snatch, and I didn’t have time to be bored.

An entire weekend and several hours of coaching later, I was on the subway, finally reading through Mr. Isaac’s four-page dissertation on the pull.

His point was simple: Athletes are told to pull hard off the floor, but the transition phase scrubs most of the resulting velocity off the bar. The bar only reaches maximum velocity on the second pull, long after the transition. Therefore, the best way to lift is to accelerate constantly from the ground through the second pull, minimizing any loss of velocity during the transition phase.

He notes that the best lifters do this naturally. I noted that I do not. My transition is like a sports car hitting a jersey barrier at 120 miles an hour. Everything stops, and then the wheels come off.

Thankfully, Mr. Isaac goes on to describe how one would actually fix this problem. He posits that the dramatic pause during the transition phase is caused by an overly-horizontal back position, leading to a prolonged scoop as the back travels to vertical for the subsequent jump.

He nailed it. You could hold a tea party on my back in the starting position, and empires have crumbled in the time it takes me to get vertical. I smiled maniacally at the bum sitting across the aisle from me, thrilled to have a solution within my grasp.

The bum smiled back.

I went to the gym, grabbed a PVC pipe, and spent a half-hour working on my transition. I started with my back as vertical as possible without my shoulders being behind the bar, and I pulled again and again.

The hitch was gone, and I yelled for Neal to come check it out. He looked at my pull, paused thoughtfully, and said:

“You’re still donkey-kicking.”

Go faster!

Picture of Shane Hamman courtesy of For a cool look at system velocity and some really strong women, have a look at this video from Tracey Fober and Iron Maven.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Advanced Medicine

Crossfit hurts. Almost every day someone approaches me pre-workout, complaining of pain, silently hoping for relief in the form of less weight or reduced volume.

Most of the time, I give it to them. We’re not in the business of destroying bodies. If an athlete has the experience to differentiate between muscle soreness and pain, I’ll always defer to their judgment.

The plaintive wailings are always accompanied by requests for advice. My standard answer: take a day off, spend it on the foam roller, stay hydrated, and come back later.

For better or worse, some athletes are absolutely incapable of accepting this advice. They want to train. Blasting through workouts is like breathing for these folks—my words go in one ear and out the other. They’re going to work out eight days a week, whether I say so or not.

When this urge competes with pain, the most obvious answer is pills. Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and naproxen sodium are packed away like candy at Christmas, and our little superhero shows up for Crossfit, bouncing around like an ADD-ridden toddler.

Unfortunately, my pill-popping uber-athlete is killing his athletic development.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) reduce post-workout protein synthesis, impairing your ability to develop muscle mass and severely limiting the beneficial effects of resistance exercise.

The proof is easy to come by:

A 1982 experiment showed that prescription-strength doses of NSAIDs reduce protein synthesis in-vitro. This interesting but inconclusive Petri dish project was substantiated in 2001, when an in-vivo study found that post-workout protein synthesis increased 76% in the absence of NSAIDs, while it did not increase at all in the presence of NSAIDs.*

A 2003 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research gives us another reason to decry the pills, as if killing protein synthesis wasn’t enough.

Using 19 freshman guys, a bottle of Advil, and a leg curl machine, researchers at Democritus University of Thrace found that ibuprofen reduced the perception of delayed-onset muscle soreness but did nothing to restore muscle function. The subjects couldn’t produce more force under the influence of ibuprofen, despite the fact that they felt recovered.

Super. Where do I sign up?

Because this argument clearly needs more support, let’s talk about most insidious consequence of chronic pain reliever use. NSAIDs blunt your pain response, preventing you from knowing when soreness turns into injury. This exposes you to the possibility of endless bouts of painful rehabilitation, trading daily training sessions for visits to the physical therapist.

On balance, pain relievers hinder athletic development and increase your chance of injury. They may allow you to train more often, but they won’t allow you to train smarter.

Save the Advil for your hangovers.

Go faster!

*This summary was paraphrased from Pinnacle Fitness. You can find the original article here. Picture courtesy of

Monday, December 11, 2006

What Are You Looking At?

Despite a total lack of scientific credentials, I’ve got a part-time gig editing a biotechnology page at

While working on the page, Sam and I came across some interesting research regarding mirror neurons. These neurons fire when a skilled individual performs a physical feat.

They also fire when that same individual witnesses the feat, even if he or she doesn't move.

A couple of Italian researcher-types discovered these neurons through a fortunate accident. They happened to have a monkey hooked up to an EEG when it witnessed one of the investigators reach for a banana. The portion of the monkey’s brain responsible for reaching lit up, although the monkey hadn’t budged. After ruling out a defective EEG, the investigators verified their finding—subsequent actions provoked neurological activity in the absence of movement.

This finding has some profound implications for athletics.

When you learn a skill, neural networks form in your brain. These networks get stronger with practice and repetition—the more you utilize a skill, the stronger the link between the synapses becomes.

If we were to hook you up to an EEG and make you perform a clean and jerk, the portions of your brain responsible for that action would light up. If you then witnessed Dimas do the same thing, we’d see a similar response. In both instances, the "clean and jerk" network is active, improving inter-neuron connection strength.

The implication: You can reinforce and improve a skill through two separate pathways—repetition and observation!

Anecdotally, I can testify to the effects of observation on physical performance. After months of instructing others on the finer points of the Olympic lifts, my own lifts showed a substantial increase in technique. During this period my practice was sporadic at best, but I’d spent hundreds of hours observing and correcting others.

Of course, you won’t develop world-class skills watching tapes of the 2004 Summer Games. You’re actually going to have to go to the gym once in a while.

Many coaches are strong proponents of pre-competition visualization, whereby an athlete envisions an upcoming performance in order to improve that performance. I suspect this practice elicits mirror neuron activity, much like witnessing a live event. I’d love to see an EEG study examining this phenomenon.

Until then, check out this video of Pyrros. I figure you'll all be gold medalists if you watch it enough.

Get cracking.

Picture courtesy of Check out the inspiration for this article, Daniel Glaser's recent study on mirror neuron activity in capoeria practitioners.

Friday, December 8, 2006

New Gear

Due to significant demand, we're putting out a new sweatshirt for 2007! The logo above will appear on the back, while our "motion cross" logo will appear on the front left chest.

The design will be printed on black Champion hooded sweatshirts by the best apparel folks in Boston. These hoodies are crazy comfortable and warm. I've been rocking the original Again Faster Sweatshirt for almost a year now, and it's as good as the day I got it.

I'm only accepting pre-orders for this item--you've got to pay to play. If you'd like to purchase one, shoot me an email. The sweatshirts will retail for right around $50.00, and will be available in January.

Go faster!

Wednesday, December 6, 2006


Within the framework of Crossfit, we progress from less- to more-difficult exercises, placing a premium on skill-based movements. These movements tend to pay greater fitness dividends than their simpler brethren.

For instance, the push jerk allows you to move a greater load than the push press over a similar distance, translating into increased work load and intensity. This leads to greater fitness.

Unfortunately, the push jerk is more difficult than the push press, requiring more coordination, balance, and agility. Instead of a simple dip and drive, the harder movement requires a dip, drive, dip sequence, demanding greater athletic skill.

Developing the harder movements is clearly to the athlete’s benefit. Success in this endeavour is contingent on practice through constant repetition. Given the immense size of the Crossfit curriculum, consistent practice on a variety of difficult skills becomes nearly impossible, leaving the athlete to practice these movements if and when they come up in the WOD.

The solution is simple. Evolve the warm-up.

At Crossfit Boston, we go through a rote warm-up, running through push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, squats, hip flexor stretches, and good mornings. None of these movements require a tremendous amount of skill, making them possible for nearly any athlete. While this sequence is highly beneficial to the novice/intermediate practitioner, it can be improved for a more advanced population.

Our advanced athletes have a good strength base and spectacular metabolic conditioning. They are typically reaching a plateau of organic improvement, where basic bodyweight exercises are not driving muscle growth or increased neurological capacity.

For these folks, the skill-based compound exercises are the next logical step in their training. The Olympic lifts, ring work, isometric strength movements, and plyometrics all beg for increased exposure. These exercises will drive athletic improvement much faster than their simpler cousins.

As we know, frequent, low-volume repetition develops increased capacity and proficiency. This principal, known as “greasing the groove”, has proven its efficacy again and again. By placing difficult exercises in the warm-up, we are engaging in this practice.

A sample warm-up:
Row 500 meters, followed by three rounds of:
5 Full Squat Cleans (75 pounds)
5 Snatches (75 pounds)
3 Muscle-ups
3 Skin-the-cats
1 Back Lever
1 L-sit (15 seconds)

In the preceding example, we engage the entire body in vigorous compound movement while preserving metabolic reserves for the upcoming workout of the day. Difficult skills are reviewed and reinforced. Ideally, this warm-up would be trainer supervised, giving the athlete constant feedback regarding proper execution.

Developing proficiency in the more-difficult movements is critical for the athletic development of the advanced Crossfitter. Toward this end, the warm-up period can be a fantastic resource, allowing frequent practice and increased exposure.

Go faster!

Check out Leo, warming up with some picture perfect snatches. Picture from the Again Faster Library.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Again Faster “Win My Sh*t” Contest

Okay, so you’re a Crossfitter. You think you’re pretty bad, huh? We’ll tough guy, let’s see it.

Just in time for a cold New England winter, we’re giving away a brand-new AF Pull-up Bar. Of course, there’s a catch. You’ve got to earn it.

I want to see the most original, captivating, holy-hell-did-they-just-do-that video demonstrating your awesome pulling strength and endurance.

I’d give you some examples, but I don’t want to limit your thinking. Pretty much anything involving vertical movement is fair game.

Here’s the skinny. Upload your video to YouTube and email me the link. I’ll check out the video and confirm your submission by posting it on You’ll be internet-famous in no time.

The judging will be totally subjective, so don’t whine when somebody else wins doing something you could clearly do, if only we’d given you a chance to match it. The winner will be announced on January 1, 2007, so get cracking!

Send all entries to no later than December 31, 2006.

Go faster!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Colonel Pitts

I spent last Saturday at Lynne Pitts’ house. After pulling out the GPS locator and consulting several satellite maps, I managed to find her cabin.

It only took two tries.

She put me and Sam through a wicked combination of pulling, heaving, tugging, lifting, lunging, and jumping, and I’d like to express my gratitude. This Sunday, we’ll be doing “Colonel Pitts”, a fine piece of programming dedicated to my buddy Lynne.

5 rounds for time:

50 One-Armed Snatches (25 left, 25 right)
One-Armed Overhead Walking Lunge (100 feet)

We’ll be at the Pond at 8 a.m., ready to embrace the pain.

Go faster!