Archive for the ‘Workout of the Day’ Category

From Alanna Casey at LBEB

“I can’t deadlift, I have a bad back.”
“I can’t squat, I have bad knees.”
“I can’t ‘insert exercise here’, I have an ‘insert excuse here’.”

We all get injuries, we all could make excuses. Some are actually legitimate, but the majority are just that: excuses. Unfortunately, body pains are part of the world of lifting heavy things, especially back pain. But, you don’t have to accept the pain. Instead, you can do things to mitigate back pain or eliminate it all together.

I will start with the disclaimer that if you have persistent, unmanageable pain, symptoms of nerve damage (numbness/tingling), or loss of bladder control then get to a doctor ASAP. I have struggled with back pain for years. Ever since I started deadlifting/squatting over twice my body weight I have had to manage back pain, especially lower back pain. Many of my world class powerlifting/strongman friends suffer from back pain as well. Even my friends who participate in crossfit have back pain.

There are many different causes of back pain. Within the strength community the most common are muscle strains, nerve impingement, disk degeneration and muscle imbalances. My personal back pain is from muscle imbalances which led to muscle tightening in my lower right side, which led to nerve impingement. It took me about 10 doctor’s visits and 3 years to figure that out,but I finally got it! Yay. I would first recommend seeing a doctor about your particular issue but, given my issues I’d like to offer some advice on how to alleviate your pains.

1. Stretch
I hate stretching! Its sooo boring: it takes foreevver, it’s uncomfortable and most importantly, I cannot feel myself immediately getting bigger/stronger when I’m doing it. Yes, I understand stretching sucks. But it’s immeasurably important. At a minimum, I recommend stretching your shoulders, back, and hamstrings prior to any lifting workout. See the below illustration for some simple back stretches.

Stretching is important to your next PR attempt. Here’s why. Stretching will improve flexibility and increase your range of motion (especially important on squat). Stretching will lengthen tight muscles that are pulling your body away from their optimal and balances position (correct posture). Stretching also can decrease your chance on injury by preparing them for work. AND stretching after you train could possibly decrease muscle soreness by increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles which helps to clear and distribute lactic acid build up.

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2. Take note of your posture
As you are sitting at your computer at work, or driving your car, watching tv, or sitting on the bleachers cheering on your kid during her soccer game, take note of your posture. Is your spine aligned or are you slouching over? If you’re slouching, correct it. Is your head at neutral or are you constantly looking up or down? As you sit do you have equal pressure on both cheeks or are you favoring one side?

I found that I had a tendency to lean to the right when sitting. This meant that my left side was constantly getting a stretch but that my right side was tense and constricted. This contributed to my back pain. I now make a conscious effort to correct my posture, no matter where I am.

3. Use proper form on squats
Yes, I’m talking about squats NOT deadlift! A lot of people end up hurting their back while squatting (or trying to squat). Women especially seem to have this problem for some reason. I am referring to the tendency to lean forward when squatting (see figure below). Many people (myself included) make the mistake of allowing their back to fall forward on the squat. When this happens the lower back has to work 1000% harder and in a 3D plane instead of a 2D one. Some people call this “clamming.” When you squat, you want your upper body as erect as possible. When you feel yourself leaning forward, your lower back has to try and compensate to keep you from toppling forward. Essentially, you end up doing a good morning while squatting. If you can keep your back straight up and down, your lower back will not be overworked.

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But, in order to do that you must have enough flexibility in your hips and hamstrings, ESPECIALLY your hamstrings. During my last training cycle I stretched my hamstrings about 5-6 times a day for ten minutes (my doctor recommended 10 times a day but 5-6 was the best I actually did). I would also stretch my hips after each deadlift and squat session. One really good way to stretch your hips is to stand directly in front of a wall, get your legs into your squat stance, spread your arms onto the wall, parallel to the floor, and then squat. Concentrate on keeping your hips open and knees out; it’s the only way you will be successful.

4. Work your lower back muscles
Your back hurting (alone) is no reason not to train your lower back. My doctor recommended that I perform isometric (static, non-moving) back exercises, with lesser weight, as opposed to full range of motion exercises. Some great exercises for lower back are:
– Barbell row
– Standing or seated good mornings (I prefer seated)
– Back extension (great exercise to make isometric)
– Reverse glute ham raises

5. Get a good spotter
If you know that your back might be an issue, having a good spotter for heavy exercises is a must. Brief your spotter on exactly how you want him/her to assist you. Tell him what you will say if you need assistance and exactly what you expect him/her to do. I see a lot of people “spotting” on squat but, if their partner actually needed help, I’m not sure they would know how to properly assist.

If I am spotting someone on the squat, I squat directly behind and with my partner. I put my arms under their arms by their lats. If he/she needed help I would place my hands on or under his/her chest and squat the weight up using my legs. As you spot someone on the squat you want the lifter to be able to maintain form.

If you start to experience extreme discomfort in the middle of a lift, you want someone there (who is capable) to help you out to avoid injury. If you don’t have a spotter at least use a safety rack.

5. Know when you call it quits
There is a fine line between discomfort and pain. When pushing yourself in any exercise you will be uncomfortable. But, if you feel sharp pain, I recommend you stop your exercise. About once a month I will end a session early because my back is in sharp pain following an exercise. When this happens “pushing through it” will only cause greater damage. If you feel pain during any workout I suggest you stop that movement and either dramatically correct/change your form OR drastically lighten the weight OR start a cool down complete with stretching. It’s important not to let your ego get the best of you in this situation. Do what is best for YOU every day. Just because your lifting partner is doing a certain exercise or weight, doesn’t mean you have to do it. Exercise your brain as well as your muscles.

6. Deep tissue massage
I invest in a deep tissue massage about once every 4-8 weeks. If I had the funds I would do it every single week. Deep tissue massages help to release toxins from your muscles and help to prevent scar tissue from forming after muscle tears/strains. Deep tissue massage can also break up and eliminate scar tissue from previous injuries. If your deep tissue massage is an enjoyable and relaxing experience then your massage therapist isn’t doing it correctly. A true deep tissue massage will be quite painful as muscle knots are broken up. Be sure to drink lots and lots of water following a message.

7. Strengthen your core
Back pain may be caused by an imbalance between your lower back and your abdominals. Strengthening your abs will help correct this imbalance. I recommend training abs 1-2 a week, especially women.

8. Ice
I recommend icing your back for 20 minutes prior to going to sleep. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep with a bag of ice on your back and wake in a puddle! Icing will reduce inflammation and ultimately decrease your pain.

9. Osteopath vs Chiropractor
If you do all these things and still have back pain I would recommend and MRI. If the pain isn’t caused by a herniated disc, you might have a nerve pinched. In this case a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O. or DO) would be able to best help you. Unlike a chiropractor, an osteopathic physician is a doctor. I have found that osteopaths are more likely to offer a more permanent solution to pain rather than short term pain relief. My osteopath realigned my spin and corrected the nerve impingent. I had been to a chiropractor many times before and he offered a 60 second massage, 60 seconds of hip stretching, and 10 minutes of a TENS unit (electrical stimulation). That did offer me relief but it only last a day or so. When I go to the osteopath my relief lasts a month or so, big difference.

I hope this article helps you to manage your back pain. Remember, pain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a particular muscle group, just that some sort of correction needs to be made and attention given.

You’re welcome.

– Rob

Here’s what you need to know…
•  CrossFitters have amazingly strong backs and work their lower back every day in one way or another. Adopting this kind of strategy will make your back stronger and it will carry over to your Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and squats.

•  CrossFitters do a lot of high rep work, and this high-rep work on the big basic lifts builds a lot of muscle mass while also leading to decent strength gains.

•  Since many CrossFitters are new to serious weight training, they don’t have any mental blocks when it comes to hitting PRs and making fast progress. It’s an attitude we could all use.

I used to make fun of CrossFit. I thought it was a fad and they all used shitty form; that they couldn’t get strong or build muscle doing those workouts. Well, I was wrong. Working with a lot of CrossFit athletes made me change my mind. While I personally wouldn’t train using only WODs, I did learn a lot of things from coaching CrossFit athletes.

I work with a very diverse clientele: average Joes, athletes, bodybuilders, and CrossFitters, and I must say that next to the powerlifters I worked with, the CrossFitters were the strongest overall. Oddly enough, for a group that has a reputation for using bad form, they have probably the best form among the people I’ve trained. Serious CrossFitters are perfectionists and really work at their craft. Sure, they might have a slight technical breakdown during WODs, but most of the time their technique is very solid.

Here are the three things I learned from training these hardworking individuals:

1. The secret to fast strength gains on the Olympic lifts, deadlifts, and squats is training the lower back frequently.

One thing with CrossFit athletes (even non-competitors) that is both rewarding and frustrating is they make amazingly fast progress on Olympic lifts when properly coached. Heck, many that I coached took only a few months to hit weights that took me a few years to attain while training on the Olympic lifts full time. That made me feel good about my coaching, but bad about myself. Was I a genetic moron? Heck, even one of the girls I’ve trained on the Olympic lifts reached a 190-pound snatch faster than I did!

So it got me thinking. CrossFit athletes aren’t doing tons of fulltime Olympic lifting workouts, certainly not at the frequency that would justify the super fast improvements I was seeing. Normally they’d devote one or two sessions per week to focus on the Olympic lifts, so that wasn’t it. I can’t say they were doing tons of strength work, either. To be fair, the good ones were lifting heavy fairly often, but not at the volume and/or frequency that those focusing solely on strength were using. So getting super strong wasn’t the answer either. Then it hit me: CrossFit athletes – even most recreational CrossFitters – have super strong lower backs.

Think about it, the following are pretty much part of every single WOD. They’re doing hundreds, if not thousands, of reps per week involving the lower back to some extent, either:

• Deadlifting anything from super high reps (up to 100 reps in a workout) to super heavy weights
• Doing kettlebell swings with all sorts of weights and rep ranges
• Or performing high-rep Olympic lifting (not something I’d personally do or recommend)

Not only do they do all this work for the lower back, but they tend to loosen up their form a bit during WODs. This makes them round the lower back slightly. I’m not saying that you should start doing tons of rounded-back lifting, but the fact is that deadlifting with a rounded back puts more stress on your erector spinae and – if you don’t blow a disk – it will make your lower back stronger. Heck, even Klokov does a ton of rounded-back pulling. When it comes to the Olympic lifts, a strong lower back allows you to stay in a position to make the best use of your strength when the weight gets heavy.

One CrossFitter who’s now my good friend started out doing deadlifts. He didn’t have much experience and had the worst fishing-rod deadlift form ever. I made fun of him at the time because he told me he was going to bring his 405-pound deadlift up to 535 in four months. I even wrote him an email saying why he was being unrealistic and how he was disrespecting powerlifters who work their tail off for every 10 pounds they added. Well, he actually did it, but with the most horrible form possible. Fast forward a year and that guy now has one of the best lifting forms I’ve seen and it’s because he has a super strong lower back. He’s now snatching, cleaning, deadlifting, and squatting superb weights for his size.

This really made it click for me. I “theoretically” understood the value of a strong lower back, but never really did focus on it that much. I felt that I got all the lower back stimulation I needed from doing the Olympic lifts and squats. In retrospect I now know I always had a weak lower back and it probably held me back.

I now believe that the lower back responds better to a high volume of work. If you want to build it to a level that will give you the strength to shock people, you need to work it for a high number of reps at a very high frequency. The good news is that the lower back muscles seem to have the highest trainability of all the muscles. This means they get bigger and stronger very rapidly if you focus hard on training them. I’m now devoting a good amount of time on making my lower back stronger using various rep ranges, using from 3 to 10 reps on the Romanian deadlift and other pulls; 10-12 on loaded back extensions, the back extension machine, glute-ham raises, and reverse hypers; and up to 30 on KB swings.

Applying it: Honestly I feel that with the lower back the big secret is doing it. I end every session with a lower back exercise. Depending on how fresh I am or how strong I feel, I’ll pick the movement that will work the best on that day. If I feel tired, then doing heavy triples on the Romanian deadlift might not be a good idea. And don’t dismiss something as simple as a back extension machine. The lower back doesn’t need to be trained at a high intensity to improve; just do something for your lower back every day and it will get stronger.

2. The value of high reps.

I’m a low rep guy and that won’t change. If I had to associate myself with one belief system, it would be the Bulgarian weightlifting school of thought that emphasizes always using very low reps and heavy (max or near-max) weights. However, after working with a lot of CrossFit athletes, I’ve come to appreciate the value of higher-rep training.

Yes, doing 21-15-9 on deadlifts and pull-ups sucks while you’re doing it, but I must confess that it does work. It’s easy to say that most CrossFit athletes do strength work outside of their WODs and that’s why they’re posting huge numbers, but I know a lot who get strong by only doing the WODs. They deadlift, squat, front squat, and push press (the Olympic lifts are a given) a lot more than the average commercial member who specifically trains to get bigger and stronger by doing “bodybuilding work.”

I’m not saying that high reps work better than powerlifting/low reps heavy work to get super strong, but lifting decent weights for higher reps certainly will get you stronger. And I find that relatively high reps on the big basic lifts (deadlift, squat, front squat, push press, pull-ups, and dips) will build a lot of muscle mass while also leading to decent strength gains. I’ll use my wife as an example. She never clean and jerked more than 85 pounds. After a few months of doing only CrossFit WODs, she hit 140 pounds.

What I like about the CrossFit-style high reps is that they do not define it in “sets.” If you have 21 deadlifts to do with 355 pounds, you can get those 21 reps in 2, 3 or 4 “sets” as long as you try to do them as fast as possible. That gives you a high density of work with a fairly heavy load, and that will build a lot of muscle mass. I recently started doing some thing like this myself. After my heavy work is done, I use 60% of my maximum on the lift and shoot for 20 reps. I may take one or two short breaks but the movement isn’t over until I get all 20. I noticed an increase in my rate of muscle growth from that simple addition.

Another method you can use is density strength work. Use 70-80% of 1RM on the bar and try to get to 30 total reps in as little time as possible. It might take you 6-8 sets to get there, but that’s fine. Just try to rest as little as possible: 5 reps, rest 10 seconds, 5 reps, rest 10 seconds, etc.

Applying it: After you’ve done your heavy work for your main movement of the day, challenge yourself to do 20 reps with 60% of your maximum on that same lift. If you can get all 20 without resting, go with 65 or 70% next time! You can also use density work, getting 30 total reps at 70-80% of your max in as little time as possible.

3. No respect for the weight.
One thing I noticed with many CrossFit athletes and even among recreational CrossFit participants is that they don’t have the same respect for the weight as powerlifters, Olympic lifters, or bodybuilders do. And I’m not referring to throwing down the bar after each set or rep (even though such a thing has been know to happen in most CrossFit boxes). No, I’m talking about the fact that they don’t seem to realize how hard a certain weight should be.

I’ll go back to my friend who was deadlifting 405 pounds who set a goal to deadlift 535 in four months. He didn’t seem to realize that a 135-pound increase on a lift in four months was insane, but he did it! And I’m seeing this all over the place. Fairly low-level CrossFitters saying, “Man, I really need to get my clean up to 315 pounds,” when they are struggling with 205, and then achieving it in a few months. Back when I started Olympic lifting, three plates was a big weight and my progress got stuck because I was setting myself up negatively by believing that a certain weight was out of my range.

That’s the weird thing with CrossFit. In powerlifting we look at the big guns deadlifting and squatting 900-1000 pounds and think, “These guys are inhuman; I’ll never get there.” In CrossFit they look at the guys who qualify for the games that have cleans of 315-375 pounds and think, “Man, I need to get there, quick.”

It reminds me of when my bench press had been stuck at 275 for a few years. I couldn’t get past that point no matter what I tried. I was training at a college gym where bench-pressing 225 would get you labeled as a steroid user, so 315 seemed like a physical impossibility to me, a lift done only by mythical beasts that are hiding in a cave somewhere.

And then I moved to that cave. I started training at a little hardcore gym in the basement of a church. The manager was a former Canadian record holder in the clean & jerk and his son was a strongman competitor. All the powerlifters and strongmen in the city trained there. There were at least 10 guys bench pressing 405 and a few had gotten over 500 pounds raw. It wasn’t exactly Westside, but compared to my previous gym it was a slap in the face. Within a few weeks I was up to 315 and it wasn’t that long until I could hit 365 and then 405 came within less than a year. Seeing all these guys doing those big lifts removed my mental block. It’s the same with CrossFit. You see so many competitive CrossFitters hitting 345-380 pound cleans and 265-285 pound snatches that 300-315 and 225-235 becomes ordinary (even low) and thus seems “easy” to reach. The funny thing is that because of that perception, they really do become much easier to reach.

I also think that a lot of people get into CrossFit without a big lifting background. Most of them were people who played sports first and maybe did some lifting here and there, so they don’t have the same relationship with the weights that us ironheads have. They don’t have the same perception of what is heavy and what should be a normal progression. An experienced lifter will say something like, “Gaining 50 pounds on a lift in a year is really good progress once you get past the beginner stage.” Oh the other hand, a beginner CrossFitter will think, “Man I really gotta’ get to those Rx weights soon or I’ll look like a loser.” (Note: The Rx weight is the load prescribed in a WOD. If you have to do 50 deadlifts with 225 pounds the Rx weight is 225). A competitive CrossFitter will think, “Froning is snatching 300 and cleaning 380. I have to get to at least 245 and 335 in a few months.”

And really, in all those cases they normally get what they think they can get. The same thing happened with me and my high pulls. Tim Patterson challenged me to go from 275 to 400 in 3 weeks. At the time my goal was 315 in 3 months, so he kinda’ changed my plans. And I got it because he got my mind in the right place.

Another example occurred when I went to train at Dave Tate’s compound. At the time my lifetime best bench press was 420, but my best at the time was 405 and I had missed 425 three times in the past month. When training at the compound I’d just follow one of the guys, not knowing how much weight we were using (we were using an odd fat bar and I had no idea of its weight). When I was done I asked Dave how much was on the bar, he answered, “445 pounds.” Twenty-five pounds over my lifetime best!

Applying it: It’s much harder to teach you how to apply a mental strategy than a training strategy. I do have one good recommendation, though. If you want to get strong, the best thing you could possibly do is move to a gym where super strong guys train. I cannot overstate the effect that training among these guys will have on your progress.

Learn From Everyone
I believe that CrossFit athletes still have a ways to go to maximize their performance. However, I also believe there’s a lot we can learn from them and the three elements I presented merely scratch the surface. I always believed that everybody who trains hard has something to teach others and that we shouldn’t be painting ourselves in a corner by refusing to learn from other groups of people just because it’s fashionable to make fun of them.

I couldn’t agree with this guy any more. This is a 100% honest, non-biased assessment of the CrossFit. I really need to start reading more by this guy.

– Rob

Ever tried to take a really, really deep breath? When I was in high school band, my instructor used to ask us to take as deep a breath as we could and hold it. After we held it for a second, he’d tell us to try and suck in a little more. Not surprisingly, everyone could take in additional breathe. Why? Why didn’t we just take as deep a breathe as we could the first time?

I try to be as efficient as possible when breathing. When running or Crossfitting, I breathe as deep as possible all the time, even when I first start my workout. So deep that it seems awkward I’m breathing so much. This is the reason we sing cadence when running in the Marine Corps. Slowing your shallow huffing into a long deep breath better fills your lungs and allows you to keep pace longer. I’ve noticed when I’m running that I’ll get fatigued, and it’s because I’m not breathing properly. I’m more focused on the workout sucking, keeling over and dying, than breathing properly.

– Rob

Just before you crest a hill or reach the end of a speed interval, your lungs go into overdrive. Your breath becomes shallow and rapid. You think if only you could pull in more air, you could surge up that hill or maintain your pace. But the more your chest heaves, the more you struggle. You may even end up exhausted, bent over, gasping for air.

From Runner’s Magazine:

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“Runners think about training their heart and legs, but they rarely think about training their lungs,” says Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of The Running Center in New York City. “A strong respiratory system can improve your running. It’s a simple equation: Better breathing equals more oxygen for your muscles, and that equals more endurance.”

Just as we strength-train our hamstrings and calves to improve our ability to power over hills, we can tone the muscles used for breathing. “Exercise improves the conditioning of the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, and the intercostal muscles, which lie between the ribs and enable you to inhale and exhale,” says Everett Murphy, M.D., a runner and pulmonologist at Olathe Medical Center in Olathe, Kansas. “When you take a breath, 80 percent of the work is done by the diaphragm. If you strengthen your diaphragm, you may improve your endurance and be less likely to become fatigued.”

This was backed up by researchers from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in England, who recently measured fatigue levels of marathoners’ respiratory muscles and leg muscles. They found a direct link-runners whose breathing was the most strained showed the most leg weakness-and concluded in their study that the harder the respiratory muscles had to work, the more the legs would struggle in a race.

The key to preventing lung-and leg-fatigue is breathing more fully. “When you take deeper breaths, you use more air sacs in your lungs, which allows you to take in more oxygen to feed your muscles,” says David Ross, M.D., a pulmonologist at UCLA Medical Center. “When I’m running, I concentrate on taking slow and deep breaths to strengthen my diaphragm.”

Most runners, says Solkin, are “chest breathers”-not “belly breathers.” To help her clients see the difference, she has them run a mile at a pace that gets them huffing a bit. Then she has them stop and place one hand on their abdomen and one hand on their chest and watch. The lower hand should move with each breath, while the upper hand should remain relatively still (usually the opposite occurs). “Every time you breathe in, your belly should fill up like a balloon,” says Solkin (see “Breathe Right”). “And every time you breathe out, that balloon should deflate. When you chest breathe, your shoulders get tense and move up and down. That’s wasted energy-energy you should conserve for running.”

Chest breathing can be a hard habit to break-especially while you’re preoccupied with keeping pace or calculating splits. One way to make the switch easier is to work on belly breathing when you’re not running, and the skill will eventually carry over to your running. To make this happen, some elite runners turn to Pilates, a program originally developed as a rehabilitation program for World War I soldiers. Pilates aims to increase flexibility, strengthen the core, and improve breathing (see “Breath Enhancers”). “I try to do Pilates twice a week,” says 2004 Olympic marathoner Colleen de Reuck. “It stretches my intercostal muscles and lengthens my spine, which helps my breathing and my running.”

“My athletes tell me ‘my form is better, I’m not working so hard,'” says Pat Guyton, a Pilates instructor who teaches elite runners in Boulder, Colorado. “They mention less effort in the lungs-they’re able to run farther before fatigue sets in.”

Here’s how Mindy Solkin, a New York City-based coach, teaches runners to engage their diaphragms.

Open Your Mouth
Your mouth is larger than your nostrils, so it’s more effective at taking in oxygen. Also, keeping your mouth open keeps your face more relaxed, which makes it easier to breathe deeply.

Breathe in Patterns
Coordinating your inhales and exhales with your footfalls develops diaphragmatic strength. Start with a 2-2 pattern-breathe in while stepping left, right; breathe out while stepping left, right. Advance to 3-3 (breathe in, step left, right, left; breathe out, step right, left, right), and then a 4-4 pattern.

Source.

Dear diary,
What the hell. I thought we were friends. I’ve been everyday this week, which is a record. My goal this week was to go easy enough all week so I could go Monday thru Friday. Today sucked, but I think I’ll be ok for tomorrow.

You know it’s going to suck when it starts and stops with a 50 calorie row. A calorie is hard thing to watch on the monitor, especially when it gives you a split of 800~ calories per hour. Which is an insane amount of calories.

I started off with 50 box jumps at 24 inches tall. No big deal. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize they were box overs until after I had done two of them. However, I think they are a little easier because you don’t have to stand up for a full extension.

The deadlifts made my back very tight. I started at 115 pounds. I did all 50 I sets of 10. On the way back, I was doing sets of 5 and had to stop at 30 to change weight to 75 pounds. It still sucked doing the last 20. My back was still very tight until I had done about 20 box jumps. Squatting on top of the box helped it. It stretched my lower back.

Getting back to the rower was rough. I didn’t want to do 50 more calories but it didn’t take that long. I think it took 3:30 on the first 50 and 5 minutes on the last.

Overall, 43:57 and I’m pretty happy with that. I wasted at least a minute changing weight on the DL.

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Nasty Girls
I have no idea why it’s called that. It’s three rounds for time of 50 air squats, 7 muscle-ups and 10 hang power cleans. The squats started to get to me on the last round. The muscle ups I substituted out for 7 chest to bar pull-us and 7 ring dips. I’ve never even attempted a muscle up. It was a pretty uneventful workout. I also used bands for the pull-ups and ring dips. The hang power cleans I tried at 75 pound. Overall, I finished in 11:34.

Today’s workout consisted of 5 rounds of 10 kettle-bell swings, 15 a mat sit-ups and 200 meter runs. Additionally, there was a 5 rope climb cash in and cash out. I started out doing a rope climb but I rope burned my leg and I stopped. I substituted seated up and downs on the rope. I stayed pretty consistent on my times. Each might have gotten a little longer but not much. If anything my run times slowed. The rope climbs at the end were slow but not bad. Overall, I finished in 19:34. The kettle bells I swung at 35 pounds, I could have done more but I was worried about my back because I wasn’t wearing a weight belt.

Like I said, pretty uneventful. That’s why I combined two days worth of workouts. In other news, the t-shirts came in. So I rocked a CrossFit Blackbox shirt all day at work. In other than other news, my coaches are at regionals in Jacksonville this weekend.

from Eat To Perform

The overarching premise of cross training is to vary your workouts and intensity to achieve the goal of exceptional all-around fitness. What defines “exceptional” is, by and large, unique for every athlete, so the concept of doing every WOD Rx without regard for your abilities seems absurd. For example, an athlete training too close to his or her 1RM in a WOD (simply to perform the workout as prescribed) may sacrifice form and safety just to put up more weight, entirely missing the point of why we train.

Regrettably, this is happening every single day, in gyms all around the world. When you look at the top competitors in our sport, they will tell you that the road to glory was often times bumpy. While they may have arrived there by pushing the limit in a gradual fashion to achieve a specific result, from time to time it was necessary to deviate from the plan. Although I typically try to stay in my lane and write about nutrition theory, I am going to venture off that path a bit during this article and cover new ground. There are a few points I am hoping to make, but the emphasis of this piece will be to outline effective methods of modifying your WODs for a specific goal. Today, I’ll be focusing on strength.

Strength Goals: Prilepin’s Table and The Conjugate Method

Strength is an extremely valuable asset in any sport. Endurance is also vital, but if you put up a heavy WOD, some of the more cardio-focused participants will struggle. The concept is simple really: As you train closer to your 1RM, you run up against greater levels of neurological fatigue, resulting in haphazard technique or failure to complete the WOD altogether due to muscular failure. If you’re constantly working super-heavy in relation to your ability and find that you’re having difficulty recovering from your workouts, I may be able to suggest a better approach.

In 1974, a Soviet Olympic weightlifting coach named A.S. Prilepin compiled a chart (“Prilepin’s Table”) which outlined a range of optimal load, repetition and set parameters for training maximal strength without generating so much fatigue that the athlete cannot adequately recover. Based upon exhaustive research of thousands of sportsmen, Prilepin’s Table is a major component of Louie Simmons’ Westside Barbell “Conjugate Method.” While absolute strength is not the sole goal of our sport, Prilepin’s work provides a great template that you can utilize to modify your workouts. What I hope to introduce you to is a concept that you can easily use with your own data to get a more optimal result. These tables should help you identify some of the trends in your coach’s programming and help you adjust.

Percent #of Reps #Lifts Per Workout Optimal # per Workout

70% 3-5 12-24 18

80% 2-4 10-20 15

90% 1-2 4-10 7

Before we discuss real-world application of these principles, I’d like to suggest that you think of the above chart as more of a guideline than a hard set of rules. The concept of biochemical and biomechanical individuality that this method is based around is directly applicable to our programming. There isn’t always one best way to accomplish a goal and different athletes have different innate strengths (as well as weaknesses).

To that end, theory is oftentimes not enough; to break new ground, we must take what we know works, figure out why, and constantly reassess the method to arrive at a new paradigm. Great coaches like Louie Simmons, Boris Sheiko, Dave Tate, and many more have taken this table and given it life, producing extremely strong athletes through practical application of science.

How to Get Stronger

When I look at a WOD, the first thing I do is ask myself, “What are the coaches trying to do here?” There are basically three types of WOD’s: “maximal effort”, “dynamic effort” and “repetition effort”. Maximal effort WODs are the workouts that make you strain; any day that we lift slow for a 1RM or 2x2x2x2x2 is a great example. These push the limits of your strength and provide you with insight into the progress you’ve already made, as well as how to progress in the future. Maximal training will pit you against the heaviest of loads (90% of your max and beyond) for 1-2 reps across 2-5 sets, which will test your strength and stress your central nervous system (CNS) just enough to keep progressing.

Although rest intervals become necessarily longer when lifting in the 80-90th percentile, a well-designed maximal effort WOD will allow you to train with intensity while incorporating short rests (between 90 and 120 seconds). Most weeks, I train maximally only once, occasionally pushing the envelope a bit more often (depending upon how I feel). Newer athletes can usually get away with more max effort work because they have not yet learned how to recruit as many available muscle fibers during a movement. A seasoned athlete (I will use Rich Froning as an example) training for 7-10 reps at 90% of his 1RM (compared to a deconditioned athlete doing a similar workout) will likely walk away from that workout a bit more exhausted because he can recruit more muscle. I’m not actually sure Rich gets exhausted, so you will just have bear with me for the sake of hypothesis. As you progress, programming every one of your workouts as maximal effort work becomes a recipe for a fried CNS, which will hinder your results. It becomes necessary to incorporate a new stimulus.

Dynamic WODs come into play as an athlete reaches intermediate levels of advancement. According to the Conjugate Method, dynamic effort workouts are performed between 50-70% of a 1RM for 2-3 reps, across 8-12 sets. The goal of these WODs is to build explosive strength to power through sticking points; if the bar is moving too slowly (a great way to judge speed is whether or not the weights clink at the top of the movement), you are lifting too heavy. Don’t be fooled; although you’re lifting “easy” weight, a great dynamic WOD will challenge your strength, coordination and conditioning.

Rest intervals should be kept as short as possible (between 30-60 seconds). Training this way will allow you to perfect your technique while you to fine-tune the strength you built with the maximal effort method and work on your GPP (General Physical Preparedness). Since dynamic effort work was popularized by geared powerlifters at Westside Barbell, a 1000lb squatter training at 50% may still be working with loads in excess of 500lbs on these days. As a general rule of thumb, the stronger you are, the lighter (as a percentage of your max) you will need to train on dynamic effort days. For our purposes, we can benefit from training slightly heavier, as long as the bar speed is maintained.

Last but not least, we come to the repetition method. Repetition work is performed as quickly as possible, for as many reps as necessary. These are the WODs that leave you in a pool of sweat, your muscles burning and your heart pounding. The goal of repetition days is to work on conditioning/GPP, speed up recovery, reduce lingering soreness that may have been produced in the max/dynamic workouts, and promote muscular growth. Many WODs seem to fall into this category (when they’re done at the right intensity). You’ll ideally want to work at loads of 50% or less for between 10-20 reps across 3-5 sets. Like the dynamic effort method, the weight may not intimidate you but your disposition will quickly change as you pump out 30-50+ repetitions of a movement with very little in the way of rest between sets (15-30 seconds).

Putting It All Together: Identifying Where you Need Work

You’ve armed yourself with a few new tools to keep you progressing; the question now is, “How do I apply these methods and theories to my workouts? How do I know when to modify my WODs?” The best place to start is to analyze your performance during a benchmark workout like Fran. Because it incorporates mixed movement types (a barbell thruster and a bodyweight pull-up) back-to-back for multiple rounds, Fran is a great example of a workout that can show you where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

If an athlete performs Fran Rx in 4 minutes, it is a repetition WOD at or below 50% of their max and they’d probably benefit from increasing the load on thrusters. An athlete that finishes Fran in 9 minutes may be resting a lot to maintain good form; the bar may be moving fast but towards the end, they may be doing the last 9 reps in sets of 3 and working on their dynamic strength. In the future they could add weight to the bar and work on their raw strength at 80% of their 1RM, or drop the load to 60% so that they can get more work with less rest.

Going further, an athlete that completes Fran in over 10 minutes at 80% of their max may struggle to complete their thrusters, burning themselves out before the pull-ups each round. They need significantly lengthened rest intervals during the WOD to complete it at the prescribed weight. Dropping the load on thrusters to the 70% range will even out the level of exertion and allow the athlete a bit more energy to dominate their pull-ups.

When modifying a WOD, you know that you were successful when the top athletes in the gym finish at about the same time as the athletes running the modifications. The level of intensity will be about right for everyone involved. Bells should be going off in your head when you read this; most days, you should use weights and rep ranges that let you finish at about the same time as the big dogs (and with energy to spare). I was privileged to have Chris Spealler at my level 1 certification and he explained this concept very well.

In the end: What really makes us better?

Look, if you want to grind out a WOD, you have my permission. I do it all of the time. The goal of every WOD is not specifically to test strength, endurance or speed. A big part of this whole “fitness” thing is in your head; pushing the limits of your mental capabilities has as much value as pushing your physical abilities. Strength athletes define intensity in relationship to their maximal lifts. It’s a quantitative measurement, not some nebulous concept. Improvement through concentrated effort should be the goal of most of your workouts; you should have a plan that works on your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths.

This does not mean you can’t improve by accident. If you want proof of this concept, simply recall your first few months of doing lifting; you may have been inefficient, sloppy, training without a direction, but sure enough, you got better. Unfortunately, that style of training has its limitations. To continue progressing, you need some combination of a measured approach while occasionally testing your limits. The way you do that is to modify your workouts to your abilities and check your ego at the door.

Like I said, I had a few points I wanted to cover, but as I’ve tried to emphasize throughout this article, training heavy is not always necessary. If one of your goals is to get stronger, struggling under maximal weights 5 days a week is not going to cut it. You need a concerted approach that tests your limits occasionally (maximal method), builds efficient technique and speed-strength (dynamic method) and also incorporates general physical preparedness (repetition method); by combining these methods, you can push your strength levels higher and higher without burning out.

When the time comes to really push it, I like to work at 90% for doubles and triples rather than true 100% maxes. I test my maximum lifts every 2 months or so. Since I’m not looking for massive improvements and prefer gradual and consistent gains, I move up 5 or 10 pounds on a lift and do not often try to re-test higher. If I am stronger, it will probably still be there in a couple months, so no big deal. Always try to leave some gas in the tank for next time. I also train alone most days, so safety can be a concern. If you are in a gym setting with spotters and you only train maximum lifts once every six months or so, go ahead and try to get the most weight possible without hurting yourself. With all that said, do not be afraid to strain a bit under a heavy load. If it is not a little hard, it’s not your max.

from Eat To Perform

Dear diary,
This week has been hard on my quads. Today’s workout was a little bit longer than usual. A workout that’s non-existent in the Marine Corps is squats. Well, today we had two rounds of thirty front squats at 135 pounds, twenty over-the-bar burpees, and ten muscle-ups. So that’s 60 front squats with a pretty good amount of weight. I know for a fact that would have smoked 80 percent of the Marines in my old unit. However, squats are essential to hiking a heavy pack, especially over terrain. Occasionally, after a long hump, we would do 10 or 20 (or as many as we could do) air squats with our packs on our back. I can’t say that my pack was EVER heavier than 100 pounds. The majority of the time it was between 55 and 70 pounds. The object is to always pack light…not see how much weight you can carry 15 miles. Squats make this so much easier and we never did them. We ran. And ran. And ran. And did pull-ups.
Anyway, I think I’ve learned the secret to burpees because today they were easier than they’ve ever been. Here’s an excellent demo of an efficient burpee.

The pull-ups and ring dips and pretty self explanatory. The same goes for the 400m run, which I had to walk some, the abs and kettle bells.

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