The White Unicorn

This post shares some similarities to a Jon Gilson article written a while back. In it, he refers to one of his clients as "a white unicorn, completely untouched by the evils of the world." The client in question had never heard of a leg press machine or a pec-deck or any of that other malarkey. CrossFit was the guy's first fitness endeavor and at age 32 that's pretty remarkable.

I met my own white unicorn less than a month ago. Her name is Sai and yes, that name is totally badass, too. Sai's story isn't as drastic as the one Gilson tells and I won't riddle it with flowery language and wannabe-Shakespearean prose. Basically, she joined Balance and had three intro sessions available to her. She wanted to work on the Olympic lifts (the snatch specifically) and was referred to me. Sai had performed the clean, but had little experience snatching. On her first day, after only 45 minutes of work, this was the result...

Now, this isn't some post to make me look awesome (far too late for that), but it perfectly demonstrates why it's important to learn good technique before developing bad habits. Sai was "untouched by the evils" of poor form. And while she's already equipped with good mobility and body control, I'm now on a quest to make her an Olympic lifter (it has so far been unsuccessful). The point remains: with the Olympic lifts, get your technique in order first. Take your ego out of the picture before putting too much weight on the bar. Some of us will have to struggle through correcting bad habits and form errors, but it will pay dividends in the end. Unfortunately, we're not all as lucky as Sai...


Get Inspired

Stuck, stalled, or stagnating? Fret not, it happens to the best of us. Sometimes people find themselves at a loss for motivation, especially now that the weather has gotten more frigid than the Cold Miser's buttcrack. Firstly, I highly recommend Vitamin D3 to combat that seasonal depression, but in terms of stalling on your lifts, go to YouTube.

I'll concede that for every good YouTube video there's about 346 awful ones, but that's what Tosh.O is for. Regardless, the good stuff on there is gold and rife with inspiration to help you break through your plateaus. How about some anecdotal evidence?

Personally, as much as I love squatting, I've had trouble making any significant improvements in it. I maxed at 306lbs a little while back and then got bitch-slapped by 315lbs a week later. Then one day at work rather than actually doing work because that would be stupid, I saw this video...

"I have a question though. What's going on with Hulk Hogan's hair? It's blonde and yet it's silken like that of a Chinese man."

That's Jared Fleming. He's 19 or so, lifts in the 94kg class, and just back squatted 462lbs for 10 goddamn reps. This video made me want to squat. A lot. A lot more than I've been squatting. That night, I back squatted 307lbs for two reps. Obviously, this is still a weaksauce squat, but it was a big PR at the time. And I think strong-ass Jared Fleming and his flaxen locks played a part in that.

This can work for nearly everything. Just like the Waterboy, you have to visualize and attack. Taking on Fran? Watch Rhabdo annihilate her...

Heavy back squats coming up? Check out what Mike Tuscherer is doing in his garage...

Going for a 1RM snatch? Take some cues from Jon North...

Just treat the barbell with a little more respect please.

The point I'm trying to make is that there are people out there doing amazingly strong and badass things and we should be using it to help make ourselves better. Simply put: if not a single one of the above videos pumps you up, you need to take up rollerblading or something.


Footwear: Elaborated

I want to delve a little deeper into the footwear topic I touched on here. I mentioned how modern shoes pretty much suck, disrupt your natural running stride, and are likely doing more harm than good. Now, this doesn't mean you should denounce all worldly possessions and go all Lord of the Flies about it...

That escalated quickly.

Nevertheless, here is a brief guide to footwear choices, depending on the workout...

Chucks: Everything

The classic Chuck Taylors are very versatile, cost-effective, and damn stylish. Chucks are excellent for the powerlifts (squat, deadlift, press) and acceptable for the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean, jerk). The lack of arch support will help build stronger feet, but I recommend easing into these badboys. In other words, doing a 100-rep box jump workout having never worn Chucks could result in an injury, shin splits, or possibly plantar fasciitis. Personally, I prefer the low-tops because the world must bask in the glory of my ankles.

Inov8 / Nike Free: Everything (I think)

I actually have no personal experience with either of these brands, but I've heard nothing but good things. The goal/effect is similar to barefoot training, but there's more interior padding so it'll make for a better transition from those shitty Nike Shox to stronger feet. They're both extremely light weight, pretty cool looking, and will certainly be better than whatever the hell these are.

Oly Shoes: The Lifts & Some Low Impact Metcons

Weightlifting shoes are obviously preferred for the snatch and the clean & jerk, but they're also excellent for back squats, front squats, overhead squats, shoulder presses, push presses, Bulgarian split squats, and so on. Note: I prefer people deadlift barefoot or without an elevated heel. The strap/s on the front will stabilize your foot laterally inside the shoe, while the elevated heel will help keep one's torso more erect, especially during squats. The resulting feeling is that you're seemingly cemented into the ground i.e. stable as shit. Everyone I've recommended Oly shoes to has experienced positive results almost immediately. Generally speaking, weightlifting shoes shouldn't be worn for metcons, but it depends on the metcon in question. I will get more into this later.

Vibrams / Barefoot: Power Lifts & Lower Impact Metcons

Despite looking semi-ridiculous, Vibrams are actually excellent for your foot health. The will help strengthen your arches and improve your running patterns, which will both result in less long-term injuries. The biggest problem I see is people not appropriately easing into them. You can't just run a 5k barefoot without having properly prepared your feet for that kind of stress. Slowly building up the requisite foot strength will pay off in the long run (pun totally intended).

Don't worry, I'm not just going to reference a bunch of shoes without talking about the workouts they'd best be worn in. Oh no, I'll feed you, baby birds. So let's take a look at some sample workouts, the best options for footwear, and the reasoning behind each choice...

Example A
3 Rounds:
10 Burpee
10 Front Squat, 185lbs
10 Pull-ups

Shoes: Oly, Chuck, Vibram/Barefoot, Inov8/NikeFree

A workout like this can be done with any of the above options, but I'd recommend Oly shoes as a first choice. The limiting factor for most people will be the heavy front squats, so weightlifting shoes will help the most. The Inov8/NikeFree option is last because of all the choices, they are the least stable for front squats.

Example B
3 Rounds:
Run 400m
30 Double-unders
15 Box Jumps (30")

Shoes: Inov8/Nike Free, Chucks, Vibram/Barefoot

This one is kind of a three-way tie. Any of the above options is acceptable, provided your feet are adapted and prepared for this kind of stress. It's a lot of running and jumping so Vibrams or barefoot means your feet will take a beating. Oly shoes are obviously not an option as this metcon should obviously not be done while wearing something with wooden heels.

Example C
Snatch 1RM

Shoes: Oly, Chucks, Inov8/NikeFree

For the Olympic lifts, the first choice is obvious. If you don't have weightlifting shoes, Chucks will probably be your next best option. Failing that, go with Inov8's or Nike Free's. Try to avoid O-lifting barefoot or in Vibrams. Depending on one's technique, the feet can strike the ground with a lot of impact. You're better off with some shoe rather than no shoe, even if only for a slightly elevated heel.

Example D
Deadlift 1RM

Shoes: Vibram/Barefoot, Chucks

We want our heels as close to the ground as possible when deadlifting heavy loads, so an elevated heel of any kind will not do us any favors. Staying back on our heels allows us to keep the bar close and helps utilize the posterior chain more effectively.

Again, please note that this isn't some crusade to get you to throw out your LA Gear light-ups and buy fancy new kicks, but start thinking about how your footwear may be affecting your workouts and if some change is needed.