12/2/11

SDHP: Stupid, Dangerous, Hazardous to Performance

As some of you may have noticed, there is one movement we do not teach or perform at CrossFit Balance: the sumo deadlift high pull. There is a very simple reason for this: it's dumb.

The first and most important priority of any coach is the safety of his or her clients -- at least it should be. Through firsthand experience, knowledge of basic anatomy, and seeing the movement in action, we believe the SDHP is not safe and therefore not worth doing. Instead, we'll resort to more useful exercises such as kettlebell swings and cleans.

But wait, everything is in black & white, except for his shirt.
So SDHP's have to be cool, right?

Now, rather than have you listen to me rant on about this subject, some experts far more intelligent than myself have weighed in already. We'll start with the following quote from Eric Cressey regarding the upright row, a movement nearly identical in its finishing position to the SDHP:

"I don't believe in contraindicated exercises, only contraindicated individuals. But if there's one exercise that'll ever push me over the line, it's going to be the upright row. This is as internally rotated as the humerus will get, and you're elevating the humerus right into the impingement zone on every rep. For that reason, I'll never write upright rows into a program. The dumbbell version is a slightly safer alternative, although I feel that there are still much safer ways to challenge the upper traps and deltoids. To summarize, if you've ever had a shoulder problem or are at risk, you'd be wise to omit upright rows altogether." -Eric Cressey, on T-Nation

Cressey is known in the strength & conditioning world as "the shoulder guy" and rightfully so. He, along with associate physical therapist Mike Reinold, have managed over $1 billion in shoulders. How is that possible? They've worked with countless professional baseball players, particularly pitchers.

Next is this excerpt from a Performance Menu Journal article written by renowned weightlifting coach, Greg Everett:

"I lumped this exercise in with medicine ball cleans as 'silliness' I ostensibly wouldn't allow with my own clients. This is a minor objection, but my view is simply this: Why not just perform a deadlift high-pull? What advantage does a sumo stance provide for this exercise other than making it easier, and why would we want to make it easier? If, for conditioning, we're interested in moving large loads long distances quickly, why would we shorten the distance we can possibly move the weight, and particularly in a manner that reduces the work of the legs and hips but maintains the work of the shoulders and arms?

I actually use kettlebell deadlift high-pulls in our On-Ramp program, but following those few exposures, it never comes up again. Once out of the beginning stages of learning, our clients no longer need such an exercise - they can deadlift, clean, snatch and the like with various implements. I'm not completely averse to ever doing high-pulls, as I do feel they have their place in certain situations, but the reality is that in large and frequent doses, they encourage habits that interfere with clean and snatch technique, which is already difficult enough to teach to generalists. The SDHP is absolutely not an acceptable substitute for the clean, and it should not be considered a part of a teaching progression for the clean. It is strictly a metabolic workout exercise, and, in my opinion, is not one of the better options available."
-Greg Everett, PM Journal Issue 75



This = more powerful than a SDHP.

And lastly, we have this awesome post from Dallas Hartwig, physical therapist and co-owner/operator of Whole9 - check it out, it's a great resource. I don't want to repost his entire article, so instead, it can be read here. Give it a read. It's short, informative, and has pictures!

So, mostly for the reasons mentioned above, you will not see sumo deadlift high pulls in our programming. And also, because it's dumb. Whatever this movement is trying to accomplish, can be done much safer and more effectively through other means. It's not worth the risk.

In any event, in your travels to another CrossFit gym, you may encounter a workout that employs the SDHP. Luckily, Kelly Starrett offered this mobility prescription to make it - at least - mildly safer. Regardless, you should try to avoid this movement and, by default, avoid gyms that program it for high-reps. It's dumb and you're not (I hope).

11/28/11

Scaling Shouldn't Be Stupid, Part 2

As said in my last installment, the views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. They may or may not reflect the same ideals espoused by other trainers or coaches you have worked with. This is totally fine, but they might suck, so take that into consideration as well.

I'm going to be honest: I don't like high-rep box jumps. I'm sorry. I just am not a fan. I think if risk vs. reward comes into play, the former far outweighs the latter. Now, this isn't to say that box jumps have no place whatsoever in a fitness program, but it all depends on context and appropriate application. The unfortunate truth is that box jumps will always be a utilized aspect of CrossFit's conditioning movements, so the best I can do is try to convey why I don't like them and how you can best avoid injury when doing them.

I know what you're thinking: what risk is there when it comes to jumping on a box a bunch of times? I'm kidding, of course, because if you're actually thinking that, then you're stupid. The obvious answer is combining the fatigue from other movements with the accuracy and coordination box jumps require. Which is why we often see things like this sprinkled across the blogs of many a CrossFit gym...


While many people wear these injuries as badges of honor, they're completely unnecessary and avoidable with a little common sense. Now, the smashed up shin is the more common and known box jump related injury. The one many overlook or maybe choose to ignore is the dreaded and far-too-frequent Achilles rupture. These are occurring more and more and they take months to fully recover from. Performing high-rep box jumps, particularly under the stress of fatigue, is the culprit.

The potential for a ruptured Achilles lies in the execution of the box jump. In the pursuit of speed, people do this. It looks harmless enough, but the shock absorption of the landing to immedate switch to concentric contraction puts an enormous amount of strain on the Achilles. Remember Workout 2 from the 2011 CrossFit Open? Sure, you do.

Unfortunately, this kind of injury is far too familiar to me because it happened to one of my clients. This is Eric and he is fabulous:


During a workout I designed, Eric ruptured his Achilles tendon. Luckily, since he's a baller, it didn't completely derail his training. He spent a lot of time doing handstand work, Airdyne intervals, and a ton of single-leg training. Nevertheless, it took him roughly a year until he was back to top form. His words: "After surgery I had two weeks of not being able to put my foot on the ground. From there I was in a walking boot for six weeks. Physical therapy started soon after. I went twice a week for four months. So six months after the actual surgery, I was done with therapy but I was probably at 65/70% in terms of what I could do physically since I had to rebuild my calf. It was probably a full year before I felt comfortable enough to add some serious weight to squats, but even now if I do 'Annie' my right calf takes much longer to recover." The moral of the story is that the recovery process is a long and arduous one.

If you find yourself facing a workout with high-rep box jumps, it's incredibly simple to avoid injury, be it torn up shins or ruptured tendons. These scaling options are especially important for beginners, mainly women. Why? Because a lot of women have a mental block about jumping on a box. It's very common and I get it. Here are some potential options:

1) Step-ups

2) Less height

3) Less reps

4) Step down

Number 4 is particularly important for the more seasoned CrossFitters as well. This relates back to my previous post about control. Stop focusing so goddamn much on how FAST you do a workout. How much time will you really lose stepping down rather than jumping? Twenty seconds total? I'd rather give up twenty seconds now instead of seven months for an Achilles rupture. Use your brain.

In the long run, box jumps are better used for explosive max effort training. Joe DeFranco uses them for power development for his higher level athletes:


As I stated, unfortunately box jumps are a part of CrossFit and here to stay. So if you have a workout with a lot of reps, please approach them responsibly and try to control your ascent and descent to avoid unnecessary injury.

11/25/11

Cancellation List!

In lieu of my popularity, or rather, the popularity of my Saturday Olympic weightlifting class, I have decided to institute an official cancellation list. Oftentimes, people pre-register for my class months in advance (likely because of my handsomeness) and understandably, things come up and people have to cancel. It happens and I don't fault anyone for it, provided they contact me beforehand rather than pulling a no-show, which would be fucking rude.

So, when you look to the right of this page and see a full class, you have the option to email me to be put on the cancellation list for that particular class. If a spot opens up, you will be emailed to see if you're available to attend. If you cannot, I will simply move onto the next person on the list.

Like normal Oly class registration, the same rules still apply:

1) First come, first served basis.

2) Don't email me asking to be put on every single cancellation list. It'd be unfair to other potential participants and I probably don't want to see you on consecutive Saturdays anyways.

3) Reserve spots via email only. DO NOT SIGN UP THROUGH MINDBODY. We may eventually switch registration to MindBody, but as of right now, I don't trust it enough. Plus, I have a lot of travel coming up and this current system allows me to set the dates in advance on my own terms.

If you've never attended my Oly class and are wondering if it's for you, just ask this guy -- he's my prized student! Other than that, we have this...

11/23/11

Control, Pt. 1

Let me start with something simple: Slow the fuck down. Bear with me, I have a point here. Look, nothing and no one is perfect. There are problems with CrossFit and even more with people. Sometimes both CrossFit and the people doing it focus too much on the wrong things.

As everyone already knows, a big aspect of CrossFit is finishing a workout quickly, getting as many rounds as possible, and so on. Over the years this has been responsible for both the exponential growth and constant criticisms of CrossFit. Unfortunately, I find that one of the most important aspects of exercise/fitness/life in general gets lost in the shuffle: movement quality.

This obsession with speed and finishing your workout as fast as humanly possible leads to a plethora of horseshit: poor form, bad technique, shortened range-of-motion, and an increased risk of potential injury. The simple truth is that speed is nothing without control. If you're moving so fast that your form goes right to shit, slow the fuck down.

This is why many Balance coaches will force you to decrease the weight during your workouts. Even if it feels too light, it's better to reinforce solid mechanics and technique than to let you run the risk of hurting yourself. It's better your movements be fluid and smooth than to look like some asshole flailing about. How fast you finish the workout should ALWAYS be secondary to how well you perform each individual movement.

Listen to this man; he's smarter than all of us...



Bottom Line:
QUALITY OF MOVEMENT IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN JUST MOVING FAST.

8/31/11

Chalk Talk

You don't have to tell me - I already know that's the best blog post title ever. Seriously though, we need to have a discussion about chalk, it's usage, and more importantly, it's absurd misuse I see on a daily basis.

At CrossFit Balance, there are two kinds of chalk available. First is the kind that helps improve grip by absorbing the moisture in one's hands. This is the chalk used by powerlifters, weightlifters, gymnasts, and rock climbers. It's made from magnesium carbonate.


The second type of chalk is what we use to write on the floor to record our weights, rounds, times, whatever. This is standard sidewalk chalk used by children and adults who still play hop-scotch. It's made from the ground-up, powdered remains of Barney.

This is why it's called sidewalk chalk.

Let's start with standard gym chalk. This stuff is excellent, especially in the midst of DC's sweltering humidity. Excessive sweating can really inhibit one's grip on a bar, kettlebell, or pull-up bar. Gym chalk is incredibly help, but far too often, I see it used inappropriately. For instance...

1) Gym chalk should never be used to write on the floor or wall. Why? Because it causes a big goddamn mess. This is why we have sidewalk chalk at your disposal. If there's no sidewalk chalk available, write in your notebooks. If you don't have your notebook, promptly kick yourself in the face.

2) Stop over-chalking. Before metcons, I see a lot of people chalk their hands beforehand (ha! get it?). Then they chalk up roughly 37 more times during the workout. You don't need that much. As much as you think you do, you don't. In a 5-12 minute workout, you don't need to apply chalk to your hands more than twice - maybe three times if it's long and you sweat like Dan Samarov. Really, you're just using it as an excuse to rest when you should be doing the damn workout. Which brings me to my next point...

3) Gym chalk should NEVER be removed from its designated bucket. For some reason, people think they need it right next to them during their workout. Guess what? You don't. When a gymnast or weightlifter chalks up, they don't bring the block with them to the apparatus or platform. And no offense, but what they do is far more impressive. Besides, those extra five to ten steps you'll take to walk to the bucket will not RUIN your workout. When chalk is taken out of the bucket, it breaks or gets stepped on or left out and causes a really shitty mess.

Un-fucking-accetable.

As far as sidewalk chalk goes, it's generally used in our gym to keep track of rounds or reps during a hard workout. For the most part, it's not necessary to have, but it's generously provided to you for ease. Nevertheless, everyone ruins everything...

1) Do not use sidewalk chalk to help your grip. It doesn't work. It's made of calcium sulfate. And no one wants a gym full of neon barbells.

2) Unless you're actually talented, do not use sidewalk chalk to draw dragons, unicorns, and bullshit on the floor. If you're unsure if you're talented or not, just ask me. FYI: I'm going to say you're not.

3) When your workout is over, PUT SIDEWALK CHALK AWAY. Every day it's left sprinkled about the gym as though Oompa-Loompas are shitting all over the place. Like gym chalk, this also breaks, gets stepped on, and causes a mess. I'm not asking you to mop the floor afterwards; just put the chalk back in a bucket or on the window sill or anywhere that isn't a box or the floor.

I apologize if my tone here is one of frustration, but this shit is frustrating. In the end, this is really simple stuff. Stop over-chalking and using it as an excuse to rest. Keep gym chalk in the bucket at all times and put sidewalk chalk away when you're done with it. In the end, you're all adults. I know you're often disoriented and tired after your workouts; regardless, be respectful and clean up after yourselves.

8/6/11

Becoming Bulletproof

I got an email the other day from my friend and fellow trainer, Mike McNiff, asking if I'd be be kind enough to write a review of his new book, Becoming Bulletproof. The email went something like this...

"Hey Quint, even though I learned everything I know from you and you're way better looking than me, would you please write a review of my book? I promise to never squat more than you again."

While I appreciate the gesture, Mike, I actually already planned on writing this review. Squat away, my friend! So let's get down to business and talk about Becoming Bulletproof...


Now, despite the title, which McNiff obviously plagiarized directly from this blog, the book is legit. And at only $8 you get more than your money's worth. It is chock full of useful information ranging from warm-up protocols, workout tips/suggestions, and just generally great all-around advice. It is clear through reading it that Mike and his co-author Tim Anderson put a lot of time, energy and thought into it.

Becoming Bulletproof delves into orders of thinking that I had actually not considered regarding the evolution of human movement, from how we develop as babies and how our bodies learn and adapt. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, we've actually devolved thanks to incessant sitting. Nowadays, the world is rampant with terrible postures and movement dysfunctions, which limits one's potential and eventually results in injury. Mike and Tim have developed steps to "reset" one's body to move and perform the way it should. And what's more is that it's easy to read, even easier to understand, and it works. Want proof?

One need look no further than McNiff himself to see that he knows what he's talking about. Just over six months ago, Mike blew out both of his knees in a back squat accident. It was a catastrofuck. Now, after the doctors told him he'd never walk properly again and that his lifting would be minimal at best, he's squatting in the mid-200's and rapidly working his way back to over 400lbs. By utilizing his own philosophies, he's literally rebuilding himself. Although, I will say he was pretty useless when I needed help moving into my new place last month.

And this is just my opinion, which might not hold a lot of weight to some. But when top-level coaches and strength gurus like Dan John, John Brookfield, and Gray Cook are endorsing your product, you know you have something special. It's cheap, informative, and most importantly, effective. So go buy the damn thing!

7/21/11

Revisioned Olympic Weightlifting Class

Exciting news, folks! Yes, exciting enough to warrant an exclamation point, as stupid as they are. After discussing some things with the higher-ups at Balance, my Saturday Olympic weightlifting class is now FREE to all CrossFit Balance members. Prior to this, it cost $25 per attendee regardless of membership type. Considering the cost of a CrossFit membership (at any gym), it's only logical that programs like this be made available to the client free of any additional cost.

Despite this fine news, there is a catch: the class will be strictly limited to 4 students. Due to the complexity of the lifts and the variannce of skill levels among attendees, the smaller class size will prove more beneficial to the client and much more manageable for me. In order to secure your spot in the class, you must pre-register by emailing me here: qniversal(at)gmail(dot)com. Attendees are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. In other words, the first four people I get emails from will be the final four in the class.

Please note: If you email me, reserve a spot, then pull a no-show and effectively screw someone else out of a potential spot, you may get dicked over next time you try reserving a spot. In short, don't be an inconsiderate douche, if you can avoid it.

The Basics
What: Olympic lifting class - were you not paying attention?
Where: Balance Gym - Thomas Circle, 1111 14th Street NW, Washington DC
When: Every Saturday from 4:30PM-6:00PM
Why: Because you're probably not very good at O-lifting



You say, "Credentials?" and I say, "Booyah!"



7/2/11

The Shelf

Today I'd like to talk some more about bar positioning on the shoulders in relation to a few barbell movements. I've discussed improving the rack position for the front squat already here, but today I'd like to focus more on upper body exercises like push presses and jerks. Why? Because you're doing them wrong.

Broad, scathing generalization aside, I see a lot of people selling themselves short on push presses and jerks because they're not properly utilizing what I like to call "the shelf." The shelf is comprised of the deltoids and upper pectorals - and yes, unfortunately at times, your clavicle as well. This is where the bar should sit until the very last moment in which the bar separates from the body as a result of the lower body's upward force.

Hossein Rezazadeh had a substantial shelf

The position itself requires a degree of flexibility and, obviously, more musculature will give the bar a bigger shelf to rest on. I always recommend that one's forearms be in a vertical position for the shoulder press with the elbows pointing to the floor, just slightly in front of the bar at the start. This ensures a more vertical drive up on the bar. I encourage this for push presses and jerks as well, but in most cases people don't have the requisite flexibility to maintain vertical elbows while resting the bar on the shoulders.


In other cases, you're French weightlifter Vencelas Dabaya

For this reason, I encourage most people to keep their elbows up and relax their hands -- similar, if not identical, to the rack position of a front squat. In either situation, it is absolutely vital that the bar rests on one's shoulders and not in the hands. Too often do I see people performing push presses and bearing all of the weight of the bar in their hands. Ever wonder why you have wrist pain? We lose so much power from our legs when the bar is separated from the shelf position. This will limit efficiency of the movement, which will limit how much weight we can lift, which will limit our chances of getting stronger, which will limit our ability to get more awesome. And everyone wants to be more awesome. Aimee Anaya-Everett teaches people how to be awesome everyday:


Where one's elbows go depends on the individual's preference, level of flexibility, and what proves most comfortable and effective. Two quick examples from two of the greatest weightlifters ever:

Yuri Zakharevich, 225kg @ 110kg BW


Halil Mutlu, 160kg @ 54kg BW

While vertical elbows are likely preferred, they are by no means necessary, especially in the jerk. The point is that regardless of elbow/forearm placement, one facet remains identical in each example: the bar rests high on the shoulders to ensure an optimal upward drive from the legs through the body and into the bar.

An additional factor of utmost importance is keeping the bar on the shoulders throughout the dip and drive portion of the lift. If the bar slips or sinks forward on your chest during the dip portion, the drive will be much less effective. Koklyaev demonstrates this quite well:


So, in closing, improve your front rack position, build your shelf, keep the bar on it, and get the most out of your hips and legs. It's a recipe for success. Like anything Giada De Laurentiis has ever cooked. And with that, we'll finish up with some more Aimee...

6/15/11

Scaling Shouldn't Be Stupid, Part 1

I know, I know... absolutely shameful how long it's taken me to post something. I could argue I've been very busy, but it's more than likely I've just been very lazy. Fret not; I'll feed you, baby birds...

First off, the views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author. They may or may not reflect the same ideals espoused by other trainers or coaches you have worked with. This is totally fine, but they might suck, so take that into consideration as well. Either way, this issue has been chapping my ass for a while now, so out with it, I suppose.

Let's get one thing straight: scaling is important and necessary for most everyone. If a workout is designed to take someone less than 10 minutes, then it should be scaled to achieve this end. This isn't to say that if it takes you 10:35 or 12:01 to finish the workout, that all is lost and you should quit exercising forever. There may just be some minor adjustments needed in the future. But if a 10 minute workout takes you 27 minutes, you fucked up and - more importantly - missed the point. This is why it's important to confer with your coach before your workout, log all of your numbers/times/loads, and be aware of your own abilities and limitations.

The fact of the matter is that a good amount of people out there can't do everything prescribed. If you choose to do "Diane" prescribed and your best deadlift is 250lbs, then I hate you. Put your ego away, tighten up, and take some weight off the bar. Workouts like "Diane" and "Fran" are supposed to take less than 5 minutes. If you slog through it for 12 minutes, then it's not the same workout. Any intensity or power is lost and subsequently converted to movement for the sake of motion. You're better served scaling the workout and finishing it faster.



This guy has every right to do "Diane" prescribed

Alright, enough lecturing, let's get down the nitty-gritty and talk about which scaling options piss me right the shit off...

Double-unders
As far as a "functional movement" goes, double-unders aren't terribly high on the list. Their main purpose as I see it is to maintain coordination and rhythm when you're tired. While I doubt this would carry over to coitus, it's nice to think it might since rhythm and coordination are crucial in that arena.

CrossFit.com suggests doing tuck jumps if double-unders are not developed yet. Their reasoning is that "multiple single-unders in no way compensate for the exertion required for double-unders." My main issue with this is that substituting a double-under with a tuck jump takes the rope entirely out of the equation. If people need to improve or develop their double-unders, what use does eliminating the jump rope do?

With this problem in mind, a compromise I find most effective is to split the reps between single-unders and tuck jumps. This offers several benefits:

1) The exertion of tuck jumps
2) The development of jumping rope technique (while fatigued as well)
3) Decreased chance of injury with reduced repetitions i.e. people shouldn't be doing 400 fucking tuck jumps in a workout

Obviously, this approach needs to be adjusted on a case by case basis. Some quick examples...

"Annie"
50-40-30-20-10
Double-unders
Sit-ups


For someone with no double-unders at all, this workout would be excellent for tuck jumps and single-unders. It would look like this...

25 single-unders
25 tuck jumps
50 sit-ups
20 single-unders
20 tuck jumps
40 sit-ups
etc...

This would allow the person to still complete the workout quickly, become highly "exerted" from tuck jumps, and work on jumping rope while tired. Also, this workout is best whenever this girl does it.

If a workout calls for 100 double-unders at some point, rather than doing 50/50, it'd likely be better to do 25/25/25/25. This way you're not doing too many tuck jumps at a time.

The most important takeaway from this discussion, especially in relation to double-unders, is that you have to practice. Your skills don't improve during metcons. They improve when you devote time to skill development.

More movement scaling to come - Stay tuned!

4/21/11

The Gunfight Update!

So we're only a few days out from The Gunfight: Honor Every Second. This Saturday, April 23rd, will mark the one year anniversary of Amanda Miller's departure from this life. Amanda was tough competitor, a friend to many, and an inspiration to all. This event is our tribute to her. Any and all donations received will go to the Melanoma Research Foundation to assist in their endeavor to combat this awful disease.

Amanda Rose Miller: July 16, 1985 - April 23, 2010

Schedule
The event kicks off at 10AM with workout heats going until 2PM. Heats will consist of 4-5 people and will run every 15 minutes. Afterwards, there will be grilling and drinking. Classic Balance Gym style.


The Workout
At the 2010 CrossFit Games, the first event was named after Amanda to memoralize her in the annals of CrossFit. We felt there'd be no better way to remember her than to do that very same workout.

"Amanda"
9-7-5
Muscle-up
Snatch (135/95)

As this workout will be extremely tough - if not downright impossible - for some people, we have provided the following scaled versions so anyone of any skill, strength, or fitness level can participate.

Scaling Options:
21-15-9
C2B Pull-up
Power snatch + OHS (Load options: 135/115/95/75/65)

21-15-9
Pull-up
Power snatch (95/65)

21-15-9
Pull-up (band-assisted)
OHS (Load options: 95/75/65/55/45)


Donations
People are encouraged to donate on site either via cash or check. All proceeds will go directly to the Melanoma Research Foundation. If you're unable to attend, you're still encouraged to donate online HERE. Anyone who donates $100 or more online or on the day of the event will have his or her name put into a drawing for a free, one-hour Olympic lifting training session with yours truly. Singlet will be worn if so requested.


Other Info
I've been contacted by John Weiss of CrossFit 757 in Norfolk and they will be holding a similar event this Saturday. They will also be raising money for the MRF. Big thanks to him, his gym, and his clients for their support.

As I've mentioned before, Dave Lipson of 365 Days of Squatting is also in the midst of a brutal tribute to Amanda. He squats at least 450lbs. Every day. For an entire year. Dave has teamed up with AgainFaster to sell Amanda Miller t-shirts to also benefit the MRF. I highly recommend them. The material is great and the design is awesome - two pistols on the hips, just like Amanda's.


About Amanda
For more information about Amanda and her struggle with melanoma, please refer to her blog here. Her friend Emily posted the following in the comments after Amanda's passing...

"In this legacy you have left for all of us to ponder and reread whenever we struggle, you have touched countless lives, probably more than you could comprehend in life. Your short time on this earth and epic battle with an aggressive disease will be talked about and used as an example of the way to live life. Never let anything stop you and never give up. I love you to pieces, girl. I will carry you with me in my heart through every competition, struggle, and challenge in life."


4/10/11

Competing Yet?

Okay, I admit it - these blog post titles are getting ri-goddamn-diculous, but bear with me, as this should be my last installment on competition (for now, at least). This past Sunday was the first-ever Capital City Open at Balance Gym Kalorama right here in Washington, DC. Personally, I think it was a huge success. Over 55 lifters competed, male and female, ranging from a bright-eyed 16 year-old kid to a 40 year-old former Lebanese National Team member.

Two weeks ago, to prepare mentally and physically, a group of us organized a mock meet. It was an opportunity to find out what our openers would likely be, how a weightlifting meet works, and most importantly, lifting in a singlet (one of the greatest privileges in sport). Two weeks later, the Capital City Open was upon us...


Here's a breakdown of each lifter's performance...

Sai hit her first snatch easily - something many people struggle with in their first meet due to nerves and all. On her second snatch, she lost tightness in the bottom, and regrouped like a badass to recover and stand. Unfortunately, her arm bent at the bottom and the judges red-lighted her lift. Her third attempt also got a bit wobbly, so the bar went back and fell forward after she tried to correct. Later, she annihilated all of her clean & jerks. In retrospect, I should have forced/tricked/persuaded her into going higher on them, but I'm happy she went 3 for 3 on them.

Lauren missed our mock meet because of a trip to Vegas. She hit her first two snatches quite handily with power snatches. Her hesitance to get under the bar was evident on her third attempt, though, as she couldn't quite finish her third attempt. The fact that the bar was elevated enough to nick her forehead means she has a lot more in her. For her clean & jerks, Lauren also went 3 for 3, again opting for the power versions. She finished with a PR of 59kg.

Quick note: The difference between Sai and Lauren is very interesting. Sai has excellent technique, but needs to get a lot stronger. Lauren, on the other hand, is very strong, but needs to further develop her technique. These differences aside, they both performed great at their first meet.

After an amazing women's session (one 58kg girl clean & jerked 87kg!) it was onto Nick's and my session. Nick (69kg Master Division) went pretty conservative with his openers as it was only his second meet. He is still have some bar path issues with his snatch because of an early hip rise, but he ended up hitting 71kg on his final attempt. Some other issues arose with his clean & jerks. He opened solidly with 90kg, missed 96kg because of a press out, and then hit 101kg like a champ. Short as a mouse, but strong as an ox. As we continue to iron out his technique, his numbers will only go up.

Personally, I (77kg Senior Division) hit several meet PRs. I hit 76kg on my second snatch and missed 80kg because I'm a pansy. Still need to strengthen my overhead position, but looking at the video, 80kg shouldn't be giving me problems... ya know... if I man up already. At my last meet, my final clean & jerk was 94kg. At this meet, 94kg was my opener. I then hit 100kg to match my PR, and then finished with 103kg to set a new personal best. All in all, a damn solid day.

And lastly, there was Chris (85kg Senior Division). Chris was very quiet before his session, but I couldn't tell if it was nervousness or focus. I think it was a little of both. He decided to open with 90kg, a weight he has routinely hit in training. He put a huge amount of velocity into the bar, let his hips rise early, and just missed it behind. We only jumped a kilo to give him a little rest and to ensure he got on the board. He hit it with ease. From there, we went for a PR attempt of 96kg, which he couldn't finish. On his clean & jerks, he hit his opener and missed his second attempt of 118kg because of an incomplete pull. Since we were only 3kg away from a potential PR, we said screw it, and loaded it up to 121kg. Unfortunately, his drive was a bit sluggish. In the end, he only hit 2 out of 6... but because his openers were so high, he finished in 2nd Place in the 85kg Senior Division, arguably always the most competitive division at a local meet.

So in the end, five lifters went in - three with absolutely no meet experience at all (Sai, Lauren, and Chris) - and everyone did amazing. Sai finished 1st in her weight class, while Lauren took 1st in hers as well. Nick took 1st in the 69kg Masters. I finished in 2nd for 77kg Seniors and Chris took 2nd in the 85's.

All in all, it was an exhausting but incredible experience for all. Everyone was almost anxious and eager for another meet. The truth is, there's no real reason not to compete in something. Hell, I actually knew I would finish in 2nd Place because Tyler Miller competed and I don't live as much as he does... yet. But that's the beauty of it. You come, compete, meet new friends, test yourself, and just have fun.

So with that in mind, be sure to come out to The Gunfight: Honor Every Second, our Amanda Miller fundraiser for the Melanoma Research Foundation, on April 23rd! Donations can be made HERE!

Thanks to everyone who attended to show their support for all of the Balance Gym athletes, thanks to all of the judges, volunteers, and Kalorama staff, and thanks to John Filippini of South Baltimore CrossFit for setting up the whole damn thing!

3/24/11

Compete For Fun, Compete To Train... Don't Compete To Win?

Bin is back, folks! In this installment, my favorite Asian chef from Texas who's name is Bin dicusses the usefulness of competition in a different light. Thrusting himself into DC's Most Primal, a competition that he had little preparation for, gave him some personal insight into the benefits of competing. Read on for some goodness...

If anyone who read the last post and thought that it was a bit extreme, well, I'd certainly agree. While it's certainly helpful to be able to pull up that deep emotional state for an extra edge, how healthy can it be all the time? Chef's can't always be creative, writers can't always produce, and athletes can't always keep themselves that high-strung. We need rest, rejuvenation, and to simply get away from time to time. There's no reason you can't stay competitive within your sport and without, but sometimes it's important just to compete for fun, for training.....but not necessarily to win.

I've had the opportunity to train with a couple high level teams in the past, where pressure was a constant - to beat the other guy, to beat yourself, in competition and in training every day. The sport itself was individual, which meant that although there was teamwork and camaraderie in training, ultimately you had to beat everyone around you. One team happened to be one of, if not the best in the nation for several years running: The atmosphere was militaristic, high-stress, and emotionally grueling, but it produced like few others could. It has and continues to create top-tier MMA fighters and repeat world champions in grappling, but that wasn't without a price. For every individual that made it to the top there were others that had fallen out as a symptom of the environment. Many were injured, many dropped out from overtraining (which as a concept didn't exist; everyone just cursed their bad health and hobbled along until it "went away"), and sometimes people just lost it altogether. One national champion walked away for several months, becoming a competitive salsa dancer for a while, and another internationally-ranked grappler disappeared to live the expat life in Guam. Both of these guys, though, are extreme examples and have since returned to the sport as instructors.

In any case, though I was never faced with the same pressures as these top-tier guys, training with them and being in that same environment meant that I picked up that same viewpoint - competition and training had that same gravity, and if I couldn't give everything to every moment there simply wasn't a point to me trying at all. While on the one hand this meant that I was incredibly motivated whenever I did train or compete, over time I learned to dread everything, even as a concept. In my mind going to a competition meant weeks of dedicated training time, controlled meals, and a complete and utter mental focus at the cost of everything else in my life. There was no option to compete casually or on a lark; it was either all or nothing. Eventually it got to the point where I could only compete a few times a year, needing at least a month or two to decompress afterwards. Suffice to say, I started enjoying it less and less to the point where, unless I knew I could show significant improvement, I didn't want to go at all.

This attitude stayed with me until I took my first intentional "off-season." After my most recent Olympic Weightlifting meet I decided my next big competition would be the American Open in 2012, and knew that I had to seriously plan my training if I were serious about even qualifying, and my first decision was to take real time off from O-lifting before embarking on a 2 year training plan. I decided to pick up another sport during this time, and my choice ended up being, of all things, Crossfit. It certainly wasn't new to me; Crossfit had introduced me to Olympic Weightlifting, but doing the actual competitions was never something I had considered; Crossfit had always been a training supplement for other sports, and to me it was simply another tool in the toolbox, never a thing in and of itself.

Entering my first Crossfit competition was quite the experience. Suddenly the same emotions were welling up again - those same feelings of urgency, panic, desire, and fear from before, except this time, there was no pressure. There was no team resting on me, no name on my arm nor patch on my back, no posse ready to take down any judge that gave me a faulty ruling. I was just there for me and no one else. No particular outcome meant that I won or lost, that my training had succeeded or failed me - I was just there to see what I could do. Suddenly, competition was a test that I was posing to myself, rather than an expected outcome, where winning was a given unless I found out a way to screw it up.

I found this to be marvelously freeing. It was still a competition, of course, and though I wanted to place as high as I could I understood that my results were simply a reflection of the training I had done up to that point - nothing more. They had no bearing on me as a person, on whether or not I was good or bad, lazy or hard-working - these may sound obvious, but mindsets that are ground in for years are hard to get away from. If my performance lacked here or there, it was because my training was missing this or that. It was a learning experience, something that would improve my training in the future, something that would only benefit me regardless of how well or how poorly I performed. I could still channel those same corners of my head from before, but this time I was using those feelings as I pleased, rather than as a slave to them. Losing no longer meant that I had colossally screwed up something that was already in the bag.

Being out of my element and competing in a new sport brought on the understanding that our results are a reflection of the total sum of our training up to the moment of competition. Regardless of judging, the particulars of that day, or freak accidents, our performance will always only be a marker for where we are in our journey. If we're suddenly sick or injured, then the results will just show how prepared we are to deal with adverse conditions. If our training has made us the a champion, it'll reflect that, and if our training has made us stagnant, well, it'll show that too. In training we pick our cards and get them in order, but once the day comes it's too late to change what we've already got - we can only play the hand we've given ourselves, and really there's no point in worrying much on the mat, the field, or wherever. In a way, this might even mean that our competitions are really won or lost in the training we do; our performance in the actual events are only really meaningful for the purpose of officiation. In any case, that pressure that we place on ourselves on gameday must be kept in perspective with what we can actually control at that point, and not be allowed to run our lives. Perhaps it's helpful, even healthy sometimes, to compete with a solid dose of pressure to win in your veins, but it wasn't until I competed without it that I realized that it is simply a motivator, nothing more. Just another tool in my toolbox to get me where I want to go.


Bin focusing just before Event 2 at DC's Most Primal... in a V-neck

3/15/11

Win.

For my third installment regarding competition, I thought I'd compose this little diddy for the hyper-competitive types. As I've said before, everyone should be compete in something, even if only for fun (really, it should always be fun). This is encouraged and will be a good experience for anyone. In fact, a lack of competition in your life could contribute to any feelings of suck you're having about yourself. Coach Rut from Bootcamp Fitness makes an excellent point...

"I believe our nation's competitive environment has made us a world leader in virtually every category. My concern now is that we are losing our competitive edge. So how has this happened? Like any issue there is no clear singular cut cause. A combination of factors contribute to this soft environment. I know that in my lifetime, I noticed a change in how competition was regulated when the boys participated in youth sports. Lots of participation trophies, hugs after the games and a clear agenda to make everyone 'feel good' about the experience. Physical Education programs have been watered down or eliminated. No scores, no clear winner, no touching - no competition. No exposure to competition leads to complacency. As we all know, this isn't the real world. Every day the best competitor comes out on top. Competition is not only healthy, it is necessary."

Basically, you can't spend your life doggy paddling in the shallow end with a pair of water wings on. Challenge yourself once in a while. In this same vein, there are people out there who don't just want to compete; they need to win. Like Ghengis Khan. There is nothing wrong with being crazy competitive, but it takes a lot of work, time, and commitment if you truly want to exceed yourself. So let this impending rant be dedicated to those who just want to dominate everything and be fucking awesome.

This guy exceeds himself everday. With pornstars and cocaine.

Let's face the facts: America (and likely the world as a whole) has gotten soft. The internet, Twilight, advancements in technology, Ryan Seacrest, and all this other crap has turned us into a bunch of pansies. Don't get me wrong, I love the internet and my car and all that, but shit, these days they cancel school if there's a chance of snow. Whatever happened to spanking your children, making them do manual labor, and not giving them backpacks with wheels. We're breeding a generation destined to lose to those who actually understand the concept of work and effort.

Destined to lose his lunch money.

"As a society we don't test because we don't want to know. We put the ball on a tee to be certain of a hit. Participation earns a trophy. Podiums have five steps. There is no penalty for losing. This, when virtually every coach and player and thinker agree that losing teaches the lessons; while winning results from having learned (and applied) those lessons. Without tests or boundaries, how is one supposed to grow? When everyone is a winner, who is left to learn the lessons?" -Mark Twight

So how do we allay this onslaught of weakness? How do we put a stop to the wussification of America? We take off the swimmies and jump into the deep end. We work our asses off day in and day out, we sign up for a shitload of competitions, and we win.

3/12/11

Devil's In The Details

Today's topic will be similar to a previous post. One Saturday, a new guy named Ben came into my Olympic lifting class. Ben had a powerlifting background with some pretty goddamn impressive numbers i.e. 460lbs squat, 300lbs bench, and a 5something deadlift. Bear in mind, he was also 5'7" and weighed around 185lbs.

Now, provided he had ample joint mobility, with that kind of strength base, Ben could be a monster O-lifter. Nevertheless, like everyone new to a sport, he had some kinks we needed to iron out. Ben normally trained with a solid coach in Maryland, but his first pull irked me a bit.


Note how drastically the bar is traveling around his knees. Part of this is due to how low his hips are in his start position. From there, without driving his knees back, the bar has no option other than to move around the knees. An excellent quote I once heard: "We move around the barbell, the barbell does not move around us." As many of you will remember from this post, the job of the first pull is to put us into an optimal position for the second pull. This requires us to push our knees back off the floor, while the hips and chest rise together. After tweaking Ben's positions and drilling some of the movements, here's the result:


Looks much better to me. Right now, Ben is still relatively new to the sport so he has a little ways to go, but with his strength, mobility, and willingness to learn, well... I'm just glad he doesn't compete in my weight class.

Again, the purpose here is to highlight the very technical nature of the Olympic lifts. An early arm bend, a short hip extension, weight shifting forward, the bar swinging out in front, whipping the bar backwards - all of these minor mistakes can be the difference between a PR and a failed lift.

On another note, Sai set a PR snatch that very same day...


Look for both Sai and Ben at the Capital City Open on April 9th at Kalorama!

3/8/11

Compete (Again)

Many of you know my friend Bin. He's a good shit...

118kg clean & jerk

Anyways, Bin also embraces the benefits of competition. He's currently a top-notch Olympic weightlifter, he participated in DC's Most Primal (with less than three weeks of conditioning work), and he used to compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Thai boxing. He wrote the following piece in reference to his martial arts days and how competing is a part of his life:

I don't compete because I want to win. I don't compete for glory or for a feeling of satisfaction. I compete because I want to face failure, face the risk of failure, and test myself against the odds. I compete because it is my mind against the situation I am given. Competition is never a test of my abilities, my methods, or my preparation; it is purely a test of my will, and whether I win or lose, succeed or fail, is only a product of my mental state.

I find the atmosphere of competition intoxicating. It is my catharsis, my opportunity to channel everything in my life that oppresses me, everything that hurts, into something purposeful and beautiful. What would normally sit and fester, stew and rot inside me is instead purified and put to work. In those few moments before it begins, nothing feels more miraculous than the rage welling up inside me until it is almost too much, waiting for that clock to start. Once things begin the dam bursts.

To be sure, these patterns are tried and true for me. As a child searching for a way to deal with myself I found the masochism of training to be engrossing. At a time when it seemed like I was at the mercy of pain and suffering dealt to me by everything and everyone, finding a place, a means, to control the pain seemed like nothing less than salvation. In the beginning it was the training that I found rewarding - the daily exhaustion, the inability to think or consider the inanities of my life, and the struggle to merely survive gave me definition and necessity. Suddenly I had a daily goal, a task that I had to accomplish. Luckily I was young enough to buffer and push through what was almost certainly severe overtraining.

My first time in competition, however, was a revelation. All the hours and weeks in training paled compared to the gravity of that moment. Everything I had worked for, every scar, every lost hour of sleep, was distilled into these few minutes, these few moments really, in which I was given an opportunity to prove myself, not just to me, but to everyone around me, to these nameless faces that had come and gathered to witness. The crowd wasn't cheering for me necessarily, they were just cheering. But that didn't matter. In my mind and in my heart, everything that had been shoveled onto me up to that point was suddenly my ballast, the mountain I stood on to tower over the person facing me. He wanted to defeat me, but he didn't know what he was dealing with. He had no idea of what I had been through, what was driving me. He didn't know my resolve and how much stronger it was than he. How easily it could break him.

That part of my life is long passed. My days of one on one contests are over, but the spirit remains. It is rooted deep within me, waiting to be tapped, to be set free, and though my outlets for competition have changed, my motivations, what goes on inside, have not. I realize that these circumstances and attitudes are unusual, borderline unhealthy even, but to me, there's nothing else.

3/3/11

Updates Galore!

Just a quick post to update folks on happenings, events, and goings-on. Fine, I admit it, I just really like the term "goings-on." Anyways, here's where things stand as of right now...


Capital City Open

John Filippini from South Baltimore CrossFit and I have been coordinating on setting up a USA Weightlifting meet inside the beltway. We decided to call it the "Capital City Open." John submitted the meet sanction form to USAW officials and we've discussed a few logistics thus far. As said before, it will be held at Balance Gym Kalorama on April 9th, 2011. We haven't nailed a time down just yet, but we plan to cap the event at 60 competitors, so be sure to get your application in early once we make it available.


The Gunfight: Honor Every Second

After some fine-tuning and help from my brother, the donation site for the Amanda Miller fundraiser is live. Donate here!

Please be sure to spread this link around to your friends, family, and co-workers. All proceeds go to the Melanoma Research Foundation. Eventually, I'll have more details on participation registration, scaling the workout, and so on. In the meantime, check out the awesome event announcement my brother put together:


We plan to have posters made to hang in the gym and advertise the event. All are encouraged to attend and participate, but doing the workout is totally optional. Regardless, any and all donations will be accepted. Watch the video below to see footage of Amanda from the 2009 CrossFit Games:

2/26/11

Compete.

Before I begin this piece, let me apologize for my lack of posts lately. It's been a bit hectic lately with the gym, programming for individual clients, my own training, and CNN coming into my office to film a bunch of bullshit. Regardless, I will do my best to post more frequently on a variety of topics. Today is something very important: Competition.

2010 Keystone State Games
Choi, Bill, Jenn, Dameon, Bin, Connor, Q, Nick, Ken

Personally, I think competition is vital for anyone looking to unlock his or her true athletic potential. And, of course, "competition" can be defined in many ways here:

You vs. The World
Admittedly, that sounds WAY too dramatic, but this refers to invididual competition, be it a CrossFit Sectional, an Olympic weightlifting meet, a marathon, a triathlon, etc. Whether being done for fun or with a deep desire to win, these competitions require a lot of focus and training. Sure, you could just sign up for a marathon with ever running, but that'd be pretty damn stupid. You'd be better off putting in the miles, monitoring volume, improving recovery, and running a solid time. This all, of course, hinges on whether or not you're comfortable running for an extended period of time.

You vs. A Friend
Similarly, this can be a friendly rivarly or a heated competition. Oftentimes, you'll find it beneficial to compete against your friends as it helps to provide motivation. Ash prefers to work out when Chris is around because they match up well. Lauren constantly asks what Cram's time was on the workout, so she can try to beat it. This extra bit of motivation can pay dividends in the long-run. There's no reason to just half-ass a workout.

You vs. You
This should be the most common for casual CrossFitters. Trying to best your own efforts should always be in the back of your mind. If you spend too much time focusing on everyone else's performance, yours will suffer. While aiming to stack up against other people helps, you can only control what you control. You only improve by putting in the work, setting personal records, getting enough sleep, eating well, and doing it all again.

And those are just three quick perspectives; there are countless others out i.e. You vs. The DMV, You vs. Scientology, or The World vs. Scott Pilgrim. Look through whichever lens you choose, but accept that competition is important to success.

Allison, Danielle, Chris, & Nick
taking 3rd at the 2010 BWI Hopper

Most importantly, having "something" to train for is crucial. This could be as simple as a 10lbs weight loss goal or as difficult as winning a gold medal at the Olympics. In either case, you're provided with something to train for, which drives you harder and makes your training more meaningful. This all reverts back to goal-setting and the like, so I just you get on that as well. Dan John once mentioned the quote from Don Quixote: "It's not the inn, it's the road." Sometimes the journey means more than the destination.

EGP winning bronze at the 2011 Baltimore Open

Even if you're not a competitive person, sprinkling a little into your life is well worth it. You remember Sai, right? Well, she's a lawyer working in a very cutthroat environment, so competition never appealed to her. After months of pestering, I may have finally convinced her to compete, if a friend's bachelorette party doesn't fuck everything up.

Sai - 37kg clean & jerk

I understand that actual events, games, or meets aren't for everyone. Hell, I never thought I'd wear a singlet and lift barbells in front of people, but now I love the shit out of it. And if it's not your cup of tea, that's fine too. I still recommend competing against yourself to insert some more motivation in your workouts. And for anyone sitting on the fence about signing up for an event, watch this...

2/7/11

The New Year

So it seems fitting that I do a post on the New Year, the dawn of 2011. It seems even more fitting that I'm doing it in February, a month after the stupid ball dropped. As is to be expected, gyms are likely packed with people who've resolved to improve their fitness or appearance in lieu of the new year. Sadly, what's even more expected is that many of these people will shortly give up on these goals. To those people lacking the willpower to commit to their goals, I have an idea for you...

Resolution: Stop Sucking

It's customary on all fitness blogs (probably all blogs for that matter) to do a post on the new year, setting goals, talking about events/competitions, and generally making promises you're unlikely to keep. Negative? No, sir, I'm just a realist. Don't get me wrong, setting goals is important. If you ask Dan John, keeping goals is more important.


The problem with resolutions and even goals is that they're a whole lot of talk. To actually achieve or accomplish something, you actually have to do the damn work. Nothing happens overnight and there are no secrets to success. Hard work and determination equate to success. In the gym or otherwise.

Sometimes, however, people need a slight kick in the pooper. Oftentimes, a punishment or ultimatum helps motivate people and keep them committed to their goals. An interested website a client referred to is me stickK (thanks, Gillon!). It's basically an incentive program to help you - wait for it - stick to your goals. Read up - it's a fascinating and likely very effective approach.

The bottom line with goals and resolutions and promises is this: keep your eyes on the prize. Don't sway or falter. And if you do, get right back on track. Don't let your goals become the thing you talk about, rather than the thing you do.

2011 Events/Competitions

Just to keep people apprised of what's going on this year:

DC's Most Primal
Date: Sunday, February 27th, 2011
Time: 9AM - 4PM
Location: Primal Fitness, 219 M St NW, Washington, DC, 20001

This will be the second year of this competition hosted by Primal Fitness. Last year, it was very well put together with some very cool events. Sign up soon as registration is limited! And even if you have no interest in competing, you should come to cheer on CF Balance monsters Allison, Ash, and Chris - as well as CrossFit DC beast Dan Samarov.

CrossFit Games Sectionals
Date: Tuesday, March 15th - Sunday, April 24th (I think)
Time: ???
Location: Anywhere, I guess

The information released so far about the CF Games Sectionals has been archaic and confusing thus far, to say the least. The organization a little sub-par as well. Regardless, it all begins on the third Tuesday in March, lasts six weeks, and promises to be quite challenging - if only for all that damn video editing required.

USAW Olympic Weightlifting meet at Balance Gym Kalorama
Date: Saturday, April 9th, 2011
Time: TBD
Location: Balance Gym Kalorama, 2200 California Street NW, Washington, DC, 20008

This one is currently in the development stages. Fellow lifter and coach John Filippini from South Baltimore CrossFit is looking to organize a meet within the DC limits and we both agreed that Kalorama would be an ideal location. Nothing is set in stone as of right now, but we're working out logistics now. This is an excellent and fun opportunity to compete in the awesome sport of Olympic weightlifting.

The Gunfight: Honor Every Second
Melanoma Research Foundation fundraiser in memory of Amanda Miller
Date: April 23rd, 2011
Time: TBD
Location: CrossFit Balance, 1111 14th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20005

CrossFit Balance will be hosting this event to help raise money for the Melanoma Research Foundation in memory of our friend Amanda Miller who passed away last April. The following workout will be done in her honor:

"Amanda"
9-7-5
Muscle-ups
Snatch, 135/95lbs

Afterwards, we will have a cookout riddled with meat and beer. Everyone is encouraged to attend, participate if you wish, and donate/raise money. It's for a great cause and in memory of an amazing young woman taken from us far too soon.

The Balance Gym Barbell Team/Club

This is something I am looking to develop/expand in the very near future. It will provide a chance for people interested on more Olympic lifting focus to further develop their strength and power. Again, the wheels are spinning on this one and more information will be given as it's available.

1/27/11

The First Pull

The Olympic lifts are difficult. I seriously debated ending this post right there. But instead, I figure I'll continue with a basic discussion on the first pull of the Olympic lifts. This topic has been touched on before by sources much more credible than myself, most notably Greg Everett's excellent (and free) article The Olympic Lift Starting Position. I strongly encourage you all to read that because it is excellent and covers more than I possibly could. And while you're at it, subscribe to the Performance Menu Journal - it's an excellent resource well worth every penny.

The first pull itself is not a "pull" per se, as the barbell's movement is initiated by the legs driving against the ground. We're using the hook grip, our hips are just above our knees, our back is straight, and our lats are tight. As the barbell is elevated off the floor, our weight will shift from the balls of our feet to our heels. We will drive our knees back, putting tension into the hamstrings - this tension is dependent on your flexibility as some people will feel less than others. A key point is that our hips and chest rise at the same rate, in unison. If our hips rise early, the weight will shift forward resulting in the bar swinging out. If our chest rises early, the bar will have to travel around our knees. Note the picture below:

Note how the knees travel back and the bar is almost pulled slightly toward the body as it rises. The torso position doesn't change at all until the scoop or transition. Once again, read Everett's article for more on this aspect of the lift. You can see the knees being driven back in the below video of Andrei Aramnau:


You can see how his knees are flaired in order for the barbell to have an uninhibited upwards path. You may also note how his weight is shifted to the outside of his feet. Don't fret on that as it's part of Aramnau's personal technique; it's far more important that you focus on driving the knees backwards. The completion of the first pull should result in a vertical shin position as demonstrated below:


Adrian Zielinski, 173 @ 94


Lu Xiaojun, 174 @ 77

As you can see in both pictures, the torso inclination remains constant, the back rigid. The bar is close to the body, the shins are vertical, and the shoulders are still over the bar. This is all vital to ensuring an appropriate bar path. To see an more in-depth analysis of bar path trajectory, the below video from crackyflipside is excellent.


Many people wonder how fast the first pull should be. As Everett states in his article (which you should have read twice by now), "The sole purpose of the starting position (and first pull) is to allow an optimal second pull. The second pull of the snatch and clean is the source of the overwhelming majority of the upward acceleration of the barbell - it is the heart of the lift. The first pull serves only to optimize the second; the starting position serves to allow that second-pull-optimizing first pull." For this reason, speed is not necessarily the intended purpose. Too many beginners yank the barbell off the floor, pulling their bodies out of position and missing the lift or performing it in some disgusting fashion. Naturally, some might use this kind of evidence for rebuttal:


Let's get something straight: every lifter in that video has been lifting since they were children. Their technique is excellent because they have roughly 23,000 more total reps than any of us do. When first learning the lifts, however, positioning is paramount. Again, don't let your ego hinder your progress. As much as you may want to just throw a shitload of weight on, until proper technique is developed and ingrained, the bar should be lifted relatively slow and controlled. Once my lifters positioning is sound and their technique consistent, I tell them to move the bar "deliberately." I don't even say "fast" at that point because ensuring an appropriate bar path is still more important. True speed actually occurs from the power position, but that's an entirely different discussion.

As you can clearly see, I did not go into excessive depth on this topic because it's been tackled before, but hopefully the pictures, videos, and powerpoints have opened your eyes to the proper execution of the first pull. And seriously, if by the end of all of this, you haven't read Everett's aforementioned (free) article, then you suck. If you're interested in learning more about the Olympic lifts, my class is currently on Saturday afternoons. Feel free to email or leave comments with any questions as well. Lastly, I highly recommend Greg Everett's book Olympic Weightlifting: A Complete Guide for Athletes & Coaches. Buy it or I won't invite you to my birthday party.

1/17/11

The Law of Repetitive Motion

Let me take a guess? You're still working that desk job. Fine. I get it. I mean, I already told you to quit, but I guess you have bills to pay and such. Nevertheless, I'm obligated to continuously hound you lot to make minor adjustments that will have major implications on your health, posture, and performance.

Once again, sitting down for extended periods of time is bad news bears. Our glutes are in a stretched/weakened position, our hip flexors and hamstrings closed, our spine and shoulders rounded anteriorly all stupid-like, a forward head posture, and so on. I've quoted Eric Cressey numerous times, but it always bears repeating: "The best posture is a constantly changing one." So get up out of your desk chair as often as possible. Put your arms overhead, stretch your hip flexors, do some weighted neck bridges.

I'm kidding. Please don't do these. Especially at work. You'll look like a real asshole.

Basically, move around. Don't sit in front of your computer any longer than absolutely necessary. A concept I learned from Cressey is called "the law of repetitive motion." Here's the formula:


Looks a little confusing, right? He elaborates on it in this newsletter and finishes it up in this newsletter. Read them. Seriously. It's important stuff.

Since I know some of you jerks didn't read it, the basic point is constantly putting your body in poor positions, either through bad form/technique or simply lackluster posture, can drastically increase the potential for injury to the affected tissues. For instance, do you ever experience shoulder pain? Is it normally in your right shoulder? Did you every think it may be from sitting at a computer, moving that goddamn mouse around all day?

You little dick.

I'm not saying this is the sole reason you may have shoulder pain, but don't be so quick to blame the exercise. Yes, performing a push press incorrectly might contribute to the problem, but possessing already weakened tissues in the shoulder girdle is likely a culprit as well. Basically, I want you to be more conscious of the positions you put yourself in everyday. Maybe move the mouse to the left side of the desk. Sure, it'll be frustrating at first, but improved dexterity is never a bad thing. Stretch your hamstrings and hip flexors. Do some birddogs. Think about your posture, sit up straight and true, tuck in your shirt, and have a sense of pride for God's sake. In fact, go take lap...


There's more to this whole exercise thing than weights and workouts. Put and keep yourself in favorable positions at all times and you'll improve your performance, decrease your likelihood of injury, and look and feel better. Being proactive always trumps being reactive.

1/4/11

Rep Maxes

Working up to a maximum effort set on the barbell lifts is a challenging endeavor you'll be asked to do frequently when training. These sets can be 1-rep maxes (1RM), 3RM, 5RM, or any crazy number really. Technically speaking, you can do 20RM sets, but the effect is a lot different than 5-reps or less. Low rep / heavy weight sets help improve our neuromuscular efficiency. Without getting too sciencey, this is basically how effectively we recruit contractile/motor units. Basically, neural efficiency results in our muscles firing properly and in the correct order. This has less to do with the actual size of our muscles, but rather how they work synergistically with our brains. This is how smaller, less muscular people can be drunk-gorilla strong. For instance, Taner Sagir has absurd neuromuscular efficiency:



So how do we improve this? We lift heavy. Often. That's the simplest explanation I can muster without bullshitting or boring you. With CrossFit Balance's current programming, you'll be asked to max on a variety of lifts three times per week, descending from 5RM to 3RM to 1RM (or possibly 3RM to 2RM to 1RM). This is based off of Mike Rutherford's excellent Max Effort Black Box program. The problem I see most often with people is not knowing how to appropriately work up to these heavy sets. So, let's get to it...

Finding A Range

First and foremost, if you've been training for a while, you should have a general idea of what weight you're capable of lifting. This reinforces the importance of tracking your progress. If you have no idea what you squatted last week, how the hell will you know what to squat this week? So, for the sweet love of Christ's Chin, please make sure to write down your numbers. Drawing from your past performances, you should have a range from which to pull numbers you can feasibly lift. Quick/easy example: If you can squat 225x5, then you can almost certainly squat 235lbs for a single.

If you've never attempted a 1RM on a particular lift before, but have gone for 3 or 5 or whatever-rep maxes, you can use the following formula recommended by Jim Wendler: weight x reps x .0333 + weight

Example:
1) Your 5RM squat = 225x5
2) 225 multiplied by 5 = 1125
3) 1125 x .0333 = ~37
4) 37 + 225 = 262

So, generally, if you can squat 225x5, you should probably be able to squat 262lbs for a 1RM. This obviously isn't exact and may not be entirely applicable to women, but again, it will help give you a range to work from. Naturally, factors like lack of experience, fear of heavier weight, and so forth will play a role. Figuring out your 3-5RM maxes will take more work since there isn't a fancy formula for them. Also, it should be noted that this formula is better served for the powerlifts since the Olympic lifts are much more technique dependent, but I'll get more into that later.

So, once you have an idea of what you're going to lift, an effective warm-up will be paramount. Many people struggle to find the balance between sets/reps/load and will either do way too many warm-up sets or not nearly enough.

Working To Your Number

Before you even get to the bar, you should have already done a basic warm-up consisting of foam rolling, mobility, and some light calisthenics. This will help reduce the risk of injury, improve range of motion, lubricate the joints, and hopefully assist in setting some PR's. Don't go for a max cold. Also, if you know you're working to a max on the bench or back squat, be sure to have a spotter. More importantly, make sure he or she knows how to spot. And just to keep things thorough, you can't spot a deadlift, press, push press, snatch, clean, front squat, or jerk - these either happen or the lifter just safely drops the bar.


Don't ever do this. Or I will kill you.

So, now that you've done a basic warm-up, begin with an empty barbell. I think this is very important before lifting any significant weight. One or two quick sets of 5-8 with an unloaded barbell will help reinforce solid technique, warm up the body, and groove the movement pattern into your muscle memory. After that, you will begin adding weight. The weight you choose will hinge on a variety of factors, such as what rep max you're going for, what lift you're performing, and what color plate you think is most pretty.

This is where your rep/load approach gets important. Essentially, your reps should decrease as your weight increases. I sometimes describe this as "pryamidding down" although in retrospect, I have no idea why I call it that. I also have no idea where I get off trying to use "pyramid" as a verb, but I digress. So, let's look at an example. Let's say the workout is to work up to a 3RM back squat. Your best 3RM is 225lbs and you'd like to set a PR. Here is a potential approach:

Barbell x 8 reps
95 x 6 reps
155 x 5 reps
185 x 4 reps
205 x 3 reps
225 x 3 reps
235 x 3 reps

So as the load increases, the reps decrease. This helps prime our central nervous system to lift heavy weight. What is also important is that your rest periods must increase as well. The heavier, more taxing the weight becomes, the more rest your body will need to lift at its full potential. When lifting maximum loads, you should be resting at least three minutes between sets, if not more. One minute will not nearly be enough and fifteen minutes would be far too long.

I've read that renowned strength coach Charles Poliquin recommends the following when working to 1RM back squat:

4 @ estimated 40%, rest 10 seconds
4 @ estimated 40%, rest 10 seconds
3 @ estimated 60%, rest 30 seconds
2 @ estimated 75%, rest 60 seconds
1 @ estimated 80%, rest 120 seconds
1 @ estimated 85%, rest 120 seconds
1 @ estimated 90%, rest 180 seconds
1 @ estimated 95%, rest 240 seconds
1 @ estimated 100%, rest 240 seconds

Now, this is incredibly precise and may not even be feasible without some assistance. You would obviously have to have your percentages sorted out beforehand and have the bar loaded in a specific manner. Nevertheless, the concept of load increasing while reps decrease remains.

Other Factors

Form: After attending the 2009 CrossFit Games, there was one thing that kind of irked me. The deadlift event, which was cleverly conceived and exciting to watch, left me with a slightly bad taste in my mouth. For the sake placing as high as possible, many people's form went to absolute shit. I don't fault them for this at all - they were in the midst of a competition and did whatever they could to score points. Plus, they were all seasoned CrossFitters and knew the potential risks of poor deadlift form. Again, none of that bothered me. What pissed me off is hearing people exclaim, "Oh yeah, that's a PR!" Seriously? Do you know why so many people "PR'd" that day? Because in training, none of them are dumb enough to do this:


My point is this: don't call something a PR if it's a dangerous or plain disgustingly performed lift. If I receive a jerk or snatch with my elbows partially bent, then it doesn't count. In training or in a meet, it won't be a personal record. If you don't go below parallel on a squat, then it wasn't a complete lift; and how could you logically compare it to your previous full-depth efforts? I'm not saying the lift in question needs to be performed with the grace and elegance of Jackie Onassis, but if not performed correctly, you didn't set a personal record and you run the risk of getting hurt. Okay sorry, rant over.

Experience: If you're just coming out of Foundations or generally new to lifting heavy weights, be patient. Don't get all Gung Ho like Michael Keaton and throw 600lbs on the bar to try and impress the girl (or guy) smothered in Lululemon. What's most important is familiarizing yourself with the lifts, developing sound/safe technique, and building slowly. This will result in steady strength improvements and almost eliminate any chance of injury.

The Rep Scheme: The daily rep scheme will vary from time to time i.e. 5x5, 5x3, 5x1, or maybe 5-4-3-3-3. Unless the workout is designed for straight sets (the same weight for all sets), do not feel chained to a rep scheme. If the ultimate goal is lift a 3RM and you've got more in the tank, keep going. Oftentimes, I see people smoke a weight with ease and then stop. "What are you doing?" "Oh, that was my fifth set." "I don't care, it wasn't your max - put some more weight on the damn bar." Don't sell yourself short - if you're lifting safely, set some personal records.

Power lifts vs. Olympic lifts: This is also important. The difference between these types of lifts means that warming up and approaching your sets will be a lot different. For one, I personally don't think the Olympic lifts should be done for more than three reps at a time. Load increases will vary between the power and Olympic lifts as well because the O-lifts are so damn technique-dependent. Don't get me wrong, the deadlift still requires some technique, but it's not nearly as complex as a snatch. If the workout calls for a 2RM power snatch and you're not confident in your technique, then don't go for a 2RM. Do sets of a two with a light-to-moderate weight and drill your technique in. Proficiency in the Olympic lifts takes a long-ass time and there is no reason whatsoever to rush it and develop bad habits and shit technique.

So there you have it: a long, excessively verbose discussion on finding your rep max. If you have any questions, feel free to ask and I will find someone much smarter than me to answer them. Now, get off the goddamn internet and go lift some heavy weights.

Saved By The Bell couldn't get rid of this Max fast enough