The Exercise Technique Continuum

 
First, let us establish that “perfect” technique is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist outside of the realm of myths and ideas. Get Olympic coaches in a room watching the same competition footage, and you will get 10 different observations on what the athletes did wrong or could’ve done better.
 
A more realistic standard to judge technique is “optimal”. “Optimal” execution is going to be determined by an athlete’s body type, anthropometry (relative segment lengths), injury history, ability, mobility, etc.
 
In life and in sport, there are outliers who seemingly defy the rules and perform at elite levels. Do not emulate the outliers unless your physical structure, experience, and ability matches theirs (hint: it doesn’t).
 
Think of technique as an ever-changing continuum, progressing from unsafe/bad/inefficient to acceptable/safe/semi-efficient, to optimal/safe/very efficient. There are gradations within each one of these landmarks, but the goal is to always be traveling towards better & more efficient.
 
My goal as a coach is to always prioritize safe movement, and then seek to refine and improve efficiency and execution of movement. This is why we are always offering small pointers and refinements; there is always something to be done at a higher level of technical skill. Heavier and better are not synonymous, and an over-emphasis on the latter typically leads to overuse/injury. Continue chasing optimal and the PR’s will follow.
 

The Importance of Breakfast

 

By: Marcus Taylor

 
When I worked a federal government deskjockey gig YEARS ago I was like many of you guys. I would wake up, curse the sun for shining, do the 3 S’s and head out to work. At no point did I take the time to have the most important meal of the day…breakfast. Big mistake on my part because I would lack focus and my productivity didn’t get better until I had lunch (it was gonna be bad anyway because I just hated my job). Which makes sense because that was the first time I had any food. If I had dinner at 8pm my body went about 16 hours without fuel so of course it’s going to be sluggish and unresponsive.
 
Every night I make my breakfast for the morning. It consists of 4 eggs, 4 pieces of bacon and a banana or some other fruit. I get high quality protein from the eggs with bacon and fiber from the fruit. Afterwards, I feel like I can attack the day. There are studies that show that eating a large healthy breakfast leads to weight loss, more strength/endurance during physical activities, lower cholesterol levels and weight control. One theory says that having breakfast makes you feel less hungry throughout the day; thusly, preventing you from having that starvation feeling and eating multiple McDonald’s double cheeseburgers and fries at lunch. Which is another point…eating breakfast can lead you to eating healthier throughout the day and helping you avoid the fast food temptations of the world.
 
I alluded to this earlier. I make my breakfast every night for the next morning. It doesn’t take long at all. 15 minutes while my wife is watching Teen Mom 3 is actually pretty welcoming for me to get away. It’s part of my nightly habits now but I find that it helps me set my mind for the day ahead. So guys do what your mom taught you and eat your breakfast. Stay classy CFSS!!!
 

The Art of Max Effort

 
These next two weeks of training are geared towards actualizing the strength and technical improvements from these past several months of doing Wendler 5/3/1 and setting new personal records in our big barbell lifts. Wendler teaches us how to “grind” and perform higher volume sets at very heavy weights. Our goal is typically to set new rep maxes; we deliberately are not going for new 1-rep maxes during this process due to the resultant fatigue these lifts cause and their effects on our recovery.
 
With that being said, going for a new 1-rep max requires a specific skill set that differs from performing a 5+ set during a Wendler cycle. Here are some pointers and guidelines for you all when attempting new squat, press, and deadlift PR’s.
 
1) Come to the gym ready: this means showing up well fed, well rested, hydrated, and mentally prepared to get after and lift some heavy ass weights. Don’t run a 10k the day before you have to front squat; don’t skip breakfast and have a Larabar for lunch; etc.
 
2) Visualize the lifts you want to hit prior to coming to the gym and during your warm-ups: the benefits of visualization and positive mental thinking are numerous and well documented; top performers visualize all the pertinent aspects of their performance prior to having to be “on”
 
3) Get fired up! This can be internal or external; everyone is wired differently, but make sure you are appropriately physically and mentally aroused before putting your hands on the bar. Get your focus and intensity dialed in, and come correct when it’s time to lift. Do not be passive in any way when taking the bar out of the rack or pulling it off the floor. Respect the weight and expect to have to work for it.
 
4) Expect to Grind: This goes for every “slow” barbell lift- squats, deadlifts, and presses. Max effort attempts tend to be damn hard, and most athletes will typically have a sticking point in the lift, which is the point at which the bar seems to momentarily slow down or stop, forcing the lifter to make a choice. Knowing when to keep pushing and when to bail takes experience, but most novice lifters bail on max effort attempts way too soon. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a max effort. With that being said, expect to have to earn every pound on the bar, and try to avoid giving up on a good lift prematurely.
 
5) Execution: as far as standards and range of motion are concerned, we expect your max front squat and your front squat warm ups to look identical, the only difference being the effort put forth to perform each of these lifts. Same depth, same positions, same technical emphasis, just more tension in your core and aggressiveness during the lift.
 
6) It’s ok to have an off day. We all have off days, and this is okay. Hitting a new max might not be in the cards on the day we choose to go for a 1 rep max for a number of different reasons. Depending on how you are feeling and how your warm up sets look, we may choose to just go for a few heavy (but not maximal) singles and call it a day. We can always go for that new PR another time, just be patient and don’t force something that isn’t there.
 
Hopefully these tips help you in your quest for bigger lifts and new records!
 

The next two weeks…

 

By: Coach Marcus

 
Many of you have been asking about hitting some 1 rep max lifts and some of the benchmark Crossfit workouts. Over this past few months we have had you guys on a consistent linear progression program (Wendler 5/3/1) and I think you’ll be surprised at your new numbers. For lots of you, weights that were your 1RM months ago are now sets that you hit for your 3+ which is impressive. But before we integrate a new strength training cycle into the training, it seems only appropriate that we test out your Wendler Lifts ie the Front Squat, Deadlift and Press.
 
Over the next two weeks Josh and I have programmed the WODs for you guys to test out your strength and capacity. Rest well this weekend as you guys will be lifting heavy and hopefully be setting some new personal records (pr’s). A couple of things to think about before you step into the gym. 1) Get excited because your energy has to be high to set PR’s. 2) Ask a coach about your warm-up sets, and reps. 3) Rest appropriately between sets…at least 2 minutes. 4) Have an idea of what you would like to hit as your 1RM as knowing this helps with the strategy to get to that number 5) Don’t focus your energy on the metcon afterwards…”My legs are are gonna be tired for the 8 min AMRAP”…SHUT UP AND LIFT. 6) Don’t get caught up in what someone else has lifted…loudly applaud your fellow classmate BUT stay in your lane and focus on YOUR task.
 
I’m excited to see the progress you guys have made. Lets have high intensity in the classes this week while we bang some weights. Hit some big lifts and fill up the August PR board folks. Stay Classy CFSS!!!
 

The “Dangers” of Cherry Picking

By: Marcus Taylor

 
I remember growing up and going to the rec to play basketball, you always had that one guy that thought he was good because he scored a lot. When if fact he scored most of his team’s points by “cherry picking” or not playing defense. This guy would forego the good of the team by hanging out in the half court line and waiting for an outlet pass or long rebound to score an easy layup. Thats bullshit, thats not basketball…thats not how you play the game. It’s suppose to be 5 on 5 not 4.25 on 5. Eventually, when he got called out he had to step up and play some defense and then the offense would expose a weak side of his game. The great ones always knew their strengths but worked hard and took pride in mastering their weaknesses.
 
When Josh and I program the WODs we think about the Cherry Pickers and make it so they can’t help but to show up when a weakness can be exposed…ie rope climbing, pullups, longer distance runs, cardio focused metcons, etc. It’s not because we want to see you guys fail, thats far from the truth. We just want to expose you to as much variety as possible to make you more well rounded. So the night before you come in and you feverishly keep refreshing your browser for tomorrow’s WOD post, just say to yourself “I’m coming in no matter what because whatever it is will make me better”. Just know that if a weakness of your’s comes up then that’s your time to be humbled…being humble gives you get perspective on where you are in your training and in life. Cherry Pickers don’t like being humbled so they walk around with this fake bravado to hide their insecurities. The great ones aren’t scared to be humbled. Newsflash folks, you WILL find something that baffles you mentally and physically either at work, home, CrossFit, or life. You aren’t the first nor the last that will run into this conundrum. Stay consistent, ask for help, and stay classy CFSS!
 

Crossing the Line?

 
ESPN: Crossing the Line
 
With the CrossFit Games still fresh in everyone’s memory from this past weekend, it seemed fitting to discuss yet again some important distinctions and misconceptions regarding CrossFit and the sport of fitness.
 
ESPN ironically chose to air this piece (see the short form clip above) on the same day as their live coverage of the CrossFit Games. After watching this video, several things jumped out at me.
 
Improved fitness can and should take place without significant risk of injury, whether we are talking about CrossFit or any other style of training. With that being said, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here. I would classify this athlete’s injury as a highly unfortunate (preventable) freak accident. If you want to attribute blame, without knowing further context, I would say both the athlete and coach are culpable. As an athlete, you have personal responsibility to yourself in the form of self-preservation to not deliberately injury yourself. You should have the common sense to know when your grip is at its limits when dangling from a pull up bar and stop short of slipping off. I also know that athletes are notorious for pushing their limits and often times need someone else (a coach) to step in and prevent them from doing anything stupid/dangerous. In the video, Brad Hawley says point blank that he was going for a new personal record on toes to bar and that his intent was to stay on the bar for as long as it took to reach that number. Red flag! If that is your stated goal, you are inherently disregarding safety in pursuit of some arbitrary personal best. When something bad happens as a result, it shouldn’t come as a huge shock.
 
As a coach, you have a duty to train your athletes in a safe manner that is appropriate for their goals and abilities. As an athlete, you must exhibit good judgment and try your best to not doing anything stupid that may injure yourself or worse, another athlete.
 
With that in mind, I suppose my biggest issue with this video is the lack of willingness on the part of Mr. Hawley to accept blame for his actions. He makes the comment that CrossFit needs to change, or that many of the workouts are too challenging and inappropriate for most folks. Duh! That’s the point. Most CrossFit.com workouts are designed to be hard for “elite” performers when performed as prescribed (Rx’d). The skilled coach/athlete knows their limitations and scales or modifies the workout accordingly. Just because it’s written, doesn’t mean you have to do it exactly that way. Swallow your pride and train at a level that is consistent with who you are as an athlete.
 
CrossFit isn’t the problem- bad and inattentive coaches and hyper-competitive, foolhardy athletes are. Remember, lifting weights isn’t bad for you, but lifting weights incorrectly can certainly result in injury. Same rules apply- toes to bar is only a risky move once you decide to go until grip failure, at which point negative outcomes should be expected. Doing CrossFit as a means to improve fitness, health, and performance needs to stop being lumped in the same boat with competitive CrossFit. Once it becomes a for-profit, competitive sport endeavor, we’ve made the conscious choice that chasing performance (and victory) is the only goal. Therefore, any resultant injuries should be treated in the same manner that other pro sports leagues do – they come with the territory.
 

2014 CrossFit Games – 10 Things I think I think, pt. 2

 
Part 1 here
 
6) I am in awe of the performances of every single male and female Games athlete; I envy none of them. As someone who has a pretty good understanding of the lifestyles and training routines of a Games caliber athlete, and the punishment they have in store at Regionals and the CF Games, I wouldn’t want to be them one bit. The training is essentially year round, extremely demanding, and provides no guarantee of financial sponsorship, nor a return trip to Carson, CA. Pro athletes in major team sports work just as hard, if not harder, but are typically compensated extremely well for their time.
 
7) How about a little more variety in the programming? I love clean and jerks and barbell lifting way more than most, but I also think are more innovative ways to test fitness. How about some more kettlebell and dumbbell work? Sandbag lifting, hybrid strongman style events, obstacle course events, box jumps, use of weighted vests, change of direction/lateral movement drills, balance and coordination testing, etc.? Overall, I think the fittest athletes won. Additionally, the events have to typically work within the constraints of a stadium and certain equipment parameters, however I think there was a bit of repetitiveness to the workouts that could be improved to make for a more compelling competition.
 
8) The evolution over the last 3-5 years of the caliber of competition and the workouts being performed at the Games is astounding. As a student of CrossFit, and the Games in particular, the skillset and ability of today’s Games athletes is simply incredible. They are all strong as hell, technical, efficient, with big aerobic and anaerobic engines, and possess superhuman recovery levels. These people are truly monsters athletes.
 
9) The Games seem to be equal parts ‘test of fitness’ and ‘test of attrition and survival.’ It is the athlete who can endure multiple, often times similar or repetitive workouts a day, for multiple days, and still perform at high level on Sunday that wins. Can you manage to not get injured, stay mentally sharp, physically fueled and ready, and consistently give a max effort for 10+ events in high-pressure competitive environment?
 
10) Look at the faces of the athletes after the last event on Sunday. They all seem to share the same facial expression: relief. Relief that this insane competition is finally over. They are also probably questioning whether the juice is worth the squeeze? Namely, is it worth the personal and professional sacrifices to potentially be great, given how marginal the reward is if you fall short? For every athlete, the answer is: it depends.
 
*11) As someone who has been following the Games since it was held at the “Ranch” in Aromas California pre-twitter, Reebok & ESPN partnerships, live-feeds, and constant media and real time updates, sitting at a bar on Saturday night watching the CrossFit Games live on ESPN is pretty damn sweet. I can’t imagine where this sport is going to go in the next 5 years.
 
*12) The advent of the NPFL has the potential to impact the CrossFit Games in major way. I’m interested to see how the NPFL tackles the sport of fitness/human performance in a team format, and how CrossFit responds in turn.
 
*13) Reebok and CrossFit have a long way to go towards equaling the marketing and advertising brilliance of similar companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour. If you watched any of the FIFA World Cup last month, the contrast is stark. All of the CrossFit HQ and Reebok commercials were simply lame and awkward. In order to reach a broader audience, they need to do a better job of capturing the excitement of the CF Games and the edginess that defined CrossFit early on and harness that into media that resonates better with people watching at home.
 

2014 CrossFit Games – 10 Things I think I think, pt. 1

 
Whew, what a weekend! In case you live in a cave, you are probably aware that the CrossFit Games took place this past weekend in Carson, CA. Over the course of 4 days of workouts, the fittest male and female CrossFit athletes in the world were crowned. The competition was extremely grueling physically and mentally, while also providing plenty of drama and excitement for the fans. Here are my some of my thoughts, impressions, and observations after intently following this years Games competition:
 
1) Rich Froning Jr. is LeBron James; he’s 2008 Michael Phelps; he’s simply the best CrossFitter in the game, period. He’s beaten the field, the distillation of the best CrossFit athletes in the world 4 straight years. Winning once is incredible; winning 4 times is legendary, and likely never to be done again.
 
2) Qualifying for the CrossFit Games is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself. Not every CF Games athletes is created equal, and there is noticeable difference between the top 15 and the rest of the field in any given Games. However, every athlete at the Games has earned their right to be there by being the very best of their respective region; no matter where you place, you are the elite of the elite in the realm of CrossFit.
 
3) Camille put on a dominant performance. Start to finish she looked impressive and extremely well rounded. She beat the field by a strong margin, but in my opinion it was an incomplete field. The defending 2013 Games and 2014 Open Champ Sam Briggs didn’t compete. Neither did 2013 2nd place finisher Lindsey Valenzuela. Neither of them qualified via Regionals, but from my standpoint, in order to be the true champ, you need to beat the current champ (presuming they are healthy and still competing) straight up. I don’t want to downgrade her performance, and she may have still won, but I think the fans and competitors were all robbed by not including Sam in the field.
 
4) Call the winner of the CrossFit Games what they really are: the fittest CrossFit athletes on earth. Fitness may be measurable, but it is also relative to each sport. Would you take any CrossFit Games athlete to start over your favorite NFL team’s starting middle linebacker? How about your favorite NBA team’s starting point guard? Or your favorite MLB team’s best (overweight) power hitter/ace pitcher? Didn’t think so. CrossFit athletes are extremely fit by any measure of fitness, but they are only the most fit by their definition of fitness. Stop comparing them to athletes from other sports, because the comparison is irrelevant. CrossFit athletes are as unfit for the Tour de France as Tour de France cyclists are for the CrossFit Games.
 
5) I wish they would stop using the phrase “unknown and unknowable” to describe the events performed at the Games. While there is certainly an air of unpredictability to the workouts, they all still fall within the realm of predictable as far as movements are concerned. Unknown and unknowable to me would mean making athletes apply their fitness an perform other sports and physical tasks- climbing, field sports, strongman, chopping wood, etc. You know there will be lots of barbell lifting, pull-ups, muscle ups, handstand push-ups, sled pushing, one swim workout, etc. What you don’t know is the exact sequence of movements, load, reps, etc.
 

Trust me, I’m a professional.

 
colbert meme
image courtesy of What Should CrossFitters Call Me?
 
A funny thing typically happens when you take the advice of your coach: it works, and like magic, the movement or skill you are trying to perform suddenly is easier, more efficient, safer, etc., etc. Please, hold your surprise and your applause. Just as you are probably not shocked when your mechanic fixes your car, understand that teaching and correcting movement is what we do for a living.
 
Trust in a coach is built upon a foundation of competency, mutual respect, and reliability. If your coach consistently looks out for your best interest (we always are, even if you aren’t), provides sound and effective advice, and demonstrates interest in your continued improvement, the least you can do as an athlete is lean on them for guidance, and put their advice into action.
 
Lifters often discuss the notion of ‘time under the bar’ as a common saying that describes one’s experience in the realm of strength and conditioning, powerlifting, weightlifting, etc. We coaches have hard earned “time under the bar”, invaluable experience that is only earned through years of hard training. We’ve got knowledge to share gained through self-experimentation and trial and error so that you can hopefully not make the same mistakes. Let us be your lifting sherpas on this CrossFit journey.
 

Rope Climbs are Coming…

 
By: Marcus Taylor
 
The past couple weeks we have been making floorplan changes to the gym to open up the space more and provide you all with the optimal training facility. We’ve moved the O-lifting equipment, painted height numbers on the boxes, and now we hung three climbing ropes. We WILL be adding rope climbs and rope climb variations into the warm ups and WOD programming so everybody is now on notice. What that means is that you’re going to need the proper equipment for protection against rope burns, blisters and hand soreness. Here are my suggestions….
 
1) A good pair of leather/suede utility gloves:
 
gloves and calf sleeves
 
I know we normally frown upon using gloves BUT these ropes can cause some noticeable discomfort. Drop by your local ACE or Home Depot and grab a decent pair for around 15-20 bucks. Not cloth but leather or suede.
 
2) Calf sleeves (above):
 
Not only are these great for Deadlifts by protecting your shins from the bar but they are equally as functional and serve the same purpose for climbing ropes. Especially in the early stages of learning to climb these will help tremendously. Dick’s and Sports Authority would carry these so get some and keep them in your gym bag. Another solution would be to wear knee high socks. They are good in a pinch but don’t offer the same level of protection as the neoprene calf sleeves.