Keep it Simple

by: Marcus Taylor
 
I was talking with some folks a few days ago about training. They threw a bunch of questions/comments at me about this and that…“I just wanna get really toned…how do I get strong but not big?…what exercise is good for the back of your arm?…blah blah blah”. All I could do was tell them to liftheavy and focus on multi-joint movements.
 
When Josh and I are programming workouts we always think about the tempo, weights and movement patterns that we are asking you guys to do. There are variety of ways to achieve our goal but we believe that if we focus on FOUR movement patterns then we have given you guys a solid plan. Through these FOUR movement patterns there stands FOUR basic lifts that we base our programming off of. Here they are and here is why:
 
1) Deadlift (HINGE): This movement is an extremely beneficial lift for building coordination, proper posture, and alignment. The focus of the deadlift is primarily the development of the posterior chain(hamstrings, glutes and hips). The deadlift is “a key component for general movement quality” and it works nearly every muscle in the body.
(Variations: Sumo/Snatch Grip/Romanian Deadlifts and KB Swings)
 
2) Squat (LEGS): Read the “Ya Gotta Squat Post from last week”: This is an essential movement for anyone looking to move better overall because of the mobility and stabilization required. The squat transfers over to so many normal day to day tasks that being stronger at this movment will increase overall body functionally.
(Varations: Back/Front/Goblet/Overhead/and Air Squat, Lunge and Box Jump)
 
3) Press (PUSH): This movement pattern has many different forms but it as simple as it gets…Move weight UP….The strict press lift, with strict form and done properly, recruits all the muscles in the upper body and will has the greatest carry over to other upper body exercises.
(Variations: Bench/Strict/Push Press and Handstand/Standard Pushup)
 
4) Pullup (PULL): the pull-up is an essential move to train your back which is crucial for proper posture, stabilization and prevention of shoulder injuries. It’s also an excellent test of “relative strength” (your strength relative to your body mass).
(Variations: Chinup, Barbell Row, Ring Row, Dumbbell Row)
 

Ya Gotta Squat!

 
“Adherence to a squatting program with no upper body work whatsoever will yield upper body development. However, attention to an upper body strength-training program does not yield the same benefits in the lower body. That in itself represents how powerful the squat is as a developmental platform” - Gray Cook
 
It is not a coincidence that we prioritize squatting and hingeing so frequently in our warm ups, strength training, and conditioning. If it’s important, do it every day; other exercises and movement patterns we can get away with training less frequently, but I can’t justify writing a program for a healthy athlete that doesn’t involve hitting the lower body in one way or another every time. All exercises are not created equal and recovery capacity from training is finite; remember that the next time you step under the bar for your 5, 3, or 1+ sets of Wendler Front Squats and max sure you really give it your best effort!
 

Genuine Fitness

 
Your body is designed to adapt to the stresses you place upon it. Stress it with long distance running and you adapt to run long distances more effectively. Stress it with bodybuilding style training (back & bi’s, chest & trio’s, etc.) and you become better at performing single joint, fixed range of motion movements at moderate intensities.
 
What adaptations are we seeking to generate here at CFSS? Simply put, we are seeking to cultivate authentic fitness, not just the appearance of it. Many people look “fit”, but aren’t as athletic or strong as their physiques may suggest. There is clearly a disconnect between how they train in the gym, and the actual demands everyday life places on our bodies.
 
Instead, lets look to find the functional patterns all humans regularly perform (pull / push / hinge / squat / carry), and train them in a variety of ways. If a movement isn’t useful , we won’t train it. The better we get at these functional (i.e. practical) patterns, the more adaptable we become to moving as well as lifting things that are most certainly not barbells or kettlebells.
 
Here’s the nice thing- training for performance and training for aesthetics don’t have to be mutually exclusive goals. Training to have a quality squat and deadlift tend to result in a well rounded, visually appealing physique as well. Train like an athlete, look good naked as a result.
 

The Open is over….What’s next?

 
By: Marcus Taylor
 
So now the Crossfit Open is over…no more waking up on Sundays with butterflies in your stomach about the pain train coming at noon. By now everyone has successfully judged themselves amongst other athletes across the world…we now have a void. Well assuming you didn’t make it to regionals, there’s now a void. This is not the time to let your energy for competition die out. Keep that fire burning and seek out Powerlifting meets, obstacle races, Crossfit throwdowns and competitions (ie your very own CFSS EZ Strength Throwdown coming up in a few weeks…SIGN UP). Especially in the spring and summer months there are a lot of events in the area where you can still use your Crossfit skills. Google is your friend.
 
The key is to continue to test yourself and give you that dangling carrot to chase which forces you into the gym to train. Often times you have to ask yourself “What am I training for?” and having a competitive outlet is the perfect excuse. Once you pay your entry fee you are all in, there’s no turning back. Which is a good thing because you have a deadline for the purpose of your training. If you are new to anything competitive, don’t shy away from it because you think that everyone there will be Alpha males/females. There will be a few but the environment is always very supportive and inviting.
 
All of your coaches will keep an ear to the pavement and seek out competitions and make sure everyone knows about them. Myself and Carlin (one of your fellow CFSS members) will be competing in the July 19th SuperFit Games in Lorton (God help us). Here are a few links to some local events. Yes, most events offer a scaled and/or a masters division so any and everyone can join in. There’s literally no excuse.
 
1) Superfit Games
2) Flex on the Mall – District of Columbia
3) Tough Mudder: Virginia
4) CrossFit For Hope
 

How Low Can You Go?

neutral vs flexed spine side by side
 
The topic of squat depth is one that we talk about frequently in the gym, especially with all of our new athletes. How deep are you supposed to go when you squat? The simple answer is this: as low you can*, i.e. heels on the floor, hamstrings touching the calves, ass-to-grass, all the way down.
 
Now, for the real and slightly more complicated answer. Notice the asterisk above- like everything we do in the gym, there are always exceptions to the rule and unique cases that require individual adjustments to be made. So, how deep are you supposed to go when you squat? Ideally through a full range of motion (all the way down, and all the way up), while:
 
• Keeping the feet flat throughout
• Maintaining a neutral spine
• Not excessively outwardly rotating the feet, or letting the feet move during the squat itself
• And lastly, only going into ranges of motion that are pain-free (pain isn’t discomfort)
 
Keeping the feet flat is fairly self evident; we to maximize our area of base and base of support and by staying flat footed, we put ourselves in the most stable possible position.
 
Neutral spine? Simply put, your lower back is extended “ ) ”, and your upper back is slightly flexed “ ( “ . A neutral spine is our ideal default positioning, where things are optimally aligned and in the best position to deal with loading and movement. In the case of weighted squatting movements (especially the front squat), we want our spine to mimic the 2nd picture, where the athlete is globally extended from the lower all the way to the upper back. It is much better to maintain your back and squat to parallel, while actively seeking to improve your hip/ankle/upper back mobility, than to be like the 1st picture, squatting to rock bottom in full flexion.
 
How do we do this in practice? First, slow it down! Squat slowly enough so that you can detect changes to your back position as you descend. Also, have someone watch your squat and have you pause at the moment you start to flex or round out. Once you add too much speed, fatigue, or load to the mix, things are going to breakdown so be patient. One other thing to mention is that there is a big difference between squatting deep with and without weight. I’m much less concerned about position #1 above if it’s a bodyweight squat, or if you are just spending time in your bottom position seeking to improve squat mobility. However, more depth is counter- productive in that same example if we are talking about a front squat.
 
The optimal foot position (width, toe angle) is a topic for another post, but we do need to address pain. You can check all the right boxes when squatting (neutral spine, good depth, proper foot position, etc.), but if you are in pain during any portion of your squat:
• if it occurs below parallel, reduce the range of motion
• if it occurs above parallel, we will try a single leg pattern (think lunge, or split squat)
• let’s try to figure out the underlying cause or meet with a clinician who can (PT, LMT, Chiro, etc.)
 

The Best Exercise There Is

 
Recently, Mark Sisson over at Mark’s Daily Apple did a piece entitled The Best Exercise There Is, Hands Down. In it, he argues that the Best Exercise there is happens to be the one you will actually do.
 
In his words, “by the most objective definition, the most effective exercise is the one you’ll do. Because heavy squats are fantastic for strength, unless you don’t do them. Because sprinting makes you lean and fast, unless you’re not sprinting. The same is true for everything. It only works if you do it.
 
One reason is consistency: adherence begets success. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner because of a single workout. You get stronger or fitter or leaner because of the cumulative effect of many, many workouts done on a consistent basis.”
 
Having coached thousands of classes and athletes from all different backgrounds and ability levels, I’m inclined to agree with his sentiments. I can wax philosophical all day long about the merits of front squatting, kettlebell swings, farmers carries, etc. I think variations of all these movements (pulling/pushing/hingeing/squatting/carrying) should have a place in everyone’s training, regardless of their athletic pursuits. However, I’ve long since come to the realization that what we do doesn’t similarly resonate with everybody. If you freakin love cycling, or yoga, or bodybuilding, there is no amount of anecdotal or scientific evidence that I can provide to convince to change your ways.
 
There is also a reality that training you enjoy doing, no matter how “incomplete” it is, probably trumps any other forms of exercise that you will only begrudgingly do (and likely quit doing at some point). As Mark mentions, adherence begets success. It is much better to give 100% effort and devotion to a “sub-optimal” workout routine than half-ass a “perfect” workout routine. When it comes to physical activity, do what you enjoy doing, and hopefully find some time to lift free weights and work on your mobility and flexibility in the meantime.
 

¡Salud!

 
I just wanted to take a second to congratulate all of you brave souls who signed up for the Open, many of you against your better judgment, and gritted it out these last 5 weeks. The workouts were predictably difficult and unforgiving, but you all struggled and persevered regardless of what was thrown at you each week.
 
The purpose of the Open is to whittle down the fittest CrossFitters in every corner of the globe to see who has what it takes to compete at Regionals for a shot at the CrossFit Games. There is no scaling, no substitutions, and no saving yourself for the next workout. Once a year you’ve gotta give it your best effort each and every time for 5 weeks.
 
That’s the beauty of the Open- it’s an equitable, objective test of fitness that everyone performs under the same set of rules. Those of you who did these workouts earned the chance to see how you stacked up- against your past performance and against other athletes, including the best CrossFitters in the world. You learn things about yourself in competitive arenas that are impossible to glean in training. Some of you were undoubtedly frustrated; I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing. If you aren’t motivated to improve by shitty performance, I’m sad to say you aren’t an athlete, you’re a hobbyist. CrossFit is one of those pursuits thats just too damn hard to be a hobbyist at, you’ve gotta crave progress to truly improve.
 
My biggest takeaway from coaching and observing you all during the Open is that I’m extremely proud of the effort put forth and camaraderie that was on display all week long. Lots of positivity, cheering, encouragement, and tons of genuine effort. Unfortunately, you can’t pick the workouts, but you can control your attitude and your work ethic. On that front, you guys nailed it. Personally, I can’t wait until next year. Hell, I might even join you guys and do ‘em myself!
 
 
 
….April Fools!

CFSS does WENDLER

 
Josh and I have implemented a NEW STRENGTH TRAINING program to your Crossfitting experience. Our program is based off of the WENDLER PROGRAM which is a strength training methodology that has been proven to be effective by world-class strength athletes. Meaning that YOU WILL see gains. We know and have expected that there will be a learning curve. There will be math involved which is apparently like kryptonite to most of you (half-jokingly said). But get used to it because this is effective and will be very beneficial. But we need your help, here’s how…..
 
Step 1) Keep a log. You MUST know what your heaviest weights per the movements. We use that number and place it into a formula which calculates all of your sets and weights for each cycle (which lasts 3 weeks). The only way that this program will work is if YOU know exactly how you measure up. There are a variety of apps (X Log, WODbook, etc) for your smartphones and a pen+pad works just as well.
 
Step 2) Don’t change your numbers mid-cycle. Stick with the numbers you’ve selected. In certain cases your coaches can make adjustments but there can not be any flip flopping of the numbers. You can round off your numbers a few pounds here and there (ie making 123lbs into 125lbs OR 301lbs into 300lbs) but no outright changes.
 
Step 3) Think 1, 2, 3. Front Squat=1; Deadlift=2; Press=3. Everyone is on a different schedule. Some people train Monday, Wednesday, Thursday while others Tuesday, Thursday, (next) Monday. So whenever you come in you do the lift that you haven’t done yet and follow the 1,2,3 order.
 
If you do know your numbers but don’t have them available at the moment that’s totally fine. Josh has made a spreadsheet (linked here) with a formula to calculate your weights for you. Click on the attachment and/or save the link to your smartphone so you’ll be able to access it whenever. It will get easier to track your progress as you get used to this system AND you’ll see your performance increase as well. Happy lifting!!!
 

Quit or Be Exceptional. Average is for losers.

 
This is a concept central to the theme of the Seth Godin book “The Dip”. If you are unfamiliar with his work, Seth Godin is one of the most well respected names in the field of Marketing and an extremely popular business blogger. Start reading his blog, like yesterday.
 
The Dip explores the concept of knowing when to quit (yes, quit) and when to stick things out for the long haul in pursuit of your goal. Think about high-level athletics, your current job/career, and where you aspire to be personally, financially, and professionally in the future. The achievement of any worthwhile goal requires entering into, and making it through to the other side of a Dip.
 
A dip is the countless hours it takes to study for and take the LSAT, then the process of applying to Law School, the grind of attending (and paying for) Law School for 3+ years, in order to study for and take the Bar exam, to finally actualize your lifelong goal of becoming a lawyer. A dip is also 10 years of toiling in dusty gyms and empty tracks with no spectators in order to finally break through and make a World Championship team. Think of the Dip as the filter(s) or the weeding out process that systematically chews up and spits out pretenders and the mediocre in favor of the genuinely devoted and capable.
 
Why is the dip important and worthwhile? It ensures that those who have the requisite passion and ability, coupled with being in an environment that allows for growth, are able to break through and gain access to a disproportionate amount of income, respect, and opportunity. “Quitting creates scarcity, scarcity creates value.” The dip takes place when you transition from being a novice, making great progress on a daily basis (think ice cream and rainbows), to when you haven’t hit a PR in a few months and marginal improvement takes a significant amount of effort (you are now entering the realm of the professional). This is also the point at which many people give up on a particular sport/musical instrument/hobby.
 
Here’s the thing: there are situations and scenarios where it’s not only okay to quit, it’s actually imperative that you do quit, immediately. If you are stuck in a job, relationship, etc., where there isn’t a link between effort and outcome, and no matter how little or much you do things really aren’t going to change, you must quit. The stakes are too high to invest years of your life playing the wrong sport or working for the wrong company. When things get tough (the dip), and you realize you don’t have the potential to be great at what you are pursuing, have the courage to admit it and walk away. Remember, there are unique and significant benefits that come only to those who have grinded and endured the dip, emerging as experts of their chosen craft.
 

Rising to the Occasion

 
The notion of “rising to the occasion” in pivotal moments in life, athletic competition, in the boardroom, etc. is a commonly held American ideal. We hope that when the times arise to hit the game winning shot, or defend against a mugger in a parking lot, or climb the rope in the last event in the CrossFit Games, we will be ready and able to perform when the stakes are the greatest and everyone is watching.
 
Sadly, this could not be further from the truth. As much as we love come-from-behind underdog stories, particularly in sports, these are rare occurrences for a reason. For every Villanova over Georgetown championship upset, there are 10 UNC / Duke / UConn championship teams. We cannot place our faith in the stars aligning and every possible break going our way in order to be successful in our endeavors, whether in the gym or out. Rather, we should expect to fall to the level of our training when it comes time to perform.
 
If the tasks set before us are known ahead of time, and we chose to not adequately practice the requisite skills needed for competition, in addition to training for the physical and mental demands of said tasks, then subpar performance should not come as a surprise. Remember, effort is really the only thing you can control. You may get unlucky at the movements that come out of the hopper for say the CrossFit Games Open workout, but if you’ve been training to the best of your ability and diligently practice what you are capable of practicing, you should be satisfied with your performance no matter the outcome on gameday.
 
As an example- if you weren’t very good at double unders, and as a result scored poorly on workout 14.1, but you had been practicing them for weeks / months and had yet to master the movement, hold your head high. Some skills take longer than others to master, and we should not get down on ourselves for not having scaled that peak yet. However, if you were an experienced athlete who had all the requisite tools to perform well on workout 14.1, and simply performed poorly on gameday due to a lack of physical preparation, and/or poor execution, you should be much more critical of yourself in this scenario.
 
The body and mind tend to react or par with the way they have been previously trained when exposed to high levels of stress, fatigue, or new challenges. Knowing and accepting this allows us to make a pivotal step towards better performance in all areas of our life.