14/2/2017 Training

The last two weeks have been pretty good for training. Last week I finished the final week of my strict press and front squat programme, with some pretty heavy sets. We did 2×3 at 80%, followed by 3×3 at 90%. Looking back on it, the weight to volume might seem pretty high; and they were pretty tough sets, but the fact we managed to work our way through them without failing means they are probably pitched just right. It’s a big ask to perform 3 sets of 3 at 90% of your 1 rep max, but this is coming off the back of 2 previous weeks of progressive loading, meaning by the time you get to week 3, your 1 rep is going to be higher. We’ll be testing our 1 reps this coming Sunday, so we’ll have to see if it’s gone up or not, but I’m feeling pretty confident.

I also made some progress on bar muscle ups this week. I’m far from being a gymnast; I blame my heavy legs, but we looked at some progressions this week and I made some good attempts. My kip is good enough to get my hips pretty close to the bar, so I just need to work on the final part of the muscle up. Chucking your body over a bar that high up is pretty scary for the first time, especially if you’re not sure if your kip will get you there. What we did instead was to place a box under the bar, stand on the box and bend our legs so our arms are at full extension. Then you mimic a kip going forward and then on the back part of the kip, you jump and try to throw your torso over the bar. This took me quite a few attempts to get (and some very sore ribs), mainly to build enough confidence to throw myself over. Watching bar muscle ups, I always thought the press out would be pretty tough, but it was actually pretty easy. This is another thing to add to my list for Open Gym time.

These past few weeks I have also been completing qualifier wods for a local 3 way box competition between our gym and 2 others. I qualified fairly well for the Scaled Division and the competition was this Saturday just gone. I found that I wasn’t quite nearly as nervous as I normally am before a comp, and it was probably because there were so many familiar faces. The first wod was:

10min Time Cap

21/15/9/6/3

Calories on the Rower

STOH with incremental weight 30kg/40kg/45kg/50kg/55kg

Although the weights are relatively low, I went out far too hard on the rower and suffered for it by the time I got into the 9s and 6s. My game plan was to hit the first 2 sets hard and then plod through the rest at a decent pace. This was not a good strategy. In retrospect, this is one that needs pacing from the start. I placed 8th out of 18 for this, which was actually higher than I thought given how poorly it went.

We then moved into the second wod:

5min AMRAP

20 Dumbell Snatches (15kg – 10 right arm, then 10 left arm)

50 Single Skips

I was a lot more excited about this workout as skipping and light snatches are movements I do well at. Although the workouts were announced the day before, they left out one small piece on information: we would have to use their thick ropes, rather than our own speed ropes. Although it bothered a few of the Rx athletes (Rx was double unders), it wasn’t really an issue for me. My singles are good and even if I had to do doubles, I learnt on a thick rope so I might have had a small advantage had I been in the Rx category. Overall, a really gassy workout that was a sprint from start to finish. I placed 3rd on this workout which kept me in the running for a good finish.

Because of time constraints (the rugby was due to start soon and there were beers to be drunk), they made the cut after just the two workouts, rather than the planned 3. The top 5 from each category would then go forward to complete a cut down version of the 3rd wod. My placings meant I scraped in at 5th place. The final:

6min Time Cap

1 Rd of Cindy

1 Bear Complex (40kg)

2 Rds of Cindy

1 Bear Complex (40kg)

3 Rds of Cindy

AMRAP Bear Complex 40kg in Remaining time.

The scaled version of Cindy was 5 jump pull ups and only 5 pressups. This one sucked the most. I didn’t quite realise how much of a beating my quads had taken over the course of the day, but by the time I hit the 3rd round of Cindy, my air squats were slowing me down as I had to break them up into sets of 8 and 7. I made it to the AMRAP section, but I was gassed hard and everything was hurting. I managed to squeeze out 6 reps, but it wasn’t enough to improve my standing and I finished 5th overall. Super happy to have made it to the final, and it’s a great boost to my confidence for certain areas of my fitness, but has also helped to highlight areas I need to work on.

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29/1/2017 Training

Today’s training was a great mix of movements I love and hate. We started off with a 3×3 of strict press at 75%, and then 2×3 of strict press at 85%. Strict press is something I’ve always struggled with, so it’s one of those movements that I always dedicate extra time to. It translates well to jerks which is another area I’m fairly weak in. We then moved onto the same rep scheme and loading for front squats. I’ve been focusing on front squats more than back at the moment as this again translates better to Olympic lifts than back squat. I’ve been focusing on it for a couple of months now, and I’ve seen improvements in my 1rm, but also my squat clean (up 10kg in 3 months). Not only have the strength gains helped my squat clean, forcing my torso into a more upright position has helped a great deal in catching the clean in a good position to drive, rather than letting it drop forward.

Up next was a bit of bench press work, something that doesn’t come up enough in regular programming. Completed 5×5 at roughly 70% of my 1rm, with the last set then going into a drop set of 10 at 45%, then into another set of 15 with just the bar. We also jumped up for some chin ups between sets, another movement not regularly seen in our standard programming.

 

To finish,we completed the following:

5 Rounds for time

5 TTB

10 Press Ups

15 Kettlebell Swings 24kg

20 Kettlebell Deadlifts 32kg

150m run with 25kg sandbag

 

A nice gassy little workout with a bit of weight in there. TTB is another movement I struggle with (most gymnastic movements really). I’ve been working on stringing TTB together without doing a ‘double kip’ for each rep. For the first 4 rounds I was able to string all 5 well, but with shoulder fatigue, the 5th set I couldn’t manage. I really enjoyed the balance between shoulder work, some push and pull work, as well as the leg fatigue from the last two movements. We did originally plan for the sandbag to be 50kg, but as time was running out, we had to settle on the 25kg, which was actually a good call, as it kept the tempo of the wod high. Great day of training, and a great wod I look forward to revisiting at some point, maybe even with the heavier sandbag.

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Crossfit and torn hands

SAMSUNGIf you’ve just started Crossfit and have been acquainted with the pull up bar, you’ve probably already seen what can happen to your hands. It’s not only the pull up bar that hates your hands, rowers and barbells don’t like your soft hands either. You’ll eventually come to a solution to stop your hands from tearing too often; but before that, you’re likely to go through the same thought process as I did.

Firstly, fear. You’ve just started and you’ve heard tales and seen the hands of some of the firebreathers at your box. Maybe you even watched some of the 2014 Games and saw what happened to Jonne Koski (and Maddox’s reaction made this my favourite moment of the Games). You start to fear for your hands and worry about how much it’s going to hurt, it might even dissuade you from continuing with Crossfit altogether.

But then comes denial. You’ve finally mastered toes to bar and your hands are still in one piece. Sure, they might be getting a bit harder in places, but that must help them surely? This is a dangerous phase. You start to get cocky and openly flaunt your new found confidence in your hands by jumping on the pull up bar after the wod, just to get in a few extra kips. Maybe you’ve even openly bragged to your fellow wodders about how good your hands are holding up. Enjoy it while it lasts, you’ll be at the next stage soon.

A crack in the armour. You’ve started to notice some pain along your rock hard calluses when you’re up on the bar. It hurts, but it’s not going to stop you. At this stage, you might start to remember some of the advice the experienced guys in your box gave you. You consider buying gloves or gymnast grips. You start to get careful but you know your time is up. You start to remember the good times atop your throne, but know that the good days are coming to an end.

It happens. And so it should. Every Crossfitter should experience this at least once. You’re deep in Filthy Fifty and just cleared the jump pull ups. You knew before you started the workout that your hands were close to the end, so you’ve been sensible enough to wear those gloves. You handled the pull ups like a pro, but you know the knees to elbow is going to be the real test for your hands. You get 30 reps in and your hands are on fire, and your grip is almost non existant now. You look at your gloves and see a deep red patch coming through. You jump back on the bar to hit another 5 reps anyway. The patch is getting bigger, but there’s only 15 more reps to go. You get 2 more but the pain is too much. You take the gloves off to see that once glorious, hard piece of skin, now loosely hanging and revealing a deep, bloodied sore. You show your coach and he makes you finish those last 13 reps as sit ups instead. But you aren’t getting out of the rest of the wod.

That last example is precisely what happened to me (see the post image). It’s interesting to find out during a workout what level of pain you can really endure, whilst trying to complete some exercise. To someone outside of Crossfit; or even Crossfitters who have yet to have this experience, it might sound mad to see how badly messed up your hand is, but still not throw in the towel on the workout. I desperately wanted there to be a way to get those last 13 KTE, but I knew I just couldn’t. In hindsight, I’m surprised I made it that far. But now that your hands have torn, what to do?

Firstly, you’ll need to treat it like any open wound and clean it as soon as you can. Beyond that, it’s time to listen to everyone at your box and take some measures to avoid tearing your hands again. Not only is it painful, you might also have to get a scaled wod to cater to your pink hands. What I’ve found that really helps for my hands, is to use a pumice stone every day in the shower. While it’s uncomfortable to begin with, your hands will soften over time and help to avoid being torn. One guy at my box has been religiously using a pumice stone and hasn’t had a tear for the last 4 months. Most won’t be so lucky, but it will greatly reduce the risk.

Some people swear by gymnast grips or wearing gloves, but it’s down to personal preference. I don’t get along with gymnast grips, and I find gloves can be a little bit slippy on the bar. At the end of the day though, it comes down to what works for you.

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Crossfit Beginner Goals and Expectations

barbellAlthough I’m no Crossfit expert myself; I’ve only been Crossfitting coming up to 5 months now, but I certainly feel like I’ve moved beyond that initial beginner phase. This whole new world of lifts and movements has opened up in front of you. Sure, it’s daunting at first when terms like “snatch”, “power clean” or “deadlift” are written up on the board and you have no idea what the night is going to have in store. Beyond that, you’ll probably also be worrying about how you’re keeping up with everyone else. Don’t worry, here are a few things I’ve learnt over my recent graduation from Beginner status.

Firstly, get the basic movements down. If your coach is half competent, he or she will make sure you know how to complete some of the more basic bodyweight movements. By basic bodyweight movements, I mean air squats, pressups, lunges, situps and running. Sure, your movements aren’t going to be perfect for a while yet, but make sure you keep asking questions. Your box should also have a “basic skills” type introduction course that all members need to attend. And don’t worry if you need to take the workouts slower just to really feel and practise those movements. It’s better to drill in good form now, than to pick up an injury through bad form.

As for how long it will take to really “get” the movements, it will depend on your current fitness level and prior experience. Running and pressups for me weren’t an issue (although I was far less accomplished at both than I had thought previously), but squats took me atleast 2 or 3 months to really feel how the movement should feel.

Secondly, feeling overwhelmed is normal. I know I’ve walked into the box, looked at the whiteboard and quietly wondered how I would ever complete a particular movement, let alone the workout. Remember, what’s on the board will be for everyone before any scaling is taken into account. Always talk to your coach if there’s something you aren’t sure off, especially if a certain movement will agitate an injury. Your coaches should always have scaling options available, preferably already written up on the board. The great thing about Crossfit is that there are so many scaling options. Can’t do pullups? Do banded pullups. Can’t do banded pullups, how about jump pullups, or lowering pullups? Even then, they can be scaled back to pressups.

Certain movements for me; especially anything overhead or particularly gymnastic movements, really made me nervous. Because of a previous shoulder injury my shoulder strength has always been poor as I’ve been reluctant in training it in fear I’d damage it. My fears were unnecessary as I’ve not since felt pain again in that shoulder. Anything going overhead had me worried. My coaches were able to work with me and my limitations and now I’m overhead squatting comfortably. I’m not lighting the board up with my scores, but I’m not injuring myself and I’m still getting stronger. Don’t worry if your first few wods are completed with a PVC pipe instead of a barbell, everyone else in your box has been there.

Thirdly, try and get a handle on the new jargon. You’ll walk in the box and see “EMOM” this and “AMRAP” that. You’ll hear people talk about “the Girls” and wonder who they’re talking about. There’s a lot of terminology that will be completely new to you. The thing to do again is to always ask. Even if your coach has explained the workout or the movement and everyone else seems happy to crack on, if you aren’t sure, ask! There was a time when everyone in the box didn’t know any of the terminology, it won’t take long before you’re familiar. Of course, it’s always good to do your homework and check a list like this for any lingo you might have missed.

Fourthly, what you put into your body, is what comes out in the box. If you talk to any of the members at your box; and I sincerely hope you do, you’ll probably hear the terms “paleo” or “the zone” thrown about. Both are popular diets amongst Crossfitters. Both incorporate a low carbohydrate diet, cutting foods like bread and pasta, and instead focussing on vegetables and meat. The reason being is that if you put crap in your body, it’s going to show in your workout. Now, you don’t need to go full tilt; by no means am I paleo, but being aware of your eating habits and lifestyle choices is never a bad thing. Switch to water and cut out the sugary drinks for example. You’ll see improvements in your performances at the box, but also in the mirror. Making small dietry changes week by week will soon add up.

Finally, set realistic goals and expectations. When you first start, you want to focus on all of the above and set realistic goals in relation to them. It might be to complete a set of 10 air squats unbroken, or to get your first pullup. 5 months in and I’ve only just got a grip on overhead squats. My next target is to complete a single handstand unaided. Like any new fitness routine, it’s important to make the targets meaningful, but manageable. Don’t beat yourself up for being dead last on the board. Be humble in the fact that you actually completed something that a lot of the public would take a look at and think “that’s going to kill me”.

Most importantly though, is to have fun and enjoy the journey. You’ve only just begun something that’s going to change you physically and mentally, and you’ll start to achieve more than you probably thought your body was capable of. Embrace the community of like minded people that throw it down in the box with you every time. It won’t be long before you or one of your new friends will be gassing in the middle of a workout, in need of someone to encourage and help them through it.

If you think there’s anything I’ve missed that’s been vital for your first few months Crossfitting, let me know in the comments!

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Crossfit Experience – My first WOD

crossfit-logo

Before going to Crossfit, my weekly routine at the gym would be the all too familiar of a chest day, maybe a shoulder and legs day, and then arms… or something? I didn’t really have a set routine and I pretty much lifted the same weight week after week. I was keeping the fat at bay, but I wasn’t improving. This isn’t to say that just going to the gym on your own isn’t a great way to get in shape. When I first got into fitness 4 years ago, it wasn’t because I wanted to be like the guys you see on the front of Men’s Health; hell, I didn’t even think that kind of transformation would be possible, it was because I was weighing in at 256lbs and could only see one myself going one direction if I didn’t do anything.

After a year of cardio and some weight lifting, I was down to a good weight and took to running. Running kept me occupied for a couple of years and I accomplished things that I never thought I’d be able to do. But once I had achieved what I wanted with distance running, my focus went back towards weight training. Going to the gym now felt like a chore, a ritual out of necessity, rather than out of wanting. I spent months without progression and passion. It wasn’t until a friend idly mentioned they started this thing called Crossfit, and that I should come along, did I regain my urge to get down and train.

My first wod (or “Workout Of the Day”) was brutal. I went into it thinking I was fairly fit and that I’d atleast keep up. The movements were basic movements; squats, situps, pressups, running and skipping. In it’s full glory:

400m run with medball

50 air squats

300m run with medball

100 pressups

200m run with medball

150 situps

100m run with medball

200 single skips

My coach went through all of the movements with me to make sure I could do them correctly. My squats were poor but I was ready to smash it; coming from a running background, this looked like my sort of workout. My ego was deflated by the time I got to the pressups. Just 3 pressups in and I was down to doing knee pressups. Then the medball run really started to kick my ass. By the time I was finished (24:23), I was in a heap on the floor.

Not only was I impressed by the level of coaching and support I was given throughout the entire session, the level of community blew me away. From being so used to training alone in the gym without anyone to push you through the “Dark Side” (as our coaches call it), to now having the entire box and community running with me for my last 100m, and then cheering me on through my skipping, willing me to finish reignited that passion for fitness. I was hooked after just one session.

It’s nearly been 5 months since that first wod and I’ve improved and learnt so much since then. We’ve all seen videos that give Crossfit a bad name because of poor coaching, but I’m so thankful for having good coaches that have been able to work with me and my weaknesses. I’ve been able to achieve far more than I thought I ever could, finally getting kipping pullups and now working on handstands. Every time is different, but it always puts me on my ass wanting to improve for next time.

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