The Correct Soreness

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It has taken me this long in my life to finally find the balance. When I was young, and even not so young, I thought I had to hammer my body into perfect shape through brutal means. I was doing the prescribed 100 reps of everything. I was running for 8 hours straight. I pushed the extremes…always. Even when I got into yoga. I always thought if I wasn’t sweaty and spent from Ashtanga or Power yoga, then it wasn’t worth my money to go to class.

It wasn’t until several years ago when I took yoga teacher training that I learned I could let go of my ego. And believe me, I had a huge one. It was all “Go Hard or Go Home” for me. I learned meditation. I learned the balance between Raja and Tamas to find the true center of happiness, Sattva. I found doing very hard, strenuous poses followed by Yin and Restorative poses brought you to bliss, or Samadhi. But this also bled over to CrossFit and my other pursuits. I stopped doing prescribed workouts and instead found my own way.

The key to CrossFit and high-intensity training is to find intensity over time. The time could be 2 minutes or 45 minutes. This was brought to light in the Olympics. I saw 200m sprinters completely exhausted after putting everything they had into their race. They were like top-fuel dragsters who put their bodies to the extreme. But you watch a 5K run and there is the same intensity. The same cup-full of energy is poured out more slowly, but the same effort is given overall.

When I went to the CrossFit Level 1 trainer course, they mentioned how intensity can’t be measured in sweat. One instructor said that in Atlanta with no air-conditioning in the gym, you can break into a full sweat just tying your shoes. Sweat doesn’t equal intensity. In some respects, I believe that soreness also is not a perfect indicator. Soreness is more linked to eccentric movement (lowering a weight or lengthening muscle). However, muscle soreness does indicate that you did something that caused micro-trauma to muscle tissue. So it does measure that aspect of working out pretty well.

The key to soreness for me is the right level of soreness. When I used to run ultra-marathons, it would take a full week for me to walk normally again, let alone run. It may take 2-4 weeks to find full recovery. I just listened to a podcast with Sara Sigmundsdottir, the CrossFit Games 2016 champion. She said it took 45 days to finally feel normal again after the Games. Extreme competition is admirable and its amazing to see what the body can do. But for most of us, that is way too much. As non-professionals, we need to live out our professional lives too.

I still vary the time periods from 2 to 45 minutes for my workouts. But most fall in the 5-10 minute range. I may do 2 to 4 different workouts of this nature in one session. If I’m doing strength or Olympic Weightlifting too, I may do a WOD as my warm-up for lifting. I may also tap into a 2 minute all out effort or Tabata Intervals (8 rounds of 20 second work and 10 secs rest). BTW, search for “Tabata Songs”. They are very useful for Tabatas. When I took high school physical fitness classes, they defined a mild soreness as being isotonic. It means that you have a nice tautness to your muscles as a result of exercise. You don’t have to kill yourself to get this feeling. But I believe you should feel something.

Here is an example from yesterday:
6 rounds for time
6 deadlift jumps with a trap bar with 111 pounds6 burpees
6 lat pulldowns on a cable machine

You don’t have to do 25, 50, or 100 reps of an exercise to feel the effect. To me, that is all about ego. If you want to grow and function in real life, let go of the ego. You’ll be nicely sore, fulfilled, and always ready for more.

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“Constantly Varied”

In the past few days, I’ve come to some brutal realizations. Specificity of movement is real!

In my mind, I think to myself “yeah I could pop off 100 push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups without thinking about it”. Maybe at one time that would be true. Today wasn’t that day.

Don’t get me wrong, I teach intense yoga classes 3 days a week, I do my own practice on top of that, and I do Olympic weightlifting. I honestly try to stay on top of things. But since my recent commitment to upping the percentage of CrossFit into my life again, it is a rough reality.

I strained a latissimus dorsi, aka “Lat”, more than a month ago. So, I’ve been resting and not doing pull-ups or similar movements. I added a metcon with some pull-ups in it and it was like starting over again. Not easy at all. 

I also did a Tabata sit-up interval. Now, I’ve always been able to do sit-ups for days. I also do a lot of ab-related work in yoga. So I thought, this would be an easy addition that would get me some core work. The first two intervals went well. Then the wheels fell off. I would be afraid to admit how few I did all together. Boat pose and similar movements are super awesome and I highly recommend what they do for you. But they aren’t the same. 

Specificity of movement has a large role in our lives. Yeah, you might do lat pull downs for days, but if you aren’t swinging a sledge or chopping wood, you might find the “suck”. I will say, there is carry over for a lot that you do. The more you vary what you do, the better you’ll adapt to a different movement. But if you get stuck in only one pattern, you might have some issues.

Constantly varied should be your mantra if you want to function in life. Vary the time domains from a 1-minute max out for reps to a long 30-45 minute grinding WOD or cardio interval. Do heavy lifts, gymnastic movements, and sports. Vary the time of day you workout, vary what you wear, vary everything! Then you’ll always be ready.

On The Edge

merman pose

This morning, I did a hard CrossFit workout. People who dislike CrossFit always point out how form breaks down as you get tired. That seems to be the biggest detraction from this form of high-intensity exercise. Truth is, they always show a video of a beginner who is still in the process of learning proper movement patterns. Yeah, you could say maybe they shouldn’t be doing an Olympic clean & jerk in the first place. But the same could be said for a simple pushup or air squat. All of it is interconnected. What I have found is that mid-way through a workout (WOD), I find a few form glitches just because I’m trying to move faster. But as I get really tired, my form actually improves. A single 135# clean & jerk starts to look like an attempt at 245#. I get set, focus on my pulls, and focus on form. Its the only way you’ll get the weight up. So form degradation is really not happening.

This leads me to yoga. The other day, I taught a Rocket Yoga class. At the end of 5 sun salutation A’s (surya namaskar A) and 4 sun B’s, I had them jump right into a forearm stand (Pincha Mayurasana) for 10 breaths. Usually, when I have yogis do harder inversions and arm balances, I have them rest in child’s pose first. Then they can focus on form and putting strength where it needs it. But we jumped right into it.

This could be done for any technical movement. It might be a difficult yoga pose, a heavy weightlifting movement, walking a slackline, or posing on a Stand Up Paddleboard. It makes you reign in the chaos of your mind, forget the lactic acid in your muscles, and makes you focus hard on the task at hand. So, after my hard CrossFit WOD this morning, instead of laying on the floor and bragging about the sweat angel I made, maybe I should do a handstand or forearm stand. Maybe I should do a set of slow, deep squats. Or balance in Chair Pose on a Bosu Ball. Then, I’m not only training my body, I’m training my mind. It is a true test of focus.

(pictured: me in Merman pose, a man’s version of mermaid. Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

Metal Treadmill


I was a runner for 40 years. I started doing the Presidential Fitness Challenge during Physical Education in the 5th grade. Not long after, I ran my first 10K. It was the beginning of the running boom so the 10K and marathon were the only races. The Army, road racing, then trail racing ruled my life. Trails led to ultramarathons. I’ve run sections of many major ultra race courses and mountains. I’ve run in all lower 48 United States, Hawaii, Canada, Germany, France, and Australia. I was a runner. 

Then, 3 years ago while ramping up for a trail ultramarathon, something rather quickly went wrong in my left calf. I was getting into CrossFit which led to Olympic weightlifting. I was doing many split jerks and it happens that my left foot goes back in the lunge. It was tightness or maybe overuse in the calf that let go. I let it rest a week, but couldn’t run at all. A week went to a month. Then I lost the Summer. I got deep into yoga and teacher training. But by the next Summer, I tried again. Nope, it went out again. This led to years of not running after running all my life. It has been heartbreaking. 

Running was my release. I swore off roads long ago. I swore off shoes too. I am an outdoorsman. So hitting the trails is what connected me to my inner being. I’ve seen so much. I’ve endured wonderful hardships. I loved it. 

So I try again. I’m on the treadmill running and walking with stupid soft shoes. My split jerks are no longer new to me. I am stronger. I’m ready for it. And YouTube metal and hard rock keeps me pleasantly occupied. I’ll soon add heavyhand dumbbells and ditch the shoes. You need strength for trails. This Fall, you’ll hear the pitter pat of feet on muddy trails. I can’t wait. 

Topside Squats

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My latest ideas come from listening to Mash Mafia podcasts with Travis Mash. They were talking about isometrics for powerlifting. For example, if you had two sets of pins in a power rack, you limit the upward progression like for a bench press. You don’t even need a lot of weight on the bar. You press against the pins and hold for a number of seconds. It simulates a max lift like no other. They were also talking about slow negatives, lowering the bar through a movement at a very heavy weight.

The one they got me to thinking was doing walk-outs on the squat with some astronomical weight. Feeling a very heavy weight on the bar and standing there for 10 or 20 seconds (or more) is quite an overload. Olympic weightlifters do this with jerk recoveries. They rack a bar so you are almost at full extension with arms overhead. You might start in a shallow split squat or power jerk position with your feet. Then you walk to lockout and hold as long as you can. It gets you accustomed to locking out heavy weight.

So here is my plan:
I have a goal weight that I want to squat. I’ll take my safety pins up as high as they will go on my rack. I’ll walk out with my goal weight and squat to the pins and push back up. I’ll probably only drop a few inches into my squat. But it will program my body to know what that kind of weight feels like. Over time, I hope that I can do 5-10 reps at that weight. Once I can do that, I’ll drop the pins another notch and go a little deeper. Eventually, I’ll take it all the way down to full depth and have my goal accomplished.

The hesitance I would have about this, which is why I’ve not done it before, is that your muscle memory would take away from squat depth and overall flexibility. So, to counter this, I’ll always finish with some A2G (ass-to-ground) squats for reps to make sure I don’t lose my depth. And, I’ll only do the topside squats one day a week. I’ll get the neuromuscular trauma and then allow for full recovery. Plus, I’ll still be doing Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit movements anyway, along with lots of yoga. So there is no fear of losing proper squat depth.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

The Perfect Male

crossfit body

Yikes! At first glance, no problem. At second glance, we probably shouldn’t be talking about what perfect is or trying to fit someone else’s standard. However, allow me to wander.

To meet the demands of performance in competition at the CrossFit Games, there IS a law of averages. Yeah, this sometimes goes out the window with outliers, but the average doesn’t lie. The average clean & jerk in 2015 was 318 pounds. So athletes have at least a 405 deadlift and usually much more. A 365 squat is also a likely minimum. But they also need to be able to run at least a 6 minute mile, do 100 pullups with a 20 pound weight vest, and row a half-marathon. If you’re too small, you won’t lift the weight. If you are too large, you’ll die in the longer events. So what is the perfect male body size for CrossFit competition?

In the 2016 Games, the average height of male athletes was 5 foot 9 inches at a bodyweight of 194 pounds. Consider Rich Froning is 5’9″ and 200#, he fits this well. Mat Fraser, the reigning champion, is 5’7″ and 190#. Rich Froning carries about 11% bodyfat. I would imagine that, due to the workload and need for stamina into 30-45 minute events, having bodyfat reserves is a good thing. Bodyfat also allows for good recovery and hormone production. It wouldn’t pay to have 6% bodyfat in performance athletics. So, I suspect a good number of male CF athletes fit this profile.

So this comes to me. I’m a Master’s male athlete. I consider myself short, but I fit the profile of a CF athlete at 5’7″ height. I weighed in this morning at 190#. However, I am 4-6% higher in bodyfat on average compared to top Games competitors. Also, everyone loses muscle mass as they age, so I could afford to be in the 175-185# range to optimally perform in CrossFit.

Despite all of this, what am I going to do? Ummm, nothing. Other than eating clean, getting nutritious food, meeting protein demands to keep muscle mass (which means strength), and drinking lot of water, I’ll keep at what I’m doing. I still have cheat foods (or reward foods), but I could probably cut back on those a bit. I don’t really need french fries with a meal. I don’t need 3 donuts when 2 would feel just right. We have to enjoy life, right? As long as I’m doing the hard work, varying what I do, exploring time domains from a few minutes to an hour, keeping up with massage and yoga, and doing a variety of sports, then I should be fine. We’ll see about the Games Open competition next year.

 

CrossFit “Andy”

OK, so there may already be a WOD (workout of the day) named “Andy”, but ignorance is bliss. I’m naming my benchmark workout “Andy”.

I’ve been telling you about my experiments with the Trap Bar. My excitement hasn’t waned in the least. I started just repping at 135 pounds, then doing WODs with 225#, and working strength at 315#. I really don’t want to hurt myself, but I’m beginning to wonder if I can hurt myself. Yeah, I know I can, but its not foreseeable.

I mean a Trap Bar Deadlift is, to me, like a “Naked Deadlift”. There isn’t any space for a bar to rub your shins or climb up your thighs. You don’t need Weightlifting shoes to feel extra flexibility to blast out of the hole. You don’t need a mixed grip since your hands already counter each other facing inward. And it is so similar to a squat with hips down, but you don’t think about weight on your shoulders. Hand placement on the bar, bar placement on your back, squat depth…well, all of that is irrelevant. It is the perfect Naked Deadlift/Squat.

So my short couplet is simply:

21-15-9 reps of–
trap bar deadlifts at 135#
dips

I might propose a “Heavy Andy” with 225# and weighted 20# dips. That’s for another day. But for a quick “Fran” style WOD, this works well. It is semi-antagonistic with a pull and a push movement. It works your whole body in one workout.

Give it a whirl and tell me how it goes.