Tag Archives: muscle

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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Oh Those Bodybuilders…

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Without stereotyping myself, I’ve been into something called functional fitness for about a decade now. Actually, if you do sports, strongman, or anything that looks like training we did in the military, then you are doing functional fitness. You can pick apart the definition for functional all you want, but I’ve recently opened my mind to this more.

I love the performance based training that I do, but that kind of all-out training can be difficult to maintain without wearing yourself out both mentally and physically. In past months, I’ve adopted some of the old-school bodybuilding techniques that I was raised with. I’m really noticing tendencies and weaknesses from the training I’ve done. For instance, an incline dumbbell fly looks nothing like anything I’ve done for 10 years. You don’t have the benefit of leverage or momentum. Its just you and this crazy movement. I can feel tweaks in my shoulders where injury and weakness lie. And, I’m starting to feel that “pump” again that Arnold talked about in Pumping Iron. I’m not huge per bodybuilder standards, but I can feel that flush of blood into the muscles. It feels good…real good!

To tell you the truth, when I came to CrossFit, I was already pretty strong from bodybuilding and powerlifting. When they said to squat or deadlift, I was right there with everybody. When they said do pullups or heavy kettlebell work, I’m all over it. But when they said to do something for reps or something dynamic like box jumps or jump ropes, I wasn’t there at all. I was a top-fuel dragster that flamed out quickly. I wasn’t the stock car that was strong to a long-finish.

But what I’ve lost in finding a longer-lasting performance is the ability to strictly apply strength. I’ve lost what it meant to “feel” the muscle as it contracts. I mean, you really have to get your mind into the muscle itself. It feels really good to be in that space. And a great side effect is that my muscles are growing again.

Life is about balance. We try things, we learn, and we adapt. Find your place in life.

Arm Blasters

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If your focus is on building a better body or maybe even in being a body-builder, then think about this. When we are starting out doing the prescribed 3 sets of 8-12 reps of dumbbell curls, you may be starting with 20 or 30 pound dumbbells. And if you have massive guns and that is working for you, then read no further.

If you are willing to experiment and go deeper, then read on.

First, consider a pull-up. Say you are a man between 150-220 pounds. Regardless of how you do a pull-up, whether strict or kipping, you are lowering your full bodyweight to the full extension of your arms. That eccentric contraction is a massive load on your biceps. Sure, it is meant to focus on your lats and other back muscles, but your biceps take a brunt of it as well. Considering your bodyweight, you would have to lift 75-110 pound dumbbells in each hand to equal the eccentric load of a pull-up. What if you can’t do a pull-up? Find a bar or stand on a box that allows your arms to bend slightly as you reach the bar. Then jump to a full chin-over-the-bar pullup, hold, and then slowly lower down. That eccentric load will be good for lats and biceps alike.

Second, for the advanced lifter, nothing makes my arms more sore than repeated hang cleans with a heavy weight. The same is true for hang snatches, but maybe not quite as much. It is a distant side effect of Olympic weightlifting that can build massive guns. My biceps are crying right now, so this is the main reason I’m writing this. I did sets of 3 hang snatches yesterday and I can surely feel it today. Consider that you are lowering a heavy weight, much heavier than you’d ever do with a barbell curl, with a huge eccentric load. The eccentric loading is where most muscle growth occurs. You can do this with any barbell with or without bumper plates since you don’t need to drop the weight on the ground. But bumpers help if you got them so you can do full lifts.

Try these two movements and see if they work for you. And if you don’t grow, you’ll definitely get stronger.

Building Bodies

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So, my upper back, lats and such, have been sore for 3 days now. No worries because its a good soreness. One that comes from revelation.

I’ve been focusing more in the past 10 or so years on athletic performance and functional fitness. I’ll occasionally dabble into the dark side of narcissism and do some body work. But for the most part, my body work is an afterthought. If what I do makes me look good, then so be it.

Sometimes, if I am a little tired or I have a few minutes to spare, I’ll grab the cables on a machine or maybe I’ll do some isolation work with dumbbells. And sometimes, I do it even though I think its a waste of time. I mean, I know its not necessarily going to help me clean & jerk another 5 kilos or add to my squat. But I do it anyway.

Well, back to my soreness. I keep a fairly detailed log of my workouts. I mark down weights and PRs and how long it took to do a MetCon WOD. Three days ago, I found I was running out of time, so I thought I should do a few pulls on the cables since I was too tired to do pullups. I started with lat pulldowns while I was fresh. I usually do this with lighter weight and focus on form. But it was the close-grip pulley rows (picture of Arnold above) that got me. The weight was still light since it was the first set. I pulled back strictly until my elbows were fully back. Then, I only came forward half-way. So I did 3 half-way pulls to elbows back and then released all the way forward for a rep. Then pulled 3 half-way again and did that for a few sets. Lastly, I released all the way forward allowing my shoulder blades to pull far apart from each other getting a good stretch. Then I pulled back and pinched my shoulder blades together.

Know what? I almost didn’t count these in my training log. I ran out of time and only did one-set. But I’m glad I did because my back is jacked. I really need to rethink this and start doing more body work. I’m certain it will do wonders in building mass and hopefully that will translate into strength.

Live and learn!