Monday, October 31, 2011

Kettlebells Make For a Great Braking System

The main functions of the core are stabilization, rotation/anti-rotation, and anti-extension. Anti-extension is often the most overlooked of the three categories. In fact, I’d even argue that most coaches overlook all three and focus on flexion for their core training. To those coaches, I suggest reading McGill. But that’s a different topic for a different time…

Anti-extension is important because if I go up to grab a pass in football, it is my core that must be the braking system and keep my body from extending back into a pretzel. The ab wheel is one of the few infomercial items that actually work in this regard. It trains pure anti-extension. However, although I love my ab wheel, it doesn’t train the core in a dynamic enough matter for many athletes and many athletes are too weak to perform it safely and correctly.

Part of my training consists of heavy kettlebell swings.  To perform the swing correctly, after extending my hips , I was contracting my abdominals hard at the top to make sure I wasn’t thrown into hyper extension by the 88-lb kettlebell. Lo and behold, for each rep, I concentrated more on this mechanism, realizing that it directly mimicked anti-extension in quite a few sports. This movement was done dynamically and with heavy forces acting upon it within a movement that involved hip extension and the almighty posterior chain. I can already feel the good pain in my abdominals, which means they were highly activated.

Check this quote out by Charlie Francis: “In sprinting, abdominal strength is critical to success. If the abdominals fail in the late stages of the race, the athlete will begin to lean back in an attempt to maintain knee lift. The backward lean causes the foot strike to occur too far ahead of the center of gravity. This results in deceleration and overstress of the hamstrings, potentially leading to injury. Strength and endurance in the abdominal muscles can be developed relatively quickly with EMS.” Although we aren’t using EMS here, you can see how the braking system can be developed dynamically for an activity like sprinting using anti-extension in the kettlebell swing.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this movement is more beneficial to athletes than the ab wheel and it can be taught and performed at a much younger training age. Most athletes and trainees can perform kettlebell swings at a relatively young training age due to the fact that once they ‘get’ hip extension and can keep the lower back in neutral, they can usually put it together to do light kettlebell swings. I have taught 9 year olds how to swing a kettlebell, and frankly, there is no good reason not to teach this from an early age.  Don't kid yourself, the forces exerted upon your 9 year during his peewee football game are likely greater than that of a kettlebell swing.  So why the hell do you just have your kid playing a dynamic, powerful sport...with no preparation in mechanics or physiology?

Next time you take your kettlebells out for a spin, be sure to put on the anti-extension brakes with the abdominals. This will give you more bang for your buck and help to injury proof you or your athletes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

WOD- Cardio 2 REPEAT

20 Minute AMRAP ( as many reps as possible) using an Ascending Ladder for Repetitions.

Directions:  Perform the exercises in the order they are given. Perform each repetition on the right and left side before moving onto the next exercise.  Once the 20 min time limit starts, you will perform 1 rep of each exercise on each arm.  You will then repeat the order using 2 reps on each arm, followed by 3,4,5,6.....Keep moving until your time runs out, at which point, you will log the highest repetition (or round) you made it to, plus any partial rounds.

1 Arm Swing

Compare to 8/13/11

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

For Those Looking for a Unique Halloween Gift!

If you want to decorate your home with something new this Halloween, check these out:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Some of the Best Athletes in the World Are Olympic Weightlifters

Most people who have not tried to learn the Olympic Lifts have very little appreciation for the athleticism required of top performing lifters.  At the Beast of the East competition on October 8th, I witnessed a reminder of just how awesome these lifters can be.  A 24 year old, weighing 169lbs, snatched 308lbs and clean and jerked 396lbs.  That is incredible.  I weigh 190ish pounds, and on my best day, I have snatch 190lbs and clean and jerked 245lbs.  That is no where close to this kids performance, and I have been practicing for years.  We recorded the videos below:

Snatch:  From the ground to overhead in one motion (must establish control at the top in order to be counted)

 Clean and Jerk: (From ground to shoulders, then from shoulders to overhead.  Must establish control at the top in order to count)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

WOD- Max Effort 1 REPEAT


3 Rounds of Max Weight (Ramp up the load each set)

Turkish Getup: 1 rep max
Bottom-up Clean and Press: 5 rep max (each side)
Suitcase Deadlift: 10 rep max (each side)

Compare with:

Monday, October 17, 2011

Should You Hop Aboard the Crossfit Bus?

Those of you that have known me a while know I have mixed feelings about Crossfit.  While my wife and I practice it, we do so for different reasons.  She wants to just be generally fit and athletic, and feeds off the social support.  I participate for the competition with others, as I no longer devote time to just powerlifting or MMA competitions.  Crossfit allows me to compete against other strong and fast athletes, without the large time commitment required to excel in MMA and powerlifting.

In a little over a decade, CrossFit has gone from obscurity to prominence as arguably the most well-known event in the iron calendar—the Arnold Classic Sports Festival. This system has become a near global phenomenon, racking up thousands of affiliated gyms worldwide and acquiring an army of devoted and unmistakable aficionados (kipping pull-ups anyone?). However, popularity doesn’t equal good. Britney Spears has taught us this much. A great divide exists between critics as to the value of the CrossFit system. To some, it is a “one size fits all” solution to training, offering total body conditioning, muscle gain, strength, and more. Yet to others, it’s a poorly thought out exercise in masochism that turns men into women and women into men (not my words).

Plenty of critics from either side of the debate have already written at length about the value of CrossFit. What I will try to add to the argument is what makes the system good or bad and why that is the case. I’ve tried to sit on the fence for the sake of neutrality, but I invite you to use the information below to form your own opinion and decide if CrossFit is right for you.

In a nutshell
The philosophy of CrossFit in a nutshell is this—train for everything to develop balanced performance and appearance. The end result is typically trainees who have pretty good general fitness. They display levels of strength, endurance, and power that would be the envy of the average guy. So far so good.

I can tell you for sure that Crossfit will quickly push you outside your comfort zone. Most WODs (Workout of the Day) are against the clock, so I find the training system lends itself to competitive group environments. Toss in a good nutrition program and you have one hell of a template for personal training, where the average client wants fat loss and general fitness and where group training is smart business.

This generalized approach to training may not just serve general population clients though. CrossFit style training (albeit with some modifications) may be a great introduction to physical preparation for young athletes. Early on in their careers, young athletes require exposure to a wide range of physical training stimuli in order to develop a broad base of athletic ability. Being largely free weight and body weight based, the “functional” nature of the system has also earned CrossFit the adoration of large sectors of the military, martial artists, and the emergency services world—physical endeavors where the unpredictable nature of the task requires a kitchen sink approach to preparation.

The downsides
So CrossFit definitely has some value. I certainly won’t bash a system that promotes physical activity and well-roundedness. However, this value doesn’t extend to the realm of athletic training. In recent years, sites have popped up promoting CrossFit as the ideal solution to prepare for football, lacrosse, rugby, and other sports. Far from being the secret weapon in an athlete’s arsenal, this is competitive suicide. While valuing all round performance is admirable, “balance” shouldn’t be on the lips of elite athletes but “specialization.”

Top Olympic lifters don’t give a damn how fast they can row 2000 meters. Elite marathon runners couldn’t care less about how many muscle-ups they can perform. They would both probably suck at CrossFit and here’s why—as an athlete, you have a finite capacity to train and recover. Perform any training that doesn’t directly contribute or support your event/sport and you have just wasted an opportunity to train, adapt, and become better physically prepared for your sport. At the elite level of preparation, such intense training stimuli (volume and intensity) is required to elicit training adaptations and dedicating training time to all but essential activities becomes inappropriate.

So while certain CrossFitters thumb their nose at the poor powerlifter who squats a grand but get’s gassed climbing some stairs, it comes at the price of being unable to excel at a given event or sport. Achieving elite qualification in sport—particularly individual, non-combat sports where a narrow band of physical qualities typically underpin performance—requires laser like focus of training resources.

Unfortunately for CrossFit, the criticisms don’t end there. Consider also that effective physical training entails identifying and then addressing individual weaknesses. Trying to remedy this with a cookie-cutter WOD will prove inefficient at best or even damaging if certain exercises/techniques are contraindicated for an individual. And that’s even before you’ve started the WOD. Once you get going, you have to worry about the astronomical volume of some sessions. Crazy high volume just isn’t necessary to elicit desirable adaptations in all but the most experienced trainees. In fact, it poses an increased risk of musculoskeletal injury or even muscle damage in novices.

High volume by itself is a small worry but combining it with CrossFit’s use of Olympic lifting becomes a worry. Coached properly, the lifts are a great tool for developing explosive strength and triple extension mechanics. Trying to get a group of people with mixed abilities to perform them properly with low coaching numbers and time is tough. Getting the same group to perform them properly as part of a high rep, fatiguing circuit is nigh on impossible and asking for injury.

The CrossFit trend for sloppy form in the name of “power output” is potentially injurious and not necessarily appropriate. While power output is desirable, stricter form should be the other order of the day for strength, lean body mass, and neural efficiency development and only allowed to be loosened in the hands of expert trainees. The current teaching of new trainees to use loose form on kipping pull-ups, air squats, and other exercises is simply bad coaching. At least learn the motor pattern correctly before you murder it!

So is it good or bad!?
As with much in life, I don’t think CrossFit is all good or all bad. The issue is one of appropriateness. In the hands of an accomplished coach, the CrossFit system can produce a decent program that ticks a lot of boxes and lends itself well to weekend warriors and young athletes. In the hands of a macho, underqualified coach who earned his Level 1 certification over a weekend, it can leave trainees butchering form and breaking bodies.

Maybe this says more about the coaches implementing CrossFit than the system itself? Maybe that is precisely how things should be? Physical training can be a complex and dynamic process requiring the use of the right methods at the right time with a high degree of individualization. It isn’t as easy as chucking crap at a wall and seeing what sticks.

The innovators of CrossFit are certainly right when they assert that sprinters are the fastest athletes on the planet, powerlifters are the strongest, Olympic lifters are extraordinarily powerful, and rowers have unreal endurance. That’s because they focus almost completely on their respective disciplines. But the logic that combining the training of all these athletes will lead to similar results across the board is simply incorrect. You can’t ride two or even five saddles with one ass. The question is, are you happy to be above average at a bunch of stuff or really good at a few things? In my experience, the overwhelming majority of clients and athletes fall into the latter camp and should train accordingly.

So CrossFit doesn’t cure cancer, nor is it the second coming of Jesus. It is just a well meaning, if practically flawed, philosophy of training. And a good coach will get around those flaws anyway. So live and let live. Just quit looking like you’ve been tasered in the ass when you do a pull-up!

Friday, October 14, 2011


As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes

Thrusters (1 Bells) - 5 reps
Snatch (1 Bell) - 15 reps each arm
Clean and Jerk (1 Bell) - 10 reps each arm
2 Hand Swing (1 Bell) - 30 reps

Compare to 7/23/11

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My Experience at the 2011 Beast of the East

As many of you know, I competed in the Beast of the East competition on October 8th and 9th.  The event was a Crossfit competition, held in Durham, CT.  There were over 200 competitors there, with 171 of them being men.  The competition lasted 2 days, and consisted of 6 events, with only the top 10 athletes moving onto the 6th event.  I ended placing 50th out of the 171 men, so I did not make it to the 6th event.  Sadly, I had a back injury that almost caused me to pull out of the competition.  It significantly affected every event except the first one.  I honestly believe, had I been functioning at 100%, I would have easily placed in the top 25 male athletes. 

Listed below are the events that I competed in, as well as a few videos of me competing in them:

Event 1: 5k run
It was a very hilly course, and I completed the race in 24:44.  While I only beat about 15 men, for a person who never runs (and hates long distance running), I feel pretty good about my performance.

Event 2: 1 Rep Max Clean and Jerk
I had 6 minutes to get to the heaviest weight possible on a clean and jerk.  My back was really hurting on this one, which is why you see me use a belt after my first attempt.  Had I been 100%, I would have easily done another 15-20lbs.  Even in my condition, I ended with 240 lbs, which was a personal record!

Event 3: Max Reps in 2minutes for 275lbs Deadlift
I had 2 minutes to get as many reps as possible in my deadlift with 275 lbs on the bar.  Again, my back was a huge hindrance, so I moved slowly and deliberately, making sure each rep was a perfect as possible.  Despite my condition, I performed the first 30 reps unbroken, and managed to get another 9 reps before time ran out, totaling 39 reps.I suspect I could have gotten another 20 reps by moving faster if my back was 100%.  Regardless, I still set a personal best in this event as well.

Event 4: 1 Rep Max for Barbell Turkish Getup
I had 10 minutes to get to my maximum weight on a turkish getup for 1 repetition.  I only had to stand up with the weight.  Once again, my back was a problem in this, limiting how smoothly I could transition through the steps.  Despite my condition, I ended with 135 lbs, which was another personal record for me!

Event 5: 21-15-9 MetCon Medley
I had a 10 minute time cap to perform a 21 calorie row (concept 2 rowing machine), 21 overhead squats with 95 lbs, and 21 burpees, followed by 15 of each, and finally 9 of each.  I was exhausted and in pain before I even started the event, so I moved rather slowly on the row and the overhead squats, out of fear of further injury.  Despite that, I finished in 9:25.  Many people did not even finish the event in time, and once again, I set a personal record.

Summary of the Event

Many of you know I have mixed feelings about CrossFit.  Those feelings have only been substantiated by my participation in the Beast of the East competition.  Overall, I had fun, and I certainly performed the best I could given my injured state. I enjoyed being around people who are equally as competitive, fit, and athletic.  I also enjoyed the social support and networking that resulted from my participation.  However, I do have some criticisms.

#1: This event was promoted to focus on strongman and strength events.

    If that was the case, why was the 5k part of the event.  Furthermore, why was the metcon (5th event) included.  Neither has anything to do with strength.  And in fact, you could argue that the 2 min deadlift event has very little to do with strength as well, certainly far less than a 1,3,or 5 repetition maximum.

#2: The standards of the events (and the judges) were horribly low.

     For example, during the deadlift event, many athletes were driving the weight into the floor so that the bumper plates used would bounce up to knee height.  That means those athletes were only pulling from their knees up.  That is not a deadlift.  If you look at my video, my reps are deliberate, with absolutely no bounce despite using bumper plates.  A deadlift is pulling a weight from the floor to a fully erect position.  Bouncing reps should not have counted, which is effectively cheating.
    Another example is the turkish getup.  We were asked to position the bar overhead from the ground, then get to our feet and establish control.  Some judges allowed the athletes to elevate the bar off the ground using the unused bumper plates, making it far easier for those athletes to get the bar into position with only a fraction of the effort.  Once again, if you have an uneven playing field, you are cheating. 

#3: Drug use is clearly prevalent within this subculture.

      Similar to my argument above about cheating and creating an uneven playing field, I can all but guarantee that many athletes are using performance enhancing drugs.  I saw this in women there, as well as men.  I am sorry, but if you expect me to believe that a 125lbs girl can perform a barbell turkish getup with 105lbs without drugs, you must take me for an idiot.  The event, as well as all CrossFit events, are not regulated for illicit drug use.  And given the Type A personality that is attracted to CrossFit in the first place, anyone looking for an easy edge in competition can quite easily be persuade to steroid use.  There is a reason why they are banned from the Olympics.  They work too damn good to be fair, and a lot of these athletes at the Beast of the East, in my opinion, were not playing fair!

#4: The event was disorganized.

    I know that this was the first event of its kind, so there is bound to be unexpected problems.  However, some of what I experienced was just due to poor planning.  First, the chips used to record our 5k run time malfunctioned.  That means many athletes got screwed with what time they had recorded, including me!  Saturday's events were supposed to start at 8am, but we didn't even start getting directions until 9am.  I'm sorry, but as a serious athlete who is spending time warming up and preparing for my first event, making me wait over an hour is going to hurt my performance.  Sunday was no different, with start times being drastically different than what we were told.  In the future, post the schedule and stick with it.  Any athletes that are late, they should get penalized, not the rest of us who were prepared and on time.