Thursday, 26 January 2012


If you have time.

If you have energy.

If you have food, shelter, safety.

What is your excuse for not becoming the best you can be?

We are all fortunate.

Do justice to your talents.


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Muscle Up Technique and Training

I recently discovered this excellent video (see bottom of post) of all-round awesome Annie Sakamoto performing muscle ups in slow motion at the 2011 CF Games.  There are many styles of muscle up technique now practiced, Annie has more of a classical "pull" style which is the same one I typically employ under fatigue.

Watching the video has validated the training advice I give to people who are learning the muscle up or are looking to improve their rep numbers in it - practice hard ring rows (with/without false grip) and deep dips. 
I once heard a gymnastics coach describe the muscle up as "the highest pull-up you've ever done into the lowest dip you've ever done".  This does describe some muscle up variations quite well (i.e. the stricter forms), however you can clearly see that Annie isn't really performing a pull-up in the usual sense of the word.

For Annie, the real "pull" motion occurs with the body virtually parallel to the ground (i.e. not vertically positioned) which is "rowing" strength and power as opposed to pullup strength and power.  Once she flips her shoulders forward though, the dip position she achieves is VERY deep - note that the upper arms are well below the top of the rings... (also influenced by the size of her arms - Annie is not the tallest athlete). 

As you get fatigued and height of pull decreases, the only thing that will save your muscle up is fast action forward and strength from a low dip position.  It is worthwhile then to really extend the depth of your ring dips when practicing for muscle ups.  A drill that is particularly useful is repeatedly lowering into the deepest dip you can control and practicing letting the rings drift slightly away from your body and then drawing them back in before pressing back up to full arm extension.  Only perform this if you are strong in ring dips and have healthy shoulders.

The other video links in the youtube sidebar (all from user "hookgrip") show some of the other women performing muscle ups also.  There are variations in technique which typically involve different lowering strategies and size of kip.  Depending on the technique used, the dip may be as low as Annie's or may also be higher but all of the women pass through the parallel or close to parallel body position and therefore are pulling in a "rowing-horizontal" direction. 

So the short advice is - if you employ a "pull" technique similar to Annie, invest some time in getting some ring rows done (make them hard - 4-6 reps max) and work a very deep dip and some ring holds in the bottom dip position.  Your muscle up numbers will soon improve and you will save more reps that you may have lost before!


Thursday, 19 January 2012


(nice quilt)

Most people think 'programming' means simply making up workouts.  It doesn't.  Programming is a systematic and thoughtful arrangement of sessions towards an end result.

I liken it to making a quilt (something I've never done but I understand the process of).  Ideally, you have a design for your quilt and then you work backwards.  With a design you will know where each square of cloth gets placed and how to interlock them to get the desired effect.

Two things are necessary for this to happen: 

1.  You have to know what you want the quilt to look like (so in our case, what is the desired outcome of the program).

2.  You have to know which squares (training methods and modes) to use and how to assemble them.

It takes an understanding of the physiological effects of training and years of solid strength and conditioning experience to accomplish 1+2 together. 

If one or both of those components are lacking, then the programming will suffer, typically resulting in a disjointed day-to-day approach (i.e. we did squats on Monday, so we shouldn't do them on Tuesday!).  In these circumstances, who knows what the quilt (or resulting fitness) will look like.

I should mention that for a lot of Crossfitters, this simply doesn't matter.  They just want to turn up and crush themselves.  However as an affiliate owner or coach you have a responsibility to offer high quality service to your membership (they are paying premium prices after all), and that should involve a thoughtful, reasonable, and effective approach to programming.

Keep fit and have fun,


Monday, 16 January 2012

Age and muscle loss?

Check out these images from
The incredible unaging triathlete

Definitely it's not the whole story as a multitude of factors can intervene and these aren't the same (or matched subjects) under different conditions but pretty powerful nonetheless!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Speaking Volumes

The 2012 Reebok Crossfit Games Open is 40 days away.

Last year's motto (for me) was "I will not be undertrained" - you can probably guess what happened as a result.  My weekly training sessions from November 2010 through to Regionals in May 2011 averaged just over 8 (range 5 to 12).  I got in very "fit" condition but burned out early (dropping strength into the Regionals) and developed bilateral knee tendonitis that only started easing off a few months ago.

This year's motto is "Do more with less".  My prior 6 weeks of training featured 5.5 average training sessions per week, this current 6 week phase is capped at 5.  Less volume requires a more focused and accurate approach - I can't afford to spend time on activities that aren't directly contributing to a specific aspect of my competition fitness.  As a result, there is a lot of structure to my weeks and I know exactly what characteristics I am training each day.

So far, my body feels great.  I'm doing weekly tester wods for both a training effect and to monitor my metcon status as compared to last year, so it will be interesting to see where I stand on those.

I have confidence in my approach - both from the standpoint that I believe I will compete strongly once competition time comes and also that I will be in a healthier (and more sustainably healthy) state.  This is a manifestation of another transition in my fitness training that has more of a longevity component to it, but more on that later.

The target is to make Regionals and place better than last year.  If it works, maybe I'll drop down to 3 sessions a week for 2013!

Good luck to all those who are prepping for the Open - I'll see you online.


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Batman's Training Program

My friend and colleague Tyler recently forwarded me this training program performed by the Dark Knight.  It is a high volume and high weight program and not for the genetically average, but Bruce Wayne can afford to be a pro athlete given his millionaire status and given his physique, he’s definitely on the upper end of the genetic spectrum.  He’s also really got to be able to walk the walk day in and day out and truly may face some very unexpected and dangerous circumstances, so his training better be on point.
There’s definitely some crossfitty type stuff in there, including a 5-round Helen twice in the week.  I like that he balances his high intensity work with easier activities and some focused meditation – something that we all should be doing.  Those 30 min AM runs are reminiscent of Mikko Salo’s typical programming and will help his body recover and regenerate, along with providing some important aerobic adaptations.  The gymnastics work and combatives practice are a must, and his dedication to flexibility training is refreshing in an athlete of his strength and power… especially as he ages and begins to lose some of his youthful suppleness.
 If I was his strength coach, I’d add a few components though (assuming this is representative of his year-round training program):
·         There’s really no speed work (sprinting) in there and given that he may have to generate some decent forward momentum for a big leap off a building, I think that would be appropriate.  Also, I think the Joker is pretty spry, so you want to be able to close the gap quickly in order to punch him a few times.  I’d pop it in on the Tuesday morning after a solid warmup so that it is a couple days away either side from his Helen wods.
·         Instead of the second day of clean and jerks, I’d put some snatches in there.  Firstly this creates a bit of a different stimulus and secondly it’s way more impressive to flip some criminal up over your head in one movement than in two.  Given his C+J weights, Batman would likely be able to crush 8 x 3 at about 220+, which is pretty decent.
·         I’d like to see some obstacle course work in there… mixing in some horizontal rope traverses, ducking under/hopping over obstacles, and walking tightropes/balance beams.  Bruce has a lot of flexibility work in his program already so it would be nice to transfer that into fluid movement for stealthy approaches.  I’d put this in as an anaerobic interval circuit instead of the second Helen wod of the week.
·         Lastly, it would be really cool to see what his Filthy 50 or Fran time is… so he should switch up that Monday wod and rotate through some different challenges!
·         There are a couple other tweaks of course that could be made, including using odd objects and mixing up his strength work but I think the above would do wonders for his overall readiness.
Batman’s program represents something that is possible but not probable…  but then again if you’re a superhero then you should be able to defy common convention and as Tyler says "that's why he's the Batman."  Fair enough! 

Monday, 9 January 2012

Priming the Hips for Olympic Lifting

One very common flaw in a lot of athletes’ Olympic lifting (myself included) is shorting extension of the hips in the last pull.  Not fully extending the hips can lead to both less power imparted to the bar and a poor bar path (too far forward – more evident in the snatch, but causes problems in the clean as well).
In quite a few athletes, this issue is compounded by limited ROM in the front of the hip, so it’s best to address full hip extension mobility for those individuals.  For others who are able to adopt a fully extended position in a static test but short hip extension in the actual lifts, the barbell hip thrust may be the answer.
This exercise has gained a lot of popularity both in bodybuilding and athletic circles for its ability to develop the glutes… which we know are very important in terms of hip extension.  When performed correctly, the hip thrust not only strengthens the glutes but it also encourages simultaneous relaxation at the front of the hip and patterns in the full hip extension that we want to see in the Olympic lifts.
The video below from Iron Samurai blogger Nick Horton details the ideal way to perform and integrate the barbell hip thrust into your Olympic lifting training.  I agree with Nick’s suggestion to perform the exercise in a progressive loading manner and before training – adding in some prior mobility work before the hip thrust.

If your lifts have stalled for a while or you have the habit of a short extension, give the barbell hip thrust a go for a 4 week period.  You may find some crossovers into sprinting speed, jumping, deadlifts, or any other movement in which the glutes are primary movers… and hey, if it doesn’t work, you’ll probably end up with a more well rounded posterior J

Thursday, 5 January 2012

In Praise of the Football Bar

If you've trained for a long enough time, are flexibility-challenged, or are a Crossfitter, you likely have had some wrist pain from pressing exercises.  Most often, poor warm-up practices and lack of flexibility combined with repeated extension of the wrist will combine to create a descending cycle of pain and limitation.  You can only mask this for so long with tape and wrist wraps, so why not give your joints a break?

Enter the Football Bar.  Engineered so that the hands are in a neutral (or semi-neutral) position as opposed to fully pronated or supinated (overhand or underhand), the Football Bar is a useful tool.  With the hand in a neutral position the wrist is less prone to get pushed into a high degree of extension (i.e. the pain zone).  What this means is that you can press, push press, thruster, and bench press to your heart's content with minimal wrist strain.  This will minimize damage in the short term that could become a larger problem further down the road.

Because of the orientation of the hands, the angle of the upper arm relative to the torso can change also.  This can provide a unique and challenging stimulus along with the subtle alteration in the stability characteristics of the bar (especially at lockout).  I've found doing thrusters with this bar to be productive and much easier on my wrists than with a standard barbell.  The only difference is that its harder to stay tight in the bottom of the squat.  I've also used it for push press, bench press, and regular presses and find it is often easier on my shoulders.

The bar I use is from Westside Barbell (currently $350 US) but I'm sure there are other options out there.  Definitely worth a consideration for yourself or your training group.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Manual Labour

Even as the 2012 CrossFit Games Open approaches and training becomes more specific to metcon performance, I like to try and get "outside the box" when possible.  There is always the assumption that CrossFit-style training transfers out to a wide range of physical activities and I like to test that assumption when the opportunity arises. 

Activities done without the relative comfort of the barbell and within constantly changing and unbalanced environments provide insight into true transfer of fitness.  They can also help identify weaknesses and challenge the body in new ways.  Many of the best forms (in my opinion) of real world fitness challenges are represented by manual labour tasks.

Digging fence holes, sawing logs, moving dirt, and building a stone wall are all relatively simple labour tasks that will quickly show if you have real world strength and fitness.

I had the opportunity over the recent holiday break to try out my fitness in a similar task.  My dad lives on top of a bluff overlooking the ocean and has carved a very steep path of 99 winding steps down to the beach.  Several deadfall logs clog up the lower area of the stairs and so he set about to cut them up into rounds for firewood.  The challenge for me was to carry the rounds up the stairs and through the back yard.

The rounds weren't all that heavy - maybe about 20lb on average - but were mismatched in size, of an awkward diameter, and 99 steps is nothing to sneer at.  I set a goal of making 10 trips and trying to maximize the number of rounds I brought up.  In the end, over about 50 minutes, I brought up 17 rounds - pretty poor by horsepower standards but it was a pretty tough challenge for me (I'll do another post up with heart rate data from the task soon).  7 trips were done with 2 logs and 3 trips were completed carrying one (heavier) log at a time.

I found that the gripping and holding of the rounds was as hard as the climbing and tried a variety of techniques - holding them on my shoulders to by my sides to in a front rack position on my chest.  All of those carrying styles taxed me in a different way and added to the challenge of the activity.

It was difficult but enjoyable - there is definitely something to be said for exercising in the outdoors and seeing physical proof that the energy you put in has had an impact.  You lift a barbell 50 times and it comes to rest in the same spot it started.  You climb 990 stairs and now there's firewood to chop up and keep friends and family warm - it's a little bit different.