Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Recap of the 2014 American Open

The weekend after doing my USAW certification, I attended and volunteered at the 2014 USAW American Open since it was taking place in Washington DC, and I wasn't yet home for break. Unfortunately I was only able to go on Sunday, but it was still an incredibly experience where I saw great lifting and met people in the industry that I follow all over social media.

I was a volunteer for the 105kg A session. I arrived thinking I was going to be a loader, but those positions ended up being assigned to others. I ended up volunteering to be a USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) rep for the session. My job was to escort a randomly selected athlete (I feel like I'm not allowed to give away who it was) to get tested after the session ended. What that meant for me was that I was able to watch all of the snatch and most of the clean and jerks. About halfway through the clean and jerks, I then went to the warm up area. For me, that was even cooler than being in the audience. I got to see all these incredible lifters warming up and their coaches and all the interactions. It was a surreal experience for me. The only downside was that I wasn't able to really talk to anyone or take pictures with anyone or really be much of a fan, I had to act professional. But hey, I got to meet all these amazing people.

After that session, I then stayed around and watched the 105+A session which was another session of really good lifting.

The one thing I have to say though, if you haven't ever been to a weightlifting meet as a spectator, go! It was so cool, and while this was a national meet, and I haven't been to any local meets, I would still say to go because seeing lifting like that is really cool.

Another thing that I learned at my USAW and again after talking to people at the American Open is that people should compete more often and earlier in their development. For me specifically, I have spent the last 3 months really focusing on the lifts, and while my numbers are pretty crappy for my size (I would be pretty successful if I weight 100 pounds less and was a woman though), I still am comfortable enough with the lifts where I should be able to go out and compete. Too many people, myself included, don't think they are "ready" to compete. Just go and do it! I was hoping to register for the Baltimore Open in February, but it is already sold out, so I'll be looking into meets in April hoping to finally get that first meet out of the way.

Looking Back on 2014 and Towards 2015

2014 was an interesting year for me, lots of highs, and lots of lows. But in the end, I'd say it was a good year.

Firstly, my personal (non fitness) life continued on a trend that I like. I am still very close with the friends from high school that I really care about, I have a lot of wonderful friends at school, I did stand up comedy again and didn't suck this time, and I've just tried a bunch of new things. I'm really looking forward to what 2015 can bring for me. 

Now on a more fitness related note, this was a roller coaster year. I started my internship, which lead to a job, at CrossFit DoneRight in February and can't wait to get back there in a few weeks to start coaching those awesome members again. I got my CrossFit Level 1 as well as my USAW Level 1 certifications. I attended the Freestyle Movement Seminar with Carl Paoli. I found out I'll be a student presenter for the Southeast Collegiate Fitness Expo. And most importantly, I became more passionate and more confused about the fitness and strength and conditioning world. I say confused as well because I want to always be a little confused so that I'm always striving to learn more.

Regarding myself, this was actually a pretty injury-filled year for me. I messed up my hip 4 times in the span of 6 months which had be do no squatting for about 7 months, I had a freak accident at camp which messed up my shoulder and limited all pressing and pulling I could do for about 2 months, and tendinitis in my knees have been a constant battle. 

I have now switched to just training for the sport of weightlifting, and no longer doing CrossFit, and still doing some strength stuff because I still want to be strong and what not. I also got my own pair of weightlifting shoes which I absolutely love. With those, for the first time ever, I finished an entire training cycle with no injuries where I hit lifetime PR's in multiple lifts. 
My main numbers to end 2014 are as follows:
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 207# (94.09 kg)
Back Squat 1RM: 265# (12/12/14)
Front Squat 1RM: 225# (12/10/14)
Strict Press 1RM:
Snatch 1RM: 140# (12/26/14)
Clean 1RM: 185# (12/6/14)
Jerk 1RM: 190# (12/31/14)
Clean & Jerk 1RM: 170# (11/29/14)
Deadlift 1RM: 325# (12/15/14)
Max set of Strict Pullups: 10, done on multiple occasions. 

For 2015 I have 1 main personal goal and 3 career related goals.
I want to compete in my first Weightlifting Meet and record a total. I don't care if I win or come in last, all I want to do is compete for the first time and make sure that I record a total.

My 3 career goals are to rock this internship with Georgetown Strength and Conditioning that I (still not 100% confirmed, but mostly) will be starting when I get back to school. To get an internship for the summer at some strength and conditioning facility, and to get a full time internship for the fall which causes me to take the semester off of school and graduate next spring instead. 

Numbers that I'd like to achieve for the following year are as follows:
Back Squat 1RM: 300#, I may be able to hit more, but that is such a barrier in my mind that I want to crush
Front Squat 1RM: 255#, again I might be able to hit more, but I also want to maintain a good ratio between  my back squat and front squat at 85%
Strict Press 1RM: 165#, I am so weak overhead and don't expect rapid improvement, so if I can hit this I'll be ecstatic 
Snatch 1RM: 175#, Normally asking to improve 35# in a year is a lot to ask for a lifter, but I think I can do it because I am a beginner and this is my biggest weakness which I'm going to attack
Clean 1RM: 225#, again a huge jump, but if I can improve my front squat as much as I'd like, I think I can do this. It will be really hard though. 
Jerk 1RM: 225#, I want to keep these close so that hopefully I can put it all together in one lift.
Clean & Jerk 1RM: 215#, I want that body weight C&J, and while this may be a little over, I hope to gain a little bit of weight too. 
Deadlift 1RM: I don't actually have specific goals for this since I'm going to be training it so little. I'd say just keep it over 300# probably
Max set of Strict Pullups: Maintain 10. If I do gain weight, I want to make sure I keep this at 10. If my weight stays constant, then the goal will become 15. 

My last final goal for 2015, is to avoid injury, and still love what I'm doing. 

To a better day, week, month, year, and most importantly, to a better life.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Getting my USAW

The weekend of December 6/7 I attended the USAW Level 1/Sport Performance Certification. It was a long weekend of a lot of lifting and a lot of learning. I will say though, that I really enjoyed it both on a personal level as a lifter and as a hopeful strength and conditioning as well as weightlifting coach.

We talked about a lot, so I'll just give a brief overview.

After about a half hour of just talking and introductions, we finally got into it. The first things we talked about were essentially readiness of athletes for the Olympic lifts (snatch and clean & jerk) and different assessments that should be done. We also discusses training adults versus children and differences necessary. We talked about a little more after that, but I didn't take as much notes so I don't remember.

We then went into technique and talked about that a lot. Before I get into it at all, a lot of people, myself included, think that USAW teaches a strict triple extension technique rather than catapult or any other technique you can think of. With my experience, that was not the case at all. We were taught weightlifting. While there are differences that are needed on an individual once technique becomes a little better and for a person's anatomy, we were taught weightlifting: a delayed and controlled first full, get the bar to the power position, extend your hips hard and get into a good catch position. Regardless of who is teaching, those are things that should be taught regardless and every good weightlifter does those. We did talk about some things that will be different for bigger or smaller lifters and other differences that are needed, but that was the base.

After lunch, we got into lifting, and we lifted a LOT. We first went through the progression of snatch and then the clean. After we went through our progressions, we were allowed to go heavy. I ended up PR'ing my snatch as well as my clean. The biggest difference that was changed about my lifting was my start position, and it felt a little awkward the first couple reps, it then felt a ton better and have had a lot more success with it since.

We followed the lifting with talks about programming and then left.

The second day was going over the jerk, practicing teaching the lifts, going over coaching and cueing, identifying errors, and then equipment. We finished it up with the test, where I got a 100% on.

I didn't really go over what we did specifically, and that was on purpose. I do that because this was an awesome certification that I think any coach should get because you learn so much that can be helpful for athletes, whether they are fitness athletes, weightlifters, or any other type of athlete. I learned a ton here, and recommend anyone mildly interested in coaching or the lifts to spend that $495 and go get your USAW. You will not regret it, I promise.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

I'm Not Doing CrossFit Anymore (Mostly)

Ever since that first time doing "Fran" with jumping pull-ups and 45# thrusters in October of 2012 and getting my ass absolutely handed to me, I knew there was something legit about CrossFit. I knew it was what had been missing in my exercise life. Something that can knock you on your ass and make you question what happened to you and if you're actually still alive, but then help you stand back up only to knock you back down and again back up, but always ending with you on your feet; something like that is too good to be true, but when it is real you have to just do it. And that's exactly what I did. I committed myself to doing CrossFit, whatever that really is. I learned everything I could about the movements, progressions, programming, everything. I learned about all the games athletes, these gods amongst people who can snatch 300# and run miles on end and do muscle ups and everything else in between, I almost idolized them wanting to be them. I just had to know everything there was about this new thing that had just destroyed me.

On and off for 2 years, I continued learning as much as I could and preaching to everyone I knew that they should do CrossFit, that it would change their life. Yes, I was that annoying guy that everyone thinks about when they think of CrossFit and how you need to join our "cult". In those 2 years, I also learned a lot about myself as a person, gained self-confidence, really developed a passion for fitness and wellness. I started asking for different pieces of equipment for birthdays, getting a pair of Rehband knee sleeves and rings last year for my birthday, and as an early present this year I got Nike Romaleos 2 (weightlifting shoes). Training had become just about everything I would think about (well I still thought about music and food, I can't give up on my 2 real loves of life) and I was learning that I can't just annoy the crap out of people about it, they have the be ready to listen (shout out to my mom who started doing CrossFit this past December after a year of asking and changing her diet in May, and is now healthier than she has been in years). All in all, I loved CrossFit, fitness, wellness, training, everything about it, and I still do, but it's different now.

Like I said, I got a pair of weightlifting shoes as an early birthday present this year because I couldn't wait until December, I had to have a pair. One day at school I was just messing around with a new barbell that the weightlifting club had just gotten and I decided to snatch even though the last time I had was in March. I was able to move better and be in better positions with these shoes, but even more, I had so much fun. I loved picking up a weight off the ground and just throwing it over my head and catching it. I had never felt something so exhilarating. I wanted more of it, I needed more. It had become like a drug to me, something I had to have. So the next few times when I went to go to work at my CrossFit gym, I decided to do some snatches and just work on it and see how it felt as well as doing all of the conditioning required. 

Then it hit me, I really like this. I really like Weightlifting. I like that it is a challenge that is out there for me to tackle head on, something that will take a lot of work, and patience, and practice (all things that I normally hate). I want to do this, and I want to do it as much as possible. But to be a good weightlifter, you have to spend a lot more time than the average crossfitter is able to spend on it, whether that's getting your squat up to be stronger or working on positions, or simply just getting in all the reps needed for the snatch and clean and jerk. Then my next realization happened, I'd have to stop doing as much conditioning if I wanted to get good at this, I'd need to spend the energy I have, I need to spend it on getting better at this. 

And that is where the title comes from, I'm not doing CrossFit anymore. I still love it. I love everything that it has done for me, and countless others. I still love coaching it and teaching it to others, I just don't have that passion and desire anymore to do that myself. I want to do this Weightlifting thing. I still might do 1 or 2 conditioning sessions a week just so I don't become a complete lazy slob, and that is where the mostly comes from, but really I am not going to do it anymore. Since I am such a beginner in weightlifting, I can get better by doing other things as well, so that's why I'm still going to work on the gymnastics elements of CrossFit since those will transfer and make me a better lifter, but that's about it.

*Edit* Just to make it clearer, my program is basically a combination of Weightlifting, Powerlifting, and Gymnastics strength training. For now, I'm doing my own programming for the first two, and adding in a gymnastics program as well to complement it. I'll still be doing some powerlifting type stuff in order to still get stronger for weightlifting, but also because I'd like to try competing in that as well; I've heard it is a lot of fun. 

Is this the end of CrossFit for me as an athlete? Maybe, I'm not really sure, and I don't know when I'll know. I do know one thing though, if/when I do decide to come back to it, I know I'll be better because of the increased strength, mobility, power, and speed that I will have gained through weightlifting. As of now though, my plans are just weightlifting (and maybe a little powerlifting, like I said, I'm still at the point where getting strong will be beneficial) and I hope to find a meet sometime next spring to compete at. Who knows what lies ahead for me, but right now, I'm really excited by it. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Today I took another step backwards towards being able to squat heavy again. I strained my hip flexor again, this time on my right side instead of my left like it has been in the past. Let's take a look back at my hip history just these past 6 months. In March I strained my hip the first time and really couldn't squat at all, even unweighted, for a good 2 months. I then started squatting again and was feeling good, and then around the middle of June I reinjured it. Then about a week after I started squatting again (today) I hurt my right side, except today I did it stretching, and I wasn't even stretching my hip (I'm not really sure what actually happened). Yes this is incredibly frustrating, and I really am trying to rehab my hip and not get injured, but somehow I keep getting hurt. Maybe I'm just not meant to squat, who knows.

I've been at camp this summer and since I couldn't squat at all, and I couldn't snatch or clean because there weren't any bumpers, so naturally I stuck to deadlifting and overhead presses as my main strength exercises. Naturally my luck would kick in with my shoulders, and one night when I was having a pool party with my campers, we were "fighting" in the pool and one of my kids pulled on my left arm (my left shoulder has been the one that has had issues in the past) in some strange way where I felt a pop. I ended up getting it checked out and there wasn't any structural damage done, but I have yet to feel comfortable doing any hard work with it.

Now what's with the title, "When Life Gives You Lemons..."? Well, in this case, life has given me the ability, or really forced me, to work on one big thing right now. I can't squat, I can't press, so naturally I need to get really good at deadlifting. Since I was going to be at camp, I needed a program that wasn't going to require a lot of time because I don't have any time, so I started a Wendler 5/3/1 cycle 2 weeks before camp started. I'm now on my 3rd cycle, and next week, I'll be maxing out on 95% of what my actual 1RM was when I started all of this. I'm pretty excited because I'm finally putting in time to get really good (it's all relative to me) at something because I have to.

This is all meant for people to look at injuries differently. Yes, injuries suck. They don't let you work on different skills or lifts that you may want to, but unless you have something really major wrong, you are still able to work on some things. A buddy of mine got a really bad strain to his calf and can't do much lower body work now. Now he is getting really good at gymnastics work because that's about all he can do.

Injuries should not be something that bring you down and make you hate training. Injuries should be something force you to work on things that you're now able to only work on, and most likely you were neglecting beforehand, and get a lot better at them. Don't let injuries be a reason to be lazy, use the "lemons" that you've been given to make some awesome "lemonade" and get really good!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

CrossFit is NOT for Everyone

Well that was a very sharp title, considering I advocate CrossFit to just about anyone who is actually willing to listen and have a willing conversation with me. But really though, it isn’t for everyone and I acknowledge that completely. However, there are different reasons why training only CrossFit may not be for you.

You are a pure strength athlete:
Now when I say that, I mean that you are either a competitive weightlifter or powerlifter, and only those 2 things. It is actually pretty simple why CrossFit may not be for you in that case. The conditioning done won’t make you stronger, it may make you fitter, but those sports are about 1 thing, and 1 thing only: lifting as much weight as physically possible at once. Now yes, there are people like Lauren Fisher who is a fairly competitive weightlifter and CrossFitter, in fact she just competed at the Junior World Championships and will be competing at the CrossFit Games, but she is an anomaly who also has a long history of weightlifting. Her weightlifting benefits her CrossFit, but her CrossFit doesn’t benefit her weightlifting, there is a reason she doesn’t place better and lift more when competing, it’s because she spends too much time doing things other than weightlifting. Now for her, that’s fine, she wants to do both, but if she wanted to really excel at weightlifting, she would definitely have to cut out a lot of her CrossFit because the conditioning alone weakens you (note: I love Lauren Fisher and am a huge fan of hers, and think that her ability to be successful in both, especially at only age 20 is incredible). It is however possible to use some techniques from CrossFit to improve weightlifting, just not the conditioning. A lot of the gymnastics could greatly benefit weightlifters, especially any handstand work to develop strength and stability in the shoulders. On the Barbell Shrugged podcast, Mike Bledsoe mentioned that doing ring handstand –push-ups always increase his jerk by developing unilateral strength and stability at a full range of motion. There is also a reason you see people like Dmitry Klokov doing lots of gymnastics work, he is doing whatever he can to just get stronger.

You play another sport:
Now this one is a little tougher to argue because I do think it can be incredibly helpful. There are countless stories of strength coaches who have incorporated CrossFit Football into their programs and have seen both increases in strength and speed of their athletes. What I mean in this point though is that if you play another sport, whether it is football, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, or anything else, you have to spend time playing your sport. Playing that sport and practicing specific skills is the only way in which you can truly be better at your sport. Think about that for a second, if you don’t practice your sport, then how do you plan on excelling at your sport? However, for their strength and conditioning program, I do think it is fine to use some CrossFit protocols, but I wouldn’t do it all the time, especially for the in-season programming. In-season is when you need to maintain your strength and conditioning and while some gains can be made, it is also very taxing because you are spending so much time practicing as well and that can inhibit your recovery. In the off-season however, I think it is fine to use it for your programming, but also make sure you are keeping it relative to your sport. For example, a running back doesn’t need to be doing 20-minute workouts everyday in the off-season when the average play lasts 5 seconds. However that running back also needs to build and maintain the conditioning to be able to maintain explosiveness throughout an entire game, and depending on his particular strengths and weaknesses as an athlete is how you will do specific programming. However, that running back, and any other athlete, should be doing plenty of strength training (and I am also a large advocate of gymnastics (gymnastics in the way that CrossFit defines gymnastics, not necessarily doing high level gymnastics that professional gymnasts are doing) as a means of both developing strength and stability but also in the development of body awareness) in the off-season for that is when serious gains can be made.

Those are actually the 2 major groups that I feel should not be doing CrossFit for the majority of their training. In general, if you need a specific skill for whatever your goals are, you should spend enough time to become proficient in that skill, but you can use CrossFit as a strength and conditioning program to supplement their specific training.

If you feel that I have missed any groups or have any questions regarding this, feel free to leave comments. I want this to be a dialogue.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Is CrossFit a cult?

I'd like to preface this with the fact that I am a CrossFitter and I already know that making this post that no matter what I say will be controversial. My plan here isn't to be super controversial, it's more that will all the CrossFit bashing going on, especially the post written by Erin Simmons here (I'm not going to go into defending CrossFit from her article because that has been done in countless other places and I won't be writing anything new. I will say though that I think that if she is going to write something, she really needs to write more intelligently because she has a lot of unintelligent things in her post. It's actually quite ridiculous how blind she is). What I want to talk about is the criticism on the social aspect of CrossFit and how it has been labeled as cult by many people.

To begin with, a lot of definitions of cults are religious based, so I felt like I had to pick more general definitions of cult. From Merriam-Webster there are two definitions. 1st: "a system for the cure of disease based on dogma set forth by its promulgator <health cults>". 2nd: "great devotion to a person, idea, object, movement, or work". From there is one good definition I'd like to use: "an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers". From those definitions I feel like I can create a rough definition of what a cult is: it is a group of people who strongly believe in some set of values and act upon that belief. 

CrossFit has been labeled as a cult for being a group of crazy people who do this crazy exercise and eat this weird diet, oh and they make sure to post about it on Facebook too. 

We also apparently only want to go out of our ways to recruit others to join our evil ways and will do anything to do so. Oh, and the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar staff is preaching the gospel created by the great and powerful Greg Glassman (our messiah and savior), and those attending are becoming brain washed to spread the gospel to further people who don't want to think for themselves. 

Now to put a somewhat realistic and actual take on what all of that means. CrossFit is, more than anything else, a fitness methodology that was created by Greg Glassman, that has been defined as "Constantly varied, high intensity, functional movements" and the goal is to create fitness. I'll give a brief explanation of that in hopes that people know what it means already. Constantly varied is that you are usually always doing something different in hopes to create a slightly different stimulus for your body so it never adapts and you can continue to improve. High intensity is just as it seems, you are either doing as many reps as you can in a certain period of time, doing a set amount of work as quickly as you can, or you're lifting heavy weights. Functional movements are those that are engrained into our DNA and we are meant to do, squat, pull, push, hinge, and carry. There have been other movements added like the olympic lifts (snatch, clean & jerk) because they are great at developing large amounts of the 10 general physical skills and athleticism. 

Based on that, all a CrossFitter is is someone who follows that methodology in order to get as fit as possible. Now Greg Glassman also found that people will work harder and get greater results when training others and that is why there are affiliates all over the world. CrossFitters don't come together because we are insane, we come together to work out because that will just get us fitter. So yes, what we do in order to get fit may be different than what other people do, but it is simply our chosen path; instead of running, boxing, yoga, zumba, or any other methodology, we simply chose CrossFit.

Now onto this funky diet we have. At the Level 1 seminar, they teach the basics on the Zone Diet which was created by Dr. Barry Sears which is aimed at achieving stable blood sugar levels, hormonal balance, low inflammation, and good health. It is a diet based on macronutrient ratios of your caloric intake. They also mention the foods we should eat in order to achieve optimal fitness and health "meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar". CrossFitters have also become popular for eating a Paleo Diet which is very similar to the foods that CrossFit recommends we should eat. The basis behind that is that our DNA has not changed very much in thousands of years and our diet shouldn't change much either, whereas the modern western diet is made of things that are killing our bodies because they aren't meant to handle those foods. Again yes, CrossFitters generally have a different diet than most people eating a modern western diet, but what about things like the Atkins Diet, South Beach Diet, Grapefruit Diet, and any other crazy diet you may have heard of. All of those diets have their own purpose and for some work. This diet that CrossFitters follow has just been shown to give optimal health and for most optimal performance. 

The other points I mentioned were mostly jokes, but have some validity. Yes you will find many CrossFitters posting things on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or some other site, but that isn't because we're nuts. It's because we are starting to prioritize health and fitness in our lives and our goals change to things like getting that first muscle up, a big squat, or some other thing. We get excited about these things now. That's like a fashion designer posting all of these different outfits because that's what that person is incredibly excited about, or a dancer posting some crazy routine that they did because it is awesome for that person. And yes, a lot of us will try and recruit those closest to us to try, but that again isn't because we are insane, it is because we have seen the amazing results that have come from CrossFit and want the people we care about to experience the same. Plus, we have found some of our closest friends through CrossFit and want to share that world with you. I promise, most (there are always the crazy ones in any activity) of us just want you to see the benefits that thousands of people have seen and it is because we care about you. 

I have talked about some of the criticisms, but still is the comment about CrossFit being a cult incorrect? After writing this out, honestly, I don't think so. CrossFit is a cult. CROSSFIT IS A CULT!!! Now people may think I'm a little crazy for saying that since I am a CrossFitter, but I'm proud to be a part of  a community of people who prioritize health and fitness and are willing to invest in that and work really hard to get there. We are a group of people that get excited about our friends doing the same. Yes, CrossFit may be a cult, but I can't think of a better cult than one that has the goal of getting healthier and doing it in a way that gives you a community of friends.