Core blaster workout!

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SchuBox Athletics WOD for 15 Feb

I often share our WODs with a friend in London who trains at CrossFit Surbiton. His usual response is variations of “your coach hates you” or “your coach is trying to kill you.” Today was no different. We’re slowly getting back into doing snatches after a cycle without them, so the strength portion was a power snatch at 85% of our 1RM. The overhead squat (OHS) thrown in for good measure was fun too. I did this at 125 pounds.

The metcon portion of the workout was where our coach was definitely aiming to inflict some harm. But in a good way. As always, the mix of movements and the time for each round was spot on. I decided to do the Rx+ version (see picture above) which included 135# OHS and ring muscle ups instead of front squats and pull-ups. I haven’t done that many reps of OHS at that weight before. It was a challenge to stabilize both at the bottom and top of the lift. In each round, the last 3 reps were more about not dropping the bar than actually feeling comfortable with finishing the set. It got heavy, fast! After blasting my core into oblivion, it was on to ring muscle ups where engaging your core is crucial to maintaining good form. Yay, coach! I decided from the start that I would do 2 reps at a time. For good measure, the muscle ups destroyed my core even further (I feel the pain right now as I type this post). After those, I hobbled over to the air bike, AKA the devil’s bicycle. I managed to finish all 12 calories in each round but in round 6, I was over the 4 minute cap. Total time was 20:20.

All-in-all, a fantastic way to end the week. Three of my favorite movements – snatch, OHS and ring muscle ups – in one day. He may be trying to kill us, but he’s definitely making us stronger and more adept at the skill work. I wouldn’t have it any other way. With the CrossFit Open only a week away, the programming has been excellent for preparing us to meet the demands of Dave Castro’s workouts. I’m excited to see what sort of progress I’ve made. More on the Open in upcoming posts. Have an excellent weekend, readers!

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Up-down-up-down: the delights of the thruster

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Meeting Jason Khalipa at the 2018 California Regional in Del Mar, San Diego

Jason Khalipa – CrossFit Games champion in 2008, runner up in 2013 and 3rd in 2014. Business owner. Coach. Podcaster. Author. Martial Artist (Brazilian jiu jitsu). And all-round nice guy. There are many reasons to admire him. But today I’ve been thinking about my nemesis, the thruster! Jason is a master at this movement – he makes them look easy.

It involves performing a front squat followed by a shoulder press. Starting with a barbell in front rack position, you squat down and then explode from the bottom position and use your momentum to continue pushing the bar overhead and locking out your arms on top. From there, you lower the bar back to the front rack and go into another squat for the next rep. I’ve struggled with this movement since I first encountered it – my excuse is that I’m not good with shoulder-to-overhead movements and that’s where I get stuck on thrusters. The more likely reason is that I just don’t practice it enough. Thrusters always show up in one of the CrossFit Games Open workouts. It’s usually one of my worst workouts for the 5 weeks. I’m hoping this year will be better but I went searching for some advice on how to approach them with more confidence.

This article in Boxlife Magazine was pretty insightful offering information about the benefits of the thruster as well as some tips on performing them better. The key take-aways are:

  1. Drive the barbell up and down in a straight path by pushing through your heels without rocking forwards and backwards.
  2. Knees out as you squat in order to engage your hips. This generates power to move the weight up.
  3. Keep your elbows up to prevent the weight from falling forward and pulling you down.
  4. Don’t pause in the middle of the movement – the rep should be performed in one fluid motion.
  5. Maintain a relaxed grip in the front rack position so you don’t fatigue your forearms.
  6. Breathe – this is something I know I need to work on. Inhale down; exhale up.
  7. Stay efficient by resting as necessary but not for too long.

Good luck! Hopefully those tips from Boxlife Mag are useful.

Advice from Josh Bridges

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“Not every day is going to feel like you crushed it. That’s part of the process…I analyse these things so that I am better prepared for the next time I train that movement or sequence of exercises and I can see how I can improve it.” – Josh Bridges, CrossFit Games Athlete, talking about The Mentality of Success with Rehband.

Today’s workout: pick stuff up and put them down again

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The birthday boy, Rob Topper, moving some serious weight

Partner WOD Wednesday was super fun and had the added element of being a birthday WOD. I had the honor of partnering the birthday boy, Rob Topper, for a 24 min AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible) of the following movements:

– 2 ring muscle up each
– 6 deadlifts each (315 lbs)
– 40 wall balls, shared (25 lbs to 10 feet)
Topper and I managed to complete 4 full rounds and 11 reps of round 5. We moved pretty slowly through those deadlifts. For me, 315lbs is 85% of my 1 rep max. That made for a struggle through that portion of each round. We did them in 3s. Despite finishing 30 reps in total, my form was far from ideal. Coach kept trying to correct me but I couldn’t properly put into action what he was telling me. The main thing was that I wasn’t moving my hips back but was kind of squatting down to pick up the bar. We’re going to work on that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I went looking for insight into deadlift technique. Here are some keys, taken from a video on the CrossFit YouTube channel (with over 2 million views it seems I’m not the only one looking for tips):
  • Hip-width stance
  • Hands just outside of hips
  • Full grip on the bar
  • Shoulders slightly in front of the bar
  • Lumbar curve maintained
  • Hips and shoulders rise at the same rate
  • Bar moves over the middle of the foot
  • Heels down
  • Complete at full hip and knee extension
What I also found during my search was an article by Greg Glassman extolling the virtues of the deadlift. He starts off saying, “The deadlift is unrivaled in its simplicity and impact while unique in its capacity for increasing head to toe strength.”
Happy lifting.

Power snatches, FTW!

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Dreaming of a snatch PR.

First time snatching in ages. That was super fun. Lots of laughter and giggling in the gym as always when the snatch innuendos start doing the rounds. Rich, our coach, crafted a great challenge:

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That’s only 120 calories on the AB and 100 toes-to-bar. Stop complaining!

Starting with 12 calories on the airbike and 10 toes-to-bar meant that there was some fatigue going to the power snatch. I aimed to finish the 12 calories in under a minute without going hell-for-leather. Then I pushed myself to complete each round of toes-to-bar unbroken. For the power snatch, we started at a manageable weight and then slowly increased it over the ten rounds. I struggled with the form at the beginning – I wasn’t keeping the bar close to my body so was reaching for the weight and finding myself off-balance when I dropped under it at the top. Rich’s keen eye spotted that early and his cues to keep the bar closer helped me correct it. What he also picked up was that I wasn’t bracing my core enough. See my earlier post on Olympic lifting tips if you’re having similar challenges.

Once I braced my core and focused more on the bar path, my form improved quite a bit. I increased the weight steadily from 95 pounds. Hitting 115, 125, 135, 145, and 155 on the way to a final lift at 165 pounds. My current snatch PR is 175 pounds so I was extremely chuffed with that last lift.

All-in-all, an enjoyable morning finding our snatch form and laughing at snatch jokes.

But did you scale?

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How many rounds? How many reps?

One of the many reasons I love the CrossFit training method is how inclusive it is. In more ways than one. It’s inclusive from the perspective of the community but for the purposes of this post, I wanted to focus on how the WOD (workout of the day) can be modified or scaled to include all levels of athletes.

The 5:30 am class I attend at SchuBox Athletics is a good mix of absolute beginners, people who have been training for less than a year, some between 1-4 years and a few for even longer. Within each of those groups there is a good mix of abilities as well. Some beginners are comfortable doing movements like pull-ups and toes-to-bar, while some more experienced members are still working towards those goals. Others are beasts on the airbike and can bench big weight but are unable to perform an overhead squat due to range-of-motion or mobility restrictions. There are those with engines that just won’t quit. There are those who thrive in the pain cave. And there are those who maintain a steady pace, pushing hard and upping their intensity a little bit each week. Some are nursing injuries and some are still trying to shake the effects of the festive season. We even have an inspirational member who is expecting her first child in the coming months yet continues showing up for class.

Despite all these differences in skills and abilities and fitness level, the programming at our gym allows every one of us to enjoy a tough and challenging workout. Those who are consistent are able to improve week-after-week and achieve visible gains. Our coach is adept at finding modifications and progressions for movements people have not yet mastered. He is also incredibly accurate when it comes to advising on the right weight to use for a workout so that you are able to achieve the desired stimulus.

Many people see CrossFit on television or they see Instagram posts from professional athletes and they feel intimidated. They feel they are not fit enough to join a CrossFit gym. I understand that completely. I was one of those people. I didn’t think I’d manage. I thought I’d need to train on my own for 6 months in order to be able to start CrossFit. Thankfully, I was wrong. Because of the modifications and scaling options for every single exercise, anybody at any fitness level is able to join in and change their lives. The right coach will be able to ensure you are included in every workout.

There is also the flip side to this. There are some people who feel that scaling means they are not actually doing the workout properly. Some people would rather miss a class than scale. I went through this too and used to feel that any workout that I didn’t perform as prescribed or Rx, was a workout I had to put a disclaimer on. People would high five me on a good performance and I’d say, “Thanks, but I scaled, so it wasn’t that good.” Again, I was wrong. There is always someone who is able to lift more weight, do more reps with a strict movement rather than kipping, or cycle the barbell better. When you start doing Rx, there is someone doing Rx plus. Compared to them, you’ve scaled. Some gyms even have competition teams that do their own programming and who are probably Rx plus plus plus compared to the average Janes and Joes. Measuring yourself against these criteria can lead you to becoming discouraged and demoralized. It’s better to ask your coach what the intended goal or stimulus is for the workout. Are you trying to up the intensity? Is this a WOD where the weight is important but there are movements designed to fatigue you so that you’re lifting the weight while barely able to breath? Is this a race against your previous fastest time? Is this a WOD where you just need to keep moving? Is it for practicing a skill? So many possibilities and there’s even the possibility that different people will chase a different stimulus or goal for the same workout. Isn’t that awesome? All doing the same class but everyone able to find a unique, personal take to maximize the benefits for themselves. If you’re training for a competition you may scale up. If you’re injured you may scale down. If you’ve just learned a new skill you may Rx for the first time. The main measure of progress should be how you’re faring now vs how you were faring yesterday, last week, last month, last year.

My experience has been that, by-and-large, most other people in the class are supportive of your journey. The cliche that the person finishing last in a CrossFit workout is the one who is cheered on the most, is true. Of course there are some who may judge you based on their idea of how you should be performing. Luckily those are few and far between. And, usually, you’re so focused and exhausted during the workout that you can ignore them. These people usually don’t have any clue what you’re trying to accomplish, how you’re feeling on a given day, whether you had a good night’s sleep or if you’re still sore from the workout from the previous day. All sorts of things affect your approach to the day’s training and only you know for sure how best to proceed. Don’t let these negative people influence your plan of attack. Your coach knows best. Eventually you’re going to do what they told you to do in the first place. You may as well just start out listening.

If you haven’t tried CrossFit yet because you were hesitant about being ready, please find a gym near you and give it a go. You won’t regret it! And come back and let me know how it went.

Back to the heavy squatting

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Back squat from before the injury on 6 August

Well, heavy for me, anyhow.

We had a challenging EMOM today with 10 total rounds of 3 different movements:

  • 3x heavy back squats
  • 10x dumbbell lunges
  • 10x toes-to-bar

The back squats were meant to be at about 80% of our 1 rep max. I was happy to complete the workout at 70%. This felt incredibly heavy for me and for that many reps, it wasn’t easy. Throughout the squatting section of the WOD, I focused on a few things:

  • setting up properly – making sure my hands were in a good position on the bar and positioning the bar in the center, standing tall and looking forward, taking a deep, diaphragmatic breath, bracing my core and then descending.
  • breathing correctly – I had a gym fail of note a while back where I breathed out in the bottom of the squat, got stuck in the hole and had the bar roll over my head and bash my forehead on the rack. Fun times :-). I tried to ensure that I braced my core on the way down and breathed out slowly on the way up. I wore a weight belt to help with this as the tactile feedback was a great cue for me.
  • keeping my feet flat at the bottom – one or two of my reps I started rocking towards the front of my feet and coming off my heels. Part of this was the weight and part of it was that I wasn’t keep my chest up. When I focused on keeping a tall posture, looking forward and not down and my chest out, I was able to maintain a stronger position and drive out of the bottom more strongly.

I found a good article on Boxrox dealing with some common squat mistakes and how to correct them. It’s sponsored by Rehband so the article keeps telling the reader how much they can benefit from wearing knee sleeves. I’ve also found the Instagram feed for Squat University to be a treasure trove of sound advice and tips.

Happy squatting. Any tips or tricks that have helped you squat stronger and better? Please share in the comments.