Handstand Pushups are Stupid

Captain obvious has finally landed and crapped on me. Until this point, my ego has blinded me.

My box’s workout today was a hero WOD called JT:

For Time:
21-15-9 Reps
Handstand push-ups
Ring dips
Push-ups

It took me over year to get my first HSPUs so whenever HSPUs are in a workout, I feel obliged to attempt them and hopefully get better at the movement. And I know it’s dumb. The movement itself is dumb. Trying to do it as I approach 40 is dumb.

Everyone says so, the best CrossFit podcast in the world: The Wodcast Podcast (wodcastpodcast.com, @wodcastpodcast) is always railing against how stupid these fucking things are.

I’ve already pinched nerves in my neck three times in the past doing these things…

But today I sit at my desk not able to move my neck because I decided to do these stupid things.

I’m done with HSPUs.

That is all.

(any post is a good excuse to post the beautiful Alex Parker doing anything though)

Where are the CrossFit Progressions?!?!

In the last fitness post, one of CrossFit’s weaknesses was reviewed: the lack of periodization in CrossFit. But the sport is also wanting in another area: progressions. What I mean by progressions is providing a roadmap to gain new skills.

Usually when a CrossFitter lacks a certain skill, such as muscle ups, the coach (who I believe are mostly well intended and awesome) give the athlete a few drills to work on. These can be as simple as doing sets of ring rows to acquire the requisite strength to start doing pull-ups or doing knee push-ups on the way to doing full push-ups. Some coaches are better than others and most are better equipped to provide progressions for the simpler skills since these are often what they see for beginner athletes and therefore encounter the situation over and over again as new members are constantly joining.

The athlete is then left to determine how much of the drill to do. Either the drill will work or the athlete is stuck. Sometimes, the frustrated athlete will decide to work on a different skill(s) getting stronger overall in the process and the original skill being focused on will magically happen. Or it won’t.

What the sport needs is a more formal progression roadmap. I have yet to see a CrossFit coach put together a multi-week program to get the athlete to a point they can do the skill. Finding a guide on how long to do each progression or a yardstick to measure if they have acquired enough strength to move on to the next step of the progression does not exist.

For athletes without a gymnastic background, which includes about 99.5% of all guys and 80% of all women**, the best single book to read is Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength.

So far, it’s the only book I have read that actually provides a progression for the complex CrossFit movements revolving around gymnastics. The book explains each gymnastic movement in literally graphic detail including diagrams and pictures for each, explaining the strength requirements to perform. It even provides a letter grade ranking the difficulty of the movement. Each movement is explained in enough detail for the book to pass for a college text book, which I’m sure it is if you’re studying exercise philosophy. If you plan to carry this book around, go for the digital version of the book; your back will thank you.

Not that the entire book is over the top with detail, the appendixes provide simplified charts to aid in focusing on weaker movements and provide guidance on moving forward (these start on page 519 of the book). Then they even have a page at the end titled How to Construct A Workout Routine In One Page. Talk about making it easy! I wish a book like this existed for everything I wanted to do in life.

Back to CrossFit though; the lack of a skill roadmap will hurt the sport of CrossFit in the long term as frustrated athletes leave because they are not progressing. Frustrated, they will instead find other more established sports such as running, where many, many books and other guidance material has been published to help get the athlete from a beginner to a veteran without having to figure it all out on their own.

Eventually as CrossFit matures, this will all figure itself out.  More and more people will participate and decide to write about their successes and failures. As they do, it will create the missing road map and form the foundation of sport’s pyramid. Trial and error combined with passionate participants will fill in the lack of initial progression theory in the sport.

Right now the higher level, regional athletes & pros already understand general CrossFit programming will not get them to the next level. They fill in this gap with progression programming provided by sports specific coaches such as gymnastic and swimming coaches. These coaches come from a long history of training progressions for their specific sport and are experiences in passing along these skills.  

Most day-to-day CrossFit athletes don’t have the time, money nor the desire for this. At this level, they blame the local coaching or programming for their lack of progression when what they really need is to educate themselves on the proper progressions for the skills the are lacking. The singles best option for them to do that would be to read Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength.

**95% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

 

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Periodization in CrossFit

 

When it comes to endurance training, the bible was written by one Mr. Joe Friel. And by bible, we’re talking about the The Triathlete’s Training Bible. Although the title says “triathlete”, it’s really the single best starting point to get into ANY endurance sports or build a training plan.

Joe does a fantastic job explaining the key concept of periodization which in its simplest form is breaking down your training into segments to focus on different things.

The book provides a solid foundation for athletes to either properly evaluate training plans written by your coaches or to create your own. Fair warning though, if you are interested in only the basics the book goes well beyond this as about a third of the book is about periodization. If you read the book, you’ll soon find yourself in the deep rabbit hole analyzing heart rates, training loads, recovery, acquiring the proper mental edge needed to race and so much more.

Periodization is in stark contrast to my other favorite sport, CrossFit, that at least at the local box level, seems to emphasize a complete lack of periodization. It instead sells itself as preparing the athletes for the “unknown and unknowable”. Sounds great but the athletes themselves get frustrated after a few years when they plateau and get stuck at a certain skill level.

At the higher level, there has been recognition of this issue. Even CrossFit HQ has presented the issue in a nice article Periodizing for the Games By Ben Bergeron where Ben comments “We’re no longer training for the unknown and unknowable. We’re no longer training for ‘a constant, ready state,’” adding: “We know when game day is. It’s the middle of July.” July is the date of the CrossFit Games, the sport’s highest level event. This is what most people see on ESPN and envision when they hear CrossFit.

With that revelation, a bridge can be built between random WOD programming and Friel’s periodization principles. Although not citing Friel, Bergeron proposes a simple block periodization training plan:

August: rest and recovery.
September and October: strength.
November and December: speed strength.
January: solely dedicated to weaknesses.
February and March: met-cons.
April and May: Regional prep.
June and July: Games prep.

This is what most serious – ie regional and games athletes, are and have been doing for some time. There are articles online dating back to 2009 outlining the need for periodization.

The average CrossFitter seems to have their head in the sand about periodization though. They expect the local box’s year round programming to have programming that will magically make them continuously better and heading towards being closer to a regional level competitor. I think most of them are crazy to foster any dream they will ever be regional level but I can understand their desire to constantly improve.

The local box however is not training games athletes.

The average box sets a fitness program for the mass public and is not set up to have athletes “peak”. They can’t follow a periodization schedule to make everyone at the gym happy. I’m assuming that over half of the average box is just interested in general fitness.  

For an informed athlete (like someone reading this), the solution to the lack of progression is fairly easy but it requires doing something other than just showing up to the box six days a week and doing classes.

Adding a periodized weight training plan concurrent with the box training plan, where they do the periodized weight training plan for 2-3 days a week using Bergeron’s focus areas, will take the average athlete a long way towards training for their Open goals. I’m very lucky because at our box that we have a weight training specialist who writes custom programs and it’s included in our dues (the high dues that they are).

If the coaches at your box won’t write a program for you, all is not lost. There are some super-simple programs out there to help build strength that are free as well. One I’ve tried in the past is GetStrong. There are a limited number of movements with some simple periodization but the site even provides an excel calculator to really dumb it down. If you want more detail on the program, you can even go the extra mile and read the entire explanation book, Get Strong: How to build strength & lift double your bodyweight. Working this program in will not get you to the games but replacing some WODs with this strength program during the September/October periodization phase will take you a long way.

Another super simple weight training progression program that can be used is the Wendler 5/3/1 program. It’s been around a while and there are several good articles on the internet about it but if you need a quick link to one, go here. There is also a very good iOS calculator for your iPhone called Wendler Calculator By Daniel Ohrlund. I used the phone version for about six months and hit my best ever back squat.

I still prefer the training programs written by our coach because they tend to focus more on the Olympic lifts which I need all the help I can get at but this year I plan to use one of the basic plans for the first period to improve raw strength and then move to his programming for the speed strength period.  

Education and planning appear to be issues for the average CFer but they have a bigger issue that comes even before that. Most don’t know what they actually want to do. The targeted peak date of July is probably not realistic. Should it be rolled forward to the Open since most CFers will be stopping there? Should it be the Regional date since even that would be a stretch goal?

While doing triathlons, it was easy to mark the “A” race on the calendar and build a plan moving backwards from that but CFers want to peak all year with no downtime. This maybe the single largest reason they are not progressing.

Although it could also be the lack of progressions in CrossFit training….

(that’s called a cliff hanger)

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A 5K Training Plan built on “Power Speed ENDURANCE” Principles

The first time I read Power Speed ENDURANCE: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training by Brian MacKenzie was when I was a strict triathlete (AKA pre-CrossFit) and although the book was a good read – I hailed from the endurance camp known as long slow distance (LSD) so immediately dismissed the book as gimmicky. The book attempts to dismissed the notion that high training volume is needed to be a competitive endurance athlete, instead it stresses that intensity is key in much the same way as CrossFit does (I’m not sure of the history but Brian MacKenzie subsequently started CrossFit Endurance with these principles).  

Then I started doing CrossFit and began toying with the idea of trying CrossFit and triathlons at the same time.

That took me back to this book and reread it.

The book touches on almost every training aspect in the endurance world: strength, running, swimming, biking, and mobility teaching. Not just building a plan but attempting to teach each of them as a skill. As a former swimmer, this jives with the old notion that fitness is technique practiced.

The book isn’t crazy technical however and many hard core athletes may find it too basic but it provides a good foundation and some actionable items for each area to enhance everyone’s training.

Using this book and some templates I found online, I prepared the following workout plan to prepare a PR attempt at a 5K:

Week 1

Monday: WOD (here and with all the WODs below, I just used the class at my CrossFit and did the prescribed workout there so there was no correlation to the 5K goal)
Tuesday: 8 x 200m w/ 2 min rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 2 x 800m w/ 3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 5k Time Trial (TT)

Week 2

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 10 x 200m w/ 2 min rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 3-4 x 800m w/ 3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 5k @ 85% of 5k TT pace from Week 1

Week 3

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 10-12 x 200m w/ 90 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 4-5 x 800m w/ 2:30 rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 5 miles(M) @ 5k pace from Week 1

Week 4

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 4 x 400m w/ 2 min rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 3 x 1000m w/ 3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 10k Time Trial (TT)

Week 5

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 6 x 400m w/ 2 min rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 6 x 800m TT’s w/ 5 min rest…(This means SPRINT!)
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 5k @ 10k TT pace from Week 4

Week 6

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 6 x 400m w/ 90 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 2 x 200m w/90 esc rest, 2 x 400m w/ 2 min rest, 2 x 1000m w/ 3 min rest
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 7 mile (M) @ 10k TT pace from Week 4

Week 7

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 6 x 400m w/ 90 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 4 x 1000m w/ 2-3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 10 mile (M) Time Trial (TT)

Week 8

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 4 x 200m w/ 60 sec rest, 4 x 400m w/ 90 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 4 x 4 min efforts w/ 3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 5k @ 10 M TT pace from Week 7

Week 9

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 6 x 400m TT’s…w/ 3-4min rest…(This means SPRINT!)
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 5 x 4 min efforts w/ 3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 2 x 5k @ 90% of 5k TT pace from Week 1

Week 10

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 8 x 300m w/ 60 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 3 x 1200m w/ 2-3 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 10k Time Trial (TT)

Week 11

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 5 x 400m w/ 60 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 2 x 1 mile (M) w/ 5 min rest…
Friday: WOD
Sat or Sun: 3 x 5k @ 10k TT pace from Week 10 w/ 5-10 min rest…

Week 12

Monday: WOD
Tuesday: 6 x 400m w/ 60 sec rest…
Wednesday: WOD
Thursday: 3 x 1 mile (M) w/ 5 min rest…
Friday: Rest
Sat or Sun: 5k – 15k TT depending on length of upcoming event (test race day fuel sources if using any)

So how did it go? Mixed.

I missed the PR by about 1:30 (time realized was 19:40 verse a PR of 18:05) but there was some positives. 

Why didn’t I PR? The CrossFit.

Since beginning CrossFit and giving up my all-in training for triathlons, I’ve put on about 20 pounds. Let’s just say that’s all “muscle”, I honestly think that most of it is but it’s still weight that needs to be carried around and messes up your power to weight ratio. If you want to be truly competitive in the endurance world, sports specificity remains relevant as does keeping your weight low which, at least for me, it much harder while doing CrossFit. There is a quote by Tyler Hamilton in The Secret Race that to be more competitive, he would rather lose a pound than do EPO (a performance enhancing drug). I’m not sure if that is actually a fact but he believed it. 

On the plus (not talking weight here) side, I had a lot more fun going through the training program than doing purely running plans in the past. And at some point enjoyment of the training has to be a factor or it’s going to be impossible to stay with any plan. Also, what is the point? I’m not going pro at any of this so I want to have fun.

I don’t know if would use this method to really train for long course events but I think it’s a great plan for short races. I also messed around with a more informal plan that mixed in each triathlon discipline twice a week to train for a sprint tri. Again, I was somewhat disappointed by the results but the training was enjoyable.

After the CrossFit Open ends again I’m going to give this training plan another shot to get back into running shape and go from there.

Either way, read Power Speed ENDURANCE: A Skill-Based Approach to Endurance Training by Brian MacKenzie and get a different perspective on endurance training. Go to your local library and borrow it or if you prefer to waste money and own books, it can be purchased here from Amazon here (and that would help support this blog!).

 

Is the CrossFit Open a community building event or a games selection event?

 

Being a slightly above average CrossFitter for three years now, the CrossFit Open and I have a complicated relationship. It is has both been a source of motivation and frustration. The first year, it motivated me to do my first double thanks to the increased pressure of a competition and someone right there judging me. The second year, 2015, however the open was an extremely frustrating experience.

Due to complaints that some athletes who do well in the open fail to perform at those same levels at the regionals (because the open stresses low-skill high cardio movements whereas the regionals test high strength for shorter durations), CrossFit decided in 2015 to create two separate divisions, a scaled division for the everyday CrossFitter and a Rx division for the competitors hoping to make it to regionals.

What that took away from the Open was the feeling that every CrossFitter had a chance to compete against the top people to see where they stacked up. A lot of what I’ll call participation sports;  running, triathlons, weightlifting, jiujitsu (and the variations), cycling, rowing – sports where a majority of the revenue is derived from people actually participating in it, have some aspect of competitions or “opens” where even the beginner has a chance to compete against the pros.  

This is contrast to sports like baseball, football, basketball where a major of the revenue in comes from viewership (primarily through television dollars). In these sports the trend is not have a chance to compete against the top athletes and in most, it’s hard to even interact with them.

As of right now, a majority of the revenue generated seems to be generated from participation fees either by members joining affiliates (CrossFit is privately held so information is difficult to find but here is a good article on the speculated numbers) – funneled back to CrossFit HQ via affiliate fees or by paying to participate in CrossFit-like event.This would put in in the participation sports camp although it could be trying to build its future model after golf which seems to be squarely in the middle.

Why does it matter?

Participation sports growth is driven by the participants, they need to believe in the dream and sell it to other people (think about the endless stream of marathon stickers you see on the back of cars). If the CrossFit open becomes strictly a selection process for the regionals and therefore the games, it will begin the lose the appeal of the everyday CrossFitter and soon they will detach from the dream. When that happens, they will be a lot more likely to move to other dreams and take the growth with it.

So back to golf. For golf, the middle area seemed to work well for quite some time – namely during the rise of the Tiger Woods phenomenon. Tigers mass appeal (at least then) sparked growth for the sport for many years but with Tiger on the decline the story is less rosy. According this article by Forbes and many others, the sport is in a state of decline. And CrossFit does not have any decade long starts that it can hang its hat on. Rich Fronning is phasing out and the people behind him have not generated much star appeal. For CrossFit to hope for the golf model to pan out seems overly optimistic when it hasn’t even worked out for golf itself.

Random aside:

If you’re looking to relate this all back to business and money as well, you can read this piece on Inc.com called What Failing at the CrossFit Games Can Teach You About Success.