Friday, August 9, 2013

A Little Bit of Everything

A few months ago, I took a trip with my mentor to a CrossFit gym a couple friends of ours own. The WOD that day was "Fran" – a brutal back-and-forth between barbell thrusters and kipping pull-ups.

At the time, I'd heard a lot of experts attack CrossFit. As we watched on, I asked my mentor what his own argument against this type of training was. Given his general bent towards bodybuilding, powerlifting, and Boyle-esque functional training, his response surprised me.

"I have none," he told me. "I would definitely do this workout."


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I took home a valuable lesson that day. Proponents and opponents will always rant and rave, but the truth is that there are benefits and drawbacks to every style of resistance training. No one mode of fitness is the end-all-be-all; nor is any the devil. Instead, each has something unique to offer. Whether you're an athlete or you simply want to look good naked, a well-rounded approach to training means amalgamating the best parts of each training methodology. Allow me to provide some examples.

When you want to build slow and controlled strength through heavy bilateral movements, powerlift. Grab a barbell, and squat, deadlift, bench press, overhead press, and bent-over row. Do each of these movements and all their various unilateral counterparts, along with pull-ups, at least once per week. They are the foundation of any sound training program.

When you want to feel the pump, bodybuild. Do a pre-exhaust set consisting of a single-joint exercise followed immediately be a multi-joint exercise. Try a favorite combination of mine: cable stiff-arm pull-downs into lat pull-downs. 
Sure, single-joint movements don't provide nearly the same functionality and body composition change as multi-joint ones do. But if your goal is to get big and strong, then lateral raises, curls, skull crushers, and leg presses are for you! If you use a machine, just know that the crossover to real-world strength is limited, since the machine provides stability for you. Also beware of leg extensions and chest flys due to excessive sheer force on the knee and a poor resistance profile, respectively.

When you want to develop explosive power like nothing else can, Olympic lift. There are several ways to make these lifts accessible. Start by working the snatch before the clean. Although the resistance travels a greater distance in the snatch, it's actually less technical than the clean. Grab a dumbbell and perform a single arm snatch from the hang position, just above the knees. Limit reps to 6 or fewer. For feedback, have a friend film you and watch it back in slow motion. Progress the start position to below the knees, then the dumbbell to a barbell.

When you want to build core strength and use just your bodyweight, suspension train. Grab a TRX, and primarily work the recline low and high rows.  As long as transition time is not of the essence, suspend your feet in the straps for front and side planks. You can even
 use it for assisted squats, single leg squats, and jumps. Just don't get carried away into thinking this one piece of equipment replaces everything else; it's simply another tool in the toolbox.

When you want to work on athleticism, do speed and agility drills along with plyometrics. Set up a ladder for quick feet, cones for change of direction, and hurdles for lateral bounding. Jump up onto a box
 to practice triple extension and deceleration. For the integrity of your knees, just be sure to step down from the box as opposed to jumping off backwards. Low intensity plyometrics like skipping and jump rope are great for rookies as well as elder statesmen.

When you want to move big things from place to place, train strongman. Farmer's carry heavy dumbbells as far as you can until you have to drop them. Tie a rope to a loaded sled, pull it across the gym, and push or drag it back. Flip a tire with perfect form. Just steer clear of the lifts performed with a rounded back.

When you want to gasp for air and fall to the floor after a short workout, do CrossFit. For a killer finish to a training session, do 10 minutes of "Cindy": as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 bodyweight squats. Be mindful of controlling the eccentric phase of the squat, instead of just bouncing into and out of the hole. Always 
emphasize technique and proper progressions to ensure safety.

When you want to fix your movement asymmetries and deficiencies, do corrective exercise. Let's face it, most of us don't move perfectly. Now that doesn't mean we have to take an hour perfecting our rolling on the floor. Although that is important, we have to sweat, too! What it does mean is that in order to attain and maintain solid movement, we should incorporate bird dogs, toe touch progressions, and chops and lifts (as dictated by our individual weaknesses) into our warm-ups, rest periods, and cool-downs.

Too often, we allow ourselves to get tunnel-visioned, pigeon-holing ourselves as this or that. We reject training schemes besides our own due to their shortcomings, failing to acknowledge and incorporate their strengths.
 Clearly, we ought to be doing a little bit of everything, for each training system has a unique contribution to make to our program.

Sample program (3 sets of each):

1a) Wall slides (8 reps) [Pull]

1b) Bird dogs (8 reps/side) [Hip]
1c) Jump rope (30 seconds) [Knee]

2) Single arm dumbbell snatches (6 reps/side) [Hip]

3a) Incline barbell bench press (10 reps) [Push]

3b) TRX recline rows (10 reps) [Pull]
3c) Dumbbell skull crushers (12 reps) [Push]
3d) Sled push (40 yards) [Knee]

4) "Cindy" (10 minutes) [Pull, Push, Knee]

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