Saturday, February 28, 2015

In (Temperate) Defense of CrossFit Open Workout 15.1

Many a keyboard warrior came out Friday morning up in arms at the announcement of the first workout of the 2015 CrossFit Open. Was their outrage justified, or do we all just need to take a chill pill?

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, the CrossFit Open is the first qualification round of the annual CrossFit Games. Athletes from around the world compete in five weekly workouts, with top finishers moving on to regional competition. From each Regional, a small handful of competitors earn their tickets to Carson, CA, for the Games in late July.

Back to the first Open Workout: a two-parter comprised of a 9-minute “AMRAP” (as many rounds as possible) of three movements -- 15 toes-to-bar, 10 deadlifts, and 5 snatches -- followed immediately by 6 minutes to establish a one-repetition maximum clean and jerk. The prescribed weight on the bar is the same for both the deadlifts and snatches: 115 pounds for men and 75 pounds for women.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Getting Your Chi Together From the Bottom Up

Usually when we squat, press, and row, an eccentric (lowering) phase immediately precedes the concentric (lifting) one without much of a pause in between.

In fact, if this transition from eccentric to concentric occurs quickly enough, the “stretch-shortening cycle” is evoked, whereby the muscles rapidly spring back from their lengthened position.

For example, Olympic weightlifters utilize the SSC by swiftly dipping down and driving up at the knees in order to loft the bar over their heads in a jerk:

We don’t always want to use the SCC, though. Sometimes we'd rather focus on improving our strict force production capability in the bottom position of a lift. In this case, we have a couple of options:
  • Pause reps: lower the weight, hold it in the bottom position for a specified period of time, and then lift. The pause can last anywhere from 1 to 5 seconds -- or even longer, depending on how sadistic you or your coach is. Pause reps put the muscles under continuous tension for long stretches of time.
  • Bottom-up reps: settle at the bottom of the lift, reset your position (i.e. get your chi together), and then lift. Lifting in this fashion improves our ability to generate tension from a “dead stop,” which has tremendous carryover to regular top-down lifting. It's also very safe, as the weight is typically supported by pins and thus cannot come crashing down on your head.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Brief Lessons in Biomechanics: The Abs as “Anti-extensors” of the Core

What do the front plank, overhead press, and pull-up all have in common?

On the surface, not a heck of a lot. One is an “ab” exercise, another is an upper body vertical push, and the other is an upper body vertical pull. 

But if we take a closer look, we may just find some common ground after all.

In the front plank, the long axis of the body is oriented at a right angle to gravity. If we were to relax in this position, gravity would pull our hips straight down, causing our low back to hyperextend, or arch.

Good form, or not so much?

The purpose of the plank, then, is to counteract gravity’s pull through a strong contraction of the abdominals and glutes. For this reason, you may hear the abs termed “anti-extensors” of the core and the plank an “anti-extension” exercise.

So what about the guy or girl planking it out for minutes at time (typically while scrolling through their Instagram feed)? Are they squeezing their abs and glutes tight like they should be? Or are they relying on the passive structures of their low back (tendons, ligaments, vertebrae) to keep their hips off the floor?

Monday, February 16, 2015 What’s Your Favourite Position

At its core, movement is the union of just two things: positions and transitions.

In short, if you can’t even get into the beginning or ending position of a movement, then you have no business performing that movement dynamically or with weight.

The good news? Improving position can be as simple as some mobility work and a few sets of static holds.

In honor of the release of Fifty Shades of Grey over the weekend, I give you this guest blog post for Dean Somerset's site, entitled ‘What’s Your Favourite Position?

...But don't take my word for it! This post was also featured in the Personal Trainer Development Center's Top Fitness Articles of the Week (February 22, 2015, edition):

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Adaptive Mission

When I first started out in the weight room a decade ago, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I knew I wanted to get stronger, both to boost my swimming performance and also, more fundamentally, to improve the efficiency of my day-to-day movement.

Questions overflowed, however. Was it even safe for me, an above-knee amputee, to resistance train? Should I keep my prosthetic leg on, or would it just get it in the way? If I did take it off and trained unilaterally, was I only exacerbating my pre-existing strength asymmetry? Not even my physical therapists knew how to help.

Desperate for answers, I turned to the Web. I found dozens of resources, from powerlifting all the way to yogalates. You name a modality, and somebody was researching it and writing about it. The consensus among fitness experts seemed to be that squats, pulls, presses, and other multi-joint movements should form the basis of a sound training program. But still no tips for what to do if you’re missing one or more of the joints that comprise that ‘multi-’.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Guest Post: Core Training: Fact or Fiction?

by Kennet Waale

I want you to think about this phrase for a second:

“Move Better At 60 Years of Age Than You Currently Are.”

What do you attach to that? How would you feel if you could do exactly that, but more importantly, WHO would you be if you could Move Better At 60 Years of Age Than You Currently Are?

During our recent “Rehab X: Post-Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention” workshop, we had numerous therapists and trainers in the room. Needless to say, we shared a lot of experience and great insights into numerous relevant topics. One of the topics I felt needed to be covered was that of core training. The current state of the fitness industry (though slowly improving) is all about making money and not so much about sharing quality information helping individuals understand the true power of knowledge and implementation. It is for this reason I will share with you some eye-opening thoughts around the topic of core training -- and if there’s any sound evidence behind it whatsoever.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It Doesn’t Always Look Pretty (and That’s Okay)

On a one-rep max lift, you get that motherf—er up however you goddamn have to.

Paul Carter showing how a really fricken' heavy deadlift is done.

With a max lift, it doesn't always look pretty. And that’s okay. In fact, chances are good that you’re actually stronger with this less-than-ideal form.