Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Your Limits Lie Between Your Ears

   
     What if I were to tell you that most of us can hit a new personal record any day of the week following any properly formatted program?  Obviously there are good programs and bad programs out there but any good program will help any athlete hit a new personal record.  So with that said, why is it that you don’t hit a new record?  The answer lies between the ears. 
     One of my favorite quotes from Steve Jobs is “Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have happened to me”.  The reason I love this quote and the reason I personally look up to Steve Jobs is he strived for perfection in everything he did and most importantly he thrived on being uncomfortable.  The most successful people of our time thrived most when they were uncomfortable.  When it comes to CrossFit or other forms of fitness the best athletes in the world love the workouts that the rest of us hate.  The ability for these athletes to live in a world where very little makes them uncomfortable is what makes them the best athletes.  It’s well known that our brains will quit long before our bodies do.  Many times I am coaching people and I tell them to just do one rep and I get what I like to call “the look of death”. They look like want to kill me.  It’s times under extreme stress that your goal should be to shut your brain off and push harder than you ever pushed.  That is where gains are made, being able to shut your brain off and just let muscle memory take over.  The best competitors in the world just go on auto pilot.
     Recently I have begun to have my athletes start using Elevation Training Masks.  I have no doubt that these masks do not simulate elevation training. O2 levels don’t change with the mask on, but you are forced to breathe heavier.  I use these masks to teach people to get more comfortable with higher CO2 levels.  After doing a max effort assault bike interval the last thing you want to do is have a restricting mask on your face.  As the athlete struggles to get full breaths, they begin to realize they will not die and they soon are able to control their breathing just fine.  This is very similar to how you react in a Metcon.  You can push harder for that one or two more reps or how about 3-5 reps.  Look at the best marathon runners in the world.  You think in the last 3-5 miles they aren’t hurting like everyone else?  What separates them is they do not let their facial expressions show how uncomfortable they are, if they did the other competitors would smell blood.  I have made it my personal mission in the past several months to address the comfort level of my athletes while they workout- force them to focus on their breathing and bringing their heart rate down.  Living outside your circle of comfort is key to success in anything you do in life.  Over and over again we will find ourselves in uncomfortable situations and only the best will come out on top, again think about Steve Jobs. 

     In many situations, the only thing standing between you and a personal record is your own head.  Stop letting the feeling of being uncomfortable stop you from overcoming the many challenges of our lives.  That is why I love CrossFit, almost every day we are made to breathe hard and lift heavy and the best don’t let that stop them from being the best they can be.  In life, thrive on being uncomfortable and you will achieve anything. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Why Do We Call Ourselves "The Lab"


     Ever since the we opened people have asked me why we call ourselves “The Lab”.  To answer that goes back to my garage gym on Amadeus Drive.  My garage was called the Lab because that is where I began to experiment with different ideas inside the CrossFit community.  I experimented with the 5/3/1 program, 5x5 squats, Olympic lifting and powerlifting, chains and bands, and different metcon philosophies.  Ever since I started CrossFit back in 2008, I have always considered it an experiment.  In fact, the fluid aspect of it is what drew me into it in the first place.  What do I mean by that?
     The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity”.  It is a very broad general definition and it is intended to be so.  When it comes to the CrossFit program, anything and everything can be CrossFit.  What we have learned is that there is no one best way to train.  Many great trainers have their own idea of what is the best way to train but there is no one way that will work for all people.  Every person is genetically different therefore you have to use multiple means of training to achieve the goal of broad, general, and inclusive fitness.  The “Lab” name is a symbolic gesture to say that we test these different methodologies.  I consider DCL a human performance laboratory.  We are constantly pushing the boundaries of what makes people fitter human beings.  We work with moms and dads, tactical athletes, Olympic weightlifters, powerlifters, strongman and endurance athletes. By what means is the best way to train all these people from so many different walks of life?  When it comes to the world of strength and conditioning, there are so many out there that claim to have the new and best way to train.  Everyone is a fitness coach these days.  One thing that I feel is important is for people to read and, when they read, to give credit to those who actually did the research.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to training.  Each athlete has their own strengths and weaknesses and it’s the job of the coach to find them.  I always find it funny when I hear a coach tell me how they came up with this system.  No! You created nothing.  You took ideas from great people and use them in your training.  Finding the program that works for your athletes is that challenge.  
      The DCL Program is a mixture of various ideas from geniuses in the world of strength and conditioning.  We are obviously a CrossFit gym so we took the ideas of Greg Glassman.  We follow the principles of Dr. Verkhoshansky, Dr. Kelly Starrett, Dr. Mel Siff, Brian Mckenzie, Vladimir Zatsiorsky, and Louie Simmons.  We have taken the ideas from these great men and mixed and applied them to create the DCL Program.  I call my gym the Lab because how else would I know these ideas work if I didn’t test them myself? Since our opening in 2014 (and arguably several years before we opened) we have athletes set multiple PR’s and set new records continually.  My athletes don’t plateau in their training.  Why? Because I use the principles of geniuses and apply them to my athletes.  I mix and match these ideas and use them to each individual athlete.  It’s easy to get a new athlete to set a record, it’s much more difficult to get even your best athletes to constantly improve.  When a new idea comes out, I must test it! I don’t take it at face value as more and more coaches try to sell things.  Testing these ideas is critical to the DCL program. 
     DCL is a human performance laboratory.  I don’t want to help people excel in only one area as the argument can then be made that I’m only a good “weightlifting coach” or a good “CrossFit Coach”.  I consider myself a “human performance coach” and will always read and test the limits of my athletes to help them excel in any area of life.  The DCL program will constantly evolve and apply new methods to help our athletes reach their highest potential possible. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Programming Accesory Movements and Mobility

This is a follow-up to articles I have written earlier.  The more competitive you get and the stronger you get the more it is necessary to work on accessory movements.  In my opinion, beginner athletes do not need to work on accessory movements as much as advanced athletes. However, they should still know what they can do to build strength in areas where they are lacking in order to prevent injuries.  Compound movements are great but imbalances cause way too many non-impact athletic injuries.  Choosing which accessory movements to use, however, cannot be general.  They must be specific to the athlete. 
So what accessory movements should you be doing?  Well we have to look at your specific weaknesses. Too often I’ll see athletes all doing the same accessory movements.  All athletes have different sticking points.  Why should someone focus on hip strength when it’s the glutes that are weak on his or her deadlift?   Am I saying don’t train your hips? Absolutely not. I am saying that you have to train where you are weak.  Injuries are caused because one muscle group overrides the weaker ones.  I love Mobility WOD and I have nothing against ROMWOD but when you let other people tell you where to mobilize you will neglect the areas where you need attention.  I watch Mobility WOD every day but I use Kelly’s knowledge to make my athletes better by taking his stuff to the bank only when I see an athlete with those specific issues.  General accessory movements are fine but you are missing out on true athletic potential. 
How do I know which specific areas I need to work on?  Study a video (I know most of you video your lifts) and look at where you are getting stuck or slowing down.  If you are squatting and you are stuck at the bottom of your squat you need to work on your hip strength.  If you are getting stuck in the middle you need to get your quad and hamstring strength up. And if you are stuck at the top you need to strengthen your glutes.  If you tend to lean forward when you squat your upper back is weak. Here is the funny thing: as your hamstrings get stronger, your hips and glutes will then become your weakness and you will have to build them up.  It’s a constant battle to keep all your systems working to make you stronger.  When it comes to upper body movements, the main problem area I tend to see is weak triceps.  Your triceps are your “lock out” muscles.  I don’t care how strong your shoulders are, if you have weak triceps you will fail at max weights.  This applies to the bench press, shoulder press, push press, and any variation of your jerk.  If you are a runner the weakest elements tend to be the abdominals and the hip flexors.  You can see this at the end of a 5K or middle of a marathon, and see how many runners tend to lose their posture and start to lean forward.  This collapse of the torso is detrimental to proper breathing mechanics.  Always find your sticking point and work from there.  You are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. 
Accessory movements are vital if you want to become a stronger athlete but that’s not all.  These movements will also prevent you from getting injured.  Light weight high repetition movements will strengthen the ligaments and tendons.  When following a program make sure the accessory movements are dedicated to YOUR weaknesses and not for someone else.  Strengthen your weakest link and watch your progress skyrocket!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When to Scale and When to Push Yourself to As Prescribed (RX)

     Sitting here watching the CrossFit Games is inspiring and always fun to watch.  I love watching amazing athletes push themselves far beyond what we in the community ever thought was possible five years ago.  I remember watching “Amanda” happen for the first time and seeing how much they struggled with 135# squat snatches, now 135# is a joke for all those athletes.  Though 135# may seem like a joke to Games-level athletes, for some in the community 135# is a struggle. They can do it but not without deliberate effort.  Scaling for many, especially in the DCL community, is not something many want to do.  Mostly because we are “Type A” personalities- but for some they scale too much.          When is it appropriate to scale and when should you grind through? 

     When it comes to scaling a workout there are two crowds: one crowd pushes themselves too far and the other crowd fails to push enough.  Let’s talk about my favorite crowd, those that push themselves too much. I often see athletes debating when to scale and I can always point out those that I’ll have to force to scale a workout.  They are some of the most determined people out there. In the army, these were the people I wanted on my team.  However, when it comes to fitness, scaling is something we all have to do at one point or another.  As the programmer of the workout, I know how long a workout should take.  It is never smart to work out 20 minutes at a time all the time.  Your body is only capable of so many 20-minute workouts in a given time period.  For those that follow the DCL program you will notice our workouts are typically between 10-15 minutes, some less than 5 and others 5-10.  We may go 20 minutes but very rarely.  Why?  If you routinely go over the 20-minute marker your body gets beat down to an extent that you have a much harder time recovering.  Often you take two to three days of rest and by that time you’ve lost the effect of the workout from three days ago.  Achieving the time domain that we program for is critical for your metabolic capacity to grow.  Even strength athletes do not go 100% all the time, they have heavy days and light days.  A good programmer knows when to increase the volume or the intensity to achieve the time domain goals that they are looking for.  A good athlete knows when it’s time to take a step back and lighten the weight or the movement to reach those goals.  An example I always use is “Fran”.  The workout “Fran” is 21-15-9 of Thrusters at a relatively light weight-- 95# for males and 65# for females-- and pull ups.  This workout was designed to be done in sub five minutes but can take as long as eight.  Anything over that time domain fails to reach the workout’s designed goal of high heart rate glycolytic pathway adaptation.  For example, if I took those movements (45 reps of each in total) over an hour to do I will have achieved nothing.  No strength gain and no metabolic pathway gain.  The weights are not heavy enough (and if they are heavy there’s too many reps) to achieve a strength gain.  Once you achieve the workout within its 5-minute time frame then I would challenge your metabolic pathway by increasing weight.  Strength isn't always measured in the amount of weight lifted.  Strength is measured in bar velocities or in our world whatever object you are lifting (body weight/stone/ odd object).  Taking time to step back and being honest with yourself and scaling where appropriate will make you a better athlete and also a fitter person. 

     Now let’s talk about the other side of the fence- those that scale too much.  These people tend to doubt their abilities as an athlete.  I see this on our strength and metcon work when people fail to use the proper percentages for themselves and finish workouts way too fast.  One of the things I like to say is it’s hard to learn a skill when you’re tired but you get better at skills you have already learned training tired. One of my basketball coaches (yes I played basketball so go ahead and insert your short jokes now) would always make us shoot free throws after doing sprints to get better at skills under a metabolic demand.  People routinely ask me to help them get better at double unders or pull ups.  One way I do this is to make them do a number they know they can do for multiple rounds, then scale and on the last round go for as long as your body allows you to.  One thing I typically see from people who don't trust themselves is they are capable of doing pull ups but fear losing so much that they scale the pull ups right away in order to go faster.  Then in a workout that I programmed to be 15-20 minutes they are done in less than 10.  These are the times to push yourself harder.  Trust your coach to help you scale if you need to but also trust your coach if he or she pushes your harder.  We don’t want to see you injure yourself but we definitely want to see you achieve your goals.  I always say I can make you physically strong, that part is easy, but I cannot make you mentally strong.  That piece is all on you!


     Again, scaling is something many of us do not want to do.  Trusting your coach is something that you should do when he or she tells you to scale or is that person pushes you a little harder.  Knowing when and where to scale your workouts will only make you a better and stronger athlete in the long-term journey that we call “fitness”.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Volume Doesn't Always Mean Better Results

One of the best books I have ever read, when it comes to strength training, has been “Supertraining” from Mel Siff.   One of the quotes attributed to Dr. Siff  that really stuck out to me is, “You don’t train minimally, you don’t train maximally, you train optimally”.  If you have never read Supertraining, and you are a strength coach, you need to! This is a very detailed and thorough manual on how to best train the human body for physical performance.  One of the most common faults I tend to see from athletes is either overtraining or under training.  This is a common theme and often misunderstood, especially in the CrossFit and military community.   What is the best way to train?  
Lets talk CrossFit for a minute.  As I wrote in a previous article, there is a huge difference in training for competition and training for life.  Often times people get confused and just want to be fit for life and train for competition.  If you do not want to compete then I don’t suggest more than one workout a day.  Here at DCL we always do a strength/skill and a workout and that is more than enough for someone who just wants to be fit for life.  Because of the work we do you are getting more than enough volume in.  If you are training for competition that you have to periodize your training.  Just jumping in to workouts and going as fast as possible and doing three and four metabolic conditioning workouts a day is not the answer.  You have to get a coach and set a date on the calendar.  From that date sit down with your coach and go over the best way to peak at the competition.  Currently in the CrossFit world there are hundreds of competition programs to follow and most are made by very qualified coaches (some not so qualified). The problem with following these programs is they are designed to have you peak around the CrossFit Games season.  Now if you are a beginner competitor and just getting started, yes follow these programs as anything is better than where you were, but as you get more advanced you have to start looking at more specific programs geared around your weaknesses.  Another giant distinction to make is, there is a huge difference in seeing results and training at your optimal potential.  I work with many athletes and try to stick away from generic competition programs as they tend to lack focus on a specific goal.  You have to have goals if you want to train optimally.  Throwing random movements on a white board and going as hard and as fast as possible is fun for some and can be useful in some scenarios but if you are truly trying to be a sport specific athlete you have to think longer and harder about your training objectives.  Do we have a DCL competition program? Of course we do.  The beauty of our program is I constantly monitor everyones times and results so I am able to point out deficiencies in their training.  From there, instead of programming multiple metabolic conditioning workouts I can program specific cash out workouts to make them better.  These can be in the form off EMOM’s (every minute on the minute) or slower body building type workouts.  Whatever they are they have to be well thought out and address your weaknesses to improve your abilities and prevent injuries.  Most injuries, I believe, can be prevented if your training was better thought out.  When it comes to competition CrossFit training, I believe your program should be tailored around you and your competition so as to peak at the proper time for you, not at your coaches convenience.  Remember “Constantly Varied Functional Movements Executed at High Intensity” does not mean and can not be random!
Next lets talk about military training.  This type of training can be no different.  I work with many military officers and they all have well thought out training programs from field training exercises and JRTC or NTC rotations all the way through deployments and i have met some of the best in the world stationed here at Fort Campbell but when it comes to their physical fitness programs, there is no organization what so ever.  In my years in the army, it was mostly the blind leading the blind when it came down to physical fitness.  We wonder why the VA is so backed up, and most injuries are not even combat related.   When you plan your PT calendar, there has to be some sort or periodization.  Plan for strength, plan for conditioning, plan for tactical movement preparation (special physical preparation or SPP).  When it comes to most Physical Training program or PT we tend to see soldiers make their subordinates compete in movements that they are good at so as to look better in front of their subordinates and show their “superiority”.  We tend to see so much volume because if we didn't do 1,000 flutter kicks and push ups and it didn’t take 1 1/2 hours than it wasn't a good workout.  I saw this is the form of mass formation runs for long distances.  Why did we do this?  Because the Sergeant Major or Commander were good at running and they wanted to show us how “in shape” they were.  Problem; most were not in shape they just controlled the pace so that we all had to stay with them and normally the pace was so slow that most feel out because their running gait changed so much that they were forced out of runs because the pain in their knees became too great.  Am I saying that these runs should be completely knocked out?  I hesitantly say “No”.  I say this because I do see how their can be value in camaraderie building in some units, my personal opinion was they just made me a disgruntled soldier rather than a motivated one, but thats just me.  I do say they should be more limited.    Why do professional athletes have strict periodized training programs but when it comes to the greatest military in the world we have yet to figure out that we should plan our physical fitness better.  In most cases its very easy as you know when and to what environment you will deploy to.  We have to think about our physical preparation for deployment as hard as we plan to actually fight the enemy.  
Do not confuse higher volume with higher quality!  When it comes to training for a fight or competition you have to be smart about your training.  Proper planning can and will go a long way in your training.  Know what your weaknesses are and build them up.  A military unit is only as strong as its weakest link and so will your body be.  Take a step back and look at what you are training for and for what purpose.  Once you establish a meaning to your training, then start taking steps to build up your strength then condition your body around your new found strength.  It doesn't have to be complicated but you do have to think about it.  I promise you you will  see better results when you look at things through a process rather than just throwing movements on a board.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bench Press, The Forgotten CrossFit movement.

     This was an exciting weekend for CrossFit and the central region.  It was amazing to watch the athletes from all around compete and display their athletic abilities.  The unfortunate aspect of this year has been the amount of pectoral injuries we have seen.  We can blame the programming all we want but I do believe it is too early to say why so many have been injured.  I am a firm believer in individual responsibility and maybe it is the fact the most people aren't training or recovering properly.  One movement I feel that is under-utiized-utilized in our sport is the bench press.
     The bench press is definitely not the most important upper body movement in the sports world, like some believe, but it for sure is an important movement non the less.  The longer I have been involved in the sport, the more I see athletes forgetting about the importance of the bench press.  In fact, if you walk into many CrossFit gyms and Weightlifting gyms you fail to even find a bench.  Even if you have no interest in increasing your max bench (which I see as a silly thought) you should still be bench pressing to increase the size of the major muscle groups as well as the stabilizer muscles involved.  Very few movements have the ability to put the pectorals at the extreme end range and strengthen the lockout muscles of the triceps like the bench.  Both of these muscle groups are used in the ring dip, which is where we are seeing these athletes injure their pectorals.  The use of assistance work is also important and small movements can make the difference between excelling and injuring yourself.   As we have recently seen in the CrossFit realm the use of dumb bells have become more and more frequent.  I would use the dumb bells for benching.  This follows right along with Greg Glassman's recommendation that whatever you do with a barbell, you can do with the dumb bells to increase the difficulty.   I would even say that dumb bell benching would be an excellent warm up and skill progression before you jump on the rings as the need for stabilizers is the same.   Small additions to your training regime can make a huge difference.
     Now let me be very clear, I am not saying that I believe these regionals and games level athletes were injured because they were not benching.  All I am stating is that going along with CrossFit's theme of constantly varied movements, the fact that most gyms fail to do the bench press is silly and sets athletes up for injury but leaving a major hole in their fitness.  All athletes should be bench pressing

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Youth Athletes and Training for Sport

Today's blog is going to talk about youth athletes and how they should train for "sport".  Let's talk about what I mean by "sport".  Sport is referring to any specific sport weather that be football, baseball, soccer, etc.  Now let's talk about what I mean by "youth athlete".  When I refer to "youth athletes" I am referring to athletes who have not reached puberty.  At this stage in an young athletes life it is critical to be very careful about how they train.  Young athletes should not be focused on one particular sport when they are this young for various reasons.

You will often see baseball fields and football fields across the country filled with young athletes playing their hearts out.  It makes me proud as a strength and conditioning coach to see this.  The one problem I see with this is many of these athletes do nothing else besides these sports.  This can be dangerous and harmful for ones skill development.  Kids are designed to run and jump and play.  They are not designed to train.  Unfortunately I see a lot of parents get too worked up and focused on making sure their child is the next prodigy.  Prior to puberty kids need to be playing games and sports that develop their genetic potential and work on their coordination and flexibility.  In other words, let your kids have fun.  The stress of sports is high and most kids are very competitive and its our jobs as parents and role modals to stress to kids that sports are fun.  Kids that get worked up over sports too early are the ones that will never stay with the sport.

It is also our job as role models to allow kids to experiment with different sports.  A kid who focuses on one sport too early is more likely to leave that sport.  I've seen many kids who show so much potential to excel in a given sport but because of the pressure put on them by either their parents or their coaches they leave the sport.  It no longer becomes fun.  From experience my father never pushed me to play one particular sport.  I played basketball, baseball, football, soccer and hockey and when I left a sport he never forced me to stay in, in fact all he did was encourage me to try something new.  Probably why I fell in love with CrossFit, I have never been happy with just one sport.  I consistently look for new skills and strengths to master.  Using the CrossFit methodology, "constantly learn and play new sports", is a great way to find what your kids are passionate about.

Never allow your kids to become stagnant in one particular sport.  Never let the stress of "sport" get too high.  Its our job to keep them level headed, its their job to give their all no matter one sport they are playing.  Sports were designed to be fun and at the same time challenge you.  Allow the youth of our country to find a new challenge, accept it, and crush it!!