Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Water Experiment

I've never been good at drinking water. I don't think it tastes good unless (a) it's room temperature and I'm really hot or (b) it's flavored, cold, and carbonated. I drink a lot of coffee, protein shakes, tea, and I'll sip on water throughout the day.

I never thought much about it, despite EVERY source out there saying it's better for so many things, from skin, to energy, to immunity. I clung to the random study that claimed coffee doesn't dehydrate you or you don't actually need 8 glasses of water a day. I'd think, "ha! I'm just fine!"


After all, when I'm training I was still recovering okay and lifting some pretty good weights.

So what gives?

I attended Brian MacKenzie's CrossFit Endurance seminar about a month ago. Kind of by chance. I'm no fan of endurance anything, I refuse to do conditioning work that lasts more than 15 mins and I refuse to do any running that isn't specifically sprinting for 100 m or less. But BMack has been coaching out of San Francisco CrossFit and was kind enough to let us SFCF coaches take the seminar for free.

It was at this seminar I had a moment of clarity.

I mentioned this test before, but it really stuck with me: press your thumb against the flat part of your shin, press hard. Hold it there for a long 5 count. How long does that indentation remain after you remove your thumb? It should fill in in about a second or two. Mine didn't. I looked up to listen to some of the lecture. After a couple of minutes, I look down AND OH MY GOD THE DENT IS STILL THERE!

I don't know why it hit me so hard. I guess because I do most things "right". I shoot for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. I train hard and rest hard. I eat clean and cyclic-ketogenic. I take vitamins and supplements to fill in what my activity levels need for optimum performance. But I'm screwing myself over because I'm really effen dehydrated.

My Experiment

Starting that day, every time I make or buy a cup of coffee, I have to down a glass of water. At least 2-3 times through out the day, I have to make myself down my 20 oz Nalgene bottle. Since I drink 2-3 cups of coffee in the morning, that's 2-3 cups of water, out of my ~14 oz glasses.

First week was really uncomfortable. I had to pee all the time, and I felt like I was sloshing with every step I took. It was super uncomfortable with a seat belt on in the car, or the wiggling that results from biking around or doing intervals on the watt bike.

Another test for dehydration. 

Second week was better, it's like my body started getting the hang of letting the water pass right through. And get this! All those markers of dehydration that blogs talk about seem to be true! Who of thought! Better energy later in the day. Less creaky joints. Less need or want for coffee. Skin is looking better. And so on.

So after two weeks I tried again. Still something of a depression, but it fills in SO MUCH FASTER! I wanted a little more, so for the next week, I would put a single turn of my sea salt grinder into each 14 oz glass of water.

And now! The depression test is almost gone. My plantar fasciitis, while still there, is markedly improved.

I'm a bit of an addict now. I'm still pretty bad on the weekends after my morning coffee, since I'm not always carrying a bottle and I don't have a regular weekend routine. I'll find myself exhausted, completely wiped out, from some excursion. Now I drink 1 or 2 large glasses of water and 20 mins later I feel like I had a nap.

Amazing. Why did it take me this long to deal with it?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Pet Peeve: Sad Sack Push Ups

I really think push ups are a great move. When I watch an athlete do a push up it tells me several things:

1) Upper body strength - This one is obvious. It's the binary can they or can't they get from the floor to a plank only using their arms.

2) Core strength - There are guys and gals who can bench body weight, but their push ups look like they're from Snap City because they let their hips roll forward and their back arch like a saddle. *cringe*

3) Body awareness/ Body control - When the athlete shrugs the shoulder up to the ears. When the athlete fixes their sway back but then immediately loses it. When the athlete can't seem to feel or correct where their elbows are during the descent, or how their body should move in relation to their hand.

The push up is often taken for granted as a simple movement. You just lower yourself and push back up again. If you can't do that, drop to the knees.

Except, there is an actual technique to it.

All to often I'll ask an athlete to hold the elbows in place, or tighten their core, or give full range of motion, be it at the bottom or the top. And they either completely disregard what I'm saying, or honestly don't understand how what I'm saying would apply to their quality of movement. I mean, it's just a push-up, for God's sake!

But as I see it, your push up isn't "just a push up" if you don't consistently try to do it right. And I know if you're trying to do it right because I take stock at the begining of "3, 2, 1, GO!" of everyone's technique.

Check it. Deal with it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Metabolic Conditioning: Different Perspective

This is a personal summary and take away of a talk I attended at the NCSA Personal Trainer's Conference given by Len Kravitz, PhD.

As CrossFittians, when we wear the term "metabolic conditioning" we often think "MetCon!?!? YOU STOP YOU LOSE! THREE TWO ONE GO!!!!!1!!11"

Oh, the burnz!
And to many, the same idea to mind in some form or another, whether you call it conditioning, circuit training, plyometrics. or CrossFit. When Len Kravitz champions is a different form of metabolic conditioning he refers to as NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.

Basically, this is any movement that is not sleeping or not part of sports-like or exercise-like movement. Straight quotes from the lecture include "'changes in NEAT accompany experimentally induced changes in energy balance and may be important in the physiology of weight change." Also, "can burn 269 to 477 more kilocalories per day."

So what specifically can be included in NEAT type of movement? For instance, every time you sit down, you sit, then stand, then sit again. And then when you stand up, you stand, sit, stand. Think of how many times throughout the day you do each  movement and how much extra, non-exhaustive movement doing that little routine will add.

Of course, you might start looking like Jack Nicholson in "As Good as it Gets", locking and unlocking his door precisely 13 times.

What information do we have that would back up this activity?

According to one study, lean participants spent about 562 min moving about (non-exercise movement) and obese participants spent 373 mins moving about. Thats ~150 mins more easy movement that separated the lean from the obese.

Personal opinion: all this data and results is from the presumption of a calories-in vs. calories-out paradigm. I know a lot of people who still believe in the cal-in/ cal-out method of exercise. And not to say that calories aren't important, you over eat, your body WILL store excess as body fat, but to rely on this completely ignores the hormonal influence that macronutrients and nutrient timing have on our systems.

Recommended reading: "Why We Get Fat (and what we can do about it)" by Gary Taubes. Also check out the recent book release by Robert Lustig, "Fat Chance." Reviews of these should be posts unto themselves.

Personal opinion: it can't hurt to do these extras: The sit-stand-sit routine, take the longer route around your office to your desk, stand up while reading papers or reports, walk to a coworker rather than email, park further from the store to walk further. It's not going to hurt, and you shouldn't live your life in a rush anyways (hello, cortisol!).

How much of a difference will it make? I would guess that any changes in your waistline would result not from the extra activity so much as the slowing down of your day, the increased interactions you'll have with other people. Namely, it could have a psychological impact that can help with weight loss. Give it a try.

Monday, April 15, 2013


I wrote a while back about coaching cue myths with the squat. After attending a seminar at the NSCA Personal Trainer's Conference in Las Vegas  given by Brad Schoenfeld and his talk and the packed lecture room reminded me that people still are fighting against bad information regarding the mechanics of "The King of All Exercises."

Over 200 muscles are activated through squatting. So if you're looking for strength and size and a great hormonal punch in the crotch, the squat is where it's at.

First, let's address the most common misconception that I still hear echoed around: squatting is bad for your knees. Yes, if you squat like a spaz.

Spaz squatting.
But if you squat properly (neutral spine, weight in heels, knees out), you'll actually be doing your knees a lot of good by going fairly deep.

First, let's address the ACL. The ACL takes up to about 85% of the shear forces during the first 60 degrees of knee flexion. Let's say you stop there and are content doing quarter squats, you'll be moving though a range with load that is predominantly putting stress on your ACL and shearing forces across the knee.

As you get deeper, the hamstrings kick in more and take the load off the ACL. Additionally, as the angle of knee flexion increases, the forces across the knee become less shearing and more compressive, which is actually easier on the structures of the knee, thanks to the mechanics created by our patellas.

Great, so that's out of the way.

Now let's talk about thee knees going over the toes and how that's "not supposed to happen."

Take a look at the following photographs:

When the knee gets blocked, the athlete has to lean way over to keep the center of gravity over his feet. I think most people can reasonable understand that the more up right the spine is, the greater tolerance it has for load bearing. As the bar gets heavier, the center of gravity will get closer to the bar and necessitate a more upright position, which means knees even further forward.

Here is a good cartoon from Mark Rippetoe's "Starting Strength" of how the knee position changes as the bar position changes:

Thanks for listening to my rant, and if you would like to learn more about the science and anatomy of the squat, you can follow Brad Schoenfeld at his website. Thanks for letting me rant! 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Training and Rehab Weekly: Vol 4.12.13

I'm in a more relaxed headspace about my shoulder can-do and can't-do activities. I'm just going to get really fucking strong legs. This week's update:


First, thanks to Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance, I am painfully, excruciatingly aware of my weightlifterness and poor hydration. If I sit down and stay off my feet for anymore than 30 mins, my calves and plantar fascia tighten up like nervy ropes. Plus, they did this little exercise to demonstrate hydration:

Press your thumb hard into the flat part of your shin. Hold it there for a long 5 count. Remove. The indentation should fill in quickly. Mine didn't. I looked up for a couple of minutes to listen to him talk, look down and OH MY GOD IT'S STILL THERE! So now, every time I make a cup of coffee, I chug down at least 14-16 oz of water.

Back squat day! I did my 5x5 at 250 lbs along with the class at United Barbell. They were supposed to hit a 3 rep max, so I just jumped in and did my own rep scheme. I like to think when coaches jump in on class it pushes people just a little further.

After that the WOD (workout of the day) for UB was 10 rounds with a partner (5 rounds a piece) of:
 - 5 strict toes to bar
 - 4 heavy deadlifts
 - 3 box jumps, high!

I did slow v-ups instead of toes to bar, since I'm not supposed to hang from my arms yet. Then I did snatch grip deadlifts to focus on my back and lats and keep myself from throwing 300 lbs on the bar. 30 inches on the box jumps. I need to work on that, I feel like all the squatting has made me a little slow.


My feet and heels are still in a terrible place.

Started off with another episode of "Fun With My Physical Therapist." This time wasn't as much aneurism inducing for him, I'm sure. I just said that I'm pretty sure my shoulder bothers me more when I can't go overhead because it's so bored with everything else.

Later, I did some clean drills:
 - clean deadlift to the knee
 - clean deadlift to the high hang
 - clean

I do this as a series to limit how much weight I'm tempted to try. I got up to 163 lbs and stayed there for several sets. I feel great on the deadlift portions, but as soon as I start to put speed on the bar for the clean, my timing is all off and I shoot to my toes early. I think my last two sets were good, staying back on my heels, so I called it a day and prepared to teach class.


My feet are almost completely back to normal. My hydration level, as demonstrated by the thumb/shin test, has improved significantly.

Front squats are the worst. They just are. They hurt. They suck. They're the worst. So I did 8x3 at 210 lbs this time. I survived. But I was pissed about it. I followed that up in the 20 mins before classes started at UB with reverse hypers, weighted GHD sit ups, GHRs, and star fuckers.

After all that work and emotional turmoil, something didn't quite feel right. Class was starting to I took my bag, laid down behind the desk, and passed out for about 45 mins. It was good.


Low key day. Before I worked with my afternoon client, I worked on some snatch deadlifts to the high hang position followed by snatch high pulls. My thumbs felt like they took a pretty severe beating. After working with my client and teaching two classes, all at SFCF, I do some rehab and then perform a few power cleans and cleans for Diane to video.

Diane teaches a different first and second pull than I was taught by Max. I guess you could say that her style is more "Chinese" and Max's style is more "Bulgarian." Anyway, she wanted some video of my lifting, poor timing and all right now, to compare and contrast. Just for shits, I did a 77 kg power clean so I could change the number on the whiteboard.


Started bright and early with a trip to the physical therapist. I kinda feel like I'm running out of things to exasperate him with. Later that day was 8 sets of 3 in the back squat at 255 lb, setting me up for my 5x5 on Monday at the same weight. Unless I'm too sore from the CrossFit Football seminar this weekend.

Instead of accessory work, my legs are feeling heavy, I did 8 sets of 3 power cleans followed by a 40 yard sprint with about 2 mins rest between. The last sprint felt so slow, that was the right amount.

Still find myself fighting to lose the post surgery weight that I put on. I know I need to put in more high intensity stuff, and I know I'm moving along, but so very very slowly.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Facebook Q&A on Post Exercise Calorie Expenditure

This is all cut and paste. First, the articles in question from my friend and judo badass: Dan Gomez

"Two contradictory articles. The first says we burn more calories after intense workouts even up to 14 hours later (increase in metabolism).

The second which is linked on the first article's page says that you don't increase metabolism with moderate to intense exercise (don't burn extra calories).


I'd like to look at each of the research used and see the different approaches. What do you think Kristin Laine Newman?
My answer:
So I followed the second link back to their reference, which still wasn't the original report. Neither stated what they used for their "moderate" and "vigorous" exercise, but the source referenced "participants all cycled for under an hour, burning up to 400 calories."

The first article also had participants cycle "vigorously" for 45 mins.

The problem I have with this study is two-fold. If you do continuous ANYTHING for 45 mins, you're in steady state cardio land, and your EPOC levels aren't going to be boosted much. You can't ask people to work at 110% of VO2 max for that long. Well, you can ask, but... 

I'm still a believer that HIIT training and intense heavy lifting DO up your EPOC, some studies have shown that the effect lasts up to 48 hours later, slowly tapering off as muscles and the CNS recover. And you'll need trained individuals to get that response because their better adapted for full motor unit recruitment and CNS activation. 

My other issue is that these studies are merited on the calories in vs. calories out paradigm, and give no credence to the type of training that will increase testosterone, increase insulin sensitivity, and generally affect your hormonal profile for the better (HGH, cortisol, etc). That sort of effect is, again, seen time and time again through HIIT and strength training (emphasis on the compound lifts, obviously). 

Better hormonal profile = body primed for fat loss, muscle building, and better use of the good food you feed it.


Both studies are Meh. Stop reading Yahoo!

What do you in internet-land think? 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Training and Rehab Weekly

Time for more musings on the comeback process!


Still keeping with my linear progression, I did my 5x5 at 245 lb with all my normal accessory work. Rehab on the shoulder, plus attempting some dumbbell bench pressing. Doing anything where my elbow drops behind the plane of my body (bench, push ups, dips) still irritates my shoulders, so I'll have to ask my PT about that. Hit up a CF Football workout with deadlifts and power cleans, stopping at 70 kg.


Post surgery appointment with the surgeon. He says that maybe I'm pushing it too fast, and even pulled out the ultrasound to show me the fluid around my biceps tendon. Okay, I'll take it easier... maybe. So that day, to take it easy on the shoulder, is another CF Football workout of back squats at 215 lb and box jumps at 28". No shoulders there!


Another back at the physical therapist. I swear I exasperate that man more than most people annoy. When he asks how it feels, and I say sore after I push it, well, how do I push it? Presses, push press, push jerk, pull ups, rope climbs, handstands... what don't I do? All that has to stop, he says. Only mid range, below shoulder height from now on, for the next month. Bench press? Floor press? Ring rows? Dumbbell rows? Power cleans? But you SAID below shoulder!

So I got the same story from my PT as I got from my surgeon. Boo. After that I hit my front squat at 205 lb for 8x3, a eat some chicken wings, and pout the rest of the day.


So KStar isn't around to pick his brain, so I pick the brain of friend and PT student, Sean. I get the same story, some more deets (students all have the details still fresh in the brain), and I pout some more. But what if I tell you I'm part wolverine? No go.

So I keep squatting. And some power cleans. Maybe some dead lifts. My upper body stuff will be relegated to incline rows, ring rows, abbreviated floor pressing, rehab and body building. I'll have to rejigger my programming over the weekend.


By Friday, with 24 hours to mope and pout, I'm in a better head space than earlier about the shoulder. Do my 8x3 back squat at 250 lb, plus some floor pressing and other rehab type work. NOTHING ABOVE MY HEAD BECAUSE SCIENCE.

This weekend I'll be taking the CrossFit Endurance seminar by Brian MacKenzie. Luckily some other strength coaches are taking this course too, and maybe we can, as a group, modify the drills so that we learn them all, but don't blow out our legs for squatting on Monday.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Linear Progressions and My Current Squat Program

I hear a lot about linear progressions and all sorts of squat programs that people put themselves and others on. I want to take a moment and demystify some of the more common ones and just touch on what I'm doing in my recovery phase to get my squat back up to where I want it to be.

Linear Progressions

I think this is probably one of the most maleable, personalize-able programs out there. This is what I'm using right now to get back into squatting bliss.

First, take a working rep volume (all working sets times reps) that works for you. Common numbers are 25, 30, and 35. Then you list out all the sets x rep combinations that get you to that number, +1. Let's take what I'm doing:

I chose 25 reps because I like 5x5 as a base. That would leave 2x12, 12x2, 3x8, 8x3, 6x4, 4x6 (yes, all these equal 24, but like I said, close enough), and of course 5x5.

There is some intensity for ya. 
Then we decide how many times a week we want to squat. I like to squat at least 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), so I'll pick three of the sets x reps combinations that work towards a 5x5. I use 8x3, and 6x4, with 5x5 being the last in the weekly series.

Here is where you can get fancy. I would say start your series out around 60% of your 1RM. What I do is start my 8x3 on Wednesday, 6x4 on Friday, and 5x5 on Monday. I do that so I'm well rested for my 5x5. Then I up the weight by ~10 lbs and start over again, keeping the same weight all the way through.

You can also change the weight a little each time. For instance, a teammate uses 30 as her base number. Her 3x10 is, let's just randomly pick, 180 lbs. Then her 6x5 is 170 lbs, followed by her 3x10 at 160lbs. The next cycle she adds 5-10 lbs to each number and goes at it again.

Bulgarian Stylings

Linear progressions can only get you so far. It's great to change things up for the advanced lifter, to get in lots of practice for the novice, and for cases like mine when I was out of the game for nearly 2 months.

My favorite style of training is the Bulgarian style, also adopted by Westside Barbell. This one is pretty straight forward. You pick your top reps (1-5 reps) max out at it, then drop to 80% of what you completed and do as many reps as possible.

This give athletes the chance to test their top end strength each time they squat. The Bulgarian ideology means that this is your 1, 3, or 5 rep max for that day. You are not expected to PR or even meet your old PR every time. Also, if you find your max effort is significantly lower, it gives you a cue that maybe you need to take a hard look at your recovery, nutrition, warm ups, and other lead ins.

The drop set is where the strength gains will be made. You can't expect to get strong particularly quickly with only one set at a max effort weight, you need some volume work.
Wendler's 5/3/1

I like using this program for people fairly new to the strength game. Thing is, once you've been through 2-3 cycles of it, you're not going to get as much out of it as the above programs. You can find a better explanation of the program HERE than I could ever write.

What's nice about this for semi-beginners is that the given percentages allow the athlete to know exactly what's expect each time, and aren't so aggressive that they are going to miss lifts. This allows for lots of technical practice and confidence building. Yes, confidence plays a huge role even in the "less technical" lifts, like the deadlift and shoulder press.

Again, only 2-3 cycles, then I'd take it back to the Bulgarian programming.

Pound for pound, she's got you owned. 


This is another great program because it's based around specific volume work at various percentages. It lasts about three months from start to finish, and you can get a specific breakdown of the day by day HERE. Thing is, Smolov is meant to be a workout in and of itself. It's not meant to be combined with Westside, Olympic lifting, or CrossFit. When you do Smolov, that is ALL you're supposed to do.

I think it's suffice to say, I've never done this program myself. As much as I love squatting, I'm too exercise ADD to only squat day in and day out. But if that's something that appeals to you, friends and teammates have made huge gains doing this.

Enough is Enough

I think that is more than enough to choose from to get anyone started, or to change things up when a plateau is reached.

Squat more. Suck less.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Glutes: Are squats always the answer?

This is a summary of a talk I attended at the NSCA Trainer's Conference in Las Vegas given by Bret Contreras. THE Glute Guy.

Bret Contreras - The Glute Guy

He's the guy that people go to when they want their booties to have more punch. Now, I've always been a big fan of ass to grass squatting along withe explosive movements (Olympic lifting, duh) to get the sort of shelf like rear end you can rest a drink on. But Bret made a good point, he works with models and fitness competitors, to make their glutes big with squatting would also make their thighs grow and this is NOT what their jobs want to see.

I never thought about that, really.

So he is all about the glute bridge/ hip thrust, or as I call them, star fuckers. His experience, sense, and research has shown that getting max tension and load at full hip extension creates more of the stimulus needed for strength and hypertrophy of all gluteal muscles. Try this: sit or squat and try to squeeze your butt as hard as you can. Okay, you can get some tension in there. Now stand up, feet slightly wider than shoulder width, toes out a touch, and squeeeeeze! A lot more activation, right?

So the hip thrust it is.

Some tips on doing the hip thrust, straight from the mouth of Mr. Bootie himself:
 - Putting your back on a bench gives you greater range of motion, rather than lying flat on the floor or a mat.
 - Always open to full hip extention.
 - People tend to do this with an arched back/ forward hip tilt. Make sure you keep the abs super tight and create backward hip tild (posterior tilt) to fully engage the glute.
 - If you have access to an EZ curl bar, this tends to be a little easier on the hips. Also add a towel or some sort of pad between your hips and the bar.
 - Reps in 5-8 range, hold for 6-10 seconds at the top on the last rep.

Some interesting things that Bret has noticed in working with lots of women in gluteal growth. First, he finds that both in pound for pound strength and as a ratio to their back squats, women are able to glute bridge a lot more weight than men. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom about gender and strength.

Also interestingly illogical is the experience that women are able to hip thrust more weight as a ratio of muscle cross sectional area than men. Muscle cross sectional area is sort of the gold standerd for measuring strength gains in trained individuals, so again, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

This is NOT going to stop me from squatting, that's for damn sure. Since I am, and probably any one who reads this is, more about strength than vanity, the squat is still king. But with these tidbits in my back pocket, I'll certainly be throwing in more glute bridges in after squatting to get that ba-donk-a-donk that I so deeply desire.