Thursday, February 27, 2014

Surviving the Open (for those of us who care, but don't care)

As much as I don't CrossFit myself, as much as I chortle when someone asks me for my Fran time, as much as I proudly say, "I've been a strength athlete for the past 6 years," I actually do look forward to the CrossFit Open.

The excitement is palpable. It's a time when members of each box rally each other on to "make it count" and push a little further. For many, it's their first taste of competition and being on a team. The fraternity and fellowship is so much fun to watch form and take off. Last year I was even a little disappointed that I couldn't do the workouts, still being in a sling and all.

This year I'll be doing the open.

Well... I'll be "doing the open."

Because I AM a strength athlete. I will be competing at USA Weightlifting Nationals this year. I will certainly be doing a powerlifting meet at the end of the year, and I hope to find a not-too-far-away strongman competition to participate in.

So doing the open for me is something else entirely. It's a chance to stand alongside the athletes I coach day to day and get in the trenches with them. It's my turn to participate in a community activity as something other than Coach.

How on earth will I survive? I have a sort of game plan. Namely, it means I'll be breaking each workout up into intervals. So for example:

Seven minutes of burpees will become 45 sec on and 15 sec off of burpees for 7 rounds.

A 12 minute AMRAP will becomes 3 min on, 1 minute off for three rounds.

And so on.

When I know what the time frame I'm looking at is, I'll be programming my phone for some sort of interval breakdown to set at the same time.

Luckily, these will be done on Friday, and I don't have to go heavy again until Sunday. Cheers to survival!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: NutriForce Whey Protein

I like to try out new things. I like to know if the hype is deserving.

I thought that drinking whey protein was hype when it was first suggested to me. So I tried it and I was all "Hey! Muscles! This is awesome!"

Recently, I had a sample of the NutriForce whey protein with Belgian chocolate curls in it. It was fancy, tasty, and delicious. Kelly is sponsored by NutriForce, and actively uses the stuff so I though I'd give it a try and jumped for a full 5lb tub of it.

With in the first few days, I had to begin mixing it with my normal Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey. The NutriForce protein is so sweet, PLUS the chocolate curls, I had to use the Optimum Nutrition protein to soften the impact on my taste buds.

After a couple of weeks I found myself so annoyed with the chocolate curls. What was a neat thing at first became an impedance to quickly downing a protein shake. I'd have to strain it through my tongue and teeth, then chew the curls.

Finally, a couple weeks more down the road (remember, a 5lb tub is lasting me a long time because I'm mixing it 50:50 with my Optimum Nutrition) I'm switching my diet up and trying to get a higher % of calories from protein. Now I'm dreading the second protein shake and counting down the scoops until I'm done.

Does it work? Well, it's protein. So yeah. But better than your standard? Not that I can tell.

Thing is, if you don't take it, or don't finish it because it's not tasty enough, it's not going to do you any good. So pay no attention to the images of Annie Thorrisdottir on their banners, marketing won't make you stronger.

(Or do pay attention to the image of Annie T. She's quite the specimen.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Trying New Things: Strongman!

I made the promise to myself that I would start training in Strongman after the American Open. It's been a little over a month of Sundays, about six or seven of them now, and I feel like I'm well on my way to getting the competition bug for this new endeavor of mine.

Why must I always fall for the obscure sports?

So it might be a while before I actually get to compete, or I may take my chances at traveling to one. Regardless, I'm having a blast. Some of the things I'm learning to do:

Tire Flipping

The only tire they have is a 750 lbs one. I've flipped a tire before, but I was never instructed how. Being given the small cues, like how to decide where to put your feet and how to drive your shoulders into the tire make the 750 lbs tire more manageable than the 600 lbs one I first touched.

What's nice is that every person has a spotter on each side, just in case the person flipping gets stuck, slips, or loses grip, the tire won't come crashing down on the working athlete.

Front Carries/ Connan's Wheel

These are terrible. The front carry training device we use is a yoke with the normal bar switched out for a thick pipe. You have to carry it in your arms in front of your chest and you aren't allowed to front rack it. This one gives me trouble because I've always been trained to take in a large breath and hold it during a lift, and that would be a recipe for disaster here. So you have to take shallow, quick breaths during the carry as to not pass out.

Farmer's Walks

CrossFit programming isn't a stranger to these, but we certainly don't touch the weights I'm expected to carry now. Each handle is ~25 lbs and we warm up with 45 lbs plates on each for a total of 115 lbs per hand. As the warm up. It only goes up from there.

This is certainly one of those moves where you just want to go to your happy place as you walk along, because your hands are not going to be happy if you grab them right. I find myself pushing my skin back into place after I run the course with these.

Log and Axel Clean and Press

Both of these moves are definitely more brute force than even your typical Olympic clean and jerk, as they both have an intermediate position between the floor and your shoulders.

With the axel, the continental clean, you bring it up to your belly to switch grips before flipping it to the rack. For the log, you dead lift it to your thighs, adjust the grip and basically roll the thing up the body. For both, all that talk about "prioritize the spine" and "neutral spine" gets thrown out the window.

Hand Over Hand

Just like it sounds, you drag a sled (maybe a vehicle) towards you by an attached rope. My tiny, lady hands had a hard time holding the rope, and would instead clamp the rope with my upper arm against my ribs and pull back with my whole body. There was something around 300 lbs of sled and plate weight I was trying to drag.

And in summary, this is what every new endeavor does to me in some way, shape or form:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Performance Enhancing Drugs: Opinions and My Two Cents

The CrossFit Games get bigger every year. And every year the topic comes up again: the likelihood that performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are being used by top athletes. And this conversation tends to also bring people to discussing the use of PEDs in the larger arena of sports in general.

This year a very informative and provocative piece kicked off the bulk of the current conversation in regards to CrossFit PED use:

Steroids, CrossFit, and the CrossFit Games

They did a very good job of explaining the state of testing and evading, and presenting the probabilities without naming anyone specifically. Nor do they state if they are for or against the use of PEDs in CrossFit, they just state the high probability that they are there.

As a complimentary piece, Justin from 70's Big wrote about his experience with using and non-using athletes. Giving another "they are neither good nor bad, but they ARE here and you have to adjust accordingly" point of view is also a good contrast to the normal knee jerk of "PEDs are evil!" script that's played out over and over:

Steroids and CrossFit?

The knee jerk is out there, though. And for those of use that don't use, we want to take the moral high ground, cling to the trope of Refer Madness, and lambast those that use as idiots, cheaters, and sinners:

Open Letter to PED Users

PEDs are here to stay.

For those of us that train clean, it's just a reality we'll learn to live within. I train for three sports right now: Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and Strongman. Two of those are with federations that don't test. However, as long as I'm competing in Olympic lifting, I feel that I have implicitly agreed to not use banned substances. That means when I compete in powerlifting and strongman, as (if) I rise up the ranks, I'll have to be okay with being second (or third, or whatever).

If I wasn't an Olympic lifter, would I take PEDs? They aren't actually banned in either of the other sports that I do, so it wouldn't be cheating... Honestly, I'm really, really, really happy that it's not a decision I have to make. As a competitive athlete, choosing to inhibit yourself by not taking advantage of the same tools that others have would seem a little foolish.

But I am a nationally competitive Olympic lifter. So, thank goodness, I don't have to make that decision.

With that said, I don't necessarily think taking PEDs is wrong.

If you're in a sport that doesn't test and basically assumes you're "juicing" (most powerlifting federations, strongman, highland games, bodybuilding), you're not breaking any rules. The people that I know that do them WORK THEIR FUCKING ASSES OFF and they treat themselves right and they know the risks involved. No one takes them with the idea that they are going to sit on their behind and get jacked. It doesn't work that way. These are people that already train hard, and want the capacity to train harder. It's not a short cut for them, it's a bridge to another level of dedication.

Then there is a sect of people that do PEDs because it helps them stay on top of their game for their job. Firefighters, police, military. I don't personally know anyone in this population, but I can't say I blame them. I also don't think this is a bad thing. Who are they cheating? The criminals they are up against?

Then there is a population that wants to use them to just look the best they can. These people usually just go to a hormone replacement doctor for testosterone lotion and growth hormone. These people don't bother me either. I hope they are studying the effects and being smart about it (this isn't a "some is good so more must be better" situation) but if they feel it increases their quality of life, leave them alone.

And of course, there is the population that takes PEDs for legitimate medical purposes. Cancer, AIDS, and patients of other wasting diseases all use anti-catabolics to keep from dying of other complications. I don't think anyone has a problem with this population.

For other perspectives, check out the following links:

Gods, Drugs, and the Purity of Sport

USADA Sanctions divided by year

A Critique of Anti-Doping Policies

Monday, February 10, 2014

Taken for Granted: Push ups

Push ups are a real pet peeve of mine. You think, hey, it's just down and up! Yay, pecs! Then I see all kinds of worms and back cranking and shoulder rolling happening. It's really a lot harder than you think it is and the push up deserves more attention and respect.

1) Prioritize the spine

Like you've never heard this or some version of it. It's one thing when you can't do a full push up to let yourself "snake" back up to the start, but for godsake, man, don't make it look like you're trying to hump the ground or make out with it when you're descending!

I see this a lot. People will reach their face and/ or their hips towards the floor to shorten the distance their arms have to take them. You're not fooling anyone, and you're spine isn't going to be too happy about that in the long run. Don't get weird with the floor, just bend the elbows and do what you can.

2) Use your back!

Most think of this as a chest and triceps exercise. But, just as in the bench press, if you aren't engaging your lats and back then you aren't doing this right.

At the top of the push up, many coaches say you should have fully protracted shoulders and scapula. That's all fine and dandy, but as soon as you start to descend, you need to pull your shoulders back in line and get lat engagement and external rotation through the rest of the movement. Those muscle are much bigger and will support you through many reps more than the smaller muscles of your anterior delts alone.

3) Vertical forearm

This one should fall in place pretty readily if you follow the previous point. Again, much like the bench press and shoulder press, your forearm should be inline with the direction of force. You're pushing into the ground, so your forearm should be directly perpendicular to the floor.

Another way I've heard it described is that the elbow is like the knee and the shoulder is like the hip. Just as you don't want to shoot your knees forward in the squat, you don't want to shoot your elbows back. (Let's not get into the arguement about knee, shin angle, and torso angle here. That's why I don't use that description, personally.)

Okay, so in the end: (1) Don't get weird with the floor. (2) Put some back into it. (3) Elbows up!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Adventures in Gaining Weight

I had a "stereotypical girl" moment last weekend. I had an event to go to and decided to wear my jeans. They were tight. Like, difficult to pull up my legs tight. Like, I ended up standing most of the time at the event rather that sit down tight.

They didn't dig into my waist, mind you, but they were so tight on my thighs that flexing at the hip meant uncomfortable pulling and squeezing.

And I had a mini freak out.

I just bought these jeans! I've been telling everyone how these are the only jeans I can wear anymore! Do I look as bad in these jeans as my discomfort has me feeling? Was putting on this weight a mistake??


You see, for the past month I've been on a new journey. One where I have been working to purposefully gain weight. It's not because I'm a "hardgainer." Trust me, I'm not. I can think about squats and my quads respond.

In a way, the very fact that I can put on mass easily is why I'm purposefully gaining. I previously lamented the state of women's weight classes in strength sports. Now that I'm doing powerlifting, extra bodybuilding accessory work, and tacking on strongman training, my body is not interested in going under about 78 kg. And that's with a very strict diet and extra cardio/conditioning!

So I decide to say fuck it. I'm going to be a super heavy weight. I'm going to be as strong as I can be and not put the extra stress on my system of constantly trying to stay a certain weight and occasionally dropping weight for competitions. I'm not a professional, no one is paying me to do this, and I can't imagine it's good for my body considering how much I put it through in training alone.

So for a few meets last year I just let myself weigh what I weigh. At the time it was between 170 and 172 lbs.

But I noticed that I was still in a weirdly semi-strict place about my eating habits. I had nervous moments when I'd worry about having too much rice on training days or getting too many calories through my protein shakes. I knew that it was time to try something a little drastic to shake that.

I'd purposefully try to gain weight.*

This is an endeavor unlike anything I've tried. I've always been on a mission to either maintain or cut, gaining is that thing that happens when you don't train enough and continue to pick up a harmless slice of pound cake with your coffee at Pete's.

At first I tried to keep my normal carb cycle and up the calories at each meal. That means low carb breakfast and lunch, two protein shakes, and a medium carb dinner and some white rice or the like before bed.

That got me nowhere fast. I was so entrenched in eating a certain way, at a certain volume, and the high protein and fat meals often kept me from getting hungry and cueing more eating. I had to let go.

So for the next three weeks I let myself eat whatever I wanted. Understand that "whatever I want" tends to still skew towards healthy compared to the average American. If my breakfast has any less than three eggs and some sort of meat in it, I feel gyped. But this time around, I'm going to have the breakfast burrito I've been eying instead of the scramble.

Took the month of January to consistently hit 180 lbs. Now I'm dealing with maintenance without losing weight. Ideally, I start to recomposition myself.

I still have freak out moments. As much as I present myself as "this is who I am", I have 18 years of dance and 33 years of being female and dealing with all the messages we are assailed with. I made the mistake of putting my measurements into a body fat calculator in a moment of boredom. While intellectually I know those aren't super accurate for someone who is muscular, the borderline obese numbers they regurgitated sent me for a loop.

So to make myself feel better, I write about it and put together this video of myself generally being a heifer:

Yeah, what a Tubby McTubster.

*I also decided that gaining weight would shut people up about "why don't you just cut to 75kg?" Because I don't fucking want to, okay?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Taken for Granted: Kettlebell swings

Some movements seem so simple we hardly think about them. They're so easy that they're often use in high reps. One of these moves is the kettlebell swing. Here are the big three problems I see regularly:

1) It's a hip hinge.

And by that I mean that it's not a squat.

The kettlebell swing most closely resembles the deadlift in the shape you create with your body. Your shins stay vertical, your hips push back, and your back inclines accordingly. The difference is that you're explosively pushing into the ground with a weight near your hips, causing it to be flung forward.

I could rant about the bent arm kettlebell swing and how what you're really wanting to train is the kettlebell snatch, but that's a chip on my shoulder for another day.

2) This isn't a club, don't booty pop.

Where your lumbar spine connects to the sacrum isn't the sort of joint meant to move under load. So often I see people let their low backs go either during the back swing (usually because they want to keep their chest up) or after they pop the kettlebell forward because they aren't maintaining tension in their tush. That excess movement is going to make your back mad, mad, mad.

3) Stay within your shoulder range.

We have a love for the overhead swing in CrossFit. But just because Games competition athletes are expected to have their shoulders reach 180 degrees of flexion, you don't need to force it. Face it, most of us have been hunching over a desk since kindergarden, and our shoulders aren't ready for that. Only swing the kettlebell as high as you can while maintaining tension in your butt and abs.