You are being lied to part two

A couple of days ago, I ran across a statement by a local Crossfit instructor: “doing WODs is not gonna make you weak, until you squat 200 and deadlift 250”. While this statement has some truth to it – it’s problematic in many ways.

you-are-being-lied-to

First of all – pretty much no training related activity will make you weak if you already are. But any training activity will make the road to getting strong longer – some more than others.

Crossfit – like the fitness concept “BodyPump” or similar concepts are marketed as strength based, but that’s just flat out a lie. The body adapts to the challenges we put it through – Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands – the SAID-principle. Doing something (with or without weights) for ten minutes is not gonna have more carryover to real strength than running a 5k will have to running 100m dash.

Strength is expressed in seconds and is trained in seconds.

Crossfit (and similar fitness concepts) will make you stronger than other cardiovascular training that involves less resistance, but Crossfit is an endurance sport – NOT a strength sport. At least not in the “WOD” form.

What Crossfit will do very well though is stress your system and make you sore – not exactly a great way to get stronger.

While I do think short sessions of metabolic conditioning is a great way to maintain a baseline level of cardiovascular capacity – it will limit how fast your strength can progress.

In the book Fit the authors go in-depth with how three different training modalities (strength, endurance and “metcon”) affect each other. It’s well worth a read if you haven’t already.

Since cardio is a physical quality that’s relatively fast to develop, I always recommend people to build a strength foundation first, and then build cardio on top (if you need/want it) – strength is the slowest physical quality to develop, so it should always be the baseline of a training program. Not through 3-, 5- or 10-minute WODs, but through sets of 1-10 reps with adequate rest.

Don’t buy the marketing hype – they’re lying to you!

You’re being lied to

Today’s post is about one of the most common cues I hear in the CF community in particular. While the idea behind the cue is good, it’s often used at random and on people it doesn’t apply to at all. Or even worse – on people who aren’t ready for it.

It’s one of the main reasons novices and intermediates get out of position in the beginning of the deadlift and it leads to rounded backs as well as tough lockouts.

Before I reveal the big secret, I’ll share a smaller secret.

A rounded back in the deadlift is often caused by the bar being too far forwards. To compensate and get it back in line (and/or because the upper back is too weak to stay straight with the bar way out in front) – the upper back rounds. This often happens when the hips get too high.

On to the big secret: a result of this cue is that the hips get way too high, the legs too straight and tension in the upper back is lost. But what is this cursed cue?

round back deadlift

 

“Rip it off the floor” or similar cues that promote as much speed and ferocity off the floor are BAD. BAD BAD BAD. While the intention to pull explosively and finish strong is good, what happens 99% of the time with inexperienced lifters is that they lose tightness and positioning. They trade the good position and the easy lockout for a bad position and hard lockout. They stiff-leg it off the floor and burn all the power in the lower back and hamstrings before the lockout.

Most people will deadlift much better if they focus on “squeezing” the bar off the floor and THEN pulling as aggressively as possible. That’ll help you maintain good positioning throughout.

Oh and one last point – pulling fast and heavy is a) mutually exclusive for most people and b) wildly overrated compared to perfect positioning and correctly applied tension.

The evolution of a philosophy part one

Over the years I’ve read a silly amount of books on training. I’ve followed quite a few programs and have applied different philosophies to my own training.

Recently when preparing for a presentation at Spartan Mentality Crossfit on strength training, I realized that I’ve developed a philosophy. A system. A way of doing things.

Having a strong belief in a system makes everything less complicated. Just like habits in all other aspects of life – automatized thinking frees up mental capacity.

But – and this is a big but. You don’t want to be too set in your ways either. You have to keep an open mind – that’s how the system will evolve.

My system is based on something as simple and old-fashioned as submaximal training. I don’t believe in killing yourself with the heaviest possible weights on a weekly basis but rather in building yourself up over long time. I have little interest in the short-term success of a program – all I care about is long-term and longevity.

Instead of wondering how fast you can put another 5kg on your squat, I try to figure out how long I can put off adding weight to the bar. The longer I can gain strength at a given weight the better. The slower I can build my strength up, the better. The Chinese philosopher Confucius said something along the lines of:

it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop

and that’s become somewhat of a mantra for me and my philosophy. Continual progress over time will not only bring great results but it’ll also make the process all the more enjoyable. After all being stuck isn’t all that funny.

Key points:

  • Slow down your progression – even the tiniest progress will add up over the years.
  • Instead of thinking sessions and weeks, think years or even two-year periods.

Have a great day. 🙂

Getting the press back up

I’ve recently found a great and simple way to build up my press. However simple it may sound, it’s been very effective for me and I recently managed to hit 4 solid reps at 95kg/210lbs.

While the number one fix to all pressing movements is simply to gain weight, that’s not practical for most people. Either because they’re happy with their weight or because they’d rather stay somewhat in shape than add bodyweight.

Background:

I’ve always enjoyed overhead pressing more than benchpressing and my press is pretty decent (at least compared to my miserable bench press). It’s also been a priority of mine for several years to get the press up.

Realizing my benchpress was shit I decided to give a little more attention after the danish powerlifting championships this year. What I discovered has changed my entire training philosophy.

The fix that unstuck my stubborn press:

I currently train a pressing movement three times each week. Whereas before I’d probably overhead press twice or alternate the movements, I’m now benchpressing twice a week and overhead pressing once.

What I’ve found is that benchpress variations effectively build upper body pressing strength (duh) which has a good carry-over to the press. The press itself obviously has great carry-over to the press, however it’s such a stubborn lift to build, that building overall pressing strength has a better return on time invested (for me at least).

I’ve also changed the way I look at progression entirely. I don’t use any kind of set progression and I’ll often do the exact same workout for several weeks in a row. More weight is not the only kind of progression. Increase quality and speed of reps is even more important.

Finally I’m doing way more reps per set than what I used to do and keeping it way easier. It doesn’t mean I half-ass my training, as I still put maximum force into each and every rep. However I’ll usually finish a set with a good couple of reps in the tank.

Three quick tips:

  1. A ratio of 2:1 benchpress to press ratio seems to be the sweet spot for me. For support I’ll do inclines and shoulder presses with dumbbells and dips. This builds both presses.
  2. Don’t just pile the weights on mindlessly. A GREAT set of 5 reps is better than a sloppy set of 7 at the same weight. At least for long-term strength building.
  3. For both presses (bench and standing) I like to keep the vast majority of my work in the 5-8 rep range at 70-80% intensity. More reps also have the added benefit of making you more swollerestest. Yay.

Get that press up!!

Active recovery – what it is and what it isn’t

With Crossfit, blogs and the never-ending search for that something extra you can do to be better than the burpee-boi next to you the term “active recovery” is getting a lot of attention lately.

First of all, let me make one thing clear – the best way to get better than the next guy is 1) to stop comparing yourself to others and 2) to have a great training foundation – not to look for the “next big thing”.

That said – active recovery techniques have been used for a very long time to good effect. They obviously have their merit

I don’t usually do this, but I decided to throw up a couple of links to some studies:

Cold water baths not better than placebo. I’m not really sure how you can immerse people into water that they think is cold but isn’t. But! The study shows that neutral temperature water doesn’t work but cold and placebo works.

Positive effect of specific low-frequency electrical stimulation during short-term recovery.

So some of the common techniques do work and others don’t. Great.

The main problem with active recovery is not actually active recovery – it’s really not that much of a stretch to recommend walking, very light calisthenics or similar for recovery. The problem is a very common one – in the CF community in particular, it’s becoming increasingly popular to do “active recovery”. Only problem is – most CFers are already doing so much they don’t need “active” recovery, they need full recovery.

I regularly say that for most CFers the best training session they can add to their program is a nap. What most do though is take an idea that’s good on paper (active recovery) and use it as an excuse to train more.

Active recovery is NOT training. Active recovery should barely make you sweat.

As with anything it’s important to analyse your programming and look at what you’re trying to accomplish with a given element of the program. What are you trying to accomplish with a 2K swim? A 10k run?

A recovery day should put back points on your recovery “account” – not take away from it.

In direct response to a question on FB from Lasse about where to draw the line between active recovery and training, I’ll throw out a couple of guidelines:

  • If you have to go to the gym to do it – it’s probably training, not recovery.
  • Anything more than a light sweat and you’re probably training.
  • Unless you’re a semi-pro athlete, there’s probably no real reason to do AR (and even if you are, complete rest might be better).
  • If you’re not sure if it’s AR or training, it’s DEFINITELY training. 🙂

To sum up: you probably don’t need “active recovery” physically, but some people feel they need it mentally. Do as little as possible – a nap is probably better than pseudo-training for an hour.

Have a great (rest) day. 🙂

Why you’re wasting time doing “mobility”

About five or six years ago I ran into “dynamic stretching”. Actually I already knew what it was, since it’s a stable in many sports to do some “swinging”, but that’s a different story.

Over the years it went from being something that would make people stop and stare at the gym, to a completely ordinary thing. Along the way came specific mobility training and Kelly Starrett who started his mobility project about four years ago.

While there’s no doubt in my mind that some form of mobility work can be beneficial to most people, it’s gotten downright ridiculous. I regularly see very weak people, who can squat down, knees to armpits spend half an hour doing “mobility” before they go on to squat 60kg.

Without strength in the end positions, all the mobility in the world will do next to nothing. Similar to cardio – without a certain amount of strength, extreme mobility isn’t really that impressive.

contorsionist-robbery-barce

 

Obviously, you need *enough* mobility to get into good positions, but that’s it. Excess mobility will not translate into better performance. Excess strength will.

As with anything in training, it’s important to know your goals and prioritize accordingly. Unless you have very specific (major) issues, spending more than 10-15% of your total training time on mobility is probably a waste of time – unless you want to be a contortionist that is.

Try out this for an eye-opener:

  • Time the amount of mobility work you do over a week
  • Time the amount of strength training you do over a week
  • Time the amount of cardio you do over a week

Compare the three numbers and adjust accordingly.

 

I really dislike this exercise with all of my heart

And yet here I am suggesting that you do it.

But why would I recommend an exercise that:

  • Probably doesn’t really build strength or muscle
  • Isn’t “fun” or “sexy” to do
  • Requires quite a bit of space
  • Would gather a crowd at any commercial gym

The answer to that question is really quite simple. This exercise helps put me in a position where I’m able to get stronger and build muscle – while remaining injury-free. And no – it’s not an annoying mobility drill.

The exercise I’m thinking about is the turkish get-up. It’s annoying because it’s slow, requires more balance than brute strength and doesn’t give you a great pump.

What it does really well though is teach you how to move as a whole, teaches stability and it makes me feel good.

TGU

What really bothers me is that I can’t even make a short list of bullet points to sell the exercise to you. Because that’s not really what it does for me. It’s beyond and above exercises, muscle groups, progressions and mobility.

It works well as the last part of a warmup right before you hit your main exercise – 3-5 sets of 1 pr side is plenty. If you want to spice it up a bit, combine it with a waiter walk so you get up, walk 5-10m and get back down. This will fire up your entire system and provide some extra stability work for the midsection and shoulders.

Do it a couple of times a week for a small handful of sets. I promise you it’ll be a good thing.