Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Macro Challenge Victors!

The results are in from our 8 Week Macro challenge!  As you may recall, this was simply a challenge to track and measure food intake for 8 weeks, with no points being awarded for any kind of performance measure.  However, for the small group that actually stuck with it, I think it's safe to say that there were a lot of successes, whether it was weight loss, weight gain, or performance increases.

As always, the biggest success is the T-shirt.

Here are the cash and prizes winners:

3rd Place:  Mike McNamara 95.59%

Mike had a somewhat unique goal coming into the challenge of actually eating more food to put on some muscle.  For those of you that don't know the pain, this is actually a much more difficult and tedious task than trying to lose weight.  If you know Mike, you know that he has a very active job and also burns a ton of calories from all those long walks on the beach.  I think he hit the gym consistently between 8 and 15 times (only a slight exaggeration) a week during the challenge, competed in his first ever CrossFit competition, and saw tons of strength gains across the board.  Not to mention adding a few pounds onto his frame.  Great job all around.

2nd Place:  William Straughn 97.31%

Will embraced the challenge right from the start.  After using the two week intro period to figure out exactly how to make things work, he really dialed in with superior consistency for the 8 scored weeks of the challenge, not only with his macro targets but also in the gym.  And what did he get to show for it?  Nearly 13 pounds of average weight loss over the 8 weeks!  That is phenomenal, and a great example of how actually eating more food (in the right proportion) can fuel your body correctly and lead to awesome changes in a short amount of time.  Congratulations sir, and keep up the hard work!

1st Place: Chris Nieburg 99.66%

No, that is not a typo.  99.7%.  The only way to describe this man's performance is militant precision.  He hit 100% for the vast majority of the days, by following a consistent routine and eating nearly the exact same thing each day (except that day he fell asleep and forgot to eat his pre-bed Hawaiian roll).  This is not for the faint of heart.  I can think of no more of a fitting winner for the challenge, because this is a great example of how consistency over time pays off.  Chris was actually eating a metric ton of food at the very start, but after the first 4 weeks we decided he was losing weight TOO fast and we might be risking some muscle loss or performance detriment in the gym.  So he actually added in more calories in without batting an eye.  All said and done, he dropped an average of 12 lbs for the 8 weeks of the challenge, and is still making huge strides in the gym (the other day he was supposed to be doing deadlifts with 225 and accidentally power cleaned it).  Congratulations Chris, you earned the victory!

Honorable Mentions

Since there were only a handful of others out of the original group of 40 to actually finish the challenge, I thought it would be worth mentioning here.  Congratulations to this group for sticking with it and finishing the challenge as prescribed.   I know for a fact that many of the names on this list have seen some huge progress over the last 8 weeks (read: PRs) as well:

Andrew Abraham
Becky Canatsey
Charli Kreinkamp
Drew Kreinkamp
Faye Eckrich
Matt Starbuck
Art McConville
Melanie McConville

There were also some others that reached out to me to say that even though they didn't finish the challenge, they are still tracking macros and making it a part of their life, and seeing results.  And that's really all I ever wanted.  They deserve a congratulations here as well.  Not to mention a few that were derailed by life events (family issues, surgeries, Crusher Races, etc.) yet still managed to track and stick with it for the majority of the challenge.  Also, although she refused to participate, Katy Zwick would have easily been in the top 5 of this challenge and has been working very hard on nutrition for the last several months.

And last but not least, I don't want to brag on myself, but apparently there are some naysayers out there that don't really think I practice what I preach ... unfortunately there's no IQ test for membership at BARx .... yet.  I started tracking macros over a year ago (320 days according to MyFitnessPal) but have only really dialed it in over the last 4 months.  I diligently entered my numbers into the sheet throughout the challenge, and it is available for you to view here:


Yes, as you can see I would have barely placed second in my own challenge, really putting me in my place for thinking that nobody would even come close to my level of anal retention when it comes to macros.  Boy was I wrong.  Congratulations to all of our participants.  I hope everybody at least learned something other than how to obtain a moderately priced t-shirt, and can take something away from all this tracking and measuring that will be useful for the rest of your fitness journey.  Great work!

And for those of you that are kicking yourselves because you missed out this year, or because you weren't ready, or because you gave up after two weeks ... don't worry, there will be another shot coming next year.  Start practicing now.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

Some of you may have noticed by now that a few packages arrived earlier this week.  We have some new additions to the BARx family, in the form of 4 brand new Pendlay barbells.  For now, they will be stored in the corner by the jerk blocks until we can find a more suitable and permanent storage solution.

I suggested we purchase 4 twin beds so we have a place to tuck them in each night.  I was told this was not a "cost-effective solution" and that it would "take up too much space."  Idiots.

I'm going to admit that I have struggled with how to word this blog post.  The problem is that everything I want to say sounded way too condescending, like I was trying to teach a young child not to touch things that are hot.  And then it dawned on me:  why do I care so much?  These are YOUR barbells.  You can treat them like crap if you want to.  All I can do is tell you how I treat MY barbells, and hope that my example leads you towards the light.  So when you decide to grind the knurling down to nothing and destroy the nice spin the bar currently has, all I have to do is laugh softly and say "this is why we can't have nice things."

So here are my rules for how I treat my own personal barbells.  Do with them what you wish.

Rule #1 - No Racks

Next time you're in the gym, run your hand along one of the barbells starting at the knurling (the rough part) until you reach the collar.  What you'll notice is that about 3-4 inches out from the collar, things start to feel a lot smoother.  That's because the knurling has been ground to nothing after years of being smashed against the metal of the rack.  This is a problem for anybody who needs a wide grip on the bar when snatching, because now they're holding onto a smooth slick piece of steel rather than a rough, properly knurled one as God intended.  In my house, I own two barbells that are strictly used for movements from the floor and will never be placed into a rack for this exact reason.

Rule #2 - No Dropping Without Bumper Plates

Some people think nails on a chalkboard is the worst sound imaginable.  They are wrong.  A barbell without plates dropping to the floor is the absolute worst sound the human ear can tolerate.  This is destructive to the inner workings of the collars and is responsible for the loss of spin that many people complain about.  It will also someday probably be the reason that I'm either in jail or otherwise institutionalized.  I would never intentionally do this to one of my own personal bars.

And I have a high tolerance for terrible noises.  I once listened to a fire alarm go off for 3 hours.  I made a song out of it.

Rule #3 - No WODs

This one might cause a little bit of a controversy, but stick with me here.  Yes, these are nice barbells and they are (hopefully) built to last.  However, if you assume that every barbell ever manufactured has a finite amount of drops in its lifetime, then high-rep workouts would certainly accelerate a barbell's destruction.  Think about your average snatch workout, you'd probably drop the bar 10-15 times at the most after your warm up and light sets were completed.  Now consider your 50 rep clean and jerk wod with 10 pound bumpers ... that's a lot more abuse in a short amount of time.

Rule #4 - Weightlifting Only

This is more of a guideline, but I tend to use my nice barbells only for weightlifting movements (snatch, clean and jerk).  These are the most precise movements, where you will tend to notice the feel and spin of a barbell way more than say a deadlift or a press.  I would also say you might notice the whip of the bar too, but if you're worried about that you might be getting a bit ahead of yourself .... I think it takes about 200kg (440 lbs) before the barbell starts to noticeably bend.

Sigh .... someday.  
(Photo Credit:  Hookgrip)

That's it.  The bars will be unpacked and semi-hidden in the corner by this weekend.  Now they're in your hands ...Can we have nice things?

Friday, November 13, 2015

Earn Those Gold Stars

A while back I was asked to write a post advising our population about how they should be adding weight to the bar, specifically when the rep scheme doesn't list a percentage of max or gives a range such as "50-90% of your 1RM" (that's a joke).  Well now I'm finally getting around to it.  Truth be told, I've already written about this topic 80 or 90 times in the past, but as is true with most things in the past: I can do it better now.

The sole exception is shotgunning a beer.  I have definitely lost my touch with that one.  So cold ...

First, I'm going to quickly discuss the 1 rep max, and the fact that we don't do it very often.  I say "very often" because writing "never" would violate my rule of "never say never."  But the truth is that if you want to test a 1 rep max on one of your strength lifts, I highly suggest you either A) enter a powerlifting competition or B) try to sneak it in while I'm not looking.  Because you won't be seeing it in the programming for a while.  The reasons for this are deep and vast, and I'm not going to dive into them right now.  But, it's important to set that up, because the number one complaint I hear is that it's so hard to figure out what weight you should be using for your working sets without a recent 1 rep max as a reference.  This is usually followed by a bunch of whimpering, moaning, pouting, and occasionally some foot-stomping.

This is you.

The only thing a 1RM is really good for is posting on Instagram.  And you know what?  Nobody in this gym uses Instagram.  You know how I know that?  Because earlier this week I posted an awesome video and it only got 16 likes.  That video should have gotten way more likes.  But I digress.  It's also important to note that we do a ton of exercises for which you will never test a heavy single, because, well ... it would just be stupid to do so.  Why would I have you do a 1RM strict upright row?  Or a 1RM single-leg deadlift?  The list goes on.

But today I'm going to present you with the one simple equation that you can follow that will always result in you knowing exactly how much weight to put on the bar, no matter what the exercise.  This comes with a lifetime warranty and a full money-back guarantee (void in Alaska and Hawaii).  So here it is.  The weight that you should use for your working sets on all strength lifts ....

= a little bit more than last time.

Whoa.  Hold on.  I'm confused.  So you're saying if I used 100 pounds for 5 sets of 10 back squat, then the next time I do 5 sets of 10 back squats I should try to use 105 pounds??  That doesn't make any sense.  That's like ... progress or something.  Won't that make me stronger, sexier, and generally a more likable human being?

Okay fine, I'm willing to admit it's not quite that simple.  But it's pretty freakin' close.  If you have a history with that movement and rep scheme, all you have to do is look it up in Wodify and then try to add 2-5% for that day's sets.  Oh wait, you're not using Wodify to track and log all of your workouts?  Well, unfortunately I can't fix lazy.  At least not with this blog post.  Of course there are a few exceptions here that warrant mentioning:

I've done this movement before but haven't done this rep scheme!

Okay great.  All you have to do is look up the history in Wodify, try to find something close, and modify it slightly.  Let's say for example that today's work calls for sets of 8 reps, but all you have in the system is history for sets of 10.  That's okay, because logically you should be able to do a little bit more weight for a set of 8 than you did for a set of 10 (since 8 is less than 10 by a margin of 2).  So simply take what you did for those sets of 10, add a little bit of weight, and go bananas.

I've never done this movement before!

Perfect.  Then today is the first day of the rest of your life.  Use this time to build that history that I speak of above.  Then the next time you do this movement, you'll have that history to look back at (and build on) because you used today to start building that history.

Or you could hop in the DeLorean, travel ahead a few weeks in time, and see what you're doing on this movement in the future.  Then you could use calculus to reverse-engineer what the weight on the bar should be today.  Also, grab a few lottery numbers while you're there.

So that's it.  Pretty simple I hope: the weight you're using today should be slightly more than you've used in the past.  That should get you 99% of the way there.  I guess the only problem now is devising a clever way to know if you're getting stronger without testing a 1 rep max, because steadily adding weight to the bar for sets of 5-10 reps over the course of months and years is totally unreliable ....

Monday, November 9, 2015

November Competitors WOD

Below are the details for the November competitors WOD.  I hear there were some complaints about some of the movements last month being lifts that we "never do,"  so I want to assure you that I'll be programming plenty of heavy thrusters over the next 3 weeks.  Please don't worry.

Saturday, November 28th - 7,8,9, and 10 AM

A) Strength Test

10 Minutes to establish 6RM Thruster.

** NO RACKS.  Bar starts on the floor.  Athletes may full clean the 1st rep if they want to.
** After proper warm up, bar starts empty at the top of the 10 minutes.  Have all needed plates in a safe place immediately surrounding your lifting platform.

B) Endurance Test

5 Minute AMRAP of Burpee Pull Ups

** Rx: bar/ring height set just above hand reach.
** Scaled: use low bar/rings and perform jumping pull ups.

C) Competition Metcon

For time (20 Minute time cap):

30 Calorie Row
30 Box Overs (24/20)
30 Deadlift (185/125)
30 Wall Balls (20/14)
30 Hand-Release Push Ups
30 Wall Balls
30 Deadlift
30 Box Overs
30 Calorie Row

** Box overs can be accomplished by jumping or stepping over the box.  If you hit the 20 minute cap, your time will be 20:00 + any additional reps remaining.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Imbalances - And What We Can Do About Them

One of the concepts that we've always kept in the forefront of our minds when working on the programming for BARx is balance.  This can have many meanings, but some examples include balancing pushing movements with pulling movements, squatting movements with lifting movements, longer conditioning workouts with shorter ones, etc.  The list goes on and on, and this is something we've always kept a close eye on.  I have spreadsheets (I know you're shocked) from two years ago that we used to track all of our movements, in order to make sure - as an example - that we're not doing too many pull ups in relation to how much overhead pressing or horizontal pulling (think barbell rows) that we do.  A version of these spreadsheets are still in use today, for both the strength and conditioning portions of our workouts.

They finally built a server warehouse in small town outside of Tuscon, AZ to store all of my personal spreadsheets in.  They were also kind enough to let me keep some coconut oil and other bulk Costco products there.

However, over the last couple months I've been working with Zach Greenwald and his company Strength Ratio on all of my personal programming.  This has redefined the term balance for me, and opened my eyes to a lot of things I never previously considered.  Most importantly, the idea that balance (and imbalance) are not only hallmarks of sound programming, but may also be the holy grail in terms of strength development and  injury prevention.  I'm willing to admit that I've become completely obsessed with these concepts and their implications recently.

The good news is, I don't think anyone has ever taken balance to a dangerous extreme.  As in "dude, you need to back it off, you're getting way too balanced."  But I'm sure as hell going to try ...

One of the things I've been struggling with lately as a programmer is that putting together a balanced program doesn't necessarily guarantee balance for the athletes using it.  I know that's confusing, so allow me to elaborate:  writing a canned program that is not biased too far in any direction makes the assumption that the athlete coming into the program is already in perfect balance.  What I'm finding out anecdotally with our athletes is that this is rarely the case.  Previous strength routines, sports, injury, and life in general all tend to cause imbalances in our bodies - and consequently pain and eventual injury - all of which can be overcome with proper strength training (or exacerbated with improper training).  In reality, this athlete would actually need an imbalanced program (biased towards their weaknesses) in order to become stronger and healthier.  This leads to a whole other set of problems, mainly around the fact that it's impossible to implement an "individualized" program without slashing the entire model of CrossFit and group training to pieces.  And we wouldn't want that, because then the massive industry that we've built around Facebook, Instagram, and selfie butt shots would collapse and take our economy down with it.

Do you even lift, monkey bro?

But of course, I'm never one to offer up a problem without at least proposing a partial solution.  At our gym, we've always made a point to never be too rigid on anything, programming included.  Although this has bit us in the ass a couple times, for the most part it's been sound policy.  We have Open Gym times available every day of the week.  On Saturday's, we don't program a strength/skill but rather allow you to choose one you missed from earlier in the week.  And we are always allowing for substitutions for movements that cause discomfort or to work around a minor injury.  These are great times to be working on weaknesses.

The problem here is that we're all human, and in general we're going to gravitate towards movements we are good at as opposed to doing things we suck at when given the choice.  This is also one of the drawbacks of releasing the entire week of programming at the very beginning:  it allows for the "cherry pickers" to avoid the days that they don't like.  Now I'm not saying everybody does this, and I'm also not saying that you do it on purpose.  Maybe you tell yourself that the skills on a certain day look "boring" (like box step up day) or just don't interest you, so you avoid them.  This may very well be hurting you in the long run, because chances are you're avoiding that particular movement because it's something you struggle with.

So phase one of my plan to take over the world is simply education and awareness:  we should all be focused on movements that are weak for us, not the ones that are already strong.  You should also resist avoiding certain skill days if you find yourself in the habit of doing so.  In summary:  if your deadlift is very weak compared to your squat, you should be deadlifting.  If your overhead press is very weak compared to your bench, you should be overhead pressing.  If you can press your bodyweight but can't do a single pull up, you should be working on pull ups.  The list goes on and on, and if you need guidance on what to do, how to execute this, or what might be holding you back I'm always happy to help.

If your left arm is way bigger than your right ... well I think you get the point.

I can already hear the complaints now, and only because I've gone through it myself:  If I spend all this time and energy working on stuff that I'm terrible at, won't my strengths begin to suffer?  In the deadlift/squat example, if we are a strong squatter and I take some emphasis away from that movement to focus on the deadlift, the general belief is that the squat will get weaker due to the decreased focus.  Whether we want to admit it or not, many of us have this deep psychological fear of losing our strengths, which may be driving us to overemphasize them.

I'd like to provide an example that may help here.  During my initial assessment with Zach, it was determined that my pull up (more specifically my chest-to-bar strict chin up) was one of my strongest movements.  This makes perfect sense:  when I started CrossFit over 7 years ago, strict pull ups were never a struggle of mine due to all the "bro workouts" I did in my life prior to that.  If I had to guess, I'd say that I could have done 5 or 6 strict C2B reps the first day I set foot in a CrossFit gym.  During my assessment six weeks ago, I was able to perform 7 reps before failure (side note: hooray for that huge progress over the last 7 years!).  It's worth noting that these were also 7 very painful reps, due to the issues I was having at the time with my left elbow and right shoulder.  

Turns out all those years of 20 pound hammer curls totally paid off.

Over the weeks that followed, my programming included exactly ZERO pull ups or chins.  This is important.  I did a ton of work shoring up some weaker muscles with strict upright rows, elbow rows, behind-the-neck pressing and push pressing, and other stability and unilateral shoulder work.  But what about my pull ups?  Surely they've suffered from the weeks of neglect, right?  Wrong.  My curiosity got the best of me the other day, and I decided to re-test a max set of chins.  The result: 10 reps.  Not only did I maintain the strength I originally had, but I actually improved upon it a little bit.  And I'm pretty sure gained a lifetime PR in the process.  All accomplished by ... wait for it .... doing less pull ups.  To be fair, I also lost 7 pounds of body weight during the time between testing, but even after using something called "math" to account for the change, I still saw a 5% improvement in my pull up strength.  This may not sound impressive, but remember that it has only been six weeks ... after what could be argued was a 7-year period of stagnation.  Oh and one more minor detail that may be worth mentioning:  the most recent PR set resulted in no pain in either the elbow or the shoulder that was previously bothering me.  I consider this nothing short of a minor miracle ... Or maybe it's just science.

So that's the deal.  I wrote all these words to deliver a very simple - but very important - message:  focus on your weaknesses.  It's really that simple.  Not only will it make you a stronger overall individual, but a healthier one as well.  And these are things that we all want.  I'll leave you with some additional reading from the Strength Ratio website that is the very basis for all of these ideas.  Both of these articles have been linked on this site before but let's be honest: you didn't read them.  Now might be a good time.

Balance: What Does It Mean And How Can We Measure It

Internal vs External Rotation

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Starting Over

I'm getting inspired lately.  Today's post was a toss up between this one, and a full-on old school rant about the state of our universe and how Instagram (TM), Facebook (TM), Reebok (TM), and Christmas Abbot (TM) have not only destroyed CrossFit, but the very fabric of our souls.  It's probably for the best anyway, that post needs some refining and the removal of about 30 four-letter words.  Anyway ...

One of our members recently asked my thoughts on wiping out their Wodify history so they didn't have to look at very old PRs anymore.  It seemed every time they looked in the system, they were comparing themselves to old numbers from a couple years ago that seemed insurmountable.  After a short debate in my mind, I decided on my answer:  I think it's a great idea.  But I also think it's important to explain why, because it could very easily be argued that those numbers should stay where they are as a constant reminder, in order to drive us forward.

Much in the same way that my grandfather used to wear old shirts that didn't fit him anymore, as a reminder and motivation to lose some weight.  

It's worth mentioning that I'm definitely qualified to give advice on this topic.  A lot of my lifetime PRs occurred in a span of about 2 months back in the Spring of 2014.  That's right, over 18 months ago.  I'm totally outing myself here, but I think it's for a good cause.  Please don't think less of me.  The problem with those numbers - which unlike my smart friend I've continued to allow to stare me in the face every day - is that they happened a long time ago on a planet far far away.  They were a string of a few really good weeks, which I had trained myself up to in a very unsustainable way.  The many months (one might argue years) of de-training and injury that followed them are testament to that fact.

So why do I think it might be a good idea at certain phases of your training to wipe out your entire history and start over?  Well in short, because things change.  Training priorities, goals, flexibility, technique, and the use of belts and wraps just to name a few.  An extreme example of this comes from Jim Wendler in his 5/3/1 book.  He talks about the strongest he's even been, squatting 1000 lbs for a personal record.  He was overweight, in pain, and wearing a ton of power lifting gear (squat suit) to improve his performance.  And he squatted a lifetime PR.  But then he talks about how he used 5/3/1 to work himself back up after the resultant crash that period of training had on his life.  This time, he was much lighter, much healthier, and in a lot less pain.  In the end, the result was less absolute weight on the bar, but accomplished under greatly different circumstances and in a much more sustainable way - with room to grow.  What good would it have done him to continue to dwell on the numbers he'd hit years before, nearly killing himself in the process?

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I will listen to any lesson or advice that a man with those traps is willing to give.

Of course there are other less extreme circumstances that would still apply here.  For example, maybe you're just older.  Matt Foreman talks about this in terms of competitive weightlifting as a masters.  At a certain point, these accomplished lifters have to let go of the idea that they're going to snatch the same weights they did when they were in their 20s.  It just doesn't work like that.  For us mortals, it may be other things that get in the way, such as injury or obligations outside of the gym.

I hear these things take up a lot of time.

The point is that there may come a time where you're better off just deleting the history.  I mean this in both the physical computer hard drive kind of way, and also in the existential spiritual kind of way.  It's more symbolic than anything, because trust me when I say that those numbers are always going to be in your head no matter how hard you try to rid yourself of them.  While there is certainly a possibility that having this carrot constantly dangled in front of you is keeping you driven, I've come to find out that the more likely scenario is that these numbers become a ceiling and a mental obstacle.  It's more defeating than it is motivating.  Starting over isn't admitting defeat; it's simply coming at things from a new angle.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Macro Challenge Update!

Well we are several weeks into our macro challenge, with a solid list of participants still sticking with it.  I'd like to use this post to discuss some of the common pitfalls I'm seeing so far.

Checking In

This is important:  I'm not actively looking at all of your sheets and monitoring how you feel.  As much as I'd love to spend my time hitting the refresh button on my browser and waiting for you to post up your daily intake, unfortunately my schedule just won't allow for it.  If you aren't having any trouble hitting your numbers and you're seeing positive changes in the direction you want to go, that's great!  Keep it up.  If not, and you have questions about what you should do to adjust, please reach out to me with an email.  I'm here to help, but only if you ask.

Oh no he didn't just eat 20 extra grams of carbs on a Tuesday.  Good thing I'm watching!

Getting Enough Carbs and Protein

For some reason the fat macro seems to be no problem for most ... But I've received a bunch of questions on what are the best foods to eat to hit X number for the day for Protein and Carbs.  My typical response has been to answer with a list of foods that I eat, but this makes the huge assumption that you like the same things I like and that you can tolerate eating the exact same meals every single day.  If this answer doesn't help you, there's always the internet.  This is one place where bodybuilding websites actually come in handy:  typically they have some pretty good suggestions for healthy meal ideas and how to hit your numbers.  You may also get some super sweet suggestions on how to pose properly.

Also they can teach you how to really pump out those arm veins for your next blood draw.  The nurses will love you.

Not Losing Weight

Don't freak out, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret:  even though the challenge only lasts "10 weeks", it may take you much longer than that to get the results you want.  I'm talking like 11 or 12 weeks at least.  The first couple months are really all about acclimating to the process and finding out what our bodies basic calorie needs are.  A calculator on the internet is a decent starting point, but there's no way that it's accurate for everybody.  The only way to find your numbers is to experiment and see what happens at different levels of intake.  Sorry, but nobody said this was going to be easy. As of matter of fact, my first post on the nutrition challenge made it very clear it was going to be the exact opposite of easy.

We've started to see some great results already from a lot of our participants, and everyone seems to be embracing the process and letting it take over their lives just as you should.  If you're results aren't there just yet, take solace in the fact that you've made it this far down a tough path and have learned a ton about yourself in the process (whether you realize it or not).  The results are just around the corner.

Go on, take a peek.