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More Program than Gym

See the editorial here.

Schedule change

8:30 am, 4:30 pm, 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm

Beast Mode: Dawson's Split Jerks

Dawson Bielski, aka Super Gump aka Love Doctor, has put in a good winter of workouts here at the Champions Club. We have really been working to develop his coordination and skill more tha just brute strength (same thing we are trying with Kris). On Monday's max effort split jerk, we kept Dawson's reps high and the weight relatively light so he could get the timing down on a movement he has not been traditionally good at. Here's how his last set of 10 looked at 75 lbs.

We also noticed this was the case for just about everyone in attendance except Elizabeth and Sabal. As a whole, our gym's overgeadposition is not great, and we have not done split jerks in quite a while. One of the adjustments I've made after learning from some of Jacob's deadlift sessions is to not be married to the rep scheme of that max effort lift.

For instance, instead of keeping everyone at light weight and doing 10-8-6-4-2 reps, I still kept the weight light, but I increased the volume - most people were at 10 sets all the way through, and a few went down to 8 and stayed there.

Either way, great job to everyone, and especially Dawson, for staying patient with a tricky lift.

CrossFit Injury Rate Study + Mini Rant

I got a mass email last night from a student at USC who is looking for participants in an online survey regarding a very common topic: injuries and CrossFit. It's really quick and if anyone wants to participate, the link is below.

Severe Injury Rate in CrossFit

How bout this throwback from the vault! Summer 2012Coach Glassman had a great quote that was something along the lines of, "I could make an exercise program that is 100% safe, and doing so would also make it 100% ineffective. You'd just be sitting on your butt the whole time."

Obviously we never want to get athletes injured during training; this is not our main goal, but it is very high on our priority list. Some of the things we do in life and sport requires potentially risky physical activity, so it is best to train those things in the gym in a little bit safer fashion. We jump on boxes, climb on ropes, tumble and go upside-down, and we put relatively heavy things over our heads. Sometimes Mr. Carey just misses the box. For the most part, I can live with those kind of injuries.

The ones I obviously have a hard time dealing with are the ones I think came from training with bad form. Bubs's shoulder thing in 2012 (or early 2013, I forget) comes to mind as the only one that I can think of that was probably solely due to a workout and required surgery. In fact, it's something I still think about - which is why I am so picky about head position on all lifts. The other ones that have hit me hard are when our kids get injured in their sport. Thankfully they have been few and far between, but Jay's knee was tough for me to deal with, as was Cam's and Amy's knees. I always think there was more I needed to do in here to help them prevent that stuff.

At the end of the day, it's difficult to balance that line with playing things conservative and progressing an athlete further. The longer I'm at this, the better I'll get, and the longer you're at this, the more feedback you'll be able to give regarding which days are good and which days aren't. Just remember that there has to be some element of risk in an exercise program in order for anything productive to get accomplished.

Quote of the Week vol. 180

"Being good at 20 is easy, being good at 50 is a whole different story. If we are really as good as we pretend to be then someone who starts with us at 20 needs to be functioning well at 50. How many coaches and gyms you think are good enough to accomplish this seeing someone 3 to 5 hours a week? I would argue few."

- Brendan McNamar. CrossFit Discussion Board.

Brendan is an OG CrossFitter whom I've admired from afar for a long time. He's a regular on the CrossFit Message Board (technically it's still a thing), and he used to be an affiliate owner before moving. Last night I was reading through a post about movement quality when I saw this line come up, and it really hit home. I would hope we are one of the "few" he mentions.

Mr. Carey's effort on yesterday's Tabate, in my opinion, is a prime example. Top overall score of the day using rx'd weight. Some days he has it, and some days he doesn't. Not many of us can relate to being over 50 years old (or even over 20 years old), but he sets a good example of knowing his body and knowing that keeping some in the tank one day to get technique right can mean a better workout tomorrow, or next week, or next year.

Now when I scale him back on double unders to the split rope next time because his jumping looks horrendous he won't put up a fuss... I think!

Mel's Musings Episode III: Why So Strict, Bro?

Dear Athletes,

I know you love kipping handstand push-ups.  But I’m writing to you today to explain why you should be doing strict handstand push-ups.

From the top, let’s get one thing straight.  A kipping handstand push-up vs. a strict handstand push-up is like a single-under vs. a double-under.  They are not the same movement.  And just like lots of singles won’t get you that elusive double-under, lots of kipping won’t get you a strict handstand push-up.

Reason #1: Power Output

You know I love me some power output.  And of course, this is the main reason why we choose to kip certain movements.  Because they allow us to do more reps in less time.  Kipping pull-ups are simply faster than strict pull-ups.  Interestingly, kipping handstand push-ups are not any faster than strict handstand push-ups.  In fact, compared to an efficient strict handstand push-up, they are slower.  Take a look at Chris Spealler, arguably the world’s fastest mover, performing a set of (strict) handstand push-ups in competition:

From Spealler’s 1:52 “Diane” at the 2012 South West Regional.

Therefore, if strict is faster than kipping, then that should be our default.  And only when we reach fatigue, would we then make the switch to kipping.


Reason #2: Movement Hierarchy

The kipping handstand push-up is a more complicated movement than the strict.  Kelly Starrett would describe the strict handstand push-up as a Category 1 movement, one where the athlete has a connection through the entire movement[1].  On the other hand, the kipping handstand push-up is a Category 2 movement.  The athlete enters “the tunnel”, moving from a position of stability to a position of instability, and then back to a position of stability.  Category 2 movements are more complex than Category 1, and require greater stabilization demands, because that “connection” is missing for a period of time.  Athletes have a tougher time staying in a good (hollow) position when they kip because of this loss of connection.  When an athlete is learning a new movement, the default should be to learn and perfect the Category 1 movement, and only then progress to the Category 2 movement.

This admittedly “academic” discussion is reinforced in our laboratory (“the gym”).  Which pull-up do we teach first, strict or kipping?  Of course, we teach strict first, and if the athlete lacks the strength for a strict pull-up, we scale the load by using bands.  Several coaches advocate for athletes to acquire the strength to do strict pull-ups before kipping.  One in the CrossFit community is down here in my neck of the woods.  Matt Crabtree, former owner of 21 CrossFit in Durham, says, “If you aren’t strong enough to do at least five dead hang pull-ups, you should abstain from kips and build up the dead hang using bands, negative, jumping, bands + weight, etc.  And once you are strong enough, kips should never completely replace dead hangs.  Never.”[2]  Similarly, CrossFit HQ’s former gymnastics subject matter expert, Jeff Tucker, says that handstand push-ups “should be a strict movement”, and that athletes “need to be working strict form before adding momentum to it.”[3]


Reason #3: Transferability 

Increased strength gained from practicing and mastering strict handstand push-ups translates surprisingly well into the overhead Olympic lifts, such as push press and push jerk.  I say, “surprisingly well”, because most Olympic weightlifting coaches make fun of handstand push-ups and would never program them for their athletes.

Why does the movement translate so well?  First, being inverted in a fully locked-out position (the top of our handstand push-up), is basically the closed kinetic chain equivalent of the finish position of our (open-chain) jerk.  Perhaps the isometric strength gained in the handstand supports a strong jerk receiving position?

But if this is true, wouldn’t a kipping handstand push-up be just as beneficial?  Yes, in theory; no, in practice.  If the athlete is doing a set of kipping handstand push-ups, and rests at the top of the handstand, there will be isometric gain.  But in my experience, athletes performing kipping handstand push-ups tend to rest at the bottom of the movement.  No benefit!

Pat Sherwood hates HSPUs.  He also lists the push jerk as his least favorite lift.[4]  Coincidence?

Similarly, the strict handstand push-up is the closed-chain equivalent of a shoulder press (with decreased ROM).  We never really do a partial-range shoulder press, but we often do push press.  The push press is initiated by the legs, but finished by the arms.  So where do the arms start pressing in the push press?  When the bar is somewhere near the top of our head.  Bingo!  The same range we start pressing on a strict handstand push-up.  Am I the only one for whom the light bulb just clicked on?

Finally, performing strict handstand push-ups is much easier when the athlete can maintain midline stability (hollow body position), not breaking into overextension.  This hollow body position is also the strongest position in our press/jerk.  These movements serve to reinforce one another.


Get Strict

If all this is true, why don’t athletes do more strict handstand push-ups?  My belief is: simply because they don’t have the requisite strength.  Strict handstand push-ups are hard; but then again, most things worth accomplishing are.  Perhaps you thought you would never get a pull-up, and now you bang out 10 of them, no problem.  There is nothing magical about the strict handstand push-up.  It just requires practice and patience.

You probably already know some options to increase your strength in the strict handstand push-up.  But here are a few:

  • Decreased ROM.  When I first started CrossFit, I could only do a few handstand push-ups at a time.  So when something like a 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 came up, I would scale the range of motion.  You don’t even need an Abmat for this.
  • Assistance.  It can be tough to rig up a band for handstand push-ups (although I’ve seen some), but you could also use a friend to help.
  • Negatives.  Just like with pull-ups, these can help build strength.
  • Hollow Body.  When I first did handstand push-ups, I was always overextended.  Thus, I was never in a strong position, and my lower back would be sore after several reps.  Somewhere along the line, I learned how to stay in a hollow position – the self-cue that worked for me was “squeeze your butt”.
  • Shoulder Mobility.  I know folks who really struggle with handstand push-ups, and the reason is they can’t fully open up their shoulder, and they are never “stacked” over their hands – again, not a strong position.
  • Practice.

A recipe for upper body strength?  Red meat and strict handstand push-ups.  Whiskey if you’re over 21.



Is there a place for the kipping handstand push-up?  Probably.  Like when the workout prescribes 100 HSPUs for time[5].  Or when learning how to do a freestanding handstand push-up.  But when it comes to the power output, movement hierarchy, and transferability, the strict handstand push-up is superior.


[1] Starrett, K., “Becoming a Supple Leopard 2nd Edition: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance”, 2015.

[2] Crabtree, M. “CrossFitters: Why I Haven’t Taught You to Kip”, published online 2013.

[3] Interview with ASRX, 2011.

[4] Athlete profile from 2009 CrossFit Games, published online 2009.

[5] It’s all relative.  For some, the number may be 50 or 10.

Musical Homework from Mrs. Fitz

In one of the classes Mrs. Fitz is taking, she was assigned an essay question regarding the quality of musicals across the ages, and was hoping for our input.

In essence, the question is do you think musical scores from modern Disney classics like Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, and Marry Poppins will stand the test of time in the same way that Mozart and the "classics" have?

Split Jerk From the Vault + New Guest Post

Mel's next installment of his guest post series comes out tomorrow at 5 pm. It's about handstand push-ups, and is another good one.

Split jerks are difficult lifts to begin with, and we make them even more annoying considering it is required to alternate feet. As I was going through the vault, I saw this one from Coach T in the fall 2015. With all the work we do together, I sometimes forget he trained here for a bit.

And then I came across this one: Bubs's max effort progressions from Summer 2015 with her infamous bug-stomping episode mixed in.

Mystery Athlete has Whiteboard Sass

On Thursday it just so happened that we kept the same warmup as we had on Tuesday. Someone took it upon themselves to add their own commentary to the exercises.

Who was it? Post guesses to comments.