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« Quote of the Week vol. 205 | Main | New Kid on the Block: Danielle »

Case Study: The Z-axis

I, Chris Sinagoga, can deadlift and squat more weight than Jacob at this time. And if I overheard correctly, Carter the Blob can deadlift more than Jack Trastevere. If that isn't an attention-getter, then I don't know what is.

...........

In the days before Summer 2012 was going to begin, Ryan Richard and I went out to Hyperfit USA (the Playboy Mansion of Michigan CrossFit gyms) to buy some equipment - the silver bars, the white rope, black box, and the black mats, to name a few. One of the coaches asked Ryan about some of his workouts and seemed genuinely impressed with the numbers. But he did say one thing in specific that I still remember:

"The thing you need to focus on now is not necessarily hitting a pr every time, but keeping everything within a certain range."

This also falls in line with Matt Fecht's former Quote of the Week about what would happen if people pr'd every time. And it also is parallel with the Pass it On post from December. And probably a ton of other things that has been up here on the site. But on a bigger scale, this was formalized on February 1, 2009 in the CrossFit Journal. Up until this point, Coach Glassman made waves in the exercise community by putting a scientific definition of fitness out for the world to test. But he realized that this formula - work capacity measured across broad time and modal domains - was limited. So he added a Z-axis to his graph that would account for longevity.

Graph of fitnessGraph of health

If fitness was defined as "work capacity across broad time and modal domains" then health could be defined as "fitness through the years."

In other words, your health and fitness is not determined so much by peaks and valleys as it is by consistency as you age. Whenever I get the chance to talk to other CrossFitters and coaches, this is the one thing I try to emphasize most because I think this is our specialty at the Champions Club. If your attendance is consistent, you can bet you will be in a steady-climbing constant ready-state for the next 10 years, and theoretically beyond that. That is a bold statement and avoiding pitfalls takes efficient coaching on my part, tons of patience on your part, and great communication from both sides.

...........

Elizabeth Banet had a Summer 2015 for the record books that resulted in a banner. She beat out a group of 5 athletes at their peak during the best Summer the Champions Club has ever witnessed. She was not a human being, plain and simple. And with all that being said, I am even more impressed with what she has done this Summer.

Biff made one good decision on Monday, April 24 to come in to the 6:30 session after a few months of hit-and-miss attendance; she stayed within the restrictions of what her fitness was at that time. Then made another good decision the next day. And then one more the next day. And she kept making good, daily decisions; all of a sudden I looked up in July thinking, "dang...this might be the fittest Elizabeth has ever been!" The same story can be said for her sister, Jacqueline. During the early winter, Jackie caught a bout of Mono; not only was she out of it for a few weeks, but she never could quite get that consistency back even when she was healthy. That is, until she did. And now she beats Elizabeth in most workouts.

Similarly, Summer 2016 Nicole Murley is probably the best female "CrossFiter" to ever call the Champions Club their home. I'm sure there is some level of bias, obviously, but when I think about the all-around demands of CrossFit workouts, you really can't say she's outside of the top 7 in anything, scaled or unscaled. She was not as fast as Shannon, not as strong as Shakes, not as flexible as Elizabeth, but her all-around ability was Mario with a Star in Mario Super Sluggers for the Nintendo Wii. In fact, Murley was on pace to challenge Shakes for the banner when she got a phone call about a Chemistry teaching vacancy at Riverview Gabriel Richard. Despite it being a year earlier than anticipated, she had to take it. As a result, her CrossFit ability decreased. But how much exactly? Here's her Filthy Fifty times over the years:

January 15, 2012 - 26:50 as rx'd pr

August 4, 2012 - 24:08 as rx'd pr

January 13, 2013 - 23:37 as rx'd (minus box jumps - 20 in. box) pr

August 13, 2013 - 18:55 (16k/14#/45)

August 16, 2014 - 18:53 guys rx'd

Last Friday - 18:38 guys rx'd (minus 14 med ball/20 box)

Judging by just her times, I would definitely look at Friday as anywhere from a win to a major win. Assuming she would have done a 2016 Filthy Fifty in around 18:00 with guys rx'd, this is not too far off. For her to be in the 17-minute range at this exact time, she would need to not be a teacher, have another year of Cross Country eligibility, and be generally interested in doing CrossFit on a regular basis. None of those conditions were realistic on August 18, 2017, so with that being said, she was at-worse 2 minutes slower than her peak self. Again, I would take that as a win. And if you look at it from another perspective:

Filthy Fifty times for other teachers: DNF/TL;DR

...........

I actually don't know for sure that I can deadlift more than Jacob at this exact moment in time; my max is probably in the high(ish) 300's, so if he can do that with a herniated disk then so be it. But either way, I am going to let MS Paint illustrate how I see it:

In this theoretical world with Jacob and I starting CrossFit at exactly the same point in fitness and time, he has a couple options: 1. deadlift as much as possible as soon as possible and live with the results or 2. accept his limitations (mobility, midline strength, coordination, arm length), and take a slower approach to his lift - which should turn out much better in the long run. In other words: prioritize the Z-axis, or don't.

I did a post about framing while running a while ago - essentially the more compact you keep the frame, the better your running will be. Same can be said for your fitness. In my opinion, the Pretend Jacob model would be better than the Jacob model despite taking much longer to hit the mutual maximum weight because there is less down time. Now, if he was competing in a weightlifting meet, or just wanted to be as strong as possible right now, I cannot argue against that. My opinion would just be that it is smarter to go the long-term route. Ideally you want to be in a position where you can, at any point in time, say, "I can come pretty close to my best right now", and there is too much time "under the curve" for my liking. In the grand scheme of things, the weight difference on the plus side only matters if you value your deadlift number over everything else. Again, I can only speak on what I think is best to value, but to each their own. I just know I would be embarassed if, for example, one of my track kids asked me to sprint a 400 with them and I had to decline because I wore out my knees overtraining for a marathon.

The longevity expression of CrossFit is an area that I rarely compromise on; sometimes Matt Fecht has to be ready for a race in a month, or Big Kris needs to be able to run 5 miles before going off to Air Force, etc. But this realization of the Z-axis in our fitness, coupled with the idea of having a "constant ready-state" are both integral in our training. And this is precisely why I am so impressed with Murley's Filthy Fifty time, and Elizabeth/Jacqueline's overall Summer. Whatever their training was leading up to these events provided a solid base that made it really, really difficult to fall completely off the cliff. They each made small, smart decisions on a daily basis to help their long-term health and now they could reasonably say they have a chance to pr for anything that comes up (with the exception of Murley's Cross Country race, obviously). Going forward they might get greedy and see if they can eclipse their prime, or they might get greedy in a different way: prioritize other things in their life and see how little they can manage to deviate away. And it might be a different answer depending on what time of year it is. Whichever they choose, you can bet they will be somewhere in the ballpark of fitter than most of the girls they will ever meet, whenever they meet them, in 20 minutes or 20 years from now.

And if they are really lucky, they'll be Mrs. Carey, who is coming up on 8 years into CrossFit and still on the steady climb up.

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Reader Comments (9)

0 % chance pretend Jacob is half as jacked as I am.

August 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

Also I thought we established the z-axis is used to measure handsomeness

August 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJacob

I actually had that written in there after I first mentioned the addition of the Z-axis, but I took it out to try to skim the article down.

And your handsomeness resides in your personality

August 22, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris Sinagoga

My goal is to be a Mrs Carey!

August 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMrs Fitz

Not everyday I get called out by name here. Good to know I still cause controversy without even trying

August 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJack

This is hilarious but also interesting. So I must think about it and post something later.

August 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMel

I'll leave this up for a bit, so take your time

August 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris Sinagoga

I want it all, darn it. But I know that won't happen, so I just try to stay as fit as possible.

August 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSabal

It's an interesting way to think about things. I know I went through a period of doldrums when my lifts stalled out. The last time I PR'd a back squat, front squat, bench press, deadlift, thruster, snatch, or clean & jerk was when I was 40 - which was 4 years ago.

Getting caught up always setting PRs can lead to an unhealthy vicious cycle. You think you are not "getting stronger". Therefore, you may be more reluctant to train these lifts - "Why do it - I won't PR?" But if you don't train them, you definitely won't get stronger. Et cetera.

I still struggle with this, but am trying to make my peace with it. On my whiteboard, I used to write down PRs. Now I write down "milestones". Heaviest back squat this calendar year, for example. It's been a refreshing change. While I do think I can still PR the quick lifts (e.g., snatch, C&J) - I am pretty pleased if I can get 90+% of my "slow lifts".

It's also important to remember a few things:

1. It's not just about strength. CF is of course about overall fitness. I haven't PR'd my deadlift since 2013, but I PR'd Diane this year.

1a. Somehow strength is always pointed to. I mean, I don't get upset that I can't run as fast an 800 as I did when I was in track - so why should strength be different?

2. It's not just about barbell strength. Maybe strength is improving but it's not reflected in a barbell lift. I've continued to see good progress in my gymnastic strength (max rep pull-ups or HSPUs, 1RM weighted pull-ups, etc.), but those are not as sexy as a heavy-ass back squat.

3. Getting good at everything necessitates that we will not PR everything every time.

4. Getting older probably does mean that strength - and even overall capacity? - may not improve endlessly - and in fact, may start to decrease. Or as my wife said, back when I brought this up in 2014, "Maybe you've peaked." Thanks for not sugar-coating it, dear.

August 24, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMel

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