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Welcome to the Champions Club Summer 2019

See schedule here. Dancing, anyone?

Entries in strength (13)

Beast Mode + Workout Notes

The workout on Friday was probably the first time in a while that I felt like I really messed up at the sessions; we needed to do the back squats from the racks so we could go heavier. But this really got me thinking a lot about barbell strength and lifting heavy weights. This is a topic that I ponder and has been covered on this site a handful of times - most famously in the editorial What is Strength? from the glory days of 2015. This topic also popped up in my head while watching college football over the weekend and seeing players continuously tap their helmet to ask for a sub, and also at our basketball open gym while noticing how much more our kids complained about getting fouled when they were tired. And also watching Planet Earth II.

I really, really think CrossFit hit the nail on the head with how they approach building strength. If you can do a 400-lb. deadlift then big ups to you. If you can do a 300-lb. deadlift in the middle of a brutal workout with running and pull-ups mixed in, then you are a different breed of beast.

Strength, in real life, is very, very rarely expressed at full rest. The ability to be strong, - in as many varieties as possible, while being tired is something that I need, you need, my grandma needs, baby Josh needs, and Shea Patterson needs. (Chase Winovich seems to have that covered.) A lot of attention was given last year to Saquon Barkley cleaning 400-lbs.

This is absurd. I would also love to see what his capacity would be doing Elizabeth (even if he needed to up the weight to 155 or 185 pounds). I think most coaches and programs will be blending strength with conditioning sometime in the future - probably when the younger coaches move up in the ranks - but until then it's mostly theoretical, though backed with some good anecdotes.

As far as our gym goes, it's tough to judge purely by numbers because of the variety of athletes. Alexis Anthes is a high school sophomore with 3 months of CrossFit experience and an average strength base coming from Coach T. NuNu is an 8th grader who's feet might well have never both been off the ground at the same time before joining in May. Jay is Jay. Mrs. Pip is Mrs. Pip. Saporito, Elizabeth, and Cecilia are all back in college. I would say Katie Shakes has a perfect capacity of being strong while tired, but then I'll watch her do a push-up in Cindy and reconsider.

Mostly, I judge things based on my gut feeling. We had to get our technique on point at the end of the spring/start of Summer, then we needed to build some stamina in the legs and feet. Now I really think it will help us to feel some heavier weight in the workouts. I don't like it. And Murley/Shannon might not come back until we're through this phase, but I think it's a big part of getting a great effect from workouts like Friday or today. I don't really want any 500-lb. deadlifters, or 300-lb. cleaners, but I would like to see what kind of capacity we can develop with heavier weights within the confines of a workout.

What does this look like? Well as luck would have it, our 8:30 am session did a nice job of showing us this morning.

Normally, Mrs. Pip would have been at 65 lbs., Schornack at 25 or 35 lbs., and Mrs. Kroll at 35 lbs.; here they were at 85, 45, and 55 respectively. Not huge increases, not a weight that would be a big sick of injury, just a little extra something that might require them to slow down a bit and really zone in on the lift. I thought the technique was really good considering it was the third round. Yes, it was technically supposed to be a power clean, but as long as the squat position looked good I wasn't going to mention anything; they already had enough on their mind. Either way, all three were able to keep their positions pretty well with a weight heavier than usual.

More to come!

Movement Shapes pt. 19: Chris on the Court

Dead ends are the worst possible thing to practice in a general strength and conditioning program. If a clean technique only applies to a 1 rep max, minimum fatigue, Olympic lifting shoes clean, then it is worthless (unless you are a professional cleaner). A coach's progressions and methods to teaching a clean should apply to a 1 rep max clean, and Elizabeth (the benchmark workout or the person), and light weight power snatches, and bringing a sandbag to your shoulder, and throwing, and jumping, and basketball. If it doesn't, then the coach is caught up too much in the specificity.

Basketball - being the greatest thing ever invented - is a great arena to showcase the physical and neurological adaptations we make in the weight room. But regardless of what arena you are in, or what you may think of basketball, one thing that is not up for debate is how our role with nature works; in this case, "nature" refers to our anatomy and gravity. Our job is to obey the principles of nature regardless of what movement we are doing. The more we obey, the better the result. Olympic lifts are a very good way to train this, and we use a method called "unweighting" to do so. As I wrote about in Conor and Mr. Carey's split jerk post, the most efficient way to move is when there is no body weight. So often times we need to be patient enough in our lifts to allow a full unweighting of support (hands, feet, and shoulders) before moving to the next pose. It is pretty easy to spot in the weight room, but a little more difficult to see in other areas.


Last week I was messing around with max height box jumps where I took a rolling start from an angle. I got the idea from watching our Groves kids try (and fail) to dunk after practice, and realized that the best jumps happen from this kind of rotation. Then I wondered how this would look on the basketball court, so my old pal Jacob, Lord of Scotland, volunteered to record a late-night basketball shooting session. Here's a few clips of each:

As with all movements we look at skill and strength when determining whether it is good or not; skill = working with gravity (timing) and strength = resisting gravity (anatomical position).

Box jump skill. First, notice that when I jump, I plant* with my inside foot (left foot in this case). As I round to my right, I plant with the left foot, then allow the right foot to come in front slightly; this produces a rotation that gives me momentum to jump on the box. If I were to plant with the outside foot, or do a jump stop, it would dull a lot of the momentum. More on that later. Also, I use a very exaggerated unweighting of the shoulders to help me pull up. In both slow-motion segments, I remember trying to wait as long as possible before bringing my knees up. It was scary, but it helped. I showed Dr. Romanov these clips for analysis and he recommended making my unweighting quicker (like the quick down-up on hang cleans, or on my jump shot). That makes sense, as it helps with muscle-tendon elasticity, so I will be sure to try that next time.

*"plant" is probably not the best word to use - as it implies a hard stop - but it's common lingo, so I'll use it. More like the "roll" or "pivot" foot, though.

Basketball skill. There are two main parts to getting the timing right on a shot; the most important is the footwork. Left foot-right foot when moving to your right, and right foot-left foot when moving to your left. As mentioned above, this keeps the point of support closer to under your hips than if the footwork was opposite, and therefore gives us more momentum to elevate. The next part is the unweighting, and I finally figured this out as the video was being recorded. In the last shot I take, watch my head relative to the wall and notice the point where it stops moving; this is a moment of being weightless and it's also the point where I do the most pushing. This is the ideal timing for a jump shot and why a lot of coaches say, "shoot it at the top of your jump." But this is the first time I felt the same thing I feel on cleans, and it's because it was the first time I was looking for it.

Box jump position. When your skill is good, you can get away with having less than ideal anatomical positions because all injuries have to do with gravity. Strength is for when we have to work against gravity, or extra bodyweight. But the thing is, having good positions will help maximize our work with gravity. On my jump, notice the loading position: hips back and shins pretty vertical. This is also the same for basketball.

Sounds an awful lot like the squat we teach. Also, my torso is not what many coaches would call "upright." In fact, most squatting in sports does not happen with an upright torso; this is signature to the professional cleaners mentioned at the top of this post. Even though we always work towards having the capacity to squat like a Banet or Mrs. Carey, this is why Kroll and Mama V squatting like this is not always a bad thing. Since a straight-on video would have been blocked by the plates, I only got the side position. Luckily jumping is jumping, so we get to see the same positions and faults on the court.

Basketball position. You could look at a freezeframe like this...

... and be like HOLY CRAP THOSE KNEES! And that was my first reaction. But then after analyzing it, I don't think it's a bad position at all. First off, consider that my plant foot was my left  (the one that took the most force). In the freezeframe, my left foot is straight and my knee is out over the little toe (a good thing). The right foot lands straight forward, completing the redirection, and the knee is projected in the direction I am changing. Two things that could have made this a bad position are 1) my right foot being turned out instead of straight or 2) planting with the right leg first and taking all that weight abruptly instead of rolling through it; in other words, bad strength or bad skill.

The actual bad part, in my opinion, was the left foot. Remember, the left foot is the one that begins the change of direction and takes most of my weight. If you watch the video below, my left knee gets the speed wobbles when loaded. This is a problem that needs to be fixed. It doesn't seem to do it as much on the right (which might be why I prefer to pull-up that way). This lowering down motion on one foot - in weight room lingo - is known as the pistol, and luckily my hips are back and taking a lot of load off the knee.

Analyzing movement in terms of skill and strength is what helps me determine what an athlete needs to work on. That idea came from Carl Paoli back in 2012 when he came to visit, but it is finally becoming clear(ish) in the entire movement spectrum. This is only possible when looking past the "code" of the weight room. When you can see that front squat, back squat, clean, kettlebell swing, and box jump are all the same freaking thing, then you can start to make connections and define best practices. It's Hermione's Law: keep zooming out until you can see the entire picture. The best place to start is with gravity, then work your way down until you reach the thing you care about.


As a bonus, here's the full 8 minute video. Two notes: first, I was broke as a joke before this segment, then I fixed the unweighting part. Second, Jacob was really hungry: Vulgarilly so.

Case Study: Teaching vs. Motivating

I wanted to call this "Teaching vs. Cheerleading," but I need to give credit where credit is due; college strength and conditioning coaches are great at motivating players. Like, supremely great, from the testimonials of most of the players I've talked to. So I'll keep this as unbiased as possible, Coaching vs. Motivating.

I think I summarized my thoughts on the matter pretty well in my latest Building a Champion installment after the clinic and nothing has changed since then. I believe the priority for strength and conditioning coaches should be the following:

1. Skill

2. Strength

3. Conditioning

4. Motivation/mental toughness

Teaching athletes proper movement technique and how to use gravity correctly can take care of a lot of other issues. Sports are not perfect, though, and sometimes we will find ourselves working against gravity (or a 300-lb. beefcake across from you), so we need to develop strength to endure this.

Next we have conditioning, and conditioning can be used as a way to test an athlete's strength and skill, and is probably the best diagnostic tool a coach can use to see what their movement looks like on the field or court. In my opinion, motivation and mental toughness can be developed from within the athletes that hold themselves to the movement standards coaches set. If it doesn't take mental toughness to keep your knees still during the last 9 cleans of Elizabeth, then I don't know what does. This, to me, is unnecessary...

Or is it? I am spoiled, remember. Every one of you I coach at the Champions Club wants to be here. No mater how much you claim otherwise, you pay money to be coached the way we coach. So motivation has always been an afterthought for me (sometimes to my detriment). But what if you guys were really just here for the goodies Mrs. Carey and Pat bring in? And what if in order to indulge in the Twizzlers, Gummy Worms, and Banana bread, you have to work out at a certain intensity? This is probably what Rick Court, head S&C coach at Maryland (pictured above) and fellow presenter at the MSU clinic in February, and other college strength coaches across the country have to deal with. Their kids are there to play football (or basketball, or whatever); not to work out. Yet, it is widely known that working out helps make better athletes. So maybe the goal is to get them excited to work out first and foremost?

Coach T sent me this article yesterday and we met up this morning to discuss it, among other things. Check it out.

He wasn’t merely off to the side observing the spectacle he had created.

Instead, he was running around like a madman with his muscles bulging through his white T-shirt, squatting closer to his players’ anguished faces as they raised absurd amounts of weight. He stuck ammonia inhalant packets near some of their noses to give the players an adrenaline rush, then congratulated them on their completed sets by violently slapping them in the chest. That’s how Court shows love.

I try to rationalize this with my thoughts above, and DJ Durkin likes him, which counts for a decent amount in my book. Still, I think this article is giving a misleading image of what is important. Rather, what is most important.

When announcers drool over Jabrill Peppers making a bone-crushing tackle on a Colorado QB, I agree it is exciting and I get as pumped up as anyone about it. But it is also overlooking the fact that Peppers makes countless plays during the game that are much less exciting, but have even more of an impact on the overall outcome. Having announcers like Gary Danielson and Kirk Herbstreit point this out to the audience is a great thing; seeing BTN announcers miss this is not.

When strength coaches around the country read articles like the one above or watch videos like this, they are usually seeing a very limited view of what makes a good coach. This has been the natural progression going down the line of coaches I have seen in my experience; it takes a very open mind to be willing to focus on what really matters (movement), because once you realize it, you will see how much work you really have on your hands.

In the end, our jobs as coaches are to make our athletes move better in whatever area matters to them (football, basketball, lifting weights, lifting grandkids). In order to do that, correct movement needs to be taught and held to standards that are non-debatable and set by gravity and our physiology. It is pretty black-and-white. In the realm of motivation, there are as many standards as there are athletes in the group; which is not to say that it should be avoided, but rather not be the main focus.

Motivating is not easy by any means. Neither is teaching. Motivating looks very exciting, probably draws in good recruits, and takes football coaches from 6 to midnight with every corny quote they hang up (did you guys know that Iron sharpens Iron?) Teaching, for the most part is very boring in comparison. There is a process to it, where most days are built on small progressions geared towards an endless end goal. Either the athlete has the right answer on that particular day, which then gets reinforced or progressed further, or they don't, in which case the teacher backtracks and builds more progression. The excitement comes when the athletes doesn't rely on the coach any more.

I don't think this kid needs ammonia packets. He has Jeff Martin.

It seems like there are two camps; great coaches = great teachers, or great coaches = great motivators. In my experience as an athlete, great teachers motivated me by teaching a new skill or technique that I can see will make me better. In my experience as a coach, I have reached "unmotivated" kids simply by teaching them to use gravity when running, or proper footwork on a jump shot, or correct reads in passing routes.

If we aren't teaching, and teaching with standards, then what the hell are we doing? Make that the first priotity and everything else falls in line.

Workout Notes from a CrossFit OG

Nearly every Sunday for as far back as I can remember, a man who posts under the name "bingo" would comment under whatever the workout was and give his thoughts - usually geared towards newbies. In the small, close-knit world of CrossFit, he's earned himself legendary status for sure with his light personality and gifted writing style. At least, I thought it used to be every Sunday night, but now it seems he's been gracing us with his musings for every workout post.

This Monday's workout was one of "those workouts" that you guys might see and assume I'll skip over.

In this case, you are right. We will most likely be skipping over this workout and finding some ways to add the movements into either warmups or improvised workouts (expect a max reps pull-ups test coming soon). The reason I am doing it is because of the scattered crowd we've developed this winter; if the atendance was a little more consistent I'd probably throw this in. When we move to the 3-on-1-off schedule either later this winter or in the spring, we'll probably follow along, but until then we pick and choose - a topic for another day.

However, reading over the comments, bingo's post really stood out to me. I liked his insight on these types of workouts, chalk usage, and how to make something out of a workout you don't like at first glance.


Ha! Literally spit out my drink when I saw this. Here I am, nearly 12 years of this stuff under my belt, talking to a bunch of wet behind the ears rookies, and we get served up Gymnastica. No, no, no, it’s Gymnasticapalooza! Four separate exercises that pretty much not a single member of my target audience can do. Sweet. 


First the straight skinny, and then we’ll talk turkey. Four exercises with 3 attempts to get a sorta kinda max of some kind in each. L-PU (reps), Handstand Walk (millimeters), PU (reps), and Handstand Hold (nanoseconds). Do a set. Get a max. Rest as much as you think you need. Do it again. Then again. The way I read it you do each of them one at a time. In other words, before you do your first 3 or 4 millimeters walking on your hands you do all three of your attempts on L-PU. 

An L-PU is impossible to kip. Trust me. Get on the bar. Doesn’t matter how you grip it, even a little bit. While hanging bring your legs up so that they are pointing straight out (style points for pointed toes) and do as many PU as you can. Record your reps.

Very little to explain about the next exercise. Kick up into a handstand and then walk on your hands as far as you can. Really. 

Max PU means grab the bar any way you’d like and then do as many PU as you can before you just can’t do another one. Once again, unless noted otherwise, the default PU here in CF is the kipping PU. Gymnastic, Frog Kick, or Butterfly, it’s your call as usual. Mind your hands, now. If you (like a certain eye surgeon with a silly nickname) work with your hands it’s perfectly OK to tape them, wear gloves, or some kind of covering. Remember, chalk is meant to improve your grip. That means your hands, and the skin on your hands, will stick to the bar. Tearing the skin on your hands is a bummer. Hurts like heck. Makes it hard to do the next WOD.

A max Handstand Hold is a free-standing handstand. No wall. No support. You just hang out upside down as long as you can. Newbies should use a clock that measures to the hundredth of a second. 

How should mortals approach Gymnasticapalooza? If you don’t have a PU yet it makes precisely ZERO sense to try to get some sort of max on a scaled version IMO. If you can’t do a regular PU, it makes precisely ZERO sense to be doing L-PU. Did you go to college on a gymnastics scholarship? Maybe spend a few years hanging out with Cirque de Soleil? No? Hell, me either. When’s the last time you were upside down on purpose? 

I think today is a skills day for many, many people here on Certainly for Newbles. If you don’t yet have a real PU spend 15:00 working on your PU progressions. Use a slightly less helpful scale and make yourself work harder to get over the bar. Set up a yoga mat near the wall, place a couple of Abmats a few inches away from the wall, and practice kicking up into a handstand with your butt facing the wall. Hold your position as long as you can. Feel pretty good there? Pick up one hand at a time and tap your shoulder. Spend a solid 15:00 here, too. 

Rather than look at this WOD, throw up your hands and say WTF and go do pec flys and curls in the squat rack, be adventurous and have some fun with some unfamiliar movements and new skills. Don’t forget, the founder of CrossFit is a gymnast, and gymnastic movements are fundamental to being a CrossFitter. 

Gymnasticapalooza in 3-2-1…GO. 



Workout Priorities Poll

In between thoughts of Peppers for Heisman and the showdown on November 11 between Rutgers and MSU for last place in B1G East, I started to contemplate how priorities are usually sorted for training.

In my experience, most things operate best when there is a hierarchy in place. And often times the issues I hep other coaches with is recognizing  when they have deviated from their main objectives.

In the strength and conditioning world, there seems to be six major areas I hear coaches emphasize:

  1. Aestetics (weight gain/loss, muscle building, tone, etc.)
  2. Perception (skill development/coordination)
  3. Position (strength)
  4. Endurance (conditioning/stamina)
  5. Numbers (lbs. lifted, rounds completed, etc.)
  6. Mentality (team building, toughness, etc.)

My question is, what order do you think those factors should be in terms of importance for the general athlete? (Not a specialist!)

In other words, what is the most important area to be developed and what is the least? Note: We did a similar poll back in 2015 that dealt with all the physical skills one could acquire in a workout program. This one is more from my observation and includes some different categories.

C&J Purpose feat. Mrs. Kroll

Our reason behind doing a push-up one day might be different than the reason we do it another day. One time could be to emphasize midline stability, another could be to reinforce the correct movement pattern of upper body pushing. But the reason we do a push-up is rarely because we want you to get better at hitting your chest on the ground then locking your arms out all the way.

For more coordinated movements, like the clean and jerk today, there are a ton of things we can emphasize. But it usually comes down to strength (position) or skill (timing) or both. It can be different from day-to-day or from athlete-to-athlete. So if you are ever confused with how you are being taught the same movement differently on a certain day, this is why.

Today's clean and jerks were mostly done to practice the skill. We have been working on this with rope climbs and kettlebell swings in the warmups recently, and it was time to see how it looked with a weightlifting movement we haven't done since Summer. Here's how Mrs. Kroll looked at the 8:30 am session on her last set before the 20 minutes was up.

Her position was not great; knees buckling on the unweight and soft post 2 on split jerk. Her range of motion was not either seeing as she never stood up all the way after the split jerk. But in my eyes, these were perfect for today's workout because she met this day's movement standard of core-to-extremity on both the clean and the split jerk. The click of the bar you hear and the bouncing of her arms is a sure sign of that. Her form was probably the best we saw today.

Next time, we might focus on the position - where she would definitely have her work cut out for her. Or not. Who knows? Just remember that we don't look at a movement as a concrete thing. The effect we want to get from that movement is different from day-to-day.

UPDATED Quote of the Week vol. 158: To the "Big Dogs"

Now with Mr. Auggie's quick wit.

Me: Mr. Auggie... green bands for pull-ups.

Mr. Auggie: I'm actually feeling strong today Chris. I won't need a band with my rings.

"We’re well aware of your snatch PR.

We can indeed hear you grunting as you rep out.

We know you hold the top spot on the squat leaderboard. And yes, we know all about your big bag of supplements, your special gear, your amp-up music and your pre-lift routine.

But a great many of us really don’t care about your strength numbers.

Here’s why: You’re in a CrossFit program."

- Mike Warkentin. CrossFit Journal article, An Open Letter to the "Big Dogs"

As much as I used to clash with Jacob and Faust when they were in here, I always respected the fact that despite whatever their throughts about the program was, they always push themselves on any workout I asked them to - which usually happened to involve things other than heavy lifting WODs.

Mike Warkentin, CrossFit Journal editor, penned the article above probably in response to some people in his gym or people he's seen travelling to different affiliates. I can definitely relate with some of his points but I have never experienced the blatant meatheadedness he details. Either way, it's a pretty entertaining read.