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Welcome to the Champions Club Summer 2019

See schedule here. Dancing, anyone?

Entries in what is strength (6)

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!

Beast Mode: Cecilia, David Sap, and Luke

Last Friday we had a brutal mix of heavy squats and long distance running, repeated for a long duration. CrossFit has always been avid about blurring the line between strength and conditioning. So was this a strength workout? Was this an endurance workout? Who knows. In real life and sport, you always need both existing at the same time. So for this workout, we did 800-meter runs then 3 heavy front squats (without the rack, so athletes had to perform a heavy clean as well). The barbell stuff was interesting to watch and see how fatigue affected athlete's squat form. For the 9 am crew of Saporito, Cecilia, and rookie-but-Coach-T-kid Luke, it didn't seem to shake them too much. Here's their last sets of 135-lbs. (Cecilia), 225-lbs. (Div), and 155-lbs. (Luke).

For the 29th minute of a 30-minute workout, and already 5 (or in Div's case 7) rounds in, this form looked great!

Athlete of the Spring 2017: Crystal

In 2009, Coach Glassman made a rather profound revelation in regards to his model for fitness. I will probably go into details in another post, but the gist of the original fitness model is a graph: the x-axis would represent Time and the y-axis would represent Power output. You can plot various things on that graph, and this would be a measurable, observable, repeatable representation of an individual's fitness.

This was a big deal.

As I mentioned, Coach made an addition to this in 2009: a third, Z axis, protruding out towards the reader. This, three-dimensional addition provided an incredibly important addition to the measure of fitness: longevity.

Your fitness would not only be determined by this snapshot, but by what that snapshot will look like 5, 10, and 50 years from now. If you cannot maintain your work capacity across broad time and modal domains, that is a blemish on your overall fitness.

Keeping this in mind helped me realize that Crystal Reed rightfully deserves to be awarded the Champions Club Athlete of the Spring for 2017.

Murley and I have a running joke going about the moms, mainly about how easy it is to choose their weights for workouts. They have been with us for so freaking long, movement patterns are so well engrained, that nothing really changes. For example: Mrs. Pip and Mrs. Carey will do identical weight for every workout - 45 lbs. for any clean/snatch variation, 45 lbs. for any overhead pressing variation, 115 lbs. for any deadlift variation, and whatever the heck they feel like doing on that particular day for pull-ups.

Crystal is the epitome of this consistency: 5 rep max deadlift: 75 lbs. The weight she used in a 21-15-9 deadlift workout: 75 lbs. Both movements looking exactly the same, equally as challenging, and ever insisting that she can't go up any more weight. It doesn't make any sense, yet it makes perfect sense at the same time.

Crystal was not quite in the very first Mom's Club; she was in the second Mom's Club. Crystal's first appearance in our records came on November 8, 2010, along the likes of Mrs. Carey, Mama V, and Mrs. Pip. The only thing I really remember about her during those days is always telling her to get all the way up on her sit-ups: chest to the thighs; seven years later, I still have to tell her the same thing. But the important point of that sentence is the "seven years later" part.

Yes, we still have the recordsFast forward to spring 2017 and Crystal is at her best as far as I can remember. Numbers don't always tell the complete story, and in Crystal's case they rarely do. This spring I wanted to emphasize a few things for her: lower range of motion on squats, feet together "in the tunnel" when jumping, and slow, controlled movement on just about everything else. With those, I can tell you she has seen a very noticable improvement. Overall, her ability to control her body as she moves seems to be getting better. The numbers that really matter for her, though, come outside the weight room.

In October, Crystal ran the Marine Corps marathon and it didnot go the way she wanted; her body kind of shut down, from the sound of it, and she experienced some lingering hamstring and calf issues afterwards. She ended up taking the month of February off from training to see if they would heal, but when she came back in March she said the hamstring was still bothering her. So we avoided running for a bit and worked on the technique for the things I mentioned above.

At the recent Oak Apple run, Crystal ran what she considered a really good race for her 10k, and finished 1st in her age group for the third year in a row - a perfect representation of Coach Glassman's updated, three-dimensional fitness model. Crystal said she felt stronger when she was running and she was also able to recover quickly. This is what generally happens when an athlete shows the consistency that Crystal has this spring.

Seven years from now, Crystal will probably still be using 75-lbs. for deadlifts, claiming 12k kettlebell swings are too heavy, and arguing that there is some secret to running faster that has nothing to do with getting over her fear of falling, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I think the abundance of fitness videos can skew our opinion of what is heavy lifting and fast workout times. How many 50+ year old runners can lift 75-lbs. off the ground? How many of them  can do it consistently over the course of almost 10 years? Can your mom do that? Your auntie? Crystal is not going to run in the Master's Olympic Marathon Trials, and she will not be lifting cars off the ground. But she will be fit and healthy and able to do the things she wants to do. The longer we can help her maintain this level of fitness, the better. And the longer she keeps calling the Champions Club her home, the more thankful we will be.

Great job Crystal! Carry this into the Summer!

What is Strength?

An inflated Powerlifter with a hairy Russian name walks up to a barbell with 700 pounds of metal and other hard alloys attached. He yells, breathes, does a sun salutation, takes a robotic bow, and then lifts the weight to a standing position (yelling while he does it). That is a strong man.

Meanwhile in Mulanville, Ling Cho jumps onto a set of rings. In one graceful act he pulls himself from a hanging position slowly to a support position above the rings. He then squints his eyes (for which he is deducted points) and brings his hips and feet over his head before spreading his arms apart from each other in a perfect inverted cross (yelling would be cause for more point reduction, so he avoids it). This is considered a rudimentary position. But to Muggles like us, that is a strong man.

New Jersey, 1994(ish) – Shaquille O’Neal does this in front of 20,000 people.

He yells that he is a strong man with a few additional four-letter adjectives mixed in.

Finally in the bowels of Louisiana, Jay Paul Molinaire jumps out of his father’s boat to wraaastle an alligator in open water. After giving it the old headlock/takedown move I pulled on Ray Pippin, he stuns it long enough for his dad, RJ, to connect with the Shotgun on the quarter-sized kill spot. Because Native American tradition calls for minimal equipment when hunting, Jay Paul drags the dead 12-foot gator in the boat by hand. Considerably strong as well but nothing out of the ordinary for the Kings of the Swamp.

My question is: who is the strongest?

100th episode of Swamp People on tonight at 9 pm!


As I mentioned in The In-Season Training Manifesto, the word “strength” is used so much in the sports and fitness world that the meaning has become diluted and cliché. When in doubt, say the weird-looking thing you are caught in the act of doing “builds strength” and you’ll get by. But how can you know what builds strength? What is the best way to measure strength? What is the first way to measure strength?

What actually is strength?

I think CrossFit’s definition is close. They see strength as the productive application of force. The only thing wrong with that is “force” isn't something that can be applied, to my understanding, considering it’s a reaction (correct phrase would be applying bodyweight or applying movement). But still, they understand that strength is based on real-world application – which is why textbook definitions like “contractile potential of a muscle” or high school football coach Neilson’s “GET BIG AAARRRGGGGHHHHH” don’t hold much weight in real life. What a basketball player considers strength is different than what a gymnast would consider strength – which is also different than a Weightlifter. When you are dealing with all of these specific practices and individual worlds the vocabulary can get confusing.

The overlapping of terms can lead to dead-end arguments like bar position in the squat (high bar vs. low bar) and kipping pull-up vs. strict pull-up. It even translates into sport-specific examples like man-to-man vs zone defense, spread vs. pro style, DH vs. no DH. With the term “strength” we have the same issue. When trying to understand this, it is best to apply Hermione’s Law to this situation and address the one thing all these areas have in common: the human body.

When pinpointing a universal definition of strength, we have to merge on the connecting theme and figure out what exactly makes that thing (the human body) strong… or the strongest. The answer is surprisingly simple: midline stability. In order to maintain midline stability, three things need to happen: 1) your spine experiences no change in shape through movement, 2) In all motions of joint flexion, external rotation is required to create stability, 3) In all motions of joint extension, internal rotation is required to create stability. So in this sense, Strength would be determined by a human’s ability to maintain stable positions. The more things you can maintain stability, the Stronger you are. From here we can branch out with specific kinds of strength.

Gymnastics strength

This is the most fundamental expression of strength. When we think of Gymnastics strength, we think of bodyweight movements. Pull-up, handstands, levers, muscle-ups. These are all Gymnastics movements that require a good amount of Strength to perform. The sad thing is in the world of competitive Gymnastics, these movements don’t even make the difficulty scale. Instead, they do things with names I have no interest in looking up. A gymnast performing an iron cross while letting nothing but his arms move is an example of maintaining stability, and the exact degree of that is judged by a panel.

Barbell strength*

The barbell is the most effective tool at measuring strength. It is the only method that puts consistent numbers in the equation.  That precision and accuracy also makes it great for developing Strength. There are two popular sub-categories of Barbell strength worth noting: Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting. Powerlifting consists of three movements: Deadlift, Back squat, and Bench Press. Olympic Weightlifting includes two lifts: Clean & jerk and the Snatch. Every single weighted thing in the gym branches down from these movements. But the overlap between them can bring some confusion. For instance, the deadlift is 1/3 of the sport of Powerlifting, but is also involved in the clean and the snatch. This overlap has caused a lot of unnecessary arguments that could be settled if either side understood the purpose of the opposing technique.

What’s interesting is there is no judge of form in lifting competitions as there is in gymnastics competitions. Since the standards are so definite (bring the bar from here to here) athletes will often break form in order to meet the standard. So a lifter who can deadlift 500 pounds with a perfectly flat back has more Strength than someone who has to round like a cat to lift it. Even though their Barbell strength is the same, their capacity to maintain stability is not.

*For the purpose of this term “Barbell strength” refers to weight room numbers. So dumbbells, kettlebells, and even machines would be grouped into this.

Athletic strength

This is where things start to get tricky. In the previous categories, you have very specific actions someone is expected to do with their Strength. Athletics is such a wide umbrella it’s really impossible to isolate Strength when so many outside factors come into play. Not only that, but the expression of Strength is different. It looks like Lebron shooing a fly off his arm while en route to a roof-shattering monkey cram, or Bo Jackson snapping a bat over his head because he is Bo Jackson, or Denard Robinson impersonating a bowling ball running through Ohio State’s secondary. But those are all examples of the athlete maintaining stability.

For what it’s worth, the people of significant Athletic strength have put a lot of stock in Barbell and Gymnastics strength in hopes it translates into what they do in their sports. Because sport-specific skills all very advanced progressions of formal movements like push-ups and box jumps, it is easy to get lost in the transition and therefore hard to match up what part of Strength translates to what. Again, it is impossible to know for sure, but I would guess Bo Jackson can do a decent amount of pull-ups.

Country strength

I could go into detail about this category talking of daily functional movements, lifting odd objects, and having long hair. But in reality nobody knows what the hell goes on down here. That is for Ryan Richard and Brian the Trainer to discuss over a glass of whole milk. I certainly have no business in this category. All I can say is they must have some maintenance of stability because they can do these feats of strength till the cows come home and never break a bone in their life.

There are probably more sub-categories of Strength (Strength endurance, dad strength, HM04), but this is all I can think of at the moment. For the sake of clarification, further use of the word Strength with a capital “S” refers to the universal definition about maintaining stability. Any other example with a lower case “s” will be preceded by a specific example. But more than the definition or disambiguation, the most important thing about Strength is understanding why we want it in the first place. It is then we realize when looking at Strength, we are still not zoomed out all the way because Strength is actually a part of a much bigger whole, and that is your fitness. In fact, it is one of 10 components of fitness:

To take Strength out its context is compromising to both the Strength itself and the fitness structure it is a part of. Take a clean for example. If someone were to solely work on Deadlifts and Front squats for five years they would build a greater base to be able to move the heaviest possible weight to clean. But if they never practiced the coordination to connect the two movements then the strength is useless in its goal to perform a clean – which is known as The Life Story of Alex Faust. The same can be said for practicing the coordination of a clean with a PVC pipe for five years. All the clean technique in the world won’t save you if you can’t lift a 95-lb. bar off the floor.

The 10 general physical skills are interdependent of each other. You could take any one of the other categories and see how a deficiency in that area would negatively affect your expression of Strength. On the converse, you could see how a lack of Strength will negatively affect every other area. If one area is lacking, all the areas will be lacking. And if you need to bias that area in your training, it is important to keep it in the context of its relationship with the other nine pieces. The most common training bias in programs is based on Strength (usually Barbell strength). And rightfully so. It is an area of fitness that needs to be developed just as badly as Coordination, Endurance, or Power. However, figuring out exactly where to prioritize Strength depends on who I am talking to.

For athletes like Matt Fecht and Shannon, Strength is a dire need. Because Track People get confused easily, the Marathon Goblin and Air Canada have been instructed to stay away from barbells and gymnastics. If they gain a pound they must cut off a finger to counterbalance. As a result, 80% of all runners are injured every year. Well done trolls, you kill two of our favorite athletes.

Then take Football athletes for instance. Their need for Strength is just as great as a stereotypical runner – but not the barbell strength they are force-fed at nausea. At no point in any game will they be taking an evenly distributed bar and squatting it five times, but they are training as if this was part of the gameplan. So in this scenario, Strength is being overrated only because nothing else is taught. Due to their previous exposure to a specific aspect of Strength (Barbell strength), teaching and developing things like Coordination and Flexibility would be emphasized – with Strength still playing a role in daily training.

What about for CrossFit? The goal of CrossFit is to provide a broad, general, and inclusive fitness; a skillset that will render itself useful to any and all physical activities. Seeing as we are a CrossFit gym, I believe in this. If not, I would have opened a Powerlifting gym, Gymnastics facility, or running club. The addition of “strength programs” in CrossFit started to get popular after the 2008 CrossFit Games when all of the workouts (except one I think) went short and heavy. This was programmed as a spontaneous solution to get the unexpected surplus of Games participants through every workout in enough time. As a result, lots of CrossFit coaches started to bias the strength portion of fitness because they were behind on the standard of CrossFit expressed by the Games. If the 2015 Games replaced all heavy workouts with moderate weighted met-cons, a shot put event, and a wraastling tournament nobody would program additional barbell strength into daily workouts. It’s a trickle-down effect.

I have a few issues with traditional strength programs. First, they have the word “strength” in them. This is completely a personal thing and has nothing to do with the quality of their program. But in my eyes, the strength they cover is only a portion of the Strength an athlete should develop (even though it does help). It kind of skews the term “strength” to the general training public. This is also why I don’t like the word CrossFit in the CrossFit Games. Again, just a personal thing and not to be taken too seriously.

Secondly, they are limited in their approach by only working with a barbell (or a barbell-type substance). Not only are they taking away from practice at other expressions of Strength, but by extension, taking away from overall fitness (even if fitness is not your goal, improving other factors helps Strength). Here’s another way to look at it: If I were to implement a Barbell strength program at the gym, it would be something by Louie Simmons. As far as I know, nobody in the free world makes heavier barbells move than his guys. However if I were to implement a Strength program for the gym, it would be something a male gymnast team was doing. In my opinion, they are the Strongest athletes on the planet and their movements develop more flexibility, coordination, accuracy, and balance.

Finally, the argument that traditional Barbell strength programs are the only way to get strong annoys me more than anything. It’s like saying playing basketball is the only way to get good at sports. To assume that their specific rep scheme of 3’s and 5’s is some magic formula is dim. In reality, every time you lift something you are getting stronger. 5x5 squat makes you stronger. 21-15-9 cleans and ring dips makes you stronger. Climbing a rope five times makes you stronger. If one day you lift 95 pounds and are sore afterwards and next day you lift 95 pounds the exact same way but are not sore afterwards, you got stronger. It is that limited view of Strength which ultimately leads back to fitness that causes injury and stalls in athletic development.

Our goal is to build as much Strength as possible without taking it out of context of what it is actually needed for – a foundation to move. Since there are nine other areas of Fitness to worry about, we do not do an additional Strength program. (In fact, I would do CrossFit Endurance before something Strength oriented because we need it more and it’s probably the best specialized program out there.) So until then, we patiently progress them all as inclusively as possible. When specializing, something has to give. And in the frame of people who don’t specialize, our “traditional” strength numbers stack up pretty well because of our understanding of upper case Strength. 

Class Rankings

Here are the 10 general physical skills CrossFit recognizes (which they got from the folks at Dynamax).

Rank them in the order you think is the most important to develop to the least important. 1 being most important and 10 being least important.

What is Strength? Monday at 7 pm

Quote of the Week vol. 80 + New Editorial Alert

"I can teach an idiot to squat in ten minutes"

- Mark Rippetoe

The next mini-editorial Hermione's Law will be published tomorrow at 7 pm. It's kind of one of those Silent Confidence types that I had in the works for awhile but could never figure out exactly what I wanted to say. It dind't turn out as great as I was hoping but I like the title and the overall idea of it.

After that, I have a full-length editorial coming on Monday at 7 pm called What is Strength? As of now, it should also be my last "nerdy/theory" editorial for awhile - they aren't as much fun to write as other stuff. The idea sparked after watching Keyshawn squat in Coach T's 5th hour class on Monday. Later that night I talked to Binno on the phone for almost two hours regarding what I saw. By then it was about 11 pm and I impulsively wrote 5 pages of gold. I just have to clean it up a bit and it will be ready for Monday. The title comes from a one of the staple articles in the CrossFit Journal called What is Fitness? written by Coach Glassman. But here's a scenario to consider:

Let's say my max squat is 135 pounds. Then in after ten minutes of technique work with Mark Rippetoe I was able to squat 200 pounds. Did I get stronger?