Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When you just don't have it.

If you've been exercising for any amount of time you know that some days you just don't have it.

Gassed. Pooped. Running on empty. Exhausted. 

Regardless of how you say it, it means you are having a tough day. It happens to everybody, myself included. Sometimes you can crush a Spike Energy drink, a Red Bull or even a cup of coffee, and feel good enough to get through you workout. 

Then, there are those other days. You just don't have anything in you. What do you do? Do you go ahead and try and grind out the workout? Do you pack it up and head home? 

If you decide to stick around, what happens? You try and grind it out; your warm up sets feel heavy, your feeler set feels like a max effort, and you get stapled by what was an easy training weight the week before. You get frustrated and wanna work through it, you try and push harder on the next set and tweak a muscle. Now you have had a shitty workout and hurt yourself. Fantastic!

Or, you could just call it quits and head home. Then, you would feel like a slug because you didn't get in a workout. You'd call yourself lazy and weak. You'd beat yourself up about it and feel like shit. 

The other option, is to just do SOMETHING at the gym. Maybe you go through your first big lift (squats, deads, bench, push press, etc) at a much lower percentage than you are used to. Get your blood flowing and your muscles working, then see how you feel. If you feel like dog shit still, then beat it. Go home. Discretion is the better part of valor. If you feel ok, then try out your next exercise. Play it by ear. 

Auto-regulation is a great thing when used appropriately. I'm all for toughing it out and working through things, but sometimes its really just not worth it to push through that shitty feeling. 

Find something heavy. Pick it up. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Crossfit Post

It had to happen sooner or later. There was really no avoiding it. The irresistible force meets the immovable object. I had to talk about Crossfit at some point. The following is purely my own opinion, based on my very limited personal experience with the Crossfit system.

A history...
Crossfit is a training system developed in the mid-90's in California by Greg Glassman. It is a system focusing on General Physical Preparedness (GPP) that has been popularized within the military, police forces and fire departments. Classically, the Crossfit system utilizes a sort of turbulence training effect by having each Workout Of the Day (WOD) be something completely different. Today might be 5 sets of 3 conventional deadlifts, and tomorrow might be 13 muscle ups, 50 burpees and quarter-mile run. They also have "Benchmark Workouts", named for various Crossfit superstars as well as military Crossfitters who lost their lives in service. These serve as a way to measure your progress in the system.

The system revolves around 10 basic fitness tenents: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy. All of their workouts revolve around these basics, and many workouts involve multiple facets. WODs will include cleans, snatches, deadlifts, squats, gymnastics moves, running or medicine-ball work. The idea is to prepare you for anything you might encounter.

Crossfit originally gained popularity through its home page, where anyone could go and see what the WOD was, and follow it on their own. In the last 2-3 years, Crossfit Affiliates have begun springing up all over the country, in massive numbers. The Affiiliates are simply privately owned Crossfit gyms; basically a franchise. People are now more inclined to go to these gyms and pay the membership costs in order to workout with like-minded folks. As of late, many of the Affiliates have begun to do a really good job with supplementing the WOD with progressive-overload style strength and conditioning. Crossfit also holds an annual "Games" where affiliates/individuals from all over the world get together to compete and see who is the best.

The Pro's. 
The most important thing I have noticed about Crossfit is the camaraderie it builds amongst its participants; I LOVE that about Crossfit. The people you work out with become your friends, your teammates and your foes. Working out with these like-minded people pushes you to work harder, thus getting better results. You cannot underestimate the drive that you get from working out in a gym with a great work ethic. The system has Benchmark workouts built into it as a measuring stick, you can always go back and check your progress against yourself. Crossfit also exposes people to many different aspects of fitness; olympic lifts, power lifts, endurance and gymnastics themed stuff.

Crossfit provides a fantastic place for a former athlete to work out that has a similar atmosphere to the weight room in college. Loud, noisy, sweaty: everyone is there to work. If someone goes in the corner and pukes, so be it. Shit happens.

My orginal "Con" regarding Crossfit goes back to how they gained popularity: the homepage. The workouts provided on the homepage can be followed by anybody; any ass-clown at their local Golds Gym can check it out, and then try and complete the workout. The argument against this, is that anyone can look up any workout and go try it and hurt themselves. This is 100% true, but Crossfit workouts become especially dangerous when you use the combination of high reps and technical lifts that are common in their workouts. For example, here is todays WOD.

As an advanced workout? Not bad. For Joe Schmo at Golds? Not a great idea. Overhead squats are a pretty technical lift, and then couple that with an energy sapping explosive lift (squat snatches), an extremely metabolic exercise (double unders) and one of the tougher core exercises out there (toes to bar) for 5 rounds as fast as possible, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster. A Crossfitter will always say "well, the workouts can be adjusted based on level". True, if you go to an affiliate. If Tommy Toughnuts at the gym wants to try a CF workout, and sees that on the homepage, that is what he will try....and he will most likely get crushed, if not hurt.

The technical aspects of many of the lifts, combined with the high rep nature is what many strength and conditioning coaches will point to when asked about CF. Most coaches agree that the technical aspect of the Olympic Lifts require them to be performed at a high intensity with short rep ranges (usually 1-5) that will prevent a breakdown of form. CF, however, feels differently. A recent workout was 3 rounds, round 1: 21 reps, round 2: 15 reps, and round 3: 9 reps. The circuit was 24" box jump, 75# power snatch and chest to bar pullups. So, by the end of the workout you will have completed 45 reps of each exercise, in as short an amount of time as possible. 45 power snatches, as fast as possible? Not a recipe for perfect form, if you ask me.

The other aspect of CF that bugs me is the apparent lack of programming. It appears that the WODs are put up in a fairly random style. I understand that this is where the GPP style of training comes in, but how are you expected to improve if you have no room for the progressive overload system? If you never know when you will be deadlifting again, you cannot improve at it. In fairness, a lot of the affiliates have done a great job with adding in a "strength" component to their workouts. Athletes will often complete the strength portion of the workout prior to doing the WOD. This gives them some time to work on technique and use the progressive overload system to add weight to the bar. The strength portion will often be lifts used to "assist" the athletes in the WOD. For instance; the strength exercise will be a front squat; that way the catch/downward movement phase/drive (essentially a front squat) will never be the weak link.

Maybe I was wrong about Crossfit...

Maybe there are some holes in my theory; like I said, I've never really done Crossfit (I would like to spend some time at a Crossfit gym, though). That is the secret to CF, I believe, being at the gym with other Crossfitters. No, I don't think Crossfit is a system for everyone. I think that everyone should spend some time using progressive overload, as well as the conjugate system for a while to build their baseline level of strength. If you are obese, you need to spend some time working on your metabolic conditioning as a baseline. Throwing someone who has no baseline level of fitness into a CF class doesn't make sense; they still need to work on the basics.

However, I actually do think Crossfit has a lot of benefits; especially now that the Affiliates are so accessible to everyone. This makes it a much more legitimate, in my opinion, player in the fitness industry. Left unguided, someone could really hurt themselves attempting to keep up with WOD on the homepage. Under the supervision and scrutiny of coaches, it is a million times safer. Also, it is nice to see that Crossfit coaches are now coming from the strength and conditioning world; if you peruse the site, a lot of them are now coming with legit NSCA and ACSM and NASM certifications, to back up their Crossfit certs.

Above everything else, you just can't overlook the benefits that the atmosphere and culture has on its participants. I really think an athlete will get more out of a shitty program in a great enviroment then a great program in shitty enviroment. Its just tough to give it your all with 45 year old guys benching 65 lbs and 25 year old women doing 3 lb bicep curls behind you.

In the end, as long as you're lifting heavy shit, you're on the right path. If you do crossfit, or 5/3/1 or Show and Go, you're still doing something!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Planet Profit

So, there has been a lot of talk in the fitness industry about Planet Fitness and their whole advertising campaign as of late. They have a line of commercials portraying some stereotypical bodybuilders in a less-than friendly light.

Frankly, I think it's pretty damn insulting. If Cressey Performance or Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning was to put out a commercial showing them leading an obese person out the door, suggesting that this wasn't the place for them, the shit would hit the proverbial fan.

Fat people would be lined up around the block complaining that this was discrimination, and they should be allowed to work out wherever they want, they are just like everybody else, etc etc. Which is all totally, true, mind you. I think any "fitness" club should allow anyone to work out wherever they please; I don't even agree with women's only facilities. I've worked out in a lot of gyms in my life, and I rarely have seen a situation where a guy was really leering at a girl.

I can't help but feel like Planet Fitness's real intention is not Fitness, but revenue. As this article states, Gym Rat Control, they are run by a very shrewd businessman. The whole idea is that they target people who are not, shall we saw, fitness enthusiasts. These are people that "want" to have a gym membership but know they will rarely use it; so they go buy the $10 per month membership. This allows them to feel good about having a membership, but they also won't cancel when they don't use it because it is only $10 per month. This way, Planet Fitness gets TONS of members who never use the gym and will never cancel their monthly. Boom, instant revenue.

By excluding gym rats, i.e. people who will actually use their membership, they cut out the costs that are involved with a gym that gets heavy usage: cleaning, more staff, equipment. In terms of a business model, its a great idea. As it relates to fitness; its awful.

There is a saying in sports, "to get better, play against people that are better than you." If you only play against people you know you can beat, your game never gets better. If you go down and play against some guys who dunk on you and drill 3's in your eye all day, your game will step itself up. If you only work out in a gym full of fat people, you will never really get fitter. If you are working out around people that are bigger, stronger and leaner than you then maybe you will find some new motivation. Maybe you can <gasp> ask them for help, and can learn something new! Being the fittest person in a gym full of fat people is like winning a gold medal at the special olympics.

Now, go lift something heavier than anyone else in your gym!

Monday, May 9, 2011

THAT Guy at the Gym

Every gym has one. He is that guy. Everyone knows who he is, for better or for worse. He is there 6 days a week, working out. That guy has many qualities, and no two are alike. Some gyms, god bless their souls, have more than one. We have several impostors, but only the one takes the cake.

That guy is tough to explain. The main characteristic is that he is a guy who is, actually, in pretty good shape, regardless of the sanity behind his workout routine.

Our own that guy (lets call him DB) is actually a really good guy. DB is a smart guy, who has time to read up on fitness stuff. He knows enough to wade past the Muscle Mag and Flex magazines, and finds decent blogs to read and gets his info from pretty good sources. DB has no background in Exercise Phys, which makes it tough for him to sift through the endless amount of crap available to read on the internet.

One of the things that makes DB that guy is his status as a beginner to exercise; as long as he sticks to something for 2-3 months he will get some sort of results. This makes the TRX workouts fantastic, and the navy seal circuit training a killer, and the Oompa Loompa designed KB program he is doing now is the greatest thing ever!

Another interesting trait to our DB is what he thinks counts as "ok" at the gym. Theres the time he broke his finger on a plate shadow boxing in the weight room. There is his endless chatter, which mimics a house full of chickens. Above all, though, is the smell. Our DB thinks that rocking the same pair of gym clothes all week is "ok" because he is at the gym, its ok to smell. I agree, being sweaty at the gym is a great thing; and yes, for some people that makes a little funk goes along with it. However, smelling like the inside of a horses asshole does NOT need to occur at the gym. If I can tell you are in the facility by catching a whiff of your stink-trail, that is not a good thing.

This individual had been at the gym for about 2 years before he came to me to use one of his free sessions. I had observed him do his bodyweight circuits, and TRX circuits and his Charles Staley High Density routines, and I decided to teach him the good shit: we went right for squats and deadlifts. You know what? Homeboy didn't know either one. His squat lacked proper depth due to some flexibility/mobility issues. He had never deadlifted and had trouble with lower back rounding. He kept telling me, "oh, I can feel that my left glute medius isn't firing, thats making this really tough, my hip keeps hiking, my quadratus lumborum isn't activated, wah wah wah". 

Excuses are like assholes, they all stink and everybody has one. 

Now, let me say, that some people have legitimate injuries or malfunctions that will not allow them to perform certain movements. He is not one of those people. He reads too much and thinks he knows too much to let him do a strength movement correctly without injuring himself. DB is a great example of a guy that started at 0 as beginner, jumped right over the basic stuff and landed at level 5 with all the High Density workouts and speciality circuits. 

I can't stress enough the importance of starting with the basics. Having a baseline level of strength will make everything you do after that much more effective. Plus, the basic lifts are the best for any level of lifter. Seriously.

Now, go lift something heavy. But make sure you bring new gym clothes with you.