Jul 31st, 2010

Overcoming Stalls

Reminder: classes will be held as normal this Saturday and Sunday at CFO.

Candace Heavy Jerk 2010 NorCal Sectionals

Candace going for a heavy jerk at the 2010 Sectionals. Getting strong overhead requires time, persistence, and smart training strategies.

During the course of any training program gains will cease and certain performance metrics will plateau. How a trainee gets through those sticking points will determine their success during their training careers. It is important to keep in mind that no program will produce gains forever and that as adaptation to training occurs, gains will come more slowly and with greater effort than before. Come to think of it, the reasons for that slowing of progress sounds like a good idea for another post. Look for that discussion next week. For now, let’s continue the discussion on maintaining progress by looking at the shoulder press.

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Jul 24th, 2010

The Importance of Technique

Reminder: Tomorrow, Sunday, July 24th, will be the CFO Swim and Barbecue Party. If you are a CFO member, come. It will be fun. Bring friends and family. It is taking place, thanks to Brad’s generosity, at the Hiller Highlands Country Club.

Chris Riley Deadlift 500 lbs

Chris Riley of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club deadlifting 500 pounds with a double overhand grip for a set of five. Note that his back is essentially in a neutral position, even at this weight.

Moving correctly in the gym can result in improved performance and can help prevent injury. While it is true that strength will often overcome lack of technique, that is not a recipe for success. Likewise, a myopic focus only on technique will not continue to yield gains either. We’ve already discussed strength in two previous articles, so now it is time to consider form.

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Jul 10th, 2010

How Holding Your Breath Can Save Your Back

MJJ Deadlift 2009 NorCal Regional

MJJ employing the Valsalva maneuver in the midst of 22 deadlifts at 315 lbs during the 2009 NorCal Sectional.

Of paramount importance when training with barbells is maintaining the spine’s normal anatomical position. What is normal? When you stand up straight, your spine will assume something of an S-shape if viewed from the side. Near your shoulders, your spine traces the top of the S and demonstrates what is called kyphotic curvature. Your lower back also has a curve, or an arch, referred to as a lordotic curvature. This is normal anatomical position. For the purposes of this article, we are primarily interested in the lower back and keeping it in this extended, normal position when lifting weights.

Maintaining your lordotic curvature when under a load is function of trunk rigidity. The more stable and unmoving your torso, the more efficiently and safely you can transmit force to the load you wish to move. Your spinal erectors will provide isometric support for the spine in the back. The front, or anterior aspect, has only the abdominal musculature, with no corresponding bony structures to maintain stabilization. If you are to more effectively use those abdominal muscles, you need to pressurize your abdominal cavity using what is called the Valsalva maneuver. This is simply taking a big breath and holding it while closing the vocal folds of the throat, known as the glottis.

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Jul 3rd, 2010

How Strength Can Aid Endurance

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Raph contemplating the benefits of strength during an 800 meter run.

The case for strength driving progress on higher intensity, shorter duration conditioning workouts is straightforward. When you need to perform multiple repetitions of a weighted exercise, making it so that load is a smaller proportion of your one repetition maximum will yield performance improvements. Cardiovascular endurance, while important, will not help you deadlift 225 pounds 21, 15, and 9 times for the CrossFit workout Dianne when your maximum deadlift is 250 pounds. What is less obvious is whether strength will have any carryover to more purely endurance activities. Will picking up barbells make you a better runner or cyclist? The answer is yes, although there are caveats.

Your chosen focus in fitness will require specific training geared toward that goal. If you want to be an Olympic weightlifter, you need to practice clean and jerks as part of your training. If you wish to be a runner, you must run. CrossFit competence requires working on CrossFit movements, usually under duress. Lifting weights, or doing other resistance training, can serve to boost performance on endurance activities while the converse is rarely true. In fact, focusing too much on longer, slower distance activities will often cause strength gains to stall or erode. Unfortunately, life is not quite as simple as increasing your squat and immediately reaping faster 10K run times.

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Jun 26th, 2010

Periodization in a CrossFit Context


We discussed the mechanisms that are at work in the balance between making progress and overtraining last week. A trainee must work hard to provide the stimulus to improve, but improvement will not occur without sufficient recovery. Given that everyone does a variation of the same workout and that workouts are programmed on a four day cycle, only one of which is rest, what is the best way to continually move forward while avoiding stagnation or performance regression?

When Mike programs his workouts, he necessarily aims high. The workouts are designed to provide a stimulus significant enough to challenge the fittest people in the gym. Add to this a demanding three on, one off schedule and the tools are provided to make great gains as well as to burn out. Enter periodization.

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Jun 19th, 2010

Stimulus, Recovery, and Progress

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Connie exerting an adaptive stress upon herself.

Lifting weights will not make you stronger, but recovering from lifting weights will. This seemingly simple statement is an important concept to understand if you are to improve your performance. When you exercise, you exert a stress on your body. If that exercise is to be effective in driving progress, it must be sufficiently intense to disrupt homeostasis, but not so intense as to injure you. Provided the appropriate dose of stress is applied, you will first suffer a decrease in performance, followed by a period of recovery where performance begins to improve. Once recovery occurs you will not, however, return to where you started. Instead, you will experience a period of increased capacity termed supercompensation. It is important to note that you will not realize this improved performance without sufficient recovery. In fact, if you continue to apply stress in the form of exercise without allowing for recovery, you will suffer performance decreases that can potentially be long lasting.

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Jun 12th, 2010

Strength and Its Uses

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Freddy making 115 pound thrusters appear like a much lighter weight.

Strength is defined as the ability to apply a force generated through muscular contraction against an external resistance. It is also one of the ten general fitness skills that CrossFit adopted from Jim Crawley and Bruce Evans, makers of the Dynamax medicine balls that provide countless hours of enjoyment to CrossFit trainees everywhere. Of the ten skills presented in the linked article, strength and flexibility, or more generally mobility, form the foundation on which those other skills rely. In order to be a successful athlete you must be both strong and able to move your joints through an appropriate range of motion.

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