Category

Olympic Weightlifting

Understanding the Mid-line

Understanding the Mid-line

The much misunderstood “core”. It might be the most misunderstood structure in the body. There is no way that I can make a real dent on the whole subject in one short post but hopefully I can elucidate you in some small way.

When the average person thinks of “core” (which is actually a great term which has unfortunately been bastardised to the extent that it actively annoys me) it’s usually just abs on their mind. Which is fine, abs are cool, they look great and the 100% have a role to play in performance and aesthetics.

BUT,

Abs and core are not synonymous.

You know that the core is way more than that. When I think of what core training involves I block it as everything above mid thigh and everything below the shoulders (abdominals in the front, paraspinals and gluteals in the back, the diaphragm as the roof, and the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom, inside all of this there is 29 separate pairs of muscles that help stabilise the spine and pelvis (2)). Another way to look at is everything that isn’t peripheral. Whilst I like to define it as above (mid-thigh to shoulders) for ease there is a very strong argument, which I wholeheartedly support, to include the muscles of the jaw and neck into the core, the reason why I’ll cover below (way below, I can already tell I’m going to get carried away.)

Before I go any further into it though what the core is we need to define it’s role as best possible within the confines of this article.

THE ROLE OF “THE CORE”

Whilst there is no common consensus on the exact anatomy, physiology, and methods of how to evaluate a clients “core” functionality, the role on the core is undeniable in terms of proper load balance in the kinetic chain, maximising a persons functional range of motion (proximal stability = distal mobility (7)), providing a base of support for maximises force production as well as protecting the joints by decreasing/minimising joint load, shear, compressive, and translational forces throughout the body (1,2).  From a performance point of view it’s easy to see that there is a huge benefit from training “core stability” but one of the most common pathologies we come across as coaches is a client with lower back pain.

Punjabi has described clinical instability (i.e. instability when there isn’t a structural defect cause which may necessitate surgical intervention) as “the loss of the spine’s ability to maintain its patterns of displacement under physiologic loads so there is no initial or additional neurologic deficit, no major deformity, and no incapacitating pain”(3). Clinical lumbar instability in this sense has been cited as a significant cause on lower back pain (4, 5). A meta-analysis of 39 (this is good) randomised trails that investigated treatment of chronic low back pain of non-specific origin with an exercise intervention found a “beneficial effect for strength/resistance and coordination and stabilisation exercise programs over other interventions (6). It’s worth noting in the same meta-analysis that they found little to no benefit from combining the strength/resistance work with “cardio”. From a purely anecdotal point of view with evidence I’d suggest that this is down to people losing pelvo-lumbar control when one hip is in flexion and the other extension (assuming that the cardio prescribed is running, x-trainer, cycling, swimming) and the stability in around the hips and lower back, so as you’re teaching a more stable, controlled lumbar and hip complex with the strength work you’re teaching a less stable/more unstable hip complex at the same time which results in a conflict of adaptation (the adaptation being what any intervention is actually about) and no real change hence no alleviation of lower back pain symptoms. Again, complete conjecture on my part and would need further study.

Riiiiight, I’m aware that this is getting on a little bit. So a really quick round up of this so far:

  • Core means everything which isn’t arms and legs (and even then it’s a little bit of legs).
  • Building a strong core is hugely important for increasing your CrossFit performances.
  • There is a statistically significant benefit on lower back pain from consistently performing core stability exercises.

More than Sit-Ups and the Breathing-Bracing Continuum,

Looking back to developmental movements when, as babies, you first started moving, the first thing that happened was you start wriggling around like a madwomen and learning to, at a very basic level, activate and control all the muscles above. To quote directly from the work of Kobesova and Kolar,

“This allows for basic trunk stabilization, a prerequisite for any phasic movement and for the locomotor function of the extremities.“(9)

So we know that not only is core stability a prerequisite for movement (from crawling, to walking, to gymnastics and lifting) but on top of that recent research into the “mind-muscle connection” shows that by  understanding what muscles we’re trying to activate, including there position and function, can improve the contraction and activation (10,11).

To start to delve into how we might address “core training” we need to move to a slightly more global view of what the core musculature actually does. As noted above above the core consists of:

  • abdominals and accompanying fascial complex in the front,
  • paraspinals (think lats, spinal erectors (lumbar and thoracic ), traps as a whole and rhomboids) and gluteals in the back (personally I’d like to include hamstrings in here as well),
  • the diaphragm as the roof,
  • the pelvic floor and hip girdle musculature as the bottom including
  • internal stabilisers of the spine and pelvis (External and internal obliques and Transverse Abdominus (TvA), Mulitfidus, Quadratus Lumbrum (QL), Psoas, Illiacus (preferably not to be thought of combined with Psoas (8)), and various ligamental structures that I’m not going into right now).

I’m our case we’ll move away from specific muscle action as soon as possible but before that we need to have an idea about what muscles are working and where they are so we can address bracing and core stiffness with some specificity as well as improved performance

*NOTE: It’s our responsibility as coaches to educate our athletes as much as will help them. I’m not saying they need to read something like this but whatever you can do to help them understand why they’re doing something is a big deal and will help create buy in and trust.*

When anybody talks about core stability a huge part of this can be perceived as “bracing”, defined as:

“anything which imparts rigidity or steadiness”

or

“to furnish, fasten, or strengthen with or as if with a brace.”

“to fix firmly; make steady; secure against pressure or impact”

“to make tight; increase the tension of.”(12)

Whilst it isn’t an exact comparison to what we’re talking about it nicely gets across the message that when we talk about bracing and core stability we are really talking about increasing rigidity,pressure, and tension throughout the body.

And here is finally where we can talk about application!!

When you ask most people who lift about bracing you get a lot of big breathes into the stomach, which is okay. It’s like having half the answer and is way better than hollowing which is, frankly, detrimental to sports performance (13). Application for you is tuning up or down the stiffness you’re creating as it’s applicable to you goal. If you’re doing a 2000m swim then maybe you don’t need to create the same tension as you would for a maximal loaded carry.

I know this isn’t super actionable, at least not straight away, but with some practice and consistent employment of the principles you can learn where and when certain levels of bracing is appropriate. More importantly you should now understand what you’re trying to achieve and why.

References:

  1. Kibler, W., Press, J. and Sciascia, A. (2006). The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function. Sports Medicine, 36(3), pp.189-198.

  2. Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T. and Fredericson, M. (2008). Core Stability Exercise Principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7(1), pp.39-44.
  3. Panjabi, M. (2003). Clinical spinal instability and low back pain. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, 13(4), pp.371-379.
  4. Delitto A, George SZ, Van Dillen LR, Whitman JM, Sowa G, Shekelle P, et al. Low back pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2012;42(4):A1–57. doi:10.2519/jospt.2012.0301.
  5. Long DM, BenDebba M, Torgerson WS, Boyd RJ, Dawson EG, Hardy RW, et al. Persistent back pain and sciatica in the United States: patient characteristics. J Spinal Disord. 1996;9(1):40–58.
  6. Searle, A., Spink, M., Ho, A. and Chuter, V. (2015). Exercise interventions for the treatment of chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clinical Rehabilitation, 29(12), pp.1155-1167.
  7. Mattacola, C., Kiesel, K., Burton, L. and Cook, G. (2004). Mobility Screening for the Core. Athletic Therapy Today, 9(5), pp.38-41.
  8. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.78.
  9. Kobesova, A. and Kolar, P. (2014). Developmental kinesiology: Three levels of motor control in the assessment and treatment of the motor system. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 18(1), pp.23-33.
  10. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Jakobsen, M., Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Colado, J. and Andersen, L. (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(3), pp.527-533.
  11. Critchley, D. (2002). Instructing pelvic floor contraction facilitates transversus abdominis thickness increase during low-abdominal hollowing. Physiotherapy Research International, 7(2), pp.65-75.
  12. Collins, W. (2011). Collins dictionary. London: HarperCollins.
  13. McGill, S. (2009). Ultimate back fitness and performance. p.75-76.

CrossFit Hacks

10 Life-Hacks for the CrossFit Addict


If you’re reading this blog, odds are you’re already neck-deep in the CrossFit Kool-Aid, so I won’t waste your time explaining the whole ‘CrossFit’ thing to you. But that means you’re all too aware that life can be a struggle for the CrossFitter about town. Tearing your hands. Having to explain what CrossFit is every time you mention it (which is frequently). Getting out of bed after Annie. Walking up stairs after Cindy. Having to turn down an invitation to thirsty Thursday  because it’s Fran tomorrow and you need to beat your PR.

Life is tough.

Here are 10 life-hacks to make your day, inside and outside of the gym, a little bit easier. These aren’t wishy-washy ‘eat clean’, ‘trust the process’, ‘take a rest day’, ‘work on your weaknesses’ type hacks. We all know them, and we know we ignore them. These are real-life, genuinely applicable hacks to make your CrossFit lives easier.


#1 Accessory Successory

More accessories means better CrossFit. You perform better with knee sleeves, wrist wraps and headbands on. You just do. You’re sure of it because of that one winter when your knee hurt a bit and now you need knee sleeves for every WOD. Unfortunately, CrossFit makes you sweat. Sweat breeds bacteria. Bacteria smells like ass. Ergo, your accessories smell like ass.

The solution: don’t put on a special cold-wash cycle for these little things. Take off your knee sleeves, wrist-wraps and other fabric accoutrements in the shower, pour some shower gel on them and give ’em a stomp. They’ll be dry and smelling sweet by the next day ready to wear again.


#2 On your knees

Speaking of knee sleeves, they have another purpose other than smelling like death and protecting from imaginary injuries.

Got a lunging WOD coming up? While the rest of the class bumbles around getting a mat – which they will then repeatedly trip on throughout the workout – slip on a pair of thick, cheap sleeves and your knees will be nice and protected wherever you may lunge.

Rocktape currently has a sale on their KneeCaps (true as at 26th Aug 2018) and are selling them for £12.99 per pair (not per sleeve as is often the case).


#3 Fail to prepare (your nutrition), prepare to fail!

(Get ready! Shameless self-promotion coming up)

Most of us do CrossFit because we want to look good naked. Unfortunately the hard part isn’t the WOD, it’s the other 23 hours of the day. If you’re not fuelling properly, you’re not going to get the results you want.

If only there was some sort of shop, cafe or ‘refuelling bar’ right in the gym. Oh wait, there is!

You can get NOCCO, coffee and various protein-infused treats at SE11 and CFL, or in the Shake It bar at CFL you can pre-order your shakes before the workout and pick them up on your way out (after you’ve taken your knee-sleeves for a shower).

Even if you don’t buy something from the gym, eat something. Anything.


#4 Don’t hang your WOD from the end of your rope

Have you ever been mid-way through a WOD only for the fastener to come off your skipping rope and ruin what was bound to be a white-board-topping time? If not, odds are you’ve seen it happen to someone else and watched them scrabble around on the floor trying to find their little rope screw fastener thingy.

Are you planning on growing any taller? No? Then you don’t need your rope to be adjustable anymore. Superglue down the plastic nubbins at end of your rope and you’ll never have to worry about it coming apart again.


#5 Peeing clearly

We workout, we sweat, we lose fluids, we drink more. But even before you did CrossFit, odds are you weren’t drinking enough water. Now that you are, the likelihood is that your water deficit is even greater.

While you’re at work, have a 2 litre bottle of water sitting on your desk as a constant reminder to drink. That two litre bottle needs to be empty by the end of the day. When it is, fill it back up, pop it in the fridge, and it’ll be ready for tomorrow.

Or better yet, buy our exclusive CFLDN water bottle and be the envy of your friends and super-hydrated at the same time.


#6 Hipster Hair Hack

A few years ago this hack would have been aimed almost exclusively at the ladies, but with the rise of the man-bun, this is no longer the case.

If you have long hair, you’ve likely had your ponytail come loose during a WOD, or got it caught under a bar bringing it down onto your back, or even been stupid enough to trap yourself under a foam roller. Don’t be that guy (or gal).

Leave a few spare hairbands around your water bottle, so that you’re never caught short during your next hair-related emergency.

Man-bun don’t look so silly no more, do it?


#7 You call that a knife? This is a knife!

Thick, hard calluses tear.

Thin, soft ones don’t.

Torn hands = no CrossFit.

You do the maths.

‘Corn and callus knife’ available at Boots to shave down those thick bits o’ nasty skin.

Make sure to replace the blade frequently and don’t be too aggressive with it! It’s still a knife.


#8 Double deadlift hack

I heard once that more injuries in the gym come from loading and unloading bars with careless form, than they do from the actual lift. That may or may not be true, but the next time you load a bar consider what your spine looks like vs how it looks when you perform the deadlift.

Love them or hate them, at some point you’re going to have to pick up a heavy thing at the gym. Whenever deadlifts roll around, first thing you should do is pick a spot by the plate stack. Save yourself time shlepping plates back and forth by loading up right next to the stacks.

Next hack: loading and unloading. You only have two hands to lift the bar off the floor and slide new plates on at the same time, which gets tricky as things get heavier. Don’t bother buying a deadlift jack; save yourself some time and money and grab a 0.5kg plate. Roll your loaded bar onto that plate and it will raise the bar a few millimetres off the floor, and enough that a plate will slide on or off with ease.


#9 Get a grip

Are you using a hook grip yet? No? You’re an idiot.

You know those CrossFit fail videos where someone wrenches a bar off the floor, only for their hands to slip and then they fall on their ass? Odds are they weren’t using a hook grip. There’s not an elite-level CrossFitter or Olympic Lifter in the world who doesn’t use this grip. You should be using it too.

If you’re not using it yet, here’s how to start:

Every time you pick up an empty bar and the class starts doing drills, do it with a hook-grip (see picture). Then go back to your normal grip when you add weight. It will hurt, but it won’t hurt forever. Do this for a few weeks and eventually the hook-grip will feel like second nature and your regular grip will feel weird.

But it won’t happen until you do it. Start light. Stick with it.


#10 He ain’t heavy, I do CrossFit

I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve been doing partner-carries all wrong. Forget piggy-backing. Piggy-backs are for babies and pigs (presumably).

Check out this video which explains the Fireman’s carry.

(Recognise the gym? That’s what Malcolm Place looked like in 2011!)


 

Why you need to get an assessment?

As you guys and girls may or may not know I’ll be running assessments for the people who want them. But this raises a very pertinent question:

Why should you want an assessment?

Which is perfectly valid. You should really question everything and know why you’re doing stuff. What will the assessment tell you that is worth knowing? The easy answer is it tells you your strengths and weaknesses. At least relative to yourself if not in absolute terms.

Alas, easy answers are, as per usual, not good enough.

Knowing your why your goal is your goal and Key Performance Indicators

To get to understanding the reason to get an assessment we need to start with or figure out your “why” (not really related to Simon Sinek but also if you haven’t read “Start with why” you really should).

Why are you at CFLDN? What are you trying to get from your membership?
This can be anything, it’s your prerogative. Anything from just wanting to enjoy the community to competing at the games is a legit goal but have wildly different applications in terms of assessment. If you already know why you’re here congratulations for being ahead of the curve. If not, take a couple of days to have a proper think about it.

A goal comes with Key Performance Indicators (KPI), those things that are crucial to achieving the desired outcome. Then we have Secondary Performance Indicators (2KPI), those things central to the KPI’s. Tertiary Performance Indicators (3KPI), at which point you understand the concept.

This is where we come to the need, or not, of an assessment once you have unearthed what your goal is. Is your goal at all performance related? I’d define pretty much anything that includes the term “improve” as performance:

  • Improving body composition (losing fat and retaining/building muscle)
  • Improving Fran times
  • Improving strength
  • Improving mobility
  • etc. it’s not an exhaustive list.

If your goals are ANYTHING like this then you need to get an assessment to find out where you are. When you know where you are you then can see what KPI, 2KPI, and 3 KPI’s  you’re weak in and therefore where your training and programming needs to be focussed.

What the assessment involves:

This is what the assessment process will test so you can see that once that’s done we have a VERY complete picture of where you are.

Energy Systems: The ways in which the body produces the energy to work.
Aerobic System: The recovery system for higher output work. Also used for lower output and longer duration work. Primarily fat and oxygen as fuel source.

Glycolytic System: The short-term energy that’s used to fuel near maximal intensity work for upto 3 minutes-ish. Sugar is it’s primary fuel source but it’s also worth noting when Hydrogren + ions are produced as a by-product it inhibits muscle activity. So too much time in this energy system range and without a sufficient aerobic capacity to clear the H+ results in a very quick and significant decrease in performance

Phosphor-Creatine System: The MAX energy system. When your body needs to produce the highest output possible it needs the the potential energy that comes from the PCr uncoupling to provide immediate fuel. The reformation of PCr needs energy produced by the aerobic system. This means that if you want to consistently produce maximal effort outputs you need both a highly developed PCr system AND and highly developed Aerobic System

Strength:
Strength Endurance: A muscle or group of muscles ability to repeatedly produce non-maximal force

Maximal Strength: A muscle or group of muscles ability to produce the most force

Power: The ability to produce high force rapidly
Movement:

Low Threshold Non-Fatigued: Unloaded, slow, low skill movements without fatigue

Low Threshold Fatigued: The same movements under a state of fatigue

High Threshold: Movement which is fast, heavy, complex or a combination of any 2 or all.

(Potentially) Mobility/Stability/Flexibility:
Joint-by-Joint
Muscles
Static Posture

Tying it all together

This is the important part. Once the assessment is done we can create a visual representation of where your strengths and weakness are, we can compare that to your KPI stream and then build an individual program for you that’ll address the KPI’s and build where needs it. Which brings us back round to the programming 101 and how to write programming by adaptation.

If you want to come book in for your assessment all you need to do is email me ( alex@crossfitlondonuk.com )

Programming 201

In the previous instalment we went over how to create the starting point to build your own gym program. Today we’re going to look at how you can use the data you collect to inform decisions about how to adjust the program going forward.

If you can take 10 minutes go back and read through the Programming 101 article to understand this in context. If you’ve already read it, well done, I’ll quickly remind you what the key points are so your memory is refreshed

  • Get assessed – hire someone or do it yourself. Figure out where and what your problems are
  • Know what adaption it is that you want to make – Have A, that is 1, clear goal.
  • Volume and Intensity – Make sure the total number of repetitions you do fall in the right zones (to start with) and the weight on the bar is in the right area to achieve the adaption you want.
  • Pick exercises that appropriately fulfil your desired adaptation goals, sets, reps and intensity. – simply put, pick exercises which fit the above criteria.
  • Keep going until it stops working.

Because you guys are manifold there is no way I can guess what your program looks like so instead I’m going to talk about the next step in terms of principles.
Let’s make a few assumptions:

  • You followed the structure I laid out for creating a program
  • You kept track of the data in a spreadsheet
  • You kept going until you stopped seeing your numbers increasing at the same Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Which puts you at the point where you’ve kind of stalled. You’re not seeing an increase in the weights you’re using whilst maintaining the same RPE. We’ll work from this point.

Step 1: Take a transition block.

You’ve probably heard about this importance of “deload” weeks. That is regularly planned blocks of time where you back off from higher intensity work in an effort to manage fatigue. If you’re fatigued, you aren’t recovered, and you won’t recover as well workout to workout.

A transition block is a similar method of managing fatigue but instead of being at an arbitrary time, an arbitrary length, and an arbitrary decrease in volume/intensity you’ll look at refining it just as much as you do the developmental blocks.
Let’s take a step back and address how we control the block lengths.

In Programming 101 Step 5 was to stick with it until you stopped progressing. In other words, keep going until you find out how many weeks it takes you to stop seeing results from a certain training stimulus.
For example if we use an arbitrary 6 week developmental block where you train using the same stimulus (program) for 6 weeks it will work for some people. But what happens if you stop seeing improvements after 3 weeks, you adapt really quickly? The last 3 weeks are wasted time where you could have transitioned and almost completed another development block. What about if you would of kept seeing progress if you’d stuck to the program for 9 weeks? If you stopped after 6 weeks you’re missing out upon 3 weeks of potential gains.

Neither scenario is great.

That’s why I’m asking you to track the data and have an actual time frame which is personal to you. For the sake of argument lets just say we hit it on the head with the 6 weeks.

You have a 6 week window to peak adaptation. So you can work about 6 weeks before you plateau.

We then take approximately 30% of the your window to peak adaption time as a transition block, 2 weeks in this case. If you took 9 weeks you would have a 3-week transition block etc. etc.

In terms of what happens on the transition block, the goal isn’t just to reduce fatigue. The key is to re-sensitise to the desired training stimulus. If you’re been working hard to create a strong signal to your body to grow muscle, then the stop in adaption means you are desensitised to that stimulus.

Whilst then we can manage fatigue through dropping the volume and intensity there is a call to change the stimulus as well. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something that allows the body to recover a little. For example, if you’ve been working purely on strength in the transition window you might look a little more at explosive power work or being more athletic overall, if you were looking purely at increasing size then your transition might be some kind of strength work?

Transition Protocol:
Length: 30% of window to peak adaptation length

For Strength goals reduce the average training intensity by 30%, the volume by 10%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, hypertrophy, speed)

For Size goals reduce the average training intensity by 10%, the volume by 30%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, strength, capacity).

Once you’ve completed the allotted time for the transition block you can go back into a development cycle (or peaking block).

NB – just because you’re changing the training stimulus slightly doesn’t mean that you can ignore the sports skill. If you’re a powerlifter or a weightlifter, then you still need the competition lifts (or close variation) in the transition block but you’ll just have them in a slightly different place.

Step 2: Making a new Development Block with changes

This means going through steps 1 through 5 again of Programming 101. The changes come however by making small changes based upon your training data. To understand what changes you should make comes down to understanding your weaknesses and where you’re failing.

In turn this comes down to the assessment step.

In “Programming 101” I mentioned how we take videos and observe lifts to find out where they fall apart and from this infer where what areas and exercises might be best. You should be running this exact procedure again.

Variables you might want to look at altering might include

  • Intensity ranges
  • Volume
    • Daily
    • Weekly
  • Exercise Selection (including variation)
  • Lift phase emphasis (eccentric focus, isometric focus, concentric focus)
  • Unilateral vs Bilateral

Etc. To get the most out of this you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it and on your spreadsheet (which is why you should really have a coach). With this type of data collection and analysis we must take something of a Bayesian approach. Bayesian inference, in a very basic way, says the more data we collect the higher the probability a correct inference can be made. Or, the more data we collect the clearer the picture becomes.

The classic example is firing photons at a “target” through slotted paper. At first the results appear random. They show up on the target in no clear pattern. But as more and more photons are “fired” the outline of the slots appears progressively more defined. Basically you’re more data increases your resolution.

In real words what’s this means is the more data we collect, the more development cycle you run, the better picture you can build up of what works.

Take a look this snapshot of training data:

This is a macro view of a few squat variations (we didn’t start running good mornings until later in the year) and their relationship with the competition lift.  As you can see this is a VERY small sample size but we can probably that in this situation pause squats help and eccentric squats help. Potentially blocks of paused squats FOLLOWED BY eccentric squats help more.

Now lets say we have 20 or 30 cycles of training data we’d have a very clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. Knowing this you can then program being able to make strong inferences to what will work. This being said the human body is an open system so just because you do “A”  and it works really well in January doing it again in November doesn’t ensure the same.

Considerations

This way of programming takes time and for the first few blocks isn’t any clearer than traditional programming. The key is consistency to one goal over time, collecting the data and making sure you then look at it to see what’s working.  If you see that every time you add in heavy deadlifts your deadlifts goes down then you know that may be high intensity deadlifts aren’t the key for building your deadlift no matter what people say. Likewise, if every time you add in a paused bench press you hit new maximal numbers then maybe you every time you plan to hit a new record the block before should include paused bench press?

If you really want to make the most of the effort you put into the gym you should make the effort to stick with the programming and learn what works for you. We live in an age now where no one has the time to do this which leaves you two options

  1. Make the time
  2. Pay someone to do it for you

If you have the expertise and time then it’s very much worth learning for yourself. If you don’t you should hire a coach whom understands the training process but remember when you hire a coach they’re the expert, but you are the boss. If it’s not what you want or how you want there is always another coach out there.

Programming 101

The goal of getting in the gym and working out is to change your body. It doesn’t matter what the change is, you just need to understand that you’re there, primarily, to see a change to your body in one way or another.

Typically the goal for most people is to look great naked. For others it is to be strong or improve sports performance. Maybe even a combination of all the above.

You need to figure out what your reason for being in the gym is before you even start thinking about writing your own program. Only once a goal is in place can you start planning how to achieve it.

And that is all programming is.  A long-term plan, structured in such a way to bring about (or at least advance towards) the stated goal. It can be as complex as the below to take Hikaru to the IPL Worlds

Or as simple as do 5 sets of 5 reps and each week add 2.5 kg.

Both are legitamate programming style and effective for the right person. What we are interested in though is giving you the tools to let you build the right program for you to get you to your goal.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Disclaimer: Whilst the will be as simplied as possible it is expected that you understand some basic programming principles

What you will need:

  • Excel or another spreadsheet software to track your numbers (at a push you can go pen and paper but it’s going to get complicated VERY quickly).
  • The patience and self-belief to stick to the plan you wrote
  • Self-awareness to admit to yourself what has and has not worked. You will not ever write the perfect program, best realise it now.

For the sake of ease, we’re going to assume that this program is being written with the goal of building maximal strength in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. I’m choosing this because even if the goal is merely to look good naked or as complex as building sports performance you can do much, much worse that getting brutally strong.

Whenever you’re looking at planning anything it’s always worth measuring twice and cutting once. Know what you’re dealing with to start with, where your faults and weaknesses (both physically and technically) are, and be realistic about it. Very few people are going to go from not being able to execute a competent bodyweight squat to a 100kg back squat in 12 weeks.

Step 1: Assess yourself (or hire someone to):
If you don’t know what this means its best that you hire a great coach with a track record of producing high level athletes to do this for you. If you have an idea what you’re looking for but aren’t quite certain then I’ll suggest:

  • Video 3 to 5 doubles (2 reps) of squat, bench press, and deadlift above 90% of your max. The goal here isn’t to impress yourself with half reps but to give you a realistic idea of where your lifts are falling apart
    • Squat
      • Watch out for your chest and bar staying still but your hips raising. This is a very common fault and usually can be attributed to a technical understanding issue or weak quads.
      • Not reaching depth, it’s not down to poor ankle mobility or tight hips. You’re just weak or lazy. Drop the weight and work for the long-term results
      • Are you rounding your upper or lower back? Then your need to address how strong your trunk is. If you’re not strong enough to keep a position constant through the lifts then something needs fixing there.
      • Knee collapse, a lot of people are very quick to jump in and shout weak glutes at this but more likely you’re letting your feet do something wrong. Work on planting your feet strongly and screwing them into the floor.
    • Bench Press
      • Are you not managing to reach the bar t your chest every single rep. Lower the weight sunshine. You’re just not strong enough for that weight yet. It’ll come but for now focus on moving a load that you can do well and recover from.
      • Missing or grinding reps halfway up could be down to a weakness of the chest or lacking speed off the chest.
      • Not quite being able to lock your arms out at the top. This would be an unusual issue to come across in a normal gym but it could be down to weak or fatigued triceps.
    • Deadlift
      • Can’t even get the bar off the floor
        1. It’s too heavy
        2. Your set up is wrong
        3. Your core is too weak
        4. It’s probably too heavy
      • Can’t squeeze your hips through to stand up straight at the top means that your butt is weak, or you’ve taken too much time to get the bar that far. You have the video make the call
      • If you drop or feel like you’re going to drop the bar then your grip strength is letting you down.
      • And obviously any deviation from a long, straight spine position means that all of the first points fixes AND you need to check your ego because it’s going to get you hurt.

Step 2: Know what adaptation you want to create

The most common error I see in watching amateurs (and most professionals) do their own programming is that they program by exercise. You MUST program by adaptation. I’m going to say it again so you really get it

YOU MUST PROGRAM BY ADAPTATION

To explain what this means. You need to understand that the exercise isn’t important, what is important is getting to the goal. The goal is the goal. The goal is always the goal. So if my goal is to have the best squat I can but what’s holding me back is quads so week I’m not even being able to hold a good position to squat then whilst my skill work might be looking at building a great squat at a lower intensity (utilising whatever technical squat progressions you adhere to) the strength work doesn’t have to be based on squatting it can just be building quad strength in whatever way works for you.

To bring this back to programming by adaptation. In this case the change that we are looking for in increasing quad strength, how we get there is completely up to you. You are not tied to any exercise, you don’t have to do any exercises. You HAVE to do what gets you the changes in your body which gets you closer to your goals.
In step 1 when I explained the common faults in the squat, bench, and deadlift it should have given you some clues to what adaptations you are trying to create.

Step 3: Volume and Intensity

This can be thought as simply as sets, reps, and weights. You need to be using the right ones for the right adaptations. There is a few ways to do this. Something like Perilipin’s table:

Where there is up and down sides. Upsides it’s super simple to use and laid out in convenient blocks based upon adaptation and % intensity. Downsides, just because a % intensity is written in at these sets, reps doesn’t mean that is the adaptation that works for you personally.

The other option is to go back to the work of Helms and Morgan where the prescribe doing a total of 40 to 70 reps per muscle group per session and hitting each muscle group 2 to 3 times a week (so 80 to 210 reps per muscle group per week). If the goal is strength 65 to 75% of these reps should be at a greater intensity than a weight you can lift 6 times (that’s 52-60 reps and the bottom end and 136 -168 reps at the top end per week at above 6 rep max).  And the rest of your numbers at between your 6 and 12 rep maxes. Conversely if there goal is for muscle size then there proportions of sub and supra 6RM is inverted.

My personal preference is to use Helm’s method and a baseline and build from there.

Step 4: Pick exercises that appropriately fulfil your desired adaptation goals, sets, reps and intensity.

This is where you can start considering exercise selection. But you must be clear about your personal selection bias as well as what exercises are appropriate at what rep, sets, and intensity ranges. Furthermore, there must be consideration as to what the crossover in terms of muscle groups used in different exercises throughout the week. It’s very easy to overload the lower back when you forget that it’s a significant player in the majority of lower body movements.

To work through some short examples. It might sound great to consistently use a back squat for all your movements. After all it covers most of the lower body and lower back. Practically however have you ever tried to do multiple sets of 12 rep max set of squats at the end of a week where you have already done 150 heavy reps. The injury risk and just plain uncomfortableness makes it a bad choice. Maybe at this point you might be better off adding in some quad isolation work or leg press.

This lean towards machine and isolation work becomes even more noteworthy when you start adding in other movements, such as deadlifts, and, as previously mentioned, the lower back starts being used more. It suddenly becomes extraordinarily easy to do 300 reps of lower back work inevitably running into soreness and injury.

Step 5: Repeat the week until you stop improving

This is where you need the tracking and self-control. If you have followed the above instructions and used a little bit of good judgement, then you’ve made a pretty solid week-long program. The only to do now is to repeat it until it stops working.
This might sound counter-intuitive to do the same thing but if it’s working and you’re getting better than it’s nonsensical to discontinue. There is, however, a caveat. The sets, reps, intensity and exercise selection stay the same, but the weight should go up as needed.

This needs the introduction of a paradigm shift.

Intensity, whilst guided by % now becomes a how hard you’re trying. Say you must do 3 sets of 5 reps of squats in the first week at 80% you need to rank on your spreadsheet how hard you tried. The next week you should try work at the same difficulty but hopefully with more weight. I have people rate between 1 to 5 AND from “Easy” to “Pushing the limit” but it’s just as good to say you worked at an 8 out of 10 difficulty or a 7 out of 10 difficulty.

Please bear in mind that learning how hard you’re working out of 10 in a skill just like squatting and will take you a long time to learn. If every week the weight doesn’t go up that’s ok, if one weeks it goes down that’s also okay the trend however should be upwards (track this on a graph on your spreadsheet for ease).

When the trend stops going upwards you can consider these exercises spent for the time being and it’s time to redo the whole process again.

  1. Sale, D.G., Neural adaptation to resistance training. Med Sci Sports Exercise, 1988. 20(5

Suppl): p. S135-45.

  1. S tone, M., S. Plisk, and D. Collins, Training principles: evaluation of modes and methods

of resistance training–a coaching perspective. Sports Biomech, 2002. 1(1): p. 79-103.

  1. S choenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of Low- Versus High-Load Resistance Training on Muscle

Strength and Hypertrophy in Well-Trained Men. J Strength Cond Res, 2015.

  1. S choenfeld, B.J., et al., Effects of different volume-equated resistance training loading

strategies on muscular adaptations in well-trained men. Journal of Strength and
Conditioning Research, 2014.

  1. G entil, P., S. Soares, and M. Bottaro, Single vs. Multi-Joint Resistance Exercises: Effects

on Muscle Strength and Hypertrophy. Asian J Sports Med, 2015. 6(2): p. e24057.

  1. R obbins, D.W., P.W. Marshall, and M. McEwen, The effect of training volume on lowerbody strength. J Strength Cond Res, 2012. 26(1): p. 34-9.

Olympic Lifting Competition & September Social

The good weather’s pretty much gone, the nights are drawing in and summer is all but over. But all is not lost, there’s still much to look forward to at CFL.
Put Saturday 30th September in your diary; CrossFit London is hosting it’s latest in-house competition followed by the September social.

The Olympic Lifting Competition

From 13:30 onwards on Sat 30th we will be holding an Olympic Lifting Competition in 9 Malcolm Place, open to all CFL members and all levels of ability. Whether you’re an Olympic Lifting or Heavy Metal Club mainstay, a Level 2 regular or CrossFit London newbie, get involved.
The competition will start at 12:30, when you will be weighed in (in private) and then asked for your opening lifts. The back room of 9MP will be your warm up area, with first lifts will be at 13:30. You will have 3 attempts at the Snatch then 3 attempts at Clean and Jerk taking your highest total out of the 3 of each and adding together to be given a ‘total’.
IMG_5042Example:
Snatch: 60/65/67x
Clean & Jerk: 85/95x/95
The best Snatch was 65kg and the best Clean & Jerk was 95kg after missing it once. Total: 160kg.
It will be scored on the Sinclair Coefficient, which is an equation taking bodyweight into account before giving you your final score. We will also adjust scores for Masters aged 35 and over (yep, sorry you’re a “master”).
Lifts will be judged to weightlifting standards, so no ‘CrossFit lifts’ (e.g. no press outs). However, power cleans and power snatches will be fine, so don’t worry if you struggle to hit that perfect squat snatch; catch it with straight arms and you’ll get 3 white lights.
 
Who can participate: any current CrossFit London or CrossFit SE11 members
Date: Saturday 30th September 2017
Time: Warm up from 12.30. First lift 13:30. Finish around 15:30
Place: 9 Malcolm place
Book in: You can book your spot just like a normal class on MBO.
Email joe@crossfitlondonuk.com if you have any further questions.
Anyone who wants to get involved, but doesn’t want to compete, I’ll need volunteers on the day to film lifts, take pictures and to load the bars. Let me know if you’d like to help out.

The Social

IMG_2598The social will officially start at the same time as the competition at 12:30; competing can be nerve-wracking so we want as many supportive faces and cheering squads as possible.
But if you can’t make it for lift-off at 13:30, come down at any time. Alcohol will be provided like last time (although you should probably bring your own).
I suspect, like last time, when the alcohol runs out we’ll find a suitable establishment to move on to.

What's level 3 about?

One of the weird classes we run is  Off peak level 3. It requires no special skills to join as its an “output” class.
As an output class it focuses on your ability to  develop barbell and skill cycle whilst introducing the ability to do 2 wods.
To achieve this you simply need more time.
Snatching and the Olympic lifts really respond well to leisurely deliberate practice. The off peak 2-hour level 3 classes allow this.  Work, rest reflect: get quality practice. Often we olympic lift  for 45 minutes. After this, we work on “those skills”.  Everything from muscle up to handstand push up. From your 1st one to 5 in a row
To compete and excel you need to be able to cycle these skills( or, do more than one) Level 3 gives you the time to rest and repeat. It’s crucial. Then it’s on to 2 Wods.
 
We need to start to develop your ability to “back to back” workouts, even if your second wod is just having a gentle row. It’s as much about building mental capacity as physical.
Any level 2 person can go. The coaching is under your control. You can get lots of coaching help, or be left on your own. You can even switch skills and Woods.
It’s really 2 hours of fun practice with you in charge, but with help, if you want it.
For some, it’s useful that it’s a 2-hour session for the price of a normal class.
Well, its every Monday, Wednesday,  Friday 9 am to 11 am with access to every bit of kit!

Programming reflections

Developing our programming at CrossFit London is about merging the best of consistency with the benefits of variation; all topped off with obvious short and long term objectives.
It’s also about creating establish structures that deliver training gains.
Currently, we have a 3-day structure
Day 1) is titled All Elements and features the full squat version of the clean or the snatch. In the workout any elements can appear. As a regular skill we include some kipping practice
Day 2) is No Shoulder day where we alternate between the front squat and the Bulgarian split, and the back squat cycling with the deadlift plus the 1 legged Romanian deadlift.  The workout is limited to moves that do not include the shoulder. A shoulder rest day our skill focuses on the double under and the pistol.
Day 3) is No Squat day, currently upper-body orientated. We work through weighted pull ups/dips and cycle through the press, push press push jerk. The workout will not include a squat element- it needs a rest. Our regular skill is handstand based. It can be a 45 degree wall walk hold as your first step in getting upside down, to your first handstand push up, to handstand walking.
If you are following this programme, Day 4 is a rest day. However, as a gym with a big community, Day 4 is entitled Off Programme day.  We still schedule a great WOD, skill and strength for those who want to work 5 days straight through,  or it’s the only day they can make.
We are currently testing July’s  draft programme (about 2 weeks ahead of where you are) and are deep in designing the August/September programme. Interestingly, the 2 targets nudging our thought processes are Cindy and Isabelle. This has thrown up 2 issues
Issue 1 . Push-up homework
To achieve 20 rounds of Cindy, you need 200 push ups. It’s that simple and stark. We will prepare you by having push ups scattered throughout our preparatory workouts, but the reality is that you probably need more push-ups that we can ethically put in our sessions.
By ethically, I mean we cannot drag you, our beloved members, across London- often in rush hour- to charge you to do push-ups that you can do at home. Our dips, presses etc support this work. We set them, as in our mind you go to the gym to play with stuff you cannot reasonably have at home.
I have a plea. Over the next few week, please do push-ups at home. I’m hoping this week do 75 push-ups a day, the week after 100, 150, then 200. I need you to own 200.
This can be done as a hardcore task: three sets of 66! But it’s better to think about creating an easy habit. Five before you get in the bath, five in the  Starbucks queue, 10 while waiting for the bus, five before you brush your teeth. Why not post a clip of you  pushing up 9n public on the facebook group. Its now a thing.

When you come to do Cindy, I need you to know, know you can do 200 push ups.
Issue 2 Power snatch/power clean on day 3 WOD
The next issue is the power snatch versus squat snatch. I want to create 2  distinct pathways for these moves.  I want us to consistently pursue the squat snatch as a  thing of beauty, but develop the power/split snatching as the go- to workout move.
Day 1 will alternate (as it has done) between the squat snatch and squat clean. The focus will be on enough reps to develop the best form possible within the  20-30ish minutes allocated. For most, this is enough time to make substantial improvements (self-training and our Olympic lifting classes accommodate those who need more). Sometimes this will be delivered instructionally, other times as reflective individual feedback while you practice.  Often I suspect you’ll be sharing a bar and feeding back to fellow members as you watch them move. Peer coaching, under coaching supervision, can be very very useful as is using your phone’s camera to analyse and check form and spot weird habits in your classmates.
However, in the weeks  leading up to our Isabel test,  on day 3 in the workout, I  will often include a power snatch or a  power clean.
Yesterday we tested Isabel (30 snatches for time) as a day 3 WOD, therefore two days after the squat snatch element on day 1. It worked.  The next experiment will be to have squat cleans on day 1 followed by power clean in the WOD on day 3.  So over the next few months, note the pattern
Day 1  Squat Snatch dedicated session / Day 3 Power snatch in the workout
followed by
Day 1 Squat clean dedicated session / Day 3 power clean in the workout.
Obviously, we will vary the stimulus; different weights, different time domains, dumbbell versions.
Enjoy!