Friday, October 30, 2009

Heading to Sweden

So I'm off to Halstad, Sweden for the Scandinavian Crossfit Challenge. That means about 7 hours by train and maybe another 3 by car... long day at the office. They posted the events online and they are interesting. Here's what I have to look forward to.
Day 1:
1 km course run while carrying 16 kg kettlebell
-no details on what the course is
50 double unders
30 ground to overhead (135#)
50 double unders
-you're not allowed to drop the bar from the overhead position
4 minute tabata row for meters
Day 2:
4 minutes to establish 1 rep max deadlift (in kilos)
4 minutes to do AMRAP of air squats
-these go directly together, no gap
-the total kilos will be added to the total squats for the score
final event, unknown
-only the top 3 men and women qualify
The point system is based on placement (best time receives 1 point, 2nd receives 2 points, etc.) So, the 3 lowest point totals after 4 events will compete in the final. All previous points will then be erased so that the winner will take all.
Should be a fun event. If I'm honest, I feel pretty good about all the scheduled events except the deadlift/air squat WOD. I know my top deadlift will be well below the average, but we'll see.
I don't know what the internet situation will be at the hotel, so this could be my last post until Sunday night. Here's a look at where I'll be.
From Desktop

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rest Day

I have been getting progressively more sore as the day has crept on. Last night's workout, the more I think about it, was very different from my usual WODs, perhaps revealing a hole in my programming. Looking back, I've subconsciously categorized squatting with weight as purely a strength exercise, meaning I never do it except on heavy days. Since I've been in the Netherlands, I think I've only included weighted squatting one time in a metabolic conditioning workout, and that was with 100 lb overhead squats during the Lullaby workout. Furthermore, I rarely combine similar movements into the same WOD, instead opting more for oppositional movements. Today, my legs are feeling this neglect.
Going forward I think I will try to include more "similar movement" groupings (squat complexes, clean complexes, snatch complexes, Bear complexes, etc.). In addition, I'm going to try and put variations of complex style workouts into metcon formats to help fill the hole exposed last night. Thinking this over, I came up with a few possibilities that could be great:
-21, 15, 9 back squat, thruster, push jerk, and pushup w/ 135 lb
-10 to 1 SDLHP, power snatch, oh squat w/ 115 lb
-15 minute AMRAP: 5 power clean, 10 deadlift, 5 pullup w/ bodyweight
-10 rounds for time of 5 DB split clean & jerk (ea), 5 DB walking lunge (ea), 10 burpee w/ 1/2 BW
-without rest, repeat alternating 1 minute rounds of BW bench press, ring dips, and reverse burpees until you reach 100 total repetitions
It's cool how one workout can start flooding the brain with new possibilities. I almost wish I didn't have the competition this weekend, because I'd like to try a few of these this week. Oh well... there's always next week.
Spent a large portion of the rest day outside reading and enjoying the fall colors. Then, went to a neighborhood cafe with my neighbor, only to discover they have .75 coffee, free chess boards, and live soundgarden, pearl jam, and jimi hendrix albums playing on loop. We spent 2 hours in there, easily. The first 2 of many I suspect.
From Week 3

Squat it Out

Was definitely feeling the legs this morning after the long metcon and the heavy clean and jerks yesterday. Nothing compared to what they would be feeling later that night, however. I've been half dreading, half anticipating this workout since I came up with it a few weeks ago, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It wound up leaving me completely jello'd.
The Workout looked like this...
With your bodyweight on the bar, do 5 rounds for time:
3 OH squat
6 Front squat
9 Back squat
12 situp
The weight felt fine the first set, heavy the second set, and pretty crushing the rest of the way. The main point of fatigue was my lower back. Moving the weight to the different balance positions was challenging to stabilize internally, and the legs were not having it by the end. Especially on the front squats (possibly residual from last night's cleans), everything was just burning. The situps were a good break, but felt so short-lived every time.
Anyways, I got through it in 11 minutes on the nose, and I don't think I could have done it faster. I didn't take more than a few seconds break between exercises at any point, and my body was aching pretty good. Walking out of L.K.V., I could feel my legs losing it a bit, so I took the walk home slow. In the end, I'm glad to have done it. I just need to get stronger. We'll see what happens this weekend....

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


So I only wound up doing 2 workouts today, but they were good ones.
In the morning...
For time:
1000 m row
800 m run
10 rds of Cindy (5 pullup, 10 pushup, 15 squat)
800 m run
100 double unders
I finished the row in 3:24, not pushing too hard. But my legs were definitely still a little heavy getting out on the run. I think it took a few hundred meters for the cardio vascular effects of the row to kick in, because by the time I hit the pullups, pushups, and squats I was completely out of breath. That continued for all 10 rounds, though I was able to complete them without breaking any sets. The 2nd 800 meters was awful. Could not catch my breath at all. This probably took at least :30 longer than the first just because I couldn't get any air. When I got to the double unders, I had recovered a bit and was able to finish all 100 in 3 sets, stopping the clock at 21:19. This was a tough combination WOD. If I ever do it again, the goal will be 20:00, though I'm not sure where I'll be able to cut 80 seconds.
In the evening...
Establish a 1 rep max clean and jerk.
Hank was back training, so I got some good feedback on what I was doing well/not so well. I finished at 120 kg, 5 kg under my previous best. But, considering the morning WOD, I wasn't too disappointed with this outcome. If the Scandinavian Challenge has an olympic component, I'll feel confident I can get more weight.
To be honest, I'm slightly dreading the workout I've planned for tomorrow. Not really sure how it will turn out, but since it's the last one for the week I've got nothing to save up for.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Scandinavian Challenge

I just found out that a Scandinavian Crossfit Challenge is being hosted in Halmstad, Sweden this weekend. It sounds like a cool event, set up very similarly to the qualifiers for the Crossfit Games. The guys I met in Berlin have signed up already, so I decided to join them. This will be a fun way to explore the northern rim, while meeting more like-minded people. Not to mention the challenge of whatever workouts they decide to pull out of the hopper. It looks like a two-day affair, with multiple workouts each day, so I'll adjust the workout plan for this week accordingly. I'm thinking 3 WODs tomorrow, 1 on Tuesday, then rest the remainder of the week.
I'm looking forward to the competitive atmosphere.

Saturday 10/24

Run 10K.
My neighbor was participating in this transcontinental Nike 10K event, so I decided to join. Along with a few others, we ran to this beautiful huge park that's on the outskirts of Leiden that I never knew existed. I kept the pace up the whole time, probably around 7 minute miles, but didn't have a watch to time the total. I also managed to get myself lost on the trails, so I probably ran a bit further than 10K. Anyways, it felt great to get out and just run. I felt like I was back on the Rock Creek Park trails in D.C., just with cows instead of bums.
From Prague

Friday, October 23, 2009

5 x 5's

I felt good today, considering the heavy workload last night. The workout today was 3 parts:
Weighted chins: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
Bench press: 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
20 minute Erg ladder for calories
The chinups were fine. I was able to get 5 sets solidly with 25 kg on the chain. The pressing was a good as well, I worked up to 125 kg for the last set. The Erg workout was great. Letting the clock run, I increased a single calorie of workload every set, on the minute, until I reached 20 minutes. (in the 12th minute I rowed 12 calories, in the 19th I rowed 19 calories, etc.) The cool part about this is that the machine pauses every time you stop, so that by the end you know exactly how much time you spent actually rowing, thus facilitating a way to determine what your average speed was. This is a good way to compare against someone else, ergo if you both make it to 20 minutes without missing a set, the person with the lower total work time would win. My total work time was 11:20.
From Prague

Establish a Max

Tonight's workout broke down some of the different component parts of the snatch in an effort to develop strength during different stages of the movement, and then build towards a new 1RM of the total movement. It was inspired by some advice I received from Mike Burgener a few months ago, but proved to be a little more than I was ready for. The program was:
Establish a 1 rep max for each of the following:
Muscle Snatch
Push Press to Overhead Squat
Snatch Balance
On the muscle snatches I got up to 60 kg. This is a weird movement that I haven't done much of. In general, I think I prefer power snatches from the hang to work on the top end of the pull.
The push press to Overhead Squat went well. I topped out at 110 kg, which was new OH squat PR for me. I think I couldve gone higher, as well. I screwed up on the pressing portion of the 115 kg attempt, so I never got the chance to squat it.
The Snatch Balance's were considerably less successful. By this point my shoulders were pretty weary, and I just couldn't get comfortable with the movement. The top weight I got was 95 kg. Apparently, you should be able to do 20% over your 1 rep full snatch max. Work to be done, I guess.
The snatches were a joke. I was pretty exhausted by this point, and only managed to get 90 kg. Instead, I spent some time working the technique during the first pull, where I've noticed some forward lean and pre-lift misalignment.
Overall, so-so day... looking forward to tomorrow. Here's a video of the OH squat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What I learned in Berlin, Prague, and Ansbach

My impressions from the 5 days I spent in Germany and Czech Republic are immeasurably positive.
From a personal standpoint, I could not have been better cared for, reaffirming my faith in the qualities of hospitality and generosity so often maimed and left for dead by popular culture.
Further, I was exposed to a range of histories and cultures (German and Czech, urban and rural) about which I previously knew very little. If I had only ridden the train to Prague and back, never getting off, I would have experienced growth.
But from a broader, more global, fitness perspective, I think this trip taught me even more.
First, the motivating forces that propel people to train and keep them coming back are not cultural, they are natural. Cultural forces simply meter the availability of the outlets needed to discover one's natural physical drive. I heard the same success stories and saw the same pride in accomplishment this weekend that I heard and saw during 3 years of personal training in D.C. Miraculous cures for knee pain, decreased lower back stiffness, increased shoulder mobility, strength on the job, increased vitality... these were the things that had made people believers.
I saw the same effort and felt the same enthusiasm here that I saw and felt when I trained at Crossfit affiliates in Fairfax, Virginia or in East Sacramento, California. People were working to exhaustion, breaking through barriers, and building confidence in their ability to achieve. If nothing else, this weekend convinced me that these qualities/motivations are in everyone, regardless of the thick layers of social propriety, cultural taboo, and relative ignorance under which they may be hiding.
Second, Crossfit is growing from the bottom-up. There is no concerted, connected effort through which these various affiliates are being organized. They are pockets with loose, peripheral knowledge of one another, at best. It is through the effort and inspiration of a few individuals that the groups I visited this weekend have come into existence. Yet, they follow similar paths. In what turned out to be a divine stroke of luck, the order in which I visited the three locations (Berlin, Prague, Ansbach) mirrored the relative stages of development each are currently in.
The Berlin group organizes itself through email and facebook contact, with no regular location from which to train. They have Level I certifications but are not official affiliates. They train in parks, schools, and firehouses; in good weather and bad. Their number is modest, but dedicated, and it is held together by the commitment of the trainers, the merits of the program, and the community that is starting to take hold. It doesn't get more grassroots.
The Prague affiliate is a similar product, just slightly more advanced. Zdenek Weig and his wife Keri used Crossfit when they were living in the state of Washington, and didn't want to stop when they moved back to the Czech Republic earlier this year. Soon, they had a group to train with outdoors and around town, but with winter coming they needed a place to call home. After much trial and error, they were able to land a space (which I've previously described) and opened just last week. Zdenek told me his goal was to have 5 full-time memberships by the end of the first month. He had 10 in the first 5 days. His and Keri's dedication, plus the quality of the product, have proven, thus far, to be the foundation for something more than either expected.
Crossfit Ansbach more closely represents what we see in the States. It began when Robert Powell and his training partners Ralph, Simon, and Rolph got "asked" to leave the local globo-gym for making too much noise. Rob is an ex-marathoner, an ex-cyclist, and an ex-body builder. He told me he came across the program in his search for a workout more complete and more fulfilling. In his words, "there had always been something missing, no matter what program it was." When he and the group got bounced from the gym for doing Crossfit WODs, their only goal was to find someplace they could train their way. The purpose for starting the affiliate was simply to offset the cost of the lease and the equipment they would need to escape the silent whir of treadmills and elypticals. Quickly things mushroomed, and, now in their second location, Crossfit Ansbach is over 30 members strong and rising. The community there is so strong that they couldn't stop, even if they wanted to. The classes show up 20 minutes early just to cheer on the group before them...
The third and final thing I'm taking with me from this trip stems from this last observation: Shared physical burdens build community. This is no epiphany, but it warrants attention, nonetheless. Any athletic team I was ever on grew closer after a tough practice, or a hard fought game. There's something about being totally physically committed, and recognizing the same commitment in another, that breeds mutual respect. This is the case in group dynamic fitness as well. My old gym, Balance Gym in Washington, D.C., was more like a family than a business. Members that went through the bootcamps together during the week organized rafting trips, cookouts, and birthday parties together on the weekend. When one member was competing or performing somewhere, everyone was interested, watching, and involved.
The same elements are present and building here. A short example: During the morning session in Ansbach, two “friends of the program” wandered in to check out what was going on, having seen Rob’s car out front. These guys are local painters, and semi-regular members at the affiliate. They did a few workouts early on, after which they chose to contribute their time and effort to helping put the place together for nothing in return. They enjoyed training and wanted to help. The morning I saw them they were messing around on the rings, one doing muscle ups, the other trying, failing, and laughing. They hung around for about an hour and even encouraged Rob, Stefan, and I while we did the Workout of the Day. Their presence was a reminder of how communities can galvanize around just about anything, fitness being no exception.
None of this is meant to say that building such a community is easy, regardless of the location. There are certainly challenges. Resources are scarce (try finding a Dynamax ball or a <$1000 barbell in continental Europe), social structures are resistant to change, and times are tough financially. But, thus far, these are challenges that are being met and overcome, even in the most adverse situations, because the product is valuable and necessary.
Each of the places I visited this trip had a personality. They each had their own distinct interpretation of what it meant to be fit and of what they wanted to offer those involved, while still being under the Crossfit umbrella. This is, without doubt, the strength of the program in my eyes. The principles are strong enough to give guidance, yet broad enough to leave room for creativity. I think this is one reason why there is a promising future for affiliates like Berlin, Prague, Ansbach, and others in Europe. As long as there is a method substantive and flexible enough to challenge the existing "A-physical" culture, there will be individuals and communities willing to embrace it.
From Prague

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Back to Leiden

Before hopping on the 1:00 train back to Holland, I went back to the box with Rob to watch him train another class. It was early, and I was SORE. My body has definitely taken a beating these past few days, and I’m sure all of the train travel hasn’t helped. However, not to be denied, Rob convinced me to join him and his buddy Stefan in one last workout before my trip home. Thankfully, for me, there wasn’t much legs involved. There was, however, more muscle ups. Though I typically would not do an exercise on back to back days, I felt compelled to bend to my host’s wishes and not bitch out.

The Workout:

Part 1 - Establish a 1 repetition max Turkish Getup with your weak arm.

This was fun. We started warming up for control, palming various medicine balls and light kettlebells. I worked up to 24 kg without using the handle. Stefan was able to do the same. Rob, Stefan, and I were all able to perform a repetition with the 32 kg kettlebell as well, the heaviest they currently have at Ansbach. They do, however, have a plate loaded dumbbell. So, I continued up to 42 and, finally, 47 kg before stopping. With my left arm, this was definitely a PR. 47 kg (103.4 lb) is much heavier than I’ve ever been able to do.

Part 2 – 5 rounds for time:

20 double under

10 handstand pushup

5 muscle up

Again, the handstand pushups were the weakness. I felt better than when I did them on Sunday, but still with plenty of room to improve. The last round I had to break the 10 repetitions into 4 sets. I still managed to finish in a decent time, 11:33, but sub 10:00 is definitely the goal here. Stefan finished in 15:28, Rob in 17:28. This gap is due mostly to the double unders, a skill they’ve just started to work on.

After grabbing some lunch with Rob, I was back on the train and heading home. Again, I was overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendliness of the people I stayed with. Rob and Susie were incredible hosts, going above and beyond anything I could have expected. As with Alex in Berlin, and Zdenek & Keri in Prague, I left feeling extremely lucky to have met them.

Here are my pictures from the weekend.

Berlin 2009


Crossfit Ansbach

Monday 10/19


In the AM… This morning Zdenek took me to the newly opened location of Crossfit Prague. It’s located on the bottom floor of a great building, and the space looks like it used to be a cafeteria of some kind. He has the entire floor at his disposal, though only the main room is finished as of yet. It’s got everything you’d need and expect from a top notch box: bars, bumpers, bands, kettlebells, pullup racks, rings, you name it. They’ve only been officially open for 1 week but they’ve already got 10 members that have bought monthly packages.

More than anything, the place just feels cool. There’s a ton of light, high ceilings, and a definite stillness about the place and the area that make it ideal for training.

As we were in a bit of a rush to get me on the train, we came up with a workout that would only take 11 minutes to complete. Naturally, these were 11 pretty intense minutes…

The Workout

3 rounds of 3 minute AMRAP w/ 1 minute rest

5 Sumo Deadlift High Pull

5 Thruster

1 Muscle Up

I used 60 kg, Zdenek used 50 kg. This gassed us both pretty badly… SDLHP and thrusters are a great combination if you want to test your metabolic conditioning. I was sucking for air by the 4th round, and by the end my arms were having trouble keeping the bar racked during the thrusters.

In all, I was able to complete 9 full rounds, plus 5 SDLHP and 2 thrusters.

Zdenek finished 8 full rounds, plus 5 SDLHP and 5 thrusters.

After this I felt like a nap.

But, next thing I knew I was in and out of a cold shower and on the train toward Germany. This was a wonderful experience in Prague, mostly due to Zdenek and his wife Keri’s amazing hospitality. During the course of 2 days and nights I walked practically the entire city, seeing it from above and below, and raising more than a few half liter beers in a toast to the town with one of it’s own. We explored the inside of Prague Castle, including the historic church where countless Czech kings are buried to this day. We strolled the old hunting grounds where the medieval princes and knights spent their summers tracking game. We watched professional Czech League soccer, drinking grog (hot water and rum) to stay warm whilst the die hards to our left burnt opposition paraphanalia in ephegy. Then, in a true send off, I got a kick ass workout at what will soon be Prague’s premier elite fitness location. Seriously… what a weekend.

In the PM… I got off the train in Ansbach, a German small town of 40,000 or so, at around 4:00 and was immediately met by Robert Powell, head trainer and co-owner of Crossfit Ansbach. After a brief stop at his home, where I met his lovely wife Susie, we headed over to the facility for his evening round of classes. At the moment, they run three 1-hour classes nightly: 5:30, 6:30, and 7:30. Although they’ve only been open to the public for 3 months, they’ve already just about outgrown their space. The first class had 9 participants, the second 14, and the third 5. The space they have is built to accommodate 10 at the most, so it took some creative programming by Rob, Ralph, Simon, and Rolph to make it work on this night.

The overwhelming impression I got from watching these sessions was the palpable excitement level of everyone involved. Of course it starts with the coaches- extremely positive, motivating, and intelligent guys, all of them; but the clientele were equally as impressive. Representing an age range from 14 to 80, these people were getting AFTER IT. Having been denied access and opportunity to functional physical exercise, they literally could not get enough Crossfit. Box jumps, handstands, kb swings, knees to elbows… you name it. All of them embraced the challenge of whatever movements they were asked to perform. Granted, with that zeal came some over-eagerness (poor technique, too much clock watching), but no more than what we see routinely in the States. It’s obvious that they have something here, and it’s only going to get better.

After the people had gone, Rob put me through a workout he had pulled from the site of Crossfit Jacksonville. It was as follows:

10 deadlift (60 kg)

20 wall ball

10 hang power clean (60 kg)

20 kb swing (24 kg)

10 front squat (60 kg)

20 box jump (24 “)

10 push jerk (60 kg)

20 pullups

10 back squat (60 kg)

20 burpees

With the exception of a some questionable pullups (definitely didn’t get my chin above the bar on a few early on), this went REALLY well. I never felt like I was all out gasping for air or completely fatigued. My hands ripped during the pullups and my quads were a bit tired from the morning thrusters, but, all in all, the body held up well. I only had to break the sets during the pullups, and ended up stopping the clock at 5:28.

It was a long day, but I will sleep well.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hills in Prague

Yesterday's train situation didn't allow for any workouts, sadly. However, Zdenek (the man whose family I am staying with) did take me on some incredible sightseeing last night. We explored the Prague Castle grounds, including an amazing chapel where a choir was giving a tribute to Frederick Chopin. All kinds of VIPs and high security limited the extent to which we could walk around, but that kind of made it cooler. We walked through the maze of streets that lead down from the upper castle to the Charles Bridge, across the river, and into the heart of Prague. There we stopped in a few pubs for beers, but mostly walked from incredible sight to incredible sight. I attached some photos to the end of this post.
Today, I started the day by walking with Zdenek and his son up Hvezda Park. It used to be a hunting grounds for the knights and kings of the area, but now it is a nature preserve where runners, dog walkers, and hikers can go to get away from the city. The trees and colors reminded me of fall in Princeton.
Zdenek's house is not far from the park, sitting essentially on the middle portion of the hill that leads up to the top. So, while he was helping his kids with some homework, I used the hill for a workout. Walking it out, I determined that the street just next to his house is 160 meters, with a cross street at the 80 meter mark that provides a short flat reprieve. Otherwise, it's about a 15 degree slope the whole way.
The workout looked like this...
5 rounds of:
80 meter hill walking lunge
80 meter hill sprint
10 handstand pushup
Trying to sprint the second half of the hill after lunging the first was pretty laughable, but I managed to make it all 5 rounds without taking my foot off the gas. The handstand pushups got really tough by the 3rd round, first due to my being really out of breath, and second to fatigue. Overall I was really happy with this workout. A little less exciting then the Berlin Fire Department challenge, but still very effective.

Berlin Fire Department WOD

So, Friday's workout was based on the firefighter challenges that are held around the world. The entirety of it is done wearing full gear (boots, suit, oxygen tank, gas mask, helmet, etc). This challenge includes a 4 story climb carrying a 20 kg hose, a 4 story vertical 20 kg pull, 4 story downstairs sprint, a 1.5 meter, 80 kg horizontal sledge pound (using the Kaiser Force machine), a 25 meter hose drag, a zigzag cone run, and a 25 meter rescue drag to the finish line. (I’m approximating the distances from what I could gather from our workout and the videos I checked on youtube.) Alex and the rest of the organizers of the group have been helping the firefighters at the East Berlin station train for this competition, and for the rigors of the job, in general. Today, Mike and the crew were to return the favor and show the group what it was like to undertake some of these challenges, plus/minus a few stairs, meters, and cones.

After a very creative dynamic warmup including heavy bag hand-offs and medball passes, and some technical work with air squats and deadlifts, we headed downstairs to begin.

The Workout:

Part 1- for time (all with 20 kg PA gear)

7 floors up w/ hose (20 kg)

4 floor vertical weighted rope pull (20 kg)

7 floors down

Part 2- for time (all with 20 kg PA gear)

1.5 meter sledge pound on Kaiser Force machine (80kg)

50 meter hose drag (2 hoses plus steel frame)

25 meter rescue Randy drag

Part 1 was hardest during the climb. As one can imagine, sprinting up stairs with 35 extra kilograms of weight will tire your legs out pretty quick. So, by the last flight things were slowing down considerably. The vertical pull was a strength movement, but with a ton of technique. This was obvious when you watch the way I pulled the weight and the way Mike pulled the weight. He was way more efficient and used much more back and hips. This was an awesome exercise that I would love to keep doing, I just can’t figure out where it would work. (Maybe the new pool deck at the Thomas Circle Balance will see some version of this?) Surprisingly, the run back downstairs was difficult as well. According to the rules of the competition you have to touch every stair on the way down, meaning a whole lot of extra steps that require coordination and patience when your body is lacking both.

It took the majority of the group somewhere between 2:30 and 3:00 to finish this series. I did it in 2:00. Mike did it in 1:45.

Part 2 took us outside to one of the storage areas, of which there were many. Inside there were old medballs from the Iron Curtain, kettlebells, hoses, and all kinds of cool stuff for these guys to use. Also in there was the Kaiser Force machine. This is what firemen use to simulate the power needed to chop through walls, doors, etc with their axes. There is definitely a measure of technique involved (a blend between keeping the weight behind your heels and keeping the swings short and fast), but mostly its raw power. I loved this! You’re basically pounding away at this piece of metal as hard as you can until it moves 1.5 meters. As soon as you finish that, we ran outside and dragged 2 hoses connected to a steel box for 50 meters. Legs are now dying. This reminded me of pulling the VW beetle back in Washington, with obviously less resistance. Then, we sprinted back and grabbed Rescue Randy (really heavy dummy simulating a person in need of rescue) and dragged him 25 meters to safety. Legs were like JELLO.

On this series the group averaged somewhere between 1:30 and 2:00. I finished in 1:10, and, again, Mike the fireman smoked me at 1:02.

Doing part 1 and part 2 back to back would’ve been a huge challenge. Then add full fire gear and a mask? Lights out. Major respect to the firemen competing in these challenges.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Just a quick update before I get on the train from Berlin to Prague. Amazing experience last night with the guys here. Their group is completely fluid, meaning they aren't yet tied to any single location. Often their WODs are done in parks or local school gymnasiums, but last night we trained at an East Berlin firehouse. More like a fire complex. This place was enormous with more potential for crazy-creative fitness than anywhere I have ever been. When I have more time, I intend to write a more thorough explanation of what we did, who I met, and what their collective experiences may mean for the growth of fitness, and crossfit, in Europe. I will also include video footage and plenty of pictures. For now, let me just say that I could not have been more impressed with the hospitality of the head trainers (out til 2am sightseeing\eating\drinking), the willingness to work of the group (we were at the fire station for nearly 3 hours doing various training!), and the potential for a real community impact they offer as a whole. After sitting on a train all day yesterday, it was a great feeling to be physically challenged again. My week off is officially over, and I am really excited to see what else the rest of this trip has in store for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fresh out of the Microwave Oven

This post stems from a conversation I had with one of my Dutch classmates the other day. He was arguing that America, through its various entertainment, athletic, and consumer exports, is a cultural empire that is gradually spreading to all corners of the globe.
So, I thought about it, and, I have to admit, since I've been in Europe, it's been impossible not to notice the growing cultural impact of the American way, even here in Leiden. I saw kids in the streets wearing I heart NY t-shirts. Renting a movie the other day, I found myself deciding between The Watchmen and Valkyrie, both only available in English with Dutch subtitles. Buying school supplies at the local store, I heard Green Day, then Britney Spears playing on the shop speakers above me. Right across from the 16th century Calvinist Church just off the Rhine River are a McDonalds and a Subway.
Our global impact, needless to say, is impressive.
Thankfully, one part of our culture that has not completely taken over is the perpetual rush everyone seems required to be in. Because so much of our system is dependent on consumerism, individual growth, and production efficiency, the American way is hell-bent on making things easier, faster, more available, and more profitable. By extension, this means we, the cogs in the wheel, must make our lives simpler, more accessible and more productive.
If we examine specific cases, these developments are largely positive, healthy evolutions that contribute to more streamlined, efficient uses of our time. Think e-bay, direct deposit, call forwarding, Starbuck's Coffee. But, if we step back from between the trees, we might just see that the edges of the forest are starting to burn.
Ingrained in this philosophy is the idea that time is the enemy. How many times do you hear the phrase "there just aren't enough hours in the day." Hell, I don't know many people back home who think there are enough days in the year, or years in their life to get done what they "need to get done." Ironically, this belief tends to drive us to do things in a more rushed, less fulfilling way, thus exascerbating the problem. Enter stress, anxiety, and poor health.
The perfect symbol of this, in my opinion, is the microwave oven. This common kitchen appliance, widely heralded as the greatest invention since sliced bread, is in 90% of American homes, and represents the ultimate in convenience and efficiency. Nevermind that it's led to a multi-billion dollar industry whose sole purpose is the production of essentially fake food.
Nevermind that it poses a myriad of risks, both to us and the real food we put inside of it.
For most of us, it's fast and simple, therefore it's good. This belief holds obvious dangers we can plainly see in the health, or lack thereof, of our population.
On the whole, the microwave is just a symptom of the greater illness, but an enlightening one: Some things (nutrition is certainly one of them) should not merely been packaged, time-shrunk, and "nuked."
In this instance, I feel, I have already benefited from my still young European adventure. A few observations... In Sicily, everyone takes three hour lunch breaks. On weekends, Leiden shops don't open until noon. French students are expected to take time off from their degrees to travel. All Dutch citizens go on one month of holiday every year.
Admittedly, I laugh at some of this stuff, and I'm not saying adopting this lifestyle is the answer. In fact, I know it isn't. People here might be a bit too relaxed, even for my taste. However, it does serve as a catalyst for reflection. Stopping to take a breath every now and then isn't such a bad thing, and I think in most cases it's a relatively simple fix.
Using nutrition as a example, but also as a metaphor, I thought it would be interesting to hypothesize the tangible benefits of "unplugging the microwave."
1) Food quality would become more important, leading you to take greater care in choosing what you eat. As time becomes less of a consideration, you would be less likely to rush into a bad meal and more likely to choose ingredients that are of a higher caliber. Because of this change, 2) You'd know exactly what you were eating at all times. Gone would be the days of pre-packaged mystery meals that you think might be good for you, but you just don't have the time to find out if they actually are. Therefore, 3) You'd be getting more nutritional value out of every meal, and, thus 4) You'd have a greater appreciation for what you were eating. Knowing what's in your food and that it is of high quality will necessarily leave you feeling more satisfied after eating it. 5) Meals would become more communal. Slow down long enough to make this adjustment and there'll be more time to share this high quality food that you enjoy with family and friends.
Since I've been here, I haven't even seen a microwave. And, as far as I can tell, the only downside to all the cooking I've been forced to do, are the dirty dishes. Now if I could just get a dishwasher I'd be in business.
Food journal for today:
Meal 1: smoothie (1 banana, peanut butter, protein powder, whole milk)
Meal 2: scramble (1 potato, 1 tomato, 1 avocado, 1/2 onion, 1 bell pepper, 3 eggs, cheese)
Meal 3: Dutch hamburger, green tea
Meal 4: brown rice, chicken breast, tomato soup, broccoli
Meal 5: smoothie (1 banana, peanut butter, protein powder, whole milk)

Monday, October 12, 2009


I borrowed an Ashtanga yoga dvd from my neighbor and followed it for about a half hour this morning. The dude on this dvd is RIDICULOUS. Once I got past the chanting and other yogi things that I can't quite jive with, I was left in awe of what this man could do physically. His name is John Scott: look him up.
I haven't done yoga since the first week i was here, so things were a little tight, to say the least. Flexibility is an area that I have neglected, as I look back. Especially when it comes to recovery, this is so important yet so easy to overlook. I think for this next 6 weeks I'm going to try to use one of my rest days each week to do yoga, and dedicate at least 15 minutes at the end of every session to certain static relaxation stretches.
I've also decided to use this week as an experimental food journal to track exactly what I'm eating, so I apologize if this is annoying.
Meal 1: smoothie (1 banana, scoop of peanut butter, protein powder, whole milk)
Meal 2: breakfast scramble (1 potato, 1 bell pepper, 1/2 onion, handful spinach, 4 eggs, pepper cheese)
Meal 3: My favorite sandwich shop (dark whole grain bread, sliced chicken, tomatos, cucumber, aged cheese, pesto, onion)
Meal 4: Greek yogurt and trail mix (sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, cranberries)
Meal 5: 20 g Salmon w/ skin, green lentils, raw broccoli
Meal 6: smoothie (1 banana, scoop of peanut butter, protein powder, water)
On the way out to grab a beer or two, so I have to include those as well. We'll see what I actually put down.
Hopefully I won't be eating many of these...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Rest Day

Sore today. My entire posterior chain is tight from yesterday. Took it easy and spent the day with a friend of mine here and his family. Every Sunday he plays field hockey for the local club team. The game was very competitive and played at a high level. It was interesting to see how they organize their sports here. Clubs range all ages, with 2 year groupings for everyone 18 and under, then skill level teams above that (1st, 2nd, 3rd team, etc) that you get placed on due to your relative ability. This essentially takes the place of high school and college sports in the States, but the scale is much smaller. It works the same for soccer, but the lower clubs serve as feeder systems for the pro teams, sometimes signing kids by age 16. It was a nice Sunday, but I still miss football.
Beyond my initiation to Dutch sporting culture, today represented the first day of my rest week. What this means for me, is that I won't be doing any highly intensive training for the next 5-6 days. I will still do very light exercise to maintain circulation to the muscles/tendons/etc that need the rest and repair, just nothing extravagant. Typically, this means no more than 3 sets per movement, 50% weight or less. Beyond that, it will mostly be stretching, self-myofacial massage (if I can find a foam roll), and yoga. Just enough to keep things moving.
Nutritionally, I will try to eat cleaner than ever, and more than ever. As my body recovers, I want to give it all the help I can and if I overdo the calories a tad, that's okay so long as they're good calories. This is not the week to start slamming chocolate bars and milkshakes.
Finally, this should be a good time for me to evaluate what I've done for the past 6 weeks and see where improvement has been made, where it hasn't, and how best to push forward. Also, I expect to come up with plenty of new, creative workouts for the archives. That way, I won't have to come up with a whole week's worth of WODs every single Sunday.
Looking forward to going to Berlin, Prague, and Ansbach next weekend... should be a great time.
From Sicily

Saturday, October 10, 2009

5 rep max

I slept really hard last night. Something about running in the sand just sucks the energy out of me more than other activities. By the time we were home and I was posting last night, I could barely keep my eyes open.
The benefit of this, however, was that I woke up feeling pretty incredible. The gym was empty, as usual. So funny the difference here. L.K.V. has enough space in its myriad rooms to comfortably support hundreds of members at once, but I don't think I've ever seen more than 20 people in the place. Thankfully, this is not my concern. In fact, unless someone there decides to do more than machine weights and cable curls, the emptier the better for me.
Today's workout was:
5 x 5 deadlift, working up to a 5 rep max
-after each set of 5 do 30 pushups, then rest as needed
I successfully got 175 kg (385 lb), then failed on the 4th rep of 180 kg the following set. I was happy with this, but not ecstatic. Getting to 400 for a 5 rep max would've been great, but for someone with a 440 lb max, I can't be too critical.
Overall, my deadlift strength is something I've slowly been improving as a secondary focus, so that is definitely a good thing. After finishing, I did 3 x 8 high bench rows at 70 kg (lying prone and pulling the bar into the bottom of the bench), continuing to do 30 pushups between sets. I finished with 3 x 10 back extensions and 3 x 10 second isometric knee to elbow holds.
This was the last real workout before my rest week. I'll elaborate more on what that entails tomorrow.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day at the Beach

My neighbor and I took a mini excursion to Noordwijk today, seeing as how the weather was so inexplicably gorgeous here. 60 degrees and sun, if you can believe it. The beach was empty, making it even more beautiful, and even more appealing to use for my own fitness devices. I wanted to do an endurance effort today, and the long stretches of open sand provided plenty of potential. The workout looked like this:
20 x 50m run
50m bear crawl
20 x 50m run
50m handstand walk
20 x 50m run
50m duck walk
20 x 50m run
50m crab walk
20 x 50m run
50m broad jump
So I wound up running 5000m and doing 250m of various quadrapedal and bipedal movements. This was not easy, taking me 31:40 to finish. The sand got chewed up quick, making the running difficult and the handstand walks practically impossible. My heart and lungs were pumping hard the whole time, but my legs held out okay until the very end. The mental component was very challenging in this one. With so many turns and so much difficulty during the bodyweight exercises, it was a matter of just keeping the legs moving during the runs and not slowing down. I wish I would've had someone to compete with because I think I may have been able to break 30. The video turned out pretty cool as well. Props to Neelan for some stellar camera work.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rest Day

Thinking back on yesterday's workout, and my admitted error in choosing to do it so soon after other related exercises, I thought it would be good to explain, a bit, my rationale in programming my sessions and why yesterday's WOD was a poor choice.
First, I deliberately only plan one week at a time (typically this means 3 days on, 1 day off, 2 days on, 1 day off). I know some people program 4, 6, 8, or even 12 week cycles. Apart from scheduling weeks off at the 6 week mark, (which I always adhere to) I don't find this extensive of a plan beneficial for a hybridized training program because it doesn't allow you the flexibility to respond to your body on a weekly basis. How will I know 7 weeks from now how my body will be responding to the different elements of training that I had programmed? I don't.
Now, if you have decided to train specifically for strength, power, size, or conditioning, then this is a different story. In that case, due to the progressive nature of most of those programs, setting different routines, exercises, and weights for months at a time can be very beneficial. I used to periodize elements of training in this manner for 6 weeks at a time, and I saw a lot of success. However, I found it to be less exciting and less fun, overall, than a hybridized program. The jury is still out on whether one style is better than the other in terms of performance gains, so maybe it's good to try both and alternate between the two.
Currently, I subscribe to the school of conscious variation, always trying to avoid any set pattern from week to week. This is not to say I use a fish bowl method, simply pulling a workout out of a hat each day to adhere to the idea of randomness. Randomness is not necessarily the same thing as variation and it often invites injury. For example, what happens if you pull pistol squat, box jumps, and dips on Monday, max effort thrusters on Tuesday, and squat clean and jerk to burpee on Wednesday? This is not variation, in my opinion, though the method of selection was totally random. And doing a stretch of WODs like this would run the risk of over-stressing your knee and shoulder joints.
Some people try to avoid this problem by designing their programs around muscle groups, much like a traditional bodybuilding program. This is okay, but you quickly run into problems because so much of crossfit (and I think this is a very good thing) is built on multiple joint, multiple muscle movements. For example, if you a do deadlift/push press WOD 0n Monday (back, hamstrings, glutes, quads, calves, shoulders, triceps), what are you going to do Tuesday to avoid working those muscles again? Situps? Biceps curls? The nature of this type of exercise doesn't allow for disintegration of workouts into muscle groups.
So why try? Instead, I think it much better to base training around movement patterns. So, using the example of deadlift/push press from above, the predominate movements are full range hip extension (I make a distinction here because so many lower body movements could be considered hip extension to some degree) and shoulder to overhead. If I were to write a workout for Tuesday in this scenario, it might involve pullups, ghd situps, and box jumps. Many of the same muscles and joints are being used, but the movement patterns are completely different, ostensibly working the muscles in a different, or varied, way.
Furthermore, I also deliberately vary the style of workout based on energy pathway. While I know there is a lot of science dividing the different types of exertion, I try to keep it basic. (I may divide metcons into "interval" versus "just finish", but that's as exotic as I get) More generally, I try not to do strictly heavy strength, strictly metabolic conditioning, or strictly extended endurance work during the course of a given week. This doesn't mean you have to do one of each every week, just that you should avoid over-doing one element, relative to the others. This is a problem I see with a lot of Crossfitters. They only want to do workouts like Fran, Grace, Tabata intervals, and AMRAPs. While this type of programming can easily adhere to the philosophy of alternating movement patterns, it does not significantly alter itself from the perspective of energy pathway. Hence, in my opinion, the program is not varied. (This becomes more like the periodized programming mentioned earlier. I might get really good at metcons after a while, but that's all I'm going to be good at until I change my focus. And, if you believe in the idea of "specific adaptation to imposed demand," the rate at which I improve will most likely diminish over time as my body becomes accustomed to what I ask of it.)
Returning to my earlier example, if Monday's workout looked something like: 21, 15, 9 deadlift/push press, Tuesday might look like: weighted pullup 5 x 1 (rest as needed), box jump for height 7 x 3 (rest as needed), and Tabata rounds of GHD situps. In this example, the only element of the workout that could be considered in the metcon energy system category that was challenged on Monday are the Tabata situps. A Wednesday workout, to play it forward, might be: run 1 mile, 5 rounds of 10 pushup, 10 squat, 10 burpee, run a mile. The emphasis here, obviously, is more on extended endurance.
Having these criteria (movement pattern and energy pathway) to build workouts relative to the previous one is essential. But this is not always the problem people have. Often, the problem is where to start. I think the best way to solve this is by having a cornerstone for your week. For example, the cornerstone in my training right now is heavy Olympic lifting. This is because the totality of the lifts are so beneficial for other elements of fitness (strength, power, coordination, balance, accuracy, flexibility) that they are worth sacrificing a bit of variation and doing more frequently than anything else, in my opinion. Also, the movements are so technical and practiced that if I don't dedicate time to it every week, I simply won't improve.
I set aside at least one day per week to work on Olympic lifting (Typically Monday, now). Having this one element of certainty gives me the base around which I can build the rest of my week. This is so important. If you don't have a cornerstone, the concept of variation can easily spin into randomness or you can find yourself paralyzed in deciding what to do from day to day. I've found that major movements, (the olympic lifts, deadlift, squat, flat/overhead press) as opposed to favorite WODs, tend to work best in this capacity because they represent specific movement patterns.
Now that I have a place to start, I can apply the ideas of varied movement pattern and varied energy pathway to create a complete and kick ass weeklong training program. To avoid replicating weeks, I stay a student of history and of creativity, always writing down what I've already done and always looking for new twists on old movements (Stone deadlift) or new combinations of old exercises (2k row w/ bodyweight bench). Apart from a few benchmark WODs and the major strength lifts, I try to avoid doing any workout twice. Some people think this makes it harder to measure progress, and they're not wrong. But I find that the general benchmarks are enough, for the most part. Besides, as I've said before, improvement is tied to inspiration. And it's far more motivating to tackle the new challenge than to get better at the old one.
From Week 4

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Muscle Failure

Today's workout was pretty disappointing, to be honest. My legs got tired pretty quick during the external resistance stuff, probably still a residual effect of Monday night, and my upper body just didn't have it at all during the bodyweight resistance. The HSPUs, even though I acknowledge the added difficulty of being from a 5 inch elevation, knocked me out quicker than they should have. Totally crushing, mentally. I knew the pullups were going to be a chore since I had done 100 yesterday morning during the 5 x 20 workout, so I guess that was no surprise. Still, overall, I expected to have more in the tank.
The workout was:
1 round for time:
5 Snatch w/ 80 kg
10 Clean and Jerk w/ 80 kg (this should've been 100 kg, but I didn't have enough bars)
15 Deadlift w/ 120 kg
20 HSPU from 5 inch elevation
25 strict overhand pullups
100 double unders
I finished in 14:11, with tons of wasted time during the HSPUs and pullups. The moral of this story is over-zealous programming, I think. Sometimes we get workouts in our heads that we just want to do so badly that we don't always pick the right times to do them. The silver lining, I guess, is that you're not always at your best and you're still expected to perform. Today was good practice for those times.


My legs are HEAVY today. I am definitely feeling the effects of the session last night. Or, it could be the weather in the Netherlands. The sun just refuses to break through the clouds here. It's constantly gray and dark with a mild drizzle. I guess things could be worse, but this is one part of living abroad that I have not been able to adjust to yet. Nevertheless, I got myself outside for one of my 2 workouts-- a moral victory in itself.
In the morning...
Run .5 miles
5 rounds for time of:
20 pullups
20 situps
(For the situps I did not hook my feet under anything. A full repetition was head to the ground and hands to the ankles)
Run 1.5 miles
The metcon in the middle took me 7:11. My pullups still kind of suck-- i was only able to do the first 2 sets unbroken. The runs I didn't time, but tried to push the pace as fast as I could. They were enough to let me know I haven't been running much.
In the evening...
Single arm DB shoulder press: 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1
followed by...
500m row for time.
I took my time getting through the pressing. I wanted to see how unbalanced my overhead strength was (34 kg on the left, 36 kg on the right) but also to work the core balance element of the movement. I wound up doing sets of 2 push press to slow eccentric with 38, 40, 42, and 44 kg after I topped out on the singles.
The row was fun, but intense. Short and sharp, as a good friend likes to say. My goal was to finish under 1:30. I made it in 1:28.5. I kept feeling like I was going to slide off the seat, thus necessitating a few periodic readjustments. If anyone knows how to fix this, please let me know. I included the video below.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Monday is for Snatching

Everything was closed and in recovery on Sunday, so I decided to join the crowd. An extra day of rest every few weeks can be a good thing, and it'd been awhile since I took off 2 days in a row.
After missing last Monday's session due to a late arrival from Sicily, I was really excited to get back on the platform and train with Hank tonight. We followed a similar program to last time, starting with snatches. My form is definitely improving and I can see the difference on the video clips. I had 100 kg overhead solidly but couldn't stabilize it on the way up and ended up losing it behind. To work on this aspect of the movement, we did some snatch balances instead of pulls next. Doing sets of 3, I got up to 85 kg feeling good. I want to incorporate this exercise a lot more-- it's so good for speed and balance. We finished with back squat, doing heavy sets of 3. I did 4 sets at 150 kg and felt challenged but not overly so. I focused on getting better depth and really driving up from the bottom. Walking out of the gym, I could feel the difference. Serious jelly legs. Here's the breakdown:
Snatch: 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1
Snatch Balance: 3, 3, 3, 3, 3
Back Squat: 4, 4, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3
Really excited about the program I have planned for this week. After 2 days of rest over the weekend, I feel ready to hit it hard.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rest Day

Today, October 3rd, is Leiden's independence day. In 1585 the Hollanders successfully expelled the Spanish troops of the Habsburg emperor Phillip II and established the Dutch Republic. In celebration of this accomplishment, the people of the Netherlands descend upon Leiden and, simply, party their asses off. 3 October, as they call it, really begins on the night of the 2nd. There are beer tents, stages, musicians, and vendors everywhere. The city is practically unrecognizable it has undergone such a transformation. The city center from the train station to the university is one big carnival, complete with ski ball, cotton candy, roller coasters, and traditional Dutch cuisine.
Since today was for resting, I went out and walked around, ate some unhealthy food, and tried to take in the scene as best I could. In an incredible coincidence, the theme of this year's 3 October parade is the "American Dream." Was interesting to see the Netherland interpretation of what it means to be American. The traditional symbols were there: the statue of liberty, the stars and stripes, even a few pilgrims. There were also some more contemporary floats, like the hollywood/entertainment portion. Somehow they found a couple Deloreons and did them up like Back to the Future, with Doc Brown and Marty walking alongside. There was a Titanic re-enactment with Kate and Leo on the front of the ship with a human iceberg walking just in front. Further back there was a Las Vegas float with magicians and slot machines. Bringing up the rear, in what I thought was a really cool finishing act, were members of the U.S. Marine Corps marching band in full uniform performing songs of Americana. Not sure what base they were from, but I thought it was cool that the city got them involved.
Anyways, I included a clip of maybe the scariest ride I've been on in my life. It cost 8 euros, but it was worth every bit of it. Apparently you're feeling just under 5 Gs of force during this thing. Crazy.

Joker and the Thief

Last night I went into Amsterdam to show Chickaro a proper good time. The proof of our success is that we didn't return until 630 this morning. Needless to say, most of the day was spent in recovery behind tightly pulled shades. However, in a display of true grit and resolve, and in an effort to accelerate the metabolization of that which we had consumed the night before, we got ourselves out of the house and to L.K.V. to break a quick sweat. Or so was the plan. The actual course of events is as follows:
For time...
2k row
100 bodyweight bench presses (85kg for me)
Every time you rack the weight, do 15 air squats
2k row
I thought this would be a 25 minute ordeal at most. Incorrect. 34:18. Strength and recovery were a major issue during the pressing. I thought I would be able to do 10 sets of 10 with 185, but that was not the case. After rep 60, I was doing sets of 4. Think it took me 22 rounds to complete the 100 repetitions, meaning I had to do 330 air squats. So, that second 2k row was ROUGH. The first 2k took 7:13, the second 7:35. I don't remember the last time I did a workout that took this long to complete and it was definitely tough mentally to keep pushing. Boy, did it feel good to finish though.
P.S. Cricky, this song was for you.... wooooolfmother!!!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Van der Werfstraat Wall

Today's workout took me back outdoors, just without the beautiful scenery of Sicily. A few weeks ago, I walked past this stretch of wall on the Van der Werfstraat in Leiden and thought it looked like a great spot to do some bodyweight, parkour style gymnastic training. I decided not to film this in its entirety because I knew it would take a while and it would be very repetitive. I did however, film a clip just to explain what each exercise was intended to look like. The workout was as follows:
10 wall muscle ups
1 handstand wall circuit
8 wall muscle ups
2 handstand wall circuits
6 wall muscle ups
3 handstand wall circuits
4 wall muscle ups
4 handstand wall circuits
2 wall muscle ups
5 handstand wall circuits
This was tough, and I recommend getting gloves. I didn't and wound up with a few cuts on my hans from small shards of glass. The wall was just shy of 9 feet high - perfect height for this type of routine. I finished in 15:14. Chickaro did it in 29:09. We were both feeling it in the shoulders and core, but I gotta say, I really liked using the wall. It requires a different kind of strength to climb and walk on your hands than you build in the weightroom. I think I'm going to incorporate this location into some runs in the future.