Monday, November 30, 2009

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Day 3 in Switzerland

I arrived in Geneva pretty late Saturday night and was met by Jon Ingram, Co-founder of CrossFit Leman, at the train station. We walked to his apartment, where, after a nice conversation with him and his girlfriend, he informed me that we would be getting an early start the next day so it would be best to hit the sack.
We were up around 6:30, eating breakfast, and out the door by just before 8. CrossFit Leman is about 20 minutes from downtown and sits at the base of a mountain range overlooking Lake Geneva. The surroundings are stunning. The inside of the place gives the appearance of a lodge, with exposed wooden beams, big plate glass windows, and a lot of natural light. The space we trained in is actually only half of the facility, as Jon and his partner, Euan, have leased the adjoining room as well. When it's finished, this place is going to be incredible.
Classes were set to come in at 8:30, 9:30, and 10:30, and Jon suggested I train with the first group. The workout was as follows...
1.2 km trail run
DB farmers walks up and over the catwalk (I used 30 kg DBs)
10 tire flips (100 kg tire)
30 Push Press (60 kg)
50 Double Unders
1.2 km trail run
Digesting this workout, I thought it might not be enough. It turned out to be plenty. The trail run was short but technical, with lots of roots, rocks, and plenty of sharp turns. The farmers walks were tough because we had to climb and the descend two flights of stairs. Having never done this before, I had no way of knowing how much harder this would be from a regular farmers walk. Much, if you're wondering. The tire flips I found very easy, simply because the weight was much lighter than I am used to. However, the residual lower body impact from the run and the farmers walks made itself known during the push presses. 60 kg feels really heavy when you aren't getting much pop from your legs. I did 3 sets of 10, and barely made them. The double unders were fine, but kept me out of breath just enough to make the second run pretty challenging. I didn't notice the slight, but consistent grade as we wound along the river the first time through, but it's there. I ended up making it back in a total time of 14:38, and really had to keep pushing myself on the last run because a decent part of me wanted to slow down.
Afterwards, I helped Jon teach the later classes. I got to coach 4 kids how to properly do dumbell snatches, deadlifts, and walking lunges. This was a great time. The parents trained as well, in the other room with Jon, and I couldn't help appreciating the way this CrossFit box had carved out a family fitness niche within the community. They've only been open a month, but their membership is at 30+ already. It will be interesting to see how this place will grow in comparison with other boxes around Europe finding more individual clientele.
As we drove back from the gym, Jon showed me this old Roman road that goes from the bottom of the mountains to the top, approximately 5 km winding straight up the side. It's hard to imagine not wanting to be fit in an environment so full of natural challenges and beautiful scenery. A few hours later, I was on the overnight train to Leiden for another week at the library, feeling quite jealous of the circumstances I had left behind. Guess I'll just have to go back...

Day 2 in Switzerland

After a night of touring that lasted until 4 am (courtesy of my excellent host Dominque), I was swept away on a more thorough vetting of the Basel cultural scene during the daylight hours. We visited world famous swiss chocolate stores, sampled Basel's famous gingerbread biscuits, and had lunch at a place that has been brewing its own beer since the first half of the last millenium. All in all I really enjoyed the sights of this city. There was one house that has been standing since 1346! Incredible.
Afterwards, we headed to CrossFit Basel for another workout, this time a random WOD pulled from their hopper deck. Only one other soul was brave enough to come join me for the Saturday afternoon workout, and I greatly appreciated his presence. Josh had had an especially rough night out, so his effort just to get to the gym let alone do a tough workout was an inspiration.
The workout pulled from the deck was "Kelly." This consists of:
5 rounds for time of
400 m run
30 wall ball
30 box jump
I had done this workout once before, back in washington, and remembered it being pretty difficult and pretty long. My time back then was in the 21-22 minute range I think. The only difference in Basel was that the ball I used only weighed 12 lbs, rather than the standard 20. This certainly had a positive effect on my time, as I didn't have to split any of the wall ball rounds, but ordinarily I wouldn't split much even with a 20 lb ball. My time was 19:33, and it definitely felt good. I can really feel my ability to push harder without burning out increasing. Josh finished in just over 27 minutes. This effort nicely complimented the heavy strength work we had done the night before and put on the train to Geneva in good spirits.
Thanks so much to Dominique, his family, and the CrossFit Basel membership for being so inviting and gracious. Looking forward to seeing them all again soon.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Day 1 in Switzerland

I met with Dominique Stern, my local contact and host, after arriving in Basel and he took me to their box... 10 minutes on the tram from the city center. They've acquired a "dungeon," as he called it, in the basement of a building in an industrial complex. They're just off the end line of a set of train tracks, and the structures around them are massive. I don't know what kind of industry takes place there, but whatever it is, it's big.
I was introduced to Ramon, the other owner, and the group of individuals I was going to train with: Josh, Dino, and Claudia. Crossfit Basel's philosophy is strength based, due mostly to Ramon and Dominique's powerlifting backgrounds. I liked this because the expertise and attention to detail during the strength portion of our session was obvious and very beneficial. That portion consisted of:
Back Squat-
70% x 5
80& x 3
90% x max repetitions
Being that I have recently been rebuilding my squat from a full depth position, I wasn't sure what my max would be. A few weeks ago in Copenhagen I had done sets of 4 @ 130 kg, and it had felt pretty challenging, so I estimated a full squat max at 155 kg. This set my weights at 110 kg, 125 kg, and 140 kg, respectively. After the first set at 110 kg, I knew it was too light. The second set I did at 130 kg, and again felt it was below the correct weight. So, for my 90% set, I loaded 150 kg and went with that. I was able to get 4 repetitions with really good depth. The fourth rep was a big struggle about half way up, but I managed to get it.
After this, the 4 of us worked technical jerks with pvc pipes, then did this short met con:
7, 5, 3 press, push press, push jerk (50 kg)
21, 15, 9 pullup
Like an idiot, I screwed up the rep ranges, doing 7 press, 5 push press, and 3 jerks for each round, rather than 7, 7, 7... 5, 5, 5... 3, 3, 3... This wound up making the routine more difficult, because by the 3rd set, 7 presses was TOUGH. I still managed to finish in 3:14, and I was especially happy with the pullups. I didn't break any of those sets and my body felt light and fast.
After this, Dominique and I headed to his parents house for a traditional swiss dinner, cheese and bread. His mother also cooked some red cabbage and his father made eggs. This was such a fun time. This family is extremely educated, well traveled, and interesting. We spoke on all sorts of topics, fitness related and otherwise. I can't say enough about their hospitality and openness.
Tomorrow we will train again at Basel, then I will board a train to Geneva to meet up with Jon Ingram and the guys from Crossfit Leman. This is shaping up to be another memorable weekend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Fitness is...


Take it personally.

Your fitness is not the gym you join or the site you follow. It’s not the shoes you wear, the weights you lift, or the nutrition book you read. Fitness is not your yoga mat. It’s not the Workout of the Day.

An individual’s fitness is, essentially, his decision. And it goes beyond deciding to surround himself with the various tools mentioned above. They help, certainly. If I want to cut down a tree, I’m better off using an axe than an icepick. But I still have to go out and chop the fucker down.

Sadly, unlike in the lumber industry, we can’t hire someone to chop this tree down for us. Fitness depends on two things: agency and ownership, and they span disciplines. Look at any sport and compare athletes of similar natural ability.The engaged athlete following an average program will outperform the dispassionate athlete following an exceptional program. Every time.

I was at my gym last week, and I watched a guy do twenty-five minutes of triceps extensions, proudly flexing in the mirror between sets to evaluate his work. While most of me was screaming objections based on my belief in functional training, useable strength, etc., another part of me was humbly acknowledging his right to train his way, and respecting his effectiveness in doing so. He had pretty big triceps, after all.

Now, if I were to go up to this individual and say, “Listen, I know a better way to train. It focuses on the whole body, both structurally and cardio-vascularly. It will produce measurable gains in strength, endurance, recovery, flexibility, coordination, and balance, and it will contribute to you living a longer and healthier life.” He might say, “Wow, that sounds great. How do I do it?” Or, he might say, “What’ll it do for my triceps?”

This is an example of agency. I decide what is important to my fitness. I can be told a million times the best way to train my heart and lungs, seen over and over the correct technique for a deadlift, have listened to lecture upon lecture about the right food to eat; but if I don’t choose to put those ideas into practice, they will remain just that: ideas, and nothing more.

The second part is ownership. Gym classes, as a culture, have largely been created to avoid this very concept. Most people who consistently do step class, or spin, or body sculpt either don’t know what to do for their fitness, or they can’t motivate themselves to do it on their own. So, rather than taking ownership of the problem, finding the answers, and implementing them, they schedule and attend a series of weekly classes to diffuse the responsibility (This is not true for all situations. Some people have found they perform better in group situations and have actively chosen class settings as the best way to facilitate this performance. These people, however, are in the minority. Most do it because they don't want to face the fact that fitness is hard and no one will do it for them). Watch any one of these classes and it will become quite evident who is truly engaged and who is just there to punch the clock.

Yoga is a great example. Consider the individual who goes to a class because someone told him it was a good idea, and is now blindly following the directions of the instructor. He is the one looking around at everyone else, distracted by his sweat, forcing himself into positions that his body cannot handle. This person will not benefit in the same way as the individual who has internalized the teachings and taken ownership of the practice.

Now, granted, ownership is a process, and people need to learn skills somehow. Just be wary of the chronic user, showing up each week without fail, blindly following the leader, and offloading the responsibility for his fitness to a series of instructors and classmates.

This goes for Crossfitters as well. CrossFit, as a methodology, does not belong to a particular homepage, blog, or box. It is a philosophy that must be interpreted and implemented by individuals who are unique. The program, therefore, will also be unique. This is okay! Heard of the open source method? Experiment, discover, and own what works.

Fitness, in the end, is a result. It’s the byproduct of the interaction between me (my physical tools, my mental capacity, my personal creativity) and the resources at my disposal (information, food, weights, etc.). As should, by now, be clear, the me is integral to this equation. As soon as I lose agency or ownership over this process, fitness ceases to be personal, and it is no longer mine. This is when training starts to feel like a chore. It’s when you burn out, resent the program, or lose interest all together.

The truly fit individuals stay conscious of their motivations and are actively involved in, and take ownership of, their programs. They relish the fact that no one can do it for them, and use this fact to push themselves harder. Zoning out, getting into a routine, or going to a class for class’s sake doesn't make sense to these people. For them, “Just doing it” just isn’t good enough.

From Nov 21, 2009

The Video

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Trans-Continental Challenge #2

Tonight was the second installment of the Trans-Continental Challenge with my friend Josh Courage from D.C. He will be attempting the workout on Friday with a group of other athletes in Washington.
The Workout:
100 m Farmers Walk (36 kg/ 79 lb DB)
100 Double Under
30 Clean and Jerk (85 kg/ 187 lb)
100 Double Under
100 m Farmers Walk (36 kg/ 79 lb DB)
I finished in 14:23.
I have to say that I found this much harder than the first workout we did a few weeks ago. But, all things considered, I'm pretty satisfied with how it went. The first farmers walk was no problem, but I did struggle getting into the rhythm on the first set of double unders. The clean and jerks I took methodically. One at a time, every time, only resting a few breaths between each. The worst part was making sure I had breath in my chest before each clean and each jerk. So I was a bit deliberate, but I didn't miss any and all felt really sharp. The second set of double unders was really tough and the last farmers were so hard to hold onto the dbs. I had to stop at 50 meters for a few seconds or else I would have dropped them and ruined L.K.V.'s floor.
Over all I thought this was a great routine. I love the heavy weight for speed because it forces you to concentrate on every repetition. If you don't you will miss it. The other elements really complimented nicely as well. Guess we'll see how good my time was in a few days...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ballistic Cindy

For tonight's workout, I did a variation of Cindy (20 minute AMRAP of 5 pullup, 10 pushup, 15 squat). The pullup situation at L.K.V. is really bad, as I think I have described in previous posts. The best option is a free standing, combination dip/pullup apparatus. It's kind of like a cage and it rocks all over the place, so any real kipping is impossible, so just bear that in mind. The workout was...
20 minute AMRAP of:
5 x pullup + toe to bar
10 x pushup + glute ham raise
15 x squat jump to 8 foot target (really means just get your ass of the ground, no mini hops)
I was able to complete 12 rounds of this sequence in 2o minutes. I really liked all of the exercises, especially in this combination. The pullup + toe to bar is a natural progression, and I think if I had a bar I could kip on they would have felt much smoother. The pushup + glute ham raise is done from the knees with the feet hooked under a rack or with someone holding your ankles. The idea is to be explosive on the pushups and finish to vertical using the glute ham movement. No bending of the hips at all, ideally. The squat jumps just added the finishing touch. My legs actually felt really good all around.
Afterwards, I was DRIPPING with sweat. I can't explain why, because I didn't think this was overly difficult. Maybe it had something to do with the explosiveness of the movements. I can already feel my hamstrings tightening up a little bit, so tomorrow could be a bit of a gimpy day. Just one more thing to work on...

Monday, November 23, 2009


In the morning...
I'll say it again. I hate rowing. Seems like no matter how often I do it, it just always sucks. This morning I went to L.K.V. and did some sprint work on the ERG, and could not have been more crushed afterwards. I started with 500 meters all out, trying to keep my stroke rate really high. This did not work. It seems that whenever my stroke rate goes above 33/34 I don't feel the catch until midway through my next stroke. Therefore I'm not getting as much on each pull though I'm doing all the cardiovascular work. My time was 1:31.2, 3 seconds slower than my last 500 meter sprint. This was because the entire last 100 I was toast. My pace dropped all the way to 1:36 by the end. Anyways, trial and error I guess.
Afterwards I did 5 x 100 meter sprints with 1 minute rest between. This went much better. I kept every sprint under :19 and felt that my recovery was adequate from one to the next.
In the evening...
I met up with Hank for some Olympic work tonight. We did the following:
Power Clean to Push Jerk
4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2
Front Squat
4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2
I did the entire session using the hook grip, which was a first for me. It was a little uncomfortable, but not too bad. I felt very strong on the power cleans to push jerks, doing my last two sets at 105 kg and not feeling too challenged. The cleans felt especially easy.
The front squats were good as well. I continued to work down towards full depth, and did the last two sets at 120 kg. It is obvious that this is the weak link in my game at this point. If I can reasonably power clean 115 kg (which I think I can), there's no reason I shouldn't be full cleaning 135-140 kg. The issue is the front squat. I may be able to pull that weight to a rack position, but there's no way its coming back up. This sequence tonight felt really effective in breaking down the movement. I like working the raw power of the pull, then concentrating on the strength in the squat.
Hopefully the weather is nice tomorrow so I can get outside for a workout. Ever since the farm, I just can't keep my mind off pulling that truck. I don't think that's going to happen in Leiden, but being in some fresh air couldn't hurt.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dommelhoeve Farm

Today started with a true country breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, spinach, cheese, and a healthy dose of Tabasco sauce. Afterwards, my hosts and I took a walk around the property, which amounts to about 230 acres of land for planting, grazing, and hunting. It felt great to be in space, away from the city. While on our tour we threw around ideas and found some great stuff to use for a workout. Here’s what we came up with:

50 meters truck pull (1530 kg)

5 legless rope climbs (7 meters)

50 axe chops

50 meters wheelbarrow run (110 kg)

50 strict OH press (25 kg)

50 walking OH lunge (25 kg)

600 meters run

Niels’s family has a 1963 LandRover with thick mud tires and a front-end tow hitch. We wrapped a rope through the front loop and used a blanket to pad my shoulders. This was much heavier than the Volkswagon Beetle that I used to pull back in Washington. Was feeling like Quadzilla by the end of the run.

The rope we tied to a 7 meter branch just to the side of the driveway. This worked really well, but was super tough because of the height.

The wheelbarrow we filled with chunks of cement, stone, and steel grate that were lying around the farm. Added up, this weighed 110 kg.

For the overhead pressing and the lunges, I used a rib of an old sailboat that was built in 1804. How cool is that? Somehow this relic is still lying around a family farm, and these guys let me use it for a workout. It weighed just over 25 kg, but felt much heavier due to the awkwardness of the object.

The 600 meter run was across an offseason corn field, so the terrain was lumpy. But the main problem was that I was completely wiped out by this point. My lungs were burnt and my legs were heavy. It took me over an hour to feel totally recovered.

That said, this was one of the more fun WODs I’ve done in a while. So unique, creative, and effective. I’ll post the video when I get back to Leiden tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Walk the Bag

This morning I got up and took my sandbag for a walk. No running, just walking. I alternated shoulders whenever I started to feel my posture starting to crumble. I wound up walking about 2 miles, and, honestly, it wasn't too bad. Almost all of the work was in my core and upper back, and I didn't find it as difficult to expand my lungs as last time. So, at mile 1.5 I decided to detour over to L.K.V. de Spartaan and do some extra strength work.
I alternated between incline presses for sets of 5 and hanging L sit holds for max time. For the pressing, my sets looked like this:
70 kg x 5
80 kg x 5
90 kg x 5
100 kg x 5
110 kg x 3
I took a slightly narrower grip than I normally would and really tried to control the descent. It's been awhile since I last did incline pressing and I was happy with my strength overall.
For the L sits, I can only estimate my times:
On these I really felt that the limiting factor was my quadriceps. After the first 10 seconds each set they would start to cramp. Maybe I'm doing the exercise wrong, or I just need more isometric work. It's possible that the answer is a bit of both.
Heading to the countryside for the next few days with my Dutch friend and his family. Hoping to find some creative physical outlet while there.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back to Work

My body felt good and fresh today, so I decided to get active again. Went to the park by the river and ran 3 km just before the sun went down. I kept the pace fast the whole way and felt my legs going before my wind, leading me to think that my cardiovascular conditioning is in good shape. Hoping to participate in this 10k race down by the beach in January. They hold it every year in the dunes just east of Noordwijk, and it's supposed to be a pretty fun time. 10k is about my limit these days, so it could be a good challenge.
Got some good ideas for the next few days, gotta rest up.

CrossFit's European Central Station

If there is a Crossfit capital in Europe, it’s Copenhagen. And if there’s one place that I would want to train, it’s here. In 72 hours, I visited four gyms, did five WODs, and left the city with a true appreciation for its people, culture, and fascination with fitness. They’re nuts for it! The members were strong, motivated, and welcoming everywhere I went, and the facilities were top notch. I really feel that this place has the opportunity to become CrossFit’s central hub for training, learning, and growth, not just for Scandinavia, but for all of Europe.

To give a better idea of the proliferation of the program in Copenhagen and its surrounding areas, here is a list of affiliates, memberships, and locations. Note that the oldest affiliate has been around for less than eighteen months, and that most have come into being within the last six. The numbers are staggering.

-Butcher's Lab Members: approx 600, First affiliate in Denmark (2008), Has hosted Crossfit challenges and weight lifting competitions for Crossfitters, Has hosted 1 CERT1 + 2 GYM CERT, Located: Copenhagen

-CrossFit Copenhagen Members: 800, Affiliated since June 2008, Hosted a local challenge in August 2008 + participated in the Affiliate Cup @ the CrossFit Games 2009, Hosting challenge in February, Located: Copenhagen

-CrossFit Denmark (Hellerup) Members: approx 100, Affiliated since 2008, Located: Hellerup, 8 km from Copenhagen

-Paideia CrossFit Members: 100, Affiliated since August 2009, Located: Copenhagen

-CrossFit Royal Danish Guards (military base affiliate) Members: approx 230, Affiliated since June 2009, Located: 20 km north of Copenhagen

-CrossFit Royal Danish Defense College Implementing CrossFit in the Danish military, Affiliated since October 2009, Located: Copenhagen

-CrossFit CTC Members: approx 500, including MMA etc, Affiliated since November 2009, Located: 50 km south of Copenhagen

-CrossFit OBBC Members: approx 300, Affiliated since November 2009, Located in Odense, 170 km from Copenhagen

-Aarhus CrossFit Members: approx 200, Affiliated since August 2009, Located in Aarhus, on the Jutland peninsula

-CrossFit Aalborg Members: N/A, Affiliated since 2009, Located in Aalborg, on the Jutland peninsula

Obviously, people here are drinking the Kool-Aid.

In addition to the sheer numbers that this area boasts, it also offers incredible diversity. Often, CrossFit gyms look pretty much the same. (There’s a reason why they’re called boxes) Typically built in old warehouses or office space, they tend to take on a similar shape: four walls, high ceilings, and floor space. They’re uncluttered, minimalist, and, many times, lack an individual character. Such is not the case in Copenhagen.

Of the four gyms I visited, none is comparable to the other.

Paideia Gym is on the ground floor of a large concrete building, accessible through the loading dock door. Inside it has two rooms (one for classes, one for general use); a unique multi-purpose steel grid for heavy bags, rings, etc.; two proper Olympic platforms and a power rack for heavy squatting; and tons of non-traditional fitness tools like sledges, maces, club bells, and sand bags. The walls are covered in artwork for sale, and the whole place has a very intelligent feel.

Crossfit Denmark (Hellerup)is in one of the wealthiest areas of Copenhagen. It exists as a world within a world, a CrossFit haven amidst the health and wellness aura of the fitness spa from which it rents space. Their “box” is glass, well lit, completely stocked, and exposed to the curious view of many a treadmill worshipper.

Crossfit Copenhagen operates out of a different place of worship, a church. Now affectionately called “the church of pain,” CC’s home is incredible. Two floors with very high ceilings give this place an enormous feel, and a very unique look. It’s really two boxes in one. They have tons of equipment, tons of space, and STAIRS. The fact that they use both floors in the same workout means you have to climb stairs constantly. I love it.

Butcher's Lab is, as the name would indicate, housed in an old butchery. It has a bunch of rooms, all of which have tile walls and big, hazy windows, giving this place a great raw quality that you can’t help associating with a slaughterhouse. Sounds morbid, but it works. They also use neon colors for their logo, so the place has flashes of bright green, pink, blue, and orange depending on which room you are in.

The uniqueness of these gyms gives them character and personality, thus differentiating them from other boxes. In my opinion, this gives their memberships a stronger sense of identity, ownership, and pride. These are qualities that hold communities more tightly together and serve to draw new members in.

More so than the number of members or the environments they train in, though, it’s the quality of the people that really makes Copenhagen a CrossFit Mecca. The owners and coaches are well-educated, thoughtful program designers that understand the importance of balance and variety. The athletes are eager, tough, and tuned in to the greater community. Perhaps the only area in which the city is lacking is the coordination between gyms. They’re all so close together, but it doesn’t seem like one community is interested in the actions or development of the others. This is too bad.

The exception to this is to be found in my host, Sarah Lindasdatter Troelsen Krarup. This woman is a machine. In addition to being a great athlete with a serious motor, she knows everyone, everywhere. It was through her connections and knowledge that I was able to experience as much as I did during my visit. While she has founded the Royal Danish Defense College affiliate and is an original member of CrossFit Copenhagen, she continues to train everywhere and maintain relationships throughout the community, essentially creating a link between parallel worlds.

Ideally, it would be great to see a truly cohesive network of affiliates, members, and owners that are tied loosely together by their common goal of building fitness in Copenhagen. Perhaps with cooperative challenges and events, and with people like Sarah continuing to connect the dots, this will become possible. In any event, Copenhagen has grown into a breeding ground for elite fitness in a very short amount of time. I can't wait to see where time will take it from here.

From Nov 15, 2009_3

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Fitness is...


Get comfortable with it. If you’re not failing, you’re not getting better. And if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

This idea represents two important things to me.

First, intensity is everything. A properly balanced program will vary its workouts in terms of style, movement pattern, and volume, but not in intensity. Whether the focus is strength, endurance, or metabolic conditioning; whether you’re working deadlifts, overhead presses, or sprints; whether its Angie or Fran; the intensity has to be maximum. This is not to say that every workout must put you on the floor. Intensity isn’t necessarily about exhaustion. It’s about focus, will, and the commitment to a full effort, regardless of the challenge. For example, my grandmother is training to lose weight through a combination of cardiovascular training, group strength classes, and Pilates. Needless to say, her ideal post-workout position is not sprawled on the floor next to a trash can. Her approach to fitness should, however, mirror that level of physical intensity in her concentration and dedication to completing her routine with maximum effort. This attitude will force her to test her limits on hikes, with weights, and on the Pilates mat, ultimately pushing her to the point of failure in many respects. This is a good thing.

The same can be said for Crossfitters, just in a more obvious way. WODs are designed to test limits in a wide range of physical and mental capacities. So test them! The people that get the most out of workouts are not the ones who complete them easily, or those who zone out halfway through in an effort to “just get through it.” If you ever find this to be the case during a workout, you’re missing the point. One inarguable beauty of this program is that, regardless of ability, every WOD can be met with the same level of effort and focus, and thus can impart the same physical and mental effects. The biggest beneficiaries are the people who fail over and over and over during the course of a WOD, and then get up to fail some more.

The second concept failure brings to mind is fear. People are so afraid to fail. From a young age, it is something we have been taught to avoid at all costs. This fact, combined with the knowledge that failure is actually essential to our ultimate success, makes this fear one of the toughest paradoxes for our psyche to overcome. I, for one, know this emotion too well. Before football games I would get this deep, paralyzing self-doubt regarding my own ability. Every week, I was certain the defensive back opposite me was stronger than I was, faster than I was, and, in general, better than I was. This usually didn’t subside until the first major collision of the game, when the intensity level became so high that I no longer had time to doubt myself, only to act.

Interestingly, I see the same thing happen all the time in gyms and Crossfit boxes. As Sarah wrote the chipper on the board at the Butcher’s Lab this past weekend, different people softly objected to elements they were weak on, or complained that they would have to scale. In Halmstad for the Scandinavian Challenge, I heard stories of people dropping their names from the competition when the WODs got posted, mostly because they were inconsistent with their personal strengths. Every time someone is embarrassed to bench press or back squat next to a guy that can double his total, it’s the embarrassment over his relative failure that holds him back.

How to conquer this fear? Rather than focusing on the competition between individuals, focus on the competition with the workout. Again, this should be the competitive standard for all workouts anyway. Then, when you really need it, when you’re just about to quit, when you’ve been pressed to the brink of failure, that’s when you start looking for extra motivation. That’s when you use the intensity of those around you to will yourself to the next rep. That’s when the community leans on itself, pushes its collective limits, and builds itself stronger than before.

The bottom line is that fitness requires failure. Your body adapts to challenges it cannot meet in order to better prepare itself for the future. This process involves levels of fear and intensity that are typically uncomfortable, but absolutely necessary. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, you will not improve. And if you're not trying to improve, what exactly are you doing?

From Nov 15, 2009_3

Crossfit Copenhagen WOD

Here is a link to the video from the "Killer" WOD with Crossfit Copenhagen. Thanks to those guys for a great time and a cool video!
Killer WOD @ Crossfit Copenhagen

Copenhagen Videos

Here are the links to the videos from Hellerup, Rosenborg Castle, and The Butcher's Lab. The WOD with Crossfit Copenhagen, I've been told, will be finished in a few days.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Copenhagen Day 3: Danish Royal Guard & The Butcher's Lab

So I just made it back to Leiden, and it’s now 11:00 pm. I am SOOORRREEE. Getting out of bed this morning was kind of a joke, and the workouts we did today were far from layups. Today also brought some incredible sightseeing, courtesy of the Danish Royal Guard and what amounts to the most developed hippie commune I’ve ever seen.

Sarah and I woke up early, and were met outside by our friend Jess at 8:30 to head over the Rosenborg Castle, home of the Danish crown jewels and the Royal Guard barracks. Jess and Lars, our two Royal Guard alumni contacts, arranged for us to do a WOD in front of the castle, in the presence of armed guards! This was unbelievable. The place is beautiful, first of all. Manicured gardens, ancient architecture, and it was such a perfect morning. Even though it had been raining all week, the sun rose to clear skies for us today.

Our workout was…

20 minute AMRAP:

1 KB burpee complex (close grip pushup on the handle, SDLHP, kb swing)

100 m KB run

2 KB complex

100 m KB run

3 KB complex

100 m KB run…. Etc

Going in, I expected this to be predominantly a cardio vascular challenge. This was not the case. I used a 24 kg kettlebell, Jess used a 20 kg, and Sarah a 16 kg, but none of us could maintain a running pace much faster than a jog. Our arms were so quickly exhausted by the complex, that controlling the weight during the run was practically impossible. This turned out to be much more of an upper body dominant workout.

In the end, I completed 14 rounds plus 5 KB complexes, Jess did 13 rounds and 2 KB complexes, and I think Sarah did 10 rounds and 2 KB complexes. All of us had long arms after this one…

After a quick shower, Lars and Jess escorted us through the barracks museum, which showcased much of the Royal Guard’s history since 1660. We saw old uniforms, modeled battlefields, weapons, and got to meet a few of the young men now serving.

Then, as is a popular Danish custom, we followed the march from Rosenborg to the Royal Palace for the changing of the guard. It was impressive the adherence to tradition and discipline this process entailed. Perfection is the only word to describe the meticulousness of their uniforms, the tightness of the formation, and the focus of each soldier.

After grabbing a quick bite, the four of us headed across town to the meatpacking district for the final stop on my tour of Copenhagen’s Crossfit elite. The Butcher’s Lab. This box is carved from the remains of an old butchery, and is every bit as raw as it sounds. Exposed tile, big spaces, tons of rooms packed with ropes, tires, and sledges… this place was awesome. It’s funny how the location of a workout arouses a different kind of emotion or motivation based on its unique personality. In the morning the scenery provided an inner calm. This afternoon it was like exposed nerves. I could not have been more sore, tired, and uninterested in doing another workout, but when we walked through the doors of The Butcher’s Lab, I could feel myself amping up involuntarily.

We were greeted by Kenneth, the owner, Anders, our workout partner from Friday, and about 20 others who were revved up and ready to go. The workout was…

10 muscle up

20 inverted burpee

30 snatch (45 kg /25 kg)

40 pullup

50 pistol squats (total)

60 deadlift (45 kg/25 kg)

70 atomic situp (full extension to knees 2 chest)

80 half moon MB slams (total)

90 meter bear crawl

100 double unders

Because Sarah and I had designed this workout the night before, I cannot complain about the amount of work demanded. However, I will say that I ran out of gas pretty quickly and most of this thing was finished on fumes. The muscle ups and inverted burpees were a breeze, and the snatches were decent. The pullups were tough, but the pistol squats were a straight-up bitch. I suck at these things and my legs had nothing to left to give, a pretty bad combination. The deadlifts were fine, the situps were shitty, and the half moon slams took forever. This was the most surprising element for me. Because the standards required us to settle the ball each time before transitioning to the next repetition, this took FOREVER to complete. The bear crawls and double unders were essentially gut check exercises—I knew I could do them, I just had to bite my lip and force myself to keep moving.

I finished in 27:10, 30 seconds behind Sarah’s best time of 26:40. She wasn’t happy in the slightest… (My attempt at irony)

Afterwards, Anders led the “bonus,” something that they apparently do after every WOD, just in varying forms. Today’s was an isometric group pushup. Carefully aligning us facedown in a circle, Anders placed one individual’s legs on the person behind them until we were all connected. Then, on the count of 3, we raised the entire group and held for 45 seconds. This was repeated twice more, and I’m serious when I say I don’t think I could have done a third. The closest I can approximate this type of challenge is a prolonged stalemate during tug of war. I didn’t collapse, but I wanted to.

Jess, Lars, Sarah, and I left the Butcher’s Lab and headed into one of Copenhagen’s truly unique enclaves, Christiania, for a quick bite before I got on the plane to return to Holland. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say, Woodstock lives. This place is self-sustaining, pays no taxes or rent to the city, does not allow photography, serves only organic food in its restaurants, and has a “liberal” stance on narcotics. We wandered around for awhile, eventually settling in Nemoland, one of Christiania’s restaurant/bars. We ate burgers drank beers for close to 2 hours. Honestly, it was the perfect ending to an incredible weekend. While I know it will be a few days before my body feels right again (I may take a whole week off), I also know that this weekend was worth every bit of pain I am now in. I plan on writing more about the people and culture of Copenhagen over the next few days.

For now, in reference to the ongoing joke of the weekend, I know what my gut is telling me: if Chuck Norris wasn’t American, he’d be Danish.

Nov 15, 2009_3

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Copenhagen Day 2: Crossfit Hellerup & Crossfit Copenhagen

Today was a long day! I woke up rested this morning, but already feeling a bit of soreness from the squats last night. I can definitely appreciate the difference going below parallel with heavy weight. We took our time getting out of the house, but as soon as we did, things came hard and fast.
Our first stop was at Crossfit Hellerup with Oliver, Nicholas, and Mathias. Together, they've carved out a space in the midst of one of Copenhagen's poshest health clubs, Well-Come. Their facility is two rooms, each of decent size, complete with ERGs, GHDs, barbells, bumper plates, kettlebells, jump ropes, climbing ropes, rings, dynamax balls, and all the usual trappings. Just outside their doors is an aerobics classroom, a health spa, and a shopping mall. It's really a unique situation, and I love the way they've found a way to do Crossfit in an atmosphere that otherwise does not seem to gel.
But, such an atmosphere has it's advantages. They get complimentary usage of the health spa, which includes a steam bath, a sauna, an ice pool, an enormous jacuzzi, fresh fruit, sparkling water, and massage. WORTH IT. We were treated to this experience after the workout of the day. It was...
Taken from James Fitzgerald's Blog, Part 4 of the OPT challenge:
50 walking lunge
20 clean and jerk (60 kg/40 kg)
30 ring dips
25 wall balls (20 lb/14lb)
30 GHD situps
30 kettlebell swings (1.5 pd/1 pd)
75 double unders
This was a good sprint of a chipper. Originally intended to be done after 3 other short met cons, we had the advantage of relatively fresh bodies (Though I will say, again, that the legs were heavy from the squats). I finished this routine in 9:10, Oliver in 12:16, Nicholas in 15:07, and Sarah in 17:07. For the most part, these exercises were challenging without being overwhelming. However, the wall balls were surprisingly difficult after the jerks, and dips. We got some good video of this, which I will post when I get back to Leiden.
After this we went directly to the spa, spent 10 minutes in the steam room, 30 seconds in the ice pool, 10 minutes in the sauna, 2 minutes in the ice pool, and 10 minutes in the jacuzzi. When I tell you this was amazing, I am not exaggerating. However, being that we had to turn around and do another workout in less than an hour, this was a mixed blessing.
We left the spa, slammed some food, and headed across town to Crossfit Copenhagen. This is the biggest affiliate in Denmark, and one of the biggest in the world. Its membership is over 800 at this point and growing. Although it's not located in the best neighborhood (kind of part of the charm), the space makes up for it and more. Built in a nineteenth century church, Crossfit Copenhagen has two floors of very large workspace. The upper floor is especially cool, because it is where mass used to be held. The balcony is still intact, so as we did the workout people were viewing from above, videotaping and cheering us on.
For the workout, Sarah and I were 2 among 10. The presiding coach for the night was Asger, and he wrote a really cool team WOD for us to do. In teams of 2, split between floors, we did the following for time:
3 rounds each of
300 m row/ max burpee c2b pullups (continue until row is finished then switch)
3 rounds each of
3 BW clean and jerk/ max weighted lunges (32 kg/24 kg) (continue lunging until C&J is finished then switch)
3 rounds each of
30 wall ball (20lb/14lb)/ 30 pushup
For the burpee c2b and the lunges, each repetition was worth one second. At the end of the workout, we subtracted the seconds from our time, to give us the final time. I can't say what every team's time was, but Sarah and I finished in 15:18, after our subtractions, and I was wiped. I wound up doing 166 lunges so my hamstrings were quivering while sitting on the stage afterwards.
The guys from the gym got some great footage, so I will defer to them on the movie making for this one. I had a great time, and there were some great athletes. Doing a tandem WOD was fun and motivating in a different way than I am used to. Maybe I can find someone in Holland to do some more of these in the future...
I'm exhausted now, but we have two more workouts to go tomorrow, along with some serious sightseeing. Although I'm super tired, I draw inspiration from one of the worlds greatest heroes...
FACT: Chuck Norris doesn't sleep. He waits.

Friday 11/13 - Day 1 in Copenhagen, Paidaia Gym

I arrived in Copenhagen around 12:00 today. Sarah met me at a metro stop near the city center, from which we proceeded on 3 km walking tour through some of the city. She took me past some beautiful architecture, including the National Ballet Theater, the Round Tower (an enormous tower that has no stairs, just circular, sloping inclines), the Copenhagen Law School, numerous 18th and 19th century churches, and the national soccer stadium. All of this was on the way to her flat in Copenhagen’s East Borough. You can really feel the age in this city. I’m not sure exactly why, but it just feels older than some other places I have been.

After lunch, we headed over to Paidaia Gym for a strength workout. Erik and Fred, two of the owners, were there to greet us. They, along with one other, broke away from another affiliate to open this place. The space is big and unique, consisting of two large rooms, one designed specifically for crossfit classes and the other for open gym and MMA. The gym is littered with cool toys, including club bells, sandbags, maces, kegs, chains, and parallettes. It was apparent right away that this was an intelligent gym, both in its design and its personnel.

For our workout, Sarah and I were joined by her friend Anders. He has a strong background in Olympic weightlifting and boasts a 95 kg power snatch! This blew my mind, since he probably only weighs 150 lbs. Picking his brain was pretty fun. For out workout we did the following…

Back Squat 4, 4, 4, 4, 4

Followed by 1 super squat (set of 20) at a 1 breath tempo (stand and take one breath between each repetition).

4 x 1 minute rounds of elevated handstand pushups, with 2 minutes rest between

This was a strength emphasis day, obviously, and it was really beneficial. I deliberately did full Olympic squats for all of my sets (ass to the ground) in an effort to build better strength through the range of motion and improve my drive out of the hole. My weights were 100 kg, 110 kg, 120 kg, 130 kg, 130 kg. I repeated the final set at 130 kg because I knew I would not be able to bump the weight and still get 4 reps going that low. The last rep on the 4th set had been a fight. With the exception of my right knee leaning in a bit on some of the movements, my technique looked very good, and was dissected for constructive criticism by a few of the guys present.

For the super squat set (set of 20), I dropped the weight to 90 kg and made it through without much trouble. In retrospect, I should have kept it at 100 kg as I had originally intended. Chalk one in the puss column.

The handstand pushup sets were tough. I set up the parallettes at about 30 inches width and stacked a couple plates underneath, leaving approximately an 8 inch deficit (only about 4 at the games) to overcome. I’ve been gradually working the depth lower and lower in an effort to build strength in both my press and in the HSPU movement, specifically. The first minute I did 5 repetitions. The second I did 4. The third I did 6. And the fourth I did 4. With Sarah’s help (she’s an ex-gymnast) I concentrated more on contracting my pelvis and locking my hips, and on pushing my head through my hands to lock the scapula. These tips helped for sure. 19 repetitions over 4 sets is nothing to write home about, but the deficit was significant and I felt I had improved. Afterwards I did one max set of handstand presses from the floor- man did it feel like I was barely moving my body at all! I did 15 in a row after doing all the previous work and still felt good.

After wrapping things up with Eric and the other owners, we headed back to Sarah’s house where she and her husband gave a great dinner party for some of their friends. A great group of people, great food, and wonderful hosts made this a really fun night. Looking forward to what comes next.

Copenhagen Day 1, Paidaia Gym

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heading to Copenhagen

Not sure if I'll be able to post while there, so I'll lat out the basic schedule as I understand it to this point.
Friday afternoon: General sightseeing in the city, followed by strength session at Crossfit Paidaia Gym, followed by dinner party with friends
Saturday AM: WOD with Crossfit Hellerup, followed by trip to the recovery spa (nice!)
Saturday PM: WOD at Crossfit Copenhagen, followed by drinks downtown
Sunday AM: Baroque Palace WOD with the Danish Royal Guard, followed by tour of the palace and queens castle
Sunday PM: WOD at the Butcher's Lab, followed by getting on the plane and flying home.
It's a full slate but a good one. Looking forward to it. Pictures and videos to come!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fitness is...

Defense. Typically, I think of fitness as a way to achieve ability in different facets of life. I want to be strong so the loads life asks me to bear seem lighter. I want endurance so that I can enjoy activity longer without tiring. I want to be agile so I feel balanced and coordinated in any situation, be it going up stairs or climbing a wall.
The other day I met a man at the gym who related a story that reminded me that getting fit isn't purely about being "able." This is something I always tend to forget, but it's such an integral part of why fitness, and crossfit specifically, can be so valuable. When he was 19 (he's now 41) this guy was a weightlifter. He did clean and jerk, snatch, deadlift, squat, bench press, etc. Now he mainly does machine weights, db curls, and other body building style movements. This is because just before his 20th birthday, he fell 7 meters from scaffolding onto the concrete sidewalk below. In an admittedly ill-advised attempt to brace the fall, he landed on his feet and tried to catch himself in a squat. He did it, but shattered his right tibia and fibula in the process.
Doctors performed a series of surgeries to repair the damage, including inserting massive metal plates and bolts to secure his lower leg (I saw the scars-- wow). After a year in a cast, he started to rehab, only to discover that his achilles tendon had been so traumatized by the experience that it had remained shortened from the shock of the impact. Now his right leg is shorter than his left, he has a slightly noticeable limp, and has had to redefine what a functional training program means to him.
Not so bad, when one considers what the surgeon told him in post-op. Apparently, the musculature that he had developed during his teenage years of training had largely held the broken bones in place during the accident. He said that most cases with this extensive a break pattern fragment so badly that the individual loses any real functional use of his lower leg, but that this man would likely return to a level completely compatible with daily life.
Furthermore, this man's body had somehow absorbed the impact that would have ordinarily travelled up to his spine and even into his neck. According to the doctor, it was practically miraculous, given the nature and angle of his fall, that this man had suffered no structural back damage whatsoever.
Stories like this abound. I know of very fit individuals who have been thrown from their motorcycles (wearing a helmet), their bodies breaking through trees, but only emerging with minor injuries. Their physicians explained this as a combination of luck and physical resilience, do to the protection and stability their muscles provided.
Robb Wolf posted a story a few weeks ago about an individual who contracted a rare blood infection that attacks the lungs, was minutes from being put on a ventilator, but eventually rebounded, went his entire hospital stay without needing insulin, and emerged without any permanent lung damage. According to the blood and pulmonary specialists, his diet and his training had respectively and independently saved his life.
The moral here, for me, is that fitness isn't always offensive. As much as I focus on training for ability and achievement, the reality is that I'm just as actively training for protection. Sometimes, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, shit happens. The better prepared your body is to handle it, the less damage it will do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rest Day

Long day of class today, going to hit the sack early. Planning a two part workout for tomorrow morning, then resting until Friday when I head to Copenhagen. From the sounds of what my friend and local contact Sarah has planned, it will be a packed weekend.
In other news, I've been sticking much closer to the Paleo diet of late. For the past 3 weeks, I've almost completely eliminated grains (alcohol still there). This has meant a lot more fruit and nuts, and a lot more potatoes. Thankfully I've found a vendor at the market that sells sweet potatoes, so that will help. I'm curious to see if I will see any tangible effects. Thus far, I'd say I feel more energy in general, but that is a tough meter for measure. The biggest challenge is finding ways to keep getting enough calories in. If nothing else, it's been fun to try something new and shake up an old habit.

Monday 11/9 - AM....PM

In the AM...
This morning I did a trans-continental challenge with a friend of mine in Washington. Josh Courage and I worked together at Balance Gym in D.C. for a few years and have been talking about doing workouts in tandem across the divide for a while as a way to connect and create extra motivation. Today was the first installment of that idea. I came up with the workout. It was as follows:
AMRAP 1 minute rounds without rest of:
BW bench press
Reverse Burpees
Continue following the progression until you reach 100 total repetitions, then run a mile. The lowest total time is the goal. I finished in 15:11, Josh in 15:18, so this wound up being pretty tight. I felt great during the first set of presses, knocking out 22 at 82.5 kilograms (182 lbs). From there, the rest of the rounds were a struggle. Once I hit the run, however, things improved. I felt like a horse. I finished my 100th repetition just before 9 minutes, and got back into the weightroom at 15:11, meaning I was close to a 6 minute mile. Not sure if it's because the last few times I've run it was with a kettlebell or on a treadmill hill, but it just didn't feel that hard. Definitely a good feeling.
In the PM...
Met up with Hank to work snatches. My focus for this session was repetitions. I probably did 40-50 snatches tonight. I started with 60 kg, doing sets of 3, and really focusing on the timing of my second pull. Hank gave me a great tip that really helped me with this. He suggested breathing out or making an audible noise at the moment of acceleration. This little thing somehow made it so much easier to connect the timing of the lift for me. I was suddenly hitting the pocket every time. I worked up to marginally heavy weights, but only so far as I could maintain the technique. Next time I go in fresh and heavy, I'm looking for a new record. For now, big positive signs technically.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Back to the Burcht

So this morning I got up early, dragged my neighbor with me, and went to the Burcht (12th century citadel in Leiden). Feeling rested from the last few days and with my new sandbags ready to be used, I constructed a workout that ended up being really really cool.
3 rounds for time:
10 burpee box jumps
10 sandbag squats (40 kg)
5 m rope climb
5 m anchor pull (40 kg)
I finished in 9:47 and had a ton of fun. I think I could have gone for 5 rounds, honestly. My legs felt strong, and the climb was no problem. The only difficult movement was the anchor pull. There was a ton of lower back and hamstrings involved in this movement, and I was remembering the fireman challenge in Berlin while doing it. 40 kg is a lot of weight to pull 5 meters, and the ledge kept getting in the way only making things more difficult. Overall it was a great workout and a beautiful crisp morning to be out of the apartment. Everyone else was heading to church, and I was breaking a sweat. The video link is below.