Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve Paleo Update

I am nearing the 10 week mark since my shift to a more Paleo form of nutrition. As we are approaching the New Year and many of us will be contemplating changing the way we eat for 2010, I figured this was the time for some reflection and honest evaluation of what impact this diet has had on me personally.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Paleo concept, it’s essentially the idea that the evolution of human digestion was anchored around foods that could be easily found and caught (fruits, vegetables, fish, lean meats, etc). Only very recently have grains, legumes, dairy, and refined sugars entered into the mix through the ascension of standardized agriculture and farming. This diet proclaims that our bodies have not adapted to these alterations and are still best equipped to process and utilize the foods of our prehistoric ancestors. (This is a rudimentary explanation. For more, visit

My reason for adopting this plan was equal parts logical reasoning and curiosity. The basic premise made sense to me, so I had no issues accepting the scientific claims made by many of its leading proponents, and I was curious to see how much of the buzz around this diet was rooted in tangible benefit and how much of it was hype.

Going in, my concerns centered around the grain question. For the past 3 years, brown rice had been a staple of my diet, forming in my mind the perfect complex carbohydrate. It was cheap, full of fiber, and tasted good with just about everything. I was skeptical about what my meals would look like without the likes of brown rice, quinoa, lentils, etc, and wondered where I would make up the carbohydrates and the calories I would lose from their omitance. Actually, this hasn’t been so difficult to deal with. I’ve made up the difference by eating a lot more fruits and nuts than ever before (which I like), and during breakfast and dinners I eat potatoes and yams. Honestly, I haven’t missed the grains.

Dairy was a similar issue. I was used to eating Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and drinking milk. With the exception of hard cheeses, I’ve completely eliminated dairy from my diet without much trouble. Cheese has remained to some degree because it’s so prevalent in Holland and for some variety between meals.

Overall, adapting was much easier than I expected. The biggest issue is that which I just mentioned: variety. I do feel that I eat the same things over and over again, and that gets a bit boring. But this may be more a factor of my situation (no money, small market, small refrigerator) than of the diet.

As far as the effects go, they have been subtle but significant. Within a few weeks I could see a difference in body composition. My muscles were harder, leaner, and more defined. I’ve also felt generally less tired during the course of a given day. Those random exhausted moments I would feel just after lunch no longer exist. I actually didn’t even realize this development until I was out of town one weekend and resumed eating the way I used to. Felt like I needed a nap while touristing—not convenient.

I’ve felt some measure of increase in my work capacity during exercise. For example, during metabolic conditioning WODs I find that I’m able to work further into the routine before taking a breather than I used to. Now, it’s tough to say this is more a result of fuel than just the progression of my training, but I figured it’s worth noting.

Where I was initially disappointed was the strength gains everyone talks about. Actually, until very recently I had seen/felt no real improvement in strength exercises. But, in the last 2 weeks something has happened. Everything feels stronger. I’ve set PR’s in Power Clean and Power Snatch. I am deadlifting more weight for repetition than I ever could before, and my bodyweight skills have felt easier and more controllable. Again, this could be completely unrelated but it’s worthy of mentioning.

The biggest challenge, for me, is eating enough. I have to remember that while the quantity of vegetables I’m eating looks like a lot of mass, it’s mostly water. When I eat the proper quantities for the amount of calories I burn, things work better than they ever have.

I read an article from the Paleo page the other day regarding how strictly one must adhere to see results. They advocated an 85/15 split, which seems more than reasonable to me. Most diets require exactness and precision otherwise all bets are off. I respect this practical approach, and think that it is proof of the confidence users feel in its effectiveness. Given what I've experienced, I see no reason to change back to the way I ate before. My impressions are positive.

Now, this is not going to be easy in the new year. I’ve heard many tales about nutritional challenges in Paris, so it will be an interesting term when it comes to food… I’ll give another update in a few months detailing how cavemen fare in France.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Power Snatch

Workout of the Day:

15 minutes EDD’s

Power Snatch 3, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1

Kept the workload lighter today to give my body a little rest after the big day yesterday. The Power Snatches felt pretty good as I warmed up, and I wound up hitting 90 kg for my last set. Definitely a first to get that weight up without a squat. New years eve tomorrow… can’t wait

Get Running

Workout of the Day:

In the morning…

Run 10 k for time

In the evening…

Trans-Continental Workout #4

With 1 minute rest between all sets, do the following for as many repetitions as possible:

1 minute 140 kg deadlift

1 minute 60 kg thruster

1 minute strict pullup

1 minute pushup

1 minute 120 kg deadlift

1 minute 50 kg thruster

1 minute strict pullup

1 minute pushup

1 minute 100 kg deadlift

1 minute 40 kg thruster

1 minute strict pullup

1 minute pushup

This morning I got to run without the dog and without the snow, so I expected to feel fairly fast. I did not. It was very cold today and initially I found it difficult to open up my lungs for big breaths. After that, I felt that my legs just weren’t as light as they should have been, but maybe this is just from my not having run too much until recently. The course I took turned out to be 10.5k (6.5 miles) in reality, so I definitely got the work in. I finished in 42:37, meaning I averaged just under a 6:30/mi pace. I’d like to see this number lower, but not bad overall.

This evening I did my half of the 4th Trans-Continental Workout with my friends from Balance Gym in D.C. After speaking with Josh about it, he recommended that I add on to the prescribed workout (just the 1st round above). So I did. Definitely a good decision. Doing 3 rounds with decreasing weight was perfect, and posed a sizeable mental challenge to finish. My first round I totaled 19 deadlifts, 16 thrusters, 15 pullups, and 45 pushups, for a total score of 95. The second round went 18 deadlifts, 14 thrusters, 11 pullups, and 30 pushups, for a score of 73. The final round was 19 deadlifts, 16 thrusters, 8 pullups, and 31 pushups, for a score of 74. My grand total was 242 repetitions. Counting the 1 minute breaks between each set, this routine took exactly 24 minutes to complete. I like this interval format because it tests recovery and allows you the time to string exercises together that can expose weaknesses in combination.

I was most happy with the deadlifts, and most disappointed by the pullups and thrusters. For the deadlifts, my back and hamstrings felt strong through all 3 sets. The limiting factor was strength in the first round, but breath in the second and third. For the pullups, strength was the limiting factor in all 3 rounds. Got to get better. The thrusters were a bit of a psychological collapse I think. I should have done more repetitions on all 3 rounds, but I found myself saving up energy for the work to come. Maybe it was strategy, or maybe it was a little mental weakness. I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Hoping for clear weather tomorrow and a workout in old town Leiden. Fingers crossed.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fitness is...

Purpose. Know yours.

“They say that there’s nothing but circular motion in the inanimate universe around us, but the straight line is the badge of man, the straight line of a geometrical abstraction that makes roads, rails and bridges, the straight line that cuts the curving aimlessness of nature by a purposeful motion from a start to an end.” –Anonymous

Training without purpose, in my opinion, is like feeding coal to an engine that will never leave the stockyards. Sessions cannot be strings of circles dropping like zeroes behind us. They have to be straight lines of motion towards a goal, each day leading to the next and to a single growing sum. Without purpose, fitness is an endless spiral of repetition and pseudo accomplishment for which we have no measure.

A little while back my friends at EvolveYourFitness posted a discussion on their page regarding the advantages/disadvantages of different types of motivation when it comes to exercise. The consensus was that external support, though convenient and effective, could not match intrinsic motivation in either power or longevity. Eventually, you have to push your limit for your own reasons. This speaks to the importance of having a purpose beyond the WOD to which you can anchor your training.

Just before the end of the post, I was struck by a rhetorical question posed by one of the editors, something he would ask himself during a session when he felt like throwing in the towel: why am I here? It jumped out at me for its simplicity. It’s a question that gets lost amidst the confusing blend of programming, effort, and competition that fuel typical workouts, but it is fundamental to knowing one’s purpose in the gym.

So I tried it. When a session started to grind or when I felt that familiar discomfort and doubt creeping in, I asked myself why I was there. For what purpose was I putting myself through whatever it was I was putting myself through?

Interestingly, the answer changed depending on the day, my mood, the difficulty of the routine, or any number of variables. Often, “I’m here for my health, personal strength, and longevity” was enough to keep me going. Sometimes, it was “To see what I’m capable of.” Other times, “the 2010 Games” was the only thing that struck the right chord.

While my answers to this question varied based on circumstance, there are some consistencies that should be noted. First, purpose is necessary to effort. What if I was in the middle of a grueling workout and asked the question, “Why am I here?” but had no answer… Most likely, I’d either call it a day or slink through the rest of the workout without passion or intent. Knowing what drives us inspires our effort and is therefore fundamental to success. It’s the psychological Teflon that keeps us from cracking under the inevitable pressure of failure and pain.

Second, purpose doesn’t have to be singular. People are complicated and tend to have multiple goals. Rather than becoming paralyzed by the task of choosing one amongst many, pursue them all. What you lose in focus, you’ll make up in enthusiasm. Eventually, the less important goals will sift themselves out, leaving just that which is vital.

In all of this, it’s important to remember that goals will vary from person to person, so don’t look to adopt another’s purpose or expect others to adopt yours. It’s unlikely that my mother would derive much satisfaction from adopting the training frequency and intensity of an Olympic sprinter, or that an undersized adolescent would see much benefit from following the exercise and nutrition program designed for post-op hip rehabilitation. People who advocate too strongly for one method of training have typically fallen prey to the passionate blindness of their own success. But what drives one forward may hold others back. Be certain that your fitness suits your purpose.

Ultimately, it’s irrelevant what form or style a program takes. It only matters that I am aware of why I need to test my limits and that I go on testing them. Everywhere. Anywhere.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

100 Burpee Challenge

Workout of the Day:

15 minutes of EDD’s

100 Burpee Challenge

Was feeling surprisingly sore between my shoulders blades this morning. In explaining this, I’m leaning towards the power cleans. I think pinning my shoulders back during the movement and really pulling hard may account for it, but who knows. Could’ve been the rope climbs too.

Today’s WOD was short and sweet. After working through my EDD’s, which I can already see improvement in after 3 days, I headed into the Olympic room where I could get some space to do the burpees. My previous best time was 4:56, clocked the last time I did this back in Washington in the spring. Then I wasn’t so strict on form, so I tried to be better this time. My standards were:

Vertical finish at the top with hands overhead and some visible space under the feet. Horizontal position at the bottom with the sternum touching the floor.

The first 40 went off unbroken and I was feeling pretty good. By the time I reached 55 things were getting much tougher. It only took me 2 minutes to finish the first half, but my pace was slowing considerably due to heavy legs and heart rate. I decided that slowing down a bit was okay so long as I didn’t take any real breaks. That worked until I hit 70, where I rested for 2 breaths. By 85 I had hit the 4 minute mark and I knew it was going to be tight to finish under 5. As is always the case, once nearing the finish the body has an extra gear and I finished the last 15 quicker than the 15 before them, stopping the clock at 4:47.

This felt exactly as I remembered it feeling. Not Fun. It was short, intense, and exhausting. But it was fun to push my limit and get a new best time. The video is below.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day after Christmas

Workout of the Day:

In the morning…

Total 100 feet of rope climb. Rest as needed.

In the afternoon…

15 minutes of EDD's, then

With 30 minutes of running clock…

Use 10 minutes to establish a 1RM for Power Clean and Jerk

Rest 10 minutes

Do a 10 minute AMRAP of

5 x 100 kg front squats

5 x elevated handstand pushups (8”)

Waking up this morning after a long few days of Christmas cheer, it felt nice to do something simple and challenging like climbing the rope. I figured there would be little to no foot traffic in the halls the morning after Christmas, so I tied the rope to the top floor and did 4 sets (not every set reached the top), totaling about 100 feet of climbing. I mixed between using no legs, using my legs just to secure the rope while pulling myself up with my arms, and actually inch-worming up the rope using my lower body for lift. Afterwards, my arms were pretty toasted and my grip definitely would not have withstood another ascent.

Later in the day, I snuck over to L.K.V. and did max effort power clean and jerks with a time constraint. I made it up to 120 kg without missing—definitely a new record for power clean. Then I power cleaned 125 kg, but missed the jerk due to falling elbows during the upward drive. Though I was frustrated at missing the jerk, I was ecstatic about the clean. 125 kg matches the most I have ever squat cleaned, so if I am now able to power clean it, that means a sizeable increase in explosive power.

Following this, I rested for exactly 10 minutes then went into a 10 minute AMRAP of front squats and handstand pushups. Using 100 kg for the squatting movement and an 8” elevation for the pushups, I expected to get 5 rounds or so for this. The squats went fine, but the pushups were much harder than I anticipated. Supporting the bar during front squats took a lot out my shoulders, both in balance and strength, so that during the course of this routine I was splitting sets in doubles and singles. At the end I had only tallied 35 total repetitions (3 ½ rounds). The upside is that 100 kg felt fine on my legs. I got good depth on every repetition and the only point of struggle was keeping the weight racked with weary shoulders. The downside is that the handstand pushups at 8” are still a bit over my head strengthwise. It’s a good thing to know so I can keeping working to get better.

No footage of the climbing as I was by myself, but here’s the video of the afternoon session.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve in Holland

Workout of the Day:

Run 4 snow miles (with a dog)

Rest 6 hours

Farm Chipper #2:

50 hay bale OH squats

50 pushups

175 m fireman carry (82 kg)

50 box jumps (single leg balance)

30 tree pullups

175 m fireman carry (82 kg)

Today turned out to be quite the Christmas Eve. I woke up at sunrise to meet Wilemijn (Niels’s girlfriend) and Able (dog) for a trail run at the park just outside of town. Besides being beautiful, this scene offered a formidable challenge. I was in charge of Able, which meant I was responsible for his sporadic need to scatter his scent, chase other animals, and generally disrupt my tempo. Combined with the snow covered, slippery trail conditions, these were 4 of the longer miles I can remember. I finished in just under 30 minutes and felt pretty cooked.

After getting some food, resting, and cleaning up, I rejoined Niels, Willemijn, and the family for a real Dutch Christmas experience at Grandma’s house. We arrived pretty early so we walked around her property (amazing!) to see what kind of interesting workout I could put myself through before dinner. What I ended up doing more than worked up an appetite. OH squatting with a bale of hay is very awkward, very messy, and exhausting on the shoulders. Following that with pushups just exacerbated the fatigue. I carried Niels for the fireman's carry and, suffice it to say, he weighs more than my sandbag. In fact, he weighs exactly the same as I do, so this turned out to be a true bodyweight test. I didn’t stop running the whole 175 meters but it was a fight to keep upright by the end. The alternating jumps were a nice twist on standard box jumps. Using a wooden bench, I jumped off two feet but only caught myself on one, alternating each repetition. Then, turning to the tree pretty exhausted, I kind of hit a wall. The pullups were brutal and the branch was so hard to hold on to. Getting 30 took me 6 sets, and they were not easy. Still, I got through it and prepared for the home stretch. The final 175 meters to the finish with Niels on my back felt like a mile. Again, I didn’t stop, for which I am very proud, but my heart rate must have been around 200 beats per minute when I finally set him down back by the barn. I collapsed in the snow immediately and didn't move for 5 minutes. In total, the routine took me 15:25 to complete.

Afterwards we headed in for a feast, some presents, and some time off our feet. This marks my first Christmas away from my family and it's a tough pill to swallow. I'm so lucky to have met people gracious enough to include me in their celebration. The depth of my appreciation is difficult to relate, but the thought of spending this season alone was not one I was at all comfortable with. As it turned out, I shared in a rich and engaging experience with interesting people I won't soon forget.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rest Day

I decided to lay back today and let my body recover a bit more before hitting it hard tomorrow. Instead of a standard workout, I spent about 45 minutes stretching and playing around with some gymnastic skills. I’ve decided that these exercises are going to form a new portion of my programming: Every Day Drills.

This is a term my high school football coach used to use for the fundamentals that were to be done before every practice. I want to use this idea to work on bodyweight skills that are either indirectly important to major movements, personal weaknesses, or just things I want to be good at. 15 minutes per day is all I plan to spend on these things, and I want this time to serve more as a building/practice period than a test of intensity/repetition/volume. My list of EDDs as of now looks like this:

Planche pushup progression 3 x 5

Weighted dead hang holds 3 x 30 sec

Static handstand holds 2 minutes total time

Pistol squats 3 x 10

Back bends using a wall 3 x 5

Each of these exercises should be done for technical proficiency and not to the point of major taxation. I don’t plan to limit or alter my standard programming at all to accommodate EDDs.

If anybody has any ideas for other drills built to improve grip strength, unilateral strength, or balance, please share them.

From Dec 21, 2009

Tuesday 12/22

Workout of the Day:

5 x 5 weighted close grip overhand pullups (60 kg)

superset with

5 x 5 pistol squats

10 minute rest

20 minute AMRAP ladder:

100 m row

10 rotational situps (palms to the ground outside the knee)

200 m row

20 rotational situps


The first halve of this routine felt pretty solid. I’ve been wanting to work pistols for a while, but keep finding reasons not to. I had to use a plate under my heel to compensate for the lack of flexibility in my right side, but strength-wise this was no challenge. The close grip overhand pullups with 60 kg was a challenge, however. Finishing this movement at the top required a lot of effort. The last set I could only complete 3 repetitions before flipping my hands to a chin-up grip for the final two.

The 20 minute AMRAP ladder wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I kept the row pace under 1:45 the entire time, and the situps burned but weren’t so tough that I needed much rest. I wound up finishing 6 rounds with a few seconds to spare. I will say that the 500 m and 600 m sets were starting to tax me on the rowing, but not as bad as on previous days. I am a little curious to see how the 210 situps with rotation feel tomorrow… that’s a new wrinkle. Getting both palms to the floor on one side of your body really makes you get all the way up and stay tight at the top.

My back is a little tight from the deadlifts yesterday, but not too bad. I’m hoping to feel fresh tomorrow because I’ve programmed a pretty big challenge for myself.

From Dec 21, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

Day 4 in Treviso

2" elevation dead-stop deadlift 5, 5, 5, 5, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1
Close grip bench press 5, 5, 5, 5, 5
After a day of rest and relaxation on Sunday, I got back into things and took advantage of the Benetton Treviso weight facility while the basketball team practiced. Unfortunately, this was not a well stocked place. The bars were almost completely smooth and the entire space was no more than 1000 square feet. They did have bumper plates and a platform though, so the deadlifting wasn't completely awkward. I felt really strong. In fact, I think today was as strong as I have ever felt, considering the circumstances.
For the deadlifts, I pulled 150 kg for 3 sets of 5 broken repetitions no problem. I bumped it to 160 kg for the set of 3, and could have done 5 again had the bar had any grip at all. For the sets of 1 I did 170, 180, and 190 kg, respectively. Considering no belt, a 2" elevation, and a bar with no chalk or grip, this is far and away the easiest this weight has ever felt for me. And my back didn't slip until the last set (which is why I didn't continue on). Realistically, I think under ideal circumstances I could have lifted 210 kg tonight. Not sure what is directly responsible for this increase in strength, but I like it.
The bench press was equally satisfying. I haven't done close grip in a while (about a 14" separation), so perhaps this isn't a fair evaluation of improvement. However, I did my last set of 5 at 110 kg (242 lb). I used to struggle getting 5 repetitions with 215. The only thing I can think of is that the elevated handstand pushups I've been using the last few months have made my triceps a lot stronger.
Whatever the reason, I'm hoping this is a trend that continues...
Judson and I also did some amazing sightseeing, including Venice, St. Mark's Cathedral, and lots of gondolas. I wanted to run to the top of the bell tower at St. Mark's Square, but the Italian guard was having none of it... "lift only!"
Heading back to Leiden early in the morning, given that the increasingly heavy snowfall does not prevent my return.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Day 2 in Treviso


5 rounds for time:

47 steps OH medball stair climb

20 wall ball


I woke up to 6 inches of snow in Treviso this morning… And still falling. Not to be deterred, Judson and I jogged over to City Hall in the midst of the falling flakes and set up shop at the base of the front staircase. This building was bombed during World War II and boasts the scars to prove it. Above the main door one can see a jagged crack in the brick exterior that reaches to the roof, a reminder of how the citizens had to rebuild much of the massive building after the war. This morning the view was less clear. I must say, however, this was so much fun. The snow was cold but dry, and once I got moving the elements really didn’t bother me much. The hardest part was doing the handstand pushups against a wall that was a few degrees short of vertical. Because my feet were so far behind my center, it was like pressing through sand to get it to lock out. (Not to mention the ground was pretty slick and keeping balance was half fear/half skill).

Major respect to Jud for getting up early and playing cameraman in the cold. I think he had the worse end of this deal, honestly. Like I said, this was a lot of fun. Today was another example of how the things that normally hold us back can easily be overcome.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Day 1 in Treviso

Day 1 got a pretty delayed start, due to a fairly late night 1 out with some of the locals. Judson and I got going around noon, ate some sushi, and began walking around the city center. It is COLD here at the moment. Touring in sub-freezing temperatures is not so fun, but there really wasn’t a choice. Treviso is a small city, but with tons of character. It definitely reminded me of the Sicilian cities I visited back in September from the arch-heavy architecture to the tightness of the streets. During our stroll we scouted a great spot for a morning training session tomorrow, given that the weather stays clear and the streets aren’t too busy. At 3:00 we headed just outside town to his teams practice facility. Along with the basketball arena, the grounds had a rugby field, soccer field, and Olympic track. So, while the team started practice inside, I took to the track for a sprint workout. Workout of the Day: 1 mile constant motion… Sprint the straights/jog the curves Followed by 50 toes to bar (there was a free standing pullup bar on the track—amazing). I SPRINTED these. In total, it added up to 8 x 100 meter sprints separated by about 1 minute of rest. By the 4th sprint I could feel myself losing the recovery battle. My hamstrings, calves, and lower back felt fatigued, and the last 20 meters of the each sprint from 4-8 was losing steam. Still, it felt great to get out and run. I know I will be sore from it tomorrow. The toes to bar were really hard as well. My grip is consistently a limiting factor on these. I spent the next 90 minutes watching the basketball team scrimmage inside where it was warm, and it got me ready to see some real action on Sunday in Bologna. They’ve got some real deal athletes on their squad that love to make dunking look so easy. I’ve included a few pictures from today.
Dec 18, 2009

Snow Day

It snowed in Leiden! I got up and walked my sandbag to the park this morning, with the temperature hovering right around 0 degrees celsius. Once there, I got after this workout: 3 rounds of 20 pullups 20 pushups 40 sand bag lunges 200 m sand bag carry A few dogs and some frosty conditions aside, this workout turned out great. Everything with that damn sandbag seems to be so hard, and this was no exception. The lunges wore me out almost immediately, and the carry was more like a stagger than a run. I finished 3 rounds in 15:11, and, rather than carrying the bag all the way back to my apartment, I emptied it out and stuffed the sack in the trash. Wasn't ready for more weighted carries and I had to dump it soon anyways. Felt like as good a time as any. Three hours later I was on a train toward Italy to join my college friend and pro basketball player, Judson Wallace for a few days in Treviso. Looking forward to another unique weekend in a new place.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Db snatch

Tonight's workout was my first back in L.K.V. since the trip to D.C. It wound up being equal parts max effort and met con. Here's the workload: 7 x 1 DB power snatch 4 x 1 minute rounds of: 3 power snatch (60 kg) AMRAP OH squat (60 kg) My db snatch sets looked like this: 32 kg, 38 kg, 42 kg, 44 kg, 46 kg, 48 kg, 50 kg. I was able to hit each of these weights with both hands, though my left felt shaky at times. It really pays in this exercise to keep the arms loose during the motion. The more you pull with the arms, the less speed you get on the weight. It's just like in Olympic work, just easier to feel the difference with single arm exercises. The power snatch/oh squat metcon also went well, though I think it could have been better. I ripped off 15 squats on the first set, then only hit 17 over the next 3 sets. The weight quickly became difficult to balance overhead and my lower back started to feel the fatigue. Overall, I think this is a good way to do some heavier weight in a short time span, but maybe not after max effort db snatches. It's supposed to snow tonight in Leiden, and I'm hoping to get outside to enjoy it in the morning. Maybe take the bag for a walk to the park...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

DC in the books

It is now Tuesday in Leiden, and this is the first time I've been able to sit down at my computer to relate the details of my return to Washington D.C. last weekend. The purpose for my visit was the grand opening of CrossFit Balance, the second installation of the Balance Gym family in the metro area. I posted a few workouts from this facility a few days ago, highlighting the SteelFit Strength Grid that anchors the studio. Again, this thing is insane. It's very well conceived and incredibly versatile. I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like it in any CrossFIt box I have ever trained at. 3:00 Saturday kicked off the official opening party, during which there were multiple demonstrations given. Bobby, an incredible grip specialist was there tearing phone books in half, pinch gripping 50 lb concrete blocks, and bending heavy gauge nails into u-shaped paper clips. Jessalynn gave a pole pressure demonstration that was absolutely eye-popping. The strength, balance, and coordination it took to do the things she did were simply astonishing. We also did a sample CrossFit hopper workout pulled from a series of 5 gallon buckets. Danielle Dionne, head trainer at the gym, wrote different exercises, weights, and reps on about 100 ping pong balls and split them between 3 buckets. We wound up drawing 5 deadlift (275/195), 15 pushups, and 25 double unders for a 10 minute AMRAP. I joined Danielle, my trans-continental workout partner Josh Courage, and a sampling of DC's best CrossFitters from area gyms like Primal Fitness, CrossFIt Fairfax, and others. The workout was great. Felt just like a WOD pulled from a qualifier, just without the spectator ropes. I wound up finishing 20 double unders short of finishing 10 full rounds... a near miss for what would've been a really good number for me. I don't know where all the others finished, but I was happy with how I felt during and after this challenge. The deadlifts felt light, and the double unders very smooth. The pushups were the hardest part. I wound up breaking the sets by round #5, but was able to keep the rest short between. Afterwards everyone hung out as Mark and Graham (the owners) turned the box into a social club. Complete with lighting, catered food and drink, DJ, and lounge couches, this place was transformed. The party bulged to a few hundred and lasted well past 10:00 pm before moving to a bar up the street. Sunday was spent on the couch watching football-- something I haven't been able to do since the superbowl!! While I enjoyed it immensely, the inactivity had me ready to go the next day. Monday I got up early and decided to do a double. In the morning... 5 x 3 handstand pushup w/ elevation (finished at 10"!) 3 minutes on, 1 minute off 10 push press (135lb) 10 rotational box jump 250 m row (5+ rounds) In the afternoon... 3 x 80 m car pull (1000 lb VW beetle) Monday was so much fun. I just love pulling cars. If you haven't done it, find a way to get it done. You'll be hard pressed to find a better way to simultaneously build lower body strength and endurance. My flight back took me across a few time zones and put me in Holland at 7:30 am today. Needless to say, I've been pretty exhausted all day and decided to save myself to start fresh tomorrow. Looking forward to a few good days before I head to northern Italy.
From Dec 10, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Friday's WOD

Establish a 1RM Overhead Press 20 minute AMRAP hanging obstacle course, 20 walking lunge, 20 GHD situps Today we did heavy OH press as an evaluation of progress. I finished with a best press of 175lb and juuuust missed 180lb. This means I improves by 2 lbs from the last time I tried this a few months ago. The real interesting part of this workout came afterwards. We used the state of the art SteelFit Strength grid that the new Balance installed for their crossfit studio to create an elevated obstacle course. This was AMAZING!! Imagine 10 foot high I-beams, horizontal ladders, spoked handle bars, etc. Killer on the grip and arms, but just so much fun to do. The walking lunges were fine and the GHD's got very tiresome by the end, but the center piece of this routine was definitely the climbing. In total I wound up doing 8 rds plus 15 GHDs, so I'm expecting some trunk soreness. I trained with Mark and Josh, Josh took video so I will post that when its up.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Back in Washington!

I arrived yesterday afternoon to brisk weather and friendly faces. A few of us went out and had some fun on the town last night, and today we hit the gym. Balance has upgraded since I've been away... The new facility is now completely operational and it is state of the art. The studio sports a massive strength grid built from steel I-beams and a massive floor mounted pull up system along the back wall. Mark (owner), Danielle (head crossfit trainer), Brian (old roommate), and I used this space today for a 3 part workout that felt great. Max rounds of 5 x weighted dips (32 kg) w/ 60 second intervals -8 minute rest- Back Squat progression ladder w/ bodyweight (185 lb) -8 minute rest- 21, 15, 9 Hang Power Snatch (95 lb) Pullup The dips felt great. I wound up doing 5 sets full, then 4 reps on the 6th set. Very happy with this. The squat ladder started out pretty tame, then got hard in a hurry. I rolled through the first 8 rounds with no problems, but during the 9th I started to feel my hamstrings big time. The right one threatened to cramp during the 4th or 5th repetition. I wound up finishing 12 full sets + 7 reps on the 13th. Thats a total of 85 squats. The final segment was a short metcon, and my legs were not wanting to go through with it. I finished the first 21 snatches and 21 pullups unbroken. The second set I did in 5s on the snatches and 10/5 on the pullups. The third set went 5/4 on the snatch, 6/3 on the pullups. My total time was 4:32... not bad, but I know this could be done quicker with fresh legs. The second and third sets felt much heavier than the first. This was a great day, the first of many I foresee on this trip.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rest Day

Most of today was spent in the library and at class preparing my final papers for submission. I leave for Washington DC tomorrow afternoon and 5 days of re-integration to my old life. Should be a blast. Im hoping to get a workout in early tomorrow morning at the site of the founding church of Leiden, weather permitting. Then Im getting on the plane at noon.

Monday, December 7, 2009

90% day

Todays workout:
10 rounds for time of
Bench Press x 2 (90% 1RM)
10 back extension
10 GHD situp
8 minute rest
4 minute Tabata treadmill hill sprints @ 15% incline and 90% speed
This was a tale of two halves, today. The 10 rounds of pressing and core work went amazingly. I estimate my 1RM at 140 kg (310#) because I have done 315# previously, but haven't tried in a while. This put my 90% number at 125 kg (275#). I was able to do every set without splitting, which was great. The extensions and situps were similarly steady, although I could feel my core tiring towards sets 8, 9, 10. All told, it took me 15:48 to finish 10 rounds.
The treadmill hills were not so enjoyable. I really wish I would've taken video of this. If I looked anywhere near as whipped as I felt, it would make for hillarious footage. The first 4 sets I put the speed at 15 km/hr (9.4 mph) approaching what felt like 90% of my top speed. I literally barely made it to 20 seconds on the fourth set. I had to drop the speed to 13 km/hr (8.1 mph) for the last four sets and was still heaving the whole time.
I have no way to measure/count repetitions on this exercise, but it really doesn't matter. For all you treadmill haters out there (and I am one of them) check your egos for 4 minutes and give this a try. Find a globo-gym, crank the machine up to 15% incline, and sprint. I don't think there's a better way to train your lungs than this.
I'm going to try this again next week when I'm in Washington and I will tape it.
Last thing... a little shout out to CrossFit Ansbach for posting a seriously great picture a few days ago. It's certainly one of my favorites and I hope they don't mind my posting it here.
If only it came with an audio track...

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hooigracht Staircase

Woke up this morning and decided to use my apartment building for a workout...
Sandbag Carry up 5 floors
Bear Crawl down 5 floors
Sandbag Carry up 5 floors
Bear Crawl down 5 floors
Rope Climb up 5 floors
Took me 6 minutes to finish. This was really cool. I'm always looking to find a place where I can climb a rope further than 15 feet, and this definitely works for that. The hardest part was the sandbag carries. My legs got real heavy so that by the second time up, I was walking. The downstairs bear crawls weren't too bad. I think my body is used to these now. I've only got a month left in Leiden, much of which will be spent travelling, but I hope to utilize this staircase for further rope climbing practice. I'd love to see how far I can get without using my legs/how fast I can get to the top when I'm fresh. Maybe even do recovery intervals using the different floors as stop points. Anyways, it was a great way to start the morning. Here's the video...

Fitness is...


This more broadly includes the people we meet, the places we go, and the tools we use in our quest for health. More directly, and as it pertains to this post, it represents our respective abilities/inabilities when it comes to our physical/mental thresholds during exercise.

If we’re lucky, we discover more good things than bad, more strong points than weak. But that’s not reality. In this life, we’re not good at everything. In fact, we’re not good at most things.

Coping with the knowledge that mastery over a vast array of disciplines, skills, and challenges is beyond our capacity, is not a discovery that many are comfortable with making. More encouraging is the unearthing of a hidden talent or a secret strength, one that has been lying dormant all these years just waiting to be dug up. That’s the present we all want to find under the tree, the one that tells us how naturally wonderful we are.

While I write those words with trace levels of sarcasm, my intentions should not be misunderstood. Finding out that we’re naturally good at something is not a bad thing. It’s affirming, empowering, and, most of all, it’s easy. It let’s us know, from time to time, that we’re not completely hopeless, that everything doesn’t always have to be such a struggle.

Once past this initial burst of satisfaction, though, what real good is this discovery? What can we use it for, besides the occasional reassurance that there are some things we can do well?

From this perspective, and in my general opinion, discovering areas where we struggle can be far more instructive, for a number of reasons.

First, it targets our training. When I found out that I couldn’t do chest to bar pullups at the mid-Atlantic qualifier last April, you better believe I practiced them like crazy before getting to the Games. This was a movement I didn’t even really know about before going to Virginia Beach. Then I discovered how hard it was to do, how effective it was in building strength, and targeted my training accordingly.

Second, it questions our approach. A few months ago I did a metcon that prescribed 5 rounds of 3 OH squat, 6 front squat, 9 back squat (all using bodyweight on the bar), and 12 situps. It took 11 minutes, and I was sore for a week. I had expected it to be challenging, but not anywhere near the pain I felt afterwards. Looking back, I realized I had been training heavier squats on strength days, but never in a metcon format, explaining my body’s surprising reaction to the workout. This discovery exposed a hole in my program and, thus, enabled me to rectify it.

Third, discovering our weaknesses gives us the opportunity to improve. If we only did things we were good at, we would have no motivation to train and no knowledge of where we could get better. And the affirmation we receive from getting better is far more powerful than that from discovering natural talent. Most people know this from experience. Think about your first pushup, strict pullup, kipping pullup, handstand pushup, or muscle up. Think about the time you PR’d after being stuck at a certain weight or time for months. This type of empowerment only comes from improvement.

Lastly, and most importantly, realizing that we can improve is a discovery in itself. It’s the one thing we all have in common. While individuals are naturally bigger, faster, or stronger than each other, nobody is without weakness. In fact, in the history of time, nobody has ever been that good at any one thing that he couldn’t get better, let alone that good at everything. It’s a universal impossibility. This is one of the most important discoveries we get to make in fitness:

There is no ceiling.

It's hard to remember when we're getting beaten down by a program or a movement, but everyone's been there. Discovering how hard things can be, how long they can take, and how far we still have to go, these are common struggles, and they're worth enduring. These are the ones that test our ability and raise our threshold.

From Nov 28, 2009

Friday, December 4, 2009

Trans-Continental Challenge #3

Back at it today, and feeling the effects. Today's workout was 3 parts, with exactly 5 minutes rest between elements.
Part 1:
5 to 1
deadlift (160 kg/350#) no bouncing/open hands at the bottom
elevated handstand pushups (used two bumper plates)
Part 2:
2 k row
Part 3:
20, 15, 10
toes to bar with rotation
Overall, I found this sequence extremely challenging. Part 1 wasn't too bad, the deadlifts were tough by the last 2 sets, but the hspu's were pretty easy. I finished in 3:28. Therefore, Part 2 started at 8:28. This 2 k row started off fine. I made it to the 500 m mark in 1:43, then started to back off the pace a bit. By the 1000 m mark I think my pace had dropped to 1:50 or so and I was started to gasp pretty heavy. My hamstrings were really getting tired from the deadlifts and I was compensating by pulling with my upper body a lot. Ended up finishing the effort in 7:14, putting my total time at 15:42. At this point, I was completely exhausted. Everything hurt, and I knew I only had 5 minutes until the last element... which I did not want to do. Part 3 started at 20:42 and right away the burpees felt waaay harder than they should. My legs were quivering by the 10th one and my breath left me right away. The toes to bar were a great exercise, except I was forced to do them on a thick gauge square support beam on one of the cable machines at L.K.V. This made things much harder for the grip. Because the exercise requires you to pivot your body from left to right, the sharp angles really dug into my hands. I finished in 27:07, and I was done-zo. Realistically, with a regular pullup bar I may have been able to do this 2 minutes faster, but no more than that. I think 25 is a realistic time, but I was seriously crushed afterwards. I haven't heard how it went on the other side of the pond. Interested to see how Josh and the gang found it.
Supposed to join the guys at CrossFit FSF in Utrecht for the Lumberjack 20 tomorrow... we'll see how the body's feeling in the morning.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rest Week

As I have now been training for 6 consecutive weeks, I'm taking a few days off. Hoping to do some mild stretching, maybe some yoga, and hit the hot tub this week to help recovery. Overall I feel great, but still think a week off is a good idea in the bigger picture. Planning on getting back into things Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, then heading back to the states on Wednesday for a few days with the old crew in D.C. Can't wait for that!